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Entries in Year in Review (6)

Friday
Dec142012

Pig versus Cow

Quick follow-up from yesterday regarding the Dusty Buns post. Last night's special at the Bistro??? Chili Cheese Fries. And I guessed PBJ. Maybe corn dogs, soft tacos, and other comfort food won't be far behind. Told you I wasn't far off...On to the final post of the week.

There was a Taco Throwdown 2, but not a Tri Tip Cookoff 3; and as usual, there was plenty of tri-tip at Bulldog Stadium Tailgates and an endless supply of uncooked tri-tip available at Save Mart for the backyard crowd. Yes, The Cured Ham ate tri-tip this year several times, usually cooked by my own hand. Personally, I'm pleased I wrote all about tri-tip this year. I even cooked a buffalo tri-tip.

I will highlight bacon, the Earth's Perfect Food for these Pig vs. Cow. This picture is a bacon wrapped buffalo tri-tip.

I’m still of the opinion that Fresno should be known for its tacos and NOT its several dry, flavorless tri-tip sandwich creations from local restaurants. I can walk into 9 out of 10 local (yes, I’m going to keep writing local, cause it’s cool and what bloggers are supposed to do, right?) taquerias or trucks at random and get a variety of high quality tacos within 50 miles of Fresno. I can’t say the same about tri-tip. I can’t even name 9 places to buy a high, quality tri-tip sandwich. If we all agree that salty fried pork skin that used to have pig hair on it is better than tri-tip, why do we keep deceiving ourselves about pedestrian cow flesh?

The Cured Ham working on the flat top at Eat Retreat 2012. That's all bacon I cured at home.

 

Speaking of pigs, Keith at the Boxcar has cooked a couple whole pigs and a whole cow’s head, which effectively gives him the upper hand in culinary street cred. Well done Keith on the pigs. I know a few Boxcar regulars that asked me if I was welcome at Keith’s since my Open Letter in 2012. The answer is yes and since I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, I actually had Keith help cater an event I threw this year. Dueling hotel pans of smoked brisket and pulled pork lasagna were a big hit. Thanks Keith. 

The only other place that probably cooks a whole pig is a Ramate. The Ramate is still the place for some of the best Mexican food in Fresno County. I enjoyed several trips to the Swap Meet this year and hope to continue the visits in 2013. 

Hey Shackelford Brothers, you need to cook a whole pig or do some over-the-top illegal foie dinner…I mean a Sauternes tasting. I know you want to.  Healdsburg does Pigs and Pinot once a year; how about Cabernet and Cow in Clovis? That kinda fits in with the local Clovis/Cowboy theme. I know you can pull it off. 

Here’s to eating another whole pig in 2013. Who’s up for roasting a whole lamb?

Thursday
Dec132012

The Bunist Movement

Dusty Buns followers are a foodie cult and I think they are deserving of a cultist name. I’m coining “Bunist” for them. I would go so far as encouraging Dustin and Kristin to make t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, even hipster sockhats with slogans like“Believe in the Bun”“Fresno Bunists”“Bunist 4 Life” and other mass-market crap. 

(In this feature, all the pictures will be featuring Eggs, in honor of the Egg Man. Our first picture is what my brother can do at home for under $1...it's called BREAKFAST. My brother also uses this other device known only to some, it's a coffee maker and it has been brewing coffee successfully before Starbucks)

 

Maybe a LOCAL artist and Follower of the Bun, should paint a mural in The Tower District of Che eating a Dusty Bun. Gives Dusty Buns an anti-establishment, hipster vibe. Dusty Buns written in Cyrilic Дусты Бунс on T-shirts and The People's Republic of The Bun vintage hats would be cool with a tag that says Made (Fresh) in Fresno. 

It's still cool in some circles to wear vintage Soviet gear, right?

Bunists can get a revitalization-redevelopment grant from the City (since Dusty Buns is in the Tower) and make official Fresno T-Shirts sold at the airport, so we can carry an international message to places like Amsterdam, Munich and Moscow to spread The Bunist philosophy globally. Whatever that philosophy is.

 (Oh look, something with an egg on it from Sitka and Spruce in Seattle! They have eggs up there? And they put them on bread...Wow. They must have stolen the idea from Dusty Buns, those brazen thieves!) 

Just to put some statistics behind the Bunist Movement in Fresno, Dusty Buns made 2,349,043 organic, local, hand-pressed, green energy driven, (did I mention local?) grilled cheese sandwiches this year, or at least that’s what I was lead to believe based upon word-of-mouth, media coverage, tweets, retweets, Farmer’s Market chatter, my local priest, and Kraft Singles legal counsel.

