Wednesday, November 27, 2013
You just about cannot go anywhere in this here Gump without hearing expert analysis of the upcoming Iron Bowl. I don't know about you, but I've about heard enough of "The team that establishes the run will win" or "If it's close in the fourth quarter it might go either way" or "Alabama's defense will stop Auburn's offense." So I started thinking--for me a dangerous task--where could I go to lunch and not be bothered by the mindless blathering cliches about the upcoming "Game of the Week, Month, Year or Century?" Heck, while I was writing this I got solicited for squares on an Iron Bowl game score grid!
Then I passed Korean food hub where one finds the best Korean grocery in the area and Arirang Korean BBQ which, like the Gangnam Grill, sits just across the by-pass within a scones throw of the Gump. It hit me: Do they also eat guinea pig? No, seriously, the thought crossed my pea brain that there--in a Korean buffet restaurant--was a place where I might be able to enjoy some good bulgogi and for at least an hour avoid the clutter and chatter about armored SEC wankerball.
So I pulled into the parking lot and noticed that all the windows were covered with pictures of food and Korean (I presumed) writing. Unlike our friend Chairman Meow, who lived in Korea as a child (and wrote a great article in the Made Paper about Korean restaurants in the Gump you can read by clicking here), I had never been to a Korean BBQ buffet before. I was a little apprehensive but went inside where the first sign I saw said: "Korean BBQ 11.99. No BBQ 7.99." While I tried to figure out what you got with "No BBQ" a very nice Asian lady asked me in English how many and lead me to a table with a hole in the middle--no not a hole. It was actually a round convex metal grill with a temperature control.
"BBQ?" came the question. Quickly I calculated the cost between no BBQ and BBQ to be about $4 and reasoned that something was better than nothing. I answered in the affirmative.
"First time?" came the next question. "Yes," I said honestly and nervously.
"I help. Go get some meat," she said as she turned on the grill in the middle and it began to glow red through the openings to the heat source below.
So I left the table and went to the buffet. I started at the meat side (which I later saw was wrong). I piled one plate with brisket, chicken, marinated beef and pork. I then filled another plate for vegetables. I returned for bowls of fruit and steamed rice.
Sitting down at my table I began to place the ingredients on the grill and started to cook. My waitress noticed I have missed the sauces--duck, hot, brah and blah braa blah--and brought me four in plastic tubs and showed me how to dip the thin cooked slices with the onions/vegetables and then dip them together in one of the sauces before devouring them. They were really delicious. It was also fun to do your own cooking right there at your table. I noticed the same silly dance song replayed over and over but it was a relief from the bombardment of Christmas music and football.
As I looked around I noticed I was the only non-Asian in the place. Everyone was talking in a foreign language. The table had signs posted in Korean and English that warned that they were not responsible if you stupidly failed to cook your own meat carefully and that you were free to take all you wanted from the buffet but if you left more than an ounce, you would be fined. The amount of the fine was not stated. With regard to that admonition, the Korean underneath it must have said: "This does not apply to Koreans" because when the mother/son unit beside me left, their table remained piled with uneaten or cooked food. I had watched them eat plates and plates of food before they left also so it wasn't left because it wasn't tasty. It was very tasty--especially with the sauces.
I went back to the well several times gradually getting more and more adventuresome. Never could bring myself to try the "large intestines" but really enjoyed the kimchi. Not sure if I was supposed to heat it up or not but it was good cold.
As I took a break from cooking I again noticed that, sure enough, everyone appeared to be Korean and they were all talking Korean. I never heard the words Auburn or Alabama or Iron Bowl during the entire meal. I smiled and finished my meal. Pricey at $14 with a soft drink, but a real change of pace and respite from the soon to be gorged upon Thanksgiving food and football hoopla. That was until I whipped out my Auburn Spirit Card to pay the tab. The hostess looked at the card, ran it through the machine and handed it back to me with the receipt and a wry smile.
"Auburn no win. No defense."
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Posted by Chase N. Allpots
Wedding soup shown with garlic bread.
[Ed Note: This is a repeat of a 2011 post that was as true today as it was then.]
As an elite and expendable member of the recently formed Gump Guinea Pigs, I have had my eye for some time on the lunch time activities of one local individual whom I shall identify only as "Finicky Real Estate Lawyer." I have noticed that over time this Finicky Real Estate Lawyer walks to lunch most days in what has developed into a habit involving where he will eat lunch. Since he is a fastidious dresser and well-respected bon vivant, I thought today would be a good day to tail him to see what he has found within walking distance of The Alley downtown.
I am aware of the fact that members of this blog have had spats with the staff at Sa-Za's about triple parking in loading zones--especially on Sunday. They know who they are. But I cannot deny that Finicky Real Estate Attorney quickly ducked into the Alley Station--cut a glance into the new Deli in the Alley (undergoing a pre-opening run-through)--and then dashed briskly into Sa-Za's Pizza, rushed past the "greeter" and bee-lined for the Captain's table which separates the kitchen from the dining area.
Due to my size, I was not noticed scampering along behind. But from my observation point, I noticed that almost no words were spoken to the staff. They recognized the Finicky Lawyer. Immediately winks and nods were passed like some form of code and the meal was on.
What had this anal retentive attorney and counselor ordered at a restaurant known for pizza, pasta and other home-cooked "serious" Italian fare?
The suspense was causing me to gnaw at a table leg.
Then, within about five minutes, the chef handling the table placed a black bowl with a big spoon before him along with a piece of garlic bread which, naturally, he had ordered with the garlic removed.
Climbing inconspicuously up one of the natural wooded beams which give the place a modern warehouse ambiance, I was able to snap the photo you see above. Then I climbed down from my perch, twitched my nose and began to scour the menu for a clue on what it was that had been served.
Nothing matched. In fact, there were no soups at all listed on the lunch menu. Yet, clearly, this was a soup he was ladling into his prim and proper face. A closer look and I saw spinach, Parmesan cheese strands and sliced meatballs floating in a creamy white broth.
Why, I thought, that is Italian Wedding Soup! By Cooper, Sa-Za's is serving a soup that is not on the menu! Apparently, you have to wink, nod or ask for it by name.
After he finished I was astonished by what I saw next. Our Finicky Lawyer finished the entire bowl with no complaints, placed seven dollars ($7) on the counter and left. My investigation revealed that the cost of the soup with bread is $5.50. Wow, I thought, that is pretty reasonable. And he was in an out in about 20 minutes. Speedy service.
Before the staff could clear away the bowl I had a little taste from the remnants. Wow again. This is really good. Very very good.
As I write this back at GGP HQ, I still have a warm glow in my belly and a desire to have more of that fine soup. My report is now in and the quarantine period has passed. I can officially declare the Italian Wedding Soup safe for LITG members and their fans.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
This post could go several ways. We could make fun of the portable Biff Burger building, the handmade "Pardon the flies" sign, the TV that does not work, the paper towels on the tables or the lack of a sign visible from the road. We could research the health rating. We could try to weave the latest government crisis into the story and blame the House Republicans. We could be smart and sassy. Or we could--shocker--really write about the food.
|The 8 oz. combo--drink included|
|Wide open spaces compared to the competition.|
Now that recommendation is out of the way, there is some nostalgia and knowledge to impart. No one reading this blog should leave this page dumber.
|Inflation= Hamburgers go from 15 cents to $6 over 40 years.|
Actually, calling itself a lunch van is more appropriate than maybe even the owners think. Those of you who grew up in the Gump remember the Biff Burger which opened on the Lee side of town in the 1960s. Know what Biff stands for? It stands for "Best In Fast Food." In fact, the Biff-Burger in Montgomery was one of 160 of the most successful franchises of that era. The Biff-Burger had two innovations that set it apart. First, the founder invented a dual grill machine that charbroiled the hamburgers on one metal conveyor while the buns traveled below and absorbed the flame-kissed drippings. Second, the founder also invented a modular and portable building equipped with the unique broiler that could be installed in a week such that once the land could be cleared the store could be up and running in ten days. The Biff-Burger in Montgomery--and now Vicki's Lunch Van--were housed in a portable building that has remained in use for over 40 years.
