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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Photos: the Gena’s Pancake Challenge

Last Saturday, a bold three of us attempted the Gena’s Restaurant pancake challenge: eat three of their whopping pancakes in one sitting, and you’ll get your picture on the wall. Over the years many have attempted it; only 14 have succeeded. Some strategies we discussed:
– don’t use too much syrup (the advice given by the servers)
– listen to relaxing music ahead of time
– drink water
– drink coffee
– put something in the pancakes (blueberries, chocolate chips, etc)
– use whipped cream instead of syrup
– vary the texture of the pancakes (this is what really did us in: the constant texture of the pancakes. Your body just gets sick of it.)
– order something salty to go with it: bacon, eggs, etc
– order the pancakes to go (they appear smaller that way), but then stay to eat them

The four of us made a valiant effort, but alas, none of us succeeded. The servers from Gena’s brought the pancakes out one at a time. We delightfully sank our teeth into the first pancake, everyone eating at a moderate pace. Contrast that with the second pancake, in which we all slowed down or ground to a halt. We even took the suggestion of the servers and all ordered blueberry pancakes. They said we can add anything to the pancakes, and a little bit of tart fruit seemed to make sense.

Megan making steady progress.

Chip taking one for the team.

Jeremy is defeated.

I am overcome by pancakery.

The taste of defeat is the taste of pancakes.

Just looking at this makes me feel ill.

All of our third pancakes to go.

The final tally:
Chip: 1.1 pancakes
Jeremy: 1.2 pancakes
Megan: 1.5 pancakes
Nick: 1.5 pancakes

Jeremy certainly led the pack with his “in it to win it” attitude, but I think Megan gets the victory here. She calmly ate half the challenge, then stopped while she was ahead. She probably could have kept going, but she wisely quit.

Cafe Hon | Baltimore, MD

Cafe Hon
1002 West 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 243-1230
Open Mon-Fri, 7 am – 9/10 pm (bfast served till 11a);
Sat & Sun, 9 am – 10/8 pm (bfast served all day)
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Friday, March 26, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

: How do you find Cafe Hon? Look for the giant pink flamingo on the side of the building! Inside you’ll find one of my top picks for breakfast in Baltimore, and a surprisingly big cafe dedicated to celebrating all things Bawlmer. J’eet yet, hawn?

: Cafe Hon is a fun little spot situated in the Hampden district of Baltimore. We made a quick stop there on our way out of town, and I wish we had had more time to explore the neighborhood. Cafe Hon’s funky sense of humor seems to fit the area well. You can find plenty of metered parking on the street, or you can find a small lot tucked down the alley next to the Cafe – just look for the sign.

The Cafe itself is a great old space with big wooden floors and old cabinets and bars. It’s bigger than it looks on the outside, with an additional dining room branching off the main one. They really cash in on the kitschy decor made popular by the original John Waters’ film Hairspray, with funky touches like leopard print booths, pink flamingos, an Elvis doll dressed in feathered boa, and lots of mismatched decor.

: Cafe Hon’s food may not have had the same fun specialties as, say, Blue Moon Cafe, but it’s a solid breakfast: simple menu, filling portions, freshly-prepared. First up was the Hon Bun, a giant, warm cinnamon bun with a slightly tangy frosting.

My wife ordered the Steelcut Oatmeal. Nice big bowl of homemade oatmeal with sides of brown sugar, blueberries, and raisins. Our son devoured the whole thing.

A breakfast sandwich with Hon potatoes. I forget exactly which one, and I can’t look it up because their menu online is incomplete.

Texas style French Toast
with strawberries and bananas. Really picturesque. I’m more and more convinced that the key to good French toast is thick slices of bread.

I’m an all-around type of guy, so I chose their all-around dish: the Avenue Breakfast, with pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, and Hon potatoes (never quite figured out what those were). I like the fact that I can have it all with this meal: some proteins, some potatoes, and some sweet pancakes.

All of this gets washed down with good coffee served in huge custom mugs.

Another look around the restaurant.

: I think our server did a very good job with our large group. She didn’t smile as much as she could have, but overall she handled all the details of a large group of adults and kids well.

