Hogwash Review: Two Scotts Barbecue

If you’re a guy and you’re not that passionate about your job (and you’ve glanced at the TV while your wife watches the Food Network), you’ve probably said something like the following to your buddies over a few beers:  “We should totally open a BBQ joint!”  Your buddies then wholeheartedly agreed and you spent the next 15 minutes developing your business model, leaving out some of the “minor” and “inconvenient” details.  A solid plan in place, you tried to keep your momentum by pitching this grand idea to your first major investor… your wife.  Admittedly, you’re overly excited at first and you miss some of her non-verbal (but vital) feedback (i.e. eye-rolls, head shaking, Facebook checking).  She quietly lets you proceed until you stop to catch your breath, then, in the same voice she uses to explain to your toddler why he can’t paint the dog, she reminds you that you have never smoked meat in your life and know nothing about the restaurant business.  You’re frustrated at first because you see her “logic” as lack of vision, so you return to your friends to break the bad news, but before you can one of them says, “We should totally open a bar!”, and you’re off down the next rabbit hole.  

Fortunately for us, this did not happen to Scott Hartmann and Scott Leucht of Two Scotts Barbecue in Grand Rapids, MI.  This small BBQ joint, located across the street from Mitten Brewing Company on Leonard St., has been quietly gaining steam over the last few months in the same manner that all good BBQ joints do… by word of mouth.  I finally had the opportunity to visit Two Scotts for lunch today and I must say I was more than impressed.  From the moment you walk in, you know you’re in for good “Q”.  All the tell-tale signs are there.  The simple menu of meat done right, the crowded ordering line, the quick moving staff, and the absence of unneeded frills that would otherwise distract from your mission: eating meat.  I myself only tried the pulled pork sandwich today, which I don’t mind telling you was the best I’ve had in Grand Rapids, but I did creepily stare at other patrons as they feasted on brisket, burnt ends, rib tips, and chicken.  (I apologize if I accidently made eye contact with you at lunch today.) All of which confirmed that I will be visiting again soon and you should too.  Get down there early because the line gets long and they sell out fast!

To the two Scotts of Two Scotts:  Thank you.  You’re doing God’s work.*  I’d like to meet you someday because I’d be willing to bet you both smell amazing all the time.

*God loves BBQ, which is why there were so many animal sacrifices in the Old Testament.  So take that, Vegans!

The Official Unofficial History Of The Grand Rapids Griffin

The recent news of the Grand Rapids Griffin’s logo change got me thinking about the origin of the hockey team’s mascot.  Where did the mascot come from?  Why the Griffin?  Grand Rapids isn’t exactly know for its thriving griffin population;  I’ve lived here for a number of years now and I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen one of these half eagle/half lion beasts in the wild.  The John Ball Park Zoo doesn’t even have any on display because they’re so rare.*  So in honor of the 20th season of the Grand Rapids Griffins, I decided to do some digging and uncover the truth behind the Griffin.  Here is what I found out:

In 1913, The Pantiland Hotel (not pronounced “Panty-Land”, that’s somewhere completely different) was constructed in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This lavish hotel was soon rated among the top ten hotels in America and drew visitors from all over the region, but it wasn’t just the beauty of the hotel that brought people in.  It was rumored that the building architects (Warren and Wetmore of NYC) had incorporated a secret vault somewhere within the structure, which housed the riches of some of the country’s most well-to-do families.  People from around the country would come to the hotel to weigh in with their speculation on where the treasures were hidden.**  As a symbolic gesture for would-be thieves, Charles Wetmore had a giant granite griffin sculpture erected on the roof of The Pantiland to overwatch the hotel (mythological griffins have always been regarded as protectors of treasure and wealth).

It is there that the great, granite griffin sat for the next 11 years; it’s sharp eyes ever watchful from high on its hotel perch.  But in 1924, everything changed.  America was now in its fifth year of Prohibition and the nation as a whole had long since become moody and irritable.  Desperate for libations of any kind, many people resorted to making their own alcoholic beverages, which would then be sold and served in local speakeasies.  One such speakeasy was located conveniently on the top floor of The Pantiland and all of their beers were brewed on the hotel rooftop which was not visible from the streets below (this is largely regarded as Grand Rapids first micro-brewery and set the city on its path to becoming “Beer City U.S.A.”).  The legend goes that the speakeasies master brewer, a man known only as The Hollander, had a habit of experimenting with ancient Gaelic brewing techniques and recipes from his home country of Ireland.  On one particular night, The Hollander was brewing something so fiercely robust, that the fumes from his concoction woke the giant stone beast.  As The Griffin rose from his mantel and spread his mighty wings, The Hollander stumbled backward into a finished vat of barrel aged stout.  The Griffin, startled by the commotion, took to the air and vanished into the night sky.  As for The Hollander, his tale was received by the masses as nothing more than the addled ramblings of a beer soaked drunkard, though no one could conclusively explain where the statue had disappeared too.

