1 09 2015

Grifter’s sweetie is traveling in Switzerland. Here’s TravelQuail’s blog. Rick Steeves, eat your heart out.


It’s our first day waking up in Lucerne (Luzern). Wake up we did- to beautiful church bells (and a smidge of jackhammering). Luzern is having a hot summer – it reached 85 yesterday but it’s supposed to cool off today. The overnight flight on Sunday was smooth and easy – and we saw two Bichons before leaving the Zurich airport! A sure harbinger of good luck. Within a few hours of landing we had reached Luzern by train.

The sky and air are as wonderful and clear as people say. The Reuss River joins Lake Luzern just near our hotel – The Hotel des Alpes. The riverside is bustling with visitors – but with an even mix of Luzerners. Looking above and around the people we see we’re surrounded by buildings dating back to the Middle Ages.

Our lunch at a riverside cafe helped us beat back the jet lag…

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Wild Hare Snack Sticks, New Glarus Brewing Co.: Belleville/New Glarus, WI (I-39, I-94)

30 03 2011

I normally limit this blog to dining establishments, but in the case of beef sticks and beer, I’ll make an exception. A year or so ago I was working with Eric Brace and Peter Cooper in the the southern Wisconsin towns of Belleville and New Glarus––a pastoral wonderland seventy miles west of Milwaukee. Known as “America’s Switzerland,” New Glarus looks for all the world like an Alpine village. Chalet’s, lederhosen and alphorns are the norm––as are snow, freezing cold, cheese, DWI’s, The Packers, The Gophers, beer and processed meats. Hooray for these things; hooray for Wisconsin.

The New Glarus Hotel--inna' Swiss stylee

While in the New Glarus area, our hosts, Andy and Joyce Ziehli from Americana Gazette magazine, took great joy in introducing us to the local culture. In addition to such blog-worthy pubs as Puempel’s Old Tavern (est. 1893) and Chalet Landhaus Restaurant, these two enablers hooked us up with Wild Hare Snack Sticks and New Glarus Brewing Company Beer––two local products so tasty and invigorating that they, too, deserve to be called “road food.”

The Wild Hare beef snacks took me right back to my childhood in Williamsville, NY, where my mom would bring home beef sticks from the local butcher. We’re not talking Slim Jims here––these were house-made and wrapped in butcher paper. My mom used to hide them from me.

Wild Hare meat sticks are made right in Belleville under the supervision of owners Scott and Lisa Hare. They don’t come in butcher paper, but these snacks (which include a line of beef jerky treats and summer sausages) are created from family recipes using love, care and the finest ingredients. Meat sticks come in original, maple, teriyaki and hot cajun flavors. Be sure to check out the Wild Hare Original Bloody Mary Stir Sticks. Yes, they’re made of meat, and yes, Wisconsin people are out of their minds.

Meat Sticks!

Bloody Mary Stirrers--bloody brilliant!

Now on to the beer. The New Glarus Brewery is run by Daniel and Deb Carey, who use 100% natural ingredients to produce one of the finest beers on any continent. New Glarus’s selection varies depending on seasonal demand––and the brewer’s muse. Recommended, and always available, are Fat Squirrel and Spotted Cow: the Squirrel is a hazelnut brown ale (5.8% by volume); the Cow is a naturally cloudy farmhouse ale (4.8%). Seasonal brews include Uff-Da, Coffee Stout and Totally Naked.

Seriously, friends, these are truly fine, award-winning brews. Andy and Joyce usually bring a six pack or two or eight when they visit Nashville. Among my beer-loving friends, the verdict is unanimous: great f*cking beer.

The New Glarus Brewing Company (tours and tastings available)

As much as I’d like to recommend a trip to southern Wisconsin in the middle of winter, Wild Hare snacks are easily available at

For New Glarus beer, however, you’re going to have to go to the source––as of now, it’s only available in Wisconsin (unless you can get on Andy and Joyce’s delivery list). There have been some sightings in the Chicago area, but these are unconfirmed. Here’s the website: I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to bug your local beer distributor and inform him or her that there’s something going on in Wisconsin that’s putting whatever crap it is they’re currently pushing to shame.

Belleville and New Glarus are located off I-39 between Chicago (or Millwaukee) and Minneapolis––well worth the detour. You’ll thank me later.

Visit New Glarus:

Drive safely; eat dangerously––Grifter

El Pollo Rico: Arlington, VA (I-66, I-395)

4 01 2011

A few weeks ago I raved about the chicken at El Tapatio in Nashville. At the time I claimed that El Tapatio’s bird was surpassed only by the Peruvian roasted chicken at El Pollo Rico in Arlington, VA. On a recent road trip to Arlington with DC ex-pat’s Last Train Home, we revisited El Pollo Rico (twice) and found it to be as good as ever.

There’s virtually no atmosphere at Pollo Rico. Located in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood, the restaurant is hidden in a parking lot between rows of offices, condominiums and sub-par eating establishments––welcome to the new Arlington, a thriving aesthetic wasteland that has more in common with Arlington, TX than the quaint DC suburb of yore.

