Friday, September 18, 2015

Pure Protein Bars

Pure Protein makes protein powders, bottled protein drinks, and protein bars, aimed at athletes. Certainly not the sort of products I seek out, as I usually find protein sources like this to be pretty awful tasting, and I'm not an elite athlete, so I have no need to eat things like this.

But ... I was at an expo, and they were giving out bars.  I'll try anything.  Spoiler: I wish I hadn't.  To be fair, I only tried one bar, and they make a slew of different varieties, some of which sound tempting, like S'mores, Peanut Butter Caramel, Chocolate Peanut Caramel, Chocolate Salted Caramel, or Dark Chocolate Coconut.  They also make canned shakes, in flavors that don't sound awful: chocolate, banana cream, strawberry creme, vanilla cream, and cookies 'n creme.  But ... I'm not about to go try any more of these products.
Strawberry Pure Protein Bar with Greek Yogurt Style Coating.
"These unique and delicious bars feature Greek Yogurt style coating and real pieces of strawberry for a truly amazing taste!"

For bars, Pure Protein makes three different product lines: the originals (made from a protein blend of whey and soy protein isolate), fruit & nut bars (these actually have real dried fruit and nuts in them), and Greek yogurt (coated in Greek yogurt).

I was given a Greek yogurt bar, certainly not what I would have picked, but, again, hey, I'll try anything.

Like most of their bars, the base is a "protein blend", made from whey protein.  Of course, there is soy protein isolate and soy crisps in there too.  These ingredients never turn out tasty, but, I tried it.

It was exactly the sort of bar that gives protein bars a bad reputation.  It tasted horrible.  The texture was horrible.  Shutter.

Yes, inside were little tiny bits that did taste like strawberry, but they couldn't mask all the protein stuff.  The "Greek Yogurt Style Coating", featuring maltitol and palm kernel oil, didn't really taste like anything, and certainly didn't add anything to the bar.  I appreciate that htey didn't even try to call it "Greek Yogurt", and opted for "Greek Yogurt Style" instead.

This was nasty.  I can't imagine a scenario under which I'd want to eat this.  There have to be better ways to get 20 grams of protein, if you really need it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Brickhouse Cafe

Brickhouse Cafe is a restaurant in South Beach open all day, that morphs throughout the day and throughout the week.  Although "cafe" is in the name, it most certainly isn't a traditional "cafe" at all.

For weekday breakfast, it is a very casual establishment.  You order at the register near the bar, and most people get their food to go, although there is seating.  They offer many different egg dishes, including a slew of variations on egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, along with pastries and coffee drinks.  Plenty of folks just stopped in for a coffee, which I guess does make it rather cafe like.

Lunch is a sit-down affair with full table service, mostly featuring their extensive burger lineup.  Throughout the afternoon they stay open with a fairly expansive bar menu, including Happy Hour specials, and a slew of signature drinks.  Finally, there is dinner, which adds in more classic hearty entrees such as steak, salmon, and porkchops.  On the weekends, the first meal of the day is brunch, a hybrid of the breakfast and lunch menus, again with regular table service.  

Brickhouse Cafe has been around for a while, and I live nearby, but I hadn't ever visited until recently, when I saw that they accept payment via the Paypal app, and I was enjoying seeking out places with Paypal offers.

I only ever visited during the mornings, but I loved the biscuits enough to want to return for another meal service sometime.  In particular, I'm interested in their burgers, as the beef is sourced from the owner's own cattle ranch in Washington.  He also goes on annual salmon fishing expeditions and personally catches some of the seafood they serve.

The Space

Bar Area.
As I mentioned, they are open for continuous service all day long, so the bar I'm sure is a feature later in the day.  It was well stocked, and probably a great place for a happy hour drink and bite, but I've only visited in the morning when it was desserted
Seating is varied and casual.  The entire space is bright, open, and airy, with a rustic feel due to all the wood.  Very comfortable and inviting.

The center of the room contains a huge communal table with high stools.  Booths and small tables make up the sides.  I didn't venture upstairs, but there is an open loft area with additional seating.


Coffee Condiment Station.
The self-serve condiment station has all the classic sweeteners, including many types of non-sugar and sugar cubes, plus milk, but lacked any cinnamon or cocoa, which I always like to add in.
Decaf Coffee.  $3.
Coffee when you dine in is served in a huge metal mug.  It looked strange to me at first, but I quickly grew to love it.  I appreciated the heft of it, and the way it felt in my hand.

The coffee was fine, although it bad a bit of a strange sweetness to it, that I attribute to being rather stale decaf.  I'm guessing this is not a high volume item for them.