Out of those 2,349,043 sandwiches eaten, 3 people commented that the sandwich was simply "good", rather than use a superlative. These 3 people are obviously haters, according to the Bunists.

It’s a fine grilled cheese. I understand the grilled cheese mania out there. But really Fresnans…you need to get out of town more. Or better yet Fresnans, pull out that George Foreman grill you bought in 1992, take two slices of bread, butter them, place your cheese of choice in between the two slices, grill until the outside is golden brown and eat it. And if you want to get all fancy, fry and egg and place it on top of your grilled cheese. Viola! Le Grilled Cheese at home.

Look, an egg sandwich from the Jim Town Store in Healdsburg...how exotic This one comes with an olive spread on an herbed sourdough bread with lots of ham.

 

I’m considering starting a food truck and parking it outside Dusty Buns Bistro (oh, the irony) where my only item is a $5 dollar, 2 pound Velvetta/Spam/Wonder Bread sandwich called The Wonderous Velvet Piggy. I will take credit cards only, sell Coke, potato chips and whatever Twinkies I can get my hands on.

Having a food truck is simply a pipe dream. The Bunists would run me out of town like Ben Gazara in Road House.

Another egg, cooked at home with a roasted pork belly. Eggs, pork, country gravy and brioche...what a concept.

 

All kidding aside, I do appreciate the work that Dustin and Kristin are doing at two restaurants. It’s tough enough with one restaurant and a toddler; their success is odds defying in a town that could easily move on to the next best thing every 6 months (and usually does) or eat at McDonald’s. Other restaurants don’t even make it a year in this town, and for that, Dusty Buns has my respect.

HOWEVER, I won't let up on my belief that classically trained chefs Dustin and Kristin are better chefs than they lead on; cooking grilled cheese sandwiches and placing fried eggs on things, is child's play. I know plenty of CCA and CIA grads personally and while some chefs are better than others, we're talking grilled cheese here. Frankly, it's easy for them and I know chefs, at some point they get bored cooking the same crap.

Maybe Fresno is the best place on the planet for two classically trained chefs to set up shop. It seems all Dustin and Kristin have to do is make grilled cheese sandwiches with the French definite article "Le" in front to wow the unwashed masses. Maybe they should try their hand at a Royale with Cheese? Or better yet, a La PBJ.

Dusty Buns "La PBJ" is made from humanely and gently shelled peanuts and Fair Trade and minimally processed strawberry compote. A Golden Knife is used to spread the peanut butter, whilst the compote is applied with the Tusk of a Narwhal. Each ingredient is spread with love on opposite sides of a fresh bun. Lastly, each La PBJ is blown kisses from all our staff. I can see it now. La PBJ $9.

The joke is on you Fresno; the joke is on you.

Wednesday
Dec122012

The Land of Oz

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mike Oz, the prolific blogger at The Fresno Bee. Mike and I interacted online a few times this year, either through him reposting me on the Beehive or Twitter or me taking one of his articles and expanding on it with The Cured Ham. We even talked in person a few times. I appreciate the interaction. Mike certainly brings up things about Fresno and dining that are thought provoking, hence why I like to interact. We look through different lenses, but both of us play nice in the sandbox. I look forward to more in 2013. And since I'm talking about Mike, all the photos will be of tacos I've eaten in 2012.

Give Me Victory or Give me Revolucion? The House that Milt built, aka Granite Park is still experiencing growing pains. We said goodbye to Victory Grill, hello to Revolucion and the Oz Taco only to say goodbye a few months later and hello again to Victory Grill and Cantina. Lots of press, publicity, and smart operators behind the concepts to be sure, but the location is still a work in progress. Evidently, Mike Oz doesn’t talk about Pizza enough to have a pizza named after him though. In the meantime, long live Me N’Ed’s canned mushrooms and ye old pizza! I’m not joking. Considering all the time I wasted on twitter talking about canned mushrooms vs. fresh, it was noteworthy. And yes @Godogs21 and Fresno Bites, I like Me N’Ed’s pizza. Always have. Always will. I'm into nostalgia.

Good, Bad, Fresno shouted out as quickly as it snuffed out. No, I have nothing to do with them (despite speculation), but I did appreciate their uncensored commentary. They didn’t play by any rules. It’s not my style, but it added another voice to Fresno. Again, Mike Oz seemed to be a leading topic of conversation with the people behind the blog. However, my favorite story had nothing to do with Mike or Graciela Moreno, it was a picture from the GBF website of a hipster reading a book in a crowded place. As a result of reading the story, I actually began to notice hipsters at other events. I was at the Surf Bowl in Santa Cruz this summer on Rock and Bowl night, and some head-sock wearing hipster was reading philosophy, drinking tea and taking notes. I laughed. Thanks for bringing this sub-set of hipsters to my attention Good, Bad, Fresno.

