Trip completed. Check. Plants survived. Check. Didn’t kill each other. Check. Tried the local beer immediately upon arrival. You betcha.
The trek across the country from Appalachians to Rockies is over. For those of you scoring at home, the numbers look like this:
- Miles traveled – 2,676
- Days traveled – 10
- Days arrived in advance of our furniture – 4 (and counting)
- Hotels slept in – 5
- Tents slept in – 1
- New beers tasted – 21
- New burgers tried – 5
- Breweries visited – 7
- States entered and/or exited – 9
- States crossed without stopping – 1
- Different state license plates seen and recorded – 48
- Most number of states visited in one day – 4
- Times crossed the continental divide – 5
- Former grad school colleagues visited – 2
- Former grad school colleagues not visited who commented on my posts – 2
- Former grad school colleagues not visited who did not comment on my posts – 17.4285 (rounded up)
- Times visited the gym – 0
- Weight gained – 8.17
So, yes, the pants are a little tighter than when we began this little odyssey. But that didn’t stop us from waddling down the street to the neighborhood restaurant the first night in town.
There the waitron took our drink orders – the Hopzone IPA from Bozeman Brewing Co. for my hop-headed little friend and the Cold Smoke Scotch Ale by Kettle House Brewing Co. out of Missoula for me. She then
proceeded to inform us that the evening’s special was a basket of 20 spicy buffalo wings (aside: calling chicken wings buffalo wings is dumb because everyone knows buffalos can’t fly) and a pitcher of beer.
“But that won’t work for you,” she said, “since you two are drinking from different pages.”
Ah, yes, drinking from different pages. Ranks right up there on the list of mixed metaphors I’ve actually heard individuals utter in my presence, along with such classics as:
- “I’ve got something right up your ballpark”
- “We’re just scratching the iceberg”
- “This isn’t rocket surgery”
and the all-time winner:
- “The ink is in the pudding.”
The best thing is, our waitron was exactly correct. We’ve been drinking from different pages for 15 years now, and expect to until one of us drops dead. As I’ve said numerous times, we’re like left hand / right hand. Each one works well independently, but both work better together.
Why should we expect our beer drinking, and burger eating, to be any different? I like malty and sweet, she likes hoppy and bitter. I like ground beef medium rare, she likes chicken sandwiches marinated in teriyaki.
Yet somehow it works, and is probably how we survived 10 days in constant company with one another trapped in a Mini Cooper and surrounded by plants.
I did get a break from IPA-lapping traveling companion the two times I went to baseball games. Or, a more accurate way to say it, she got a break from me.
But we all made it to Bozeman, Montana in one piece – people, plants, and Mini included. Not sure I’ll be able to say the same for the furniture, which is, according to the moving company, still in Virginia.
Upon arrival, we did try a few new beers. She has sampled two IPAs, the Deschutes Pinedrops and the Horse Thief from Sheriff Harry Plummer’s Outlaw Brewing. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed the Madison River Oatmeal Stout and Outlaw’s Pugilist Chocolate Porter.
At the same time, we’re taking in the dry air and cool nights, along with the 360-degree view of mountains. And even though we know we’re in for a long, cold winter, there’s something comforting knowing that a town of just under 40,000 residents has four local breweries, and perhaps up to three more on the way.
Perfect fodder for plenty of posts by the entire staff at Beer-and-Burgers.com. You can definitely count on more to come. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them all, no matter which page you are drinking from.
— Eric Van Steenburg
Few burgers have challenged the supremacy of The Idiot Burger in Lexington, KY, since the start of this cross-country odyssey began more than a week ago. But now, we have a new contender for the coveted Beer-and-Burgers.com “Best in Burger” award.
Say hello to the Nacho-Cheese Burger at the Library Sports Grille & Brewery in Laramie, Wyoming.
The Library Grille (don’t forget the “e” at the end) is a family friendly sports bar in the downtown area, just a mile from the University of Wyoming campus. But hey, it’s Laramie. Everything is within a mile of campus.
