T.G.I. Friday’s Makes a Good Cobb Salad

Some coworkers and I went out to lunch last week at T.G.I. Friday’s and, as I had a late breakfast that day, I didn’t really want something too heavy. I started looking over their lunch menu and noticed that they had a Cobb salad — and considering that Cobb salads have both avocado and blue cheese, I could hardly resist. But, if you’re not familiar with Cobb salads, here’s the gist of how they got started:

One night in 1937, Bob Cobb, then owner of The Brown Derby, prowled hungrily in his restaurant’s kitchen for a snack. Opening the huge refrigerator, he pulled out this and that: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, some cold breast of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese and some old-fashioned French dressing. He started chopping. Added some crisp bacon — swiped from a busy chef. […]

Now, I don’t think the T.G.I. Friday’s version had watercress and I can't recall whether it had chives, but this was a fantastic salad. As described by their menu, their Cobb salad has “chilled chargrilled chicken, crisp bacon, avocado, Colby cheese, egg, black olives, tomatoes and Bleu cheese on salad greens”:

  • Grilled chicken: Unlike some poseur grilled-chicken ### salads (like the grilled chicken Cesar salads that some restaurants have), the chicken was sliced into bite-sized pieces. It always annoyed me when restaurants slapped4” slices of chicken onto a salad; but, that wasn’t the case here.

  • Bacon: This was real bacon, natch, and not some of that soybean-based fake bacon. And, it was cooked to a point of crispiness (but not yet crunchiness) which, as I see it, may the optimal texture for salad-based bacon.

  • Avocado: Here’s where the salad really shone. Of course, I'm a bit of an avocado fiend as it is and I'll order nearly anything if avocado is a primary ingredient. However, nothing ruins an avocado-based dish more quickly than unripe avocado (bleh). But, this avocado was ripe and soft — I really couldn’t believe that Friday’s hadn’t screwed this part up as restaurants so often use almost-ripe avocados on hamburgers and the like.

  • Hardboiled egg halves: Other than overcooking them, it's hard to flub a hard boiled egg. And, sure enough, these eggs were cooked properly and halves (which meant that I didn’t have to manually slice them myself).

  • Diced black olives It doesn’t look like diced olives were part of the original salad, but they worked well here. And, like the eggs, it’s hard to incorrectly add olives to a salad ;).

  • Blue cheese: Like the avocado, the blue cheese was another stand-out in this salad. Really, I was expecting a few pea-sized bits of blue cheese scattered throughout the salad, but the blue cheese in this salad was generously sized, of which some chucks were almost approaching the size of those bite-sized (cube-shaped) candybars that are popular around Halloween.

At the time I ordered it, I was thinking to myself that I’d “just have a salad” and that I’d order “something more substantial” next time. But, this salad had a deliciousness that surpassed my expectations and I’ll definitely have one again sometime.

These Thick Pancakes, They Vibrate?

I went to SXSW last weekend and got back to Dallas Tuesday evening. Then, the following day (Wednesday), there was the DFWBlogs March Cocktail Event at New Amsterdam Coffee Haus (which actually is a bar, contrary to what you might think). I actually wasn't sure if I’d go, but decided to give it a try as I had heard that there might be some new bloggers there.

I ended up getting a bit lost on my way there and wound up about ten minutes late. Now, even though ten minutes late is still “on-time” in the DFW-blogiverse, I still expected that there’d be a few people there ahead of me. However, as I walked in the door, I took a quick look around and soon realized that I was the only one there. So, I just ordered a drink and sat down at a table which looked big enough to hold several more people. And, fortunately, New Amsterdam has an excellent beer selection; I certainly didn’t mind a few quiet moments as I sipped my Chimay White.

As I waited, I peered around the place and took in their decor. Soon enough, a few other bloggers arrived — Leia, Matt, Julie and Andrew walked in about the same time. Each of them ordered a drink and, as we began talking, we soon realized that neither Leia nor I had dinner beforehand. Leia mentioned off-handedly that the last time the DFWBlogs happy hour was at New Amsterdam, the group went off to Cafe Brazil afterwards. That sounded pretty good, actually, and I suggested that we could go get some dinner there.

After finishing our drinks — and meeting new-blogger Heidi — we closed our tabs and headed off to Cafe Brazil. And, as an illustration of the goofy road patterns in the area, I recall that Matt’s directions to get to Cafe Brazil went something like this: “ Go left on Exposition Ave and then turn left onto Elm Street. Well, actually, you don’t need to turn left onto Elm — Exposition just curves around and then becomes Elm.”

We drove to Cafe Brazil and there were plenty of free tables; we were seated just about as soon as we got there. And, while I often order a make-your-own omelette when I go to Cafe Brazil (with chorizo, feta and sun-dried tomatoes), I felt like something a bit sweeter this time. I turned to the breakfast section of the menu and the pancakes caught my eye. Of course, the menu only said “pancakes” and didn’t make it clear whether fruit-filled pancakes were available (such as blueberry pancakes which would have hit the spot right about then).

