I had heard of Bobcat Bite for a few years but was always put off by the name. After being skunked at Pie Town, I was ready to give it a try. When I arrived there were about 40 people waiting in line on a Friday afternoon.
It turns out that there are two lists. One, the first list, is kept inside. Make sure to stop a server and get on that list. When you progress far enough on the first list, you are “promoted” to the big board. Getting promoted from the list to the board was an accomplishment, or at least an event. We, the patiently waiting customers, took to congratulating, and joking about, each new “Board Member.”
I could spot the regulars because they knew to bring reading material. The rest of us played “watch the list.” We watched it like hawks, err Bobcats, and pretty soon we all knew who each party was. After a bit, there were very few strangers waiting for a burger. The crowd, looked like a rural group but was actually very sophisticated. Conversation ranged from construction/architecture to art (Santa Fe is an arts colony) to last week’s New York Times Magazine. Needless to say with an hour plus wait, we gelled. By the way, take out orders, for those who are not blogging, seemed to go a bit faster.
While waiting I had a chance to read the back of the old-timey menu and get the story behind the unusual name at Bobcat Bite which is currently owned by John and Bonnie Eckre. The building for Bobcat Bite was originally a trading post (see the original beams in the photo below) on the Old Las Vegas Highway (Las Vegas, NM not the other one), and then a gun shop, of all things. The highway became part of Route 66 and Bobcat Bite was launched as a family run restaurant in 1953 by Rene Clayton, who owned Bobcat Ranch, to service the hungry motorists.
At Smart Kitchen, we have been working very hard at ”putting up” all the exercises of our Lesson 7: Basic Proteins, which includes intriguing information on Wagyu Cattle, the Japanese breed from which the super-flavorful Kobe Beef is made.
With Wagyu beef on my mind, I wrote to Lone Mountain Cattle Company in Golden New Mexico and told them about the Summer Food Drive 2011. To my surprise, Griff Foxley wrote me back and arranged for an invitation to visit the 28,000 acre ranch at 6,800 feet an easy drive from Santa Fe, which has had an interesting history.
Originally part of a Spanish Land grant, the ranch has subsequently been in many hands, including those of the Warden of the State Prison, who arranged field trips to the ranch for his convicts, hard labor field trips. Some of the prisoners’ work still remains, like the old “Main House,” a former building from the Alamosa, Colorado Japanese Internment Camp from WWII, re-purposed as the owner’s home on the ranch. It served that purpose from 1945 until 2011, when Bob Estrin, the owner built a new modern home.
After navigating a few miles of ranch, I reached the ranch headquarters and pulled up to speak with Stan Hartman, the ranch manager. It turns out, he forgot I was coming but we laughed about it and improvised. I was able to visit, with Stan (maybe interogate) and then shadow him a bit as he worked with his cowboys on the AI program. In the city AI means “artificial intelligence.” On the ranch, “artificial” is in the name but the activity involves helping make new bovine babies. Cows are in heat for only 18 hours every 21 days. Begetting new calves builds the herd and builds future product. Conception is crucial.
Because they are highly prized for their blood lines, each animal is genetically tested and its DNA kept on file with MMI Genomics. It is a different way of doing the beef business which has been a game of weight gain and pounds. Lone Mountain is concentrating on flavor and marbling, hoping to find sustainable profitability in higher quality meat.
Lone Mountain started with 9 Wagyu Cattle in 2005 and has grown its herd with meticulous breeding, (both AI and natural) to 300 animals, each insurable for thousands of dollars.
We had time to kill before the AI began so Stan took me on a mini-tour, that covered miles on foot and in Stan’s ranch truck but covered a miniscule portion of the very large property. Stan showed me how they graze cattle on pasture grasses until they are at least 20 months old, but typically older. Wagyu don’t start building the marbling that they are known for, until 20 to 25 months of age. Until then the cow-calf pairs are on the range, under the supervision of Stan and his cowboys but otherwise essentially on their own. Apparently, the imported Japanese cattle can cope with high altitudes, dry climates and predators that can include bears, mountain lions and coyotes.
Around age 30 months the steers identified as beef animals are “fed-out” meaning they are put on a higher ration of hay and grain to put on weight. As we were driving, Stan took me by the new “Main House” to see if Bob, the owner was available.
It turns out that Bob, who is a film editor (River Runs Through It) and also the President of the American Wagyu Association, was in working on genetics and had a moment or two for us. Bob first learned of Wagyu when his daughter took him out for a high end Japanese meal in LA. “They had Kobe on the menu for $128 a serving” Bob tells me and as a rancher in a dry area, he was hooked on the potential margins.
