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2011 June

Today’s establishment asking for entry at the gates of BBQ heaven is a well-known Austin restaurant known as “County Line Barbecue”.  As noted previously, I generally stay away from chains, even small chains, but a friend asked me to dinner there to compare it versus some of the better spots I have encountered on the mission to find great BBQ.   County Line’s website lists 8 locations, plus their sister establishments Cannoli Joe’s, an Italian buffet style place, and Side Door Liquor Store in El Paso.   Eclectic corporate grouping, so far.  Started in Austin in 1975, the County Line has two locations in the Capital City, the original on The Hill, in an old “speakeasy” and the other overlooking a portion of Lake Austin.  This visit was to the lake location.  The huge parking lot had a half-dozen cars parked in front. The large restaurant is cool, the wood interior very relaxing and soothing.  The staff was friendly and helpful, but seemed to be in a hurry to rush us taking orders, checking up numerous times for status and tea refills.  It seemed the vibe was to turn the tables over quickly and get more customers in, and it wasn’t especially crowded.  After the meal, we strolled out to the huge wooden deck, to chat and watch the sun on the immense limestone cliffs looking down on us, and keeping an eye on several dozen turtles lazily hanging around the water.  They have spots for boaters to tie up when they are ready for a break from the lake.  Very cool.

As usual, I ordered the two meat plate, Brisket and Sausage, with Potato Salad, Cole Slaw,  and “baked beans”.   Hot bread, as dark as pumpernickel came first.  Slathered with sweet honey butter, was delicious.  But we weren’t at a bakery, we were there for some serious BBQ.  As our plate dinners came out I was baffled.  The Brisket serving was minimal,  the sausage quite large.  The potato salad was cold, crisp, with just the right amount of mustard.  A winner.  The Baked Beans were hot, but tasted like canned pork-n-beans heated on the stove with a touch of brown sugar.  The coleslaw was fresh but bland, merely acceptable.  The brisket itself, was moderately tender, with a small  smoke ring.  We had the option to use the sauce on the side.  The sauce was well made, moderately dense, a little peppery.  The sausage casing was very thick and difficult to cut through even with silverware.  Plastic knives and forks would have failed miserably.  The sausage flavor was mildly smoky, with some interesting spices.  I did not try the turkey, which several people have raved about.

The County Line Has Nice Surroundings

Overall, I give The County Line a “D” .  This was the most expensive BBQ place I have sampled, and from the amount and quality of the food for the price, a major disappointment.  Maybe they had an off night, it does happen from time to time, but for what they charge, the quality of the food should be the paramount focus, not getting people in and out.   The problem with chain restaurants is often they sacrifice the time necessary to make really great smoked meats and delicious sides, for speed and expediency.  The parking lot was packed when we left, which I could see for the ambiance, but not for the food.  Austin should expect and demand better.

Editors Note:  I too have opinions on this establishment. A location opened in Garland Texas, on Lake Ray Hubbard. Seems they stick with their water view.  Unfortunately, this establishment did not make it even two years, even with a killer unobstructed view of the lake.  The only positive I can say is that the County Line is one of the few BBQ  joints that serve beef ribs.  Not sure why these are not more popular in the bayous of BBQs. But they do a decent job with the beef ribs.  So if you do try one of their locations, I highly recommend those or you will be very dissatisfied.America’s Best BBQ: 100 Recipes from America’s Best Smokehouses, Pits, Shacks, Rib Joints, Roadhouses, and Restaurants

The BBQ Road goes ever on…….

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Ciroc Vodka Review

On June 18, 2011, in Vodka Reviews, by admin

Ciroc Vodka has gained popularity in the marketplace lately with the teaming of P. Diddy, in 2007, as the pitch man for the product.  The result is a significant increase in the popularity, and stocking at your local watering hole or restaurant. This product sits in the high end market with others dominated by Grey Goose, Belvedere, and a host of other upcoming brands.

CIROC

 

Ciroc is manufactured in France.  It differs from other vodkas in that it is made from grapes, more specifically, grapes from the Gaillic region of France.  This vodka is also not aged in any significant manner, which lends to a more efficient production method. Knowing this, I was interested to give this vodka a good shake down. What I found was a rather interesting taste.  If taste differentiation from other vodkas in this category is a goal, they succeeded.

