Food

Monday, August 20, 2018

On a Stick: Deep-fried Daredevilry at the Fair

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2018 at 1:48 PM

The corn dog, gold standard of fair food. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The corn dog, gold standard of fair food.

There are plenty of innocent pleasures to be had at the fair, from riding the Ferris wheel with your sweetheart to perusing the prize-winning livestock. But if you're not going to indulge your gastronomic id by eating something deep fried and totally unreasonable, you're not really getting the whole experience. The Humboldt County Fair is in full swing so we returned to the stalls and trailers, strolled past the familiar corn dogs, gator tail nuggets and fried pickles we rated a few years back to sample a few items we hadn't already investigated. Here are three contenders to balance out the wholesomeness of your day at the fairgrounds and add another layer of drama to your turn on the Typhoon.

A heap of curly fries. Good luck. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A heap of curly fries. Good luck.
Giant Kurly Fries: This $8 shoebox-sized knot of skins-on, spiraled fries is made with tools that look better suited for a woodworking shop than a kitchen. Potatoes are spun and stripped into ribbons of starch by a lathe. Stuffed into a fry basket, they're plunged into bubbling oil until crispy  and passed to you through a window by a smiling teen who knows you have no shot in hell of finishing them. Season them as you like — making it rain with a cardboard box of salt with holes punched in the top or pumping ketchup wherever you can fit it — but accept that unless you are sharing with a hungry group, you won't make it down to the paper tray where all those salt crystals have sifted. Well, maybe, but at what cost?

Shoot, that's just fried cheese on a stick. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Shoot, that's just fried cheese on a stick.
Cheese on a Stick: At first glance, it looks like its similarly priced sibling the corn dog: a pebbly cylinder of deep-fried corn bread batter with a wooden stick jabbed in one end. But inside this evil twin is a block of American cheese rendered molten in the fryer to yield the nihilist carney version of a grilled cheese sandwich ($5). The young woman at the cash register will warn you it's "very, very hot" and offer the pro-tip of removing the wooden stick to "let it vent." It's OK to be afraid. After a couple minutes of venting, the sweet, crusty cornbread breaks open to a golden yellow center of creamy, processed cheese magma. Salty, sweet, greasy, crunchy and artificially creamy. There are only two kinds of people in this world — you will either recoil or wish for tomato soup.

A deep fried Twinkie with enough powdered sugar to make Scarface sneeze. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A deep fried Twinkie with enough powdered sugar to make Scarface sneeze.
Fried Twinkie: The fact that this $5 hybrid of childhood nostalgia and poor adult decisions is for sale at the same stand as the deep fried Snicker's bar that nearly did us in a couple years back is a very bright red flag. The funnel cake batter-dipped Twinkie is roughly the shape of a harbor seal and nearly the weight of one. It's blanketed by a snowfall of powdered sugar and criss-crossed with chocolate syrup — you can order it without but that's hardly the path of moderation. Crack open the crust and the yellow snack cake with the alarmingly long shelf life is revealed. Whither the creamy filling? Oh, it's in there, just transformed by the heat of the fryer to a translucent, sugary goo that's, holy hell, somehow exponentially sweeter than in its original fluffy form. One bite in and any plans you had to ride the Zipper or ever look your dentist in the eye again are dust. Powdery, sugary dust. 
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Friday, June 1, 2018

Crab Sandwich with a View

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 5:27 PM

PHOTO BY JONATHAN WEBSTER
  • Photo by Jonathan Webster

When the day opens up with blue skies, warm breezes and sunshine on the calm waters of Humboldt Bay, nothing could be better than heading out to King Salmon, where kayakers are paddling in the waves, and making a hard turn into the parking lot of Gill's By the Bay (77 Halibut Ave.).

There you can find a seat on the patio and survey the nautical-themed garden with its landlocked rowboat, fluttering sweet peas and ship ropes, while the more intrepid glide by in their wetsuits and boats. If sitting with your back to a harpoon launcher makes you skittish, head for the corner. Novelty may lure you, siren-like, toward the grilled crab sandwich with cheese but stay the course to the plain, cold crab sandwich ($17.50). By my eye, it's at least a full cup of crabmeat tossed with mayonnaise and chopped green onion on soft, mild sourdough and accompanied by equally straightforward potato salad, slaw or fries. It's a simple arrangement that lets the sweet, briny flavor of the meat shine.