: Cafe Hon gets my vote for best breakfast in Baltimore. It’s just kooky enough to keep it interesting but maintains enough diner standards that it stands out above Broadway Diner, but it’s got more seating, cheaper prices, and better service than Blue Moon Cafe. The place certainly isn’t perfect – their website needs a serious update, for starters (their incomplete online breakfast menu is frustrating). And there is a definite touristy-gift-shop air to the restaurant and website. But if you look past those, you’ll find a comfortable little cafe serving a great breakfast in a funky neighborhood.

-> For you linguists out there, study the Baltimore dialect

Cafe Hon on Urbanspoon

Photos: Taste of Dine Originals Part 3

The third and final set of photos from Taste of Dine Originals. First, a look in the main hall.

Beautiful views of Columbus from the Smith Brothers Hardware Building.

Lots of amazing sponsors, including Robin Oatts of Spindle Studios and Genre Creative.

Beautiful displays everywhere. Like I said, you spend your entire visit just taking pictures.

The folks from Stauf’s Coffee Roasters at work.

One of those ideas I kept hearing whispers about. “Have you tried…?” Strawberries rolled in salted caramel and nuts from Black Creek Bistro.

Bexley Monk
‘s profiteroles. Yes, please.

And finally another view of Burgundy Room ‘s pork tacos. So those are the highlights of the pictures. Can’t wait for next year!

Photos: Taste of Dine Originals Part 2

Part Two of pictures from Taste of Dine Originals. This is a view of the Venue at the Smith Brothers Hardware Building.

Basi Italia
gets the award for best display.

They featured tiny pastries with either a lobster/ginger/lemon filling, or a sweet pea mousse filling.

Colleen Braumoeller and Michael Jones representing Local Matters and The Greener Grocer.

I totally forget what this is, but it was delicious!

Kathleen and Elizabeth, the new owner and manager, respectively, at Cafe Corner. Look for them to reveal some new branding and menu items in the near future!

These were their Latin-style gougeres, a soft, savory, and delicious pastry!

Plus their amazing cheesecake filled cookies. I hope to heaven that both of these items make it to their regular menu.

And finishing this round is Burgundy Room‘s delicious pork taco.

Photos: Taste of Dine Originals Part 1

Here they are! A few of my photos from Taste of Dine Originals last week Thursday. The experience was completely overwhelming, and mostly in a good way. It’s difficult to balance a plate of food, a glass of drink, and your camera all at the same time. You could do one full trip just to try the food, and then another full trip just to take pictures. But no complaints here: everything was delicious.

Tasi Cafe’s setup. The first one I tried, right near the door.

Tasi’s tortilla bite with black bean puree.

I forget what/whose this is. But rest assured, it was delicious.

The folks from Cotter’s Restaurant. I loved everything of theirs: crab cakes, beef short ribs, and tiaramisu.

Inside the big tent.

Due Amici
‘s seared tuna on cucumber with an olive and tomato tapenade.

Followed up by their smores.

One of my first favorites: shrimp and grits from G. Michael’s Bistro

…prepared fresh at the table by Executive Chef David Tetzloff.

Two more rounds of photos to follow! Thanks for the folks from Dine Originals for the invite!

Gena’s Pancake Challenge – Saturday, May 22

Do you like pancakes?

Think you’ve got what it takes to take them, Man vs Food style?

Join me on Saturday, May 22 at 11:30 a.m. to take on the Gena’s Restaurant pancake challenge.

Three giant pancakes.
In one sitting.
No time limit.

Many people have tried, but only fourteen have ever succeeded. Can you do it?

Join us, or come to cheer on your favorite competitor. While you’re there, you can enjoy one of their Greatest American Pecan Rolls.

If you want to read more, check out my first visit to Gena’s and my first attempt at the challenge with Johnny DiLoretto.

Gena’s Restaurant
5947 S. Sunbury Rd. (map it!)
Westerville, OH 43081

Blue Moon Cafe | Baltimore, MD

Blue Moon Cafe (Facebook)
1621 Aliceanna Street (map it!)
Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 522-3940
Open Mon-Thurs, 7 am – 3 pm; Fri-Sun, 11 am – 3 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Thursday, March 24, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

Blue Moon Cafe the most anticipated of our Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives Baltimore breakfast tour. We saw the episode featuring Blue Moon last fall, and over Christmas attempted to replicate their Captain Crunch French toast. Needless to say, we were excited to try the real deal.

