Lowcountry Spoils

Throughout my formative years, the en vogue South Carolinian vacation destinations consisted entirely of Myrtle Beach, the garish, tourist Mecca suited for those of us firmly entrenched in the middle class, and Hilton Head, the higher class, golfer's paradise. Curiously, I never knew anyone vacationing in the Charleston area in those halcyon 90s years. Pity. Because while Myrtle has flash and HHI has panache, Charleston inherited all the southern charm missing from its popular big sisters.

My college suite mates, Robin and Katie, once again met me in South Carolina for a wild weekend of decadence and giddy exuberance, but this time, we chose the Old Grande Dame, The Holy City, Charleston, and her bedroom communities of Mount Pleasant and Isle of Palms. It was Katie's idea, I believe, to converge on the Lowcountry Oyster Festival for our girls weekend this year. And I thank her for that, because not only did we have a blast at the festival, but I believe both these gorgeous girls will be guest blogging in the next week or two with their recaps of that very delicious event.

But I'm not here today to talk oysters. I want to tell you that while a country mile's worth of good eats resides within the boundaries of Chucktown, Mount Pleasant is holding its own. If you stay on IOP or in MP, hie thee to the Old Village Post House. Get some beef carpaccio, first of all. Then feel free to send me something pretty in thanks.

We ate twice at the Post House last weekend, and I had this dish twice. The first time, I adored the shallot-tinged black truffle vinaigrette and how it balanced the lush, soft, whisper-thin beef. The peppery arugula salad, large, salty shavings of Parmesan, and rich, soft-cooked egg all worked in harmony to create a luxurious mouthfeel and über flavorful appetizer. The weakest link? The spongey, too-toasted Pullman bread slices served alongside, rather than baguette. But have no fear, because during our second visit, the dish changed ever so slightly!

Note the garlic aioli in place of the vinaigrette, as well as the proper, airy, crunchy bread. I liked the dressing on the first dish better, and the bread on the second, but honestly, I'm mincing hairs here. This is a slam dunk. Also good at Post House: the Thai squash soup, which Robin correctly noted tastes like, "if velvet had a flavor." This also is a solid place to get your shrimp and grits fix on. While Katie and I agreed the shrimp were slightly overcooked, the tomato bacon sauce they were served in was bodacious enough, with a depth of flavor and skilled seasoning, to excuse the sin. Think amatrciana pasta sauce, but southerner up. And the local geetchie grits were the exact point at which texture and flavor meet. That is also the point at which I groan whilst I eat.

Because I am a huge fan of Chef Sean Brock and what he's doing with his Charleston eating empire - hyper local, Southern-only sourcing, heirloom products, etc - I dragged the girls to Husk for dinner. And I encouraged them to eat chicken skins, because I like to spread my gluttony around as much as possible. 

But it was the tomato salad with Bibb lettuce and pimento cheese vinaigrette that knocked our socks off at this sumptuous meal. The tomatoes were literally the most flavorful, tomatoey tomatoes I have ever tasted, the lettuce was almost silken in texture, the soft-cooked eggs (quite the rage now, I see) were battered and deep fried (thud), and the little chunks of savory incarnate country ham and dreamy, creamy, sweet and tangy dressing had us all yearning to lick the bowl. I haven't lost my mind over a salad like this since BC Restaurant's lobster affair with lemon cayenne vinaigrette. Husk changes its menu every night, but if any version on this salad is available when you go, order two. 

After all the pork, country vegetables, and luscious seafood you're bound to toss down your gullet at Husk, or FIG, or Slightly North of Broad, or The Ordinary, you might need a cocktail. Grab a cab, head towards upper King St., and find yourself a stool at Prohibition. With luck, Griffin the Barkeep will be on the other side of the good ship S.S. Hipster, and his heavily inked arms will craft you one of the best drinks you've had in your whole life. Predictably, I partook of several margaritas made with jalapeño-infused tequila and housemade cilantro simple syrup. And at one point, Griffin sent a round of fireball whiskey shooters our way, which were tempered with some concoction that dulled the sting and made them sing. 

