24 February 2011

Raleigh Days 1-2

I must apologize in advance for the quality of the photos from my trip. I fear my camera is on it's last legs and I had no idea the pictures were that blurry until I got home and viewed them on my computer. I hope your eyes don't bleed too much from reading this...

Ah, Raleigh. I’ll be honest, you really surprised me. Before I found out I would be visiting you for training, I figured you were just another Anytown, USA like my local craptastic Bel Air. Boy, was I wrong. There’s real character here, even amidst all the skyscrapers and mile-high hotels. We sped through BWI like it was our job and landed in Raleigh without a hitch. It was probably the least painless flying experience I’ve ever had. We picked up our rental car, checked into the downtown Sheraton (no complimentary breakfast and no free wi-fi make Homer something, something) and practically ran down the street to grab some dinner, my two co-workers and I were hungry for food, and even more so for beer.

I had originally planned to check out Busy Bee Café on our first night, but as we were walking there we walked right by The Raleigh Times Bar, which was another place on my hit-list. After glancing inside, our plans immediately changed—the perfect place to pop our Raleigh dining cherries. The bar is housed in the exact location that used to be the home of the Raleigh Times newspaper and they struck the perfect balance between industrial and cozy, no small feat. I especially liked the unfinished cracked plaster walls.

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Like a signal from the gods, there were three seats in a row front and center at the bar. We gobbled them up and demanded menus and beer lists. As I said, we were on a mission. Our extremely cool bartender Johnnie was eager to discuss the finer points of the draft/bottled beer list. I was interested in trying the New Holland Poet Oatmeal Stout, but unfortunately they were out of it so he recommended the Mother Earth Brewing Old Neighborhood Oatmeal Porter 5.5% abv.

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It had a strong, roasty malt in the front, followed up by dark chocolate and soy/Worcestershire notes. The body was a bit heavy for me, and it was lacking the thick creamy head I yearned for in the stout. A decent brew, and overall and good start to my evening.

My cohorts ordered appetizers, but I was saving precious stomach space for beer, beer, beer. I did order the Heavy Seas Hangar Steak which is marinated in their chocolate stout, drizzled with bier blanc, and served with butternut squash risotto and sautéed bok choy.

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I tried one of the Spicy Chipotle Wings that my co-worker ordered and definitely enjoyed it more than I expected considering it was a battered wing. By far the best thing about it was that I could actually taste chipotle in the sauce. The term ‘chipotle’ can pretty much be found on any chain restaurant menu in the country these days, and I fear it’s really been bastardized. This tasted like genuine chipotle peppers and it was the shit. The wing was huge, meaty, and had a subtle crisp shell. I could’ve put down my fair share of them for sure.

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Around this time I also ordered my second beer, my favorite of the evening, if not the entire week, which was the The Bruery’s Rugbrod Rye Brown Ale from Placentia, CA 8% abv. which they had on draft. Light and a touch sweet, you could taste the alcohol as well as a fruit, my guess was raspberry. Killer.

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The skirt steak arrived shortly after and I was surprised by a few things. The first was that the butternut squash risotto wasn’t orange as I expected, and the absolutely breathtaking black edge seared into the steak. Sweet Jesus I tell you that this was one of the best sears I’ve had on steak in a restaurant. It was perfectly cooked and uber tender. A large steak knife was provided, but I had no need for it, I popped each heavenly slice into my mouth without abandon.

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That wasn’t the only highlight of the plate, the sautéed bok choy was a delight as well. It had the bitterness of broccolini and the thready, fibrous texture of asparagus. I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of it. My one complaint with the dish was that while the hangar steak and bok choy were perfectly warm, the risotto was BLAZING hot, and unfortunately this only occurred to me after I shoveled a heaping forkful of it into my mouth. Despite my best efforts of trying to keep it in, I gave a quick glance around the bar and spit it back out, for fear of burning my entire mouth. Wow, that was some hot risotto. It did have a butternut squash flavor to it, but it was a tad undercooked and dry. It was the only part of my plate I didn’t lick clean.