Since that fateful night, local legend and lore has built around the The Griffin.  On many occasions, Grand Rapids citizens have claimed sightings and some have even claimed that the great beast has saved their lives.  Most notably, The Griffin has protected this city from outside threats such as Chicago wolves, smelly ice hogs from Rockford, and the always clumsy Lake Erie Monsters who often summer at Grand Haven State Park.  It is often said that during full moons, The Griffin can be seen perched high atop the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (originally The Pantiland Hotel) overwatching the city that is its greatest treasure.  It was also often said that on hot, sunny, summer afternoons, The Griffin would cool himself in the fountain at Rosa Parks Circle, but I think if this were true someone would have been able to confirm it.

To this day, The Griffin still guards our city’s greatest treasures and as of recently is rumored to have been hired by the Founders Brewing Company to spend the majority of his time in the gypsum mines under Grand Rapids.  He is obviously guarding next years batch of KBS and whatever other secret brews they have down there.  Rumor has it they are trying to recreate The Hollander’s brew that woke The Griffin in the first place; undoubtedly to create more griffin guards as they continue to expand.

*The John Ball Park Zoo was rumored to have had a griffin in the early 1980’s, but it was later discovered that some punk teenagers had just zip-tied a seagull to the back of a tabby cat and released it in the park.  The cat-gull was eventually caught and the animals separated, but the two remained close friends until the cat got hungry and ate the seagull.  

**The staff at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel hates it when you go in and look for the treasure, so please don’t try it.***
***If you do try it, don’t tell them where you heard about it.

August 18, 1590 – Roanoke Colonist Give Governor The Slip

On this day in 1590, the Roanoke Island Colony, off from present day North Carolina, is discovered to have been abandoned.  Returning from a “supply run” (booze run) to England, the colony’s governor, John White, returns to an empty fort.  Not a trace remained of any of the colonists, including John White’s very own daughter and granddaughter.  The only clue to their fate is a single word, “CROATOAN”, which was carved on the fort’s outer wall.  Many historians believe that extreme drought conditions forced the colonists from the settlement.  They then tried to settle the Croatoan Island, fifty miles north, but were abducted by a herd of Bigfoots* along their way.  This is of course not true.  It wasn’t drought that sparked the exodus, it was John White himself.  Recently, a magnificently preserved letter from the Roanoke Colonists addressed to John White himself, has been discovered in the fort’s ruins.  Though clearly never read by its intended recipient, the letter is now widely regarded as the world’s first “Dear John letter” and read like this:

Dearest John,

It is with most profound regrets that we leave this wonderful settlement you’ve created.  We (the colonists) have talked this over at great length and feel that you are just not the governor for us.  Its not you, it’s us.  We are getting older and just don’t have the energy to keep up with your late nights, excessive drinking and loud music (the natives next door have started to complain about the noise and have threatened to send a raiding party if it persists).  We need a governor who is ready to settle down and start a serious colony.  

If we’re being frank, all of us are more than a little tired of your attempts to “lighten the mood” with silly games like “Crazy Hat Friday” and “Pajama Day”.  We are starving, John, and this doesn’t seem like a smart use of time.  Not to mention the fact that none of us own pajamas or more than one hat (none of which are crazy, except for Billy’s sombrero).  Also, your rule that everyone has to take their shoes off before entering the fort is absurd.  The floor is dirt, John.  Dirt.  Stop being a jerk.  And finally, just like we said, the natives didn’t steal your wallet, you just misplaced it.  You’re daughter found it in the pocket of your pants.  We’d suggest apologizing to Chief Hugging Bear; he seemed pretty ticked off about the things you said and about the name you’ve given him.

Because of these reasons, we have decided to relocate to a new colony far away.  We know that you have attachment issues, John, so we have decided against disclosing the location.  Please don’t try and contact us.  If we need anything, we’ll get ahold of you.  We know you’ll do great, John, you just need to find the right people.

Best of luck,

The Colonist

It is now thought that the carving of the word “CROATOAN” was done by the neighboring Native American tribe; done so in an attempt to get John White to go look for his colonists somewhere else.  John White did in fact go look for his colonists on Croatoan Island and never returned to Roanoke, so I guess it worked.  The colonists were never seen or heard from again because they were eaten by Bigfoots as I said earlier.

*Bigfoots used to roam the American forests in herds until they were hunted to extinction** in the early 1600’s for their magnificent pelts and their sweet meat.  Pickled Bigfeet was a favorite treat among early American settlers.
**They’re not extinct.