$3 for a cup of pre-brewed drip coffee was a bit high, even though the cup was large.  Interestingly, if you get it to go, it is only $2.50.  I would only get this again to compliment a meal, I certainly wouldn't seek it out.
Peppermint Mocha. $4.
Espresso beverages are also offered, but not in decaf.  So I "splurged", and went for the caffeine.  Since I was going all out, I made it a mocha.  And not just any mocha, a peppermint mocha.  Oh, and one topped with a fancy peppermint marshmallow.  Decadence.

Now, to step back, you probably know that I generally just drink black coffee or Americanos.  Milk and sugar are things I only add when the coffee tastes bad.  This style of milky drink, with extra flavors and sugars isn't really my style.  But it was cold out, and I wanted comfort, and decadence, in a cup.

It totally hit the spot.  I appreciated the generous amount of foam, although the bubbles were rather large, not exactly velvety smooth microfoam.  The drink was crazy sweet, and it would have been better with half as much peppermint and chocolate.  So the mocha itself ... not amazing, but I grew to appreciate it.

What was amazing however was the marshmallow.  I saw the barista pull it out, so I knew it was a Whole Foods brand peppermint marshmallow.  I've seen these by the registers at Whole Foods all winter, and I'm glad I got to try one.  Sweet, fluffy, and crazy minty.  I loved the marshmallow plain, but I really loved how it softened into the drink.

That said, I probably wouldn't get another of these, or if I did, I'd ask for it half sweet.  But really, I'd just ask for the Peppermint Mocha special, hold the mocha, just give me a cup of peppermint marshmallows.  Or I guess I could go buy them at Whole Foods myself.

$4 was a fine price for such a fancy drink.


Breakfast pastries (croissants, scones, morning buns) are displayed near the register.  They are not house-made, but I wasn't able to determine where they came from.
Morning Bun.  $2.50.
I wanted a breakfast pastry to go with my coffee.  My choices were  sad looking croissants, a single scone, or a morning bun.  The morning bun immediately caught my eye.

Sadly, it was awful.  The exterior was crunchy, but not a pleasant crispy, it was just dry.  As was the inside, not moist, even in the very center, where a great morning bun is often soft and doughy.  There was some cinnamon between the folds, but not nearly enough.  The dusting of sugar on the outside also did not save it.

It was not offered to have it warmed up, the only other way I could imagine salvaging it.  Sadly, I didn't bother finishing this.

All pastries are $2.50, which is a fine price, and they also sell day olds for only $1.  But, I wouldn't even pay $0.50 for this!


Granola & Greek Yogurt with Fresh Fruit. $7.
Ojan stopped by Brickhouse one day to grab a snack, and of course, I demanded a bite, even though yogurt, fruit, and granola parfait was perhaps the most boring thing he possibly could have picked.

The granola on top was just toasted oats, no clumps, no nuts, no seeds, no dried fruit.  Pretty boring.  The yogurt was standard greek yogurt.  The "fresh fruit" was cantaloupe and honeydew cubes, plus chunks of pineapple, and raspberries, all fresh enough.

Quite boring and uninspired, but, I would have never ordered this.  $7 price was fine for a large parfait.
Side Dish: Buttermillk Biscuits $2.
The breakfast and brunch menus feature biscuits with sausage gravy and eggs.  I've been addicted to biscuits and gravy lately, and if I was getting a full breakfast, I certainly would have gone for that.

But I stopped by for another reason.  I had some leftover really delicious cheese sauce at home that I wanted to smother something with (it originally was used with gnocchi, and reminded me a bit of cheesy gravy, if that makes any sense).  Somehow, smothering a biscuit in this cheese sauce, along with some sauteed spinach, seemed like a great idea.  So I ordered a side of biscuit to bring home and use later.

I was a little surprised that it took a while for my biscuit to be ready.  It turned out, they serve the biscuits warm (unlike the morning bun, grrr).  Whoops.  Since I wasn't intending to eat it right away, I didn't need it warm.  But when I opened my box I was even more surprised.  Two whole biscuits!  Score!

Since I had two biscuits, I decided to try one right away.  After all, it was warm!  It was warm and fresh, sliced in half, and a bit toasty on the outside.  I liked the bit of crispness to the toasted exterior, but it was still perfectly moist inside and not at all dried out.  The winning element however was the buttermilk tang.  Such a great tang.  It crumbled nicely too.

The woman who gave me the biscuits told me she doesn't even think they need gravy or anything, she loves them just with butter, and I can totally see why.  These are just great biscuits!  I choose to use some jam on the one I ate on the spot, like with an English scone, but, they only have Smucker's basic strawberry jam and grape jelly at Brickhouse, neither of which did the biscuits any justice.

