A Great Cup of Coffee

In Search of a Great Cup of Coffee

I started drinking coffee very late in life at the age of 50.  By this time I had given up sodas and I don’t do drugs or smoke so I needed a vice and decided on coffee.  I started with baby steps and my daughter told me that McDonald’s had nice cup of coffee for a fair price and I should start there.  So every day for a month or so I went through the drive through and built up a tolerance to coffee.  Of course I needed Splenda and creamer to make it palatable to my delicate taste buds.

I am not the type of guy to spend $3.00 on a cup of coffee.  I do not like lattes or specialty drinks that are the price of a good used car.  My daughter loves this stuff but I do not need the calories or the hit to the wallet.  Coffee should not break your bank account.  However, in the interest of science I have found that Starbucks and Caribou have tasty coffee for a couple bucks a cup and that Caribou will refill the thing for free if you sit in the coffee shop to drink it.  I like both of these coffees but I also have no issue with McDonald’s coffee either.  I will drink anything by these three entities.

Cheap Coffee

This leads me to my quest in search of a goof cup of coffee.  My wife has always been a coffee drinker and we have had a Cuisinart coffee maker for decades.  The model we have grinds the beans for you just before you brew it which results in a fresh cup of coffee.  I have become great at making coffee and can disassemble all the pieces, wash them, and make another pot quicker than my wife can.  I buy the Costco brand roasted coffee that is roasted by Starbucks.  $10 for two pounds is cheap and it is great tasting.

I then did more reading and discovered that a clean machine helps with the taste of coffee.  Over time the oils of the beans build up in the machine and that results in a more bitter taste.  The trick, I learned, is to clean the machine with vinegar every month or so.  I also found a product on line which works well, Dezcal.  This product helps remove all the mineral build up.  I like it but may have found a better product, Brew Rite.  The reviews are phenomenal.

Anyway, yesterday was spent cleaning my coffee pot.  I ran through one package of Dezcal and followed that by running through three pots of vinegar.  I buy it at Costco and do not dilute it so it smells like vinegar after I use it.  I then run through three pots of clean water until the vinegar smell is gone and the water going through ends up clear.  I could never get the inside of my aluminum pot cleaned, however.  I tried baking soda and vinegar and nothing.  I tried this several times.  Nothing.  Then I read an article by Mary Hunt and got the greatest piece of advice on cleaning a coffee pot.

Salt and ice.  Yes, salt and Ice.  I poured a generous amount of course kosher salt in the pot.  Enough to cover the bottom.  I then added ice to about 1/3 full in the pot.  You put on the top and then shake the hell out of the pot.  Empty the pot and rinse it and repeat.  I did this five times.  The black sludge that came out of my pot looked nasty.  I have heard that Brew Rite cleans the pot witch it why I put it in this article.

Results of my coffee oddesy

After doing all of the above I had a coffee pot that was 90% clean.  I had a muscle spasm in my arm from shaking the pot so long because each round of cleaning took about three minutes of shaking.  My pot sparkled and there was no dirty coffee water coming out the last time I ran the water through the machine.  I then replaced the filter (I would take the filter out or replace it after cleaning if your machine has a charcoal water filter for the water tank).  I prepped the machine for the next morning’s coffee and went to bed.

Results?  This morning I woke up and had the best and smoothest cup of coffee I have ever made at home.  Cleaning all the components of your machine (I could never get the pot clean in the past) results in a coffee that is so smooth and rich that it could come from any coffee house.  It was fantastic.  My wife even threw a compliment my way and that was completely worth it.

Do yourself a favor.  Clean you coffee machine and save hundreds of dollars a year on expensive coffee house coffee.



The Newsroom is garbage.

The Newsroom is garbage.

I have watched The Newsroom on HBO since it’s inception and I have come to the conclusion that it is garbage.  It is well-written garbage with snappy dialogue and some interesting characters, but the premise of the show is thin and after a while it gets tiresome watching them bash every Republican on the show while felating the President and Democrats.  The Newsroom is written and produced by Aaron Sorkin, who created and wrote the TV series The West Wing as well as the movies The Social Network and A Few Good Men.  He has a lot of talent.

