#286: University of Beer

12PM, 1/8/2023

https://www.theuob.com/

Hope no one blew away with the wind last night, it was wild! I was able to visit University of Beer before the storm hit for lunch while the weather was quite nice. University of Beer is located on Eureka at Lead Hill in the old Chili’s/Broderick location. We’ve had one of these nearby for a while over by the Blue Oak theaters. I recall when I first saw it I figured it was a huge chain that was just now making its way into our area. To my surprise it turned out to be a relatively small local chain. They have just six locations, the furthest out being Davis and Vacaville.

I’ve been to the Rocklin location a couple times when they were new there, and once to the Sacramento location for trivia. This was my first visit to Roseville’s UoB. One of the reasons I thought this was a chain was the sheer amount of money and effort that clearly goes into building one of these restaurants. Tons of decoration greet you before you have even stepped inside, intricate sculptures formed into beer cans and benches line the pathway to the front door. Inside the decoration fills most flat wall spaces. Hundreds of tap handles are mounted to the walls and ceilings along with sliced up kegs of various sizes. Light fixtures around the bar are made from sliced open beer and liquor bottles. Of all of this, the decoration that I appreciated the most was the little signpost showing all our local breweries. It’s a nice little reminder that this wasn’t a huge corporation that sent over a large container of their standard fixtures to be installed in store #978.

Anyway, I arrived right at noon, and grabbed a seat at the bar and started looking through the 40 or so beers they had on tap. They’ve got a nice mix of styles – IPAs, Stouts, Sours, Lagers, Pilsners, Wheats, Ales, Ciders and Belgians – something for everyone. I started off with the biggest IPA I could find: Juice Sr. from Great Notion, a hazy triple IPA that lives up to its name. This one ranks up there with some of my all time favorite IPAs, bursting with sweet tropical and citrus flavors that hide the sneaky 10.5% ABV. [$10 Goblet, I assume this is about 8oz]. I’m noticing now that they show two prices for all beers. The smaller price might be for flights. I initially thought it was a discounted price for members of their “Mug Club”, but the club page doesn’t say anything about a discount on individual orders, only upgrade specials on pints and some other unrelated benefits. Some clarification on the menu about what these two prices mean would be useful.

Moving on to the food, I hadn’t eaten in about 24 hours and I was ready to get stuffed. Before heading over I had picked out a monster burger and some jazzed up fries to go with it. This was the Beer-Battered Burger (beef patty deep-fried in craft beer-batter, Swiss cheese, citrus jalapeño aioli, topped with waffle fries and spicy ranch)[$20]. I’ve tried a lot of deep-fried things over the years but I think this might be the first burger. I upgraded the standard waffle fries to their Drunken Pig Fries for $5 (crispy waffle fries, beer-braised pulled pork, spicy jalapeño salsa, spicy ranch, melted cheese, sour cream, bacon, and cilantro).

My order took about 14 minutes to prepare and I ordered my second beer just before it arrived. This time I went with Curieux from Allagash, a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian Tripel ($10 Goblet). This was a much lighter beer than the IPA, a bit of a honey sweetness with a dry finish. In hindsight I think I should have ordered these the other way around to have Juice Sr. with the burger.

The upgraded fries were a great choice. The waffle fries were super crisp and stayed that way til the end even with all the toppings. The spicy ranch, bacon and pulled pork all stood out the most in this. The pork was super tender and flavorful. I see they offer this pork in taco and slider options as well.

Getting to the burger, this thing was hefty. The battered patty was golden brown and lent a ton of crispy, crunchy texture to every bite. It sat atop a nice big green leaf of lettuce and hid a couple slices of ripe tomato underneath. Swiss cheese was melted to the top of the patty and held a couple more waffle fries in place nicely. The fries, in turn, held onto the spicy ranch with their many nooks and crannies. This is a wild swing of a burger creation and I think it mostly succeeds. Perhaps the only change I would make is to swap out those fries with some fresh onions and avocado, but that’s partially because I already had waffle fries as a side. It was certainly filling and I cleaned the entire plate up and left very satisfied, again not eating anything for the rest of the day ;).