Once you've slept off the heady elixirs Prohibition is pouring, hair of the dog might be in order. The remedy is at Toast, on Meeting St., just up the road from the glorious hotel I stayed at during my last visit, The charleston Place. Toast is bustling, but it serves bottomless mimosas and bacon bloody Marys, which will really help you forget how long you waited for your table.

The biscuits were not quite up to my muster here. They were lacking that pinch of salt and buttery mouthfeel each flake needs. But the fried green tomato crab cake Benedict hit the spot, and overall, it was pretty good here. Put it on your list if everyone in your party isn't a total foodie, because the menu has a good selection.

If you can't tell already, this is an area of our country with charm, attitude, and not a little bit of mystery. Check out these trees, for biscuits' sake!

Forget Myrtle's boardwalk, and Hilton Head's crowded beaches, and make the trip to the Holy City. It has that quintessential Southern feel that's getting lost these days in the bigger tourist towns, but there's still enough to do for the whole family. Tour a plantation, shop the city market, get lost in a gorgeous, ancient graveyard, seek out the best praline, or make friends with Griffin. Or hit up the biggest oyster festival in North America! Explore Carolina's haunting, tasty Lowcountry, and enjoy the splendor of sights like this, even in January:

Sure beats the -6 degree suckitude I dealt with this morning on the way to work! Do we burn more calories in frigid temps? Please Lord, let it be. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


A Brief on Brunch

Nestico's Too on Urbanspoon
What are your feelings on brunch? Does it make you sad to have missed breakfast? Do you love its inherent implication of sleeping in? Do you resent the combination of two words, because it reminds you too much of Brangelina, and you wish those two crazy kids would just get married, already? For me, brunch is an excuse to cut out an entire meal’s calories and double stack them into one meal – I like the mental math of getting twice the caloric allowance in one sitting, and crave the idea of savory breakfast items somehow augmented and made more decadent because I won’t be eating lunch that day.

As it turns out, though, brunch is not a prevalent thing in Upstate New York. Here in Binghamton, you have Tranquil and Traditions at the Glen to choose from for Sunday brunch options, and neither really sets my hair on fire. I know people ‘round these parts love Tranquil, but Melinda and I stopped in there for brunch last summer, and I downright disliked my food. Moreover, the neighborhood is dangerous, the place is loud, and the menu is very limited. Traditions is a mixed bag – I’ve been there when it was great, and when the food quality and quantity were low. The brunch there is a buffet, so if the staff isn’t filling up the steam trays with fresh food, the whole affair goes downhill rather quickly.

Back in November, my little pageant family and I were in Syracuse for the Miss America Homecoming festivities, and needed a good brunch spot to hit up before the final Sunday show. As it turns out, Salt City is another town hungry for brunch spots. The blues brunch at Empire Brewing Company was suggested to me, but my parents and I like to be able to chat over a meal, and indoor live music never seems to be conducive to that, for me. So we hit up Nestico’s Too, on Genesee St. Nestico’s isn’t serving brunch, per se, but the breakfast crowd here was fabulous. We had to wait 20 minutes for a table – for breakfast! You can get breakfast all day here, too, which is nice. Brunch can really be when you like it, not when The Man tells you to eat it.

I’m not going to go on and on endlessly about the food, because everything we had was really good, but not, like, redefining what it means to be bacon and eggs or anything.  There are some inventive dishes on the menu, like create-your-own waffles, a pepperoni-laced frittata, and my choice, the Country Eggs Benedict, featuring de rigeur poached eggs teetering atop a nest of corned beef hash and English muffins, blanketed in sausage gravy and freshened up with diced tomato. I loved that they added that sprinkle of diced tomato, because this dish could have been a total gut bomb, but that little hint of acidity and brightness cut through the thick, creamy gravy, salty hash, and rich egg yolk in the perfect way to bring balance. It was decadent, not overly heavy. Well done!

As we continue to have pageant events in Syracuse, I think we’ll be back to Nestico’s. The service was chipper and cheerful, despite the teeming crowds of people clamoring to be fed. It was cute and casual in there, and though a little out of the way from the places we’re usually frequenting in The Cuse, I would consider it worth the drive. If you have a favorite breakfast or brunch spot in Syracuse, please do educate us in the comment section, below. I’m eager for more options, though I’d happily pay a return trip here for a veggie-packed frittata or one of the cinnamon rolls, which looked fantastic.

