Campus Chowdown Ep. 4: Tios Mexican Cafe (University of Michigan)

We wanted to spice our new episode of Campus Chowdown up, so we invited Guy Fieri to come host the episode.  In the fourth installment of Campus Chowdown, the boys attempt to conquer Mt. Nacheesmo, a five-pound nacho platter, at Tios Mexican Cafe in Ann Arbor.

This was the first challenge that we have featured that was also showcased by Adam Richman on Man v. Food.  He was able to put it down, but will we?

Thai Hard: A Burger Experiment

Them's some fresh greens.

Them’s some fresh greens.

Anybody who’s been around a kitchen enough knows it’s never wrong to cook with wine. Pour some in the pan, and some in the glass (then repeat as needed). As important as wine is to the process of cooking, I think it’s imperative to cook with good herbs. Now, hold on—don’t go there. Spices, I’m talking spice, girls. What’s a fish taco without cilantro? Bruschetta without basil? Nothing that tickles my fancy, that’s for sure. Herbs provide food with that extra refreshing kick, taking any dish to the next level. It also helps the food taste authentic, giving it the taste of the region. Down in Mexico they love their cilantro, so adding it to tacos creates the nostalgia of cuisine they may have had while vacationing south of the border. Same goes with the cayenne and flavor of Texas barbeque rub, with the right combination of spices, you can create that signature bite.

There’s no denying, I’m totally hooked on food shows like Triple D, Man v Food, and the many adventures of Anthony Bourdain. I credit these shows for getting me passionate, not only about eating unique foods, but preparing them myself. The episodes are like video cookbooks—they literally show you how to create amazing dishes step by step. The other day I saw an episode where Guy Fieri was showcasing a Thai food truck and the chef put together a mouth-watering lamb burger—and put mint and cilantro in with the meat. She then topped the sandwich with some traditional slaw that you often see on Vietnamese and Thai sandwiches. I needed it. The crunch of the slaw, coupled with a refreshing minty burger, set against hot Thai peppers—yes, please. Before I could begin creating an Asian burger of my own, I was judo-chopped with more inspiration after a visit to Detroit’s Green Dot Stables and sampling their Korean slider. It’s a one of a kind burger, the likes of which I have never seen: topped with mild kim chi and peanut butter on the bottom. Somehow this combination of complete opposite flavors comes together perfectly. The hot(ish) kim chi cooled by the peanut butter to create what can only be described as harmony. There was no need to wait; I was ready to get started on my Thai Burger experiment.

Green Dot Stables' Korean Slider (Detroit)

Green Dot Stables’ Korean Slider (Detroit)

When I think of Thai flavors, peanut comes to mind first. Maybe that’s just because Pad Thai comes with peanuts? But I feel like it’s common there, so I was for sure going to follow the Green Dot’s lead and incorporate it into the burger. After doing some research, I had a list of ingredients put together and went out to the market. For the slaw topping, I gathered red peppers, broccoli slaw, garlic, cucumbers, basil, cilantro, ginger (great taste, but a lot of work to peel/grate), and a sweet red chili Thai sauce to marinate it all in for that extra hi-ya. You mix all of that together, add some salt and olive oil then set aside to cool.

Thai Slaw. Red pepper, ginger, cilantro, basil, broccoli slaw, garlic, and cucumber.

Thai Slaw. Red pepper, ginger, cilantro, basil, broccoli slaw, garlic, and cucumber.

Ordinary mayo wasn’t going to cut it with this theme, so something funky had to be created. That’s where the magic of cilantro comes into play. I’m a big supporter of cilantro. If cilantro cologne were a thing, I’d probably buy it. For this mayo concoction, there wasn’t a lot of creativity needed. Just add some cilantro and basil to the mayo, a squeeze of limejuice, light olive oil and throw that bad lad in the fridge—don’t serve warm mayo, homie (cc: Michael Scott).

Ooo white death.

Ooo white death.

