Time to reclaim Ashlee Eats for frugal Louisville eaters

Rice Krispies
Brand name, y’all. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I had made it. I had a secure job at a huge company. I could pay my bills on time. I bought Rice Krispies instead of Crispy Rice. 

For the past few months, I’ve visited more upscale restaurants high on the fumes of financial security. My budget has upgraded from dollar menu to value meal.

Then I received an $80 dinner bill that kicked me in the pants. I blame the one two three cocktails for my lapse in fiscal responsibility during a birthday dinner at a delicious restaurant that shall remain nameless (I’m protecting the innocent; it’s not the restaurant’s fault I balled so hard).

I felt all the feelings after that splurge:

  • I felt full (seriously, that food was delicious)
  • I was thankful that I could afford that meal
  • I was guilty that I had abandoned this blog’s original pledge of eating frugally and had wiled out in the name of YOLO*
  • I was sad that there are still folks in my city who can’t afford a meal anywhere, let alone an $80 one
  • I felt motivated to refocus Ashlee Eats around the four tenets of my food philosophy: buy local, be green, eat frugally, and fight hunger.

I’ve eaten some delicious food since I started calling myself a food blogger. And sometimes, great food comes with an even greater tab. I’m not saying we should refrain from treating ourselves sometimes. I’m also not saying that I’m anywhere within spitting distance of rich or able to regularly throw down almost 100 bucks for dinner.

But for me, that $80 ticket reminded me that I hadn’t followed my own advice about eating on the cheap. It reminded me that I had stopped writing so much about hunger and frugality. It reminded me that I stopped being a good steward of my own food philosophy, on this blog and in real life.

What do these revelations mean for Ashlee Eats?

I’ll write more about good deals around town, either at fancy places or just regular ol’ spots. I’ll share more recipes, since you can save so much money by staying in a few nights a week. I’ll still highlight restaurants that are worthy of treatin’ yo’self, because we gotta have some fun. And I’ll broadcast more events that provide an opportunity to give back to our community so we collectively kick hunger’s behind.

Oh, and I’ve gone back to Crispy Rice.

*YOLO — You Only Live Once; an urban version of carpe diem; my motto for the past few months; an outdated term I refuse to abandon

It’s that time again – 25-cent ice cream scoops at Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen, 6.22.13

Gadzooks, that's a lot of chocolate.
Mr. Ashlee Eats enjoying the 25-cent ice cream social.

The temperature has climbed, and the humidity has settled over the Ohio Valley. A scoop of ice cream sure sounds delightful right about now.

Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen will offer ice cream scoops for 25 cents each tomorrow, June 22. The offer is good at all 10 Pie Kitchen locations from noon to 5 p.m.

Plan your day accordingly.

Enjoy sweet discounts during the final stretch of Hometown Tourist Celebration Month

The Kentucky Derby feels like it happened yesterday, but somehow we made it in spitting distance of June. Where did May go? Did we do a time warp?

Louisville, Kentucky Derby
I feel like the horses just raced last weekend. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fortunately, the month isn’t quite over, so we still have time to enjoy some of the perks of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Hometown Tourist Celebration. The purpose of the festivities is to get folks like me away from the computer and into the wilds of Kentuckiana to enjoy the local food and fun in our area. Plus, a lot of participating businesses will give you substantial discounts when you show your Kentucky, Indiana, local student or military ID.

Here are some of my favorite deals. Click here for a complete list of discounts.

What’s your favorite Hometown Tourist destination?

Jimmy John’s has $1 sandwiches today, 11 am – 3 pm

Live in Louisville, New Albany or Clarksville? Like sub sandwiches? Then today is your day, friends.
Jimmy John’s, the “freaky fast” sandwich delivery company, will celebrate Customer Appreciation Day today, April 17, by offering $1 sandwiches at its Kentuckiana locations. 
Here is the fine print: the offer only applies to sandwiches 1-6, and you have to order in store. Also, you have to buy your sandwich between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Click here to find more about this deal.

I will do anything to save money, but I won’t bake bread or roll sushi

I’m up for just about any recipe. But there are a few dishes I’d rather buy than make myself.

Sometimes, plain ol’ convenience wins out over the reward of creating something in your own kitchen. Time is in short supply these days (damn sequester), and I can’t always make everything lovingly from scratch. Instead, I shelve my ambitions and pick something off my shelf that only needs to be opened, eaten and enjoyed.