I’m off for a very exciting mini-break this weekend, to Mount Pleasant and Charleston, SC for the Lowcountry Oyster Festival and to see my two best girlfriends from college, Katie and Robin! We’re eating at my Charleston fave, Husk, plus some good Southern seafood shacks in Isle of Palms, plus Katie and Robin will be guest-blogging the festival here in the coming weeks. So get ready for a delicious dispatch from the Southland. I’m just excited to escape this frozen tundra for a little sun, a lot of shellfish, and some zany fun with my girls. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


A Little Pepe in Your Pie

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon
America's enthusiasm for pizza is remarkable - and why not? The pie of dough, tomato, and cheese, like a lot of our food obsessions, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Pizza means comfort, it means a party, it means Friday at school and late night college cravings. It's good cold for breakfast, ooey, gooey for lunch, and kicked up with gourmet toppings for dinner. It is pedestrian and artisanal, and I have watched probably the equivalent of several years of television devoted to it between the Food Network, Travel Channel, and The Cooking Channel.

During many of those hours, for years, I have seen coverage of Frank Pepe's, in New Haven, CT. I think I first heard of New Haven's pizza culture in Gourmet Magazine, in the early aughts, when the road food column was one of my favorite reads. The couple who wrote Road Food lauded the thin, cracker-like crust and unique toppings at both Frank Pepe's and its little Italy rival Sally's. This rivalry has since been highlighted many times on the Travel Channel's many food shows. When my brother Richard and his family moved to New Haven last fall, my salivary glands were ready to pay a visit immediately.

Frank Pepe's pizza shop is located on an unremarkable street in New Haven's Little Italy, across from a bar and a bakery, and next to Pepe's full service restaurant, which seems to serve locals, while the tourist-bloated pizza shop line stretches down the street. I felt like all the people eating there were laughing at us while we waited. I should also mention that New Haven seems rather quaint, with an idyllic, Federalist town square, and its waterfront parkways, but my brother reports a pretty shocking crime rate. So, you know, don't let anyone steal your pizza, is what I'm saying.

But the condescending stares of anonymous New Englanders don't scare me! After a relatively quick half hour or so in line, we found our seats and pizza bliss. We started with a bottle of the house soda, white birch beer from a local, Conneticut producer - it was sweet, but bracing - and a nice salad to share, plus a cuddle from my adorable niece Georgia.

And before we knew it, the main event was upon us. Because I like to test out what the TV has told me, we got the clam pie. Yes, you read that correctly. Pepe's puts steamed clams on white pizza with lots of garlic. We asked for bacon on ours, which I have been told is the clutch combo, but sadly, the bacon didn't save this one for me.  I didn't love this pizza as much as I wanted to - clams are just a little fishy for me outside of a traditional chowder setting - but I have to admit that the thin, crunchy crust soaking in that glorious, buttery garlic oil was utter glutton Heaven. And you know me, I'll eat just about anything, whether I really like it or not. If you love clams, you'll like this pizza, and if linguine with clam sauce is your jam, you will love it.

Our second pie, a straight up margarita, was my jam. The tomato was sweet and bright, the fresh mozzarella cheese was full-flavored, bubbly, and browned, you could taste fresh basil, and that crust was really living up to its potential here. For a thin crust pizza, this pie was more luscious than I expected, a really satisfying amalgamation of crisp dough, gooey cheese, and strong, classic Italian flavor. I would eat this pizza everyday, and never complain. I particularly loved the charred bits of crust on the edges - the signature of a great oven running hotter than hell's seventh circle. Hoo boy.

May I have another slice?

Service is brusque at Frank's, though not unfriendly, and you should be kind to those in the line outside by eating your 'za and getting the heck out, toot suite. That's good manners, man.

