Sunday, June 12, 2016

Texas Roadhouse - Joplin, MO

Yesterday I tried a new to me restaurant. It was the Texas Roadhouse in Joplin. Let me start by saying that I’m not a huge fan of national chain restaurants. There are a few around that I enjoy what they have to offer, but for the most part, I like Mom & Pop places or regional restaurants with a handful of locations. Texas Roadhouse is nationwide but I wasn’t going to hold that against them if I haven’t been to eat there. I’ll try anything at least once. Plus, my mom and dad like it and wanted to eat there. We were seated and I began perusing the menu. As I was headed to our booth, I espied the beer taps and saw that they had Shiner Bock so I ordered one when Alyssa came to take our order. A side note here: I lived in South Texas for a long time. I had a lot of friends that were Mexicans and some of them had thick accents. They pronounce Shiner as ‘Chiner’. That will forever be stuck in my head so I had to be careful when I ordered by pint of Shiner with an S-H. Back to the menu. They had meat and lots of what you might expect and a steak joint. I settled on the sirloin cooked medium of course and grilled spicy shrimp. Our waitress and all the wait staff around us were really professional. They were courteous, knowledgeable about their menu, prompt, accurate, and appeared to be glad to be there. I’ve been in retail and worked in restaurants for almost three decades. I know sometimes work sucks. I don’t let it deter me from giving the best customer service I possibly can. These men and women all seemed to be at that high standard level that I hold myself to when I deal with the public. I knew if the food was good, I would be a devout customer. We all got our plates and, as I quickly discovered, the food was very good. The steak was perfectly cooked. The skewered shrimp were spicy and delicious. The Caesar’s salad was good. The bread and butter were super tasty. The beer was cold. The Cubs were playing on a television by the bar. I couldn’t find a single thing to complain about. In a world full of mediocre restaurants, Texas Roadhouse will surpass your expectations. Although I didn’t see to many things that vegetarians would eat, you can be sure that if you’re a carnivore, you’ll find something good. Come to think of it, why would a vegetarian go into a steak house in the first place? Go to M&M Bistro downtown! It’s delicious too. I can honestly say that the Texas Roadhouse will be at the top of my list of national chains I won’t mind going to visit when the hunger pangs strike. Thanks to Alyssa and the crew in the kitchen. Go see if there’s one near you at their website

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rocca delle Macie - Sasyr 2011

In the past, I have been called an oddball. It used to make me very self-conscious but as the years went by, I realized that the people calling me that were so boring that it made me glad I wasn’t like them. Better to be an interesting oddball than a stick in the mud plain old human. Being an off center guy, I found that all the things in life that I enjoy tend to be a bit out of the ordinary. This brings me to the wine that I discovered for myself. It’s called Sasyr.

Rocca delle Macie is a pretty cool Italian winery that has produced some really great wines over the years. The winery is actually one year younger than I am. You’ll have to look that up yourself! It was established the Chianti Classico zone by Italo Zingarelli who produced some wildly popular Italian films. The winery and its traditions were passed down to Italo’s kids. His son Sergio took the helm and made RdM a worldwide wine brand. Among their non-traditional wine collection is what I took home with me last night; Sasyr.

 Sasyr is a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah. Yeah. That sounds kind of weird, right? It’s not. These guys had the innovative thought to blend one of Italy’s favorites with one of France’s favorites. The result is Euro-riffic. On first taste, it was a waterfall of cherry flavor typical of a nice Chianti. The second mouthful showed the other side of the wine, the 40% helping of Syrah. This opened the wine up to flavors of other dark berries, white pepper, and the faintest hint of clove. I would imagine the clove is undetectable, but the smell of cloves is one of my favorite things and I happened to pick up on it. Overall, the wine was fruity and juicy. It had medium tannins which means it didn’t make my face pucker. Smooth and fruity, relaxed and easy to drink, this wine is a no-brainer. If you’re looking for an oddball in the wine department, I’ll be there and so will Rocca delle Macie’s Sasyr. Enjoy it!

