Putting The “G” In Goodbye

The people of Columbus generally, and German Village specifically, got some bad news this week: G. Michael’s Bistro is closing after more than twenty years of operation. The news of the restaurant’s closing was abrupt and was a shock to those of us who were G. Michael’s “regulars.” Apparently, the end came because the proprietors of the restaurant could not reach agreement with the owner of their building about a new lease. You can read their farewell message here.

We went to G. Michael’s, over and over and over again, because we always knew we could count on it for a fine meal and excellent service. I’ve had so many terrific dishes there, and I’ve written about some of them–like the spectacular duck sausage and white bean cassoulet appetizer featured in this 2017 post and pictured below. (I can still taste its delicate and succulent flavors in my memory.) We loved that the menu changed every so often, always giving us a chance to try something new while preserving a few never-changing standbys, like the shrimp and grits. And we also loved that it was only a block away from our house.

The closing of our favorite restaurant is hard to swallow (bad pun intended), and we’re not alone in that sentiment, as the sign above indicates. That’s because the relationship between “regulars” and their go-to dining option transcends a mere business relationship. The people at G. Michael’s knew us, and we knew them; we were greeted as friends by the always cheerful parking attendant as we approached the door and happily greeted again when we entered and walked to the host’s stand. Since we moved to German Village in 2015, we probably have eaten there more than 100 times–by ourselves, with family members and friends, and hosting large groups. I inevitably took clients who were in town on business to G. Michael’s because I knew that it would impress my guests about the quality of Columbus dining, the excellent fare, and the cool, relaxed German Village setting.

Now I’ve have to find a new favorite restaurant, and that sucks. G. Michael’s will be sorely missed.

You Know It’s The End Of The Tourist Season When . . . .

The Stonington Ice Cream Company proprietor has a simple way of notifying customers when he’s out of particular flavors: he puts tape on the flavors that have regrettably been totally scooped out and depleted. When I walked past on this Labor Day weekend—the traditional end to the summer tourist season—pretty much every ice cream flavor was gone except the old reliables vanilla, chocolate, and . . . moose tracks.

What’s wrong with the tourists this year? Chocolate and vanilla are classics, and moose tracks is pretty darned good, too. I would have thought that some experimental maple flavor would be the last man standing.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLII

Some locations seem like a revolving door for restaurants. A place will open, start offering its wares, and then before you know it a new restaurant has replaced it. The location at 72 Lynn Alley, in the heart of downtown Columbus, is one of those locations where dogged restauranteurs keep trying.

The new eatery at that location is called Aroma, and Dr. Science and I went there yesterday to check it out. Aroma is a Mediterranean venue with an extensive menu of appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, and pizzas made with a cauliflower crust. The Doc and I opted for handheld lunches—no cauliflower for me, thank you very much!—and I got the braised lamb wrap. It was quite good, packed with tender and juicy lamb that was delicately seasoned, and came with a mound of crisp and crunchy fries that were a lot more than I could eat. All in all, it was a considerable lunch at a reasonable price point. The server was pleasant and professional and the seating area is spacious, allowing Dr. Science to gesture freely as he lectured me on the delta variant in authoritative tones.

In short, Aroma looks well-suited to giving it a go, undeterred by the ghosts of Si Senor and other former residents of the space. I’d definitely go back for another one of those lamb wraps.

“Sunday Of The Week”

We stopped by the roadside picnic table eatery on Deer Isle yesterday for lunch after our golf outing, where I saw this sign. I got a laugh out of the heading, and since today is the true “Sunday of the week” I figured I would post this photo.

The described concoction looks like it has a week’s worth of ingredients. With ice cream, hot fudge sauce, Heath bar pieces, Whoppers, gummi bears, whipped cream, and M&Ms (what — no Milk Duds or SweeTarts?) you could enjoy the “Movie Madness” sundae from Sunday to Sunday.

Clam Hoes And Shedders

When you spend times in a different part of the country, often you learn new things.

Consider, for example, the evil-looking items being sold by an antique store in town. With long, sharp tines and short handles, they don’t look at all like innocent gardening tools. To the contrary, they look like the sort of implements Freddie Krueger or Jason would happily use to send witless teenagers to their painful, impaled demise.

So, what are they, exactly? As the hand-lettered sign explains, they are clam hoes—ideal for digging deep into the soft muck in the mudflats when the tide goes out and raking clams to the surface.

“Shedders” are another story—literally. The local newspaper ran a front page article, with photo, announcing that “shedders are in!” That’s big news in Stonington, because many locals contend that “shedders”—lobsters that have just molted their old, hard shell and are growing a new, softer-for-the-time-being shell—have sweeter meat and are the best eating lobsters of all.

We’re going to a lobster boil tonight, and if I draw a shedder—which you can identify because the shell can be easily cracked by hand—I’ll see if I can taste the difference. I am learning about local tools and terms, but my lobster palate may remain uneducated.

Foiled

The other day I was wrapping some food to put into the freezer. I noticed, as I have noticed before, that the aluminum foil that I was using for that purpose had one side that was decidedly more shiny than the other. But this time, that idle moment of recognition was followed by curiosity, and a question: when I wrap food, am I supposed to be distinguishing between the super shiny and less shiny sides and intentionally making sure that one side, or the other, is the inner side or outer side when the wrapping is done? In short, have I been doing things wrong for all these years by paying absolutely no attention to the sides of the foil and wrapping food randomly?

I checked the Reynolds Wrap box, which I’ve never read before, to see whether it has an instructions area. After all, manufacturers tend not to be shy in telling you the best way to use their products; in fact, you might say that product boxes are often pretty bossy about it. The Reynolds Wrap box says you can use the wrap to cover food and prevent “freezer burn,” use it to line pans before cooking, and cover bowls that are being put into the refrigerator to help keep the contents moist and avoid splatters. The box even offers tips about inventive uses of Reynolds Wrap, such as covering open ice cream with the foil to prevent formation of ice crystals, or shaping the foil into little cups to start seedlings or to hold nuts or candy. But there is nary a word about making sure to keep the shiny side against the food being wrapped.

Nevertheless, a debate rages on the internet. Some people feel strongly that the mirror-like side of the foil must always be on the interior next to the food, reasoning that the shiny side will reflect more of the radiant heat. You can read an exhaustive treatment of the subject here, which concludes that there really isn’t much difference in heat reflection. But the heat reflection analysis doesn’t make much sense to me in any case, in view of the fact that most uses of aluminum foil occur when you are putting something into the fridge or the freezer–in which case you wouldn’t care one whit about reflecting the radiant heat and in fact would want to take steps to cool or freeze the food being wrapped as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if you were using the aluminum foil to shape into little cups to hold M&Ms for a kid’s birthday party, you’d want to have the shiny side up to make for a more festive and color-reflective presentation.

In short, my effort to inform and potentially correct my aluminum foil usage came to naught. I’m convinced there is no difference, other than in the M&M cup context, with manufacturer silence on the topic being the deciding factor. So when you’re wrapping food for the freezer, feel free to place either side against the food according to your fancy at the moment.

In Corn Country

Lewisburg is in the middle of the farm belt of Pennsylvania. As soon as you leave the town, heading in any direction, you’re likely to run into a well-tended farm and an interesting old barn. And the crop of choice is corn, which rustles in the breeze and looks quite scenic as the backdrop for a white fence.

It looks like this year’s crop is coming in pretty well.

Failing The Pie Test

The Washington Post recently ran a thought-provoking piece on its opinion pages about pie. That’s right, pie — the warm, flaky, delectable dessert concoction. The writer’s point is that America, which apparently invented pie, is letting its salutary contribution to the dessert realm wither away, because Americans are forgetting how to make a good pie crust.

