Category Archives: Road Trip

Road Trip: Buffalo Not-Wings

Hot Dog! Ted's.

Hot Dog! Ted’s.

Amongst all the wings, we ate other things too, on our recent Buffalo trip.  We also spent part of a lovely mid-70s-and-sunny day at Niagara Falls, which was awesome, but we didn’t eat anything there.  Not much on the U.S. side other than a nice grassy park, and the Canadian side is horribly touristy — we almost ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe but thankfully Mrs. Me, more clearheaded than the rest of us, vetoed that detour.

Here are some capsule reviews of our Buffalo non-wing food consumption:

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery: we did have wings here, but also other stuff, including an excellent “fish fry” which I guess is Midwestern for fish & chips.  Moist fresh fish inside a crisp savory exterior, with solid fries and above-average tangy tartar sauce. They brew some good beers there at Pearl Street too, in addition to Lake Effect IPA we got a giant 100 ounce “Widow Maker” tube of Sabre’s Edge, a double IPA-barleywine melange that we tapped ourselves at the table.  Buffalo, it turns out, is a beer town.

Ted’s Hot Dogs: like wings, I don’t know if a hot dog can transcend its own people without becoming something else, chorizo or bratwurst or whatever, but Ted’s comes awfully close. They “charcoal grill” their dogs and it sure seems to work well, resulting in a full-dog char bursting with flavor.  After consultation with locals, there are two prime ways to play the dogs, depending on preference: go with either chili and cheese, or else “the works” which is basically ketchup and mustard and relish and, crucially, Ted’s special hot sauce, which is better than any of the wing sauces I tasted all weekend.  Naturally I ordered one of each kind of dog, and although the chili is pretty bland, and similar to Ben’s in DC, the dogs themselves were so good that I powered both down in mere minutes, Takeru Kobayashi style (not really but that’s what it seemed like).  Ted’s also had the best fries of the weekend, fresh and thin and reasonably crisp and salty.  And good shakes if you like that kind of thing.  I think Ted’s has gotten the “touristy” label but, like the Anchor Bar, and really even more so, in my experience the food lives up to the hype.

Anderson's Cone Beckons

Anderson’s Cone Beckons

Anderson’s: purveyors of frozen custard and Buffalo’s beloved “beef on weck” among other drive-up fast food delicacies.  People who like frozen custard like Anderson’s frozen custard a lot.  I was all about this new-to-me beef-weck thing, which turns out to be sliced roast beef on a “kummelweck” roll that is topped with salt and caraway seeds, with horseradish sauce as the other key component. Salty beefy bready horsy wecky goodness.  Anderson’s is a classic 50’s-style drive-up joint so this wasn’t exactly gourmet, and I am informed there is better weckage out there; the Anderson’s version is basically like Arby’s but with better beef and a more interesting roll.  Serious Eats says go to Charlie the Butcher. Next time!  Not everyone digs caraway but I can (dig it).  Fries are okay if a little soggy, dill pickles are good, Anderson’s is good.  Especially if you like creamy frozen desserts.

Dug’s Dive: right on Lake Erie, great views, lots of outdoor seating. It helped that we were there on a lovely 75-and-sunny day. This strip of lakefront used to house factories, all closed now and mostly torn down but a few desolate shells are still up. Not sure about possible soil toxicity, but the alcohol will kill that stuff, right?  You can’t have Superfund without SuperFun!  We only had drinks here (beers and large strong gin & tonics), but they have food too.  Our kind of dive.

Anderson's Beef Weckage and Curly Fries

Anderson’s Beef Weckage and Curly Fries

Spot Coffee: I don’t know if Buffalo is really a coffee town in the same way that, say, Portland and Seattle are, but they sure do like their local coffee spots, including and in particular Spot Coffee, which was jumpin’ every morning while Starbucks (right across the street in one instance) was pretty vacant. Some in our group tried it and liked it, but I can’t attest personally.  About a half dozen locations in greater Buffalo plus a few elsewhere, including one random one in Florida.