The aroma is the same as other vodkas.  It does not come across quite as pungent as others. It has a clear, crisp color. Ciroc takes full advantage of this in the packaging.  I test all vodkas straight up, well shaken, and in a frosted martini glass. No fruit. The first touch of Ciroc to the palate yields a somewhat confusing taste. It starts very smooth. So smooth, in fact, that it basically lacks a taste.  It is as if your first sip is that you are drinking a slightly flavored water. This tasteless sensation lasts for a few seconds, then is followed by the more characteristic, stronger vodka taste.  Once into this taste, it is not appreciably different tasting from other vodkas in this price group that are made from grains or potatoes. The taste remains consistent until the finish. At the finish, you are overwhelmed by a more chemical taste…much like drinking gasoline. Understanding, vodka is a developed taste, and to the normal person, all vodkas have a chemical taste. But to vodka drinkers, there is a fine line of difference between this taste of the masses, and that of the subtle taste of ingredients that vodkas are made from. The finish of Ciroc fortunately does not last long before you are into the next sip where the initial taste (or lack thereof) takes over. This is a product of tasting extremes.  I am not suggesting that this product is a complete waste, but its inconsistency is a bit surprising given its placement in the marketplace.

I give Ciroc an average rating overall. I rate it about a 5 out of 10, (10 being perfect). If it was in a lower price line, I would likely rate it higher, but I consider value as well.  This is a product that is place in the higher end market.  It runs between $55-65 for 1.75 liter bottle. Try this for yourself.  You may disagree with above. I also did not try this vodka mixed.  It may work decently in specialty vodka drinks.

Either way, they are now very popular due to their aggressive marketing campaign. This is a very popular vodka among the 20 somethings out there.  Me, I just cannot quite get there…..I guess I am not a Sean P. Diddy fan.Bar Boy 6 Bottle Alcohol Dispenser

 

 

Motley Crue and Poison Review

On June 15, 2011, in Concert Reviews, by admin

Every once in a while you must imbibe. Once in a while you must throw caution to the wind and pursue true Bohemian attitude.  This is what I considered ding to go drive 110 miles to see a mid-week concert featuing Motley Crue and Poison. This was the 7th time seeing Motley Crue, and now double digits for Poison at 10. Naturally I was drawn to this event given my musical taste of which most of you are well aware. Given the harsh economical times, I decided that I would take advantage of $16 tickets….yes, that includes all the bullshit fees Ticketmaster places on the tickets.  Welcome to a mid week concert.  My thought process was that I can always sneak up closer to the stage to get a better view of the bands to write this review. Plan executed. But lets first go over the show…..

The New York Dolls (warning, not sure this is official site) opened.  Reformed in 2004 with David Johannason at lead, these guys put on a nice show if you like the pop/punk influence. They were a tight band, but really, misplaced on this bill.  Apparently Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue consider them an influence and that is how they got on this bill.  Well, good for Nikki not selling out, as these guys, while good, just was not a match for the other two bands from a musical genre point of view.( Sorry Robert, I know you were pissed in your own way for missing the first two songs while delivering my ticket to me. )

Next was Poison. Brett Michaels cashed in one of his nine lives to appear unscathed once again after a bout with potential death inclusive of a hole in his heart…or some medical thing as this.  But here is my tribute to him.  This dude has been a Type 1 diabetic for well over 40 years.  He injects himself with insulin about 4 times a day. He has lived his rock lifestyle. He survives.  In fact, he looked great on the stage this hot Texas evening. For personal reasons which I will not go into (but read the lyrics of “Learning To Breathe” on the Song Lyrics page of this site), I have the most respect for this person and what he has gone through.  OK. Enough mush.  That said, the show was all Poison.  They have not changed in several years.  They always open with “Look What the Cat Dragged In” (really a clever song lyrically if you peel the onion back). The show is full of Brett Michaels fake smiles. He plays the audience, but really never looking into the eyes of anyone of the concert goers. It comes off quite fake.  He has to kiss D.D. Deville’s ass so many times during the concert. I would not be surprised if C.C.’s acknowldgement by Michaels was not written into the contract…..and this night, it was over the top.  That said, C.C. was spot on in his guitar.  Looking good and drug free (for many years now, sans one relapse) he is was force on the stage. Also in the Poison show is the solos.  Guitar, Drums,  Really shitheads?  I know you can play those instruments,. why do this?  And why did not bassist Bobby Dahl get a solo? OH well, Poison is Poison, and I will continue to support them. I have seen Michaels 4 times solo as well, and well, he is consistent there as well with his plastic smile…..but still……..

