The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert is one of my heroes. He was my favorite part of The Daily Show, and I was happily surprised when he got his own show. Its rampant success amazed me, for satire is not always appreciated in American culture, but he did it. His show continues to raise the bar for television comedy and news, going places that “real” news shows won’t dare. He keeps his principles and uses his character to fight for them, and after the Presidential Correspondents’ dinner with George W. Bush, you know he’s pretty much got the biggest balls of any comedian on the planet. As influential Lenny Bruce without the heroin addiction, if you ask me. I got tickets to his show by following them on Facebook and jumping when they were available. As you can see, I have ticket #57, so that’s my Wesley Snipes face:
That’s Drossarian behind me. We have a trick camera that does the reverse effect of how they made Gandalf look so much taller than the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, so we can be in the same frame. He is actually 8 feet tall. Firecracker and “Beast” Katie East filled out our group. We waited quite a while for Stephen and crew to get ready, because they had to set up a crazy harem tent that would be used for a gag later. We got to watch the warm-up comic whose name I forget, but he was very good. He’s a local NYC comedian who should say his name more often. He was very good at poking fun at audience members without being unnecessarily cruel, even when they are named “Dong.” Now that’s talent. He did call our two gals “bitchy” because they kept yelling about Steel Magnolias being a play before it was a movie. He didn’t know that movie is sacred to Louisiana ladies.
I met Stephen in the lobby. He was in character, but felt a little flat. He must have had a rough night. Before the show, he does a Q&A session out of character. He was very gracious and funny, answering questions and reciting anecdotes. I wanted to ask if he’d do voice work for the Venture Bros. show again, but I didn’t get chosen. His wife came to the show and was watching from the sidelines. What I like most about Mr. Colbert is not just that he’s funny, but that he’s genuine and has principles. I love when you can see them sneaking through his character and he has to nail someone that “Stephen” would love but that he personally disagrees with vehemently. He’s very fast on his feet and like myself, has no dignity; anything for a joke. He had 11 siblings to compete with, I was a firstborn, so what’s my excuse?
This was one of the better episodes in recent memory, with a pun so bad that he made himself fight a minotaur and conquer a harem for uttering it. He also calls Stephen Hawking an “a-hole,” goes after Fox News”s attempts to make the Goldman-Sachs CEO seem like a regular guy, and interviews author Conn Iggulden, who wrote The Dangerous Book for Boys, and his newest, The Dangerous Book of Heroes. You can see us in the audience when the mascot fires the t-shirt cannon; I’m in the red striped shirt to the right of the gal who caught the first shirt, clapping my hands off. If I’d been paying attention, I would have tackled her for it. Katie caught one of many WristStrong bracelets that Stephen shot into the audience, so we didn’t go home empty-handed. Or empty-hearted; these memories will last a lifetime, and I’ll tell my grandchildren I saw Stephen Colbert defeat a minotaur.

Here’s a screencap thanks to Julie, who is far more patient than I! The clip follows, and a link to the full episode is at the bottom of the post.]

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Hawking Is Such an A-Hole
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

Watch the Full Episode on Comedy Central.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Best BLT in New York?

I don’t normally return to a restaurant so quickly, but Dinosaur Bar-B-Que intrigued me with their offering of a BLT with house-cured bacon, fried green tomatoes, and their tangy remoulade in place of mayo. I had to try it. So Tommy Salami’s li’l posse of Beast, Milky and Firecracker converged at Dino’s instead of our usual brunch haunt- Blockhead’s at 107th and Amsterdam. We were not disappointed.

Once again, reservations are a must. At noon on a Saturday we waited 40 minutes for a table, and the bar was full. It was after noon, which is beer o’clock round these parts so I tried a tasty Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale, which was rich and chocolatey. The Brooklyn Brewery gang has done it again. My other favorite here if you prefer a lighter beer is the Hook & Ladder Ale, which has a fruity aroma and a crisp refreshing taste. They also make kick-ass Bloody Marys, better than the Brooklyn Ale House’s mix in my opinion (and they are one of NYC’s best). It was tangy, spicy and smooth, but not at all watery, garnished with a green olive. I would have liked one of their drunken boiled shrimp on a skewer, but you can’t always get what you want. But it never hurts to ask- I will next time.

