Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Henlopen City Oyster House/Salt Air and Why Bar Seats Are Better

Our good friend and part time chef/cook Michael Mooreland (known on past episdodes of "Michael Does Tapas") directed us to the Henlopen City Oyster House. Experienced to a good time with shellfish and happy hour drinks we hapilly accepted the challenge and rousted our butts for another adventure.

Happy hour starts at 3pm, can that be wrong? The Red Sox playing and beating the Yankees soundly while I slurped a variety of oysters next to the 5 women in the catty entourage of our party? The fact the smallish bar was jammed to standing room only and we nailed six seats within 5 minutes?

I am a believer that no matter how good the food, the ambiance makes or breaks a place. The bar room to the wonderful establishment is clean, bright, and is a shade of beige beachy brightness with weathered beach house planks comprising the walls. It's a place that feels high end and clean, but the cleanliness of the place drives it to that bright uplifting raw bar that instantly becomes a local "Cheers" joint.

Next door, Salt Air. Is it true we visited these establishments more than once? How else could we have known we could easilly water ourselves at the Raw Bar, take a break, and hit the happy hour next door? We will blame it on the bartender...

Habitually we tend to sit at the bar of any establishment. Call it my perpetual nature to kill a pint in less than five minutes, we like the availability of the savvy bartender. It's an upside. There is no awkward introduction from the waitstaff, or awkward waiting time. More importantly, there is not a long wait between drinks. Most importantly however, I feel we get the lay of the land in a new place. Hot spots, places to eat, places to go, things to do. The cadence of the talk is abrubt but generally warm with a New Yorker type attitude of pragmatism. And I dig pragmatic. I don't want to hear your fucking life story at least not for a few more pints...but I like to interact with you on a level that works for both.

At Salt Air, we hit the farm style table high top. Following suit that house made and homemade is the vogue rather than "Store Bought Chic" in the 1980s, we dove into tapas.

Paprika Grilled Wings

Watermelon, Pistachio, Mint, Tomato Salad

Mustard Cream and Country Ham Mussels (Warm bread for Sopping)

Tomato Salad with FRESH Bluecrab Dip

Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese

Scrupulously at each station of happy hour stoppage, our needs were attended, smiled upon, and quickly moved on as to say, "Welcome, thanks for coming, happy to have you, gotta roll". It's like many of our interactions in life. While we navigate with our small cadre of closests, we nimbly go the back and forth between our acquaintances. Bar seats, are the happy acquaintances in our busy life and are the reasons we dine and discriminate accordingly.

The Ode To Tracey and Backstory To Rehobeth

I live a Rock Star life because my wife, and her mother are connected with friends. And these friends have stuff. And thankfully these friends have decided to keep me in the fold. When I tell the stories of the galavanting and charmed adventures, my parents forget I actually work for a living. I'm telling you, it's all in who you know. Enter Tracey Brebner, colleague and mutual friend, and lover of food, travel, and fun. The friend you want your wife to have because she is a strong woman who is unfazed by my penchant for flatulence, and off centered comments. It all means I too get to tag along, I get to be one of "The Girls". And the place where all of this happens is at her house in Rehobeth.

Tracey's house is HUGE...located two blocks off of the beach, it has been in her family for umpteen years. It's a special place because it is a) Huge b) Has a huge fenced in yard(our dogs love to play there) c) She still lets idiots like me visit d) Her family has adopted us as their family as well.

Last year, during the winter, this 1890s home was flooded immensely by leaky radiators. Thusly, it was gutted and quite an adventure to stay in through the summer in which we had nothing but beds and a few walls amongst a ton of rafters. To see the house transform itself back into a modern working beach home has been hardly describable. Albeit, I'd have to say staying there has been much more comfortable now that there is a huge leather man chair with a great flat screen tv and ESPN. As a side note, Matty generally is "one of the girls" whenever we visit. Seriously, it's usually 5:1 girl to guy ratio...the new addition has helped my cause immensely. No longer feeling boxed in by girly girl drinks and manicures, I'm able to open a few beers in the solitude of the leather couch and shut off the world.

Adventure is the name of the game with every visit. Paddle boarding on the Delaware Bay, bumming beers from people moored on boats, raw bar happy hour, and even the tromps in the bushes after a few too many, my hat goes off to a great friend from a benefactor of such a rad place.