Speaking of The Bee and food related news; Kathy Mahan got zero comments when she submitted a highly relevant Central Valley food story on the Beehive. Mark Bittman actually came to Fresno. Mark is a recognized author, cook, and highly connected foodie.  I’ve had his book “How to Cook Everything” since it was published and use it all the time for some basic instruction. If you search Mark Bittman on Google, the 3rd most popular search term is "Mark Bittman Fresno". That tells you something Fresnans.

Maybe instead of my fascination with Bourdain or Mike’s fascination with Fieri, we should have been focusing on an individual that actually showed some interest in coming to Fresno and Bakersfield and who can cook “Everything”, Mark Bittman.

We should ask Bittman to come back in 2013. The NYT has a lovey dovey relationship with West Coast food culture. Let’s just make the story The Valley and not just Fresno and I think we have a better shot at selling it.

What do you think Mike? The Ham and Oz join forces? A WWE tag team that doesn't always get along, but comes together for a bigger purpose. Flair and Steamboat. Hogan and Savage. Stone Cold and The Rock.

"Wooooooooo! And that's the bottom line, because The Cured Ham said so!!!!"

Tuesday
Dec112012

Hello and Goodbye 2012

We said goodbye to Fibber McGee’s after a long run and the Brick after a short run. I remember drinking at The Taj, forerunner to Fibber’s back in college. That space seems to have some longevity and 14 years is a great run for any restaurant. (Mike’s Grill in the same center is tasty and Hunan has a second location.) We said hello to the School House in Sanger and goodbye to The Steak House, but Bella Pasta is still going strong. Yikes, how many restaurants both new and old did I name on Cedar and Herndon just now? And I've added pictures to this post, simply because people like pictures.

Speaking of houses, The Yard House and Texas Roadhouse are going to be here a long time. Hooray for Fresno and large franchisee employers! No that’s not sarcasm. Fresno needs jobs and big franchisees support the local economy. So eat at 2 LOCAL franchises that employ over 400 LOCAL Fresnans. Encourage competition, and force local restaurants to be better. I’ve never eaten at Texas Roadhouse, but I’ve given some money to Yard House. I frequent Ruth’s Chris and Fleming’s as well; consistent food, good service.

You want to support two local restaurants that have stood the test of time in one of the highest rent areas in Fresno? Go try The Ripe Tomato and the Elbow Room. Who knows how many more years The Ripe Tomato will be around, but there are less ahead than behind. Again, if I'm talking about longevity and Fresno, I'm obligated to mention the Elbow Room.

We have a couple new food trucks and a couple trucks waiting in the wings, very cool. CartHop has some momentum North of Shaw. I’m glad to hear the City and weak-ass brick and mortar businesses have stopped voting/complaining about food trucks taking away from their business, at least for the time being. So bring on more trucks. 

We got a Freebirds burrito place, which I will never try (Fresno Bites covers the burrito beat) and Lucy’s Lair has found another place to lease…in the old La Paella; I’m still skeptical about their location and Ethiopian food in Fresno.

While I don’t have an official count, 2,549 new Antonio’s, Robertito’s, and Don Pepe’s were started in Fresno this year despite the recession because working single and dual income parents with kids want to pick up something fast, cheap, and kid friendly…which doesn’t usually include Ethiopian food or that organic place on the old Motel Drive. I'm thinking of you Lucido

Local Bites was a fun set of monthly events that I participated in. I think it was the right approach to eating local. It emphasized the food, the place, and bringing in community in ALL parts of town, all with solid publicity. The Limon visit was probably my favorite.

We’ll see what happens with the transition at Taste Fresno and the departure of Alisa Manjarrez; she was a valuable asset and is a positive personality. I personally look forward to dining with Alisa in 2013. Best of luck to you Alisa.

My gut says that within 2 weeks of this article being published, several more restaurants will close their doors by January 1; they always do. 

Monday
Dec102012

Defining North Fresno? Who cares.

Fresno lead off 2012 with a rash of stories about Iron Bird Café, Downtown…I mean the Mural District. Or in Fresnan vernacular, where those lofts meet at Fulton and Divisadero; you know, down from Catholic Charities?