That dude looks dubious about my photography, but these guys were actually really fun, and look at all that gorgeous pizza and subway tile. That's the name of my memoirs: Gorgeous Pizza and Subway Tile. Just kidding. But see that oven? That's where the magic happens, all embedded in the wall and reveling in its own charcoal-fired glory. That oven is an antique, and the pizza it cranks out can't be imitated by newer, commercial ovens. It's the real deal, baby.

Next time I visit Richard and Liz, we may have to hit up Louis Lunch, which is the first restaurant in America to ever serve a hamburger, but I'm going to put in a plea for a return trip to Pepe's too. There are more toppings to explore here, and with pizza this good, I wouldn't mind hitting up the bustling locals-only spot next door and see what kinds of pasta these guys can muster up. I highly recommend adding Pepe's to your culinary tourism to-do list, as I thoroughly enjoyed our entire lunchtime visit. If you've sampled Pepe's pie, let me know in the comments. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


In a Galaxy Really Quite Nearby, Actually

Galaxy Brewing Co on Urbanspoon

When a new restaurant comes to either Watertown or Binghamton, I get excited, but I also never want to go there too near the opening. I just don’t think it’s fair to review a place when it’s too new. The front of the house and the kitchen haven’t figured out how to communicate yet, the line hasn’t gotten into their groove, and it’s usually so packed, it’s not even enjoyable. That’s why I waited a couple weeks when Zona & Co. opened last winter, and one of the reasons I’m just now getting you a review of Galaxy Brewing Company, also in Binghamton. Galaxy opened in the early Fall, I believe, but the first chance I had to eat there was during Restaurant Week, which is not a full representation of the menu, and my second visit was just this past weekend, when Shawn and I went with Big Hungry Melinda and her man friend BLD.

I’m pleased to report that Galaxy has great beer and good food, and slightly less enthusiastic to tell you about the service, which I wasn’t crazy about during either visit. To be fair, we had the same waitress both times, and it’s possible I just find her irritating – and while I won’t name her, I will describe some of her shenanigans, and you can tell me in the comments if you’ve had the same experience there.

Melinda and I had our Restaurant Week Lunch at Galaxy back in September. We both liked our beers, chosen from the top of the menu, indicating they’re on the easy end of the micro-brewing scale. I particularly liked the white dwarf whit, a Belgian brew with coriander and orange hints. It was light enough to go with food without being so bitter as to overwhelm my relatively conservative beer palate.

Melinda and I both ordered the BC burger off the RW menu, which was supposed to come with balsamic onions and bacon. It was one of only three options on the RW lunch menu, but I was genuinely excited about the balsamic onions – too bad neither of our burgers had them or the bacon promised. The hamburger itself was juicy, cooked correctly, and pretty tasty, but when we told the waitress ours weren’t made correctly – which took some time, she was not a frequent visitor to our table – she shrugged and said she’d let the kitchen know. No offer to get the right burgers for us, or even an apology, and we were charged the full price for our meals. That…is not a great way to make a first impression on a food blogger, which I had happened to reveal myself to be when the owner, Michael, stopped by our table before the entrees arrived.

The macaroni and cheese I ordered as a side to my burger was delicious, though. Clearly a homemade cheese sauce, with lots of good, sharp cheddar and al dente macaroni. It didn’t have a ton of personality to make it exciting or different from a standard macaroni and cheese – but I didn’t need that in order to enjoy it alongside a juicy burger.

We also ordered dessert as part of the RW experience, but the choices were not fully described to us. I chose the carrot cake, which is my favorite of all the cakes, and was surprised to find the frosting had curry in it. That was a cool twist, and an interesting choice, but the waitress should have told us this wasn’t a traditional carrot cake with cream cheese frosting – a lot of people dislike curry and would not have been as pleasantly surprised as I was with the spice. In addition, the cake slice had been pre-cut, probably that morning, so the exterior of the cake was completely dried out and tough. Good flavor from the carrots and the spices, but some mistakes were made here.

As you can tell, while we mostly liked the food during that first visit, our service left a lot to be desired. So imagine my disappointment when the same waitress breezed up to our table last weekend and introduced herself – I was less than enthused to see her. And again during this meal, the food was mostly pretty great, with a few caveats that could have been easily remedied by a server more willing to, well, serve.