Once we got a table the service was at a good clip. My crew got their usual pulled pork sandwiches, which are excellent, and tried out all the sauces. Our consensus is that the Wango Tango smoky habanero sauce is the best. It’s not as hot as their hottest Devil’s Duel sauce, and still has plenty of flavor while also providing good bite. It never drowns out the meat either, so slather it on. But you wanted to hear about bacon, didn’t ya? Their BLT comes in two flavors, regular and “ultimate.” the Ultimate has their appetizer fried green tomatoes in the “T” slot, and they slather it with a generous helping of their tangy remoulade. It is quite a sandwich.

They cure their bacon in-house, and you get thick chewy slices. I prefer my bacon crisp, but I enjoyed this anyway. It was much more filling with a few slabs of thicker bacon. And the fried green tomatoes- crisp and crunchy, never mushy- were the perfect accompaniment. As you can see, they get a bed of shredded lettuce- I’d prefer green leaf or butter lettuce- and a solid sesame seed bun. You get two sides- I chose the mac ‘n cheese because it’s excellent, and the BBQ beans to try ’em out. They’re smoky sweet and delcious, a little thin but with plenty of pork bits in there for flavor. If you don’t want their best side- the salted ‘taters- try the beans, you won’t be disappointed.

To conclude, this is one of the best BLT’s I’ve ever had. It is definitely on the rich side, and it makes for a great hangover cure. With 2 sides it is quite the satisfying meal, and the melange of smoky chewy bacon, crisp tomato and the sauce’s rich tangy topping makes for a memorable BLT experience. Now we all know NYC restaurants love to sling pork belly, foie gras, truffles and “Kobe” beef like it’s going out of style, especially now that Wall Street fucknuts have all that bailout bonus money to spend- so I ask you, who makes the best BLT in NYC?

I like simplicity, so give meripe heirloom tomatoes, crisp salty bacon without extra flavors, fresh green lettuce and maybe fresh-made mayo on crunchy wheat or tangy sourdough bread and it’s perfection. Maybe a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper on the tomato, or Niman Ranch bacon. But I wouldn’t mind trying something ridiculously decadent, as you can easily assume. So let’s hear it, who can top the Ultimate BLT at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que?

For a review of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s ribs, pulled pork, sausage, brisket, appies, beers and sides, check out my earlier review here.

The Hot Dog Oscars

In honor of the upcoming Academy Awards, let’s see who wins this year’s Best Hot Dog. I ate a lot of hot dogs last year. I gained ten pounds. (It’s disgusting, the things I do for you people).

The nominees for Best Hot Dog of 2008 are:

Gray’s Papaya, for The Curious Case of Coconut Champagne
This old favorite is a standard Oscar-bait dog- a skinny tube steak with good flavor, classic toppings, and they’re open all night. The drinks are amazing, and vhat a bargain!! But we’ve seen this before.

Crif Dog, for Dog/Bacon
Hot Dogs and Bacon- two things that go great together, fried to crispy perfection. Others have done it, but no one wraps bacon around the dog like Crif does, and their toppings selections keep getting better. The one to beat.

Big Daddy’s Diner, for Hotdog Millionaire
Size does matter! But so does flavor. Big Daddy’s diner of decadence makes the best foot long we had this year, a spicy frank smothered in cheese and bacon. But the bacon lacked flavor and more toppings would have been nice.

Puka Dog, for The ‘Furter

Let’s go Hawaiian! You’ve got to go to Honolulu for this one, but it’s worth the flight. The dog is a bit bland and mushy but well-seared. What makes this one amazing is the perfect bun- with a hole seared in the middle to stick the juicy dog, and tons of fruity, spicy and mayonnaise-y toppings!

Ben’s Chili Bowl, for Half-Smoke
Ben’s is a spicy sausage made of beef and pork, slathered mightily with a kick-ass smoky chili and tangy onions. This one’s a classic and a serious contender to Crif Dog. If you’re in D.C., you simply must go. It’s a neighborhood landmark and makes serious good eats.