Embassy Suites: served not only a full hot free breakfast every morning with eggs cooked to order, but also offered guests a free happy hour in the evening, with a bartender (hi Sharon, you rock!) slinging mixed drinks, wine, and beer.  The accompanying snacks – I think some pretzels, cheese, fruit, like that – were fairly desultory, but whaddya want with your free hotel happy hour beverages? We chatted with some people going to the Rod Stewart/Santana concert that night – but neither Rod nor Carlos hit the hotel bar while we were there.  No matter.  Well done, Embassy Suites Buffalo.  Rooms were good too.

Queen City Kitchen: airport bar conveniently located right across from the gate where our friends’ plane was supposed to already be, but was not, due to a broken seat which had to be fixed before takeoff.  They were delayed just long enough for us to establish a beneficial relationship with the bartender, quaff two refreshing Helldiver APAs from Buffalo’s Flying Bison Brewery, and polish off a spicy chorizo flatbread that wasn’t great but wasn’t bad and went down easy with the Helldiver.  Certainly exceeded expectations for an airport bar.  But which is it, Buffalo: Queen City or Nickel City?


Road Trip: Buffalo Wings

Duff's Hot Wings (WARNING WARNING WA-- no, it's okay)

Duff’s Hot Wings (WARNING WARNING WA– no, it’s gonna be okay)

Legend has it that the concept of snacking on fried chicken wings doused in hot sauce was born at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar in 1964.  It says so on their menu so it must be true?  Hard to believe nobody ever fried and ate a chicken wing before that, at least in the South if not in upstate New York.  Maybe the sauce is part of the key, although you can get “Buffalo wings” without any sauce, even in Buffalo.

Anyway, we recently visited Buffalo for the first time, and naturally had to test the wings at their source.  We feasted on wings from three different places, and they were all good, but in the end I don’t think chicken wings are capable of transcending their genre in the same way some other foods are.* A great wing is still just a wing.  For me, anyway.  Plus what used to be a cheap bar snack now costs about $1/wings – 10 wings for $11 seems to be the going rate — not outrageous but hardly a bargain. Still, we enjoyed the food! In each wingy establishment we ordered both mild and hot wings – we did not go Nuclear or Suicidal or any of the other this-one-goes-to-eleven crazy (allegedly) hot options.

* Like: biryani, mole, pizza, just to name a few off top of head.


Duff's Mild Wings

Duff’s Mild Wings

Duff’s: many locations, less flair than Anchor Bar, locals tend to favor Duff’s “Famous Wings” and their hot sauce was the hottest we encountered, but it didn’t penetrate my soul like a great spicy vindaloo, for example; instead it just made my mouth tingle but the burn went no further.  They say “Warning! Hot is VERY VERY Hot!” but I think they overstate. The wings themselves seemed tired, although in fairness we got takeout so they might have been fresher had we eaten at Duff’s.  On average the pieces weren’t all that meaty, either.  Nothing wrong with them, but just average overall.  Duff’s is also missing out on a huge marketing opportunity by not selling Duff Beer (it’s not just fictional!). 10 wings for $11, 20 for $19.


Pearl Street Hot Wings

Pearl Street Hot Wings

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery: down by the river with huge decks and views, more about this place in the next post, for wings were only our appetizer here. And they were good: hot wasn’t as hot as Duff’s but had a nice kick, the coating was nice and crisp, and the chicken seemed meatier and fresher.  The accompanying Lake Effect IPA didn’t hurt.  One pound of wings for $11, two for $21 — inconvenient for comparison! Probably about ten/pound? Given the proximity to Canada, I should just be glad no metrics were involved. They also offer a “barrel” for $47 — would I rather have a barrel of wings, or monkeys? Or winged monkeys?! Now I’m getting ideas.


