Proof Pizza & Pasta – Miami, FL

I’d been in this situation before. It’s a Friday night, I’d just arrived at MIA for a weekend visit with my parents, and we needed to find a place for dinner. A quick check on OpenTable is worrying, as many of the choice spots are jam-packed. After some hurried discussion, we make a bee line for the design district, an area that, in the last two years, has experienced a flood of great restaurants moving in. They can’t all be full right? Right?! These types of frenzied searches usually end in disappointment, but in an area so well stocked with top-notch restaurants, for once, the odds were in our favor.

Proof spread 1

Proof Pizza & Pasta had been on my radar for a while. Seeing those double zeros while driving up and down Miami Avenue was enough to make my list. They were speaking food code, and I was listening. Just to give you some context, Proof is right in the middle of a mealtime maelstrom with heavy hitters like Blackbrick, Sakaya Kitchen, Sugarcane and Salumeria 104 within a stones throw. That means there’s no room to slack when it comes to the food, if you’re not on your game, you’ll be out within a year. The brisk, but informative introduction we received from our server piqued my interest. All of their pizza and pasta dough is made fresh, in-house every morning and is cooked to order. They also support local produce whenever possible. OK great, but I’ve been burned before by restaurants that think they can fool their patrons with clearly store-bought ingredients, so the “prØØf” as they say, is in the pudding, or in this case the gemelli beef bolognese.

But before this pasta hound could get his mitts on his favorite food, mom insisted we get some vegetables. Fine. I spied a tasty looking duck confit gnudi, and hey, it comes with a porcini pureé and fresh herbs, that counts right? Or what about the burrata with sorrel pesto and pea shoots? While both would have been automatic for me, my mother had other ideas, the dreaded sprouts. At Proof they serve their Brussels sprouts raw, shaved and dressed with apple cider, gorgonzola, pecans and dried cranberry. I was devastated by how delicious this salad was. My entire childhood had been a lie, and to find out at 30 that this tiny cabbage, which had caused me so much angst, had the potential to be so tasty, absolutely crushed me. Why doesn’t every mother make the sprouts this way?! Well they’re on my personal menu now, better late than never I suppose.

Proof Pastas

Chefs Justin Flit and Matt DePante, both Miami natives, gained valuable experience in big league Manhattan kitchens DBGB and Gramercy Tavern, which they brought back to their hometown when they decided to open Proof. The attention to detail and quality control that is expected of any top shelf New York restaurants, is clearly seen in this menu. The aforementioned gemelli beef bolognese pairs the deep meat sauce with delicate whipped ricotta and shreds of fresh basil, and was just as good if not better than the version I tried at Beauty & Essex. An equally impressive angel hair with succulent chunks of fresh crab, spiked with Calabrian chili and lemony breadcrumbs displayed the seaward side of the pasta spectrum. Each dish showcased the incredibly fresh noodles which held an elasticity that you only get from a homemade product.

Proof Pizza

The pizza at Proof delivers (excuse the pun) on all fronts. Slightly charred crust, fresh toppings and solid structural stability are three basic traits every great pizza should embody. At Proof, they’re doing their bags of double zero flour justice. We chose two pies, the Salumi and the Oxtail, which like the pastas we selected, highlighted two very different sides of the pizza game. The former could be thought of as simply a vulgar “meat lover’s”, but it has so much more to offer. Joining the pepperoni and sausage are paper-thin slices of prosciutto, added after it’s been fired so as not to ruin the delicate meat by crisping it up. All this protein manages to coexist with Proof’s fantastic red sauce, here spiked with chili oil and a hint of cumin which added an interesting twist on an otherwise familiar flavor profile.

The latter satisfies with a generous spread of braised oxtail infused with thyme, dollops of mozzarella, copious amounts of black garlic and gelatinous caramelized onions. I suggest eating your fill of one pizza and then moving to the other to fully appreciate the depth of flavor achieved by each. As I sit here thinking about them both, it’s difficult to recall a better pizza in Florida.

Proof Jep

When you happen to land in a place like Proof on the spur of the moment, with little planning and double zero expectations, you kind of have to order dessert. That night there was a chocolate sponge-type cake, filled and topped with chocolate hazelnut mousse and crispy chopped hazelnuts. It was a nocciola kind of night, and for this Nutella fiend, the perfect ending to the meal. Chef’s Flit and DePante have crafted a real gem in the design district, a worthy addition to the pantheon of great restaurants that have recently sprung up there. I’m feeling less and less inclined to make the trek to the beach for meals when I’m in Miami. With restaurants like Proof on the mainland, it’s no wonder.

Proof Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

EAD Weekly Recap No. 3

As one of Eat a Duck’s main contributors celebrated an anniversary this week, there was cause for much rejoicing. The vacation got started at Tia’s, to sample what was voted 2015’s Best Cuban Sandwich in the Universe. I don’t think it stacked up to the best of the best in our #Apuercolypse competition, but it was a valiant effort with great roast pork and extra buttery, pressed La Segunda bread. Everything else inside didn’t seem to receive as much attention as far as detailed flavor profiles or “homemadeness” is concerned.

For the most part, we visited some great old favorites in Orlando in Siro’s and Little Saigon, as well as some Tampa joints with Chocolate Pi, Fodder & Shine, Pinky’s, Squeeze and Jet City Espresso. Then we ended our trip where I’m typing, with family, eating great food at home. This week spanned a pretty large radius. Time to get out there and go eat!