I think these biscuits would be great warm with some of my mom's strawberry jam and a little clotted cream.  And I think they'd be great with butter.  Or smothered in the sausage gravy as Brickhouse serves them.  They were also delicious with my cheesey-gravy sauce too, and I'll definitely consider getting this again.

$2 for a side of two biscuits was crazy reasonable.  $1 each?  Unreal.
Brickhouse Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 14, 2015

Milkshakes ... from Pinkberry?

You know me and birthday freebies, I can't resist!  Particularly when they are for awesome things like frozen yogurt at Pinkberry.  I really like Pinkberry, and you can read all about past Pinkberry froyo creations, such as my first ever visit when they opened in SF, my return visit a few weeks later,  my 2013 and 2014 Pinkberry birthday outings, and other visits.

So when my birthday rolled around this year, I picked the first hot day, and eagerly set off to Pinkberry, excited to see my 6 flavor choices.  And then ... I saw them.  Hmm.  Not exciting.  As always, they had classic tart and chocolate hazelnut, both pretty boring.  Next came two fruity flavors: blood orange and pear.  I tried the blood orange and it was crazy sweet, and not in a good way.  Pear was a seasonal offering, creamy, decent enough, but not really for me.  Next, dairy-free peach passion.  This had a decent flavor, but was just sorbet (sorry those who are dairy-free, but I'm all about the cream).  The final flavor was another seasonal one, pumpkin.  It too was decently creamy, but I didn't care for the spicing.

I was a bit dejected.  I didn't like any of the flavors.  The birthday freebee is only good for the month, and I was gone for most of August, so I had no more time.  I had to use it, or lose it.  And I couldn't lose my freebie!

Then, the helpful staff member who was taking my order chimed in, "you can also get a smoothie or shake if you want?  Anything that is the same price as a small with toppings ..."

I had no idea that Pinkberry even had these on the menu.  At one point they experimented with offering greek yogurt, but that didn't last long.  All anyone gets there is froyo with toppings.  But since I wasn't loving the froyo flavors, maybe a shake wasn't a bad idea?

I eyed the shakes and smoothies menu.  Smoothies are made with greek yogurt and fruit, all healthy sounding, and none of the exclusively fruity flavors jumped out at me.  The shakes however are made with froyo.  They have only three flavors: strawberry pomegranate, chocolate banana, and chocolate peanut butter.  Chocolate peanut butter you say?  Well, hmm.  Chocolate and peanut butter are always a great match in my book ...
Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake. $5.25.
"The perfect twist on a classic milkshake, made with the goodness of yogurt."

I felt bad as soon as I ordered it, and saw how much work my server had to do, compared to a standard froyo order.  A swirl of froyo, pack on a few toppings, done.  But a shake?  That took effort.  But she did volunteer the fact that I could get one, right?  Maybe it was nice to do something different?

My server immediately told me that she'd be back in a few minutes, and retreated to the back of the area.  She pulled out a gallon of milk and a tub of peanut butter.  She pulled out a blender.  And she got to work.

My shake was made with the chocolate hazelnut froyo, which she dispensed right from the froyo machine into the blender, plus milk (I think whole milk? I wasn't given a choice of milks, and I can't imagine they really have options), and a very generous amount of Peter Pan creamy peanut butter.  I'm pretty sure that is all that went into it.  

Anyway.  The consistency was really great.  Super thick, almost too thick to drink with a straw at first, but it melted quickly, so this wasn't actually a problem.  I also grabbed a spoon to enjoy a little that way as well.  The consistency was basically that of froyo, just slightly watered (er, milked?) down.  It reminded me of a Frosty from Wendy's, although I haven't had one of those in years.

The flavor was very, very rich.  It was too rich for me at first.  I love peanut butter, but I think she went overboard on how much she added.  As the shake melted it got a little less intense, plus, it grew on me as I became used to the richness.  But it would have certainly been better with slightly different ratios.  I had about half left when I got back to my office, and I quickly cut it with some soy milk, which worked wonders.

So overall, this was actually pretty good.  Clearly a different experience than getting a froyo loaded with toppings, but if you are in the mood for a shake, it turns out, Pinkberry can do a decent job.  I'm not sure why the shake menu is so limited though, as they do have plenty of ingredients with which they could make some awesome shakes.  I wonder if you could customize one?

I also really wanted whipped cream on top.  And I kinda wanted chocolate chips mixed in for some texture, like you can get in Starbucks frappucinos (another freebie I got for my birthday ... stay tuned!)

The regular $5.25 price seemed a big high, but it was a very large shake.  This is the same price as a small with toppings, and compared to that, a shake is a much greater value - it has far more froyo in it than a comparable small dish, and the server spends much more time mixing it up (and then cleaning the blender out).  I'd get it again in similar circumstances, but I wouldn't necessarily seek it out.