The Nacho-Cheese Burger is just like the Cowboy Burger, of course, which means it’s the traditional burger with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. Except that the Library Gille (don’t forget the “e”) throws jalapenos, bacon, and cheddar cheese on top. Delicioso.
Most importantly, the chefs at Library Grille (don’t forget the “e”) know how to cook a burger. When you ask for it medium rare, you get it medium rare.
It has been amazingly difficult on this trip to get a burger cooked with enough pink in the middle that there’s still some moisture and flavor left in the meat. One restaurant we tried had an extensive list of tantalizing burger options. But when I ordered the Samba Burger and asked for it medium rare, the barkeep informed me that “all our burgers are cooked well done.” Oh good. I like my burgers burnt and tasteless. Yum. Looks like a turkey sandwich for me.
But the Library Grille (don’t forget the “e” at the end) made it right. And the chefs were also generous with the amount of jalapenos. Nothing worse than asking for the “jalapeno burger” and getting something with only one or two slices of that pesky pepper.
If the burger wasn’t enough, the Library Grille (don’t forget the “e”) is also a brewery, and had several of their locally made options on tap. I enjoyed the Steamboat Oats and Cream Stout, which was full of body and creaminess, as its name implies. It also had a touch of chocolate and roasted hazelnuts in the taste. Nicely done.
Finally, the cool thing for the students who attend the University of Wyoming is that when they go to the Library Grille (don’t forget the “e” at the end) they can tell their folks they spent the evening at the library, and they won’t be lying.
I’m not lying when I say the Nacho-Cheese Burger is giving The Idiot Burger a challenge for Best in Burger. And with just a few more days until we reach Bozeman, Montana, it may boil down to a two-burger race.
In sum, if you find yourself in Laramie, Wyoming, I recommend a burger and beer at the Library Grill. Oh crap, I forgot the “e”
— Eric Van Steenburg
I believe it was Aristotle who first said “When in Kentucky, do as the Kentuckians.” Or is it Kentuckionians? Kentuckites? Oh well, who am I to argue with the inventor of the riding lawn mower.
So when we arrived in the metropolis known as Lexington, we knew we needed to fin it. That meant dining at a local establishment and sipping some of the finest Kentucky brews.
To start, we were presented with numerous opportunities. Patty’s son, who lives in Lexington, was kind enough to offer his two favorite burger places. I’d also seen a “top 5 burger joints in Lexington” post online that increased our options to seven. Then, as we drove downtown, past the legendary Rupp Arena where the University of Kentucky’s professional basketball team plays, people were hanging out of every restaurant and parking spaces were suddenly at a premium. This was clearly the place to be.
To be more precise, the intersection of Broadway and Market was loaded with restaurants. Too many options.
But then there it stood, like a shining light acting as a beacon in a sea of darkness … The Village Idiot.
I was home.
I’d read about the place online. The beer selection and burger choices sounded tempting. And, like all of the best “burger joints,” it had more options on the menu than just burgers. That’s a necessity for my IPA chugging traveling companion, who prefers a chicken sandwich of some kind over the beauty of the burger.
We went inside and saw all the draft beers listed on a giant chalkboard. But the bar, where we usually prefer to sit, was packed. Fortunately the hotron (that’s the gender-neutral way to say host/hostess) informed us there was an upstairs bar. And so to second floor we ascended.
There we found a seat at the bar, and the most attentive and informative bartender. Sam made several beer suggestions, and was happy to accommodate our wishes, including getting the Korean Chicken Sandwich without the sandwich.
I was thrilled with Sam’s recommendation of the 35K milk stout from Against the Grain brewery out of Louisville. For the IPAer, he suggested the West Sixth IPA or the Heller Heaven Double IPA, both from West Sixth Brewing. After sampling each (she’s big into samples), she chose the former because of its stronger hop bite. My 35K, by the way, was a perfect blend of dry and creamy. Not much of a head, but easy to drink with very subtle hints of cocoa and coffee.
