New Home For Hand To Mouth

12/10/2009

Hand To mouth has moved home. Still powered by WordPress, but on it’s own URL and with a new swanky design, you can find it here:

www.handtomouthblog.com

Hope to see you there…

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Local Hero #3 Hot Doug’s

05/10/2009

Think it’s probably time that I shut up about food related adventures from our US road trip, but before I do, I HAD to give a heads up on Chicago’s number one sausage emporium, Hot Doug’s.

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Now, Chicago is a town that loves it’s hot dogs, and for the peeps of the windy city, this place is the stuff of legend. Everyone seems to have a Hot Doug’s related story, and if you’ve not been, you feel a bit left out.

To cut a long story short, there’s a guy called Doug who makes the most amazing speciality hot dogs that come in a bewildering and surprising array of flavours. And when I say bewildering, I mean it. Pork, duck, lamb, beef, weisswurst, bratwurst, veal, rattlesnake, vegetarian…I could go on. Doug’s place is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so if you’re an un-escorted newbie, you can pretty much forget about finding it (we were lucky enough to have a couple of willing guides). But, despite the location, the place is RAMMED every day. It’s open between 11am and 4pm, and there’s a queue pretty much from opening to closing.

Photo: MSN

Photo: MSN

When we got there at about a quarter to twelve, there were already alot of people waiting. It tooks us about an hour to make it through the doors  and get a look at the wall mounted menu and specials, but when we did I nearly exploded with excitement. After much debate, my girlfriend and I decided to get 4 to share between us. We went for a duck and fois gras, a merguez and goats cheese, veal and pork weisswurst, and a classic Chicago dog (all pictured).

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First up the duck. Now I was fully expecting this to be a gimmic, but I could’nt have been further from the mark. You could taste everyhing. The duck and fois gras in the sausage, the fois gras mousse on top, and the insane truffle and garlic mayo. Every bite was rediculous. Too sickly to nail another, but amazing.

Next up the weisswurst. Again a taste sensation. The tangy apple and pork meat in the sausage was well seasoned and wrapped in this creamy mustard and parsley sauce. Then a nice bit of tangy, peppery horseradish cheese finished it off with style.

The traditional chicago dog was probably the least impressive of the four, but still damn tasty. Your glassic frank dog accompanied with fried onions, mustard, tomato, a slab of pickle and a kind of atomic green relish. When in Rome and all that.

Finally the merguez. One of my favourite sausages of all time. This baby came served up with a kind of smokey chipotle sauce that was a cross between a mayo and a gravy , and was topped with this amazigly fluffy and light goats cheese. Again you could taste all the flavours, and the cheese cooled down the chili kick of the sausage and sauce. Phenominal.

It’s not hard to see why people get evangelical about Hot Doug’s. It’s one of those proper institutions that specialise in one thing, and nails it time after time. It’s also fun and completely unpretentious. In the UK a place like Doug’s would probably fall out of favour as soon as it ceased to be fashionable, which is a great shame as I feel England’s restaurant scene would be a lot richer if there were more of the local neighbourhood heroes of the kind I’ve written about in the past few posts.

I’ve always liked the idea of starting a local sausage restaurant, maybe there’s a gap in the market?


Local Hero #2 Nepenthe

04/10/2009
Photo by Buzz100Ca

Photo by Buzz100Ca

If you’re going on a road trip down the pacific coast through the Big Sur, there’s one place that everyone tells you to go, and that’s Nepenthe. In his 1962 book ‘Big Sur’, Jack Kerouac, describes the restaurant thus, “From the baths we go to Nepenthe which is a beautiful cliff top restaurant with a vast outdoor patio, with excellent food, excellent waiters and management, good drinks, chess tables, chairs and tables to just sit in the sun an look at the grand cost…”

Whilst Kerouac’s description is less than effusive, it is pretty much spot on; so allow me to add a few superlatives. The location is amazing, the view of the pacific ocean fantastic, and the food bloody tasty. We both ate the trademark Ambrosia burger, which as the name suggests (in the work of Homer, Ambrosia is the food of the gods), was pretty heavenly. The meat was clearly good quality, the bun toasted and beautifully soft, but what really set it off was the sauce – a kind of tomato, chili mayonaise. Served with a huge side of fries and a light slaw, it was a great lunch. But with a view like that, you can’t go that far wrong.

Photo by Meatmeister

Photo by Meatmeister

It’s pretty rare that a restaurant lives up to the hype, but Nepenthe does, and not much seems to have changed since Kerouac wrote his description. It’s a simple formula, but one that works, and the owners have stuck to it.

You can get the recipe for the Ambrosia burger here, but I’m not sure it would taste quite so good without that view.


Local Hero #1 La Super-Rica

03/10/2009

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As mentioned in the last post, I’ve just returned from a holiday in the States. From a food perspective, one of the things that I noticed about a lot of the stuff we tasted in California was the Mexican influence. Plenty of lime, avocado, coriander, chilli and corn. Fresh, tasty flavours.

We also ate quite a bit of of straight up Mexican food. Great Burritos in the Mission in San Francisco, Huevos Rancheros for breakfast, torta Mexicanas in LA, but the pick of the bunch was a a tiny little place called La Super-Rica in Santa Barbra.

Reputedly Julia Child’s favourite Mexican restaurant and tucked away in the Mexican area of town, La Super-Rica is basically a little shack with a tent attached to the back. Always busy, the tiny kitchen knocks out fantastic traditional Mexican street food. There are daily specials, firm favourites and apparently the best horchata you’ll taste outside of Mexico.

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We tried the daily special, a vegetarian tamale, which came served in the corn husk it had been steamed in with a side of pork and beans. The corn meal was really tasty and kind of creamy, enriched with a bit of cheese and with vegetables through it. We also had a portion of the most delicious buttery guacamole, and a couple of servings of chorizo tacos. Amazing.

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It was also a really charming place. No frills and not in any way poncy, it’s location also means that you have to make a real effort to get there, so people really go for the food. And there was a proper cross section of them. From the WASPy Santa Barbra set to students, Mexican locals and hipsters. I’d go back at the drop of a hat.

Super-Rica? As Omar Little would say, indeed.