Since then, he has boned up on the genetics, grading and marbling. He is a font of knowledge on the subjects that give Wagyu its tenderness and flavor. He was very generous with his timeand we discussed marbling and breeding for a while. I learned a few things that will augment Smart Kitchen’s Kobe and Wagyu sections.
Bob also cautioned me (and us) about the explosion of “Kobe-Style,” and “American Wagyu-Style” burgers being sold for premium prices at restaurants and grocers. If they say style they are not pure Wagyu. There are firm rules on the use of the “Kobe” name but few on the variants which at a minimum have to be only 24.9% Wagyu, with the other 75% being comprised of other breeds like Angus or Hereford. Ground or processed meat products are the easiest to blend and mix, so if you are unsure and want 100% Wagyu stick with steaks or roasts.
Bob mentioned that the Mine Shaft restaurant down the road in Madrid (pronounced “Mad-Rid”), NM served 100%Lone Mountain Wagyu Beef Burgers and I was sold on extending my Lone Mountain stop by just one burger’s worth. On the ride back to ranch headquarters Stan regaled me with the benefits and flavor of Wagyu, which has a higher proportion of mono-saturated fat than traditional beef which helps make it more tender. In fact, Stan and his father count their chews on Wagyu steaks and find that a bite disappears in 6-7 chews as compared to 30 chews or more for a Prime Graded steak from another breed.
As I bid Lone Mountain farewell, I turned right for a detour to Madrid for the Mine Shaft and some Lone Mountain beef.
The 100% Wagyu has a “beefier” taste and cooks more quickly. I really enjoyed the 100% Wagyu burger and can’t wait until Lone Mountain has their consumer direct site online to buy some July 4th burgers. In the meantime, if you have a hankering for Lone Mountain Wagyu, you can find it at fine restaurants like Alexander’s Steak house in the Bay Area.
“The Smartest Way to Learn to Cook™”
I’d heard a few times that people thought a new coffee shop had opened at 40th & Camelback in Phoenix. But I’d done my homework and knew that foodies have had great things to say about The Grind since it popped up on the national radar in July with its inclusion in Bon Appetit’s Top 10 Best New Burger Spots. Ironically, I was on the East Coast when this chart topper receives Kudos at home. I had to get in there and see for myself.
Located on Camelback, in the hip Arcadia neighborhood, The Grind is the product of the imagination and skills of Chef Matt McLinn, the force behind BLT Steak at the Camelback Inn and the backing of owners Alan Thompson and George Monzures. With a feeling like an old time speak-easy, quality pervades the senses the minute you leave the parking lot. From Crystal’s warm welcome, to the finishes, to the food its sensory heaven.
If you have read any of my other posts, you know I might digress from the burger to discuss the sides for a rave or two before getting to the burger eventually. In most these cases, either the burger was not that good or the sides were crazy. There is no digression today, the Grind’s burger was grand, from its ten foot tall appearance, to its ten foot tall taste. I had the Steak House BLT Burger. It was a $10, TEN if such things exist. Maybe its the salt crust, maybe its the 1000° coal fired oven.
Susie Timm over at Foodies Like Us had a photo of the oven on their blog post about The Grind and was generous enough to share. The photo of the coal fired oven is theirs and even though the coal fired oven isn’t sexy looking, don’t judge an oven by its sheet metal. Your standard gas oven cooks at 500-550°, a wood oven gets up to 650°degrees. Coal can get the oven even hotter, to a reputed 1000°F which is hot enough to cook most entrees in around four minutes while giving them a flavorful crust and sealing in a unique juicy taste.
And with coal you get the smoke flavor too. Thinking about that oven, I may have to go back and get our own shot of it, and eat another burger; hey, if you’re there, why miss out.
Are you getting that we were impressed? Well we were. “We” included myself and Ed Sweet, a free lance writer, foodie, founder of Sweet Brand Sour Salts and promoter of the Sour Ball, which raises money for Child Help. Ed and I were lunching to try The Grind and to talk about Smart Kitchen and his upcoming charity event. The 4th Annual ”Sour Ball” is locked in and will be held at the Biltmore Hotel, September 24th, 2010. It looks like we’re getting lucky and Smart Kitchen will get to cover the event (Yum!) and interview some of the talented chef’s about their culinary improvisation.