EAD Weekly spread #3

Feast Your Eyes: The Best Food Films streaming on Netflix

The next best thing to eating food, is watching a movie about it…preferably while eating. For the past few months, I’ve been doing exactly that during my lunchtime break. What better way to enjoy a delicious homemade sandwich with all the fixin’s than to feed your eyes simultaneously? The brains at Eat a Duck HQ put their heads together, and came up with a list of the best food-centric movies and TV shows for you to savor and stream while enjoying a meal. That means no depressing documentaries bemoaning the sorry state of food in this country, or the deplorable conditions suffered by our cows and chickens. Those have their place, but this ain’t it.

Le Chef (2012)

A world famous chef (Jean Reno) is struggling to avoid losing a Michelin star at his legendary Paris restaurant. Meanwhile, a hapless cook (Michaël Youn) has his own problems holding down a job due to his obsessive need to flex his culinary muscles. Silliness ensues as the two join forces. If Ratatouille were remade with live actors, this would be it.

Le Chef Poster

Haute Cuisine (2013)

Hortense Laborie, a seasoned chef from Perigord is amazed when she is offered a job as head chef for the President of France. The male chefs on staff are none too happy and do everything they can to sabotage her, but the President is enchanted by Hortense’s refined homestyle cooking. The two become fast friends, and enjoy testing each other with their knowledge of Monsieur Escoffier’s cookbooks.

Haute Cuisine poster

Mind of a Chef

What’s this? Yet another food show narrated by Anthony Bourdain? Well yes and no. He’s basically the Johnny Olsen, there to add some gravitas by introducing that season’s featured chef in his signature no-nonsense tone. David Chang, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield, Magnus Nilsson and Ed Lee each take their shot to talk about what food and cooking mean to them. Along the way they’ll share some favorite recipes, travel to some cool spots and show you what really happens behind the kitchen doors.

The Mind of a Chef

Big Night (1996)

“To eat good food, is to be close to god”, amen! This comedic drama drops in on Primo and Secondo (Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub), two brothers from Italy are on the verge of losing their restaurant. In a last-ditch attempt to drum up some business, they bet everything they have on one big night and the hope of a visit from swing king Louie Prima. This is one of the rare films that manages to capture what it means to love food.

Big Night spread

Three Stars (2010)

Three Stars gives a fascinating peek into the uncompromising world of a three Michelin star chef. The Michelin rating system, the workings of which are a mystery even to those in the industry, has the power to make or break a restaurant. That means the constant stress to maintain their stars motivates each and every chef to continue to push the boundaries of cooking.

threestars_poster

Spinning Plates (2012)

The narrative is split between three restaurants from different parts of the country and the stories of those who run them. Each depict the trials of their particular place in the industry they share. While all three are marked with tragic events, they also share a similar path. One of survival. They look for that in distinctly different ways . The desire to be the best, the importance of carrying on a family business, and the struggle to simply stay open for business.

SpinningPlates

Chef (2014)

The entire process of cooking delicious food makes us happy and is oddly therapeutic. As the title character (played by Favreau himself) helps us all to appreciate. As his life is turned upside down, his mantra continues to be “I don’t care what everyone says, I don’t care about the bad things that happen, or the money, I just want to cook great food.” When you are a cook, you will never lose that love, no matter how life unfolds. 

Chef

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Jiro Ono is relentless. His pursuit of perfection is well documented in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” We see a man, well into his 80’s, masterfully executing sushi in his microscopic train station outpost. What I would consider food based performance art, is on full display by the gorgeous cinematography throughout, specifically during the swift, one take walk-through of the ever precise dinner service. The food porn alone is worth the watch. To see a person dedicate himself with such passion to a singular cause is what makes this movie infinitely memorable.

jiro-dreams-of-sushi-poster

The Trip (2010) & The Trip to Italy (2014)

Both movies follow the same genre, that of a mocumentary style dark comedy. It should be noted that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play ridiculously exaggerated versions of themselves. Coogan being the sarcastic, womanizing movie star, to Brydon’s needy, always “on” impressionistic sidekick.  Nearly every minute of each movie is filled with hilarity and heavy consumption of haute cuisine spanning the English country side and the coast of Italy. Yet, there is a more subtle back story of two men trying to figure themselves out. You shouldn’t watch The Trip to Italy before the original Trip, as you might lose out on the special chemistry these two guys have together. Nothing shows that more brilliantly than the back and forth Michael Caine impressions found early on in The Trip. My advice, watch them back to back for maximum viewing pleasure.

The Trip & The Trip to Italy

I Am Love (2009)

While this isn’t quite a movie about food from start to finish, it can be said that a major role in the story revolves around the particular aspects that haute lifestyle, including the cuisine, that a wealthy family enjoy. Food has the power to heighten our senses and desires, to make us love what might not be immediately understood. It can be used as a manipulator and a seducer, as the “lunch scene” shows how powerful a part passion can play in our decisions. The movie does move rather slowly but in visually stunning and complex way, as many Italian films do.

IAmLove

Coming Soon: Chef’s Table by David Gelb

Chef's Table

Haven – Tampa, FL

I don’t care how well curated your whiskey cellar is, or that you’ve got a list of pre-prohibition inspired cocktails on draught. I cringe upon finding my cloth napkin folded up like the Sydney Opera House as I return to the table from the restroom. Now don’t get me wrong, yeah I think it’s alright, but a 2,500 bottle wine cellar won’t keep me warm in the middle of the night. This isn’t the opening rant of a one star Yelp review, I just don’t care for that stuff. I just want to eat well. I’m not low-class and I’m not wealthy, and it’s great to be a discerning eater, but you don’t need a thesaurus to communicate your magnificent dining experience.