Redeem Yourself Rehobeth

Face down in the bushes, expelling the last of the poison, narrowly missing being arrested for trying to sleep in parked cars, I vowed to change. The hangover hurt so much. The wife frowned, laughingly I must admit, but embarrassed by her lush husband. The details we all tried to sort out...where did it all go wrong? Why did it get so blurry? Was it the fact we imbibed a shit ton of liquor while eating a steady heap of happy hour shellfish?

And there I was again, left by my wing man at midnight, my wife roused herself out of bed to find me barely conscious at the bar, some old lady hitting on me, and me completely unaware of anything.

That was Rehobeth. Guests of our friend Tracey, to her family beach house, those were some painful memories that no longer are excusable or "funny" at thirty two years old. July 3rd, 2011 was when my wife and I had our talk of how Matthew Jacobs can be a better human, and more importantly husband. That was when I decided wine and beer are fine for me, but liquor is the source of every silly story that ends up with me being an idiot. At thirty two, I'm afraid being an idiot could one day prove fatal. My column of self worth along with my vitality are too much at stake, thusly I have decided to change.

Visiting painful memories and reliving the bad times is something a Hedonist hates to do. And instead of this being a diary of psychobabble and self help for me, and pain for you, I feel it best to move on...

Inspired by my wife, and best friend of almost seven years, I decided to not dwell on my failures, and get back on the horse. Last week, shockingly, our dear friend Tracey emphatically invited us back to her place of solace. I wrote her a long email apologizing for my past behavior of one too many drinks and dives into the bushes. Unfazed she quickly replied, "I don't care how drunk you get, it's your hangover in the morning"...well said and I nice segue way to the roads of redemption.

For a week we tackled Rehobeth with gusto and vigor. If given the grace to change and make happier memories, this hedonist begs you to take full advantage. And heavens to betsy, it's not like I went to church and got up every day at 5am. Hell to the no! Instead, for an instance in my life I actually practiced self control while enjoying the shit out of our trip. No dives in the bushes, plenty of beer, daily cigars, and no blackouts...

Quite a sober entry that begs the question, where did you go, where did you eat, what did you actually do?

That my friends is the next adventure.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ken's Back Porch Cafe

Bottom line is you have to go. As "Annapolitans" I am ashamed to write we finally went. The experience was expected...informal atmosphere overlooking Back Creek, comfortable staff, on a back porch with ceiling fans blowing...giving way to the star.

Food, bottom line the food was the star. "Best Crab Cake In Annapolis", yes, I would have to say so. On special however was the stuffed back fin soft shelled crab sandwich". Sauteed to perfection, crispy, tender, buttery...paired with a cup of coffee that had nuts to it and a virgin Bloody Mary we collapsed in our king sized bed and dreamt of crabs jumping into a steam pot filled with Natty Boh and Old Bay.

The Crab Cake took the back seat to the special of the day. Relaxed, not pretentious, kind of a Cheersy no fuss it is what it is type place. By the way, it's also B.Y.O.B...note to self, next time at 10:30am, I'm gonna have to have a brown paper bag with something...yep, with something...


I love that anytime you tell someone not in the "know" about a "Tapas" restaurant they automatically say, "Topless Restaurant"? I giggle...and with the globalization of everything less and less people have this reaction.

Small plates...or as far as I am concerned, snacks with drinks. Done well, Tapas are the perfect bar snack as you plow through different wines. If the portions are correct, you can imbibe with little consequence. Done poorly, you drank more than you ate. Call the cab, don't rochambeau it, trust me.

Our latest tapas experience was with the wonderfully talented Michael Mooreland. By day he plays around as the C.F.O. of some muckity muck company. By night and by fun, he cooks, drinks, and enjoys the finer things...fox hunting, traveling...he's a man after my own heart, a fellow brother in the renaissance of what life's meaning truly is.

We had the pleasure of winning a night with Michael and his partner Michael at their residence in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Fashionably late we arrived at the door greeted by their sweet foxhound Kennedy. Michael was dressed in his chef's whites and invited us to sit along the kitchen island. It was a big beautiful kitchen, airy, spacious, yet well decorated and homey. Nothing was too big, your comrades were well within sharing distance and the wine bottles easily could exchange hands without getting up and walking across the table.