So back to the meal and finally, with the burger in its rightful place of honor, to the sides. Ordering ”Off the Menu,” I managed to turn the fixings from the Sweet & Spicy Burger into some splendid side dishes since they sounded too good to pass up. Candied Jalapeno and Fried Ratatouille turned out to be something to write about.
The Sweet Potato Fritters were worth a few words as well. If the burgers were’nt so stellar the fritters would have stolen the show.
To try The Grind yourself head to 3961 East Camelback Road in Phoenix, AZ and enjoy. If you have a problem, phone them at 602-954-7463; or check their web site @ thegrindaz.com
I have been criticized, (by Mrs. P Chef primarily) in my initial posts of being very positive about my subject matter. The implication was that, perhaps, I might lack objectivity. I am not partisan, and am not compensated by any of the places I review so that prospect did not worry me. And today, I am vindicated. Read on for my first review of a stinker.
For those of you aware of the North Jersey burger rivalry between White Mana in Jersey City, and White Manna in Hackensack, you might wonder, as I did, why White Manna gets all the press. I ruminated that it might be that White Mana, the original, is further, by standard transport, from Manhattan and its Foodies, or that one building is cuter than the other. Now that I have visited both, I believe that the answer is simpler. White Manna, the more northerly contestant, has more going for it, than an extra “N.” Put another way, my visit to White Mana in Jersey City was a dud, flatter than their dry pancake of a burger.
Having left the packed White Manna ten minutes prior, I grew concerned as I arrived. To my eye, the neighborhood wasn’t great but I decided location wouldn’t keep this chef from the food. As I stepped in, I became worried. White Mana was empty, with nothing staged & sizzling on the grill and the glass showcase window was caked with grime. Grime on surfaces is often a bad sign. If they aren’t cleaning what you can see, what about what you can’t see?
Quite a bit bigger than White Manna and with similar parking, the Sardine Factor should have favored the Jersey City Mana. I ordered the default comparison item, “cheese burger” and watched in horror as a pre-packaged grey patty was flopped down. As compared to White Manna in Hackensack, I was served quickly and without a memory test for who was where in line. That was a plus. A negative was how bland the burger tasted. I admit that I considered only eating half of the little burger, but remembered that I would not be eating again until Washington D.C. Putting all the pickles on the cheese burger, salvaged the remaining bites by raising the slider to a semi-palatable taste, something like a McDonald’s burger, but without mega processed tastes.
In exploring the rivalry, I learned what the locals, who pack one and avoid the other, already know. White Mana is a dud and White Manna is a stud. I give White Mana with one “n” a grade of “N” for “No Good”.
Two Post-Scripts: As I was leaving I discovered the only reason to visit White Mana besides weighing in on the debate: the Men’s Room*. It’s low and dingy, and reminds me of a Halloween funhouse bathroom with its off kilter floor and single low watt bulb. I closed the door and braced reflexively for a Boogey Man to jump out and literally scare the you know what out of me. After a morning traveling for the Smart Kitchen, I didn’t need the help. Since I couldn’t wait, I ignored the warning voice in my head and ventured from the light into the darkest recesses where I imagined the commode might be. All I could think about was that in the movies, the dummy gets it when he/she pokes around in the dark corner. In the shadows, I found the sneaky seat-less, naked commode. To another visitor, with other business, it could have been a pants wetting monster. Good thing my visit was a coffee break.
A second post-script. To the owners of White Mana in Jersey City, a suggestion, if you don’t have the passion or interest to make great sliders, sell out to the Hackensack folks, make better burgers for everyone and end the “N”-sanity of which place is which.
Finally, look for our write up of White Manna, our choice in the battle, nearby on the blog.
*Sorry ladies that the restroom is not a gender neutral observation. If you happen to visit after the bad reviews and have to see the horror of the commode, have a male companion knock and hold the door for you and peak.
This won’t be a long post. White Manna is very good. The classic diner façade is beautiful, Lou, his face a mask of concentration, is a site to see when working the grill and its fun to rub elbows with the locals.
White Manna is busy because it’s popular and it’s popular for the right reasons. It was my favorite slider burger so far this summer, especially at the $1.30 price.
Some of the nuts and bolts to keep in mind: all the orders are taken and fulfilled by memory, as Lou, performing like a hibachi chef in front of his audience, tends the meat, clangs spatulas, and feeds us all. If you are going to visit, bring a sharp memory because though it looks like mob-service in the non-line line, it isn’t. By observation, I deduced that everyone had a pretty good idea of who was up next to give Lou their order. The sneaks were playing it cool but everyone was keeping tabs on the non-line, line’s progress and on whose order was being packed into the paper sacks.