And the winners are…

Don’t you hate when the Oscars wastes your time and saves the big ones for last? Get used to it.

The Independent Sausage award goes to The Dover Grill for being the most exciting hot dog joint in North Jersey we found. While it doesn’t beat Crif Dog, they make some amazing flavor combos there.

The Irving Whaleberg Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, for winning the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest once more. This time he ate 59 hot dogs in 12 minutes, tying champ Takera “Tsunami” Kobayashi, and then defeated him in a 5 hot dog eat-off tiebreaker. He is truly a great American and an inspiration to hot dog lovers everywhere.

and the winner of Best Hot Dog 2008 is…


No big surprise here if you know insiders at the Academy! Crif Dog continues to amaze us with their timeless concoctions. They’ve added cream cheese, kimchi, and Taylor Ham to the roster, but the Spicy Redneck- cole slaw, jalapenos, bacon, and chili- still reigns supreme. It’s such a perfect mix of crunchy saltiness, spicy peppers, and cool creamy slaw. The Good Morning Jersey, with Taylor Ham, cheese and a fried egg, is pretty good but needs ketchup added- Taylor Ham and ketchup are the perfect marriage of flavor. The Jon Jon Dragon, with cream cheese, scallions and “everything bagel topping” is good but strange. Cream cheese goes well, but the topping is too salty. We still haven’t conquered their menu, and they keep raising the bar.
Even when Milky can barely lift a Crif dog, he will persevere and conquer. He won’t let any mere hot dog humiliate him. And just look at how fiercely Firecracker protects her plate. She got the Chihuahua, the avocado bacon dog. That’s the one Chihuahua you won’t wanna dropkick.

Thanks to all who participated, and for those overlooked, better luck next year!

The Brooklyn Brewery Tour

We’ve been wanting to go on this tour for a good while- if I knew how close Brooklyn Brewery was to the L train and the Brooklyn Ale House, we would have gone a lot earlier. Nestled in the warehouse district in Williamsburg, in an unassuming barn-like structure surrounded by the horrific signs of hipster invasion- overpriced “thrift” shops full of ironic vintage wear- overlook the trust fund kids lingering about, and get your hand stamped at the door.

The operation is much bigger than the more familiar High Point Brewing Company location, and this is just where they make the draft of their specialty brews, like Brooklyner Weisse and Post Road Pumpkin Ale. All the bottling and their famous Brooklyn Lager is made upstate, at their original location. On Saturdays they give tours every hour from noon til 5pm, and afterward you can buy pints and taste samples at their bar in back. They also let you order food from local restaurants to have delivered. The back room is filled with wooden picnic tables for imbibing and camaraderie.

The tour lets you in among their mash tuns and brew kettles, and explains the process of cracking the grain, extracting the sugars, fermenting them with yeast, and so on. They also sell their used grain to a pig farm. It also gives you the colorful history of the brewery- began by a banker and a foreign correspondent who met in the Middle East and began brewing in their hotel rooms, because the “dry” countries under Muslim law forbade the sale of God’s greatest gift to mankind, beer. They began selling in 1989 and are now one of the 40 biggest breweries in the nation, and in my book they narrowly edge out Samuel Adams for the best of the big boys; they have a larger variety of specialty beers available, and some of them are truly fantastic. Their Black Chocolate Stout is one of the tastiest, and their Post Road Pumpkin Ale is the second best pumpkin I’ve had (the best being Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale).

The brewery of course had many of their specialties available as well as their flagship Brooklyn Lager. I tried the Flemish Gold, a tasty Belgian style farmhouse ale, a hoppy flavorful brew with a spicy, fruity finish. I tried their delicious Post Road Pumpkin Ale, which has a definite spicy pumpkin pie flavor and a bitter hoppy finish, and took home a six pack. My fave was the Brooklyn Brown Ale, which is nearly as dark as their stout, and smooth with a full toasty flavor. One of the best bargains is a $15 combo of their Local One Belgian bottle-fermented special, similar to Chimay Reserve, and two gold-rimmed, stemmed flutes. I picked up that for later, and some other goodies like a t-shirt and a handy bottle opener keychain.

