Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lunch Review: Mayberry

With Mayberry adopting their new lunch menu choices and with the opening of Mayberry Foodstuffs, I figured now was as good a time as any to make another visit. I think I'm the only one in the world who hasn't been blown away by the Mayberry restaurant since it's opened. I've been there twice before for lunch and though it was definitely not bad, I just wasn't wowed. I haven't visited for brunch or dinner, though, so I can't speak to that.

I have no idea why the dishes I've tried haven't been a big hit with me. Everything about their ginormous burger sounds delicious (and it sure as heck looked delicious), but it just didn't do it for me. Same with the grilled cheese. Sure: both of them were good; just not as good as the sum of fresh, amazing ingredients would indicate. I think this is a classic case of "it's not you -- it's me". Enough people looove Mayberry that it makes me skeptical of my own taste buds.

For this reason, and because Chef Josh is so awesome, I decided to keep at it until I found something I really liked. With the new menu change, I figured now is as good a chance as any.

I walked over on a snowy day, and because the office was pretty empty, I had to get my order to go to hold down the fort. I was really torn between the Jive Turkey, which is a pressed sandwich with thick slices of turkey; apricot mustard; havarti; greens and pickled onion, and the Humdinger, a potato stuffed with pot roast and root veggies (covered with cheddar and gravy, of course). After going back and forth, I decided on the Jive Turkey and waited on my order.

My order came up and I headed back to my office. I opened up my box to see what my prey would be for lunch, and here's what I was delighted to find:

I realize my phone's camera doesn't do this sandwich justice, but the perfect press marks on the crusty bread, the creaminess of the havarti, the tenderness of the thick cuts of turkey, and the slight tartness of the pickled onions all came together perfectly. This sandwich is a great concept and it was put together almost perfectly. It was actually this delicious:

If I could make a tiny suggestion or two, they would be (1) let the onions pickle just a little bit longer and (2) pleeeeeease let us sub in other sides for the greens. While the greens are fine, they don't bring anything to the table (especially when comparing them to the tremendous tater tot casserole).

I have to say, this meal has really changed how I view Mayberry. I will most definitely be back for the Humdinger, and I am greatly looking forward to it. 

(Also, as an aside, if you haven't been over to Mayberry Foodstuffs, get over there! They have pretty much everything you could think of, from wine and craft beers; to fresh-ground peanut butter; to bulk olive oil; to, well, you get the point. I got some beer and wine from them today and greatly look forward to their selection in the future. Thanks and welcome to the neighborhood!)

Mayberry on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Very Beery Christmas

Wednesday is my usual rest day for running and when I take a rest day, I like to go enjoy a few beers. Yesterday was no exception, so after work I decided to brave the cold and walk over to The Lackman.

The Lackman is easily one of my favorite bars in Cincinnati and has really been a great asset to OTR since it opened. It really feels like a neighborhood bar; patrons seem to know each other there. I love it because they carry a tremendous, rotating stock of drafts. I really enjoy going in there and being able to try two or three things I've never had before. The staff there is amazing, too. I'm not one of the neighborhood regulars, but I'm in enough for them to recognize me and greet me warmly. That makes all the difference in the world.

After coming in from the cold, I ordered a 21st Amendment Back in Black, an aptly named black IPA. I'm a big IPA fan, but haven't really delved into this style of beer, so it was very interesting to me. You have the sweet, almost burnt taste that accompanies many darker beers up front followed by a hoppy aftertaste. Not my favorite beer in the world, but I would really like to try others of the same style. They have something for everyone, though. For the non-beer drinkers, they have wine and a full bar.

My phone died after this, so no pictures, but I also had an Ommegang Adoration and a Bell's Two Hearted. The Bell's I have had about a million times, but the Adoration was a new one. I believe it is a Belgian strong ale; very dark and quite sweet. It will knock your boots off at 10% ABV, though, so sip slowly.

I was starving by this point, so we headed across the river to Keystone Bar and Grill for some mac and cheese and other assorted noms, accompanied with a Founder's Double Trouble, another aptly name beer (this one being a double IPA). Delicious food, but again, no pictures.

Now the best part: we get home and get to exchange presents. I got a bunch of great stuff from my fiancee, including a portable beer journal so I can take notes and embarrass myself at bars more than I already do and The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. Either of these would be great gifts in the future for friends or family who have a hankering for good beer. Obviously I love them. She sure knows what I like. That must be why I'm marrying her.

What a great day. Good beer and good company. What else could you ask for? (Other than to not be dragging the next morning because you maybe had one too many good beers and slept through your alarm clock by 45 minutes.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Modern Library Challenge: #82 - Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

"Angle of Repose is a novel about Time, as much as anything--about people who live through time, who believe in both a past and a future. . . . It reveals how even the most rebellious crusades of our time follow paths that our great-grandfathers' feet beat dusty."
        -Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose, to put it as simplistically as possible, is about Lyman Ward's efforts to write the history of his Grandmother and Grandfather's time as settlers in the West. Un-simplistically, it is a book about marriage, loss, regret, and longing. It is a touching book, to say the least.