Iron Bird is still open, so new management did something right. Good for them. We’re not talking much about Iron Bird anymore, so that basically means they’re viable. Rule of thumb in Fresno food blogging, if we’re talking about it, it’s either new, struggling, or somewhere in a “revitalized” area. Awfully simplistic. Here are a few more rules to live by if you want to blog about food in Fresno:

Fresno Food Blogging Rules:

  1. Downtown must be revitalized at all costs
  2. Only positive restaurant reviews, negative restaurant reviews will be considered Fresno Bashing
  3. Successful restaurants are boring and don’t need our “help”
  4. Franchises are evil
  5. If you have critical things to say about Dusty Buns, you’re a hater

I’m still a believer that Fresno is NOT defined by its districts, other than a long-lived few; The Tower, Fig Garden, Fulton Mall, Pinedale, Sunnyside, Old Town in Clovis and Downtown. The rest of the names are made up by real estate agents, government officials, and bloggers. If I were from Clovis, I might be upset...there is Old Town and Clovis. That's it?! Or maybe, Clovis has it right. Fresno/Clovis is defined by cross-streets, strip malls, sub-divisions, landmarks and the school you’re going to send your kids or more importantly NOT send your kids to. Evidence of my argument is on the official FAX map. No Mural District there…just Downtown.

Just after Thanksgiving, I noticed a post from Kim Collier saying she was going to be at 1060 Fulton, I mean the Pacific Towers, I mean the Pacific Southwest Building. Honestly, I had to look up what she was talking about. Ohhhh, you mean the landmark Security Bank building, the tall one Downtown with the big Security Bank sign on the top of it that has been there since before I was born?

Yes, that Security Bank Building.

Is that located in The Mural District, Cultural Art District, Central Business District, Fulton Mall, Pacific Towers, or just what MOST Fresnans know and refer to as Downtown Fresno? I’m not the only one…even Mike Oz called it the Security Bank Building in one post.

Speaking of Downtown, I’d like to thank @datempesta for taking me to Full Circle Brewery. If an out-of-town foodie TV personality came to town, I’d take them there; hopefully on a night that had a few bands playing and circus freaks in the back swallowing fire or broken glass. Truly unique in Fresno. 

My thoughts on Downtown, Clovis, The Tower, or the strip mall at Marks and Bullard is this: If it’s good, I’m eating there. I can care less what part of town it’s on.

Yes, there are good stories Downtown/Tower, both new and old. Just not EVERY story is a good one. I’m a regular at Central Fish, a Fresno institution, yet rarely is it applauded by bloggers. I’ve gone into Cosmo’s more in the last year than I did in the prior 20 years, so there must be a reason...consistent product and a chef who likes to talk to his customers. I’m sad to see The Basque shrink slowly. Keith’s is making his way, slowly building, doing things no one else is doing. A cereal place? We devoted time to that? Really? The grilled cheese at Dusty Buns is good…well, more on that later.

Here's some of the places I'm eating in the rest of Fresno. I've also made up some names for the "districts" so I could put a cool, nonsense label on it, for those so inclined.

In the rest of Fresno, I still go to Ovidio’s (What's Past the Loop, Dragons? District) and I just ate at the Carlo’s DiCiccio’s on Blackstone (The K-Mart Center..old school Fresnans know it) for lunch. I’m eating at the new Hunan (Thank God We're in Clovis Schools District) at Herndon and Clovis. Thai Fusion (Magical Gateway) on Willow and Herndon can be inconsistent, but when it’s good, it’s good. Sushi Day (River Wood Terrace aka The Late Night Taco Bell Stop aka The Fourth Meal) on First and Nees is tasty and D’Hou (The Tenaya Plateau) still has a pretty good Mongolian beef. Shanghai (Griffith Gap) has really good hot and sour soup. Pho 75 #2 (The Shopping Center I was eating at before it was cool, because I only had 45 minutes for off campus lunch DISTRICT) is some good grub for lunch or late night. The Vallarta Market has fresh offal, specialty items, and I can eat and shop (Upper Dakota) . I've even eaten fried rice and bbq pork from the place next to Country Boy, I mean The Market, (Not Quite Bluff Overlook) because I didn't feel like cooking, it was close, cheap, fast, and I can put my Hunan Black Bean Chili sauce all over it. Country Boy has always been located in the Near My Parents House District since I was a child.

My advice Fresnans, Bloggers, News People...Quit picking sides of town and start picking better places to eat in Fresno and the surrounding area. And if a place isn't good, don't be afraid to be critical, no matter what part of town it's in. There's plenty to choose from in Fresno and Clovis when the ONLY agenda is good food.