At Eat a Duck, the food is the single most important part our reviews. The entire system of stars, spoons, plates or whatever gold plated flatware you choose, is inherently flawed, as it’s too broad a brush to paint an accurate picture. We do it by writing words of jubilation, while disappointment bears silence in our approach. So the fact that I’ve already typed 228 words before even mentioning the restaurant in question means that I love Haven, the successor to the much-loved and sorely missed SideBerns. Back when I dined there for the first time almost a decade ago, I was impressed to see such a modern and experimental approach to cuisine in my area. Until then, I felt that this kind of attention to detail was only available in the big cities. I remember lusting over their happy hour menu, featuring delicious pork terrines and fantastic moules frites. On a good day you could get a nice pre-dinner snack with a glass of wine and get out of there for no more than $20. To this day, the best dessert I’ve ever had, came out of the Sideburns kitchen. A domed lemon cheesecake with an amoretti and candied pine nut crust, drizzled with basil simple syrup. Little did I know, our 13th wedding anniversary dinner, last April, would be our last chance to dine at SideBerns.

Haven logo

One of the reasons the community was in shock, was because they aren’t used to successful restaurants closing without facing some sort of tragedy. When a building owner or majority investor says they’re taking things in a “different direction”, the public reads that as failure. Yet, this kind of thing happens all the time, just not here. My all-around favorite place to eat, Abattoir in Atlanta, just closed after nearly a decade of consistently being one of the most popular places in town. The owner simply felt that the concept had run its course and wanted to try something new with their available resources. Of course it hurt to see both of these places go as I obviously have fond memories of each. I’ll never forget that Korean bulgogi poutine Anne Quatrano.

Haven though, is a chance to make some new memories, and it’s a really great concept for the neighborhood that it’s in. Whoever planned the build out pretty much measured every detail to a tee. Each department head seems to have designed their area of responsibility with precision. The problem is, I don’t care about anything but the food. I’m the guy who walks up to the bar and asks for the food menu before the cocktail menu. I don’t even care if Pappy Van Winkle himself was reincarnated in holographic form to be my master mixologist for the evening. I’m still just going to order an unsweet tea with lemon almost every time.

Haven spread 1

My first visit to Haven was shared with nine other people; an ideal number when you want to explore the full breadth of a menu. It was obvious to all in attendance that the large cured and encased meat sampler platter, as well as a cheese board boasting eighteen different selections, were automatic orders. As far as criticisms on their meat and cheese selections, there really is nothing to discuss. They’ve simply put to shame any cheesemonger or charcuterist in the area. Haven is now the gold standard on both fronts, as was to be expected since the two are the main vein of the food menu. A couple of my meaty favorites, both made in-house of course, were the foie gras and beef tongue terrine, which balanced between subtle and brash by putting together something so luxurious (foie) next to what some still deem to be food waste (tongue). I also really fancied the duck summer sausage which gave a humble nod to the traditional Polish kielbasa. Nice snappy casing served with sauerkraut, grain mustard, horseradish and some crusty bread. If you don’t have any friends who want to sample, I suggest you start with those and maybe an order of wild boar and cherry country paté, oh and a small ration of lardo. Fortunately, the wait staff padded their tip by placing all the meat right in front of me. Unfortunately, that meant my cheese intake took a hit as my table mates hoarded that board at the other end of the table. Sure, they passed me a couple of pity slivers of something aged and nutty, but I wasn’t privy to what I was actually consuming.

Haven spread 2

As far as appetizers and mains, there really aren’t any except an exorbitantly priced cold smoked Delmonico steak. I fear many, including myself will pass, never giving a second thought to ordering it. I’m not wealthy and I’m not low-class. I’m a discerning eater that likes variety. The entire menu is wide open, which means that for around $40-$50, you can order 2-3 meats and/or cheeses and a couple of their “nontreé” sized, yet adequately proportioned for sharing offerings, ranging from $7-$24. My favorites included the cobia carbonara, veal loin with salami puttanesca, and General Tso’s duck tongues which quenched my ongoing desire for kitschy food done by expert hands.

Haven spread 3

Please, when you go, don’t forget the vegetables. One thing that has been passed seamlessly between SideBurns and Haven is the way they treat vegetables. For a place that is admittedly meat-centric, a few of the more memorable menu items were the whole roasted cauliflower, a study of corn prepared about ten different ways on a single plate, and the wild roasted mushrooms which swam in a buttery wading pool of Worcestershire, thyme and okra pickle juice. Once the mushrooms exited the bowl, we placed crostini in said bowl to soak up the liquid. They floated for a moment like Jack Dawson, struggling to hang on for dear life after the sinking of Titanic. Only, this time I play the role of Rose DeWitt Bukater in the scenario, and I actually had the strength to save my love (the mushroom juice logged crostini) from drowning if only to eat them up once the life boat arrived.

Haven spread 4

Truthfully, I didn’t want to like this place when I walked in. I’m not really looking for such tender care when I’m chomping down on fried gouda fritters. The menu is fantastic, actually it’s close to perfect for my needs. The service is too good for the gastropub fare, but honestly I don’t care. I don’t care about that my iced tea was refilled every time I took a sip. I don’t care that the simple syrup that goes into their cocktails is barrel aged behind the bar. If you want really, really good service, probably the most efficient in town and need pampering to positively impact your dining experience, you’ll have an even better time than me. All I want is great food. My arms were crossed, ready to pick apart every detail that didn’t work, because the emptiness of losing SideBurns still hurts. I mean no disrespect to the Haven people, I simply have a different view of what’s important in a restaurant and you have what I need, magnificent food. Nonetheless, they softened the blow and did justice to the space that once was a favorite of mine. The hurt will never go away but the soothing sensation of multiple choices involving foie gras always helps!

Still wondering if Haven is for you? See if you fall into these demographics. Even if only one falls into your wheelhouse I think you need to go.

Haven is for:
A. Those who appreciate sleek design and attention to detail.
B. The serious drinker (There’s a broad highway between a fan of spirits and an alcoholic.)
C. People who like being pampered to excess.
D. Food lovers of all sorts.

Haven delivers top-notch service, and even though I’ve said I don’t care over and over, I also say, more power to them! As long as it doesn’t impede Haven’s wonderful food from reaching the starting point of my digestive system!

Haven on Urbanspoon

EAD Weekly Recap No. 2

Another week of eating has come and gone, and we’ve cobbled together the photos for you. It’s always a privilege to pony up to the Kappo bar and enjoy a feast of epic proportions. There you will find the highest quality sushi, executed with great imagination and precision at prices that would be 3x higher in any major city. If you’re a fan of pizza and dim sum we’ll likely have you covered every week, as both Eat a Duck majority contributors are big on the pizza and dim sum game. This week is no different as Jimmy hit up Yummy house for his fortnightly pilgrimage to the Sarasota dim sum haven, while Logan stumbled upon a legit pizzeria and spaghetteria called Tartini during a business trip to Orlando. Finally, we give you a glimpse of what we consume on a more regular basis at home. I love when my wife cooks. What she enjoys eating the most she cooks just as well, as you can see in this spicy yellow coconut curry stew and her fantastic salad of baby kale, roasted beet, soft boiled egg, avocado, radish, with a bacon drippings vinaigrette. Hope you all ate just as well!

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Cuban Sandwich Festival 2015: Uncensored – Ybor City, FL

It’s been a few weeks since we attended the 2015 Cuban Sandwich festival. We milled over this piece a little too long to be timely, but our opinions are up to date, so it’s still a good read for any of you trying to find good Cubanos in Tampa. Especially true if you’ve already viewed the list of winners. Here goes:

The Cuban sandwich is a masterpiece, likely born out of necessity. Various cultures blended what little they had to create one cohesive, bread based package, although exactly when this occurred has never been proven. We feel things because we want to believe in them, we love a good food story and we try to let history justify our feelings toward the stories we hold dear.

I have every reason to believe that the Cuban sandwich as it is known today was curated right here in Ybor City. You can believe it’s from Miami, Cuba or even Geneva, Switzerland for that matter, but until you bring me some notarized or patented paperwork, there’s nothing to discuss.

I will not accept a Cuban sandwich as being traditional unless it contains salami. For those who want to argue this point, you’ll always come up lame, just like Miami’s sad salami-less imposter. I’ve asked many Miami residents, and contest participants to give one solid reason why the lack of a delicious cured meat would ever detract from it, but they never, ever respond with a good reason. Maybe because they know better, or maybe it’s just unwarranted geopolitical pride. Being too prideful in a weaker product is what brought down Ming Dynasty isn’t it?

One argument of note is from Sergio’s in Miami, who says on the subject of salami on a Cuban, that some people like pickles on their cupcakes. That’s weak. It’s as weak as Steve Rodgers pre-gamma ray. Salami is a complimentary flavor that only enhances the end result of the sandwich.

I think the results of this year’s Cuban sandwich proved, if nothing else, that the greater Miami population doesn’t really know what they’re doing with the sandwich they, for whatever reason, like to tout as their own. You did invent something, something awful. From the exclusion of one of earth’s most precious prizes, that being salami, to your hardtack version of Cuban bread, just about everything I’ve sampled on the Miami Cuban sandwich front has been sub-par. I do however have a deep admiration for Versailles in little Havana. They do a chorizo and manchego sandwich that would make even the mighty Jose Marti put off his activism for at least a day or two.

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My Cuban sandwich love is strong, which is why I just went off on a 500 word tangent, even after recently completing a lengthy three part Cuban sandwich competition of our own, where I thoroughly pontificated on the subject.

Let’s get to the festival itself. This year’s version, if you are talking on an all around enjoyment level, was a huge success. So many festival attendees got to experience rich, Cuban culture through music, dance and of course food. I give the founders of this event a sincere bow of respect. Not only did tens of thousands attend, but the proceeds went to fund a great cause.

As far as the competition, I held a judging position in the Non-Traditional category, in which competitors were asked to get creative, while still keeping things recognizable as a Cuban. They were encouraged take on the challenge by flipping the usual Cubano on its head.

I’d like to share my comments as well as the ranking for each entry. I was only able to match a handful of sandwiches to their respective entrants, so the others will remain a mystery, possibly due to shame, but most likely from lack of any social media presence.

The ranking was 1 to 10.  I still don’t know all 8 competitors, so here goes.