UoB is such a strange place because it’s so hard not to think of it as a gigantic chain with its meticulous branding and high level of polish. The service was on point throughout my visit. When a patron behind me spilled a drink, two employees sprang into action right away. And when two customers at the bar headed out, there were three staff members descending on the spot to clean up almost before they were out the door. I hope they do well here. I remember being absolutely shocked that Broderick didn’t make it in this location. It’s certainly not a high foot traffic area since it’s the only thing that’s not an office on this block. Maybe that nice big blue sign out front will help entice those driving by to check it out!

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#281: Shawarma Stackz

4:35PM, 8/17/2022

https://shawarmastackz.com/

On Wednesday I had myself all worked up for a post gym visit to a place called Wicked Star (Thai/Vietnamese Fusion) located near Chipotle and AT&T by the Galleria, but surprise surprise, they’ve apparently been gone long enough that there is no trace! I pulled up my list to find a backup plan, eventually realizing the backup plan was right in front of me in the same building. Shawarma Stacks was the answer.

I knew nothing of this place prior and I have to be honest that a lot of the gyro/kabob/shawarma/etc places feel pretty similar to me. I wasn’t super thrilled (and was still reeling from Wicked Star closing since I had already picked out what I wanted earlier in the day) but at 4:30PM I headed in. Last time I was here this was still Blast 825º Pizza. I recall the place feeing big and modern at the time (this was 8 years ago) and it still retained that. The large space is a bit more partitioned into 2 distinct dining areas and the kitchen. Now hanging from the center of the already visually interesting ceiling are a bunch of colorful lanterns.

When you first walk in you turn to the right and have a long walkway to the kitchen side of the store. In this walkway are three large panels with the menu (identical to the take-out paper menu’s three main panels if I recall). I stood here for a while going over all my options. For entrees you can build a pita (baked in house), a bowl (with a base of Basmati rice) or a salad (organic spring mix topped with tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers, kalamata olives and feta cheese with a vinaigrette dressing). Protein options for all three include falafel, chicken shawarma or steak shawarma. Fifteen toppings and 6 sauces make up the add-ons here.

Feeling mildly overwhelmed and unsure what direction to go I decided to pick out one of the “Stackz Originalz”, a collection of three pre-configured pitas and one salad. I went with The O.G. Pita (Inspired by the original Syrian style shawarma. Our steak shawarma pita, stuffed with shredded lettuce, parsley mix, tomatoes, pickled cucumber and Tahini sauce)[$11]. Looking to the sides menu, a lot of it is pretty standard stuff – pita chips, falafel, hummus. A couple things jumped out at me. The first were the Stackz Fries (French Fries topped with tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers, kalamata olives, pepperoncinis, feta cheese and choice of sauces)[$5 half / $8 full]. You can also add falafel or shawarma to these, which made them sound pretty good. The second item was Halloumi Cheese Stix (Imported Halloumi Cheese fried and served with our house baked pita, specialty Fig Jam and Cucumber-Yogurt sauce)[$9.50]. I decided on the Halloumi Cheese Stix as I was totally unfamiliar with these.

With that I stepped around the corner and, now in view of the staff, was greeted and someone met me at the register within a few seconds. I added a fountain drink to my order, paid and headed over to the fountains. They serve Stubborn brand soda, and even had a sugar free cola, which was the first I’ve seen of it (and it was quite good). Another interesting note on the fountains was how you pour it. Instead of a button or lever they have draft style handles that you pull, which I thought was kind of fun.

My food was out in no time, under five minutes I think. My initial reaction to the Halloumi Cheese Stix was that they looked like steak fries, and that there weren’t a whole lot for almost $10. After doing some reading about this cheese and talking to a coworker from Lebanon about it, I’ve decided that the pricing is actually fairly normal. The pita looked a little flat, but that was deceiving in the basket. Once I lifted it up I could tell there was quite a bit inside.

Starting off with the cheese I tried a bite on its own. It’s a medium-firm cheese with very mild, slightly salty flavor. The outside was just barely crisped up. These were decent, but they really shined with the fig-jam. The jam was dense and I had to be carful not to break off the cheese when scooping some up. It was delicious and very sweet, which went really well with the saltiness of the cheese. The cucumber-yogurt sauce was quite good as well, but man that fig-jam, I’m still thinking about it a day later. I would totally get this again. I should mention that I didn’t really touch the pita these came on, partly because I already had one with my entree, but also I wasn’t really sure what to do with it anyway. My coworker told me about how his mother would wrap the cheese up in pita along with some peppers as a snack. I’ll have to give that a shot next time.