The meat is where things start to really get interesting. Following the recipe of the food truck lady, you start by adding some mint to the ground meat. Not much is needed; mint can be pretty strong (although recommended on dates). Green onions then get added to the party, along with some crumbled Sriracha kettle chips for flavor and to use as a binding agent within the meat. Finish by adding some additional sweet red chili sauce to the equation, mix it all together, and get the grill a-going. When ready, apply peanut butter to the bottom bun, grill the top bun and add your cilantro mayo, then place the burger and top with the slaw mix. If you listen closely, you can hear your taste buds thanking you after each bite.

Finished product.

Finished product.

As Guy would say, these burgers were bomb-dot-com, on point, and approved by the Mayor of Flavortown. You almost forget that you’re eating a burger, because the unique flavors combine to create an entirely different eating experience. You now have all the ingredients needed to make it happen, or I encourage you to watch an episode to get inspired to re-create something on your own.

Grand Rapids: Michigan’s Grub Capital

The Green Well Gastropub in Grand Rapids

The Green Well Gastropub in Grand Rapids

Detroit is making a comeback.  It’s picking up the pieces (of rubble) and rebuilding after decades of urban blight, white flight, and corruption.  Now, the city is looking for an identity change, a new way to brand itself in a positive light; to find the perfect model that Detroit should follow, you don’t have to look very far.

Grand Rapids is where it’s at, there’s no doubt about it.  Being a Spartan, I love Lansing–but, as a city, it doesn’t hold a candle to Grand Rapids.  I have no problem admitting Ann Arbor is a beautiful place, but is too, let’s call it, quaint next to the urban-feel you get in Grand Rapids.  Having said that, with all three of those previously mentioned cities being college towns, you won’t have a hard time finding fun in any of these areas–but when you sit down to eat, you’ll see what really makes Grand Rapids so…can I say grand?

Grand Rapids is very liberal, to sum up its population: the city is young, dreadlocked, and studying graphic design at GVSU.  That creative nature and earth-friendly attitude really comes out with the food scene that has developed in the area recently. Most restaurants are going local and organic, giving the city a comfortable community feel.  The beer you’re drinking, the bread you’re eating, and the person cooking it up for you are all local.  If you’re into microbrews, then walking through the city is like your own personal tour of Wonka.  Last weekend, I made a trip to the city with the sole purpose of grubbing down on some out-of-the-box eats and sharing some recommendations with you so you can go check it out for yourself.  Farm-to-table isn’t the only kind of grub you’ll find on your culinary crusade of Grand Rapids.  The city has an eclectic mix of ethnic cuisine: Mexican, Dutch, Italian, Mediterranean, fresh markets, anything you could want to eat is within reach. With limited time in town, I had to make choices on where I wanted to eat, so I opted to try all new places.  So, this meant I that, today, I would not be showcasing San Chez, a tapas bistro, and home of my favorite sandwich ever–EVER: the Pork Belly and Pretzel B.L.T. Sandwich. Sweet, succulent, glazed pork belly, contrasted with cold, creamy apple slaw, fresh tomato, topped with a spicy jalapeño honey mustard, all enclosed in a steamy pretzel bun.  So good that it hurt to write all of that.  I do my best to sample all of the food showcased on the Travel Channel’s Man v Food and Adam Richman’s Best Sandiwch in America, and this sandwich truly trumps the field.  This “only new restaurants” rule also meant I would not be going to another personal favorite, Marie Catrib’s–home of outstanding food that you don’t feel guilty devouring because it’s healthy and made from scratch.  Definitely check out their falafel and desserts.

Good meals are something meant to be shared, and not eaten alone, so my dad and I arrived to town for a late dinner and decided to hit up the Green Well Gastropub.  I may be a sucker, but I always get excited about places that refer to themselves as gastropubs.  Some may consider gastronomy a snobby, bourgeois way to label food; but to me, it means you’re going to get something unique–and the Green Well menu is one of a kind. They have wines made exclusively for them by a local winery (Black Star Farms) and fresh baked bread baked right in town.  Oh, that bread.  We started with an order of their Breads & Spreads and were blown away. Great artesian breads, but the spreads were the talking point.  Three spreads were given with the assortment of breads: a curry lentil dip, that was the perfect mix of spice creating layers of different tastes in the mouth; a blueberry jalapeño spread, an amazing union of heat from the pepper and cool from the yogurt-esque blueberry, interesting take on taste similar to the hot wing-ranch/bleu cheese combo; then, there was the tomato basil dip, perfect for a cool and crisp bite between the spicier spreads.