When our server came around to take our order, I just asked him what kinds of pancakes they had. I recall that there were plain, chocolate chip and some third variety of pancakes. Well, that made my choice easy — I could hardly resist a dish featuring both pancakes and chocolate. And, just to ensure some protein intake within the meal, I also ordered a side of chorizo.

Our food arrived a little while later and I dug right in. And, I’m not sure if this is typical of all breakfast-is-our-specialty restaurants, but these were some enormous pancakes — each of the three pancakes was about 6-8 inches across and about a third of an inch thick. Sure enough, there were chocolate chips in there. But, the thickness of the pancakes worked to their disadvantage. I mean, let’s not kid around — this was a chocolate-chip delivery vehicle which happened to be in a circle and I just wanted as many chocolate chips in each bite as possible.

To the cook’s credit, it was evident that the chocolate chips were added as the pancakes were cooking (as opposed to adding right into the batter) as chips might have all sunk to the bottom of the mixing bowl otherwise. With this manual chip-sprinkling midway through the cooking process, the chips were evenly distributed. But, the pancakes were so thick that even a 2" x 1" slice — a throughput of perhaps two to three chocolate chips — still left me with a mouthful of pancake.

Perhaps some thinner pancakes would resolve this. Nothing crazy or crepe-like (not that I would be opposed to that) but perhaps something closer to a quarter-inch thick. That should be thick enough to remain structurally sound when transferring them off the cooking surface while ensuring the most favorable chip-to-batter radio. Not that these were bad pancakes — they were soft and delectable — but they did have that area for improvement.

Come to think of it, most restaurant-pancakes are pretty thick, if memory serves. Maybe it’s just that their customers like the spectacle of a pile of plate-filling pancakes. So, I suppose I’ll just have to make my own chocolate-chip pancakes to get them properly unthickified. (And, that reminds me of the DFWBlogs-breakfast which we had about two years ago. Everyone joined in and we cooked up a huge breakfast; I wouldn’t be opposed to trying that again sometime.)

Tony Romas: The Place for Slow Service

Leia, Matt and I went out for lunch yesterday. We didn’t have a particular place in mind, so we just started wandering around the West End (since that’s where our office is now). We came across Tony Roma’s which sounded pretty good; so we walked in.

It was maybe 1:30 at this point, so the restaurant was fairly empty. We were seated at a table near the bar and I soon noticed the above par number of beer bottles featured along the shelf behind the bar (but, I just ordered water with lunch, natch). The menus were tri-fold glossy jobbies, which is about what I expected. And, as I started looking through the menu, Leia helpfully pointed out that they had blue cheese burgers. “Well, that makes my choice easy!”, I said as I refolded my menu back to its compact form.

We placed our orders and the food arrived didn’t take long to arrive. Leia had barbecued chicken with broccoli on the side, Matt had a barbecue chicken sandwich and I had the blue cheese burger (also with broccoli on the side). From that point forward, the experience became a bit surreal. As we ate our meals, we couldn’t help but notice the awful music piped over the speaker system, a smattering of mid-80s not-really-hits, if I recall. And, what was even more bizarre, as our server came by to fill up our glasses from a pitcher of water, I noticed that she was quietly humming along to this schlock.

But, back to the food. I ordered the blue cheese burger, of course, and even though blue cheese alone is usually enough to entice me to order a dish of Ingredient X + Blue Cheese, I saw when I was reading the menu that their blue cheese burger also featured bacon — which was only a further bonus. Jumping back in the timeline a bit, when the food first arrived and the server was handing the plates from her servers’ tray to our table, the burger whet my appetite: the blue cheese was sprinkled liberally across the face of the patty and the buns appeared to be toasted as well. I soon learned that appearances could be deceiving.

I was initially pleased that the burger included not one but two slices of tomato. However, they proved to be largely useless — they were about a third of an inch thick each and, even with one slice, the hamburger was too tall to fit my mouth. The tomato slices were soon placed to the side. And, as I gripped the bun, about to take a bite, I couldn’t help but notice that the bun was actually a bit sticky. It didn’t leave a residue on my fingers but there was definitely some adhesion to my fingertips somewhat similar to the effect of Post-It notes.

My first couple bites were mostly bun-filled, but that’s not uncommon for hamburgers in general. As I ate towards the center of the burger, something seemed awry with the burger but I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. Then, as I noticed myself having to wash down a bite with a sip of water, it dawned on me that the patty was of the subsaharan variety. Imagine for a moment chomping down on a dry kitchen sponge placed inside a hamburger bun; that would approximate both the texture and moisture content of this hamburger. Now, I’m not saying that this was the worst hamburger that I’ve ever had. Oh wait, yes I am.