The website mentions a Happy Hour from 6pm to 11, but can’t find any details about it- we would have gone back after dinner! It’s a good bargain for the area, because you buy chips for your beers- $6 each or 6 for $24, and just try to find a beer this good for $4 in the city. If you’re a beer lover, the tour is educational and enjoyable, and if you haven’t had a chance to sample their great variety of beers, this is a great way to do it. The brewery is a short walk from the Bedford Ave. stop of the L train, and if you’re looking for ironic items to decorate your apartment with, you can duel with the hipsters and scavenge in the local thrift shops.,-73958014,15512340134091706295&s=AARTsJrtzYDsHDjZ94V_SFythMuLQt4zMw&ll=40.7323,-73.953781&spn=0.022764,0.036478&z=14&iwloc=A&output=embed
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Greasy Spoons: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

It’s rare that I get excited about a chain of restaurants. Our expectations have gotten so low for chains that we will eat a greasy, uninspired burger at a dump like Round Robin, Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesdays, containing up to 1,940 calories, and imagine it is good. Then I went to a Five Guys, and I saw the light. I hadn’t had such a good burger at a chain since California, with their infamous In-n-Out and Fatburger, or the Midwest’s Steak ‘n Shake. Five Guys blows them all out of the water, like a Red October patrolling the burger seas.

920 calories of mouthwatering goodness.

How do they do it? Simply by offering a better product. For one, their beef is fresh ground and never frozen, and their fries are made to order. That’s right, they don’t sit under a heat lamp to dry out. They are fried in pure peanut oil, with no sprayed-on coatings or other bullshit; it’s a sliced, fried potato, served plain or with Cajun spices if you desire. This will slow down your order somewhat, but we waited no more than 5 minutes. And it was worth every second.

Free roasted peanuts while you wait.

Their menu is simple- a single or double burger with the options of bacon or cheese, and a few fresh toppings- all of which are free. They also serve beef hot dogs, with optional cheese or bacon, and grilled cheese or veggie sandwiches for vagitarians (note- not a misspelling). They helpfully list the calories of each item right on the menu board, and offer detailed nutritional info on their website. Beverages are Coca-Cola soft drinks with free refills; a fresh lemonade or real iced tea would be welcome; for shakes you can go to Island Burgers and Shakes, Steak ‘n Shake, or the Shake Shack. This ain’t no diner.

Five Guys Burgers is Goofball approved!

While I can enjoy a fried burger, they are meant to be grilled. You get a touch of crispy char on the outside which seals in the juices. I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with fresh jalapenos and grilled onions. They come wrapped in foil for easy eating, and was juicy enough to not require ketchup. Darth Milk, our resident ketchup addict, even went light on the red stuff. The gals ordered singles and were sated; I must say this is one time when a double is warranted. The singles aren’t tiny burgers but at 3.5oz are no jumbos either. Besides, when you eat a double with bacon, you get some incredible texture and mouth feel- the crisp bacon, then successive layers of char and juiciness between. It’s a masterwork. They don’t slouch on the bacon, either- it is fresh fried and crispy, not so thin that it crumbles apart, nor so thick that it’s chewy.

A slogan justly earned.

I opted for the regular fries and the gals got Cajun (it’s a Louisiana thing). The Cajun fries were fine, but nothing special to me. Next time I’d just bring Tony Chachere’s seasoning to throw on the excellent plain fries. These ain’t pommes frites but they are perfectly tasty skin-on fries, served in a cup- the regular size is enough for two, and a large can feed three easily. In NYC this is quite the bargain for well made food. It looks like The Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien has some competition for best burgers in midtown. Five Guys may not have Sam Adams, but there’s more space to sit here, and no pretentious tourists acting like they’ve discovered the lost city of gold. And the burgers are equal; both are some of the best you’ll have anywhere.

Cup of fries; served with malt vinegar as intended.

Five Guys started in Washington D.C., but are popping up everywhere– even in the wilds of New Jersey. Hopefully they’ll be open late, but it seems in Jersey they are popping up in strip malls, so it is unlikely. They are definitely worth the trip if you like a good char-broiled burger- if you miss the Anthony Wayne, the Red Chimney and the Short Stop, let Five Guys bring back the memories. You’ll still want to make a pilgrimage to Miss Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta for a Ghetto Burger someday, but until then, Five Guys can handle your burger jones.

