Bargain Beer Battle

27 04 2010

Sorry for the posting-hiatus, I have been feeling a bit under the weather over the past week. I went to KFC and tackled their infamous “Double Down” sandwich over the weekend. Keep an eye out for a full review soon. Until then, I wanted to touch on a topic that many people have been asking about. Which is the best main-stream light beer?

But before I get to that, I would like to profile those who drink beer and relate that to how I see myself. There are two major types of beer drinkers – the casual and the connoisseur.

The casual drinker usually goes for cheap, drinkable light beer. He or she will most likely be drinking beer out of a can or a frosted mug. Casual drinkers range from college students who buy cases of cheap beer for parties to people who just like a Bud Light with wings.

The beer connoisseur prefers more complex, full bodied beer, and often avoids cheap light beer at all costs. This is the person who goes on brewery tours, understands the difference between barley and hops, and may even be able to recommend a good cheese to go with a certain beer. The beer connoisseur often looks down on the casual drinker, while the casual drinker doesn’t mind much.

Of these two viewpoints, I put myself somewhere in the middle. I usually prefer a light beer with dinner – something easy to drink that quenches the thirst without filling you up or interfering with the taste of the meal. At the same time, I also enjoy a heavier, hoppy beer during the afternoon or evening – usually by itself or with pretzels. I have been on brewery tours, and I have bought cases of Miller Light.

This split preference is not all that uncommon. I would venture to say, that if the average drinker was rated on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being totally casual and 10 being the most experienced connoisseur, most people would rank at about a 3. I would rank myself at a 6-7. Where would you fit on the scale? Remember – it is just a preference, a higher number is not better than a lower one. Post in the comments!

Now, because there are thousands and thousands of different beers in the world, a beer comparison from a connoisseur’s perspective would be like reading War and Peace. Therefore, I will discuss my perspective on the top 3 light beers, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light, to guide all you casual drinkers out there.

Beer #1 – Bud Light

Bud Light is a great mix between flavor and drink-ability, and because of this, it is my favorite of the three. It has more flavor than Coors Light without having the distinct taste of Miller Lite. This beer goes great with wings, burgers, pizza, you name it. Keep an eye out for Bud Light in aluminum bottles at sporting events – those are a real treat. Bud Light also comes in a “Select” 55-calorie variety, but then it starts treading dangerously close to flavorless-Coors Light territory.

Beer #2 – Coors Light

“The Silver Bullet” – “The taste of the Rockies”. Well silver bullets are meant to kill werewolves and I don’t imagine that the Rocky Mountains taste that great. Coors Light is the most watery of the three, and has the least flavor. You might think that a watery beer would be easier to drink, but in many cases, casual drinkers have a hard time with Coors Light. The ironic reason why – its not bitter. Part of what makes beer drinkable – ironically – is its slightly bitter taste. Much like spiciness in food, if the bitterness is too much, no one will like it, but a small amount will have people coming back for more. You take a sip – the hint of bitter flavor makes you thirsty – you take another sip – etc. This is how beer works, and this is why Coors Light does not work.

Beer #3 – Miller Lite

Just to be different, the people at Miller like to spell the word “Light” their own way. Miller Lite describes itself as “True Pilsner Beer”. Remember the beer connoisseurs that I was talking about before? This statement makes them laugh. Miller Lite has more flavor than Coors Light, but so does everything else. Its flavor is more distinctive than most light beers, and most people have a love-hate relationship with it. Bud Light’s flavor is more ambiguous – drinkable but very similar to other light beers. Miller Lite is still fairly drinkable, but also easily identified. It all comes down to personal preference.

So of these three, my top pick is Bud Light. It is cheap, drinkable, and refreshing. Which do you prefer? Post a comment!

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Chipotle Vs Qdoba

20 04 2010


Clash of the Titans!

Chipotle and Qdoba – two Mexican fast food giants with very similar offerings and very divided fan-bases. It seems like everyone I talk to prefers one to the other. In case you are not familiar, both restaurants serve made to order burritos and tacos in a similar fashion to the preparation of subs at Subway. You make your way up the counter, tell them what meat you want, the cheese, salsa, toppings, and so on. It is a convenient and efficient business model that allows the customer to get exactly what they want, fast.  I will compare the pros and cons of both places, let you know my favorite, and then leave it open for you to discuss! Remember that this is just my humble opinion here…

Chipotle

Pros:

  • Fresher meats overall
  • Better tasting steak
  • Peppers and onions are more crisp and less chunky
  • Cilantro rice beats Qdoba’s rice hands down
  • Burrito’s are larger than Qdoba’s on average

Cons:

  • No queso
  • Not as much variety in the menu
  • No super-hot salsas
  • Hard to find healthy menu options

Qdoba

Pros:

  • More menu variety (tortilla soup, nachos, quesadillas)
  • Queso
  • More salsas to choose from
  • Better guacamole

Cons:

  • Meats are usually not as fresh
  • Rice is bland
  • Beans are watery

Both places have the disadvantage of gouging you for ordering chips, salsa, and a drink to your order (usually putting it over 10 dollars). So which is the better choice?