The narrative flips back and forth between Lyman's struggles in his life in the 1970's and writing his Grandmother's history in the and excerpts from the book itself. The troubles he faces are myriad: a skeletal disease which confines him to a wheelchair; a mix of longing and contempt for a wife who left him when his disease struck; a son who wants to send him to a convalescent home; and the writing of the project itself. There is a great deal of introspection throughout the novel, even inserting itself as editorial in his Grandmother's history.

Speaking of the history: it focuses on Susan Ward a country girl - turned New York socialite, writer, and artist - turned pioneer wife. Throughout the novel, the latter two distinction - socialite and pioneer wife - are in direct, vicious conflict. Susan feels regret at compromising her professional and social career by moving West; regret which clashes with her loyalty and faith in her stoic, forgiving husband Oliver. As time passes and Susan grows into middle age, the regret begins to tilt the scale against loyalty and faith, which is reflected in their marriage. As of this tension builds to a heartbreaking climax that I am, of course, am not going to reveal to you.

Stegner's writing in this novel is tremendous. The wonderful description of the places in which they settle reflects the state of the Wards' marriage: from their beautiful, lively time in Mexico to the sterile, lifeless settlement later in their lives in Idaho. His transition between the two narratives is seamless and sometime both narratives run simultaneously. His portrayal of the West is easily the best I've ever read; escaping stereotypes both positive and negative.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone, not just fans of Western subjects. Really, though it takes place in the West, it is not a Western. The story of the difficulties of marriage and regret for what could have been could take place in any setting, in time or place. The prose is detailed, yet easy to read. Overall, just a great book. There's a reason it won a Pulitzer prize when it was published.

I give Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner four out of five stars.

Next up: #81 - Adventures of Augie March  by Saul Bellow

On deck: #80 - Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Modern Library 100 Best Novels Challenge

Between the time I moved to Cincinnati in May and started my job in July, I desperately needed something to do. This wouldn't normally be an issue, but since I was not yet receiving paychecks, I had to find something to do which was free. Enter the Modern Library 100 Best Novels.

This list was constructed by what I imagine is a bunch of crusty, old white men (in other words, publishers). By design, the list only includes novels from the 20th century.  It has been criticized relentlessly since it was released  for focusing too much on Western authors and, in particular, Western male authors. These criticisms are appropriate, but all "best of" lists are going to be somewhat arbitrary in their rankings and, due to societal constraints, a large majority of published writers in the early to mid-20th century were white men. I can only imagine how many literary masterpieces written by women and minorities were tossed in the dust bin because of racist and/or sexist publishers.

Regardless of all of the criticism, I decided that with all of the hours (and days) I had to waste, it was high time to start becoming cultured. I opened a library account and went to town. I actually started my first novel (#100: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington) and roughly five months later I am at #82. Some books have been amazing (Sophie's Choice) and others have been terrible (The Ginger Man). Most of the others have fallen somewhere in between. All in all, I haven't been tremendously impressed, but I'm hoping the quality will get better as I move down the list. At #1 stands my Mordor, my Mt. Everest, my final adversary: Ulysses. The thought of it horrifies me, but I still have plenty of time before I have to confront it.

Speaking of #82, it is Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. The story focuses on a paraplegic former history professor who is writing a biography of his grandmother. I know it sounds boring, but it's really not. I'll cover it in more detail when I finish it and type up a review. I only have 100 of so pages left, so it shouldn't be too long.

So that is the Modern Library 100 Best Novels Challenge. I hope some of you actually find this interesting and are willing to join me in this journey. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a new favorite book in this list. In the meantime, feel free to check out the books on the list. I've strike through'd those novels which I've already read.

So, yeah...

...I'm starting a blog. As someone who isn't a photographer, isn't a great writer, and isn't a celebrity, why would I start a blog? You know: I'm about as clueless as you, my non-existent audience, is. I once had a semi-successful music blog while I was in college, but I sort of grew tired of it and haven't posted anything since. And here I am now. I guess the reason why this endeavor is starting is that my roots are starting to sink in Cincinnati and I'd like a way of chronicling my time here. If other people read it, neat; if not, then at least I have some sort of idea what my life was like in my first year in Cincinnati.

So what is this whole thing going to be about going forward? Me, primarily, and the things I like. The things I like most are books, beer, food, and movies, so this blog will probably get a heavy dose of those topics. This blog is also about my experiences with Cincinnati, so you will more than likely get some posts concerning me cavorting around the city.

I suppose I'll give a quick "about me" and then send this message off into the interwebs:

I grew up and went to undergrad in Michigan, moved to Houston for a job after graduation, moved to Indianapolis for graduate school, and moved to Cincinnati for a job in May 2010. I noted the things I like above, but as for what I loved: I am engaged to be married in June 2011. I enjoy city living and have a great deal of contempt for suburban life, especially when those suburbanites stand in the way of downtown progress (see: streetcar). I am interested in urban policy and work in a fulfilling job where I get to help those less fortunate than myself on daily basis. Unexpectedly, I've fallen for Cincinnati and hope I get to live here for awhile.

I think that should cover it. With that, I'm going to sign off. I hope to provide some entertainment or useful information at least once every so often. I'm sure I'll have little to add to the content that the great blogs on the right have already said, but maybe I'll find my niche. And to you Cincinnati bloggers whose content I voraciously consumed after I moved here: thank you so very much. You've made my transition into Cincinnati much more smooth than I could have ever hoped. Keep up all of your great work.