Greasy Spoons: Island Burgers and Shakes

In a little unassuming storefront in Hell’s Kitchen, you can get some of the best burgers in the city slathered with homemade sauces and dozens of toppings, a delicious shake and some huge-ass cookies. Just don’t ask for fries. They don’t serve any. Why the ixnay on the izefray? There isn’t enough room for a fryer. Once you squeeze into the shop’s narrow seating area, you can see why. It’s still comfy for 4 at a table, as the slinky waitresses sidle behind you with huge platters of chicken churascos, and if you’re lucky you won’t have to wait for one of the 5 or 6 tables. But if you have to, it is worth the wait. And you can get a huge baked potato covered in toppings instead.
We didn’t try a potato. The burgers are enormous, and they have Dirty Chips- aka Zapp’s Chips in the South- available in BBQ, Sour cream & Onion, plain kettle, and Jalapeno. I had mine with jalapeno, which gives a nice palate-cleansing tang between bites of burger. And you’ll be taking a lot of bites. Island Burger is known for toppings, and their huge menu lists dozens of variations that you can have either as a burger or a churasco.

Fork? How about a forklift…

I decided on the Frog (boursin cheese, bacon, and fried onions), Firecracker had the Tijuana (bacon, jack, guacamole, onion), Jokerboy the Purist had a bacon and cheese, and Beast had Will’s (bacon, cheddar, sour cream, onion, scallion, sourdough). We all had bacon. Bacon is the great equalizer. About the only thing on a pig that’s better is perhaps the Crispy Pig’s Ear at The Spotted Pig, which must be eaten in moderation. But it’s so good that our two friends violated kosher to try it. The bacon here is nothing special- not thick or seasoned. The burger and the sauces made up for it.

About an entire grove of avocados.

The burger patties are half a pound- fat and juicy. They will serve them to you rare- none of that nanny state bullshit. I had mine medium, so it was pink and juicy in the center. The patty resembles a huge charred meat donut without a hole. It’s fat and round like a cartoon hamburger, but well-formed so it’s a bit loose inside, and doesn’t feel like eating the huge chunk of meat that it is. The problem is keeping a thick burger and its generous toppings on the bun. Ours were all either on Pullman sourdough- a thick, spongy square slice of bread- or the sesame seed bun. I daresay that these may not be up to the task of holding the burger together. The ciabatta roll we saw a slab of chicken churasco riding was more like half a loaf of bread and seemed much more capable. The next time I go, I will definitely build on a ciabatta.

Even a relatively “plain jane” bacon-cheese was unwieldy.

The flavors were excellent, despite our troubles eating the messy burger. The boursin cheese was rich and creamy with lots of herbs, and the bacon seemed like an afterthough. Very few of the caramelized onion petals remained on the burger, so I couldn’t tell how everything worked together. The guacamole was tangy and creamy, and I might pair that with something hot next time. I didn’t see many spicy sauces, to my dismay. I like a little fire in my burger.

Ryan working on Shake #1.

That would give their excellent milkshakes and malteds something to cool off. Remember Pulp Fiction, when a $5 shake was a joke? That’s milk and ice cream. They don’t even put bourbon in it? Well, its time has come to pass. I was disappointed that you don’t get the metal shaker- just a relatively small sundae glass. But oh, the taste. I had a black & white malted, and it was honestly the best malted I’ve ever had. Jokerboy had 2, which is one solution I guess. Me & Firecracker shared a “Kitchen Sink” cookie which was good- though next time peanut butter & chocolate chip will be the one we choose. This monster cookie was oatmeal-raisin-chocolate-pecan-peanut butter, and could have done without the oatmeal. At least we got some fiber. The oatmeal drowned out the other flavors, but there were nice chunks of chocolate.

Cookie Monster would be sated.