1

1. It’s just a Cuban sandwich. I think this got put in the wrong category. Looks like someone tripped and spilled chopped cilantro all over the top. Struggling to find what makes this non-traditional. Kind of really sweet now. Struggguuuuhhhhlinnnnng. (Maybe La Septima, 1st Place) 2 Stars

2

2. At least they tried to do something different after what #1 was. I see coleslaw. There is Mango. Smells like garlic bread. Very tropical. Outstanding, flavorful roast pork. Soggy. (Wheelhouse Deli 2nd Place) 3 Stars

3

3. It’s just a Cuban sandwich with a cherry tomato and an American flag stuck on top. Tomato of any kind, no matter where you put it, makes it non-traditional. This is non-good (Maybe La Septima, 1st Place) 1 Star

4

4. I don’t know what to call this thing. A Cubanpanada? I didn’t appreciate the hot sauce shower I got when I raised the lid from the box it was housed in. However, being assaulted by Crystal sauce is pretty non-traditional if you ask me. An empanada with Cuban sandwich filling is a great idea. The dough wasn’t very stellar, the mayo/mustard/mojo dip was. Inside, a little dry but great effort. 6 Stars

5

5. With all that green inside, I was expecting a chimmichurri or pesto bomb. Instead, it was like the time my dad made a ham & Swiss melt with a heaping scoop of hot dog relish. Extra 2 stars for nostalgia. Tried it twice to make sure I was tasting it right. Still tested positive for hot dog relish taste overload. 4 stars

6

6. Should be noted that all the meat is poultry. The switcheroo on animal proteins made this an “OK” non-traditional, I suppose. I think the spice coming from the pulled chicken really stands out. Everything else just reminds me of a bologna sandwich. I like bologna. Good sandwich. 4 Stars

7

7. If you’re going to be the 2nd dog in a two dog Cuban sandwich coleslaw king of the ring dog show, you have to bring it. They brought a better slaw with less sweetness, properly drained and more vinegar based acidity. In addition, they switched Swiss with something aged and nutty (Parm or Manchego?) to attack the enemy. Enough to come out victorious in Slaw Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Coles. (Dochos Concessions) 6 Stars

8

8. I couldn’t tell what, what was going on???! Sweet, sweet, sweet pickle or something else really sweet. What could be the roast pork part, was a really nice shade of mahogany and was pretty fatty so maybe they went with a braised beef brisket or short ribs instead. Who knows? I know. Too sweet. (The Dude and His Food) 4 Stars

After seeing the top three finishers in each category, I understood why many were upset with the results, as they ended up with very few of our proven favorites. The winners were a real hodge podge. “Head scratching” is what one on-looking fan was quoted as saying after seeing the final result in the four major categories of the weekend. I have a decent hypothesis about how this came about. Any given place can win if they make the best sandwich on that specific day. And to them go the spoils. They garner attention because they can say, “Hey we have one of the top three Cuban sandwiches around, and we can prove it with our award.” Then when you go get the sandwich at the restaurant, deli or truck, in reality it’s nowhere near the quality it was the day of the contest. That’s a bamboozle and I think we got a touch of that this year. It’s just a theory though. My only proof is that I’ve eaten at almost all of these places and a lot of them just aren’t very good. The only truly accurate ranking is that the Miami Cuban fell so far off the face of use earth in competition that people were holding candle lit vigils due to the disappearance.

To tell you the truth, I was pretty bummed out to not be included as part of the Best Cuban Sandwich in the World category. Even so, I took my assignment seriously, something I can’t say for my fellow judges who I have a sneaking suspicion weren’t even aware of the category, as a very, very traditional sandwich was the eventual winner. I got pretty annoyed once I found out what they did to put their twist on the original. Mayonnaise, allegedly infused with guava was the only thing that was different. I absolutely didn’t taste guava and guava is in my DNA.

Still, it was an honor to be a judge. Team Eat a Duck is hopeful that we can come back and judge with the big boys in the most important category. Shoot, we just hope to get asked back next year after the competition complaints  we made, which again, have nothing to do with the fantastic organizers.

Here’s what needs to happen. I love the categories of competition. I just ask that all participants who enter the non-traditional category to please try to have a semblance of creative expression. Dip your Cuban in a sweet and spicy batter then deep fry it. Make the vessel a glazed donut then griddle the outside so that it’s nice and caramelized. Turn it into an oozy quesadilla or make a savory pop tart, croissant or scone even. Why not use a different set of ingredients all together, that still pay homage to the classic. Sort of like Buddy Brew did with their version during the #apuercolypse. In the immortal words of Busta Rhymes, “Gimme sum mo, If you want it lemme hear you say, gimme sum mo.”

Cuban creativity

Challenge yourself and the judges. Don’t let us get confused, thinking we’re judging a different competition, because that’s another issue all together.

If you want to read about who we firmly believe has the best all around Cuban sandwich in Tampa, check out all 3 #Apuercolypse articles here (1, 2, 3). Oh, and if you think your favorite place stacks up to our list, let us know why and we will give it a shot!

EAD Weekly Recap No. 1

Every day Eat a duck is trying to find the best food possible no matter where we are. We cook more often than we eat out that is for sure. Yet, when we dine away from home you can bet we want it to be memorable. So we’re trying something new. A weekly review of all the best stuffs we devoured, from the benefit dinner we attended in Seminole Heights, to the road side taco truck near the drive in theatre in Lakeland and everything in between, all wrapped into a single post. We’ll keep it concise for everyone with short attention spans. There will be lots of great photos with restaurant or recipe info included whenever possible, so you’ll know exactly where we went. If you guys are favorable to it, we’ll keep it going. Be sure to post your comments and also follow us on Instagram for all our latest photo updates. Here’s our first attempt!

Culinary Heights spreadConcord Coffee spreadEAD threesomeEAD Weeklyl spreadChuan Lu Garden spreadEAD Weekly spread 2

American Edam: The Glorious Rise of Dairy’s Greatest Achievement – Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Show Affection for Administered Lactosian Creations.

American Edam: The Glorious rise of dairies greatest achievement- or How I Learned to cease

Possible Distressing and show Affection for administered manufactured lactosian creations.

Really. I love cheese- Love love LOVE LoVe IT~~~!!! For uncounted decades I have done so unabashedly.