Burger time. While she ordered the previously mentioned bun-less sandwich, which was chicken topped with a spicy gochujang sauce, I got the signature burger – the Idiot.
This delicious mound of meat featured an almost pink burger topped with cheddar and a huge onion ring, in which the chef chose to put pulled pork. All of this is on a pretzel bun, which I could have done without. Still, the burger was wonderful, and one I would highly recommend.
As for my IPA slurping road buddy, while the West Sixth IPA was fine, Sam then poured her the Stone Enjoy By IPA, which right now is the 07.04.15. This one really hit her sweet spot. Bitter hops in the nose and the back end. An excellent balance of bitter at malt, which for her means more bitter and less malt. And hey, we know it’s fresh.
So maybe the Stone beer wasn’t Kentucky. But everything else was. And for one night, we were Kentuckiers. Aristotle would be proud.
Three thumbs up to The Village Idiot.
— Eric Van Steenburg
Contrary to urban legends, boxed in is neither a hotel nor a mortuary. It is, however, how things have been in the beer ‘n’ burger world the past few months. At least, that’s my excuse for not posting a new entry since March, and I’m sticking to it.
Still, I was surrounded by boxes last weekend, so perhaps that’s the reason for the boxed-in feeling. Fortunately the movers came on Monday and took away all the boxes, and the couch, and chairs, and beds, and tables … you get the picture.
Yes, I’m hooking up the team to the covered wagon and moving the Beer-and-Burgers.com headquarters from one mountain range to another. Leaving the Appalachians and moving into the Rockies. Goodbye Virginia, hello Montana.
But this time I promise my travels will not interfere with my duties as the official taster of the Beer-and-Burgers.com conglomerate. In fact, here’s a taste of what I’ll be posting in the coming months:
- Day-by-day journal entires of the stops along our route from Harrisonburg to Bozeman, and the beers and burgers found within. Tonight — Lexington, Kentucky is about to be in the spotlight. We’ll see if it lives up to its college town rep.
- Reflections of my favorite beer and burger experiences during the two years that my IPA swilling friend and I resided in Virginia. There were plenty. I promise to trim down the list to a baker’s dozen. But you can bet the IPA Challenge at Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, the Shocker burger at Jack Brown’s, and the first time I had the Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter from what is now known as Brothers Craft Brewing will be on the list.
- In-depth analysis of the beer scene in our new home. I’ll tackle Bozeman first, where there are four craft breweries already in place and a rumored two more on the way. Then I’ll take on the entire state of Montana using the Montana Brewery Passport. Some people call it “Beer Country.” I’ll attempt to verify that claim.
- The addition of a beer primer page that could act as a starting point should a craft beer novice stumble upon the blog, or a go-to page for the craft beer drinker looking to expand their range.
- An outside expert has been hired to field thousands of questions that are submitted daily to the Beer-and-Burgers.com website. This will be accomplished by adding a new page that will answer all the questions we get about beer (approximately 28.5 percent of total questions), the burger questions (19.3 percent), and the remaining 52.2 percent that are about mostly movies, music, and sex.
- The most important post, perhaps, and certainly the most ambitious will be my take on the recent lawsuits about trademark infringement being brought against craft breweries. I’m expecting this one to go viral. So be ready.
So there’s your taste of what’s to come. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get on the road. My IPA chugging traveling companion is staring at me, and I can’t tell if she’s ready to go or wants a beer. Probably both.
— Eric Van Steenburg
This one’s off my 83rd album …
“Oh, I’ve been everywhere, man.”
“I’ve been everywhere.”
“I’ve tried a lot of beers, man.”
“I’ve tried a lot of beers.”
“Of beers I’ve had my share, man.”
“I’ve been everywhere.”
“I been to Chicago, Seattle, Scranton, San Antonio,”
“Washington, Grand Forks, Raleigh-Durham,”
“North Carolina, South Carolina, North Dakota,”
“Myrtle Beach, Montana, Minneapolis (four times)”
“Oh, I’ve been everywhere, man.”