But wait, what’s that aroma? Smoky and spicy, it draws you past the Starbucks and Bed, Bath and Beyond; past the lawyers, lobbyists and fit young professionals, through the bland portals and into the very heart of barbecued chicken nirvana.

Bland Portal

Heaven’s Cafeteria

You get in line behind a dozen or so hungry diners and wait your turn. The line moves rapidly, and you’re soon faced with a glorious sight (cue angel choir)


El Pollo Rico serves pollo a la braza: Peruvian charcoal broiled chicken. Birds are skewered on long lances and placed on a rotisseie to turn and burn over pits of real wood charcoal. Qualified immigrants then squirt the spinning hens with a flavor-inducing baste, the ingredients of which are known only to a select group of insiders: the Secreto Y Arbitrario, or “Star Chamber.”

You tell the cashier whether you want a quarter or half bird, and you choose your sides: cole slaw, french fries or rice. A half is $7.80; a quarter $5.10. I’ve never ordered a quarter (unless you count the time I double-ate and had a quarter pollo as a second course after having a medium bowl of Pho from a Vietnamese restaurant down the street). I’ve also never tried the rice. I’m sure it’s great, but the slaw and the steak fries are just so damn good––the perfect accompaniment for what’s to come: juicy, crispy, spicy, perfectly seasoned chicken.

Your steaming bird is then hacked to bits and plated (or styrofoamed), and served up hot with your desired sides and two sauces, one a hot relish; the other a cool but flavorful aioli. Perfection.

Juicy, Crispy, Spicy, Perfectly Seasoned Pollo

What distinguishes El Pollo Rico’s chicken is its depth of the flavor. The smoke and spices permeate all the way to the bone–no mean feat, as any home barbecue chef can attest. Really, I can’t say enough good things about the place. It’s won DC area dining awards too numerous to mention. And it’s located nearby one of the nation’s most hospitable music venues, Club IOTA, which for the last fifteen years has served as home-away-from-home for legions of road-weary musicians. The more upscale Clarendon Ballroom is also close by. If you’re anywhere near the Washington D.C. area, don’t miss Pollo Rico. Trust me, I’m a drummer. I await your appreciative replies.

El Pollo Rico is located at 932 N. Kenmore in the 22201 zip code, between Wilson Ave. and Fairfax––a short hop off I-66. Check ’em out at

Drive safely, eat dangerously–grifter

Lorelei Cabana Bar: Islamorada, FL (A1A)

9 12 2010

I love a good beach bar. But the most beautiful scenery in the world can’t make up for flaccid food, which unfortunately sinks a lot of beach bars right in the harbor. There are exceptions: The Beach Bar in St. John, VI; Regan’s Pub & Oyster Bar in Mexico Beach, FL; Mango’s Beach Bar & Grille in Jacksonville Beach; and this place, Lorelei’s, which is conveniently located in Florida’s Upper-Keys, midway between Key West and the Ft. Lauderdale airport.

It’s hard to find a more seductive spot. Lorelei’s is right out of a Tim Dorsey crime novel. The kind of place where you stop for lunch, settle on a bar stool and end up meeting the woman/man of your dreams. The two of you move into a nearby trailer, begin trafficking in illegal narcotics, get arrested, go to rehab, become undercover agents and live happily ever after, never again returning to the mainland.

Even if you’re not hungry, stop and have a beer. The view is worth it. (Editor’s note: if you’re driving in the Keys, watch your alcohol intake––this ain’t the old days; Florida Sheriffs will arrest you at the drop of a dime. Get a bike.) Look at this place! (Yes, those tables are actually on the beach)

With scenery like that, Lorelei’s could coast, but fortunately for hungry road warriors, they do not. The food is excellent. Start with the smoked fish dip (the calling card of any self-respecting Florida beach bar). It’s fresh and local and loaded with capers, sliced red onion and smokey goodness. Club crackers are a nice switch from the ubiquitous Saltines. The lemon garnish is bright and juicy, and the underlying lettuce is crispy.

Fish Dip

Next, sample the creamy lobster bisque––sherry and oyster crackers on the side!


Now, if you’ve still got room, try Lorelei’s World-Famous Madeira Bay Fish Sandwich. You can choose between mahi and grouper (when it’s on special). For the health-conscious, fish sandwiches are available grilled or blackened. I like mine fried. All are served on a warm crusty bun with lettuce, onion, tomato and a pickle spear––tartar sauce on the side. Hot sauce is optional but a good idea. Lorelei’s french fries are of the twice-fried, battered variety. Excellent, crispy, heart-stopping and hot.

Mahi Sandwich

Also recommended are the captain’s quesadillas, bacon wrapped shrimp skewers, peppercorn crusted yellowfin tuna and the fish tacos. I haven’t tried them myself, but you better believe I will. Sandwiches at Lorelei’s are in the $7-10 range; entrees ring in at $15-23. They’ll cook what you catch for $6.95.