I however ,discpunted the use of Amercan chess cheese used in the culinary cooking community. You could say my.

Love is blind. Seriously guys this times im tell no lie.

For real this time you have to listen to me on this one. If you don’t believe me I fear that maybe

Our little ship has sailed. That is one scenario that the love of cheese has caused me to entertain.

Or………..…………………………………………………………..…………………………………….there are

Large organizations that have continually tried to brainwash the general public for what reason!

Simply put, we are all sheep. Mankind has become a delish secretion of figurative Manchego.

Ypu by know no that I DISCOUNTED the stuff every kraft single chance Ive got especially when it has to do with the HAMBURGER or I guess I should say #CHEESEBURGER or like I affectionaly call it my “lifeforce” LOL :-/ anyway I really LOVE LOVE LOVE cheese and I used to neverconsider OVER prosessed plasticky stuff you get @ grocery stores wrapped IN cellophane

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cheese they actually call it “CHEESE” product if that is ANY indication on what it really is, – one quote I got from A famous news sourse “ said “American” CHEESE makes the BURGER go down better “ great point and that’s why I have changed my tune- or should I say MY opinion is more toward the side of it being the MOST awesome protein forword FOOD known to man and for the simple fact AND that this passed paragraph may have been sponsored by The AMERICAN cheese “association” and  for the simple fact EVERY “7” years our taste bros change which means im due SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO now you know the story of cheeseandIf YOU~~~~~ love cheese two just let me know!!!” :)

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If YOU are like me, you ARE a person READING something good, and are AN Awesome Person Really IIntuitive Lover of taste too. I am not being FacetiOus lOyaL readerS…this is my STORY.

Here are some ways I like eating American Cheese1. On a

burger preferably protein forward.
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2Eat American cheese with 8 finger nibbles of water either on the rocks or neat.

#.While drinking chardonnay but only in modern Italian restaurants such as Olive Garden, etc…
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  1. (I order veal meatballs with shop rite yellow American cheese but when I put it to my nose it smells too lamby
  2. 5iveCurated funky entrees, kissed with a pungent showering of Xerox 10000 weight sliver of pickled bread and butter loquats.

Six- At a pizza places.

The following is my review of the newest Pizza joint out in South North dale in the greater Carrilwould  Carollwood village: the ONLY pizza place brave enpugh to serve american cheese exclusively on their pizza.

Little Nero’s – The slice Master

“Fantabulous charred dredge discuses, over and done with a punchy tomate pottage. The carte du jour vestiges scullery headlong by means of a thorough spreadable meat programe. The “Zah” was dashingly embellished at that juncture freckled by Punky Brewster herself,  the woman in question.” The infinitesimal moment I enquired for American cheese confrontationally positioned o’er my non orbicular nourishment rissole, the member of staff serving at table vulgarly said “no sire I’m remorseful we do not hoard that constituent.”

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Food -4 Stars

Service – 4 Stars

Atomosphere – 4 stars

Bathroom ambient lighting – 1 Star

Overall I rate this joint 1 Stars. Couldn’t get passed the lighting part.

Burlington Food Crawl 2014

As a food writer, I tend to get tunnel vision when it comes to big cities. It’s especially noticeable when planning a food crawl. In a town like San Francisco, or New York, or Chicago, you’re spoiled for choice. Cities like these, where you could literally eat at an awesome restaurant every day and never repeat for years, don’t pose much of a challenge to the curator of a food tour. That’s why I love the small towns, especially the up and coming ones with blossoming food scenes.

Sometimes this is the result of big city chefs looking for an alternative to the old path of grinding through the hottest restaurants in town for years before getting their own gig. In a small town, they have the chance to strike out on their own early, when their minds are still fresh and foolish. Other times it can be chalked up to a young demographic. College towns like Burlington are full of a new generation of young adult, who are excited to support the new, the creative and even the strange. This has had a marked effect on the town’s food choices, and has brought some genuinely impressive restaurants to the shores of Lake Champlain.

Burlington Food Crawl 2014

So that’s why I decided, after sniffing around Burlington for over a decade now, that it was time to plan a proper food crawl. There have always been great places to eat in Burlington like Leunig’s, A Single Pebble, Bove’s and more. But those are familiar faces, you know what you’re in for before you step inside and I wanted to be surprised, to sample the new hotness, the young guns, the freshman.

We start our journey with a dark horse discovered by chance during a walk down Church Street. I’ve strolled down this beautiful walking street hundreds of times, so I notice when a new face appears. In this case it was cozy underground Italian spot, formerly known as Three Tomatoes Trattoria. I can’t recall many lasting memories from the latter, but the former made a strong impression with just two dishes.

Pascolo spread

I chose Pascolo partly out of curiosity, and partly because I like to patronize new restaurants at least once to support the business. It also didn’t hurt that they proudly tout their house made pasta. One thing that always makes me nervous though, is when the menu gives the diner the choice of sauce with a certain noodle. Other aspects of the menu put that worry at ease though, like the list of locally sourced charcuterie and produce from nearby farms. I went with a pair of house made pasta dishes, the tagliatelle bolognese and pappardelle funghi. I could tell at first bite that the noodles were home-made as advertised. Both sauces were well composed with a depth of flavor I haven’t found elsewhere in Burlington. For me, Pascolo is a welcome addition to Church Street.