“I’ve been everywhere.”
Thank ya. Thank ya very much.
As you can tell, I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, which is why the number of posts on the Beer-and-Burgers blog has slowed considerably. But I really did go to all of those places – and all in the last five weeks. Can you say hectic? I thought you could.
The good news is I did get to sample a nice variety of craft beers in these locations. Here are the highlights:
- Surly Brewing Company (Brooklyn Center, MN) – On a trip to North Dakota, I tasted the Bender and the Coffee Bender in Minnesota (which is just across the river from where I was staying). The Bender is a brown ale made with oatmeal that created a taste similar to a stout. Although it was somewhat dry, I liked the creaminess of the beer, and noticed a little caramel flavor at the end. The Coffee Bender is the sister beer. The addition of coffee to the Bender made it even creamier, making it feel like a coffee stout but with enough caramel sweetness to balance out the bitter coffee flavor. Delicious.
- Two Beers Brewing (Seattle, WA) – Tried the excellent Sodo Brown Ale during a visit to Seattle in February. Heavy on the malt, this beer had a bit of cocoa flavor that wasn’t overpowering, but enough to make it semi-sweet and exceptionally smooth.
- 406 Brewing Company (Bozeman, MT) – The Brown Porter is outstanding. It rivals the Pecan Porter from 512 Brewing Co. in Austin, TX. Obviously naming your brewery after the area code where you live means you can make an excellent porter. Lots of caramel flavor and malty goodness to counterbalance the smokiness at the beginning of the taste.
- Tröegs Brewing Company (Hershey, PA) – The Mad Elf Ale may look like an everyday Amber in the glass, but this Winter ale is the perfect conclusion to anyone’s holiday season. I tasted a hint of chocolate and cherry, but lots of malt from start to finish. At 11% ABV, you probably only need one of these to kick off a celebration. Usually only available through February, so I was lucky to find one during a trip to Scranton, PA in March.
Of course, all the travel meant flight delays, missed connections, and plenty of time spent in airports.
So there I sat, in the Minneapolis airport for the second time, waiting for the same flight going to the same place leaving from the same gate. And both times, I had a four-hour layover. What to do, what to do?
Fortunately, there is a Rock Bottom Brewery in the airport. And even better, it’s right around the corner from the gate where the flight leaves at 8 p.m. for D.C.
Now, I’m not a fan of chain restaurants … nor chain letters or chain link fences, for that matter. (I’m OK with chainmail, if worn correctly.) But I’ve had several good meals and beers at Rock Bottom Brewery in the past. Took some friends to the one in downtown Chicago and had a great time. Used to visit the one in Dallas when it was open. And so I was OK with spending a few hours at Rock Bottom in the Minneapolis airport.
The first time, I was able to enjoy the Winter Warmer and the Chocolate Porter. Both were pretty good. The warmer tasted of molasses and nutmeg, while the porter was exactly as advertised – very chocolatey and sweet. The warmer was perfect with my Laredo burger, which featured a little spice in the cheese and toppings, and was cooked a perfect medium rare.
The second visit exactly one week later wasn’t quite as good on the beer or burger front. The Warmer was gone, and the Porter didn’t go well with that spicy burger. And I think this time the cook let it sit too long on the grill because there wasn’t any pinkness left in the meat.
Still, sitting there wasn’t exactly the worst way to kill four hours waiting for an airplane. So who cares if all I could get was an airporter. If you find yourself hitting Rock Bottom, this is the way to do it.
— Eric Van Steenburg
Just got finished grading 19 projects, 19 presentations, and the semester-long participation efforts of 79 students. You would think I’d be sick of grading. But no. Because now I get to grade what I really want … the world’s greatest burger joint.
