Sunday, February 25, 2007

Black Sheep - Guest Review

The black sheep reviews The Black Sheep
Location: 1117 Chorro St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Phone: 805-544-7433
Hours: 11a-2a (kitchen closes at 10p)

by Daniel Whittington

I first discovered this dandy of a pub two weeks after they opened next door to my favorite cigar shop. I thought, “What could go better with a nice Hemingway Short Story than a whiskey?” “Not much”, I answered myself, causing the people around me to glance my way in concern. A babbling psycho in a humidor does not a friend make.

So I meandered over. The Black Sheep (hereafter referred to as “the sheep” because typing out “the black sheep” every time is too labor intensive) is built as one main room fairly narrow and long with the bar on one side and tables along the other. At the back of a room a hallway leads to the bathrooms and to the outdoor patio. A stuffed head of a black ram hovers over the entrance to the bathroom just daring you to leave the toilet seat up. In the corner at the end of the room there’s a fireplace. It’s the closest thing San Luis Obispo has to a nice cozy pub and it turns out they have the one thing no self-respecting pub should be without. Guinness on tap. And it’s surrounded by every kind of whiskey the heart could desire and scotch of every color and stripe. Home, sweet home. I signed up to a Jameson because it’s my favorite, and because it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the scotch!

I had heard a rumor in the cigar shop that they were okay with cigars on the patio, but was a little unsure about trusting it blindly. Seeing as how it’s California, smoking is like the modern equivalent of the Scarlet Letter. So with my whiskey and book in hand in strolled outside and was pleased to find 2 other people smoking cigars. Brilliant.

After I finished the cigar I decided to move inside and get something to eat. I started off by ordering a pint of Guinness because (as a sailor friend of mine says): It’s not “Why would you?” It’s “Why wouldn’t you?” It took them a full 4 or 5 minutes to pour the Guinness. Exactly the way it should be done. With pint in hand I started in on the menu. The Sheep menu is complete pub fare. Mostly fried, but it has some very notable exceptions. They have a pub mac and cheese that is amazingly rich and heavy enough to require an OSHA approved harness to carry it to the table. They have a fairly large selection of salads, and last but not least they have the Black Sheep official food mascot, the Guinness Burger. I ordered the burger, and it is exactly what a burger should be. When it got to my table it was still steaming from the grill, and you could smell the Guinness flavor in it. It was good enough to make me mark down the Sheep as one of my new favorite locations.

The great thing about a good pub is that it breaks down barriers between people. It should feel like safe place. The Sheep pulls his off marvelously. San Luis Obispo is a college town. And almost every single bar in town has succumbed to the college bar vibe. In other words, the bars are not usually places to hang out. They’re places to search out your next conquest. Several places have opened in town with the intentions of avoiding that vibe and they’ve all failed. The Sheep has avoided it completely. The crowd is mostly older, very mellow, and even includes families with kids during the lunch hour. The staff has changed fairly regularly, but it’s stayed stable enough for them to recognize my wife and me when we come in and have a Guinness on the way.

One of the only things I am consistently annoyed by is that they play music a bit loud. A good pub should be a hang out spot, like a coffee shop with alcohol and dinner food. Loud music is a sports bar attribute that forces people to shout and makes communication hard. Not at all what pub should be. But this is an American run pub, so what can you expect? Luckily it’s not so loud that you can’t have a conversation like most of the other joints in town, but it’s still too much. I regularly ask them to turn it down, and they always do. So I guess that’s a point in their favor. It’s other weakness is that it could stand to be at least double the size. But that’s just splitting hairs.

So come to San Luis Obispo, call me up, and I’ll meet you for a Pint. It will be worth it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Waterloo Ice House

Serving great food since the hippies showed up


Not sure how weird they're keeping Austin, but I can testify the Waterloo Ice House is keeping Austin fed with good eats. Rumor has it they've been making a killer hamburger for the last 30 years, and from what I've seen, it's true. Haven't actually tasted one, since I'm turning over a new leaf and then eating it. This time I had the salad - The Waterloo Salad with grilled chicken, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, toasted pecans, granny smith apples on house mix greens with homemade apple cider vinaigrette. It made for a pretty light dinner, so I didn't waddle out like a python looking for a place to sleep off the goat. In fact, I felt pretty good, which is saying something after slaving away in the office during my weekly appointment with commerce.

OK, so technically, pythons can't waddle since it requires legs to "walk with short steps, swaying or rocking from side to side" but I was speaking of pre-Adamic snakes, before the curse that reduced them to crawling on their belly and eating dust and striking at heels and getting their heads crushed. Those old-timey snakes could waddle like anything, believe me! Think I'm kidding? Think again.