We started with the crispy pork belly, because we are smart people who know what’s good for us. Actually, Shawn, bless his heart, tried to offer a voice of reasoned health, to dissuade me from ordering it. What a silly, silly man! The rest of us gladly ate his share, and reveled in the crispy exterior, unctuous, and the almost melted, porky interior. This was masterfully cooked, with a pleasing textural difference between the crunchy crust and oozy fat. The whole grain mustard served with it countered all that luxurious fat perfectly, offering tang and heat right where it was needed. The apple and fennel slaw on top was crisp and clean, a second great foil to the rich meat. We adored this dish.

Melinda and Derek selected the beer moules frites, or mussels and fries. The bi-valves were adorned in a broth packed with almond slices, gorgonzola cheese, green onions, more pork belly, and lemon. I don’t groove on mussels, but I always appreciate when others order them, because the sauce is invariably delicious with bread. But instead of bread, Galaxy is serving theirs with a small bowl of fries. The fries are hand cut and double fried – in other words, done right – but are just not enough to sop up all of the sauce, which in this case, was indeed exemplary. When we asked for some bread, our waitress, naturally, snottily informed us that that’s what the fries are for. Yeah, thanks Lady. I’m not an idiot – I know frites means fries, but I’m the customer, and I’ve asked for some bread. Could you rustle some up for us? She finally sent some, but not until our entrees were brought to the table, by which time we were over eating the appetizers. I did not appreciate that treatment, and this served as her second demerit in my book.

Derek had the bone-in pork chop, and loved it so much, it was almost gone before I had a chance to steal a taste. It was thick, juicy, and not at all overcooked like the pork chops of your childhood. The tender meat was very well seasoned, as well, so I bet it was brined before grilling. The white bean ragout served with the chop was savory and earthy, the beans cooked al dente, and also well seasoned.

Melinda and I both chose the hanger steak. Apparently, we like the same things at Galaxy! So, the issue here is that the steak was undoubtedly rested after coming off the grill, but they rested it so long, it was ice cold. As in, there was a tasty compound butter with lemon and tarragon served on top of it, but the steak wasn't even warm enough to melt it. So we had sliced steak and a big glob of cold butter on top of it. What’s the point of that? While cooler food, in and of itself, doesn’t bug me, Melinda can’t stand for her food not to be hot, so then she had to play the waiting game for our waitress to return so she could send the dish back to the kitchen. It was a long wait, and Melinda’s dinner was effectively ruined. Not surprisingly, there was no apology from our lovely server. The potato cake that came with the cold steak was well seasoned, though a bit overcooked. I liked it more than a lot of other potato cakes I’ve had in restaurants, and it wasn’t greasy at all, but just a little tough on the outside due to excessive browning. The bacon jam served with the steak, though terrific in theory, was really too sweet for me, which I hate to report. Maybe the lemon butter would have balanced that, had it melted properly over the dish? I don’t know. There’s no way for me to go back and get that butter melted – but the quantity of the jam was too much, and the sweetness of it was overwhelming, giving the whole dish a sugary punch that was unwelcome on my palate.

Shawn went for the chicken jambalaya, at my recommendation. He likes spicy food, and I thought this would be. It was tasty, alive with the assertive, fresh flavors of bell peppers, tomatoes and onions, but not spicy, and lacking the depth that a proper Cajun roux and seasonings would have lent. Usually Andouille sausage really brings the chile spice, but maybe the balance of that ingredient was off, or something – this just came up short on fire for me.
It may be due to one waitress, but I’ve found both my experiences at Galaxy to be less than satisfactory. There is clearly some talent in the kitchen, but the assortment of entrees is a little odd – spelt pasta? Really? – and there doesn’t seem to be a general sense of hospitality there. We’ve talked about this before, and I’ll mention it again – the trend in modern American eateries of bucking the bread basket and complimentary salad in order to keep food costs within reason bothers me. A bread basket, or some form of complimentary starter, is a big part of a restaurant feeling hospitable and warm. Plus, when you take away the salad course, and the chef isn’t bothering to compose an entrée that incorporates greens of some kind (neither the hanger steak nor the pork chop dish came with a veg), you’re going the entire meal with no vegetal variety, and that makes for a heavy meal, indeed. I understand that food costs have skyrocketed in recent years, and to strip out these extras is to keep entrees prices at a point where people will still eat out with some frequency – but what are we swapping when we lose these niceties? Sound off in the comments, and let me know what you think. Our group rated Galaxy a six on the BHS scale, with a strong shot at a seven if some of the little service issues and inconsistencies could be worked out. You can drink very well here, and have a good nosh, too, but it would be hard for this to become one of my favorite places to eat, with all of the little peccadilloes.