The piece, while alarmist in tone, has a point. The crust of a pie is as important to the whole pie experience as a crisp, delicately flavored, non-doughy crust is to a fine pizza–which makes sense because it is a pizza pie, after all. As the writer notes, more and more Americans are buying store-bought crusts that aren’t up to snuff, and in her experience even professional artisanal bakeries aren’t producing the light and flaky pie crusts that her mother and grandmother routinely pulled from the oven during her childhood.

The notion that America may be losing its collective pie crust know-how is a very disturbing thought and, for those of us who have personally experienced piece crust artistry, cruel news, indeed. My grandmother made an excellent pie crust, and the Harbor Cafe here in Stonington produces some excellent graham cracker crusts to go with its famous banana cream pie. But there is no doubt that the knack of making a great crust is the kind of thing that could be lost forever if not carefully handed down from generation to generation or, alternatively, reinvigorated by a new generation focused on preserving this important American institution.

I like baking, but I’ve always limited myself to cookies. I have considered baking a good pie crust to be akin to climbing Mount Everest. I’m taking the Post piece as a kind of challenge, however. I like pie–apple pie, like the kind shown in the photo above, is my favorite–and I’m not willing to stand idly by and watch pie die. When the winter rolls around, and it’s prime baking season, I’m going to take a crack at some pie baking, and hope that some of that pie artistry was passed down in the family genes.

On The Boil

Lobsters can get hot. When they are fresh from the lobster pot, steam cascading from their shells just after being deposited from the pot onto a lobster trap, you need to let those bad boys cool before you begin cracking shells and dealing with the boiling water to be found in every crack and crevice.

Fortunately there is a pretty scene, looking out over the islands off of Burnt Cove, as you wait for the steam to dissipate and the lobsters to cool. You take a sip of your wine—more than one, actually—and revel in the setting sun before you start to crush those shells and extricate the tender, succulent lobster meat. You see the setting sun carve a fiery torch into the surface of the salt water, and you wonder why anyone would want to be anywhere else at this special moment in time.

Then the sun sinks lower, and you understand Homer’s reference to the wine dark sea, and you relish the taste of the absolutely fresh, steaming lobster meat, and you hope that this summer will last forever, even as your conscious mind knows that it cannot.

Cereal Advances (III)

On this Independence Day, when we celebrate our liberty and freedom, let’s tip our cap to American cereal manufacturers, who clearly have taken the notion of liberty to heart. Here’s a new cereal I saw in the grocery store today that consists of a “crispy shell” filled with real chocolate. Not nuts, not fruit, not even honey — but actual chocolate.

And so cereal moves ever farther from its original conception as a kind of health food and moves closer to invading the candy aisle. When cereal includes actual chocolate, and not just cocoa, we’ve truly reached a new frontier.

Three Days In A Row

What do you do if you haven’t had a chance to have your favorite meal for weeks?

Me? I get my favorite meal—lamb korma, medium-plus on the spice scale, served by the friendly folks at Indian Oven—three days in a row.

It’s tough to do without your favorite meal for weeks at a time—that’s how you know they’re your favorite—and when I came back to Columbus I wanted to be sure to scratch that itch. So I scheduled lunches at IO for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Each lunch was at IO as part of a separate tradition involving summer clerk meals, thank-you recognitions, or mentoring catch-ups, so by going to IO I not only was getting my lamb korma fix, I was furthering the important role of tradition in our culture and supporting a great Columbus restaurant. Admittedly, though, the main reason to go three days in a row was to thoroughly reacquaint myself with the delectable combination of lamb, curry sauce, chopped egg and nuts, and basmati rice, all carefully mixed to make sure every grain of rice has been coated before lifting forkfuls to my mouth and relishing every bite.

I like trying different dishes and experimenting with new venues, but it’s important to stay in touch with those tried-and-true classics that always deliver a great meal. Is three straight days enough to serve that function? We’ll see, because today I’m having lunch somewhere else.