Our second stop, Hen of the Wood, has been on my list for a few years now and has been a stalwart of food lovers in Waterbury, VT for even longer. Unfortunately, Waterbury is about a 30 min drive from Burlington. Happily for me, they’ve opened a second location right in downtown under the Hotel Vermont. Hen of the Wood, like many restaurants in and around Burlington, pride themselves on sourcing as much of their ingredients as possible from local farmers and growers. I noticed they look to the same growers as The Kitchen Table Bistrowhich can only bode well.

HotW has one of those menus where you have to make some hard decisions, especially on a food crawl. Appropriately, we chose the Hen of the Wood mushroom toast topped with house bacon and a poached farm egg. I can hardly think of a more perfect winter time dish. Here’s a pro tip, when you see beef tartare on a menu, order it. At HotW it comes with lemon, capers, farm egg yolk and some sunchoke chips for texture. Even a salad of baby gem lettuce gets its due attention with shaved goat cheese, walnut, Hakurei turnip and mint.

Hen of the Wood spread

If you walk out Hen of the Wood, turn left, walk about 20 yards and enter the Hotel Vermont lobby, you’ll find Juniper. In my experience, hotel lobbies aren’t typically known for their fantastic restaurants. Usually you’ll find a dimly lit bar with tired businessmen downing your typical pub fare. Juniper is a wholly different thing. Braised rabbit with duck fat turnips, tamari and quince glazed wild salmon with kimchi and black risotto, cider glazed pulled pork shoulder with bacon, apple and duck egg, are only a small sampling of the creative dishes Juniper is capable of.

In an attempt to keep things light on our second to last stop, a roasted beet soup and autumn salad were requested. The former came with a sweet and tangy goat’s milk ricotta, violet gastrique and local Castleton crackers. I couldn’t detect much flavor from the violet gastrique, but the goat cheese was a perfect match for the earthy sweetness from the beets. As for the salad, I can honestly say it was an eye opener in a category that usually fails to stand out. Cranberries in two forms woke up the mixed greens. The deep, sweet, concentrated flavor from dried cranberries worked together with a cranberry vinaigrette that brought a sour component.

Juniper spread 1

Now Eat a Duck food crawl regulations stipulate a limit of three dishes or less at each stop. As co-founder and head of this particular food crawl, I made an executive decision to ignore this rule after I tasted Juniper’s amazing celeriac gnocchi. I try not to throw the word amazing around too much, but these little dumplings deserve the praise. Nearly everything in this dish comes from the underground. That’s not an attempt to be hip, three of the main ingredients literally grow underground, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and black truffle. The binding agent in this case comes courtesy of luxurious raclette from Spring Brook Farms in Reading. The key to any impressive dish is balance. A dish with raclette at its base could easily stray into the sickeningly rich spectrum. The chef deftly offsets this with the sliced Jerusalem artichokes that bring an acidic, almost pickled flavor that keeps each bite fresh. It was so addictive we ordered a second dish for dessert.

Juniper spread 2

Juniper was such a hit we returned the next day for lunch. While my wife wasn’t looking, I quickly ordered a North Hollow Farm hot dog with tomato bacon jam, and the cider glazed pulled pork shoulder with bacon, frisée, apple and duck egg. I made quick work of the dog which was the perfect snack on a cold day. The tangy jam had enough sweetness to highlight the dog and a pronounced tang that hit you right in the jaw. The pork sandwich on the other hand was a beast that I sorely underestimated. It was slightly overloaded with ingredients and I wished the flavor of the pork was more front and center, maybe mixed with a maple based BBQ sauce or something. While delicious, it’s hard to follow that gnocchi!

Last stop on our tour of Burlington is a little joint that I’ve seen countless times on my way to town, Bluebird Tavern. They’ve since moved from their original location to make way for Bluebird BBQ (which is on the list for next time), and have settled right in the heart of downtown, just on the other side of the block from Pascolo. At this point my female crawlers were losing steam and running low on stomach space. It was up to me to finish on a high note. I started off with a trio of Cuban spoons, basically the deconstructed ingredients of a Cuban sandwich, minus the bread, on a spoon. There was only a small cube of each component, but the flavor was unmistakable. Next was a small pile of bay scallops in a parsnip purée with grapes and ham. The grapes sounded strange but they found their place in the dish, lending subtle sweetness to the creamy parsnip. They also had a similar texture to the scallops as they had been quickly tossed in the pan to firm them up a bit. To finish, fried sweetbreads, another item I always have to try when the opportunity presents itself.

Bluebird Tavern spread

After years of eating my way through Burlington, it was satisfying to finally put together a string of restaurants worthy of a crawl. I can confidently recommend Burlington to any traveling food lover, as the scene there is truly maturing with dishes and culinary ideas that showcase the town’s unique personality. Here’s hoping the trend continues and so we can hold round 2 of the Burlington food crawl. In the meantime, get out there and try these places, support the new guard and show them that we we’re hungry for more!

Pascolo Ristorante on Urbanspoon
Hen of the Wood (Burlington) on Urbanspoon
Juniper on Urbanspoon
Bluebird Tavern on Urbanspoon

The Dinner Party Project – Orlando, FL

Have you ever looked back at how a set of coincidental circumstances lead you to a certain moment? Considering that moment, did you think about how statistically unlikely it was to reach it? You’d think for me to find myself eating with seven other folks in a warehouse, in an undisclosed location somewhere in the urban throngs of Orlando, would take some planning. Nope, it was an utter fluke. A fold of the cloth in the other direction would have led me down another path without any knowledge of such an event.