Melinda and I are very excited to be trying out another new Southern Tier restaurant, Food and Fire, tonight, and next week, be sure to stop back and check out The 2013 Big Hungry Awards, a round-up of my favorite sips, bites, and places this year. Hope you’re having a grand holiday season, and that you’re keeping warm during this cold snap! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

The View at Skewed

Typically, restaurants in shopping malls are not the kind of thing I choose to discuss via Big Hungry. I mean, y’all don’t want to read about, like, the epic salad bar at Ruby Tuesday or the piquant nuances of the bourbon chicken in the food court, right? But up in Watertown, at the fabled Salmon Run Mall, closed this week due to the “Artic Vortex,” (Whomever came up with that name has got to be like the cat who ate the canary today), is a new bar and grille born from my favorite Sackets Harbor haunt The Hops Spot. Surely, a mom and pop- owned, craft beer-focused eatery helmed by a graduate of the International Culinary Center’s California campus must be the exception to this rule, no? And so, with joyous anticipation, my parents and I supped at Skewed Brewing on Christmas Eve; a festive repast indeed.

Now, to be clear, they aren’t actually brewing anything yet at Skewed. That endeavor takes some time, and it appears that the equipment is in, but maybe the beer isn’t ready yet. Rest assured, there ARE lots of good choices on the bar menu, and while Dad went for a berry-tinged Abita Purple Haze, I very much enjoyed my dark and stormy cocktail, which featured the new haute ice in Foodieland: the gigantic, solid ice ball. This behemoth melts slower than puny cubes of frozen H20, thereby dissolving less water into your drink and diluting all your liquor. I’m a lightweight, so a watered down drink has never really been a peeve of mine, but man, does the big ball make your drink cold! I also loved the high quality ginger beer rather than boring Schwepp’s ginger ale in this spicy little number – it leant the cocktail personality and kick it otherwise would have lacked.

You guys know how into appetizers I am of late. At Skewed, I was dying to sample the duck wings, baked brie, fried pickles, and lamb carpaccio. But there were only three of us at the table, my Mom’s appetite isn’t all that ferocious anymore, and wanting to try both starters and entrees, we settled on the perogies. I don’t regret this choice one, single iota. Because: yum. Yes, these were a frozen perogies, but they were pan fried in duck fat, then dolloped with house-made bacon jam and crème fraiche, sour cream’s chicer cousin. This dish was great, and I suggest down the line, Chef Andy considers making the perogies from scratch and naming this a signature starter for the restaurant, because the bacon jam is aces, and this plate of homey delight could really become something more than the sum of its parts and a real draw if he kicked it up just one more notch (excuse the Emerilism there). I know I throw this term around a lot, but the bacon jam at Skewed is literally meat candy: sweet, tangy, and salty, and when paired with the crème fraiche, hit all the flavor notes you want to kick up your comfort food.

Chef Andy knew I was in the house that night, and sent us out a starter of his own accord: butternut squash soup with truffle oil, fried pepitas, and fried sage. I’m traditionally a dissenter of squash soups, because they almost always finish overly sweet and are spiced solely with sweet pie spices, but this bowl had heat, complexity, warmth, yes, but also earthiness and funk from the truffle oil to ground all that sweetness. The texture was ultimate velvet pleasure, and the crunch of the fried pumpkin seeds gave your mouth something to do besides moan. Order this if it’s on special when you go, and don't you dare sass me about it.