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Philbrook Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Exhibit

I don’t get to visit museums as often as I would like to do. When I lived in San Antonio, I would go to the McNay Museum quite often. It was a fifteen minute drive from my house, it held the largest collection of Impressionist works outside of France, and it was free. I always made a donation when I went but it was nice to know if I was short on cash, I could still go see some of the most beautiful art in the world. The McNay was a mansion that was turned into a museum when the matron of the house passed away. This is much the same story as the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Even though Tulsa is about an hour and thirty minutes away, I go there as often as time allows. It doesn’t hurt that I can stop by my favorite sushi spot or Irish pub after meandering through the halls of the Philbrook. This museum is similar to most well curated museums in that, in addition to the wonderful permanent collection, they have a gallery that hosts a rotating cavalcade of visiting exhibits. One such exhibit that I recently wandered through was the Andy Warhol exhibit In Living Color.

Andy was one of those artists that was referenced in every art book that mentioned the 19th century at all. I saw the soup cans and the Marilyns but he seemed like a novelty to me when I first started getting in to art. What I didn’t know and what I would eventually learn was Andy Warhol was a mad genius. He was a master of repetition and slightly altered repetition. If you have ever seen an entire series of his screen prints, you would see the exact same image repeated over and over but with each next print being a different set of colors. The Philbrook gathered multiple prints of the same piece and displayed them together. It gave patrons a close look at the play of colors that Warhol reveled in. The museum had some of the Marilyn pieces, the camouflage works, Chairman Mao, and Big Electric Chair among others. Each one was different colors which made them all look very different even though the image itself was the same. This alone proved that Andy was an avid experimentalist. And the results were fantastic. But the Philbrook didn’t just display the Warhol pieces, they also displayed the pop art and op-art works that influenced Warhol’s decision to do these color adventures. Seeing them side by side with the Warhol works was eye opening and important. I applaud the museum for their level of creativity with this exhibit. It was well worth the trip to Tulsa. Of course, when the next new show hits the changing gallery, I’ll be there. Entrance to the museum is $9 for adults and $7 for students and senior citizens. There was also an extra $6 charge for the Warhol exhibit, which I was happy to fork over. How often do you get to see works of art that you would normally only see in books or on-line. And honestly, that is no comparison to seeing the real thing in person in living color.

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Big Electric Chair

Cline's Cashmere Red 2012

When you think of cashmere, the memory of that sweater that your sister borrowed and never returned might come to mind. It was soft and light weight but strong and comfy. Well, you could easily use those same adjectives to describe Cline’s Cashmere Red.
Sometimes when I’m watching a movie, I see someone pour a glass of wine and I think to myself, “That looks like a great idea!” So, I pause the show and go grab a bottle of wine out of the cabinet. I have a wide range of wines in the lock up, from the C.A.T. (Cheap And Tasty) wines to midrange to special occasion wines. Since it was a Saturday night and I hadn’t had any wine all week, I decided to go midrange which, to me is between $15 and $30. Cashmere Red clocks in at around $18 depending on your wine shop.
Cashmere Red is a GSM or Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend. Technically, it’s really an MSG wine but that sounds more like that gross flavor enhancer than a tasty wine. This blend is of wine is a little over half Mourvedre and close to equal parts of Syrah and Grenache. This has been a successful blend for quite a few wineries including some of the houses that make Chateauneuf du Pape. It works well because it combines the dark berry and plum flavors and higher tannins of Mourvedre, the bright red berry and lower tannins of Grenache, and the Syrah adds all the complex flavors like all-spice, clove, chocolate and mint to name a few. Combined in the right amounts, these wines can be truly satisfying for even hard to please wine lovers.

Cashmere Red is all of the above descriptors, soft, comfortable, rich fruit, mid-tannin, complex and yet easy to drink, and not super expensive. Even though I was just sitting on my sofa watching a super hero film and not drinking it with food, I know this wine can pair well with steaks, chops, grilled winter veggies, or chocolate cake…or all of those together. Well, I need to go plan my next dinner with steaks, squash, chocolate cake and Cashmere. It’s gonna be good!

