Friday 13 December 2013

Sparky’s Roadside Barbecue, 204 NE 1st St, Miami, FL 33131

I’m going to be spending a lot of time in Miami next year and one thing that is really important to me is to find an amazing BBQ restaurant, somewhere I can rely on 100% of the time, somewhere where I can eat at least once a week. I found a local place called Jimmy’s BBQ, which was fine; but that was all that it was: fine. I was really disappointed by this so did a little bit of Google research. Then I found Sparky’s…

This place is listed in the top 2% of restaurants in Miami, of which there are 3,535! It is a short ride away on the Miami Metro Mover, a free-to-ride light rail system with a station that is directly opposite Sparky’s, a very unassuming looking place that you probably wouldn’t give a second look to if you didn’t know it was there.

Inside is more of the same: unassuming, but with a great character and an eclectic mix of customers; suited-and-booted city boys, local workmen and cops. In my experience, any eatery in the USA which attracts cops is worth a try, given that they mostly spend their days driving around looking for the next bite to eat. We sat down and ordered from the super-friendly staff.

I had one of the combo meals: pulled pork, brisket and two sides for $14.75. This was easily amongst the best pulled pork I’ve ever eaten; it was full of flavour and melted in the mouth. The brisket was just as good, much more thinly sliced than I had experienced before, all the better for it. The brisket was beautifully marbled which gave it a fantastic flavour. The sides were both good too, which were fries and coleslaw.

Sparky’s makes its own BBQ sauces, many flavours of them. The classic BBQ sauce is probably the best but all are tasty. We were offered some spicy sauce by one of the staff and whilst these were American spicy (i.e. not very spicy at all) they were incredibly tasty. Alternating between the various sauces available really elevated this dish further still, it just kept on giving.

This was easily enough food for me; however, I had a sudden realisation that I had been in Florida for a week and hadn’t eaten any key lime pie! This was a) quickly rectified and b) a big mistake because I couldn’t move after that.

The combo I ate at Sparky’s Roadside Barbecue is a very deserving SUPER-DISH and somewhere I expect to visit many, many times next year. If a measure of success is how long before you visit a restaurant again, then the fact that we were sitting there less than 24 hours later means it must be very good indeed. Highly recommended.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Jazzing up my taste buds in New Orleans!

I'm lucky in that I get to travel in my job; to the USA, India, Australia and all over Europe. And this week (first the first time) I got to tick one of my genuine 'bucket list' locations : New Orleans, 'the big easy'! This was one of those places that I fell in love with the second I arrived : it was just so cool, and there wasn't nearly as much Katrina damage as I had expected to see so the city appears to be well and truly through the worst of it. We stayed in a hotel on Bourbon Street, right in the thick of it all, and got to visit some very famous and exceptionally good places to eat.

Commander's Palace

This is quite possibly the most famous restaurant in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) and is renowned across the country as the home of great seafood. My starter was a trio of three soups : crab and foie gras (rich and velvety), gumbo (so very, very, very good) and turtle! The latter had to be tried for novelty value and whilst the flavour was good I think it was the naughtiness of eating turtle that made it all the more enjoyable. Main course was rabbit, which was lovely but honestly unremarkable. The side order of crab was better. Dessert was another signature dish : bread and butter pudding soufflĂ©. Divine. Great surroundings, great service and great theatre at the table made for a very enjoyable meal.

Café du Monde

Another 'must-do' is this NOLA stalwart. Great coffee and great beignets (doughnuts covered in icing sugar). Straight from the fryer, these were the perfect way to start the day (two days, following a return visit).

Steamboat Natchez

I have written before about the fact that boat + food = disappointment and this was no exception, although a long way from the worst boat food in the world. However, a good opportunity to taste a bunch of local specialities. My dad has often waxed lyrical about the merits of catfish, and can now add my voice to this. Great. As was the gumbo, but all else average.

G W Fins

Another popular NOLA seafood restaurant, and a SUPER-DISH I will not forget in a hurry! Lobster tail to start, with a mustard mayonnaise dip and a little fondue pot of melted butter. Absolutely divine, a great example of where the sum is greater than the gastronomic parts, this was a to-die-for piece of shellfish! Main course of flounder (stuffed with blue crab and spinach) could only be a disappointment after this starter, as indeed it was. I also liked this place as it is so nearly called Flynn's, so made me think of Tron.

The Central Grocery

Last of all was as good as anything else eaten in NOLA : a muffaletta. Say what? A big-ass sandwich. This was another city tradition and was great fun. Made fresh by a team of three people in the back of the coolest Italian grocery store this side of Naples. Thin slices of different meats (at least salami, ham and turkey) plus two different types of cheese (mozzarella I could recognize) plus a sort of pimped tapenade. It was this latter ingredient that makes this dish distinctive, a very coarse and impossibly tasty tapenade. My best guess at ingredients : olives (obviously), capers, peppers, pickled carrot, pickled gherkin, pickled cauliflower and chilli. Divine, and a great end to some exciting food.

I really enjoyed NOLA and would love to visit again for a little more time. The food was mostly excellent and all was served and presented with aplomb. However, I did manage to spend 4 days in 'the big easy' and not eat a single oyster, crawfish or alligator!

Sunday 1 December 2013

McDonald’s Xmas 2013 menu

Special edition meals at fast food joints are something I look forward to, even though 95% of the time they are just not as good as the standard thing I order. Today we had lunch at McDonald's, so I got to try the festive menu : festive deluxe, chicken celebration and the cheese melt dippers.

‘Tis the season to savour our 100% beef patty with all the trimmings, like bacon, cheese, Batavia lettuce, red onions, honey BBQ glaze and smoky peppered mayo, all in a cheese-topped bun.

Firstly, the festive deluxe, which didn't seem to have any Christmas connection whatsoever. Also, it was entirely awful, with soggy lettuce (I don’t know where Batavia is, but they can’t grow lettuce!) and odd-tasting cheese. I also have no idea why peppered mayo is considered festive? This is definitely something I wouldn't order again.

Treat your taste buds to a crispy golden chicken breast fillet with cheese, red onion rings, Batavia lettuce, smooth festive relish and cool mayo, all within a sesame-topped bun.

Secondly, the chicken celebration, which (although not especially Christmassy either) somehow felt more relevant to the season. Poultry instead of red meat was a good start, and at least the sweet chilli sauce was the right colour for cranberry.

The cheese melt dippers were good, as they generally are when McDonald's drag these out from time to time. I would suggest ignoring the festive tomato dip and just going for regular BBQ as the accompaniment. I don't understand why this mozzarella (which, whilst average, does at least taste like a cheese you recognise) can't be used in other burgers? Other than cost, obviously.

Conclusion? Have a Big Mac. If a Big Mac scores 4/5 on the fast-food-burger-for-less-than-a-fiver scale, then the festive deluxe and chicken celebration score 1/5 and 3/5 respectively. For a 5/5 keep going past McDonald's and pull into Burger King for a Whopper instead.