The Dinner Party Project spread

This particular wormhole opened up while folding up fancy napkins with a lady in the middle of nowhere, on a farm, in a field where chickens are free to roam. We were both hired guns brought on to aid with service for one of Outstanding in the Fields Winter tour of Florida. (It deserves a post all to itself, but if you haven’t heard of OITF and you like fresh food from the sweat of a farmers loins, please check out their operation.) We worked in silence, intricately folding napkins, until she put on some tunes. I don’t think either of us could stand the lack of conversation, so she asked what I did for a living. No one wants to talk careers with a postal employee, so I deftly shifted the focus to her. This girl ran down an impressive list of pursuits and causes. Of course the only one that mattered to a person with such food focused pursuits such as myself, I zeroed in on the last one in her list. She casually explained of her involvement in a small, just born Orlando based dinner party club. I believe something like, “no way, that’s awesome,” so eloquently left my mouth. After chatting for a very short time, I was called away to do some grunt work.

The night ended and I never got the name of her project. I was however able to recall her last name, though how last names ever came up in the conversation I’m not sure. The only time I heard that particular family name was from acquaintances in my town. Wouldn’t you know they are related? She just so happened to be my friends’ sister-in-law. A few weeks went by and I started looking at some of the farm table photos online from that night and saw user _thedinnerpartyproject_ had posted a photo.

All was not lost. Things started haphazardly coming together.

I began following and became enthralled at what was going on with her venture. Two dinners a week with eight seats chosen by random lottery system, all of them appeared to be completely sold out since the project began. I wanted to be a part of this, I had to, but when would I ever realistically get the chance?

The Dinner Party Project spread 1

Last week while on a business trip requiring an overnight stay in Orlando, I noticed that they had a spot available the same night I was to be in town. I quickly responded and managed to be the guy who would fill the empty seat. I’d like to extend a hearty thank you to the person who decided to cancel the day of the dinner. I assume you regularly plan poorly. Thankfully, your bad planning really benefited me that day.

I’m not ashamed to admit that the only reason I wanted to join in on this supper club in the first place was for the food created by incredibly talented Orlando based chefs. Food for us is everything. We won’t write about anything if the taste just isn’t there, no matter what your cause is. Good food can cover over a multitude of sins. I would be glad to sit in silence with a group of disgusting eccentrics, if in exchange, I received a great meal. Conversation, networking, and general socializing is way down my list of priorities. Still, I feared I had committed myself to a night of eating with weirdos, as I anxiously drove from SushiPop in Oviedo, after pre-gaming on fatty bluefin tuna bellies and house smoked salmon nigiri. This turned out to be a small, albeit precautionary meal.

There was nothing to fear.

On this night of course, I ate well. The guest chef was a former crew member of some of my favorite spots in town. Michael Garcia, formerly of Ravenous Pig, Cask & Larder and The Smiling Bison treated the eight of us to a Cuban inspired feast, with a hard nod to modern technique. The plates of food that came out were beautiful, though they tasted even better than they looked. Especially the work of art that was our first course. An heirloom tomato salad with charred onion and a streak of avocado marble brought me back to the first time I studied Van Gogh’s Water Lilies collection in person. I really took to the braised flank steak, made into ropa vieja that towered over a plateau of culantro rice. The complexity of reduced tomato sauce with a stellar balance of acidity and sweetness, it would have made my Nana proud. Though, she wouldn’t have gone to this event because she doesn’t drive at night. The last course, and arguably the best received by all, was coffee infused pots de crème, with a salty caramel apex and a custardy cinnamon sugared churro. I dug into that custard with my churro like Mikey, Mouth, Chunk and Data looking for One Eyed Willies treasure.

the-dinner-party-project-spread-2

If you were to take the food away, and asked me to come to a mixer in a warehouse, with a group of people I might not ever see again, the answer would be a polite, “no thank you.”

So, obviously it helped that the food was great. In all honesty, I think the experience of conversing with these new friends, making new connections, finding common ground with people who don’t necessarily have similar interests was more memorable than any meal I had had that week, and for the record, I ate well last week.

I think an event like this, if not exactly this, should be implemented in every city. Surely your town can drum up 16 random people a week to get things going. I feel as if society has been slowly losing their ability to converse and function on a casual level. We’ve all slowed down in our ability to get together for no good reason, adult and child alike. As my host graciously suggested, we ditched our phones for the evening, and it was a relief to many of the guests, myself included. Other than snapping a couple of shots that were preapproved, mine stayed right were it belongs, right under my butt. I don’t know, maybe I’m starting to sound like “drunk uncle,” but I remember when get a together meant something. Nowadays, it’s just could you e-mail me dinner, can you fax me a hug? Ipad, Ipod, Iphone Idontknowanymore!

It was a highly delightful and enlightening evening with a group of complete strangers, sharing stories and ideas that quite possibly wouldn’t have been told so freely, if at all, if it were just a group of old friends going through the motions of catching up. No one had to keep up appearances. Instead it was a chance to meet seven new friends in one shot. For someone who has been married for nearly 14 years, you sometimes take for granted getting to know new people intimately. This meal, in a way, gave me a chance to exercise my storytelling ability on subjects that didn’t involve food, an exercise I sort of miss. If you have the chance to get outside of your comfort zone and put yourself out there to be part of their random guest selection process, I can guarantee that you’ll gain a great deal of fulfilling memories afterward.

The Dinner Party Project serves the Orlando area every Tuesday and Wednesday, with a suggested $40-$70 donation per guest. It’s highly suggested that you attend the dinner alone, although they don’t discourage couples. They usually last around 3 hours, which includes passed appetizers, cocktail, wine, and a 3 or 4 course sit down meal with coffee service afterwards. You can go to www.thedinnerpartyproject.coin order to sign up and be registered for their lottery system.