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Prisoner Red Blend 2013

I have never been to prison. I’ve had my fingerprints taken a couple of times, but that’s neither here nor there. Honestly, I’m older and wiser now so I avoid activities that could get me pinched. Now, the closest thing I ever want to be to iron bars is The Prisoner Red Blend from The Prisoner Wine Company.

Winemaker Jen Beloz has taken the time to traverse the hills of California to meet and buy grapes from some outstanding vineyard owners. She found great producers in Calistoga, St. Helena, and Yountville that take great pride in growing some of Cali’s best. For The Prisoner, she has gathered Zinfandel, Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and a grape you don’t hear about very much, Charbano. Also known as Bonardo in Italy where it originated, Charbano is the second most grown grape in South America, but it’s presence in the U.S. isn’t very well known. Just FYI, this grape is mostly used for blending. It adds a deep purple hue and some mid-level tannins. It’s a good grape to soften wines like Cabernet and Petite Sirah without thinning them out or detracting from the flavors they bring to a blend.

The Prisoner is a fairly bold wine but overly so. I popped the cork and had half a glass straight away. I decanted the rest and let it hang out for about a half hour. The difference between my first glass and the aired out glass was obvious and wonderful. The tannins were tight and the alcohol bite was sharp until it had a chance to relax in the decanter. What emerged from my duck-shaped decanter was smooth and silky. It was one of those wines that tasted so good I forgot to figure out what the taste profile was. I just enjoyed it. A lot! Upon closer inspection, I got a whole lot of bright cherry and twangy raspberry. There were also some weird hints of dark coffee and vanilla in the background that highlighted rather than distracted from the fruit. The finish on it was kind of a cherry, pomegranate zing and the faintest air of a fresh fig. I know all of this sounds like it was a bright and shiny wine, but it was super dark red with a lot of happy character, like a prisoner who’s about to be let out on parole. He was dark and brooding on the outside, joyous and mirthful on the inside. It will set you back a few sawbucks retailing for about $40, so if you’re like me, it’s a “once in a while wine”. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re out looking for a nice bottle of vino, pick up a prisoner…I mean pick up THE Prisoner. Cheers.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Black Mesa ES-ESB Beer

In the United States, there seems to be a competition over who can cram the most hops into a bottle of beer. While that’s perfect for all of my IPA loving friends, it leaves folks who enjoy more traditional brews searching for something that fits their tastes. Something I was lucky enough to have discovered for myself was Black Mesa Brewing Company. Those lads know how to brew good beer that doesn’t make your whole face pucker.

Brad Stumph the science guy and Chris Sanders the brewmaster guy started Black Mesa Brewery in Oklahoma City in 2012. As with any new business they had high hopes, a clear vision, and untapped potential. (Pun intended.) They were cranking out some great beers and sending them to local bars and package stores. Then in May of 2013, a tornado bent them over the beer barrel and demolished their facility. At the time I read the article, I hadn’t heard of the brewery, but I still shed a little tear for them. Since I am a business owner and a beer lover, I felt heartbroken for them. But after the initial shock of the event, they undauntedly started looking for a new place to brew. They looked at a few larger sized breweries in the Midwest and decided to contract brew with the really cool guys at O’Fallon Brewery that is in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.

Most people, who have had a terrible event happen to them like a tornado, choose to rebuild. The disruption or devastation of their lives is a battle cry to overcome it. But Brad and Chris did what I would have done. They thought about it and weighed their options. Here comes my soapbox rant about my home state. Oklahoma has some of the worst bullshit laws pertaining to alcohol in the entire country. We still have 3.2% ABV beer that is sold in grocery stores and convenience stores. It can be stored and sold cold. Liquor stores can carry regular strength beer like the rest of the country, but it has to remain room temperature. That is just one out of dozens of inane laws that people in the alcohol business have to deal with. The law that Black Mesa faced was they were not allowed to have a tasting room in their brewery if they didn’t offer 3.2% ABV versions of their beers. They weren’t about to ruin beer just to appease laws that were passed in 1959 and haven’t changed since. They decided they would not rebuild in Oklahoma until that law changes. I wholeheartedly applaud them for that. Brad said in an interview, “We are one of the remaining 3.2% states. A change in this law would give us the confidence that a physical brewery could be a viable business in our home state.” Once again, Oklahoma loses out on a wonderful business because it won’t progress. But luckily for you and me, they continue to brew and sell. They’ve even started distributing in Kansas City. Hooray for them!