The chain was founded in St. Petersburg, Florida, where one of the only two remaining Biff-Burgers still serve "Biff Burgers" to hundreds of bikers who flock to the throw-back buildings. Perhaps one can even learn from the fall of this great chain that apparently gave Burger King its idea for a burger broiler. After the founder sold out to a conglomerate, the purchaser decided to diversify into gambling operations that ruined the company. Think of it, a casino operation that loses money. You would almost have to try to lose money to fail at raking in chips from games tilted in your favor. Regardless of the improbability of it, that is the reason we do not have Biff-Burgers all over the country.
|The re-purposed portable BIFF|
Their 20th century loss was our 21st century gain. When Vicki had to shut down her actual lunch van near Gunter, the portable Biff-Burger building--which had housed God only knows how many other businesses--was there for the taking. Today, in that portable building without a sign to alert the passing public a restaurant is inside, Vicki and her cohorts are serving up burgers that put the Biff-Burgers--and just about any fast food hamburger--to shame. For in the nondescript hovel, made to order hand-pattied mixtures of freshly ground steak are cooked on a griddle, smushed one at a time with a spatula, adorned with a bun to soak up the steamy grease rising from the heat and then served juicy and hot along with thick-cut real french-fries. Even Harry Reid might agree to allow such a burger to pass mustard.
Darn. I am making myself hungry. What flies?
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The leaders of Lunch in the Gump have previously declared the Eastern Bypass to be the red line boundary of the Gump over which no self-respecting member of LITG should cross without changing the calculus of supporting our local mid-town restauranteurs. Yet, in the past our leaders have ignored the red line in the asphalt as other members have brazenly visited terrific places like Wishbone Cafe or D'Road and lived to blog about it. This has obviously weakened our foreign policy. However, never before had we, the elite Gump Guinea Pig Squeal Team Six*, ever been asked to venture into West Shorter until we received our orders to try the new Gangnam Grill which recently opened just across the bypass from the Gump.
Steeling our nerves and with our muzzles all a'twitch, we passed through the busy intersection cameras without triggering the flash that leaves a record. There in the former Hooter's building--Hooter's being the bane of fine dining, women's liberation and a non-Gump chain (good riddance)--was the new and well-signed Gangnam Korean Grill & Bar. The interior decor was very stylish and totally changed from what I imagined to be the tacky raw wood of the interior of a Hooters. Chic all the way. My only problem was the markings on the bathrooms caused me to mistake the ladies room for the men's room. Thankfully, there was no one home and no one noticed but me. An international incident was avoided.
What is "Gangnam" you ask? Well, according to a lot of unsubstantiated internet chatter, it is a section of Seoul, Korea south of the Han river ("Gang"+ "nam") where there are lots of glitzy clothing stores and restaurants serving Korean "bulgogi". The area was made famous by the Korean pop star Psy(cho) and the video: "Gangnam Style," the title of which we incorporated into our little report of this date.
The real question should be: What is Korean barbeque? That's a good question. Most people don't know what Korean BBQ is -- even we the GGP's who just had it and, I suspect, even Koreans themselves!
The phrase "Korean BBQ" was made up by Koreans who live here in the States. It was a way for Korean restaurant owners to advertise what they were selling. Americans are less likely to understand what "bulgogi" or "bulgalbi" is. Not only is it hard to pronounce, it doesn't even sound good to eat. The phrase "Korean BBQ" fixed all that. People understood what is was, albeit wrongly, and it sounds pretty good too.
Currently, what most Korean restaurants mean by "Korean BBQ"--and what the Gangnam Grill apparently subscribes to -- is any meat -- beef, pork, chicken, or seafood (squid & shrimp) -- that is marinated in a Korean sauce and cooked over an open fire. The Gangnam Grill even includes vegetables under Korean BBQ.