Here are a few foods that I would rather buy than make. Feel free to chime in.

  • Bread. I don’t have a bread maker. I also don’t have the patience for dealing with a live, active culture like yeast. Why go through the trouble of cutting butter into flour, and kneading, and waiting, and baking, when I can just grab a slice from the 89-cent loaf I scored because of a Kroger manager’s special? This category also includes dinner rolls, biscuits and pita bread.
  • Tahini - Sesame seeds paste
    Tahini – Sesame seeds paste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Hummus. I blame the tahini, a key hummus ingredient, for my aversion to making this dip on my own. I hate buying a condiment that only has one special purpose in the world. Can I put tahini on chicken, fish and steak? My fear is that the tahini will fester in the back of my cabinet between batches of hummus.

  • Curry. My curry will never, ever be as good as the most mediocre curry in the most mediocre restaurant. I prefer not to try rather than have my hopes dashed.
  • Salsa. I had a bad experience with homemade salsa. It involved two friends, some vegetables from the Trader Joe’s in Washington, D.C., and a Magic Bullet blender. Unfortunately, it did not involve any spices. That soupy mess has scarred me for at least another decade.
  • CrackersThe Kitchn, one of my favorite food blogs, is always trying to tell me I can make my own crackers at home (here are 10 recipes). I’m sorry, but eff that. I turn to a box of crackers when I’m feeling all sort of feelings that only Golden Girls and cuddling with my dog can make better. Making my favorite feel-better snack from scratch takes away some of the comfort. It adds work. I can’t do it.
  • DKD sushiSushi. Don’t even get me started. Jiro has spent his whole life becoming the master of raw fish and rice. I’m not going to even try.

What foods do you refuse to make?

Tardy to the ramen noodle party

Chicken ramen with bok choy.

Brace yourself for a surprising confession.

I ate ramen noodles for the first time two weeks ago.

It seems criminal that it took me nearly three decades to eat this budget-friendly dish. The only time I was close to ramen as a child was when my mom only fixed ramen for my dad, who slurped up the noodles with baked chicken legs. It seemed like a “grown-up food,” so I stuck with my spaghetti. Then I went to college, where the halls of my all-girls dorm were thick with the smell of spice, salt and chicken, the hallmarks of a bowl of ramen. The smell was so pervasive that it dissuaded me from ever bringing those noodles into my life, budget be damned.

As with most of my food awakenings, Rob is the one who opened my eyes to the possibilities behind the red and yellow square packages. He grew up eating ramen noodles because “they were cheap, they were good and they were easy to make.” A couple of weeks ago, he came in with a Kroger bag full of ramen packages. I’m pretty sure his eyes twinkled.

It was time to give these noodles a whirl. He expertly boiled water and dropped the brick of wavy noodles into the pot. After pouring away most of the water, he sprinkled a chicken flavor packet into the now-flaccid noodles while simultaneously tossing them with a fork to ensure even flavor distribution. It was like watching Iron Chef. And the secret ingredient is … RAMEN.

I steamed some leftover bok choy to accompany the ramen (you know, to make it healthy) and helped myself to a bowl. My mind was blown. The ramen was so salty and spicy that I’m pretty sure I met my sodium intake for the day. The bok choy added some crunch to this tender noodle dish. My mind raced with all the vegetable additions I could make in the future.

Days after my awakening, a six-pack of chicken-flavored ramen sits patiently in the cabinet. But I won’t let almost 30 years pass before I eat ramen again.

$10 Challenge: Joe’s Older Than Dirt

The promise of cheap food close to my home was the only thing that could get me in Joe’s Older Than Dirt, a tavern in Lyndon.

Framed, autographed headshots of visiting country singers and a couple of deer heads filled a wood-paneled wall where I ate my dinner. A cornhole game was assembling in the expansive outdoor patio as I headed home. And there’s plenty of cheap beer on tap, which seemed to be the main attraction that brought patrons to Joe’s.

I don’t know much about country music (though I love me some Johnny Cash). I know less about cornhole. And I can name on one hand the beers I can tolerate.

Fortunately, stepping out of my comfort zone paid off. There’s a lot more to Joe’s than a few good drinks. This is a bar with hearty platters of food with prices that compliment the beer specials.