I’ve tried all but one of their beers, and last night I had one that was new to me. It was their ES-ESB. That stands for Extra Special-Endless Skyway Bitter. Holy moly, it was delicious. They have said in the past that they are going for more of an Old World style of brewing beer and this one hit it right on the nose. Reminiscent of old British-Style Bitters, this beer has a lower hop content that lets the malt shine bright. The guys also decided to age this beer in used Remy Martin Cognac barrels for about seven months. This added an oaky vanilla taste to the already strong toasted grain, cream, and nut flavors. I probably could have just had this hefty beer for dinner by itself, but I was glad to add it to my meal. I was having some pork chops with sautéed onions and shrooms for dinner and this beer tasted like it was meant for it. I’m honestly putting Black Mesa ES-ESB on a short list of favorites brews. Nice work, fellas.

Black Mesa ES-ESB is 9.6% ABV and I’m not sure about the IBUs

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Castillo de Monseran Old Vine Garnacha 2009

The rain in Spain makes puddles in my brain…I don’t think that’s how that old saying goes. At any rate, the rain in Spain DOES make the wonderful Garnacha vines grow to produce some of the best table wines around. One such wine that I tried recently was from Castillo de Monseran.

Monseran is part of a large organization called the Bodega San Valero. San Valero was started in 1945 with a collection of 60 grape growers and wine producers. Those 60 growers started the cooperative as a way for everyone to benefit from everyone else’s knowledge. Imagine 60 small businesses pooling their information to raise each other to a new level of success. That’s what they did. Now San Valero is home to roughly 700 grape growers all working to bring world class Spanish wines to you and me. In total, they have 4,000 hectares of vineyards to oversee, maintain, and choose from when it’s wine making time. That is nearly 10,000 acres of grapes. A great number of these vines are grown in bush vines instead of trellised vines like what you see in most viticultural areas. No long rows of continuous vines, just big fat grape bushes. I’ll include a photo at the bottom so you can see what I’m talking about. It looks so cool.

One of the best growing grapes in this area is Garnacha. The French picked up some of these vines, took them home, planted them, and called them Grenache. They make Rhone wines and the famous Chateauneuf du Pape wines from this grape. It was also thought to be the first grapes that were planted in Australia when it was being colonized after the initial rush of convicts were sent there. Castillo de Monseran is made by Hugh Ryman with the help of Jesus Prieto from San Valero’s wine making crew. What they were going for with this wine was Old World meets New World and they accomplished that quite deftly.

This Garnacha is harvested, fermented, and aged in small oak barrels for a short period of time. The grape juice is bottled within a year of its squish date, or maceration date for those that prefer proper terminology. Doing this maintains a high level of freshness in the wine. That’s the New World part of the wine. The Old World part is the flavor profile that this wine exhibits. With the main flavors coming through as sloe, red currant, and a hint of herbs, the wine stays true to its origins of the Spanish countryside. It has a medium tannin level due to the addition of about 10% of Mazuela grape juice. It gives the lighter Garnacha a little deeper color and heavier taste. Even with a heavyweight in the mix, it is wonderfully easy to drink and it should be consumed sooner rather than trying to cellar it for later. This Old Vine Garnacha has enough complexity to not be a plain old table wine, but it’s simple enough to pair with nearly any dish you would want to have it with. I had mine with beef tips and au jus with chive laden mashed potatoes over sour dough toast. It was perfect.

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Bush Vines