Mom, our simplest palate and the diner you should trust if you’re bringing any kids with you to eat, went with her stalwart chicken tenders as her entrée. But unlike rote, pedestrian fried chicken strips she’s been served almost everywhere else in Upstate New York, these suckers were beer battered with Yuengling Beer. The beer leant the whole works much more depth than you get from simple breading, and quite simply, we all loved them. The chicken was juicy and tender (as the name implies), and that batter brought tremendous flavor to the table. These are Mom’s new addiction, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s finding all sorts of new excuses to go to the mall and sneak in an order in 2014;)

I went for the truffled duck, savory with lots of sage and sweet with dried cherry demi. The duck breast was perfectly cooked medium, and perhaps the most tender I’ve ever had – not a trace of resistance to the meat. This dish, with its herbed spaetzel, or tender little noodle dumplings, was perfectly suited to a winter’s night – woodsy and deep. In fact, if you can get your car out of the driveway this weekend, you should go and try it. Those spaetzel were like tender little butter nuggets, dense but light, and great with the duck. I don’t know a ton of places in the North Country doing duck dishes right now, but this is a great place to try it if you’ve been hankering.

Dad chose the steak au poivre, which is sometimes local NY-raised, grassfed beef, but because of the holiday, was run-of-the-mill NY strip. No matter, because the cognac cream sauce is stealing this show. This sauce was everything – round with butter and cream, silky, earthy, masculine. Other sauces have pictures of this sauce on their vision boards. The steak was solid too, with great grilled charcoal flavor and very juicy, but the sauce was the star of the dish. We all sampled, and enjoyed, the crisp, bright green beans served alongside, and Dad quite liked the creamy mashed potatoes.

We were perusing the dessert menu when our lovely, friendly waitress let us know that Chef Andy had a surprise for us. Do you remember the Vegan Nightmare, from Bella’s in Clayton, that I raved about a couple summers ago? Well, Chef Andy was working in Bella’s kitchen that summer and was largely responsible for that dish, alongside Chef Gabe Aubertine, and now he’s come up with its delicious mess Frankenstein grandchild, The Vegan Nightmare 5.0. A crispy bacon brownie sundae with sriracha-spiced chocolate-covered bacon, Nutella-stuffed fried dough, and a boozy cream sauce, anchored by vanilla ice cream. This monster is enough to feed four, and a delightful chaotic exclamation point to a good meal. I particularly liked the spice of the sriracha to balance the sweetness, and those little Nutella doughnuts were a glutton’s wet dream.

I feel like this review has been almost too rosy so far, so let me say that Dad complained that the steak knife was cheap and kind of tore the meat, and the squash soup was too spicy for Mom to eat. I happened to love the assertive flavors and how hard Skewed is trying to advance and challenge palates in little old Watertown. I’ve also heard grumblings through the grapevine that people think the prices are high here for bar food. But honestly, my dish was really fine dining, and $27 for duck is bargain basement cheap compared to what you’d pay for that same dish in NYC or DC. Yes, some of the appetizers are a little high, but again, what are you paying these days at Olve Garden for a starter? Take a look and you get back to me, and tell me if duck wings for $9 are really that big a stretch. Because I don’t think they are.

The important thing about Skewed Brewing is that it’s a step forward. The fun, witty menu, clean, modern interior, and adventurous world cuisine are unlike anything going on right now in the area, save Café Mira, which is really a white tablecloth place. Skewed and The Hops Spot are making cool, new American cuisine accessible to the masses, in place you can go in jeans and a t-shirt, get great food, and then move along. More importantly, it's owned, run, and staffed by real people. This food is being crafted by someone who cares very much about dining as an activity, and about delighting his customers. He wants to talk to you about hot sauce, and discuss why duck fat is the coolest ingredient since kale salad stormed the country. We are fortunate to have people like Andy, Gabe, and Lori Wells (Café Mira) in this area, people who care about quality and the unique art of hospitality. We gave Skewed Brewing a nine on the BHS scale, and I can’t wait to go back for lunch and try the mac and cheese, plus the pizzas, which look wicked.

If you’ve been to Skewed, sound off in the comments, and let me know what you thought! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!
 Skewed Brewing on Urbanspoon