Joe’s has been around since 1937, when Joe Keal opened a tavern near what is now the corners of Lyndon Lane and New LaGrange Road, according to the information on Joe’s menu. His clientele was passengers from the nearby railway station that he sometimes picked up with a horse and buggy.

Times have changed, and so has Joe’s. The tavern was expanded over the years, so patrons can have a drink, watch some ESPN on several flatscreens and a projector, play a little cornhole outside or enjoy some karaoke or a live performer depending on the day of the week.

And then there’s the food — nothing fancy, and that’s OK.

Appetizers are designed to complement a cold beer, like nachos with beef chili ($7.95 for a large, $10.95 for a jumbo) or Joe’s Famous Cheesy Fries with bacon bits ($6.99). The hot sandwiches and platters come with a lot of food. Just look at some of these names: Big Bob’s Battered Belly Buster (a half pound white fish sandwich, $7.99); A Moose-of-a-Burger (a one-pound hamburger, $9.99); the Jumbo Fried Fish Platter (two pieces of cod, two crab cakes, two hushpuppies, fries and coleslaw, $14.99).

You have to pay at least $10.99 to feast on any of the platters, which come with more side dishes than just a sandwich. But all of the sandwiches come with chips and a pickle and are less than $10. On a weekday evening, a sandwich and chips were enough for me, so I ordered the half-pound Lodge Burger with cheese ($7.49) and a side of fried corn ($1.95). My husband ordered 10 chicken wings with a dry rub ($7.99) and an order of fries ($1.95).

Joe’s Lodge Burger.

The burger was a solid example what you can do with some beef and bread. The patty was juicy and covered with a thick slice of pepperjack cheese, my dairy product of choice. Call me crazy, but the best part of the Lodge Burger might have been the bun, which was buttered and toasted to a crisp brown. A little cooked fat kept the beef juice from turning the bread into a soggy mess.

As far as sides go, the kettle-cooked chips were nothing to write home about, but the corn was a dream. The kernels were fried in some kind of spicy sauce that kicked the back of my tongue after its sweet first impression. What a way to eat more vegetables.

Fortunately, The Mister believes that sharing is caring.

Joe’s chicken wings.

The dry rub gave Rob’s chicken wings a crisp, mesquite skin. The french fries were coated in a seasoning salt that made it hard for me to keep my hands away from his basket. Next time, I’ll opt for the fries instead of my kettle chips.

Even if you’re not much into country or cornhole, Joe’s Older Than Dirt is worth a visit. And take a few extra bucks for a beer to go with your meal.

Joe’s Older Than Dirt, 8131 New LaGrange Road, Louisville, Ky.

Lodge Burger: $7.49

Fried Corn: $1.95

Water: $0

Total: $9.44 (before tax)
Mission: Accomplished

Verdict on new BoomBozz pizza: Delicious

Chicken sausage peppadew pizza from Boombozz.

Boombozz, a Louisville-based pizza restaurant, debuted its new pizza in the best way. The restaurant gave it away.

On Labor Day, the first 50 customers at the restaurant’s Westport Village, Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenue locations received a free medium Chicken Sausage Peppadew pizza.

I live across the street from one of these locations. So guess who was the 10th person to get a free pizza Monday?

This is what comes on the pizza:

  • Chicken sausage blended with fresh garlic and roasted peppers
  • Peppadew, a South African pepper
  • Red onions
  • Mozzarella
  • Goat cheese

The peppadew is very sweet and mild compared to its hotter cousins. This red pepper balanced well with the bite of the red onion. The slices of chicken sausage were plentiful, but I think the peppadew might be paired better with a sweeter meat, like ground lamb.

I plan on eating this pizza again. And again. And again. And with large, artisan pizzas that cost less than $20, it’s an affordable dinner/cold breakfast option.


[$10 Challenge] O’Shea’s Irish Pub

Fish and chips at O'Shea's.

I’m not a big drinker. And I hate going out to the bars.  A night with a bar stool up my butt while I sip on a $10 drink? Not my idea of a good time.

I do make exceptions for two things:

  1. A good happy hour (cheap drinks AND I can still be in bed by 10)
  2. Bar food

Bars are an untapped resource when it comes to finding a good cheap place for a full meal. When I visited London in college, pubs became the only place in which I could afford a meal that was tasty, filling and easy on my student budget.

