Admit it, you hate brussels sprouts. I hated them. My dog hated them. I know this because she wouldn't eat mine. I have had a conversion, however. I now LOVE the little green orbs of yuck and have a favorite joint to gobble them up by the bowl full. I'm sure I've lost most of my readers by now, but keep an open mind. Maybe you'll learn to love them, too.
Let's define why we hate brussels sprouts. As kids, our mothers threw handfuls of the evil mini-cabbages into boiling water and let them cook until mushy. The result was a sulfurous boggy ball that offends multiple senses, with the stench, the bitter taste, and the gummy texture. The overcooking releases a glucosinolate that provides the bitter taste and smell. The overcooking has another unintended side effect, stripping the sprouts of their anti-cancer properties. That's right. Brussels sprouts help prevent cancer. They also help you become super-human strong. Remember Jean-Claude van Damme? Most people mistakenly think he was called "The Muscles from Brussels" because he was Belgian. Nope, the man ate sprouts like Popeye in a bar fight.
So how did I go from cursing my ungrateful dog for not destroying the evidence to being a die-hard sprouthead? The first taste of a good sprout came from the cookbook of my least favorite TV food personality, Ina Garten (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-brussels-sprouts-recipe2/index.html). At the bottom of the recipe she says "I like these salty like French Fries." That caught my attention, and I decided to cook them up. Belissimo! From her recipe I expanded, first by quartering the sprouts to brown more completely, to adding bacon and a balsamic drizzle. Salt is a must though, plenty of Kosher salt. There are several other sprout recipes that I have found that I truly enjoy, including Alton Brown's (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/brussels-sprouts-with-pecans-and-cranberries-recipe/index.html) and even Brussels sprout soup! (http://www.squidoo.com/brussels-sprouts)
Okay, we have home cooked sprouts down, how about restaurants? There are a couple of fine dining spots that have pretty darn good sprouts. Oak would be one, of course (http://www.oaksteakhouserestaurant.com/index.html). They don't have the best, though. For my money the best Brussels sprouts belong to a chain restaurant. That's right, a chain; although it is a local chain. Tbonz (http://www.tbonz.com/), whose sister restaurants include Pearlz and Kaminsky's, has been around for years. I, however, have never been much of a fan. That would be courtesy of the Market Street location, which is priced perfectly to draw in the tourists by the busload. So for several years, Tbonz has been on my 'why bother' list.
That all changed when I received a coupon this past December. Being the thrifty Scot I am, I grabbed The Girl, and off to the West Ashley location we went. I'm not going to go in depth about most of the food. The steaks are on par with Outback, and well ahead of Applebee's. Good, filling, inexpensive. The rack of ribs are Titanic in scale, and priced on par with the much smaller portions at Chili's. None of that matters. None of that is why I come back. I come back for the service and the Brussels sprouts.
The preparation of the sprouts is amazingly simple. Halved, flash fried for 30-45 seconds with parmesan cheese and Old Bay, and on the plate. THAT IS IT! Boy does it taste like more work. The nutty parmesan and the slight bitter of the sprouts blend seamlessly. The Old Bay is subtle, so much that until you know it is there you can't place the taste. Once you realize that fact, you realize these aren't Brussels sprouts, they are Crab sprouts! The similarities in taste to Maryland blue crabs is uncanny. This one dish is a must have for anyone who loves, or hates, these much maligned veggies.
Every other week for several months we have been stopping in, mostly so I could have sprouts. Then on Easter Sunday, the 6th Day of Passover, our waiter Ben nearly ruined my world. He told me that they were planning on taking the Brussels sprouts off the menu. I know they are a winter veg, and in spring and summer they can be much smaller, but they are so damn good! Apparently my shock was so visible that Ben went to his GM, Rob, and told him about my dismay.
I want to stress the fact that at this time no one knew who I was, or that I write this blog. To Rob I was just one more face that passes through his restaurant, one of hundreds he sees every week. He asked me if it was true that the sprouts were the reason I keep coming back. 'Of course they are, they are perfect!' I tell him. His next sentence won me over as a customer for life. "Well, I guess we will just have to keep them on the menu then." One person wanted to keep them. One person he has never met. One person who might never tell another soul about the generous move on his part. Can you imagine the GM at Outback doing this? Tbonz may be a chain, but it is a local one, with a local focus, and a real focus on the guest experience!
So there you have it. In one post I have been able to show you that my outlook on a childhood arch-nemisis and a poorly thought of restaurant have changed over the course of time, with the help of proper preparation and great service. What other foods and restaurants have I ignored all these years that might actually be good? How about you, what are you going back and trying again?
Tbonz The Scores:
Overall: 19 out of 25, If you are looking for an inexpensive but good tasting steak, check out Tbonz, and their Brussels Sprouts!
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