If I were to be very critical, I might nickname the place “White Mini” for the cramped structure and miniature dining room but in the end, the size is part of the charm. Everyone can enjoy the show and the size encourages the patrons to interact. If you are considering visiting White Manna from nearby, I’d go and experience it for yourself.
The return of the Summer Food Drive is fast approaching. Starting tomorrow P Chef will be on the road for a few days and thousands of miles of food touring. The drive is shaping up to be about burgers, BBQ & Pie, with a few sightseeing, sleep and gym stops along the way. As usual, to further help guard my “A-Bit-Past-Svelt” figure, the only food consumption will occur at designated food stops. So they better be good, or I’m on a “poor-planning” diet.
The main food stops are :
1. Ted’s Steamed Burgers: 1046 Broad St Meriden, CT 06450 Burgers
2. White Manna: 358 River St Hackensack, NJ 07601 Burgers
4. White Mana: 470 Tonnele Ave Jersey City, NJ 07307 Burgers
5. Ray’s Hellburger: 1725 Wilson Blvd Arlington, VA 22201 Burgers
6. Seasonal Cook: 416 W Main St Charlottesville, VA 22903 Cookware
7. Rosewood Dairy Bar: 3003 Rosewood Dr Columbia, SC 29205 Pimento Burgers
8. Birmingham Bake & Cook Co Inc 5291 Valleydale Road Birmingham, AL 35242- 7707 (205) 980-3661 Cookware
9. Oxford, MS Just a Cool Town (maybe I can research some Southern Purveyors and find a gym)
10. Craig Bros Cafe 15 Walnut De Valls Bluff, AR 72041 (870) 998-2616 BBQ
11. Family Pie Shop: Across the street in De Valls Bluff, AR 72041 PIE
12. Hot Springs, AR Curious About the Place
13. Hope, AR Curious About the Place
14. Texarkana, Tx Curious About the Place
15. Zion’s Church/Wards BBQ: 2601 Montgomery Rd, Huntsville, TX 77340 BBQ
16. Monument Café: 500 S Austin Ave Georgetown, TX 78626 PIE
18. Texas Pie Company: 202 W Center St, Kyle, TX 78640 PIE
19. Blanco Bowling Club: 310 4th St Blanco, TX 78606 PIE
20. Perini’s Ranch: Hwy 89 Buffalo Gap, TX 79508 Best Steak in US?
21. B&E Burrito: 303 Franklin Street Hatch, NM 87937 (575) 267-5191 @ Green Chili Season – B&E is a 500 mile favorite of mine. If I’m within 500 miles, I’m going. And I’m going even though Mrs. P Chef would disapprove of the B&E, a place that looks like it was built to just to prevent a Breaking & Entering. And it still looks that way, even once you’re inside. I’m never sure that they were’nt just robbed. And then there is the Giant Fly Wrestling. It is a challenge to keep the winged varments at bay. Who thought they’d be partial to both your red and your green chile. But despite the negatives, the flavor is a greater draw and outweighs the negatives 3 to 1. Green chili so hot it makes you cry, okay it makes me cry. But it is also so good that I can’t help taking another painful bite. And then another, and another until the whole nuclear burrito dissappears bite, by painfully good bite, from the tear stained plate.
22. Smart Kitche & Home. ‘Nuff Said.
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P Chef’s Hammer Down
In this instance, after exhausting all possibilities and making a few circuits, the correct road ended up being the little driveway looking thing in the middle. And then once on the right road, another gracious tableau discovered at Phillips’ Grocery, which was built across from a former train station, now abandoned.
So you drive all this out of the way and you love the look and the feel. The whole abandoned, pre-civil war, ambience thing is like stumbling on a “Faulkneric” mythical Brigadoon. And then you face the real burning question. You haven’t eaten in 350 miles. What will the food be like? That is the curiousity that kills this cat. And the curiousity that fuels my search, mile after mile and year after year, for another perfect, often unobtainable meal.
In this case the food was good, but not great, not in line with the expectations driven by the distance, or the ambience. In fact the burger was probably decent but got an ambience bump up to “Good” by the whole “Finding Lost Dixie” thing. There should be a 2009 blog post about the actual visit to Phillips’ Grocery, but my point in writing today is to get my psych on for the upcoming miles.