Motley Crue. What can you say?  I have seen versions of this band missing original members. But they have been basically back together as originals since 2004. Each member has his own branding.  Vince Neal, the lead singer is well know for his debauchery….( I once witness him clock a sound guy on a solo tour, and yes, the sound guy was a rental for the gig….read,  lawsuits in Dallas ensued). Bassist Nikki Sixx was known for his near death experience with heroin addiction.  Mick Mars, the quiet one branded himself in mystery, kind of the implied satanist of the group.  In reality, he has battled a life long health issue called ankylosing spondylitis, which is an advanced form of arthritis of the hip and back.  Tommy Lee was branded for his big ‘you know what’, sex tapes, and his twice shortly lived marriage to PamelaAnderson. Now he does the DJ circuit in top clubs when not touring.  I snuck down from my hill side perch to get a good view of Motley Crue.  They all look good.  Mars moves decently considering his position.  Nikki Sixx, looks fantastic, although sporting a few extra pounds.  Neal the same.  They are a tight band, know the moves of each other on stage, and put on one hell of a show. The stage was elaborate.  Colorful…..and topped off by a circular roller coaster rail where Lee’s drum kit, and Lee, could go upside down.  In fact, Lee pulled a dude from the audience to strap onto the elaborate set up and take an upside down ride as well.  While I am there more for the music and performance, this was entertaining.  Neals voice is very bit as strong as the earlier days.  AT times, however, he would float off key between phrases which is a sign of not enough volume in feed back speakers, or fatique. (Great voices and singing require one to be in good shape). They played nearly two hours, but some of that time was the drum kit thing, which easily consumed 15 minutes overall. Of course, all the hits were there.  But I like their newer music as well.  They played ‘Saints of Los Angeles’ very early in the set.  I think this is one of the better Crue songs out there. These guys are entertainers…….they are great to see in concert.  I will go every time I have a chance, even if it is a hillside in the 100 degree Texas hot…….

Unfortunately, the crowd for this event was seriously off.  Call it mid week blues.  Hard to cut loose and party when you have to get up the next day and return to the job you hate…….. When I got closer to the stage, the same.  They did not have a pit for this event.  This is a mistake.  Screw you legal people, you likely drove that decision. Go see them the Crue, you will be glad you did.

 

Balcones Rumble Review

On June 13, 2011, in Rum Reviews, by admin

I am not one to steal thunder from one of my valued contributors, but Rum Guy has fallen on the job, and I must go pick up the pieces. We review Balcones Rumble Rum.  This comes from the Balcones Distillery, in my very own Waco, Texas.  Now in order to assure Rum Guy I am not retiring him, I must reveal the misconception that led to this review. I went into my fav liquor store in Dallas this weekend seeking some whiskey.  On the Whiskey shelf was this unique smaller bottle labeled Balcones Rumble.  Now, since we review liquors regularly on this and our sister sight VODKAFACTS.COM, I pay attention to things like packaging, pricing, and word of  mouth.  But this little mis shelved gem had nothing but unique packaging.  So upon picking up the bottle, we realized that this was a Texas Distillary for making and marketing Whiskey. In fact, the only one in Texas.  In fact, right from my second home town of Waco, Texas.  Curiosity peaked. We had to purchase.  Of course, we thought this was a whiskey.  But one taste, and it we found this would be the most unique tasting whiskey ever.  So further research to their website Balcones Distilling revealed this is actually a rum……now I should have known that from the taste.  Well, I am not the rum expert, Rum Guy is.

Balcones Rumble, Waco, Texas

Balcones Rumble, Waco, Texas. Not Your Mother's Rum

This rum has a truly unique taste. In their marketing pitch, they embrace everything that is Texas Hill Country.  They make it with Texas honey. They make it with figs.  They use turbinado sugar.  Anyone in their right mind out there know what turbinado sugar is?  Then they tease you further by saying “this is what happens when whiskey distillers play with sugar”.  OK.  I know understand my favorite liquor store’s confusion.  I am confused.  Is this whiskey or rum?  Well, it tastes like one of the best rums I have ever consumed, so lets call it rum. In fact, tonights dinner is this mixed with my favorite soda.   But do not get me wrong, mixing this is somewhat of a sin. This is a strikingly smooth drink that is better suited for sipping. I would put it over rocks, especially now since it is been over 100 degrees in this distillers home town of Waco, Texas for over two weeks.  The honey taste leaps forward.  There is a smoothness to this drink that smacks of sipping over rocks. It starts fresh on the palate.  It never has a chemical burn or after taste despite its advanced alcohol content of 47%, ah thats 94 proof for you newbies.  A party waiting to happen, but please drink responsibly.  As stated earlier, the taste of honey is recognizable. In fact, this is the driving taste of the rum. There is a hint of fig in the taste as well.  OF course, if you mix it, which I am doing for my dinner tonight, these tastes fade somewhat.  You need to put this over ice, and slowly sip it.  Never mind, you northern states.  You likely cannot buy this rum, or global warming has not completely caught up to you yet.  But for us Texans struggling with one of what I believe will be the hottest summers in many years…….this is a mind altering godsend.

