Quick Bite: Calzone at Vino’s

I love a good calzone, sometimes even more than pizza.  There’s just something about that crisp, flaky crust filled with goodies that pleases my taste buds on every level.  With that in mind, today’s Quick Bite review is of the Pepperoni and Mushroom calzone from Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub.  This massive calzone is stuffed with mozzarella and ricotta and loaded with pepperoni and mushrooms and served with a dish of Vino’s smooth, tangy marinara to the side.  What makes this dish special to me is the ricotta cheese, which adds a richness in flavor and a nice contrast in texture to the stringy mozzarella.  The crust is tender, but substantial enough to hold all those fillings without getting soggy or falling apart. It’s large enough to share with a friend, and at less than seven bucks a great deal as well.  In addition to the pepperoni and mushroom version shown above, there are plain cheese, sausage, vegetarian, and a loaded “Special” versions available, too – and they all make a pretty good foundation to soak up all Vino’s tasty house beers.

Vino’s is located at 7th and Chester, and they’re open for lunch and dinner daily.

Snack Time: Sam’s Oriental Grocery

Hi, kids, it’s time once again for your old pal Michael to eat some snacks and tell you how they are!  Today’s treats were purchased from one of my favorite stores in Little Rock, Sam’s Oriental Grocery on South University.  I’ve been shopping at Sam’s for years, and it’s my go-to place for inexpensive sauces, sea salt, fresh produce, and tasty noodles.  They’ve also got a pretty wide variety of imported snack food available, and while I usually just content myself with boxes of delicious Pocky and cans of wasabi-coated green peas, I decided to branch out and try a few things that caught my eye.  The results, as always, were mixed, but I hope this will inspire some of you to branch out and try different things.

Mei Yuan Green Tea Dried Seedless Prune – At first blush, this should be the perfect snack for me, because I like green tea and I like prunes.  The texture of these was unlike the prunes found around here – instead of being dense and sticky, these were light and almost feathery.  I popped one into my mouth, and as I began to chew I thought I had discovered a brand new favorite snack: tart, chewy, with just the right hint of bitterness from the green tea to add some layers to the flavor.  And then it hit me like a tanker truck full of diet soda – an artificial sweetener taste so strong that I almost spit the prune right out.  I tried another one, and the shock wasn’t as bad since I was prepared for it but there it was again, that sickly sweet artificial taste overwhelming everything else.  Flipping the package over, I discovered that one of the main ingredients in these things is aspartame, and trust me, that aspartame jumps right up and says “howdy.”  It occurs to me that you’re perhaps supposed to steep these in hot water like tea, in which case the artificial flavor might not be so bad; I’ll have to try that.  I’m going to look for a brand of these that doesn’t have the artificial sweetener – other than that, they were great.

Kasugai Lychee Gummy – With this one, I almost felt like I was cheating, because I’m pretty familiar with the Kasugai family of gummy candies.  Anybody that knows me knows that I’m a gummy freak, and there aren’t many candies of this nature that I don’t enjoy.  I picked the lychee flavor to try, though, because the lychee (or soapberry) isn’t a very common flavoring for American candy.  Lychees are sweet, fragrant, and have a touch of piney musk to them that I really like.  The individually wrapped gummies did a good job capturing that flavor in a perfectly textured candy.  Kasugai gummies are awesome, and I highly recommend them.

Shing Shang Crispy Wasabi Coated Anchovy – And believe it or not, I’m rather familiar with the original flavor of these crispy anchovies, and I’m actually quite fond of them.  This was the first time I’d tried the wasabi flavor.  Fair warning, though, opening a canister of these is like sticking your nose into a jar of wasabi-flavored goldfish food.  The taste is sweet, salty, and fairly fishy, and while there’s a nice bit of wasabi spice to them, I was disappointed in the heat level altogether.  These are probably fishier than most folks want to eat, but if you like that sort of thing, there are several varieties of these around.  They’re healthier than potato chips, and you can be sure that nobody will steal them from you if left in a company cabinet.

Stick Man Fish Cake – I bought these compressed sausages of cheese and pollock based mostly on the sheer excellence of the name.  My hopes for Stick Man Fish Cake were that it either be so secretly delicious, like a sort of fishy Korean Slim Jim, that I would be singing its praises to all of you – or that it be so horrendously awful that I could make some fabulous jokes about this insane fish sausage that I found.  Unfortunately, the sheer mediocrity of this snack doesn’t nearly do justice to the name.  Stick Man Fish Cake has a taste and texture very much like fake crab – not surprising, since pollock is usually the main fish used for such applications.  It’s chewy, rubbery, but actually very mild in flavor; slightly sweet with an aftertaste reminiscent of burping after swallowing a fish oil capsule.  It won’t make you run screaming, but it certainly didn’t make me as happy as the caped Stick Man on the package.

All in all, this snacking adventure was a good, solid 2-for-4 on snacks I’d eat again.  The gummies and the anchovies were tasty, while the prunes and fish sausage left some to be desired.  Next time, I’ll try to pick up a package of the durian paste I saw, and maybe then I’ll have some extreme reactions for you.  Cheers!