Anchor Bar Hot Wings

Anchor Bar Hot Wings

Anchor Bar: locals think the Anchor has dropped in quality over the years, becoming a tourist trap, and it is touristy, with plenty of merchandise available.  There’s one in the airport now (hello tourists!), but we went to the original Main Street location. I’m here to tell you their wings are still good, in fact the meatiest and freshest-tasting of the three places listed here.  Their sauce isn’t exciting, ironic since they bottle it and sell it all over the place, and for people who crave great wing sauce, I can see why Anchor Bar falls short.  Sauce is important and can elevate a wing, but it can’t make up for flaws in the chicken itself.  Anchor Bar had the best chicken, sauce aside, and I liked it best for that reason.  10 wings for $11, 20 for $17.

Of course there are many other Buffalo wing sources Buffalo Buffalo wing sources sources of Buffalo wings in Buffalo NY.  (Disambiguation!) Every restaurant or bar sells them, and you could probably knock on random doors and get good wings from the populace at large — Buffalo folk are uniformly friendly and wings are omnipresent.

Somehow, though, we forced ourselves to eat other foods too, more about which in the next post.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Philly Phat Pho

Nam Phuong, self-proclaimed "best Vietnamese in Philly"

Nam Phuong, self-proclaimed “best Vietnamese in Philly”

Sometimes the headlines write themselves.

Road trippin’ to Philly over the weekend, we returned to the Vietnamese shopping plaza on Washington between 11th and 12th, just off Broad Street, home to Dung Phat Plaza and Hung Vuong Supermarket and, most critically, Nam Phuong, self-proclaimed “best Vietnamese restaurant in Philly” and who am I to argue?  In truth it is the only Vietnamese restaurant in Philly at which I have dined, so I can’t compare it to the others; in some existential sense maybe it is the only Vietnamese restaurant in Philly?  Does it depend on the meaning of “is”?

Anyway.  Dung Phat (*this* close to Hung Phat; I wish I understood the Vietnamese language) may be the whole block or just a piece of the plaza, which overall is kind of Eden Center’s grubby younger sibling.  Several restaurants, a big supermarket, lots of other random stores, awkwardly arranged. We first visited during the blog hiatus, a year or so ago. This Philly neighborhood could be charitably described as “transitional” except I don’t think it is actually transitioning.  Grittier and more feral than Wheaton, let’s say.  It’s almost surprising that Nam Phuong* has a website.

* WordPress suggests “fungi” instead of “Phuong” — I guess WordPress doesn’t speak Vietnames either.

We were instructed by the locals not to order off the “today’s specials” board, since it hasn’t been changed in years; today is every day and the dishes aren’t special.  No problem: the menu boasts over 200 rice, noodle, soup, and other options. Based on two visits (with big groups), soup is the way to go here; the rice and noodle dishes are okay, just standard.  The soups are excellent, both various pho offerings and dozens of nuanced noodle soups.  On the recent visit I tried the (#146) beef noodle soup “Hue Style – Spicy” and it was a big, brilliant bowl of fiery, rich beef broth, abundant thin beef slices, and various vegetables, especially leeks. Deep reddish-brown and yet with some clarity, the broth was an ideal savory-spicy balance.  I sweated some — rub a dub in the pho tub, owwwwww! hot –but not too hot.

Other highlights include the Vietnamese crepe (#109), a crisp omelet stuffed with seafood and sprouts, and the make-your-own-spring rolls (#???), where you get to dunk dried rice paper into water and then roll up your choice of greens, sprouts, and barbecued pork (I think).  Fun for the whole table, if you like that kind of thing.

Hung Vuong Supermarket

Hung Vuong Supermarket

The BBQ pork rolls might also be good, I bet they are, but our order never showed up.  It did show up on the bill, oopsie, but they took it off.  Actually, the service is generally excellent, the pork rolls were the only blip. Portions are outrageously large and prices are low, overall great value here considering the quality is between solid and excellent depending on what you order.  Compared with Wheaton’s Mi La Cay, Nam Phuong is bigger and cheaper (by $1-3 per dish, and grungier, but portion size and average quality are about the same, I would say.