Michael introduced his aim that he planned tapas for two reasons. Reason number one, my mother-in-law requested it. More importantly, reason two, it was intimate, fun, and interactive. The mise en place was done thank goodness. Basically, at his request, we too got to put on aprons and fold little dish towels at our waist, and stuff empanadas, jalepenos, or portabello mushrooms (Meghan kept her apron on and ate, I think she was happy just to wear an apron and be involved).

The evening started with cold succulent sherry, toasted and well seasoned marcona almonds with Manchego and another Cow's Milk cheese. It again progressed while our glasses kept being filled and we digressed. Items on the menu were simple things like:

Carmelized Onion Biscuits

Bacon, Cream Cheese, and Onion Stuffed Jalepeno Poppers

Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with Garlic and Paprika)

Stuff Portabello Mushrooms with Onions and Chorizo

Scallop Ceviche


Roasted Pepper and White Bean Dip

The list probably goes on...and it was done amazingly as bottle after bottle of easy drinking Spanish wine evaporated into the recycle bin. We tried a really great 10 dollar Verdejo and an equally wallet friendly Rose made from Garnacha.

Sweet Kennedy sensing our jubilent mood went from lap to lap as his height was perfect for laying his sweet head on your trousers, looked up, and hoped for a bite. Michael and Michael joined in the fun and we all ate and imbibed with a relaxed sense that recapitulates why it is why I write about food. It's the people, it's the story, it's the enjoyment. Tonight, tapas were done right.

When I Found Time to Write...

I hunger to write, and I hunger to eat. As a self proclaimed artist who enjoys the finer things in life I find if I get out of a habit, I tend to fall off completely. It's my all or nothing soul constantly embattled by excess while trying to stay within the lines. It's a bless, a curse, and I often find myself the maker of my own disaster...again, the dumbest smart kid I know.

I find myself wondering what new food and experience to write about. Especially when I find them so meaningful. Perhaps the meaning of food has reached its point in my life. Instead of taking it for granted, I find myself savouring each bite much like I find myself fantasizing to always enjoy life. And as happenstance, my readers have fallen as innocent bystanders saying, "What the fuck happened to your writing...go drum up some business and get in the kitchen"...

I sit, finally, finger to keyboard, and my thoughts immediately fall on my last few really nice experiences with food:

Crab, Crab, and More Crab

My dad loves to poke fun at us Marylanders and our affinity for crabs. He tolerates crabs and actually enjoys picking them. My mother on the other hand could care less. She has no desire to pick, and when/if you are generous enough to give that jeweled backfin, picked in all of it's glory...standing out like a beautiful crab lollipop, she feigns little interest, dips it in butter and says, "Thanks"...

Dad gets a couple of beers in him and says, "I'm happy as a crab in Maryland". After a few beers myself, I get all weepy and think about the meaning of picking crab, the social collateral you have just gained with your hardy party of picking persona. Crab is a religion. It's a right of passage and a cultural phenomenon. It's where battles are sorted and relationships galvanized. The fun of it, you start chugging beers with each delicious dip and slurp of buttery sweet crab. In fact, you're drinking at a rate that will damn near make you pass out if you keep it up. And then your brain says, "I'm sated"...and your hands keep working each crab, extracting everything the little bug has to offer. The beer stays the same height in the bottle, and it starts to warm. Usually it's beer number three for me...or two and a half...and the beer has smudges of butter and Old Bay all over it, the label has started to peel from the condensation.

This summer has been no exception to crab picking madness. The people have changed, but the experiences remained the same. We last picked a few weekends ago at a beautiful spot in Sheperdstown, West Virginia. Picturesque, private ranch on a mountain right next to their pool. It was a friend of the mother-in-law (I swear she knows everyone). We sat in 98 degree heat under a flimsy umbrella and banged our mallets on a spare table held together with duck tape...crabs brought in by us from Annapolis.

And there we were, three beers deep, the remnants warming in the bottle, hands pickled by Old Bay, and glistening in butter...bellies full, and relationships cemented, totally at peace, and Happy as a Crab in Maryland.