I ordered the pork (I cannot pronounce or spell the Korean name) for lunch and was soon brought what seemed like 12 little bowls of various spices, vegetables, chest nuts etc. Here, a picture is worth a thousand words:
|Actually, it was 12 bowls. Any idea what they are?|
(Notice I was not wearing my eye protection)
Anyway, I watched what others were doing trying to determine what I should do but they were mostly women and they were not ordering what I ordered. I fell back on my training. Logically, they would not bring out these little dishes before the meat dish for no reason. So I began trying to eat them although I honestly had no idea what some of them were. Actually I could only recognize the trusty onions. Nevertheless, I tried them all and was pleasantly surprised at the variety of flavors--mostly all interesting and pleasant.
|The stars of the show: pork, soup and rice on a sizzling platter|
I have double-checked with the trusty Lunch in the Gump crowd on Facebook and several of them have been raving about the place. Entries on Urban Spoon and Yelp were also positive. So, after the normal incubation period with no adverse gastronomic effects noted, I can release this report to you as a recommendation to try Korean "BBQ" Gangnam Style. No animals were harmed during this investigation except for perhaps one pig.
*For more information on the fearless and expendable Squeal Team Six, click here and read the ASPCA Notice below.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Most of you have figured out that this blog is more than a food review. In its own twisted way, this blog has chronicled the history of Montgomery for the past five years. One thing you can be sure of about history is that it will change depending on the lens of hindsight. For example, during 2013 public opinion on gay marriage reached the tipping point and shifted such that I think it is safe to say that prohibitions against same-sex marriages will be viewed in 10-20 years like the laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage of the 60s are today. The debate will undoubtedly go on despite the current trend but we completely understand that you--our loyal readers--want to know what this paradigm shift means for Lunch in the Gump.
Behind the scenes, we of the Lunch in the Gump gang have for some time been testing and experimenting with non-traditional menu choices at some of our favorite lunch spots. Here is what we have learned:
Months ago, on a whim we ordered the hot dog at Hamburger King on Decatur Street. As experimentation goes, this was a disaster. The jumbo pink dog could not compete with the greasy scion of burger that gives the little hole in the wall its name. I, frankly, do not know how you can make a hot dog as greasy as a Hamburger King cheeseburger without splitting it in half and deep frying the poor dog until it nearly detonates. Our advice, stick with the traditional namesake at Hamburger King.
But one anecdotal example does not establish a trend. While the hamburger joint does not love the hot dog, we have confirmed that it is possible for the hot dog emporium to love the hamburger and make a home. Our Exhibit A is Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs on Dexter Ave. Although this family run icon of Montgomery cuisine is internationally known for its hot dogs, just about every regular customer also pairs a cheeseburger with their dog. The dog and the burger share the “special Chris’ sauce” and steamed buns. Both are outstanding when enjoyed in moderation (about once a month or quarter depending on the thickness of the lining of your stomach). So, for you newbies to the Gump, don’t forget to order a cheeseburger at Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs. People will not look at you like you just came out of the closet and you will be very pleasantly surprised.
What is the first thing you Montgomerians—except the Cornbread Carp—think of when the word “Martins” is spoken? That’s right: Yard Bird a/k/a fried chicken. The Carp, of course, thinks of a hot buttery muffin of Martin’s cornbread. The bird and the cornbread are so good at Martin’s (also family run) that it is hard to break their grip on your gullet. But some months ago we ordered roast beef at Martin’s Restaurant at the corner of Carter Hill and Narrow Lane. Was the roast beast as good as the bird? Well, of course it was not. The bird beats the beast wings down. But it was good juicy roast beast and it also comes with the fresh and hot cornbread muffins. They even serve fish there, I have heard. However, I have never had the guts to order fish in the bird’s nest that is Martin’s. Stick with the traditional yard bird at Martins and let Sundown East serve up the “Beast” (the Gump’s largest hamburger steak).
Finding a good fish with the bird is troublesome. For example, the chicken fingers at the Capitol Oyster Bar should remain anonymous. I know they are only probably there for the kiddies. We recommend you leave the tasteless globs of chewy chicken to the crumb snatchers who don't care what they put in their mouths (except vegetables) while you drink your frosty PBR, suck down some fresh oysters and listen to great jazz on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
No doubt you all can think of countless other examples of ordering contrary to the traditional lunch conventional wisdom. Think of it: Bob’s Salad at Dreamland; a rib eye at Wintzell’s; grilled shrimp at the Irish Bred Pub etc. and etc.
The point is that the fish and the bird can fall in love, even if they may have a heck of a time finding a home.