There are those who will whistle at that price for a sandwich — those who have never watched a full episode of The Deadliest Catch or picked a crab clean from claw to claw for someone else without nibbling as they went. You'll be happier if you accept that Dungeness crab, caught by professional fishermen making their living, and served to you by smiling restaurant staff doing the same, costs. Consider what you'd pay for its Kennedy cousin the lobster, shipped frozen and not nearly as delicate in flavor or texture. Then take a deep lungful of sea air, squint at the boats in the distance and thoroughly enjoy your sandwich.
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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Yaass, Kouign-amann

Posted By on Sat, May 19, 2018 at 12:47 PM

Beck's busts out a Breton bun. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Beck's busts out a Breton bun.
A few years ago, the kouign-amann (pronounced "queen ahmahn") stumped the contestants on The Great British Baking Show, causing a dramatic series of light frowns and polite head scratching. The origami-folded bun with the buttery flakiness of a croissant and anchored by a caramelized sugar bottom that calls to mind the crunch of crème brûlée was a deep cut from Brittany circa the mid-1800s. Its hardcore French pastry fanbase has since expanded with a global revival. And now the little Breton bun has arrived in Humboldt.

The Beck's Bakery crew has been experimenting, says owner Rhonda Wiedenbeck, and finally hit on a recipe that works with local grains. The end product is a crown of layered dough that's tender and moist at its center with a crisp, buttery exterior ($4). So much butter. And the bottom is dark and glassy brown — just a little sticky. So far it's only available at the Arcata Farmers Market stall since they don't keep on a shelf the way the bakery's crusty loaves do. Bon chance, mes amis.
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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Jerk Chicken on the Plaza

Posted By on Sat, May 12, 2018 at 9:17 AM

Jerk chicken on the Arcata Plaza. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Jerk chicken on the Arcata Plaza.

There are those who hit the Arcata Farmers Market as the first pop-up tents are snapping into place, stuffing their canvas bags with the week's produce and heading home to, I don't know, cook ahead for the week or whatever it is efficient people do. The rest of us arrive late and linger, circling the vendors at McKinley's feet for an early lunch. If your nose picks up jerk chicken, stop.

The Jerk Kitchen table, draped in a Jamaican flag, might be obscured by a line of people waiting and watching owners Joanne Kerr and Dell Bryan bring a cleaver down on smoky leg quarters and dish up stewed oxtail. Bryan, who hails from Jamaica, makes his own wet jerk sauce and marinated the chicken all day before barbecuing it low and slow over a wood fire. The end product is juicy and seasoned throughout, with a fragrant, earthy char full of allspice, garlic and pepper. An order of chicken comes with soft, sweet fried plantains and festival — hand rolled cornbread fritters that are doughy and firm inside with a crusty fried exterior ($10).

The market is Jerk Kitchen's only steady location aside from the occasional appearance at The Jam for special events, so jump on it. Listen, you just bought a bushel of some green vegetable the leaves of which are tarp-thick and will need a soak and a picking over and a long boil before you can think about eating them — my God, it's like you just took on an entire new job. Take a lunch break.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Glamping at Campground

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 5:01 PM

The New York strip steak, grilled vegetables and a counter view of the fire. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The New York strip steak, grilled vegetables and a counter view of the fire.

Going for woodland chic in Humboldt risks redundancy but the vibe at Campground (865 Ninth St., Arcata), the landlocked cousin of Salt, is a bit more Swedish cabin hotel, with its deconstructed forest of birch stalks separating the bar from the tables and the homey blue and white tile flooring. Blackout curtains obscure the Bret Harte Alley view from booths with caged lightbulbs suspended from ropes in rustic imitation of something your grandpa hooked up in the basement. The redwood tattoo on the forearm of the young man prepping vegetables just over the back counter is probably just a coincidence but it's on brand.

A glass fridge stocked with aged beef in the corner is promising, as is the fire in the back of the open kitchen, crackling and spitting embers up through the grill, a stack of firewood on deck below. Billed as an "Argentine-inspired steakhouse," the fire is the star of the show. What to order from the all à la carte menu?
Beef tallow potatoes. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Beef tallow potatoes.
Slim wedges of beef tallow potatoes ($7) arrive sprinkled with parsley and chive in a little cast iron pan. A true rival to French fries, they are perfectly salted, soft inside and rich with the promised beef fat, which also yields a just-crisp exterior. There’s a reason McDonalds worked so hard to replicate the flavor of beef fat for its fries — oil is no substitute.
The 10-ounce New York strip steak. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The 10-ounce New York strip steak.
The 10-ounce New York strip steak ($27) gleams with garlic and truffle compound butter, though the taste is squarely about the tender meat and the wood fire char that makes a wonder of its marbling and rind of fat. On a recent night, the grilled seasonal vegetables with roasted garlic vinaigrette included bright, glossy asparagus and zucchini with a perfect bite and a hit of woodsmoke ($6).
A wedge of s'more pie. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A wedge of s'more pie.
Are you going to eat someplace named Campground and not order the s'more pie? You are not. The hefty graham cracker crust and velvety ganache filling are topped with a dollop of marshmallow cream that's been torched to sleep-away camp toastiness. And you didn't even have to pack a sleeping bag.