Now in my political leanings I have been called to the right of Attila the Hun.  I tend to want very limited government and I want to get rid of the political elite who simply love running every aspect of our lives.  Aaron, if I may call him that, Aaron seems to believe that big government is the answer to all our problems and if we simply give them more, more, more, the within months we will be living in Utopia.  So why do I watch the show?  I watch it for the same reason I watch NBC and CNN, to see what the other side is up to.  Besides, like I said previously, The Newsroom is written by a guy who is a very good writer.  Politically is where we part ways.

The Newsroom opening credits, first and second season

The Newsroom’s opening (for season one) shows a bunch of images meant to illicit feeling that the people who work in this fictional newsroom care.  They care about the truth, they care about getting stories correct, they care about big government.  What is in these little vignettes to show their feelings?  First there is the haunting piano music meant to add gravitas to the photos you are about to see.  Next comes a picture of a satellite orbiting earth and photos of Newsrooms past (think Walter Cronkite).  Next they show actual photos of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, the CBS newsroom, David Brinkley,  and then the stars of the actual show.

The Newsroom shows these images being shown on an old TV set where you can see the horizontal lines.  The pictures of the stars of the show are shown in the same manner letting you know that this newsroom is steeped in tradition the same as the old-time news shows.  That is the opening for season one.

Season two tosses out all those old images and they are replaced by the new, modern caring images.  It opens with images of New York City, skyscrapers, a woman holding a coffee cup (coffee seems to represent some sort of intelligence and gravitas;  see my brilliant take on coffee drinking here), a bridge, a train (God how the left love choo-choo trains!  See my article on trains here!), and then shots of the Newsroom.  These shots include clocks representing different time zones, someone speed reading and highlighting The New York Times, because The New York Times is the news, fires and explosions, someone watching the fires and explosions, someone using a Blackberry (who besides President Obama even uses a Blackberry anymore?), coffee again, this time it is spilling over some paperwork, computers and keyboards, and finally several different shots of the Newsroom, the equipment, the people in it, and a lot of monitors.  It is all style at this point, but that is the same of any TV show these days.

The Newsroom characters etc.

Next come the characters in The Newsroom.  The first thing you notice is that everyone is young.  Everyone, that is, except for Jeff Daniels who plays the main anchor, Sam Waterston who plays the news division president, and Emily Mortimer who plays the producer of the fictional ACN newscast.  To complicate matters, Mortimer’s character used to date Daniels’ character and now they are thrust together producing a nightly news show.  Everyone else in the show appears to be twenty-something and all of them appear to be brilliant, hard working, dedicated, and searching for the truth.

Jeff Daniels’ character is the token Republican.  I say token Republican because the words that come out of his mouth have no basis in reality of what a true Republican would say.  The words he utters tend to be a caricature of what liberals THINK a Republican should sound like.  His character seems to take great delight in eviscerating whatever Republican leader or politician has to say on the show.  The Newsroom never goes after the endless stupid and inane things the Democrats do or say.  They do not touch upon the five or six scandals that are sinking this administration (the IRS scandal, the Benghazi scandal, the Obamacare scandal and the voter fraud scandals that seem to cloud this president).  All they focus on is the Republicans, what they say that is wrong, what they did that was stupid, how they are incompetent, how they handle the press, etc.

Every other character, and I mean every one, bleed Democratic blue.  They feel everyone’s pain, they love the administration, they look down upon Republicans as less than human, they tend to look down at Wall Street and business.  They are pithy (OK…alll Sorkin characters are pithy because that is his writing style), they can recite Shakespeare or obscure pieces of music from some esoteric opera, they have that New York attitude that they are better than everyone else, and they care more than anyone else on the planet.  All in all it adds up to a show of caricatures.

It could be so much better.  While the pictures are beautiful, the writing is pretty good (you can still write lines that sound fantastic and the message can be completely off or wrong), the characters are young and fresh, but the end result is nothing.  After I watch each episode I walk away like I ate 1,000 empty calories.  Compare this show to a well-written and meaningful show like Breaking Bad and you will see what I mean.

So I will continue to watch the show to see what the other side thinks and feels.  I will watch it for the high production values.  I will watch it to see which pithy likes Sorkin will re-use from other hit shows (see examples here), and I will watch it because there is nothing else on Sunday nights.  I will, however, walk away feeling empty and unfulfilled.  I just don’t give a damn about their wrong-sided politics or their pithy little problems.  It is hard to care about characters that are caricatures.

Raze haircuts for men

Raze is a men’s style salon with two locations in the Twin Cities.

I feel a little metro sexual just typing that!  They have one location in Minnetonka which is a drive from my house, and because I needed an afternoon for me, I looked online and discovered that they have a new location in St. Louis Park which is infinitely closer to my home.   I was very happy because I needed a little manscaping because I have a class reunion coming up and I want to look as good as an old man can look.

My brother-in-law told me about Raze

about four years ago.  I am not sure how he found it because he is a priest in Wisconsin.  He is metrosexual as well so maybe there is a grapevine out there that I do not know about.  Anyway, I found this place about two years ago and I tend to go there twice a year for a little “me” time.

Raze was at the time a “concept” store by Regis.  Regis owns several different hair salon chains bet this is the first one I am aware of that caters towards men.  It is genius.  I can’t believe no one came up with this idea before.  It is like  a barber shop except upscale like a salon.  The place is awesome because there are not any women there getting a hair cut and there are no little kids running around.  A haircut costs about $30 (not including tip) but you can find coupons once in a while.  This is not a lot more than a place like Cost Cutters, which is where most men go to get their hair cuts.  I assume.

What makes Raze stand out?

What doesn’t.  When you walk into the place it is very much like an upscale spa.  There is a fireplace in the waiting room (I think….I didn’t have to wait) along with plush leather chairs and a fridge full of waters and sodas.  The layout is elegance with deep rich woods and etched glass and aluminum.  The floor is made of a deep dark wood as well.  When you come in you can opt to take off your shirt and put on a robe, thus you do not have to worry about hair clippings when you leave.  I noticed I was the only one who opted for a robe, though.  The space is modern, well-lit and there are also high definition TVs playing CNN and ESPN but there is music on instead of the sound from the TVs.  Since both those networks use crawls it is easy to follow the action.

You are led to your area where you sit in a seat that would have made Captain Kirk proud.  It is leather and you will soon notice that it is a fully automatic.  The stylist talks a bit about your hair, how you want it cut and all that jazz.  She then presents you with a couple of fragrances and tells you that the hair cut starts with a massage and back rub.  It is heaven.  My stylist massaged my scalp and then gave me a back rub and that process took about five minutes.  It was refreshing and relaxing at the same time.  It was the physical equivalent of getting an Andes mint on your hotel pillow.

Next you get your hair washed.  My stylist pushed a button on the chair and it reclined automatically so that I was leaning back and my head was resting on the sink.  She shampooed my hair and rinsed, and then she put conditioner in my hair.  While waiting for the conditioner she asked if I wanted a hot towel wrap and I did.  I noticed that the towels had a wonderful fragrant smell as well.  When she takes it off your face you feel like a million bucks and then you wait for her to finish the conditioning process.  When she is done she pushes a button and you assume the hair cut position.

The first thing you will notice is that she does not use a clipper with attachments that figure out length.  She uses a comb and a clippers and everything is done old school.  When she is done with the short part of the hair the clippers go away and the scissors come out.  You never feel rushed, you never feel like they are trying to push you out the door.  The haircut usually takes about 45 minutes and it flies by quickly.  A man has never felt so bummed out that a haircut was over.  Alas.

You can also get other services at Raze too.  When I went today I scheduled myself for a brow wax and a neck wax.  I told you I am metro.  The brow wax is quick and painless BUT I think I will skip it next time because I do a pretty good job at home with my trusty Norelco grooming kit.  I like the idea of a neck wax because I am the type of guy who shaves my neckline once a week between hair cuts.  This keeps me looking fresh and young.  The waxing should allow me much more time between now and when I will have to shave it again.  Both services cost $12 each.  I must warn you that the neck wax hurts like a sonofabitch.  Suck it up and be a man and you will be groomed and good to go.

They also offer coloring (I use Just for Men) and manicures.  Next time I may get a manicure because it is only $8 and I have never had one.  I have a feeling I will become spoiled and want one every time I go.  Alas.

The cut was done and my day was over.  I went and changed back into my shirt and went to pay.  I took a bottled water, after asking, and paid $54 (that included the tip) because I had a coupon.  The next time I go in, and there will be a next time, I will have the same stylist cut my hair.  I hope to build a relationship with her like my wife has with her hair dresser.

The only complaint I have about Raze is that it is not close to my home.  Build a Raze out in the northern suburbs.

Finding a Good Restaurant in the Suburbs

The lack of a good restaurant in the suburbs

is not something I am proud to admit exists.  Although I am not a restaurant snob, in fact I am the furthest thing from that, I do not particularly like the chains that pop up everywhere in America.  You go and travel to different places and you see more of the same.  When I took my kids on a baseball trip a couple of years back the only rule I had for them was that we could not eat at anyplace we could eat at home.  This had the desired effect of getting rid of TGIFs and Applebees or McDonald’s as options.  The kids found there was more to life than happy meals and bad food.  Thus, when I look around my neighborhood I always see the same old places you can find in a hundred different cities and they are all adequate.

The best restaurant on earth is actually a chain

but it is family owned and exists only on the West Coast in a few states.  It is called In-n-Out Burger and they are fantastic.  They have no freezers in the store at all and everything is made fresh.  They cut their fries by hand with every order.  Their buns are made locally and shipped to them daily.  They have a very limited, but excellent menu, consisting of hamburgers, fries, shakes, and soda pops.  They began the same time as McDonalds but they did not go the McDonald’s route and homogenized everything, buy their fries in bulk and freeze them, use frozen meat, etc.  The highest praise I ever heard about them came from chef extraordinaire, Julia Childs.  When Julia Childs retired she said she was moving to California to eat In-n-Out Burgers. I don’t think higher praise has ever been heaped upon a restaurant.

So what makes a great restaurant?

First off I would say not a chain.  Although there are exceptions, please see above.  I also do not like places where you pay $40 a plate and get something the size of your thumb that was deconstructed by a chef who is 20 years old and who just learned the technique in class.  I do not like foo-foo restaurants.  The clientele that eats at those places are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest food places to eat and in the end they really do not go for the food but rather the experience.  If you are going to a restaurant for the experience then you are fucked from the word go.

I also like places that have been in the same location for decades, not years or weeks.  I like places that have not changed with the times because they know that great food and good places to eat are always in style.  I tend to like family run places as well and kind of look down my nose at people who own 7 of the trendiest places in town.  I do not need to eat organic, I do not need to eat precious local fare, although I am not against it, and I do not need to eat at places filled with people wearing nerdy glasses and trying to look trendy.  If it is trendy I most likely do not like it.

I know.  Enough with what I don’t like.  Here are the actual restaurants I love to eat at in the Twin Cities.

1.  Mattt’s Bar 35th and Cedar in Minneapolis.  This is the home of the Jucy (sic) Lucy and some say it is the original Jucy Lucy.  It does not matter to me.  When you walk into Matt’s bar you know it has been there for decades.  It looks as though the grill has not been cleaned for decades.  They used to be a 3.2 shop (an archaic law in Minnesota that said places could only sell beer with 3.2% alcohol content) but they got their long pants a long time ago and now sell some fine beers on tap.  When you finally find a seat, because it is always crowded, you are served by one of the two waitresses working there.  You order from a place card and you shouldn’t even look at it and just get the Jucy Lucy.   Just get one order of fries to share because it will be enough for two or three.  They are like crack on a stick you may not be able to stop eating them.  You let the burger sit a bit because there is lava-like cheese between the two patties of perfectly seared meat.  You munch on fries.  The fries are half done and you open the wrap around your burger and smell the fried onions.  You take a bite and the cheese oozes all over the place.  You leave full, fat and happy like the couple hundred other people that will be there that day.  Phenomenal.

2.  Mama’s Pizza on Rice Street in St. Paul.  I used to work near Mama’s and this is an old school pizza restaurant.  They had a fire a few years back and had to remodel, but Tony still runs the place and they still make great pies.  Before the remodel, you walked into a room that was decorated like the 1960’s.  Cheap tables and plywood adorned the place.  There were black and white TVs at every booth where you could feed quarters to watch your favorite shows.  The pizzas were piled high with cheese and quality ingredients and when you were done gorging yourself on the fantastic food you got a little ice cream cone at the end.  Nirvana!

3.  Cecil’s Deli on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul.  This place is an old Jewish deli in Highland Park (a little subsection of St. Paul).  There is a Deli up front where you can order bread or meats along with any number of kosher foods.  When you go into the restaurant you are again transported in time back to the 1960’s.  Cheap tables and old decor are the order of the day.  I always loved the “Just Like New York” sandwich which was pastrami on an onion roll covered with their home-made cole slaw.  They have the old-fashioned frozen crinkle fries but I give that a pass because the rest of the menu is so damn good.  They have been around forever and the food, not the decor, is the reason why.

4.  Murray’s Steak House in downtown Minneapolis.  When I was growing up I never knew a place like this existed.  It’s decor, up until recently, was a 1950’s Miami mobster kind of appeal.  It had the high back booths and all the waiters and waitresses were around a hundred.  I never went there when I was young because it was so expensive.  I grew up poor.  However, once I could afford it, barely, I took the wife down there and we shared the Silver Butterknife Special.  It is a 28oz strip sirloin that they cut at your table.  It is enough to feed three or four people.  The meat has been aged so long and to such perfection that it simply dissolves in your mouth like it is made of Listerine Breath Strips.  The taste is heavenly.  It comes with the garlic toast which reminded me of the hard pieces of toast my mom used to eat when she was on a diet.  The service is top-notch, the service is top-notch, and their prices are top-notch.  Well worth it if you want to eat at a very nice place with some history.

5.  Al’s breakfast in Dinkytown.  There are maybe 13 stools in this place.  The line is always out the door even when it is ten below zero.  The room is long and skinny with just enough room to waddle my fat ass and wait in line behind all the people sitting at the bar eating.  The decor his Animal House fraternity but the breakfast food is great food done right.  I think it has been around since the 1920’s and I am pretty sure all the decor is like an excavation site and if you just dig long enough you will find the original decor at the bottom.  Cheap and tasty and oh so good.

Now for the restaurants around my neck of the woods, the suburbs.

1.  Chipotle.  I know, it is a chain.  Well the first place I mentioned was a chain as well.  This place is amazing.  They use fresh ingredients, have a very small but high-quality menu, and their prices are on the low-end of cheap.  They try to use organic products, who gives a rat’s ass, but everything is simply delicious.  The hot sauce is actually hot and not Minnesota Ketchup hot.  The salsa’s and guacamole are made fresh daily and they make a burrito the size of a head.  It is fantastic food at fantastic prices.

2.  The T-Box on highway 65 in Ham Lake.  I begged my neighbor, the food snob, to go there with me and she poo-pooed it.  She went with another neighbor and then raved about it and I was pissed.  That is how she is.  I finally got to go there for lunch with her one day and I was not disappointed.  Do not go there for lunch now because you will be disappointed.  They are only open for dinner.  The menu selection was small but the food was top quality and top rate.  There were not many people there and the person running the bar was the waiter and I think there was a cook.  I heard mention he went to culinary school and it shows.  Very good food, OK prices.  Knock yourself out.

3.  Carol’s Calico Kitchen.  This place used to be in a dump in Lino Lakes and we went there all the time.  A month after a fantastic review in Bon Appetite (who the hell do they think they are!) the place mysteriously burned to the ground.  It took Carol a long time but she reopened years later in a brand new building on 65 by 242.  Everything here, and I mean everything including the dressing, is made from scratch.  While the ambiance has improved (in most people’s eyes anyway) the food has stayed the same.  Top notch.  If you want a fantastic home cooked meal this is the place.  My mom loves it too.  It is an upscale version of Perkins type food except everything is made from scratch.

4.  Q-Fanatic on 169 just over the river from Anoka in Champlain.  this is a new place that friends told me about and then I saw on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”.  When you walk in this place be prepared for your knees to buckle in the presence of greatness.  The food her is out of this world and you can tell the owner loves to barbecue.  The smells are terrific but more importantly the food is out of this world.  You order at the counter like a fast food place and then take a number and put in on your table.  When the food comes out there is a ton of it.  The meat is smoked and fall off the bone perfection.  It is an inexpensive place to eat.

5.  Finally, a place further afield.  Val’s in St. Cloud Minnesota neat highway 10 and 23 (I think).  Look it up, you’re on the internet now.  This place is a perfect dive.  It is small, small, small.  There is no eating indoors.  There is only seating outside, in back, by the dumpster where a forlorn picnic table sits.  Everyone else is parked in their car eating the greatest little greasy hamburgers in the northern suburbs.  The place has a minimal menu and when you order fries you get the package filled along with the bag with your order.  They also have flavored milk shakes which are very chemical-like and also very good.  This old tiny gas station has a fantastic 50’s feel to it and I hope they are around forever.

That is it.  My suburban and metropolitan, restaurant review.