Vegas Reviews: Giada At The Cromwell

Quadrello di Bufala.  Fegolotto. Branzino.  Confused?  So was I.  Still am actually.  These were just a few items from a menu I could barely read, but it turned out they all translated remarkably the same: delicious.

Let me make one thing clear.  I am by no means a “fine diner”.  In fact, a few short years ago, if you’d have shown me a menu devoid of words such as “blooming onion”, “sampler platter” and “cowboy burger”, I’d have run for the hills (which is where I grew up).   For a long time, I didn’t trust a restaurant that served only modest portions.  Fortunately for me and my taste buds, I married a woman who had a healthy adoration for The Food Network and more specifically for Giada De Laurentiis.  I will admit that on more than a few occasions I have watched along with her; mostly when the recipes involved Italian bacon or pancetta, as Giada calls it (Pancetta is similar to American bacon except it uses more elaborate hand gestures).  So naturally, when the opportunity came up to visit my brother-in-law in Las Vegas, my wife jumped at the opportunity to make reservations at Giada’s restaurant in The Cromwell on the Las Vegas Strip.

The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving at Giada is that everyone smiles at you.  The staff that is.  Not the the other patrons, because that’d just be weird.  More than a few times, I found myself looking around and making accidental eye contact with waiters, waitresses, pepper-grinder guys*, and even chefs, and always getting a friendly smile in return.  If you’re anything like me, an unfortunate side effect of growing up in today’s society is that I’m immediately suspicious of anyone who makes unprompted kind gestures.   So you can imagine my befuddlement when a kindly chef beamed a grin at me as I headed back to my seat from the restroom.  He must have thought I had a nervous tick from the ferocity at which I checked to ensure my fly was up or that I didn’t have a hitchhiking swatch of toilet paper dragging from my shoe.

Our waiter later explained the happy nature of the staff as being the result of good management and an owner that cares.  As it turns out, Giada herself makes frequent visits to the restaurant to check up, tweak the menu and of course ensure no “blooming onions” or “cowboy burgers” have made their way on to the list of offerings.

In hindsight, I have a different theory about all the smiles.  I think the staff found joy in knowing that I was about to have one of the best meals of my life and everything I’d eat for a week after that was going to taste like garbage in comparison.  A little sadistic, you might think.  Maybe, but I have no regrets.

Now I’m not a food critic, so I’m not going to try to describe to you in detail the transcendent taste of the Spicy Italian Sausage Arancini nor the heavenly velvet texture of the Crab and Scallop Risotto. And I would never be able to do justice to the silky Chocolate Torte with a hazelnut crunch, so I won’t even try.  What I will tell you is that when I left, I understood.  And every stranger I passed for the rest of the evening got a great big beaming smile from me.  And I secretly hope it made them uncomfortable.

*The pepper-grinder guy must have some sore arms at the end of every day, because the thing is bigger than a baseball bat.  Serious.  You could take out some kneecaps with that thing.

**In the mid 1950’s, the mafia hitman Johnny “Mr. Pepper” DiSanto (no relation to Dr. Pepper) was notorious for dispatching his victims with a similar oversized pepper grinder.

Vegas Reviews: OMG! Kittens

Vegas Reviews: OMG! Kittens

Las Vegas. Sin City. Little Gomorrah. However you may know it, Vegas has always been a home for temptation. “What happens here, stays here” they say. But now there is this:  
It happens fast. You’re pacing swiftly across the casino floor at 7:13 am, your $12 Starbucks in hand. More than a little proud of yourself, you keep your eyes locked on the gritty green carpet in front of you as row upon row of glitzy slot machines dance by. An older woman dragging an oxygen tank briefly chokes on her cigarette and you glance up. That’s when you see it. It’s different from the other machines and that’s why you take notice. There are no scantily clad women or odd cartoon-like characters adorning the top of this machine, just the solo face of an adorable furball with the words “OMG! Kittens” underneath. Your gate falters and you come to a stop in front of its neon glow.  

What possible secret could these kittens hold that would warrant such an exclamation of ‘Oh My God’? 

Before you can answer yourself, you’ve taken a seat and put money in the machine. Rational thought is gone as you pray for five “Mr. Whiskers” in a row and those jackpot bells. But Mr. Whiskers never comes. Less lucrative kittens like “Bubbles” and “Fuzzball” whir mockingly down the screen, but never in the right order. You spin the kittens over and over, but the machine remains silent save for an occasional mechanical meow. Your money is gone. The once adorable face of Mr. Whiskers now stares down at you with malevolent eyes. You try to meet his gaze, but your shame doesn’t allow you too. Instead, you slink from the seat and find the quiet comfort of the gritty green carpet once again as you speed away. Damn you, Mr. Whiskers. Damn you to hell.