After braving through our meals, we set out to pay our bill. Leia and Matt opted to use cash while I paid for my portion with a credit card. At this point, it was probably after 2:00 — we were almost the only people in the restaurant — but it took what seemed like 10-15 minutes for our server to run the card. All the same, while my hamburger may have been less than ideal, I might be willing to give Tony Roma’s the benefit of the doubt; maybe they were having an off-day, or maybe hamburgers just aren’t their specialty. So, if my coworkers want to go for lunch there again sometime, I may just give that a try. But, I’ll probably order a non-beef entree from their menu ;).

Restaurants Urged to Disclose Trans Fat

The Center for Science in the Public Interest — a Washington-based think tank which focuses on food and nutrition — is urging the FDA to require restaurants to disclose the use of trans fats. I don’t always agree with the CSPI, but I’ll concede that they may be on point this time.

In case you’re not up to speed on trans fats, they’re a type of fat (like saturated fat or monounsaturated fat) but far worse than other types of fat since they not only raise your “bad” cholesterol but they also lower your “good ” cholesterol. They’re created by the hydrogenation of liquid oils (turning them solid) and commonly used by restaurants for frying.

The FDA is requiring food labels to include trans fat by 2006, but that still doesn’t help much with restaurants. And, as much as I respect a restaurant’s artistic license to design their menu as they like, I’m not sure that artistic license outweighs the health concerns in this case.

So, I think the CSPI may be on to something here. Then again, I don’t agree with everything they have to say. One of their side-projects is TransFreeAmeria, an effort to ban trans fat entirely. And, while trans fat is undeniably unhealthy, I still believe that people should have the choice to consume whatever they like, whether bad for them or otherwise.

DFWBlogs Cocktail Event: October

This month’s DFWBlogs cocktail event was at Mike’s Treehouse. Though their URL is fairly straightforward (MikesTreehouse.com), it took me a little bit to find it. I generally search Google for this kind of thing, just in case the restaurant have a goofy URL such as MikesTreehouseDallas.com.

As it turns out, their website is the third hit on Google for “Mike’s Treehouse” and I’m not terribly surprised — the only link on the splash page is JavaScript-based, so search engines are only able to see the splash page itself.

Looking up their address in MapQuest, it was only about two miles down Greenville from my apartment. In my head, lower Greenville seemed like more than two miles from here and I was hoping that’d be the case (since parking is such a hassle in that area of Greenville). As I drove there, I soon realized that it was in lower Greenville after all; fortunately, Mike’s had its own parking lot.

As I walked inside, I found our group right away (near the entrance). And, after a few more people arrived, we moved to the “rooftop” seating area. And while I looked over the menu, I ordered a Dos Eqis. It arrived shortly (with a lime, natch), but in a cheap plastic cup. That surprised me, actually — the vodka-and-cranberry that someone else ordered arrived in a proper glass, but the beer was served in a plastic cup (go figure).

Quite a few items on the menu tempted me. A club sandwich is always a good bet and it’s not every day that you see a blackened tuna sandwich. But, I was in the mood to try one of their burgers.

In contrast to their online menu (which lists several burger variations), the printed menu included just the Build You Own Burger for $5.95 (with any combination of toppings). There were about ten toppings to choose from and I selected a few easily (tomatos, pickles, ketchup, mayo). I would have selected a cheese as well, but none of their cheeses interested me (just American, Jack, and perhaps a third cheese).

Bacon was also on the list and I hesitated at first — but I then realized that the burger would cost the same with or without the bacon. So, I had nothing to lose and added that to my list as well. I also had to choose between waffle fries and onion rings; as I’m not much of an onion-ring person, I defaulted to the waffle fries. Satisfied with my choices, I placed the order (which our waitress took to memory without having to write it down).

The food arrived soon and I started with the fries. With a dash of pepper, they were great — hot & moist and still somewhat flexible. These days, it seems that many restaurants don’t put an effort into their fries, but these were some of the best I’ve had in a while.

The burger itself was also good. The bun was a bit boring and white-bready, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary. And, as a whole, the burger worked out very well. The warm and crumbly beef was arranged in a pleasantly thick patty — some restaurants shape their half-pound burgers as just a huge flat patty, sticking out the sides of the bun, but that helps no one.

And, as a welcome surprise, the bacon was above par. I find that most bacon used on burgers tends to taste as if it was cooked earlier in the day and only added onto the burger at the last moment (which is likely the case). But with this burger from Mike’s, the bacon was tasty and crispy (not the usual soggy bacon-wannabes that often end up on hamburgers). So, I was especially glad that I didn’t hold back on the bacon among my toppings.

The food at Mike’s was better than I expected. And, the wait staff was fairly attentive. But, I’m still not sure if I’d go there again. The plastic cup didn't even have the pretense of keeping my beer cold and I’m still wary about the parking situation in lower Greenville (sure, Mike’s had its own lot but what options would I have if that filled up?).