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For my final beer of the evening I wanted something lighter and a touch sweet. After conversing with a fellow bartender Johnnie recommended the Vichtenaar from Brouerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, Belgium 5.1% abv. Wow, this was a very unique beer. The menu described it as being "...lagered in oak tuns blended, tart, with a sweet and sour finish." Upon my first taste one flavor jumped out at me: fermented apple cider. This was another fantastic beer. It was oaky, tart, sweet, and sour all at once. My tastebuds blew the fuck up.

Their website really does not do this place justice, if you ever find yourself in Raleigh and are looking for a chill place with good food and even better beer, make a point to check out Raleigh Times.

After 8 hours of the fundamentals of textiles, when 5pm rolled around I needed a beer… BADLY. Luckily we had already planned on checking out the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium because Monday night is pint night where all of their draft beers are just $3. Bonus that all of the waitresses/bartenders dress up like schoolgirls. I was lured here by the immense beer list, but wasn’t holding out that the food would be anything special. I guess when one has no expectations it’s easy to be surprised because I found the food at FSDE a step above your average bar food.

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Saucers covered the walls and ceiling. Too bad they weren't flying, that would've been something. Anyway, first up, the beer. Our particular server wasn’t very helpful at all when asked about the finer points of the beer list. She could offer some general recommendations, but all in all she seemed like she was in a bad mood and was detached and inattentive for most of the evening. My first beer choice was the New Belgium 1554 Schwarzbier from Fort Collins, CO 5.6% abv.

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It had a somewhat persistant head, poured dark amber. I tasted coffee, a tiny bit of bitter chocolate and caramel, and finished dry. It wasn’t much of a standout and I swiftly drained it, looking forward to my next choice. I also took this opportunity to place my order, so I had the Buffalo Chicken Wrap with a house salad on the side with Jalapeno Vinaigrette. I believe that with a beer list like this, FSDE could get away with serving sub-standard pub fare, but this wrap was pretty damn good.

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The tortilla was soft and pliable and had a grill marks (and flavor). There was a ton of slightly battered chicken dripping with decently spicy buffalo sauce, and the blue cheese sauce paired up nicely. The greens served as a balancing agent as opposed to just filler.

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The side salad definitely hit home with me because it was a lot like the house salad my wife and I love at Looney’s in Bel Air. It had kalamata olives, thinly sliced red onion, some slightly mealy tomatoes, and shredded cheese. The jalapeno vinaigrette only served to enhance the spicyness of the wrap and by the time my next beer arrived, my lips were tingling. Speaking of which…

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My next beer was the Ommegang Rare Vos from Cooperstown, NY 6.5% abv. which the waitress recommended after overhearing us discussing the best beers we’d ever had. Well unfortunately after a few sips, all I kept thinking about was that it tasted like a watered down, crappy version of Brewer’s Art’s Resurrection. Not impressed, strike two.

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Strike three came in form of the Great Divide Denver Pale Ale from Denver, CO 5.4 abv. It had a nice persistent head, a strong aroma of hay and a touch of sourness at the end, but other than that it just simply wasn’t that good. I’m sorry I don’t have much more detail to give you.
At this point I was definitely feeling it a bit, because this voice memo was significantly louder than the rest, and my voice had the slightest slur to it. Nonetheless, I took my last beer of the night on the waitress’ recommendation, giving her a chance to redeem herself. She chose Big Boss Big Operator from Raleigh, NC 8% abv., and redeem herself she most certainly did.

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This beer poured like straight up motor oil but somehow managed to have a very light body with pleasing notes of raspberry, anise, and a hint of dark chocolate. It finished with a subtle sweetness and was a great way to conclude my night of beer swilling. My mouth is watering right now at the refound memory of drinking this brew (beer makes me forget things sometimes).

I found it ironic that I went in to FSDE expecting the beer to be great and the food to be so-so, and ended up experiencing (for the most part) the exact opposite. Overall, I definitely preferred The Raleigh Times to FSDE, but they’re two very different places. If you’re out with a bunch of guys who’re looking for some eye-candy and a huge variety of beers, I believe I can safely recommend checking out the Flying Saucer.

Raleigh Times Bar on Urbanspoon
Flying Saucer on Urbanspoon

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