Moving on to the pita. I should preface this by mentioning one of the few places I’ve had shawarma is Eat A Pita in Rancho Cordova. I probably first went there to try it after seeing that post-credits scene from The Avengers where they are all chilling in the shawarma shop getting a bite to eat after the battle of NYC. That shawarma is so intensely seasoned and delicious, I had yet to try it anywhere else for fear of being disappointed. Big mistake, this shawarma was just as good. Now I need to get it everywhere. This pita was great and, like I said, huge. I didn’t even finish it, which is rare for me since my stomach is a bottomless pit most of the time. The pickled cucumbers were a really nice addition to the flavors here. This was nicely constructed and had a bit of everything in each bite.

Overall I came away extremely pleased with this place. A far cry form my initial mindset when I first headed in. This appears to be the only one of these, and it’s very cool to have it here in Roseville.

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#280: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream

5:30PM, 8/3/2022

https://handelsicecream.com/store/roseville/

This week I ate so much junk food, and Handel’s made up a good portion of it. I sense a lot of salads in the coming week to compensate. On Wednesday I stopped at this ice cream place across from the Galleria (right next to Buffalo Wild Wings). They originate in Ohio and have expanded to 10 states. This location opened about a year ago. I think I’ve been here once before. I don’t recall what I ordered though. I arrived at about 5:30 and it was about 102º, perfect.

Inside the space is quite large. Half or more is behind the counter, chilled storage for their many flavors, and more space behind them, I assume where they make it. I’ve dabbled in ice cream making and the scale here is impressive. I can’t imagine the batch size they work with. On the menu I found the perfect item for this visit, a 4 scoop sampler [$6.75]. I decided I would pick 1 scoop from each of the 4 main ice cream categories on the menu (Chocolate, Specialty, Fruit & Vanilla). Including the basic flavors and some other specialty options (vegan / ice / sherbet) there were 50 flavors to choose from today.

I went with: Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie (chocolate ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter® ripple and brownie chunks), S’mores (graham cracker ice cream with marshmallow ripple, chocolate chips, and mini marshmallows), Strawberry Cheesecake Chunk (cheesecake ice cream with strawberry ripple and cheesecake chunks) & Oree-Dough (vanilla ice cream with Oreo® cookies and cookie dough pieces).

In general, I really love the overall consistency of this ice cream. They keep it just cold enough to keep it solid because it’s very soft and almost fluffy in texture. I ended up taking most of it home, where I keep my freezer about as cold as it will go, and the ice cream was solid as a rock when I pulled it out the next day. Flavor-wise it held up well though.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie – The chocolate ice cream base here really dominated the flavor of this scoop. The brownies stood out well in terms of texture next to the soft cream. I think it could have benefited from more peanut butter. What was there simply got overwhelmed by the rich chocolate ice cream.

Strawberry Cheesecake Chunk – This one was delicious, and it was the one I was least excited about (I’m not so much into fruits with my sweets). The ice cream had a great cheesecake flavor to it and the strawberry ripple, which seemed almost syrupy, was a nice bright contrasting flavor. The cheesecake chunks sort of blended into the ice cream and I didn’t notice them that much.

Oree-Dough – While still good, this was my least favorite of the four. It just didn’t strike me as particularly special next to the others. There was plenty of cookie dough chunks and pieces of Oreo cookies though. I think the vanilla ice cream (which I am generally a fan of; “vanilla is a flavor” -Nick Wiger) is the weak link when right next three very good bases.

S’mores – The star of the show for me. I kind of blew right past the description of this and didn’t realize the ice cream base itself was graham cracker flavored. The color took me by surprise. This was amazing and really captured that mix of ingredients well. The marshmallows were still nice and soft, which I was really impressed by, but the marshmallow ripple did most of the heavy lifting for that flavor.

At work on Friday they had an ice cream social thing (a shockingly rare event from my company for its employees) and it turned out to be catered by Handel’s. So once again I was eating more ice cream. I went with the S’Mores again (it’s that good) and also tried the Mint Chocolate Chip (mint ice cream with chocolate chip specks) which was nice, bright (both in color and flavor) and as refreshing as a dairy-based desert can be.

All in all, Handel’s is a solid ice cream shop. They don’t do any sort of crazy or fancy stuff, just straight up good ice cream scoops.

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