Monday, March 2, 2009

Crooked River Cafe and the Sauce of Death

I decided to stop at a local mom and pop place tonight for dinner, the Crooked River Grill. I've had some good meals there in the past, but it had been a while and I happened to be in the area. It's a quaint little place that seats around 45-50 people. Upon arriving at my table, I began looking at the paper mat that was sitting in front of me. I liked what it said:

When Jo Jo my server arrived at my table, I began asking questions about what was made in house. I fancied a cup of soup to start with. When I asked about the chili (my first choice), she shook her head and said that all of the soups were homemade except the chili. It, in fact, came from Whitey's. So, I decided to go with a cup of the special soup du jour, the Fiesta Chicken soup.

It was quite well-balanced and tasty. You could even pass this off as a white chili. The cumin and chili powder taste was bold but not too strong. The soup was composed of corn, roasted red pepper, shredded chicken, onion, celery, and both black and navy beans. It was very good and had a nice fresh flavor to it.

What caught my eye on the menu was the pulled pork sandwich. When I asked about it, I was excited to learn that both the pulled pork and the BBQ sauce were both made on the premises. I eagerly ordered my sandwich with their spicier BBQ sauce and upgraded from the potato chips to the fresh cut fries.

Here is the platter as it came out

And a close-up of the sandwich itself. Note that the bun was a very nice ciabatta roll:

The pork was nice and juicy. It was tender. It was seasoned properly. The BBQ sauce wasn't all that spicy and had a heavy molasses flavor to it. I guess I prefer my sauces to be a bit more acidic and less gloopy than what they served above. As with most fresh cut fries, the ones on top of the heap were crispy and not greasy. As you got to the bottom, however, it was obvious where all the extra oil was. Not that great.

The one thing that I will comment on additionally is the bun. Now as a ciabatta roll, it was quite good. It head a nice crispy exterior with a nice soft crumb on the inside. The problem was that because it was so hard to bite through the crust, the contents of the sandwich basically squished out when I took my first bite. I think a softer roll is in order here.

My waitress brought around a tray of desserts for me to look at, but sadly, not a single thing was made in house. As I was already kind of full, I just declined and asked for the check. When she finally brought the check, I asked her about the "spicy BBQ" sauce. She indicated that the sauce they mix directly with the pork was the mild and then they put the spicy BBQ sauce on my sandwich (the thick gloopy maroon stuff in the picture above). When I mentioned that the "spicy" wasn't really very spicy, she said they did have one level higher, but she almost never recommended it because it made people cry.

When I asked if I could get a small taste from the kitchen, she agreed. I heard her walk back and ask the cook for a small sample of the "XXX sauce". This is what she brought to my table:

The minute I put my nose to it, I could detect the same odor as Dave's Ultimate Insanity Sauce. You know, the kind of sauce where not only does it include habenero peppers in it, but they also fortify it with pure capsaicin. It has almost this smoky smell to it. Carefully, I put just a dab on the end of my spoon and tried it. The first flavor that I detected was the spicy BBQ sauce that came on my sandwich. Almost immediately after that I could taste the flavor profile of Dave's (or something equivalent to it). Within seconds, my entire mouth was on fire. Now I know why she never recommended it to customers. I wouldn't either. When I asked, she confirmed that they take the spicy BBQ sauce and "do stuff to it." She seemed to think they added jalapenos to it. I'm thinking probably not.

Overall, I'd rate this place fair to midland. Certainly better than those places that use nothing but Sysco products, but not a star pupil either.

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