Nam Phuong also offers seemingly infinite permutations of bubble teas — the blue taro flavor is our group favorite, but people seemed to like the cappuccino, and the list went on and on with flavors and styles and I don’t remember any of it because tapioca (the “bubbles”) is on The List of things that, I believe, are a culinary affront to humanity (your mileage, like Mrs. Me’s, may differ).  I should do a post on that sometime.

After lunch we took a spin through Hung Vuong supermarket across the parking lot, bigger and more feral than H Mart, but with a greater variety of sauces and pastes (like, several dozen different shrimp pastes), and a pretty good sweets aisle where Mrs. Me picked up some sugary mango candy to go with a tin of tamarind drops, her new addiction.  They are quite good, I have to admit.  HV had limes but only in bags of four for $2, not a bad price but they all had brown spots.  Wheaton Safeway today had .50 limes and while small they are juicy, so maybe things are looking up, lime-wise. And that’s how you work limes into whatever blog post.

Road Trip Trio

Arrrr, cap'n

Arrrr, cap’n – Fish, chips, slaw, rings, TARTAR at BBC

Finally catching up to a few decent/good out-of-town restaurants visited in the past month or so.

British Beer Company is a Massachusetts chain; we visited the Framingham location (120 Worcester Road).  Framingham is not exactly rife with quality lunch  spots, and this kind of local chain can be very very bad, especially ones like this with multiple cavernous rooms — too much territory for staff to cover — but the BBC turns out to be decent.  Nobody at the host stand – slackers! – but after that, service was excellent. They have a good selection of national and international beers on tap (even some British, surprise surprise).  Fish and chips includes a huge slab of (probably pre-fab frozen, but still not bad) fish, in crunchy batter, with solid fries, onion rings, and cole slaw plus a tureen of above-average tartar sauce to drown it all in.  All portions seem to be oversized, again not surprising at a chain.  Mrs. Me tried to order the Wensleydale Chicken Salad without the Wensleydale, which confused our server; they ended up striking a bargain with the cheese on the side, and the dressing on the side, and the salad was big and good and everyone was satisfied.  We like a win-win.  Prices not bad, atmosphere not bad, not groundbreaking cuisine but one could do a lot worse.

Lancaster, Pa.’s The Pressroom is in the “historic Steinman Hardware Building” (26-28 W. King Street), and is kind of a muddle of industrial and art deco and I felt like I should have been wearing a green visor while I was there.  But it was comfortable, and the food was generally good: interesting pizzas (mediocre crust and some of the topping combos didn’t work but otherwise decent), fine salads, tasty crab bisque.  Short but sweet draught beer list, we enjoyed the local-ish Sly Fox pale ale.  Our server was both too chatty and sometimes MIA, but overall experience was good.

The Richwood Grill (318 Richwood Avenue) is one of the best restaurants in Morgantown, WV. We appreciate their emphasis on local ingredients; we liked the extensive wine list and interesting cocktail suggestions (blue corn whiskey was a winner, while the hibiscus-infused cava turned out to be overrated).  While the food is just about best in class for West Virginia, it is only okay for the price by normal standards.  Braised rabbit doesn’t have much going on, although the gravy nearly had me licking the bowl.  Coq au vin is a huge portion, at least.  But none of it matters, because Richwood is going out of business in about a week due to a dispute with the landlord over a pending massive rent increase, something to which erstwhile Wheaton and MoCo restaurateurs can relate.  They hope to open a new bistro in a new location but probably not for a couple of years.

Lime Index, Alaska/Vancouver Edition

Lime Index

Lime Index: Trending up?

Almost forgot to discuss Alaska’s lime situation.  It was easy to forget, since there is no Alaskan lime situation.  We did not see (or smell or hear or Spidey-sense) a single lime the entire time we were in Alaska.  Juneau organic supermarket with a good (for Alaska) produce section: no limes.  Skagway farmers market: no limes.  Restaurants: no limes.  We ordered no cocktails, so maybe all the limes are squirreled away by bartenders for G&Ts, I don’t know.  But the lack of limes up there would have been depressing if I hadn’t been so distracted by glaciers and whales and IPAs and whatnot.