Chipotle. I value the superior ingredients that Chipotle uses over the menu variety that Qdoba offers. The steak, chicken, barbacoa, and carnitas at Chipotle are grilled and seasoned throughout the day to be sizzling and hot when added to your burrito. Also, Chipotle’s rice is amazing – it is sticky, soft, and has a lime-cilantro kick, complimenting the meat and cooling your mouth with each bite. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a plate of nachos or a quesadilla, your only option is Qdoba (or Taco Bell). Chipotle is like the Google of fast food – they present a simple front, and they are good at what they do. The burger chain around here known as “Five Guys” follows a similar business model – only offer a few items, but make them quality.

There is my take on this prize-fight. Which of the two do you prefer? Is there a place you know of  that is better than both? My posting ability will be in question for the rest of this week – so leave a comment and lets discuss!





Camden Yards – Play Ball!

19 04 2010

The Orioles just opened their season last week, and I am pretty sure they have not won a game yet! It just hasn’t been the same without Cal Ripken. Fortunately, there is always interesting food to be found at a baseball game, win or lose. Our favorite JCR contributor, Phil, attended an O’s game last week and provided us with his take on the food. Without further ado, here’s Phil –

Phil: Just got back from Camden Yards and I feel that the only way to forget about another Orioles loss is to do a ballpark food review!

As in most stadiums around the country Oriole Park at Camden Yards has your typical ballpark fare (hot dogs, burgers, peanuts, beer, etc.) and ridiculously high prices. The O’s though let you bring in outside food, so if you’re cheap and don’t want to spend 20 bucks for a hot dog and a drink you can still go to the game and not drain the old bank account.

But, where’s the fun in that!?

So here’s a review of a few items you might want to get if you see a baseball game in Baltimore…

Boog’s BBQ

This is the food stand to hit when you go to the Yard. The owner and namesake of this stand is Oriole great and 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell. During most game days Boog is at his stand ready to chat or sign an autograph. The menu at the stadium includes beef, turkey, or pork sandwiches ($9 each) and sides of beans or coleslaw ($1 each). This trip included beef and turkey sandwiches.

As you can see in the picture to the side, both the beef and turkey are easy on the eyes. The load of meat has rich color and isn’t drenched in juices that ruin the overall sandwich. The meat at Boog’s is juicy, smoky, and flavorful all on it’s own. These sandwiches don’t need any sauce to taste great, but if you want a little BBQ sauce on your bun a sweet BBQ sauce is available. I personal think the beef has a little more flavor compared to the turkey, but both are great. I’m usually complaining about the bun selection at pit beef sandwich places around Baltimore, but Boog’s holds its own and is fresh, not flaky. The $9 price tag might seem like a lot, but for the best food item in the whole stadium it’s well worth it.

Boog also operates two BBQ joints in Ocean City, Maryland that have a full menu that includes everything above and BBQ chicken, brisket, sausage, ham, wings, and ribs. Sounds good to me, hopefully a visit is on the horizon!

Boog’s Barbecue

Grille Dogs

Ok, right across from Boog’s is a sausage stand that has better (and more expensive) hot dogs than the rest of the stadium. This stand has two options: a foot long grille dog ($5) and an Italian Sausage ($6.75). The grille dog is massive, tasty, and has a nice snap. It tastes a little like a Hebrew National hot dog, so if you like that you’re good.  The Italian Sausage was a little small and tasted like any Italian Sausage that you could get at any stadium or state fair. It was decent, but not worth $6.75.  The buns on both the dog and sausage tasted a little stale and couldn’t compare to the rolls from Boog’s. The sausage comes with peppers and onions, but I don’t really like giant slabs of onions so I passed. I know, I know, it probably would make the sausage taste better, but whatever. I likes what I likes. Overall, I would recommend the foot long grille dog, but pass on the Italian Sausage. As you can see in the picture I had a little difficulty getting the mustard out of the pump. I mean I like mustard, but jeez…

Both Boog’s and Grille Dogs are located on Eutaw Street in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Eutaw Street also has a kosher deli, lots of beer options, lemonade, Boardwalk Fries, etc. It’s the best place for food at an Orioles game.

If you’ve been to the Yard let us know what you think of the food and the best ballpark in baseball!

Since this was my first baseball game of the year, I would imagine a few more of these stadium food reviews are coming as the season moves on.

QUICK UPDATE: My review of Weinerschnitzel is coming, but I took some pictures and video when I was out west and I wanted to put a little something together to wrap up the whole West Coast Fast Food Road TripTM. So it’ll be a couple of days for that to hit Jamie’s blog!

Jamie: Thanks Phil. As always, post a comment and let us know what you think about fast food at sporting events!





Taco Bell Tortadas and Sparklers!

14 04 2010

There is nothing that brightens my day more than seeing a new special plastered on the windows of my local Taco Bell. I don’t know what they put in their food, but I keep coming back for more. The last major special Taco Bell ran (and the subject of my very first post) were the Pacific Shrimp Tacos. I was rather unimpressed with them (full review here) and they seem to have disappeared from the menu since then. For this month’s special, Taco Bell has released not one, but four new menu items! I tried three of them last night – and here is what I thought.

Bacon Ranch Tortada

Chicken, bacon, ranch, tomatoes, and lettuce wrapped inside a quesadilla tortilla. If you have ever had Taco Bell’s “Club” style gordita, this is basically the same thing with a new shell. Taco Bell likes to dust off the bacon bits once in a while, and I have never been a fan. There is nothing spicy or Mexican about this creation – it just tastes fatty, and rich. Now let me take a moment to discuss the new “Tortada” concept. It is a quesadilla tortilla, wrapped around the ingredients to create a square shape, which is cut down the middle diagonally. The end result here is a floppy mess that falls apart when you pick it up. If you have ever had Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme – this is its less functional and less attractive little brother. The tortada is just another rehashing of Taco Bell’s base ingredients, in a failed way. To add insult to injury, a tortada will run you close to 4 bucks, which is unacceptable when there is a huge 79/ 89 / 99 cent value menu to choose from.

Salsa Roja Tortada

Now that you already know my take on these tortadas in general, I will just focus on the ingredients in this one. The salsa roja tortada trades out the bacon and ranch for cheese and a tomato salsa. As much as I enjoy Taco Bell, they are terrible at making fresh salsa. The “salsa roja” contained in this tortada is drippy, wet, bland, and was obviously prepackaged/frozen. Salsa is one of those foods that is either extremely tasty or just bad. For example –

Good –

– Buy fresh tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, and cilantro

– Dice, add lime juice and a bit of salt, let sit for an hour in the fridge

– Enjoy

BAD –

– Tostitos / Pace jarred salsa

– Taco Bell “salsa roja”

So after picking up this already unwieldy tortada, be prepared to deal with the juices flowing inside. Or skip it. Last but not least –

Taco Bell Limeade Sparklers – Cherry

After making my way through the disasters above, this was my light at the end of the tunnel. The limeade sparkler is a refreshing beverage consisting of Sierra Mist lemon-lime soda with a shot of cherry limeade syrup, garnished with a lime slice. Think Shirley Temple, but better. Why don’t more restaurants do this? The ol’ soda fountain gets boring after you see the same drinks 1000 times. Lets see…. Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Root Beer, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper….. *yawn*. Taco Bell already broke the mold years ago with their exclusive “Baja Blast” version of Mountain Dew, which I enjoy on occasion, but these limeade sparklers really take the cake. The cherry flavor infuses the whole drink and provides a thirst quenching, sweet contrast to your spicy, beefy meal. I only tried the cherry limeade, but there is also an original limeade which I’m sure is also quite good.

Despite the Frankenstein creation known as the tortada, Taco Bell will still be one of my favorites. They can’t get it right every month I guess! If you have tried any of the products reviewed here, please post a comment and share what you think!





Snack N’ Pack

13 04 2010

What do you get when you combine cheap bar food with a liquor store? You get “Snack N’ Pack”, another dining experience I had during my trip to Butler, PA. My extended family makes a trip to this place several times a month to play trivia games and eat some quality food. Why do they keep coming back? Tradition probably, but the first thing I noticed was the absolutely gigantic appetizer menu. I wish I had taken a picture of it… the menu folded out like a brochure, and 1/3 to 1/2 of it was a tremendous list of appetizers. On top of that, I was hard pressed to find something for more than 6 bucks. This menu does not win points for healthiness though. Everything is stuffed with cheese, fried, covered with cheese, and served with ranch dipping sauce (or more cheese). I started off with pretzels and cheese –

This was a lot to eat, especially considering I had the main course to eat afterward. Pretzels compliment beer well, and I was trying a new beer at the time (Michelob Amber Bock). The pretzels and cheese came out piping hot, which was a plus. I prefer baked soft pretzels, and unfortunately, these were fried (like most everything else in the appetizer menu). There was also too much salt on the pretzels, and the cheese had no spice to it. It was decent overall, but nothing compared to the pretzels I had at the Slippery Rock brewery in PA.

For my entree, I wanted something that showcased Pennsylvania’s amazing fries and gravy. Given that, I ordered a hot roast beef and cheddar sandwich with the gravy on the side.

Dipping everything in this gravy, including the sandwich, was just delicious. The bread on the sandwich was buttered, making it taste like a grilled cheese. The fries were very similar to those found at Pimani Bros (famous sandwich shop in Pittsburgh seen on the Food Network) – not too crispy, not too floppy, perfect with gravy. I was too full at this point to eat most of this, but it was quite good. While this and most of the menu at Snack N’ Pack was quite unhealthy, a  few of the people I was eating with ordered salads, which looked huge and tasty.

Snack N’ Pack gets a thumbs up from me. The prices are reasonable, the food tastes great, and the atmosphere is friendly and inviting. You can also grab a pack of beer on the way out… what’s not to love? For cheap, Pittsburgh style cuisine in the Butler area, look no further than Snack N’ Pack.





The Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe

9 04 2010

Happy Friday to everyone out there! Today I wanted to bring you a special review of a dining experience I had last weekend in Butler, Pennsylvania. Butler is a small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. I visit my family there a few times each year.  Some of the best places to eat are the smaller, out of the way ones, and Butler has a few gems. I had lunch at a regional fast food chain known as the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe (now with real pictures)!

The Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe

I have been going to Butler each year for over 20 years, and this restaurant is a relatively recent addition to the area. It is vaguely reminiscent of a Pizza Hut on the outside, but it is quite different on the inside. Despite my cousin wanting something from the nearby Clearview mall, I convinced him to try this place for the purposes of the blog. After entering the building – which was packed, my cousin ordered one hot dog and I ended up ordering half the menu. Brighton is a very cheap place to eat. This place puts Taco Bell to shame. The special was the “Butler Dog”, which is a hot dog with chili, onions, and a pickle spear, for a dollar. I decided to order normal chili dogs, not being a fan of pickles. Here was my ludicrous order –

Jamie –

  • Two Hot Dogs with Chili, Onions, and Mustard
  • One Cheeseburger with Chili and Onions
  • One Banana Milkshake
  • One Large Diet Coke (have to keep my girlish figure)

My Cousin Beau –

  • One Hot Dog (with just ketchup?)
  • A Root Beer Float

…and we split a huge chili/cheese/gravy fries. Here was my order –

A bit of wisdom concerning restaurants that specialize in hot dogs – they are defined by the quality of the chili. Good hot dog chili, in my opinion, has the following characteristics –

  • No Beans
  • Slightly Spicy, Never Sweet
  • Ground Beef has a fine, grainy texture
  • Not drippy or watery

Unfortunately, the chili at the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe only met the first two of these characteristics. It reminded me of the chili that comes out of the chili/cheese machine at 7-11 (you know what I’m talking about). The hot dogs were quality though, possessing a nice snap and a juicy bite. Ironically enough, it was the burger that really impressed me. For two dollars, it was a real, quality ground beef burger. The natural, authentic taste of a handmade ground beef patty really makes me look down on the pre-processed and formed wafers you get at McDonalds or Burger King. To make things even more confusing, there is a place across the street from the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe known as the “Burger Hut 2”, that allegedly has amazing hot dogs, but mediocre burgers! Go figure…

The french fries were very small and crispy, not lending themselves to dipping or eating with your hands. I had to grab a few forks to tackle them without getting myself covered in gravy. If you aren’t from around Pennsylvania, know that gravy fries are the specialty around the area. There is nothing better than crispy fries dipped in hot, rich roast beef gravy.

Overall I would give the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe a thumbs up. It is cheap, quality fast food with a friendly atmosphere. If you see one sometime, grab yourself a dog, and let me know what you think. I have a few more reviews from Butler on the way, so stay tuned.





Da Bomb Hot Sauce

7 04 2010

I visited my grandparents over the weekend and ate at some unique places, including a regional fast food chain you have probably never heard of. A review will be coming soon. In the meantime, I wanted to do something a bit different than the normal fast food fare.

Da Bomb – “The Final Answer” Hot Sauce

Yeah, that’s right – a hot sauce, and one of the hottest commercially available.  I originally bought a bottle of this stuff at the Maryland Renaissance festival last year for $40 (one bottle). Now you may ask, “why would you ever spend 40 dollars for a bottle of hot sauce?” Well, my answer to that is – because this stuff is three times as hot as military grade pepper spray, and I’m crazy. This hot sauce weighs in at 1,500,000 scoville units of heat – 375 times as hot as a jalapeno. You can check out  various sauces on the scoville  scale here.

To be honest, this isn’t really a hot sauce – its a food additive. One drop of this will make an entire pot of chili very hot.  The only way to taste this stuff without going to the hospital is to gently dab the end of a toothpick into it and touch it to your tongue. Prepare to burn for several hours though. The burn is so intense, I had a hard time noticing that the sauce had any flavor.

I am by no means a “hothead” (someone who collects hot sauces and loves painfully-spicy food). If anyone does consider themselves one, I pull this out and give them a taste. The reactions alone are worth $40.