Thursday, May 31, 2012

So You Think You Can Richmond

Though it gives off the appearance of a once prosperous industrial town that is lying dormant, there is more to Richmond, VA than dusty history. There are lavish parks to be found amongst the brick, whether the Japanese and Italian Gardens at Maymont Park, the rustic tranquility of Belle Isle on the James River or the sanctuary that is Hollywood Cemetery. There are active communities of artists, musicians and theatrical performers breathing new life where it wasn’t before. There are local businesses keeping the city’s identity in tact, even while basketball coach Shaka Smart—may his name be praised— continues bringing national attention to the city and to my alma mater.

In my opinion, nothing captures Richmond better than the food. Once capital of the south, today it is the last stop for excellent pork barbecue and other southern delicacies. It is also home to authentic ethnic foods and fusion cuisine. There are numerous “Richmond favorites,” but I have limited myself to these sweet tooth stuffs.

Strawberry Pie at Bill’s Barbecue – This taste of summer has a buttery crust, juicy strawberry halves and a light whipped cream topping. It is not unusual for them to run out, but Bill’s is worth a visit regardless. For your meal, try their signature hot sauce on the North Carolina style minced barbecue sandwich—so hot it melts the bun!—and wash it down with their sparkling limeade, which is worth the stop all by itself. (Update for 2014: All Bill's locations have closed, sadly.)

Fudge Walnut Pie at Strawberry Street Café – Every menu item I’ve ever had at this local staple is rich. My favorite meal items are the Chicken Chesapeake and the Crab & Swiss Quiche. But the richest item on the menu is this gooey chocolate delight. Served warm, it demands to be savored. Though another dessert may sound the most enticing—the Ice Cream Sandwich: a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream between two slices of pound cake, topped with your choice of strawberries, hot fudge or both, if you ask nicely—having tried all the desserts at Strawberry Street, my recommendation is still the Fudge Walnut Pie. Or bring some friends and try both!

MexiCali Chocolate Ice Cream at Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream – Spicy chocolate ice creams are becoming more and more popular, but Bev’s creation is the best I’ve had. It is quite simple: cinnamon, cayenne pepper and a touch of mint. I’ve tried to recreate it, but have never gotten it at Bev’s quality. My friend Boren still raves about this flavor, though he hasn’t had it in the six years since we graduated college.

Peach Melba Cheese Pie at The Tobacco Company – This restaurant is not a cheap outing, but well worth it. If a glance at the prices makes you blush and walk out, make sure to stop in for dessert sometime. The cheese pie is a light and subtle slice of the south, the child of a dainty cheesecake and a mountainous slice of cream pie. Peaches decorate the plate like pillows on a guest bed.

Glazed Custard Doughnut at Country Style Doughnuts – Open 24 hours, six days a week, closed Mondays. To score the best flavors you need to get there in the morning. The Glazed Custard is a perfectly doughy delight FILLED with Boston Crème. Other favorites are the Toasted Coconut and the Glazed yeast doughnut. I usually find myself near the store at the late night hours, which has sometimes yielded doughnutless disappointment and other nights pure joy. One time my brother and I arrived at the 2AM Tuesday morning reopening and were greeted by racks and racks of Glazed yeast doughnuts.

Honorable Mention: For the Love of Chocolate – This chocolate shop features an enormous variety of chocolate from around the world. They carry many of my favorites: Baci (Italy), Kinder Bueno (Germany/Italy), Ritter Sport’s Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts (Germany), Gold Bars by Fran’s Chocolate (Seattle), Vosges (Chicago), Valrhona (France), Galler Chocolate’s Noix de Coco (Belgium). During college, I would come here to celebrate my birthday by treating myself to $20 worth of truffles and dark chocolate covered graham crackers. Nowadays something different from this store finds its way into my stocking each holiday season.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Screams from the Haters

Top: strawberry shortcake, black forest, French toast
Bottom: Ocean City Sand, Ms. Prunella, lemonade

"Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it / I guess every superhero need his theme music"-- Kanye West, "Power"

When in Maryland, gorge where the Marylanders gorge. One such destination of succulent sweet tooth stuffs is Fractured Prune, the place to get hot, fresh, customizable, made-to-order doughnuts. The regional chain made its start in Ocean City and has been spreading like a plague of deliciousness. I knew it was something I needed to seek and destroy with my mouth.

I could spend my little dance with your attention span telling you about my experience, or I could make fun of these "reviews" I found on Yelp. The business basically got all raves but you know how it is: some people be hatin' just to hate. Here are some the especially unjustified jeers and my responses. (I openly admit that some have been quoted out of context. Please treat this as entertainment, not news.)*

"Three stars. I got there at 2:23 PM. The Fractured Prune closed at 1:00 PM." - Kelly G., Washington, DC
Totally understandable. The reviewer's tardiness warrants a mediocre review.

"Hard to figure out what door to use" - danielle L. , Glen Burnie, MD
When you tried to exit your home and mistakenly chose the wrong door, how long did to take you to deduce you were standing in the hall closet?

"the shop wasn't much to see... i would have expected a glass case with tantalizing baked goods, but there was nothing of the sort." - Olivia D., Washington, DC
Made-to-order doughnuts cannot be put on display. Your best bet would be either making them at home or sticking your face in a deep fryer. With 15 glazes and each doughnut being allowed more than one of their 10 toppings, there are over a thousand different possibilities. A more rational option would be putting a human brain on display and having a sign pointing at it that said "imagination." If you had one, you would know brains get donated to science, not doughnut shops.

"cash only in 2011 is pretty unacceptable...That's a sign of shady business ownership." - Stephanie B., Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Assuming "cash only" is shady is a sign of someone who is untrusting and from New Jersey.

"What is it with Maryland's store names? First Baltimore's Ma Petite Shoe (shoe and chocolate store) and now a doughnut shop called Fractured Prune. What else do they sell? Secondhand fruit? Depends?" - me, non-Yelper
What kind of jerk thought this throwaway joke was funny, much less worth re-inserting?

"they taste greasy and overly sugary." - Justin L., New York, NY
Doughnuts are fried dough. Glaze is almost entirely composed of sugar. Perhaps you saw the hole in the middle and confused them with bagels.

"Nothing unique for a donut. The flavors are the only thing that really save it." - Jeff S., Washington, DC
Apparently flavor is an unimportant variable in determining whether food is unique.

"They were tasty which is why I am giving them two stars, but they don't come close to Donut Plant [sic] in NYC." - Jaimee A., Manhattan, NY
Their goal is providing a tasty product, not imitating Doughnut Plant. No reasonable comparison can be made between Doughnut Plant's mission (no trans fat, preservatives, artificial flavors or eggs) and Fractured Prune's mission. That's like someone from Maryland giving Doughnut Plant a poor rating because "they were tasty" but weren't hot and made-to-order like at Fractured Prune. Doughnut Plant is certainly delicious, but, since it isn't exactly commutable distance from Maryland, the point is irrelevent and you, Jamiee are trolling.

"its just fried dough with syrup and choco-chips on top in whatever combination you want." - Sarah B., Baltimore, MD
What more could anyone want?

* My apologies to any Yelpers who I may have offended. I assure you that of the few readers I have (my brother, one former co-worker and...who was the other one?) none of them will laugh at your expense. They mostly read my failed blog to check that I'm still alive.