Canada has limes!: 3/.99 cents at the Langley Farm Market in Lansdown Centre, Richmond.  Good quality, from Mexico.  No scurvy in Richmond.

Wheaton also (still) has limes: Mrs. Me recently hit Korean Korner (Viers Mill at Randolph), where she found six/$1, and good quality — a new local winner?  Korean Korner is just slightly farther for me than H Mart, much less Hung Phat, so it is not in my rotation (or even really my consciousness) but I may have to go more often if this is indicative of KK’s overall produce or broader food selection.

Surely it must be indicative: everything we need to know, we learned from the lime index.

Richmond, BC (Not Alaska)

After floating down the Alaskan coast we disembarked for the last time, in Vancouver BC (Canada!).  We love Vancouver and always wish we could spend more time there, but with less than 24 hours this time and crazy early flight the next morning, we stayed in an airport hotel and stuck to Richmond, Vancouver’s southern suburb.

Food-wise, Richmond is notable for its density of Asian restaurants, “the best Chinese restaurants outside China” according to one possibly hyperbolic local guidebook.  That point is arguable, and moot; they don’t need to be “best” they just need to be good, and they are.  One local food blogger, 365 Days of Dining, spent a year visiting and reviewing one Richmond restaurant (mostly Asian spots) per day for an entire year, and local food bloggers always know everything, OMG they are so awesome, so of course we tried a couple of her recommendations.

Richmond’s main Asian (about equal parts Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese) drag is Alexandra Road, and our hotel was conveniently on that strip too. For lunch we hit Seto Japanese Restaurant (#155-8460 Alexandra Road), which looks like nothing from the outside or even in the lobby, but then you walk through a little arch into the dining room and it’s like passing into a Tokyo izakaya or something.  Each booth has high paper walls, so it feels secluded even with high decibel levels overall.  Instead of the usual teapot, big individual mugs of piping hot green tea materialize right away.  On 365 Day’s recommendation we tried the spicy tuna rolls, boasting a better than average filling to rice ratio and whose interior is a smooth pate of tuna and who knows what else: delicious.   We devoured perfect gyoza, light dough melting away in our mouths to reveal savory pork filling.  Shoyu ramen was excellent, similar in size, quantity, and ingredients to Ren’s Ramen in Wheaton, but only $8, a steaming bargain.  I think Ren’s broth is even more savory and flavorful, but Seto’s is great too.   We also got some sushi, all good.  Wonderful lunch spot, and we were lucky to get in without a reservation even after the main lunch rush.

For dinner we hit the Cattle Cafe (8580 Alexandra Road), right next door to our hotel.  Aka Cattle Hot Pot, this is a local fast-casual chain specializing in soups — so naturally I got a curry instead.  The curry was nose-runningly spicy, just how I like it, but otherwise kind of boring, just a yellow curry sauce over some beef, potatoes, and rice.  Mrs. Me and others ordered soups, which you can customize or just pick one of nearly 100 (at least it seemed that way – big menu for a little restaurant) prepackaged options.  The soups were as good as advertised, big bowls, flavorful broths, fresh noodles; the Malay Laksa soup was even spicier than my curry plate, evident just from the slick oily red-orange patina floating on the surface.  If I ever go back, I’m totally getting the Malay soup, although they also have a Szechuan soup option that I bet offers equal pizzazz.   Everyone else in the mostly-full dining room looked Asian, and many were ordering more adventurously than we were; there was a lot of baked-seafood-in-cheese going on, which isn’t really my thing but seemed quite popular.  The place is authentic, in a very modern way (sleek orange-brown-steel decor reminded me of Panas). And also a lot of soup ordering, which was clearly the way to go.  365 Days’ review of Cattle Cafe is here.