This rum is available in Central Texas, which includes some of the Dallas liquor stores.  Not sure about the planet Houston.  The other interesting thing is the name.  “Balcones” is a fault line that runs prominently from Dallas (most people in Dallas have no idea there is a fault line in Dallas, but a trip to southwest Dallas around Duncanville will prove it) to south of Austin, Texas.  In fact it is the Balcones Fault that creates the gorgeous Texas Hill Country.  If you check the website, one of the owners lives in Austin (the site for other liquors like Tito’s Vodka, subject to an upcoming review) with a ‘512’ area code number.  In fact, there is little on the website that would indicate this is a Waco Distillery.  Waco is just not cool enough.  I am surprised in this city of 125,000, home of the largest Baptist University in the world, and a ultra conservative attitude to boot, that we have this distillery smack dab in the middle of town. I love Waco in a sick way.  I find it interesting that these blokes marketing this product try to give the impression it is from Austin, which stands for ‘everything cool in Texas’, at least in an Austinite’s mind.  But check the bottle folks.  It is Waco.  17th and Franklin to be exact.  Sorry owner’s, you have been outed.

Go buy this if you are in Texas, but do expect to pay $30-40 for a 750 ml. bottle. And if you are not in Texas, well, you are screwed, because this one is well worth the money.

 

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Gourmet Madrid

Many do not realize, but Spain is all about wine.  With 130 varieties of grapes grown in the Spanish country side, Spaniards will quickly tell you that their wine rivals neighboring France on any level.  Well, this does come from the step child of the region when it comes to wine making.  But seriously, France enjoys a certain level of branding of their wines. Having been to Spain before, I was well aware of the Spanish wine industry. I have regularly consumed Spanish wines for for over a decade.

So I decided that a wine tour was in order when in Madrid during this last trip. I searched the internet and came up with Gourmet Madrid, offering wine tours on select days of the week. Research confirmed that this was a quality outfit, so I signed up for a wine tour of the Madrid wine region. 125E purchase a day tour with a guide, subject to a maximum of 20 people.  Price includes visits to three wineries in the smallish village of Chincon, where we to visit three wineries.  WE were motored by air conditioned bus some 60 kilometers south of Madrid.  Our host was very knowledgeable about the wine region.  He spoke fluent English.

The winery operations are nothing like that of of NAPA Valley.  These were all family run operations. The first, the winery of Jesus Diaz, was in an old convent building.  This was the largest and most interesting of wineries.  They put out about 300,000 litres a year. Included at this winery were deep cellars several levels down where the convent dug for apparent protection  from the political and/or religious challenges of the times. Tasting here was 4 different wines, each glass about a third full.  OK.  I understand.  You have 7 years of university……if you do the math, thats a  lot of wine considering this was one of three. You are right.  Prepare for this on the tour. Of course, bottles were offered for sale, and at really terrific prices for really good wines. Bottle pricing ranged from 2,6E to around 6E.

The next stop was at a small winery run by a charming lady named Consuelo, and her elderly father. The operation was no more than a total of 1000 square feet.  Lunch was next.  In an open restaurantt overlooking the town square where a bull fight had been staged just the weekend before, the food was wonderful.  And lunch was served with, well, more wine. One word of caution, I did consume a menu item which was great, but contained vegetables.  I had been told to stay away from vegetables in Spain, but I did not heed that advice.  The result was a case of Salmonella (according to my doctor after the fact).  Fever the following night of at lest 102 ensued. So please be aware and cautious.  Time was given to walk the village.  Another nice touch.

We visited one winery in the afternoon.  We were late to the scheduled time, so the host had to go to the owners house to open the winery. This winery seem like an afterthought on this tour, by this time, we were all ready to return to Madrid.  Needless to say, the bus ride on he return was quiet, with several sleeping off their wine tasting.

This tour was well worth the cost.  The logistics were easy.  You met at a certain time at the Ritz Hotel in the center of Madrid. The Ritz knew nothing of the meeting place or Gourmet Madrid.  So there were a few moments of challenge trying to find our guide.  However, when you make your reservation, they give the guide’s cell phone number.  He answers his calls.