OK, the Katy Trail Ice House might not be the best burger joint in the world. But it’s pretty darn good. And I was fortunate enough to be there two days before Thanksgiving, sitting outside on their huge backyard space, eating a delicious burger, drinking a delicious beer, basking in 68-degree sunshine, and watching the beautiful people of Dallas getting their mid-day exercise on the Katy Trail.
I have to admit feeling a twinge of nostalgic remorse as I sat there enjoying myself and watching the world go by. Two reasons for this: 1) I helped build the Katy Trail when I was its executive director from 2002-2009; and 2) restaurants with backyards adjacent to the Trail was an idea I’d pushed on every developer during my tenure, but none would ever support my vision.
Now the Katy Trail Ice House is so popular, the City of Dallas features it several times in its official promo video (look for it around 2:02 and 2:27). It’s location along the incredibly successful Katy Trail is part of the reason. The other is that the place has great beer and great burgers. How great? Let’s find out by putting my How to Rate a Burger Joint grading scale to work. Here we go:
- Can you get it cooked to order? – My preference is medium rare. I want quite a bit of pink in the middle of that slab of meat. Most places are either afraid to serve it that way, or have cooks who don’t know how to do anything but burn it to a crisp. The Katy Trail Ice House delivers. Perfectly. Score: 10.
- Can you get it made to order? – I will never want mustard on my burger, so we’ll always need to 86 that. And if I order the jalapeno burger, it had better not come with sour cream. What Mexican do you know who eats anything with sour cream? Again, the Ice House met my demands. Score: 10.
- Appearance – You can’t just slap down a burger on a plate and expect people to eat it. Presentation does count for something, even at a burger joint. Katy Trail Ice House puts your food on a small tray covered in aluminum foil, chips on the side. It’s probably not what they teach at Le Cordon Bleu, but it works. Score: 7.
- Bun quality – Outstanding bun-to-burger ratio here. Not much else to consider in this bun, however. It’s more or less there to keep you from looking like an animal if you were to simply hold charred beef between your fingers. Score: 7.
- Does it taste good? – Yes, my taste buds were in heaven. It always helps when the burger is cooked to order. But the combination of goodies on top made the whole thing a mouth-watering delight. Score: 10.
- Are there other items on the menu? – My lunch companion often prefers a chicken something to a burger. The Ice House has a grilled chicken Swiss sandwich, a chicken salad sandwich, and a chicken salad salad. A few other options sprinkle the menu, but this place caters to the burger lover. Score: 7.
- How’s the beer list? – In a word, excellent. There are about 50 taps with a range of craft and mass-produced beers. Most are Texas beers or others in the region. I was able to get the 512 Pecan Porter, and my IPA-chugging friend got the Lakewood Hopp Trapp. Would love to see the list expanded to great beer-making states like Colorado, Oregon, and Virginia. Score: 9.
- Is there outside seating? – Holy crap, yes. And the Ice House did it the way I’d recommended to many a developer – throw some gravel on the ground, put out some picnic tables, and serve coffee, water, and beer. In addition to glorious outdoor seating, the Ice House has garage doors that can be opened or closed based on the weather, and lead to the inside seating with a dozen or so TVs filled with every game being played that day. The place even keeps water jugs next to the Trail for the exerciser in need of refreshment. Score: 10.
- What side dishes are available? – Katy Trail Ice House has a few options for chips and dips. We started with the jalapeno bottle caps, which are simply jalapeno slices dipped in batter and deep-fried. Yes, I had jalapenos as an appetizer and the jalapeno burger. I believe it was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who first said “You can never have enough jalapenos.” Grade: 7
- Ambiance – Well, the music is mostly country, which is a demerit in my book. But at least it was classic country and not the pop-country-crap that Nashville has been pushing on us for the last 20 years. The servers are usually quite nice. And the whole thing reeks of casual chic. Excellent place to hang out for a while. Score: 10.
Now we add simply it up. And the Katy Trail Ice House burger joint score is … 87.
That’s pretty good. But hey, I’m a tough grader. Just ask 79 students.
— Eric Van Steenburg