Thus endeth our culinary tour of the Great White North and the uber-continent.  I guess that means we’ll get back to Wheaton one of these days?  Or DC, at least.  Let’s not get too crazy…

Ketchikan: Salmon For All the Senses

Ketchikan is the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of Alaska” and salmon certainly are evident there: in the water, near the water, and (unfortunately) wafting in the air. While Skagway is a charming little burg (if a bit touristy in places) and Juneau is a  solid small city (if a bit touristy in places), Ketchikan is a stinky touristy mess.  I don’t think the stink is due to the tourists — well, maybe in part — but rather it is due to the decaying salmon on the banks of the creek that runs through downtown to the waterfront.   We actually saw more salmon in Skagway’s creek than in Ketchikan’s, but we sure smelled them in Ketchikan.   Which didn’t exactly make us want to eat them in Ketchikan.

Burger Queen Burger and Fries

Burger Queen Burger and Fries

And that’s okay because we were headed for Burger Queen (518 Water Street), a favorite among cruise forum posters, for burgers and fries.  BQ is an unassuming little white shack right across the street from the docks, with four small tables inside and a couple more outside (for use on those rare non-rainy Ketchikan days), and a typically long wait as they cook food to order.  It wasn’t that busy when we were there, but still took 30+ minutes to get our food.Not really worth the wait, either, although it came close to burger excellence: toasted sesame seed bun, tangy 1,000 Island dressing, fresh lettuce/tomato/onion, all good and in the right proportions.  And it looked like it would be juicy and delicious.  Unfortunately, the half-pound ground beef puck was neither charred nor juicy nor particularly anything at all.   If they cut the burger to 1/4 pound and put a good char on it, and maybe have a freer hand with the salt, they’d have a winner.  But you don’t have to have a winner in order to be a winner when you’re a burger shack right across from the cruise ship docks…

Partial redemption came from the big basket of crisp, hot, salty, thin-cut fries, and the halibut sandwich was (reportedly) good too.  Fries and Fish Sandwich Queen doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

We weren’t in Ketchikan all that long and didn’t have time to do any additional eating, and that was fine, we didn’t see any place that looked like it might be even as good as Burger Queen.  Even more than other Alaskan towns, Ketchikan consists nearly 100% of gift shops, art boutiques, and jewelry stores — just regular old jewelry stores, not selling special Alaskan artifacts or that kind of thing.  Do cruise ship passengers really spend so much money on the kind of jewelry you can buy literally in any city anywhere in the U.S. that they prop up a booming jeweler industry in every port in Alaska?  Makes no sense to me, but there they all are.  Some of the art boutiques are nice and have genuine local Alaskan art, but even those start to look the same after a while.

Plus you can’t eat jewelry.  We did have a beer — more Alaskan IPA/APA — at a little bar/liquor store whose name I didn’t write down and where we finally found wi-fi, albeit slow and limited to a half-hour.  Wi-fi is tough to find throughout Alaska, but Ketchikan was especially problematic.  We can not haz internets.  Apropos of my previous post, I could happily spend some time in Skagway or Juneau, but I don’t need to go back to Ketchikan (although their new public library is quite nice — and a half-mile out of town and just over a hill, so all you can smell there is clean pine forests and pure icy glaciers).

Juneau: Tourist Capital

Also capital capital. Juneau, land of glaciers and whales!  Incredible scenery and wildlife, at least once you get out of downtown.  Many Juneau restaurants are closed Sundays, limiting our options, and restaurants don’t need to be particularly good here.  Is there any other state capital more tourist-driven than Juneau?  It is a city, at least, not a big one, but quite urban compared to the hamlet of Skagway.

Hangar on the Wharf Fish  & Chips

Hangar on the Wharf Fish & Chips

We saw many humpbacks in the surrounding fjords but didn’t eat any, so let’s just move on. We did eat fish.  Had to compare Juneau fish and chips to Skagway’s awesomenitude.  Juneau did not measure up (limited sample size notwithstanding). On the recommendation of a local antique shop proprietor, whose advice matched what I read on the internets pre-trip, we tried the Hangar on the Wharf (2 Marine Way).  Fish and chips were fine but no match for Skagway Brewing; the halibut was fresh enough but the breading (“tempura” style) was underseasoned and underwhelming, with mealy thick-cut steak fries.  Nice metal serving basket though!  So it’s got that going for it.  Salmon chowder was better, thick and chunky and appropriately salted.  Like everywhere else in Alaska (as far as we could tell), the beer list was Alaska-centric; we liked the Alaskan Brewing Company IPA and loved the Freeride APA (American Pale Ale), only slightly less hoppy but better balanced.  Also, Hangar on the Wharf provided wi-fi, which is about as elusive as a moose in Alaska.  So overall it was a good pit stop.

