Sunday, April 24, 2011

Joe Squared Pizza

Went to one of our new favorite local hangouts a few nights ago for some pizza and a few drinks.  We have been there quite a few times now, but this is the first time we actually ate pizza, and it was awesome, but i will get to that later.  First, i want to talk a little about the place and some of the other things i like there.

Joe Squared has repeatedly been voted Baltimore’s Best Pizza by critics and patrons. Their coal-fired square pizzas feature local and fresh ingredients as do their 17 variations of risottos, salads, pasta and sandwiches. They also have nightly live music, a great bar, and some decent art exhibits by local artists.

Lets start with the bar.  I guess you could classify Joe Squared as a Rum Bar.  Their selection of different rums, categorized in the menu by country of origin, is amazing.  My favorite is the Barbancourt 8 Year, from Haiti.  A full bodied premium "Reserve Speciale" dark rum with a velvety quality that is distilled twice in copper pot stills, then barrel aged in white oak barrels.  Unlike other island rums, Barbancourt is made directly from sugar cane juice, and pressed from hand-cut locally grown cane.  Aged for 8 years.  I like mine with a diet coke, but i am sure it would also be really good in a mojito, or pretty much any way you like rum.

They have a decent draft beer selection  including:  Dales Pale Ale (my favorite here), Bass Ale, Chimay Triple, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, and more.  They also feature a nice bottle selection some of which are:  Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, Heavy Sea’s Loose Cannon, Hennepin Saison, Laguanitas IPA, Magic Hat No.9, Ommegang Double, National Bohemian (a true Baltimore classic, similar to PBR, and yes of course it comes in a can), and New Grist Gluten Free Beer, as well as some imports from a few different countries.

As far the food is concerned, they have some great options for everyone.  Each week, they feature a specials list with a different signature pizza, potato skin, wings, soup, and risotto.  About a month ago, we had some BBQ Beef Brisket Skins that were to die for, and the wings always look good, (this weeks offering are Fiery Raspberry BBQ Wings) we just haven't tried them yet.

Everything else we have tried there as been delicious as well.  I am a big potato skin fan, and also love breakfast,so the Breakfast Skins, loaded with bacon, eggs, and cheese, are always good, but my personal favorite is the Fresh Breaded Calamari, fried to a perfect golden brown, crispy and delicious.

Now, back to the pizza, which as i stated before, we just tried for the first time this week.  I got there late, so the decision on what to get was out of my hands.  Anne, and our friend Sheri, decided on the BBQ Chicken Pizza with garlic sauce, grilled BBQ chicken, avocado, corn, Vidalia onions, spinach, mozzarella and cheddar.  I have had a few BBQ Chicken Pizzas in my day, but i have never had anything like this.  The addition of the avocado and corn were amazing.  I think the best foods are those which are either simple (Just a few ingredients), or way over the top creations that contain things you would never think to put together, but when you do, the flavors and textures work perfectly together.  This pizza was definitely one of the latter type, the crunchiness of the crust with the creaminess of the cheeses and avocados, and the tangy BBQ sauce with the sweetness of the corn and onions was all together one of the best pizzas i have had in Baltimore.

The great service, friendly bartenders, and eclectic mix of customers, makes it one of our favorite spots in the Station North Arts District.  Definitely worth checking out if you live in Baltimore.

Huber Wines

Had the pleasure to taste some delicious white wines this week from Huber Wines out of Austria.  Owner and head winemaker Markus Huber made a visit to The Falls in Mt Washington on Wednesday, and offered some samples from throughout their portfolio.  In my current state of wine connoisseurship, i am much more excited about whites than reds, so as you can imagine, getting to taste six different fantastic white wines on a Wednesday afternoon, while at work, was really tough (enter a sarcastic tone here). 

The Huber family has wine growing roots dating back more than 220 years.  Today, the winery in Reichersdorf is in its 10th generation and run by Markus Huber, whose outstanding ability to manage the winery with sensitivity and consistency, both in the vineyards and the cellars, has ensured that in a very short space of time he has established Huber wines as an internationally acclaimed leading producer of the  Traisental region of Austria.

Affected by their location, height and geological bedrock these vineyards produce outstanding wines.  The limestone/soil mix found in the area produces outstanding Veltliner and Rieslings with unmistakable character and distinction.  The climate of the Traisental valley is blessed with cool nights and warm days.  Due to this temperature induced interaction, the development of the fruity flavors typical of these varietals becomes even more pronounced.

We tasted three different Grüner Veltliner varieties, Two Reisling varieties, and a brand new sparkling rose with Pinot Noir grapes. Some tasting notes are as follows:


Analysis: Alc: 12 % vol., Acidity: 6,5 g/l,
Rs: 2,8 g/l, dry
Potential: 2011 - 2014

From a mixture of different vineyards, this wine is fermented in stainless steel for three months.

Tasting notes: Delicate fresh green apple aromas with flavours of lemon, lime, peach, and slight mineral tones.  Overall a great value.  Perfect paired with almost any seafood dish, but enough flavor to stand alone on a beautiful summer night on the patio.

GRÜNER VELTLINER - "Obere Steigen" Traisental 2010

Analysis:             12,5 % vol Alc.,
            Acidity: 6,4 g/l, Rs: 3,0 g/l, dry
Potential:             2011 - 2016

This wine is produced with grapes only from the Obere Steigen vineyards where the vines are at least 25 - 80 years-old, and is fermented in stainless steel barrels for at least four months.

Tasting notes: Still fruity on the nose, but with a hint of pepper and aromatic herbs, hinting at typical Grüner spiciness.  Dense and complex on the palate, with similar fruit flavors to the Hugo, but more round and with a softer finish.

GRÜNER VELTLINER - "Berg" Erste 2010

Analysis:           Alc: 13,7 % vol Alc.,
          Acidity: 6,3 g/l, Rs: 3,1 g/l, dry
Potential:           2011 - 2021

The "Estate" version of the Grüner family, these grapes come from the Berg region, where the vineyards are located on the southeast slope of a mountain with optimal nutrient supplement, leading to shorter growing seasons but very complex wines.

This version differs from the last two in that it is fermented and stored in 100 % traditional acacia wood casks for 5 months.

Tasting notes:   Ripe pear on the nose with a hint of honey, herbal spice, and tobacco.  Ripe fruit aromas on the palate with oodles of concentration, plenty of stuffing, and a powerful finish that seems to last forever.  A great special occasion wine, pairs well with meat dishes or asian/indian food.

RIESLING - Traisental 2010

Analysis:                Alc: 12,0 % vol.,
                               Acidity: 7,6 g/l, Rs: 7,4 g/l, dry                 
Potential:               2011 – 2016

Containing grapes from different single vineyard parcels from the Traisental region and fermented in stainless steel, and kept on the lees for 3 months.               

Tasting notes:  Splendid bloom perfume intermingled with small white peach aromas.  The palate is tightly knit and rich in finesse; exuding delicate hints of lemons and peaches.  Vivid and vibrant with a vigorous finish that comes back in a wave of stone fruit flavors.  Hands down, one of the best Rieslings i have tasted, great with fish or spicy foods

RIESLING - "Berg" Erste Lage 2010

Analysis:             Alc: 13,0 % vol.,
            Acidity: 7,0 g/l, Rs: 7,2 g/l, dry
Potential:             2011 - 2021

The "Estate" version of the Riesling family, these grapes come from the Berg region.  Fermented in stainless steel and kept on the lees for 5 months in traditional acacia wood barrels.

Tasting notes: pure peach aromas; the palate is similar to the Traisental version with more complexity, and a lingering minerality.

HUGO Rosé Sparkling 2010

Analysis: Alc: 11,5 % vol., 
Acidity: 6,9 g/l,Rs: 12 g/l, dry
Potential: 2011 - 2014

Featuring Zweigelt and Pinot Noir grapes harvested from small single vineyards in the Traisental.

Tasting notes: Light salmon in color, with a fine, delicate, fresh, and very animating nose of fruit and spice with hints of fresh cherries, forest berries, and a sophisticated note of citrus.  Dry, fruit-driven, yet creamy on the palate, finely woven with elegant acidity and mineral extract, a very harmonious structure.  A wonderful experience that dances on your tongue for what seems like hours.  I could definitely see myself finishing off a few bottles of this on a warm summers eve.

Overall, a great tasting experience. Many thanks to Jen from the Country Vintner and Markus Huber for providing me with the opportunity to learn more about some fantastic Austrian Wines.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

B&O American Brasserie

Went to dinner tonight at the B&O American Brasserie.  I have been home for about an hour now, and the temporary food coma has just now worn off enough to allow me to write this post.  The food was so good that i couldn't wait to let everyone in on this excellent farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Baltimore.

 B&O occupies the original Baltimore & Ohio Railway headquarters, a beautiful structure that epitomizes the Beaux-Arts School of architecture.  They feature New American Cuisine that changes with the season, and features local ingredients. Some of the delicious offerings include:  charcuterie, artisan cheeses, brick-oven-fired pizzas, steaks, seafood and a variety of delicious small plates with all manner of special creations.  At the bar, they have handcrafted cocktails, good quality imports, craft beers, and a well put together wine list. 

We started out with the B&O Oysters, raw on the half shell, with cocktail sauce and some kind of cucumber cilantro relish.  I am not really sure what kind of oysters they were, a little salty for my taste, but they were really tender and juicy and the cocktail sauce was delicious.

The next course was the House Made Duck Chorizo Flatbread and Duck Fat French Fries, need i say more... ok, i will.  This amazing flatbread was loaded with Duck Chorizo, Gouda Cheese, Pearl Onions, candied turnips, mustard greens, topped with an over easy egg, and cooked in a wood fired oven.  Let me just say now, that this might have been one of the best things i have ever eaten in my life.  The sweetness of the Pearl Onions went perfectly with the spiciness of the Chorizo, then you have Gouda, with an egg cooked right in the middle, i mean come on, does it really get any better than that?

Then you have Fries that are cooked in duck fat.  Personally, i think you could cook a leather boot in duck fat and it would probably taste amazing, so you know the fries are going to be good.

My final course was the Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Saffron Potatoes, Pearl Onions, Chorizo, and a Serrano Chili Glaze.  It seems like that within the past year or two, every nice restaurant i go to has Pork Belly on the menu, and i order it almost every time.  It's almost like eating pork flavored butter with little bits of pork mixed in for protein.  This wasn't as good as the Pork Belly dish from The Brewers Art, but it was well worth the money.

To drink, i started with a Sidecar, a classic cocktail traditionally made with Cognac, Grand Marnier, and fresh squeezed lemon juice, then had a Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale, and finished with a free glass of Champagne for checking in on Foursquare.

I have been to the B&O twice now and both times the food and drinks have all been amazing.  It's not cheap, but also not expensive, just depends on how hungry you are and how much you like to drink, so if you haven't been there, it is definitely worth a look.

Everyone who was not there is now permitted to be jealous!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The things i know best

I have had a slow evolution into the ever changing world of social networking and online self promotion.  Over the years Facebook has become what seems like a normal part of my daily life.  I used to check it about once a day, but in the last few months since i have upgraded to the iPhone, i have become fully addicted to finding out what people i haven't seen in years are doing at every minute of the day.  I like Facebook because it gives me the ability to easily share "in progress" pictures of my work, along with good food i find, or awesome places i visit.  It also allows me to keep people up to date on shows or events in which i am involved.

Last year i started a website to showcase images of my finished work, along with my artist statement, bio, and all that other "academic" stuff.  For me, the website gives the opportunity to professionally and formally display my artwork and information, but can seem a little "stuffy", and lacks the spontaneity that i enjoy with Facebook.  The other disadvantage is that the website is limited to my ceramic work, and doesn't afford me a proper place to discuss the other great ceramic artists.  And don't get me wrong, i LOVE ceramics, but i also want a place that i can discuss and share my knowledge of the other "loves" in my life; Good food, Craft Beer, and my newly found interest in fine Wine.  Three things that are inherently related to functional pottery by the fact that they can all be served in or enjoyed from handmade ceramic vessels

So, out of this necessity, comes "Hippies to Hipsters:  From Clay to the Gourmet," a blog about everything i know and love.  Check back weekly or even daily, and you might find anything from; step-by-step instructions and photos on how i create some of the pieces from my portfolio, slip and glaze recipes, tips on ceramic chemistry, and bio's of other great ceramic artists, to information on where to find, or how to make good food, beer, and wine.

Hope you Enjoy!
-Nick Ramey