But I’ll be back at IO on Friday for lamb korma, round four.

Freezer Follies

Freezers were a crucial invention in the march of modern civilization. They allow us to store and preserve food until we are ready to consume it. They allow us to make the ice that permits us to enjoy those ice-cold drinks we crave on sweltering summer days, and they typically hold some of our guiltiest guilty pleasures, like pints of ice cream and frozen pizza. Where would we be without freezers?

But every freezer houses a deep, frozen secret. It’s that leftover item, carefully sheathed in aluminum foil for safekeeping, that’s been in the freezer so long, and has accumulated so much frost and freezer burn, that its true identity is no longer reasonably discernible. Once, long ago, at a point lost in the mists of time, it was wrapped and placed in the freezer with the best of intentions, to be preserved for certain future consumption. But those good intentions went unrealized when the glittering foil rectangle was buried under other freezer items, shunted into a remote, icy corner of the freezer, and forgotten. Days, weeks, and months passed as the once-edible item maintained its lonely, frigid vigil and felt itself changing from a potentially delectable food item into a sad, frozen brick that has been in the freezer so long that the aluminum foil has permanently bonded to its surface and cannot be completely removed by any process known to mortal man.

At some point, though, the freezer is cleaned out and the item is uncovered. The freezer explorer looks at it, doubtfully, and asks, with genuine curiosity: “What is this?” But careful, skeptical visual examination, and prodding with a finger, can provide no illumination. Is it chicken, or beef, or a remnant of a veggie burger, or perhaps something else entirely? Is that its true color and texture, or has its prolonged arctic experience created those unusual hues and bumps and ridges?

There’s only one way to know for sure—let it thaw, cook it somehow, and take a bite. Few souls, however, are hardy enough to accept the risks of gross discovery and that stale, freezer burn aftertaste that lingers in your mouth like a rank dish towel. No, the better, wiser, safer course is to discard the item. Some mysteries are best left unsolved.

The Great Unmasking (Cont.)

Yesterday I was on the road and in an airport for the first time in months. It was my first exposure to a mandatory mask environment after weeks of mask-free or at most temporary entry/exit masking on Deer Isle, where you see fewer and fewer people—residents or tourists—wearing their masks. I adjusted to a no-mask existence pretty easily and quickly, so being back in a mandatory mask environment was a bit jarring.

My travel day got messed up due to mechanical and weather issues, so I spent a lot of time in airport concourses, watching the world go by. And based on one day’s experience I’d say people are a lot laxer about masking now than they were at the height of the pandemic.

In part, I think this is due to the reopening of most businesses in the airport concourses, especially food businesses. Once you plant your behind in a chair in an airport restaurant or bar, you’re magically freed from the mask mandate. It’s kind of weird to think that food consumption creates a magical no-mask zone, but it’s a recognized loophole and people were taking advantage of it. I had dinner in a typical pub/restaurant place in Reagan National, and it was packed with people, crammed into seating areas that, like every airport dining option, was set up to leave you elbow-to-elbow with other patrons, and everyone had their masks off, chatting and laughing and inches away from unmasked strangers. No one seemed troubled by that. And yet, when you leave that magical mask-free zone, you’ve got to mask up again. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it makes me wonder if patrons are lingering longer, or consuming more, just to enjoy a few minutes more of unfettered breathing. I would guess it is boom times for all airport bars and eateries.

And speaking of consumption, travelers seemed to be taking advantage of the food consumption loophole to doff the mask and chow down in the gate areas, too. I saw one guy buying an armload of every kind of junk food you can imagine being sold by an airport concourse outlet—chips, soda, popcorn, jerky, cookies, and candy—and later saw him, mask off, noshing away on his calorie hoard. Others had bought take -out from fast food places and were taking their time and enjoying multiple gulps of maskless air as they ever-so-slowly ate their food. And one guy at National casually walked around, mask cinched up on his upper arm, carrying a cup of airport coffee, as if holding a beverage and taking a sip every few minutes excused him from mask requirements. He talked to a gate agent for a while without masking and she didn’t call him on it, either.

In this food loophole setting, the dire broadcasts over the loudspeakers about wearing only approved masks (no “gaiters”!) and being disciplined for not fully complying with mask mandates seem almost antique. Airports and airplanes will be the last bastion of masking, but I wonder how long it will be before they give it up. Yesterday’s food exception experience suggests the population is ready to bare their faces and accept the consequences.

Sunset Lobster At The Burnt Cove Boil

Tonight we paid our first visit of the summer to the Burnt Cove Boil. This classic outdoor venue operated by owner Jake McCarty became a favorite of ours last year, and I’m happy to report that it’s still terrific.

Why is the Burnt Cove Boil great? For one, you get a great view looking straight west at the sun setting over the islands in Penobscot Bay. For another, you eat sitting outside at picnic tables, and there’s just something fun and kind of magical about eating outside on a cool evening. And for still another, the natural remains of your meal get tossed back into the water, to return to the marine ecosystem. If you don’t think it’s fun to fling an oyster shell or crab claw or lobster tail into the seawater after you’ve finished with it, you’ve got another think coming.

But here’s the best thing about BCB: the food is excellent, and Jake is a great host. Tonight we started with local oysters, followed by stone crab caught about a mile away, then corn on the cob and lobsters caught just offshore. Everything was absolutely fresh, and that’s a big part of the reason why it was delicious. We used some rocks —also local—to crack open shells and made a merry mess of our picnic table.

While we waited for our next course to cool we enjoyed the quiet of the cove and the setting sun reflected on the water next to our table. The sky had cleared a bit and it was pleasantly warm in the sunshine. It wasn’t a bad view, either.

By the time our lobster arrived our paper trays were pretty well drenched, but we carried on anyway, ripping the steaming lobsters to shreds in search of every last morsel of succulent lobster meat. And after the lobster came the piece de resistance—individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

By the time we polished off our ice cream sandwiches and took our last swigs of Allagash White, the sun was a blaze of golden glory sinking low to the west and the seagulls were bobbing on the surface of the water. it was a beautiful scene to top off a great meal.

“Yes,” we thought, “we’ll come here again.”

Big Pot, Small Pot

We’ve had a bit of a coffee quandary in our household recently. The nagging question was about the size of our coffee pot.

We admit it: we like coffee and drinks quarts, if not gallons, of it each week. But that reality doesn’t really address the optimal pot size issue.

We had a small Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, shown above at right. The pot indicates it makes four cups of coffee, if you fill the pot to the brim, but that’s pretty misleading. Coffee pot “cups” are as arbitrarily undersized as the mysterious “servings” you see described on food packaging. This particular pot might hold four dainty cups that could be sipped by effete French elves, but it basically made enough for one steaming American mug of the black brew. It wasn’t wasteful, because we promptly drank every drop in the fresh pot, but we ended up making new pots constantly and walking around with partially filled cups so everyone could get their share of that precious caffeine. This clearly was not an ideal situation.

So we upped our game to the 12-cup Black and Decker model, which makes more than enough coffee to fill three cups—the kind with handles that you actually find in your cupboard—and more besides. We’re making fewer fresh pots of coffee, for sure, but estimating proper water intake to get the right pot size under the circumstances is more of a challenge. With the shrimpy model, you made a full pot every time, but the increased pot size requires careful consideration of your household’s likely coffee intake over the next hour or so. You’re aiming for the sweet spot that allows everyone to drink their fill of joe without leaving that remainder in the pot that boils down to an oil-like sludge that will curl your teeth if consumed. (Of course, on some days that oil-like sludge is precisely what you need to get that extra jolt.)

So, big honker, or elfin? All told, I’ll go for the bigger pot.