The service at Lorelei’s is warm and crusty, too, featuring the kind of local charm that has distinguished drinking and dining establishments in the Keys since the days of Hemingway and Wallace Stephens. If you don’t know what you want to drink, the bartender will give you a sample (try the mango margarita); if you’re uncertain about what to eat, your waitress will sit down and tell you about her brother who’s been in the Broward County Jail since 2003.

Here’s my favorite spot at Lorelei’s. Stick around for the sunset:

Lorelei’s is located at 81924 Overseas Highway (better known to Buffett fans as Highway A1A)––mile marker 82, bayside. Just look for the mermaid.

Drive safely, eat dangerously (especially in the Keys)––grifter

Tacos y Mariscos “El Tapatio” #2: Nashville, TN (I-65, I-24, I-40)

3 12 2010

My bass player buddy Tim Marks turned me on to this place. He learned about it from fellow bassist Ger Hoffman, who said El Tapatio’s smoky salsa was like “taking a bite out of a campfire.” Tim was sold, and now I am, too. But salsa is just the door to El Tapatio’s smoky wonderland. Smoke pours from a huge black barrel cooker in the restaurant’s parking lot. Inside are chickens…well, half-chickens to be precise––marinated, basted and slowly grilled to perfection over red hot embers.


Simply put, this is the best-tasting, plumpest yard bird I’ve ever had (except perhaps for the Peruvian roasted chicken at Pollo Rico in Arlington, VA, but that’s another blog). I keep promising to try something else on El Tapatio’s full menu––which includes tacos, quesadillas, mojarra frito, gorditas, coctel de camaron, octopus, pork and tongue––but once I get a whiff of that smoker, I’m a goner. The bird is the word.

A half-chicken at El Tapatio is $6.50. Quarter chickens are also available, but why bother when to-go boxes are free? Your bird comes on a huge oval platter with rice and beans (both of which are far superior to standard Mexican fare), corn or flour tortillas, a smoked jalapeno, lime wedge and sliced radishes (a very nice touch). The guacamole is first-rate with a fabulous cilantro finish and is a highly recommended accompaniment to the chicken. The chips are fresh and hot; the salsas (smoky red and fresh tomatillo) are top ranking.

El Tapatio, which can be translated as “the person, or thing, from Guadalajara,” is a humble yet spotlessly clean affair, with carved wall-hangings and mock-brick interior paint. A cooler of ice-cold beer sits in front of a serving counter. Behind the counter, busy cooks sing along with a mariachi radio station.


If you’re in the mood for cerveza, do yourself a favor and order a michelada. Loosely translated as “my chilled beer,” the concoction includes Tecate (or Modelo, or Dos Equis, etc.) lime, Worcestershire and hot sauce with a red pepper salt rim–an excellent hangover cure, or so I’m told.

Best of all, for you road dogs, El Tapatio is quick and accessible. I-440 is the ring road that connects Nashville’s three major Interstates: I-40, I-65 and I-24. Take the Nolensville exit off of 440 and head south. Tacos y Mariscos “El Tapatio” #2 is located at 3611 Nolensville Pike in the 37211 zip code. It’s a little confusing because there’s about 30 Nashville restaurants named “Tacos y Mariscos,” but this one is the real deal.

Drive safely, eat dangerously–Grifter

Tastee Diner: Bethesda, MD (I-495, I-270)

12 08 2010

I’m in Bethesda, MD playing the House Band Concert Series’ British Invasion show with Last Train Home. We’re doing the Gerry & The Pacemakers segment–complete with string section, flute and the sensational Kevin Cordt on trumpet. There was a huge storm last night, and the power is off in the hotel–which is a drag because it’s a tricked-out Hiatt. The pool, sauna, bar and restaurant are all dark, so I took a shuttle into Bethesda and got dropped off right in front of this place. I had the corned beef hash and eggs. There’s nothing like corned beef hash made with real canned corned beef. If you look closely, you can see the can lines on some of the bigger chunks. Tastee Diner: Excellent. And open 24 hours–breakfast anytime. The burgers look great. French fries with brown gravy, too. I might go back for dinner. Worth the trip just to spend time with our lovely waitress, Mary. Do not f$#% with her.

Drive safely; eat dangerously–Grifter

Mi Monterrey: Morehead, KY (I-64)

5 06 2010

I’m in Moorehead, KY playing with Kevin Gordon, and the lady behind the hotel desk recommended Mi Monterrey. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s open late, they’ve got cold beer, friendly waitresses and these delicious shrimp enchiladas–Enchiladas del Mer–pictured below. I could drink a mug of that cheese sauce. And with the green salsa swirled over it–perfection. Highly recommended for I-64 travelers.

Supposedly there’s a geotag on this page that’ll provide directions to Mi Monterrey. I have no idea. This is my first post composed on the WordPress mobile page. I honestly have no clue how it’s going to look–I can fix it tomorrow on the laptop.

Drive safely; eat dangeously–grifter