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Monday, March 19, 2018

Bread and Sugar: Pan Dulce from El Pueblo

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Clockwise from top: cheesecake, oreja, concha, cinnamon concha and elotito. - PHOTO BY AMY WALDRIP
  • Photo by Amy Waldrip
  • Clockwise from top: cheesecake, oreja, concha, cinnamon concha and elotito.

When fire shut down El Pueblo Market on Broadway in Eureka, it left a sweet roll-sized hole in our hearts and stomachs. While we wait for the market and its wall of baked goods to reopen — soon, we hear, though there's no firm date — we're feeding our pan dulce cravings at its Redwood Acres kitchen, tucked in the right side of the main building (3750 Harris St., Eureka).

Knocking and entering the side door with the pastel El Pueblo sign taped to it feels like visiting a sort of carb speakeasy. You might have to call out for someone to come out from the back, be it owner Engelberto Tejeda or another baker, but that gives you time to browse the rolling racks that nearly fill the tiny storage space.


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Friday, March 2, 2018

A Mess of Ribs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 1:48 PM

Digging into a rack of ribs. - PHOTO BY SAM ARMANINO
  • Photo by Sam Armanino
  • Digging into a rack of ribs.

If fighting over politics isn't intense enough for you, may I suggest ribs? Even within the guidelines of competition judging, our personal and regional aesthetics make the whole business like drawing from a deck of wild cards. Still, the pros will generally tell you that for competition ribs, the meat should cling lightly to the bone, tender but not slipping off by itself.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sub Conscious

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 4:59 PM

Open your mind to pastrami on your Italian sub. - PHOTO BY AMY WALDRIP
  • Photo by Amy Waldrip
  • Open your mind to pastrami on your Italian sub.

Graduations, birthdays, christenings, communions and shotgun weddings — any event worth filling the yard with folding chairs in my hometown back east meant a 6-foot-sub. Laid out on a long table would be a seemingly endless loaf of Italian bread stuffed with layers of salami, ham, pepperoni, provolone and peppers doused in oil and red wine vinegar, with shredded iceberg lettuce cascading from the sides.

You'd carefully take a geode-layered slice, supporting your paper plate with one hand underneath, and make your way to a folding chair, trying to keep your heels from sinking in the lawn. The trick was to sit at the very edge of the lawn so you could get two bites in before somebody talked to you.

Is this a thing you can get here? Almost. From the tiny bar-adjacent storefront that is Deo's Sandwich Shop (428 Grotto St.) — a location that's been turning out sandwiches for some 45 years under a handful of owners — comes a monster of a classic Italian sub, roughly the size of your head ($10). But open your mind to relatively new owner Joe Sandoval's variation: salami, pastrami, provolone, sliced tomato, pepperoncini, fistfuls of shredded lettuce, seedy mustard, mayo and balsamic vinegar (because we're fancier on this coast). The warm, spicy, smoky pastrami works with the traditional Italian flavors and the bread is more substantial and crusty than those backyard wedges. To say seating is limited is an understatement; get your sandwich to go so you can be alone with it, get those bites in before anybody talks to you.



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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Morning, Porkchop

Posted By on Sat, Feb 3, 2018 at 3:44 PM

Free your mind with chicken fried pork. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Free your mind with chicken fried pork.

So if we're willing to blur the line between breakfast and lunch, we may as well luge down the slippery slope to dinner. We're really only an order of steak and eggs away. Abandon labels and be free.

Well, at least until Cafe Waterfront (102 F St., Eureka) stops serving breakfast around 11 a.m. We got a tip chicken fried pork chop was on the specials board ($13.95) and followed it up, though to be honest it could have been chicken fried hammers and we'd still have tried it once.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

It's All Gravy

Posted By on Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 11:22 AM

Biscuits and andouille sausage gravy, cher. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Biscuits and andouille sausage gravy, cher.

In the interest of transparency, I would like to confess that I have been closed minded about biscuits and gravy. Haunted by a decades-ago plate at a truck stop near the border of Texas and Arkansas with payphones in the dining booths, it was hard to accept any variation on the standard dusty-topped, fluffy biscuit all but drowned in peppery, white pork sausage gravy. Only recently have I opened my heart and its attending arteries to anything else.


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