The burgers are not cheap- they cost as much as a burger & fries at a chain. But this tastes like a real homemade burger. It shocked me that I hadn’t had an honest-to-Wimpy juicy hamburger at a restaurant in so long. Greasy, yes. But at Island Burgers, when you ask for medium, you get it. They don’t cook them all until they are gray inside, like at Red Robin, or any number of burger chains. This is the real deal, and worth hunting down. As far as BIG burgers go, this is up there with Miss Ann’s Ghetto Burgers, and the monstrous bleu cheese burger at The Spotted Pig for pairing size and flavor. Check them out. You won’t regret it.

Just don’t ask for fries. Besides, you can go downtown to Pomme Frites where they serve fries and no burgers.,+nyc&ie=UTF8&cid=40764256,-73988354,18308938123021018570&s=AARTsJpNCBW3evor73q1v4SnN9VTM9huxA&ll=40.774822,-73.984165&spn=0.022749,0.036478&z=14&iwloc=A&output=embed
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Spring Awakening

Firecracker’s been wanting to see this for a year, and we finally got to it. I took her to see Rufus Wainwright for Valentine’s Day instead. While Rufus is entertaining, I wish we’d gone to see this musical instead. It’s pretty funny and very hot. For a show based on a play from 1890 that’s a surprise. There’s sort of a dearth of bawdiness in that era, and that’s what the story is about- it’s a morality tale about sexual repression, the kind of thing John Waters should be making a campy movie version of.

Sure it’s a little emo, but it’s a good show. I was thoroughly entertained and titillated. We had on-stage seats, which gives you a unique perspective; I’d probably want to see the show from the audience before I did it again. You miss a lot of the dialogue and lyrics because the actors are projecting away from you. You get the best view imaginable, and get bumped around sometimes as they bounce around the stage. The stage seats are incorporated into the show, actually- the backup singers sit with you, and occasionally the cast is standing right next to you.

Moritz, Melchior, Wendla

The story begins with young Wendla, a German girl who asks her mother about the birds and the bees. Our Prussian-Puritan background shows in that I said “birds and bees” instead of “the penis and the vagina.” We’ve got a thousand euphemisms for it. Anyway, her mom is too embarrassed to tell her not to let snakey into her no-no, so you know she’s going to get in trouble later on. From there we cut to a strict Prussian schoolroom, where mussy-haired Moritz (Blake Bashoff, Alex’s boyfriend on “Lost”) has fallen asleep during recitations of Latin. His friend Melchior (the lead, Kyle Riabko) defends him and becomes the rebel of the show, questioning the schoolmaster’s methods.

I’ll only put it in a little

He’s the one who gets in trouble with Wendla. Moritz falls asleep in class because his wet dreams are keeping him up all night, and he asks “Melchy” to write him an essay with illustrations because he’s read about sex in those forbidden books. Wendla finds him by the lake scribbling his naughty essay and eventually succumb to their throbbing hormonal urges. From the stage seats you get subjected to Mr. Riabko’s ass-crack, which delighted Firecracker. I got a look up Wendla’s skirt, and can tell you Alexandra Socha wears tighty whities. Besides being appropriately cute, the actresses and actors are all quite good. Beast said Melchior overacted, but he’s playing a rebellious teenager, and he played the part of the “Angry Young Man” from that Billy Joel song perfectly.

We’d be in those chairs on stage left

Emma Hunton was my favorite- she plays Ilse, a girl who was kicked out by her parents and now lives on the streets, posing for the Bohemian painters to live, usually wandering barefoot or in one of the artists’ shirts. She’s got great pipes and has a touching scene where she comforts inconsolable Moritz, who besides suffering the cruel injustices of the schoolmasters, can’t tell when a girl likes him. They sing a duet together that was the best song of the show, “Blue Wind.” The real crowd-pleaser is “Totally Fucked” when Melchior finally rebels, but it was loud and heavy on percussion so I couldn’t understand any of it from the stage seats.

Moritz channeling Amadeus

Overall Spring Awakening is a good show and worth seeing- the current cast is excellent, and while the story might appeal more to teenagers than adults like me, who wanted it to be campier or even more daring, it is never boring. The set design is spartan and efficient, with no big set changes- it’s not showy like Hairspray but it was clever and impressive. Check out the soundtrack on Amazon: