Big Hungry Awards 2010

It’s a tough time of year to be in the business of recommending places to eat while traveling, because while there is plenty of travel during holiday time, it is frequently the over the river and through the woods type, rather than the romantic weekend away type. And while you may stop to eat while on the way to your in-laws’ compound in Latham, chances are you’ve blown all your usual mad money buying an Xbox Kinect for the kids, so things like pork belly and foie gras are low on your list of priorities right now. So I’ve been working on something else to keep your culinary interests piqued this week without a typical recommendation post. What did I come up with? Well, awards season is upon us. Entertainment Weekly has already begun speculating about Oscars and Golden Globes, and I am anything but immune to mainstream media’s influence.
And so, I bring you the Big Hungry Awards! Even though Big Hungry Shelby has only been in existence since May, I want to start a tradition of naming some of my favorite items or places from the year and bestowing upon them the prestigious and completely made-up Big Hungry Award. How else will you be able to choose from among all these weekly posts and know what to go and get? Unfortunately, being a volunteer blogger with no funding for such extravagances, I do not have actual awards to give to my recipients. I hope the reward is that you, my Big Hungry Readers, will try out these gems for yourselves! And each and every winner gets bragging rights, of course…

I think it’s only right to start with the Big Hungry for Best Bacon I’ve tasted this year. There have been so many highlights, including last week’s hot little appetizer at Number 5, the braised bacon steak. However, my favorite bacon this year wasn’t served in a restaurant; it was a birthday gift from my parents, who vacationed in Virginia over the summer: Basse’s Choice Plantation Dry Cured Bacon. This decadent slab of perfection is unwieldy – you’re sunk without a good, heavy-duty sharp knife, as the rind is still intact. It is also one of the most flavorful and delicious bacons I’ve ever tasted, and this from the woman who once ordered a boxful of bacon from a rural Tennessee smokehouse simply because Gourmet magazine recommended it. This is porky, complex, cured with sugar and salt before a very light smoking…simply divine.

Best Appetizer – the first thing that came to mind is the tuna tartar at Perry’s Steakhouse in Austin. I think about that tartar all the time and how freakin’ delicious it was. But I sort of feel like that isn’t really eligible to win, because I didn’t eat anything else there and the joint isn’t even in New York, ya know? So this award goes to the lobster, shrimp and goat cheese salad at BC restaurant in Syracuse. The reason this salad wins a Big Hungry Award is that I don’t like salad. I mean, I eat salad. Who doesn’t? But it’s not really high up on my list, culinarily-speaking. However, this salad transcended my usual meh-ness about lettuce leaves and vinegar, and was something I really enjoyed. To refresh your memory, it was chunks of lobster and shrimp, silky shitake mushrooms and slivers of goat cheese over mixed greens with a cayenne and lemon dressing. The seafood was so tender, it was akin to the goat cheese in texture, and the vinaigrette was mellow and light, not too tart. I’ve since found out that the BC owners also serve this salad at their Japanese outpost in Skaneateles, Kabuki, which is now on my list of places to dine. I can’t wait to taste it again.

This next one’s easy. The 2010 Big Hungry for Best Dessert blew my mind. It rendered me deaf, dumb and blind, and I am not easy to shut up. At an unassuming bar facing the Ithaca Commons is the fabled Ithaca Ale House, home of the best French dip sandwich I’ve ever eaten and rapidly becoming my favorite restaurant in all of the Southern Tier. Their fried Oreos are a revelation, because even though you know it’s good because, DERR, it’s a fried cookie, it’s better than even that. I was not kidding in the original post about this, that whilst eating it, I simply stared into the open kitchen, wondering how on Earth all those little skinny boys in there made something that was giving me a lobotomy as I ate it. This dessert changed all other desserts for me, and even the Ale House’s splendid chocolate cookie sundae cannot top it.