As you can see from the sign I snapped with my trusty Rokr, the 38th Street location resonates with the philosphy of rush hour date night. And, since it's right next door to The Woman's office, what could be handier? We did a little shopping at Toy Joy, which is definitely doing its part to keep Austin weird and then zipped over to Waterloo for some grinds and some jams. The Lamar and 38th Street locations have live music. Will Dunlap holds down a regular spot on Tue night rush hour. We made the mistake of getting there before 6pm, which means we waited for half an hour before the music started. (I'm telling you, there should be a rule about starting when the sign says you're going to start.) As a result, we only heard 5 or 6 songs before we dug out at 7pm. Next time we'll do a little more shopping first.

The Slaughter Lane location has a happening playground out back by the outdoor seating, which is great for the grandkid action. Last time we went there I had the Ranch House Chicken (Grilled chicken breast topped with bacon, mushrooms, grilled onion, poblano peppers and jack cheese, and served with black beans and rice.) Comes with a salad, so it's a great pick if you're watching the high-glycemic carbs - just skip the rice. As you would expect from a place called Ice House, they have a great selection of beers. Probably have good wine, too, but what do I know about wine? But one of these days, I might cheat and try one of those burgers. I wonder if they have whole wheat buns. Maybe I can bring my own. Shed's a whole new light on BYOB, don't it?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Korea Garden - Podcast

Sushi in a Korean place. Hmmm.

Location:6519 N. Lamar, Austin, TX
Phone: 512-302-3149
Hours: Mon-Thu 11a-10p, Sat-Sun 12p-10p

Join The Wunderfool and The SpyMan for an audio review of the Korea Garden. Pay no mind to the fact that these two buffoons keep calling it "the Korean Grill" despite having a photo of the place and other documentation available to them with the name clearly displayed as the Korea Garden.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


A time before disco or microwaves


Threadgill's is one of those must-see places. It's literally part of US history, one of the places where Janis Joplin worked the kinks out of her inimitable style. So The Woman and I took a rush hour date to the original location on North Lamar, founded in 1933 by bootlegger Kenneth Threadgill. He was first in line for a liquor license when Travis County went "wet." The gas station became a hot spot for drinking, gambling and jamming. It stayed open 24-hours a day until 1942 when a WWII curfew forced Threadgill actually buy a lock for the front door and close at night. When Threadgill retired in 1974, Armadillo World Headquarters owner Eddie Wilson bought him out and added southern cooking to the mix.

Sure enough, as we were shown to our seats, we walked past photos of Janis taking another piece of our hearts. Or not. Anyway, there were pictures. The menu is home cooking in spades, the kind of place you find a lot in the south and not much anywhere else. Well, actually, you will find a lot of the appetizers and entrees on menus all over the US (burgers, steak, catfish, fried shrimp), but when you get to the veggie section, you know you done come home.

I was going for the 5 vegetable plate and thought I might talk The Woman into the Smoked Cheese-a-dillos for an entree. (Flour tortillas stuffed with chicken, mixed cheeses, black beans, and diced green chilies with roasted corn salsa.) But she went all down-home on me with the chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and the broccoli-rice casserole. I consoled myself with the garlic cheese grits, collard greens, green beans, the spinach casserole (Swiss cheese, mushrooms, onions and bacon) and the Texas caviar (a tangy, marinated, cold black-eyed pea salad). I meant to get the squash, but couldn't decide between the yellow squash (sautéed with onions in wine, spices, and butter) or the San Antonio squash (a casserole baked with green chilies, queso, and onions) and got so distracted with the greens selection (collard or turnip) that I forgot about the squash and mistakenly ordered the green beans. They were fresh, steamed with onions and black pepper, but they weren't squash.

The grits were good, hinting at garlic and cheese instead of overwhelming you with them. The black-eyed peas and greens were good, but the winner was the spinach casserole. You would think that a big green mushy pile on your plate would not be a good thing, but you would be wrong. The only thing better is a green mushy pile on your fork headed to your mouth.

We were also there for the live music, but our schedule got us there a little early and the band was late, of course. (Am I the only guy who starts gigs on time?) So we missed out. And I have to go back for the squash, anyway, so next time I'll catch some jams.

I have no desire to sample the fried pickle spears, but I'm a sucker for meatloaf (especially cold meatloaf sandwiches) and I'd like to sample the bronzed catfish and pecan crusted chicken. Maybe I'll have to make several return trips. Anybody want to come with me?