We found lots of great coffee in Alaska (cruise ship aside), and Juneau has several fine independent local options, including (I hear) The Rookery, which was closed when we were there, and also Heritage Coffee (174 S. Franklin among other locations), which was happily open to provide me with a strong iced americano.

Quality coffee, beer, pizza, fried halibut, glaciers, whales…give me wi-fi and I could live here.  Six months a year anyway.

Skagway: Best Food in Alaska?

Skagway Brewing Company Fish & Chips

Skagway Brewing Company Fish & Chips

The Gold Rush town of Skagway has a population around 1,000 most of the year, ballooning to 2,000+ during cruise ship season, so you can imagine the bustling metropolis we encountered.  Despite being kind of touristy, Skagway is also quaint, easy to navigate, and a lot of fun.  Also, they have surprisingly good food.

We lunched at the Skagway Brewing Company (7th and Broadway), where we had spectacularly good fish and chips, maybe the best ever – “best fries ever” said Mrs. Me, but for my money the fish was equally outstanding.  The halibut (not cod) was fresh and perfectly cooked; the batter was thick, crunchy, and rich, but stayed with the fish, not falling apart at all.  Fries were fresh-cut, dark, appropriately salty, similar to Five Guys when you are lucky enough to get them right out of the fryer when they’re still supercrisp.  Even the tartar sauce was above average. SBC also brews its own beer, and the Chilkoot Trail IPA was a fine example of the genre.  Best meal of the entire trip, aside from maybe Sabatini’s.

glacierbrewinggraffThe graffiti in the men’s room was also pretty good. It’s hard to beat the yearning authenticity of “The only thing better than yer beer is if we could have a fat dube to complement it with!!!” — I was most impressed with the correct use of “complement.”  Above that someone had written “Your mom on toast! Spred?” Which, although clearly also quite deep and subject to multiple possible interesting interpretations, did not win the spelling prize.

We struck further liquid gold at Flying Squirrel Espresso (5th and Broadway, not their primary location I think, tucked inside a fudge shop or something), evidently the only place in Skagway serving iced caffeinated non-carbonated beverages.  Lucky for me they know what they’re doing; when I asked for an iced americano the barrista said “my specialty!” and whipped up a very good one, not just compared to the toxic sludge on the Coral Princess but actually good.

That’s all the Skagway eating we had time for, which is too bad, because I bet there is more good eating there.  We stumbled across a little not-really-farmers’ market, which included a good-looking taco truck (food trucks even in Skagway!), a bunch of crafts and art, and one woman selling enormous zucchini (like magnum-wine-sized) but no other discernible foodstuffs.  Overall a good food town considering the population.  We would have happily stayed another day, but Princess insisted on whisking us further south, to Juneau.

Leaving Skagway

Leaving Skagway

Alaska Cruise Ship Cuisine

Until last week I was probably the last adult in the U.S. never to have spent time on a cruise ship, so I will keep this part short.*  There are four basic food groups on a cruise: buffet, dining room, fancy dining room, and a category I will cleverly call “other” that consists of pizzas, burgers, soft serve ice cream, that kind of thing. Quality may vary across cruise lines or even ships on the same line, but as I understand it, the categories don’t really change.  I should probably mention we were on the Coral Princess.

* in retrospect, I will not.