Blue Moon Cafe is tucked away in the delightful Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, with shops, markets, beer bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and a beautiful waterfront to enjoy. (Side note: we found a great coffee shop in the neighborhood called Latte Da – very friendly, great espresso.)

The cafe is very small: only nine tables and three seats at the counter. I think we overwhelmed them when we arrived with a group of 8, but they were able to seat us quickly. I’ve heard tell of long lines, and judging by the layout, I can see why.

The decor is a country kitsch mixed with kooky details: old fireplace mantles decorated with artsy knick-knacks, Day of the Dead-like skeletons, mis-matched tables and chairs. To add to the charm, the space itself feels like an abandoned building that’s been restored. Big brick walls. A floor that slopes towards the front of the building. And tiny gaps in the wooden floor that let you see through to the basement. Overall the feel of Blue Moon is pretty low key. There’s no website, only a small mention of the DDD visit (most other places boast huge signed posters), and the menu is a basic computer-printed sheet of paper.

FOOD: However, the low-key location belies the stellar food. The menu begins with the specialties, called the Morning Moon. These include various scrambles, huevos rancheros, burritos, lots of chorizo, hobo eggs, and old fashioned potato cakes. There are also various benedicts (veggie and Maryland crab), omelets, pancakes/French toast, while chipped beef and scrapple make appearances, too.

Behold, one of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve tasted. Not the best, but certainly up in the top 5. Massive, warm, soft, and coated with a sweet-but-not-too-sweet frosting. Simply gorgeous.

Even before we visited, I knew I had to try the famous Captain Crunch French Toast. It’s not actually on the menu, but our server told us that it was available. After seeing the French toast on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, we tried making it ourselves last December, with limited success. I mean, how bad can Captain Crunch-encrusted French toast really be? Answer: not bad at all. But like any good dish, it takes refinement, and the folks at Blue Moon are famous for this dish for a reason. The plate is three thick slices of toast with fruit and homemade whipped cream. Surprisingly, it’s not as sweet as you would imagine. The use of kiwi fruit and a nice thick cream balanced the sweet Captain Crunch, syrup, and powdered sugar. And you can cut it with the side of your fork. Bingo.

Side of bacon. Very good. But overpriced at $4.00.

Excellent biscuits - very tall, served with jam and butter that’s not frozen solid (breakfast pet peeve).

The eggs benedict, as ordered by my sister-in-law. It looked perfectly delicious, and she said it was the best she’s ever had.

The hobo eggs. As expected: good and filling.

My wife ordered the special, the omelet with ham, avocado, Maryland crab, and cheese on top. She said it made a good start, but a few ingredients were off. The cheese should have been on the inside, to help hold the omelet together. And the ham overpowered everything, which is not good when working with delicate grab. It’s a Maryland crab omelet – you want to taste the crab!

SERVICE: The one real down-side to our experience was our initial reception by the servers. We walked in with a larger group – and when you walk in the door you are standing in the middle of the dining room, tables and chairs all around you – but they had room for us all. Still, the servers, particularly the woman who seemed to be heading things up, were unnecessarily surly. We got short answers, never a smile or welcome, and were hustled into our seats. She listed the specials without telling us the prices (a pet peeve of mine, especially when the special featuring a seafood omelet costs nearly TWICE as much as normal menu items). Later, I asked another server where they got their coffee. He blandly said he’d check, and then never got back to me.

I’ve read about bad service at Blue Moon on a few other review sites (Urban Spoon, Yelp, etc). I can imagine that if we had arrived on a weekend and had to wait 45+ minutes for a table and THEN ran into this service, I’d be pretty pissed off.

OVERALL: Still, the food and the fun location ultimately out-weighed the few menu-misses and the service. Our servers ultimately warmed up a little bit, and the food really was quite delicious. I recommend visiting on a week day morning – we seemed to avoid the wait that some people run into. But the menu and the location are uniquely off-kilter, with some great takes on the standard fare that make Blue Moon worth at least one visit.

-> Blue Moon Cafe on Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives

Blue Moon Café on Urbanspoon


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