Big Hungry Best Dessert 2010

This next one is fun, because I never actually posted about it on Big Hungry Shelby, just on the Facebook group site. The last time my parents and I dined at Ryan’s Lookout in Henderson for the season, I ordered a special: pork osso bucco. It is the Best Entrée I consumed in 2010. The pork shank was slow braised in madeira wine and served simply, falling off the bone, tender and rich with that reduced wine yumminess. Next year, when you go to Ryan’s (which you must!), get this if it’s available. It was so good, I was actually honored to get to eat it. No kidding.

Big Hungry Best Entrée 2010

The Best Cocktail Award goes to the bloody mary at The Standard in Albany. My friend Melinda and I are bloody mary aficionados, and have consumed them all over the place. I like Ithaca Ale House’s version, with good spice and Absolut Pepar…but it can’t hold a candle to The Standard’s offering. It’s bad when you leave a restaurant after having had two rounds of drinks and talk the rest of the day about how you wished you’d had another – not because of the alcohol, but because it was so delicious. If you are a sophisticated cocktail lover, don’t miss The Standard.

Best Ambiance – Fireside at Partridge Berry Inn, hands down. While I love sitting in the Simply Red dining room at the Sheldrake Point Vineyards on a lovely summer’s day, that spot kind of takes advantage of a beautiful piece of real estate. At the Fireside, someone has done some good work. The interior is warm, comforting, stylish, old world and chic. In remodeling and revamping this once-colonial space, the owners have created a setting that’s appropriate for date nights, office parties, girls’ nights out and family dinners all at the same time. The warm colors, roaring fires and tasteful, lush floral arrangements are spot-on, as is the food. And as we all know, what good’s a gorgeous interior if the food doesn’t match?

Big Hungry Best Ambiance 2010

Best Blogger Perk came in the form of a goodie package from the Savannah Bee Company, after I mentioned them in my holiday gift guide this fall. They sent me a sweet variety pack of their honey. I’ve had a blast experimenting with the different flavors, and absolutely adore their grill honey in the honey mustard chicken with carrots and parsnips recipe I posted on the BHS Facebook page a few weeks back. The grill honey compliments the chicken and savory dijon mustard really well, and I can’t wait to try out some of the other goodies.

To be sure, I had some surprises in 2010 in the restaurants I discovered. I absolutely didn’t expect The Ithaca Ale House to become a favorite, and I never expected the Ives Hill Restaurant to be such a hidden gem, just a few blocks away from my parents’ house. The 2010 Big Hungry Award for Best Surprise goes to Ives Hill. When I attended my sister-in-law’s bridal shower there over the summer, the quality of the food we were served, as well as the redecorated dining room and lounge bowled me over. I can’t wait to do a review of the lounge menu in the new year and sample more of what this bombshell of a bistro has to offer.

Big Hungry Best Surprise 2010

Finally, I think it’s only right that I choose a Best Restaurant. It’s hard! There are many meals I’ve graded a 9 out of 10 on the completely arbitrary Big Hungry Shelby scale this year. Standouts include Ryan’s Lookout, Joey’s TI Club, Ives Hill, Moxie and Maxie’s in Conklin and Ithaca, respectively, and Fireside at Partridgeberry Inn. These are all places where my friends, family and I stuffed our faces, leaned back in our chairs, and exclaimed, “That. Was. Good!” Oddly, the place I’m naming Big Hungry Best Restaurant isn’t an upscale, fine dining establishment. The Ithaca Ale House is the place I want to go back to again and again, so that I can try each and every thing on their menu. This is sandwiches, burgers, flatbread pizzas and adult beverages! Not risotto, steaks, seafood and fine wines! But for all the beer being sloshed around and bar atmosphere, the Ale House is taking really good care of its patron’s tummies. And that, my friends, is what BHS is all about. Feed me well, and I will love you forever.

Big Hungry Best Restaurant 2010

And there you have it, my friends. The best of what’s around…round one. My holiday wishes for a fun and festive year end go out to each and every one of you. Please have a safe, joyous and delicious conclusion to 2010. Big Hungry Shelby will be back in 2011 with more delightful treats, fun escapes and indulgent road trips. I can’t wait, and I hope you keep reading. Thanks so much for being a captive audience to all my salivatory rants and gluttonous ravings this year. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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