Those fond memories of fish and chips led me to O’Shea’s Irish Pub, a member of the O’Shea’s family of pubs located throughout Louisville.

Under normal circumstances, O’Shea’s is a place I would avoid. It’s one of many bars sandwiched together along Baxter Avenue. On weekend nights, traffic inches by groups of bar-hoppers. It’s loud. It’s crowded. It’s a shock to my system that keeps me tucked far away.

But Baxter Avenue at 5 p.m. on a weekday? Completely manageable, downright pleasant and the best time to slide into a wooden booth at O’Shea’s and enjoy an early dinner.

The lunch and dinner menu is full of filling dishes that include Irish favorites and Kentucky standards. The Guinness Beef Stew topped with mashed potatoes ($6.99) sounds great for a cold winter day, but I’d also settle for Irish Whiskey Style steak sandwich ($8.99, includes one side item). For those with a more Bluegrass taste, there is the Classic Hot Brown ($8.99) or the 12-inch Bourbon County Flat, a whole-wheat pizza with chicken, mozzarella, red onions and bourbon barbeque sauce ($10.95). Diners can also substitute any of the pub’s hamburgers ($6.99-8.59) with Kentucky-raised bison for an additional $2.50.

O’Shea’s also offers a variety of pizzas, sandwiches and appetizers that could turn into meals. But when I hear the word “pub,” my mind instinctively scans the menu for fish and chips. O’Shea’s doesn’t disappoint — Fish & Chips is the first option available under the “Pub Classics” section.

On a recent dinner date, my husband and I each ordered the Icelandic cod, battered European-style with Guinness beer (the other option is a cracker-crumb coating known as O’Shea’s-style). On the advice of a waitress, we replaced the fries that come with the platter with pommes frites, “handcut potatoes fried twice at two different temperatures the way they’re prepared in Belgium,” the menu told us. The fish and chips also comes with a side of coleslaw. I had the half order that comes with one fillet ($8.99), while Mr. Ashlee Eats got down with the two-fillet full order ($12.99).

First, let’s talk about the bad, which was fortunately just a tiny part of the meal.

One bite into the coleslaw, and the little plastic cup earned a place off my plate. The pub considers this more of a garnish than an actual side, the waitress said, and it was evident in the taste. The cabbage tasted like it had been sitting in the refrigerator for a day too long. It was bland and forgettable, especially compared to the delight that was the entree itself.

The fish and chips (well, pommes frites) were fantastic. It is just as simple as that. The cod was freshly battered and hot out of the fryer, so much so that a few moments of cool breath were necessary. The coating was thick, crisp and perfectly brown. The fish beneath the batter was flaky and moist with a seemingly melt-in-your-mouth quality.

The pommes frites are just as crispy as the breading on the fish. The side dish seemed more like the kind of french fries I might make at home if left with a pile of potatoes and vat of grease. They were much better than anything a fast-food restaurant could offer. There’s also a medley of dipping sauces you can choose to go with your frites. My heart belongs to the horseradish aioli.

By the time we polished off our meal, the after-work crowd had started to trickle into the pub. I happily walked by the faces at the bar with a belly full of good food and a smile knowing I wouldn’t be stuck on a bar stool for the rest of the evening.

Notes about O’Shea’s Irish Pub

  • Want a drink while you eat? Here is the pub’s drink menu.
  • The servers have always been super friendly on my visits to O’Shea’s. They give great recommendations and are very honest.
  • The menus, options and prices are different at each of the four bars in the O’Shea’s family, so look at the menus before you pick your destination.

The Stats

O’Shea’s Irish Pub, 956 Baxter Ave., Louisville, Ky.

  • Fish & Chips half order, European style: $8.99
  • Water: $0
  • Total (with tax): $9.53
Mission: Accomplished

December is a good month if you love Subway and Qdoba

Here’s a quickie post to get your Friday going.

  • Subway is offering $2 six-inch sandwiches through December for Customer Appreciation Month. Here’s the catch: the deal only applies to the cold cut combo and the meatball sub.
  • Now through Dec. 11, Qdoba restaurants in Louisville and southern Indiana will offer $5 entrees after 5 p.m. You just have to purchase a soft drink.

Got it? Go forth and have a fantastic Friday.