The Green Well's Bread & Spread (Dips: curry lentil, tomato basil, and blueberry jalapeño)

The Green Well’s Bread & Spread (Dips: curry lentil, tomato basil, and blueberry jalapeño)

The appetizer was good enough to make a meal, but the carbs seemed a bit overwhelming so a real meal was to be had.  I cannot recall the last time I was that overwhelmed looking at a menu.  Everything sounded good.  Korean braised beef and noodles? Yes, please. Fish tacos? All day. Chicken and Waffles, too? After many internal battles and episodes of cognitive dissonance, I finally made up my mind and ordered the Cuban Sandwich and pops went with the Green Well Pad Thai with braised beef.

The Green Well Cuban Sandwich

The Green Well Cuban Sandwich

Despite the plethora of other great choices on the menu, I did not regret my choice for a minute.  It was the type of sandwich where before you even clamp your teeth down you get the rush of flavors to the mouth.  You could probably sit there and just breathe the sandwich in and get your moneys worth (and you save the calories!).  The spices on the pork merge with the bitterness of the Swiss cheese and tangy sweet mustard to create a gift to the taste buds, ending with a crunch of the fresh local bread. Perfection. After every bite I couldn’t help but let out a muttered “Dammit” or “holy hell.”  It was so good it made me angry that I couldn’t have it in my life every day.  You know a food is up your alley when it’s so good that you roll your eyes.  I don’t know why that happens, but I have no problem with it.

Fish Lad's Menu Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Fish Lad’s Menu Grand Rapids Downtown Market

The next morning, I woke up excited for the next venture.  I did some quick research on my phone and found our next chowdown spot–we’d be heading to the Grand Rapids Downtown Market.  To anyone who describes themselves as a foodie, markets are always a utopia, and Grand Rapids didn’t dissapoint.  Everything you’d want to find at a market you could find here.  Fresh produce, butchers, artesian bakers, fresh squeezed juice, sushi, gourmet cheeses, the market is your oyster–they have those, too!  After several laps around the building, stopping to stare at the sausage menu, the taco restaurant, and several other eye grabbing eats I ended at Fish Lad’s.  I can’t see Po’ Boy on a menu and not indulge.  I’m weak like that.  It’s not often that you find a stellar Po’ Boy in Michigan.  I had the option of shrimp, oyster, and soft shell crab; all of them sounded just as amazing as the next so I asked homeboy behind the counter what the go-to is.  Before I could finish the sentence he exclaimed, “Crab. Gotta do the crab.” He looked trustworthy, so I followed his lead and went with the soft shell.  I’ve never had one but it always looks good and I was (and continue to be) intrigued by how one can eat the entire crab shell and all.  It was just as good as I had hoped it would be (paying as much as I did for it).  Each bite a delightful crunch with a fresh seafood flavor that took you out of the frigid Michigan cold and straight to somewhere tropical.  Good seafood makes me nostalgic, I can’t help it.

Fish Lad's Po Boy

Fish Lad’s Po Boy

Take a trip to Grand Rapids, catch a Griffin game, get kicked out of the B.O.B., and find something new to eat.  You won’t regret it. Now we need to take that creative gastronomy innovation going on in Grand Rapids and bring it to Detroit.  Food brings people together, and creating a happening food scene is one way to start bringing in intelligent, young people who want to create something impactful from the ground up.

GR Market Fish

Tacos, juice, and Soft shell crab Po Boy.

Tacos, juice, and Soft shell crab Po Boy.

Campus Chowdown Ep. 2- What Up Dawg? – Michigan State University

Video

In the second episode of Campus Chowdown, we return to East Lansing to face the Big Dawg Challenge (9 specialty hot dogs in 20 minutes). Will we be Top Dawg? Or go down as little wienies?