On our ship, the buffet was fine, better than the average terrestrial buffet for sure.  Some items are the same every day, and some change.  On this Alaska cruise, they were catering to an Asian clientele (or maybe just to the plurality-Filipino staff); my favorite unusual breakfast item was the “curry egg,” hard boiled eggs in spicy-savory curry sauce that was delicious ladled over each morning’s variation on fried or curried rice.  Otherwise, the expected array of meats, eggs, toasts and pancakes (breakfast), sandwiches and hot entrees (lunch and dinner), always a variety of fruits.  The cantaloupe seemed especially popular, though not with me, I am a no-melon zone.  The buffet staff:passenger ratio was approximately 1:1 and so service was excellent, except on Mongolian Grill night when the line got somewhat backed up.  The buffet also encourages a depressing degree of excess: one breakfast we sat by a guy wearing a shirt that said “Sportsman” and whose plate contained three hash brown patties, four sausages, a big stack of bacon, three buttermilk biscuits, a huge mass of scrambled eggs, and FIVE OUNCES OF BUTTER (five one-ounce patties).  He was perfectly friendly, and only ate about half his food, so he ended up more wasteful than slovenly, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth, if not his.   Cruise ships are not healthy environments.

In the regular dining rooms — one for scheduled seatings, one for “anytime dining” — there is a menu, and it’s all kind of faux-fancy, and the food is higher quality than the buffet.  But despite a similar 1:1 or so ratio, the service is spottier: dishes get mixed up or delayed or delivered to a table 20 feet away and just left there, in front of someone who didn’t order it and who didn’t eat it but also apparently didn’t suggest to the server that it wasn’t his, until we finally asked where our fourth entree was…just for example.  Also you’re supposed to dress up, at least “smart casual” let alone formal nights, and that’s not my thing, on a cruise. So I’m a buffet guy.  I have to admit the shrimp cocktail (available only in the dining rooms) was really good, though.

The fancy dining rooms are better still.  On the Coral Princess, we loved Sabatini’s, an Italian joint, featuring a parade of genuinely gourmet dishes from calamari to cioppino to “lobster three ways” (cheating a bit, with lobster tail, lobster risotto, and lobster reduction sauce, which I guess is technically a “way” but c’mon) to a huge and tasty veal chop to over-the-top desserts (despite odd lack of tiramisu).  Service was phenomenal (thanks Silvio, an honorary-Italian Romanian).  The other upscale option, the Bayou Cafe and Steakhouse, was also good but not great and the service was too intrusive and weird.  And of course in both cases there is a $20-25 upcharge per person, not ridiculous given the quality but just another way the man can stick you.

Finally, you have your “other” pizza/grill/ice cream situation. The Princess pizza is surprisingly good, almost Neapolitan style, crisp blistered yeasty crust and decent enough toppings (though we did not try the peanut butter — apparently popular with the Asians, again).  Didn’t eat at the grill or ice cream stations, but the soft serve was extremely popular despite our icy climate, so they must be doing it well enough.

So it was all fine, really, except for one area of abject deficiency: the coffee stunk. Our party included two serious-but-not-snooty coffee drinkers, and they were both appalled at the poor quality of the coffee.  Lattes were better, but those are really just milk with some coffee in it.  And Princess’ idea of iced coffee is to take some (bad) hot-brewed coffee and pour it over a cup of ice, and charge you an additional $1.44 for it, even though once you figure out what they’re up to, you can go to the buffet and get your own cup of ice and fill it with (bad) hot-brewed coffee and make your own (bad) iced coffee at no additional charge.  Princess needs to find a way to partner with Starbucks, or some other coffee beverage professionals.

One might also complain about the seafood, or lack thereof.  I mentioned the standard overcooked salmon in a previous post, but at least they served salmon regularly; despite floating through Alaskan crab-rich waters, we were offered crab only once that I can recall, crab legs at dinner one night; overbready, flavorless crab cakes showed up at the buffet a couple of times but that hardly counts.  I can understand not putting (expensive) crab legs out at the buffet, but I would expect crab to show up more regularly in the nicer ship restaurants on an Alaskan cruise.  But if they would just fix the coffee situation, we would all be better emotionally equipped (less crabby, haha) to deal with the crab situation.  First things first.

That wasn’t short, was it. Next: surprisingly good eatin’ in Skagway.