I highly recommend this tour. You will learn much on Spanish wines, and the wines of the Madrid wine region, which has it’s own certification program which all small wineries strive to achieve. This is a great way to spend a day in the Madrid area, and you will be pleased by the tour, and the drive into the Spanish country side

A link to Gourmet Madrid is above under the title at the beginning of this article.

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Chisholm Trail BBQ Lockhart Texas. So everyone boasts to have the best BBQ, especially here in Texas where everyone brags about anything and everything. So when our roaming correspondent and local BBQ expert hit the road once again to ingest some serious calories, they ended up in this central Texas town of Lockhart, about 30 miles southeast of Austin, Texas. Here, they claim the best BBQ in the state.  Truly, some of the joynts he mentions go back to the early 1900’s, and Chisholm Trail BBQ to the 70’s, the ‘new kid’ in town. So are they the best?  Well, read on……

Last holiday weekend brought a quick lunch trip down to Lockhart, TX, proclaimed “The BBQ Capital of Texas”.  Pretty strong words, there pardner, but can they back it up?  The answer is…Hell yes!

This small town of approximately 14,000 people, the county seat of Caldwell County has one of the most picturesque County Courthouses in Texas, completed in 1894.  This town was on one of the main trails of the Chisholm Trail, with Cowboys riding herd to drive beef to the railheads in Kansas.  That history of handling beef has taken hold with four BBQ places (and counting) that would be considered among the best in Texas.

After previously trying the better-known BBQ “joints” in town, like Blacks, Smitty’s, and  Kruez, we were determined to try “Chisholm Trail BBQ” right on Hwy  183 in town, but well past the other places mentioned above.  The low-slung, but long building is unimpressive outside, with signs advising of a wide variety of foods including chicken-fried steaks and fajita plates. We found one parking spot available out front—the place was packed. Walking in , there is initial confusion, no real directions to the service line—indeed there were two lines.  After watching a minute and then asking a local, we learned that the left hand line is for “to Go” orders and the right line was for either eat-in or to go.  The floor was commercial tile, the tables, old worn Formica, scattered about several divided rooms.  Old pictures and the occasional stuffed bobcat/coyote were the decorations.  A wide variety of choices then presented themselves—what to eat.  You can order a plate with 1 or more meats and sides, or just order various meats by the pound.  You can get a Styrofoam container to eat in or go, or just have them put it on butcher paper like other places in town.  We quickly decided on the plate lunch, either the 1 or two meat plate came with 3 sides (most places offer two sides) along with bread and onions (which I think must be offered by law in Texas).  In order to compare “apples to apples” when reviewing BBQ,  I usually get the brisket and sausage as I did here.  The sides had over a dozen choices, cottage fries, green beans, pinto beans, potato salad, coleslaw, fried okra, mac and cheese, black eyed peas, green salad, were among those offered.  My companion got green beans and black-eyed peas, and I got the ‘tater salad and coleslaw. (again, pretty standard for comparison sakes).

The green beans tasted like home-grown picked and slow-cooked with ham bits-very good.  The black-eyed peas were met with approval.  The potato salad was delicious, crunchy, firm, with celery and pimento bits included.  The only disappointment was the coleslaw.  While the presentation was good, with carrots chopped and added to the mix for good color, the slaw was bland, almost warm, vinegar-based.  The sweet tea was especially refreshing after a  busy morning.

But let’s talk about the reason for the visit—the slow-cooked meats.  The brisket was very tender, with a beautiful pink smoke ring.  Juicy but lean, it almost melts in your mouth.  The flavor both with and without sauce was close to the best we have had on the BBQ road. (Country Cousins in Centerville—watch out!)  The sausage was very good, the casing was tough to cut, but the meat inside was smoked, with interesting spices.  Not the best sausage we have had, but certainly in top 3 territory.   The brisket could be cut with a small plastic knife with little effort.  BBQ sauce was available on the side(Bonus Points!).  We bought two pounds of sliced brisket to take home with us, something we seldom do.

We found that having three sides with the BBQ plates to be a great value as well as delicious. The prices were the best we have seen on The Barbecue Road.    Great food, great prices, great value—no wonder the locals pack the place! Overall, The Chisholm Trail BBQ gets an “A”, better grades than most of the more famous BBQ brethren in town.  The food is better, the attitude is better, the place was packed with locals—all the visitors hit the other places…but the food—mmmm…..great job, folks, great job.  We will be back!

The Barbecue Road beckons…..

PS: A trip to their website indicates they will ship you meat across the county. Several of the better BBQ joints in Texas have begun to do this.  This is a way, although not the best like being there, to try some of the meats written about regularly on our bohemian site.

 


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