Stick to baseball, 3/26/17.

My annual column of breakout player picks went up on Thursday for Insiders, and I held a Klawchat that same day. I had one other Insider post since the last roundup, on four prospects I saw in Arizona, one Cub, one Royal, and two Padres.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book now has two positive reviews out, one from Kirkus Reviews and one from Publishers Weekly.

Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 8/27/16.

This week, for Insiders, I ranked the MLB players with the best hitting tools, fielding and throwing tools, and pitching tools. I held my weekly Klawchat on Friday.

For Paste, I reviewed the upcoming boardgame Tak, which was designed based on the fictional depiction of the game in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles novels.

My last run at the helm of the BBTN podcast for this year came on Monday’s show, with guests Jerry Crasnick and Joe Sheehan.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 8/6/16.

Seems like it’s been a lot more than a week since my last links post, since I’ve traveled twice in the interim. Here are all of the Insider pieces I wrote in that span, all of which relate to the trade deadline:

How the Yankees’ rebuild gives them a top 3 farm system
The Liriano/Hutchison trade
The Matt Moore trade
The Jay Bruce trade
The Lucroy trade
The Will Smith and Zach Duke trades
The Carlos Beltran trade
The Reddick/Hill trade
The Andrew Miller trade
The Melancon trade

My review of Quadropolis, the fun new city-building game from Days of Wonder, is also up over at Paste. It’s a little more complex than Ticket to Ride (DoW’s biggest title), but my daughter, who’s now 10, loved it. There are many ways to score, so it’s a game of choosing two or three of those paths to focus on rather than trying to do a little of everything.

There was no chat this week due to travel, and I’ll be taking the beginning of this week off to work on my book, returning to ESPN duties on Thursday (and chatting as well).

And now, the links:

  • HTTPS is now now vulnerable to a new exploit. This is kind of a big deal because the “s” is supposed to mean that the connection is secure.
  • The Rio Olympics are probably going to be a disaster, and the IOC is a corrupt mess, but the inclusion of a separate team of athletes who are refugees was one of the IOC’s most noble decisions in ages. One of those ten athletes is a Syrian swimmer who swam for three hours to push her refugee boat to safety, saving the lives of 20 other refugees in the process.
  • This week, vaccines and the Presidential race collided in a big way, as delusional Green Party candidate Jill Stein continued to pander to the anti-vaxer movement with equivocations so broad the Porter in Macbeth thought she was overdoing it. She’s wrong, and so is snopes’ defense of her statements, according to the important pro-science (and anti-pseudoscience) blog Skeptical Raptor.
  • Stein’s moment of science denial means Hillary Clinton is the only one of the four candidates who hasn’t pandered to anti-vaxers. This is important, because if you think people who believe something so monumentally stupid as this anti-vaxer bullshit are a constituency you can and should capture, I’m not voting for you.
  • The Sacramento Bee, a paper in a state where I’d guess Stein has some support, also ran an op ed calling her view disingenuous.
  • On to the election … Meg Whitman, a politically active Republican who ran for governor of California on the GOP ticket, has chosen to support Hillary Clinton with her money and her time, because she views Trump as a dangerous demagogue, comparing him to Hitler and Mussolini and – the part I both liked and agree with – “warned that those who say that ‘it can’t happen here’ are being naïve. I connected the Sinclair Lewis book of that name to Trump back in March.
  • The former head of the CIA quit his job at CBS and endorsed Clinton, explaining why he believes she’s the right choice for our national security in this first-person op ed.
  • In the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian, columnist Nick Cohen writes that the cowardice of other Republicans has allowed Trump to get this far. This isn’t the GOP of Ronald Reagan, nor is it the GOP for whose candidates I have voted dozens of times in federal, state, and local elections since I first gained the vote in 1991.
  • I thought this was the best political-comedy tweet of the week:

  • Let’s move on to food, including this piece from 2015 on how resting the meat improves barbecue, even when the resting time is a few hours.
  • I missed this outstanding piece from the New York Times when it first ran in October, on genetics Ph.D. and wheat breeder Stephen Jones, called Bread is Broken, which explains how our wheat and thus our bread has become so much less nutritious over the last two centuries, and how we might fix it.
  • I’ve saved this recipe for watermelon rind preserves with ginger and lemon to make the next time we buy a whole melon.
  • The nation’s third-largest poultry producer is defying rising concerns and even a CDC warning about prophylactic use of antibiotics in our food chain, even running ads bragging that they still use these drugs. Antibiotic resistance is as real as evolution – the latter causes the former, inevitably – and this is flat-out irresponsible. But I’m glad they’re outing themselves so I can try to avoid their products.
  • Remember when I was horribly sick in January with a fever of 101+ for six straight days? The drug that finally defeated the infection was Levoquin, part of a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, but those drugs have some nasty side effects, including tendon damage. WHO considers these antibiotics an essential medicine, one of the most effective drugs against gram-negative bacteria, but more doctors need to reserve them, as my doctor did, until other safer antibiotics have failed.
  • Germany’s Condor Airlines has started a “book on board” program that grants travelers an extra kilogram of weight allowance if they show a sticker from their local bookseller.
  • Jess Luther has done great work on the systemic problem of coddling college athletes who rape women, especially the rampant corruption in Baylor’s football program. Her book on the topic is coming out this fall and here’s her first interview about it.
  • In a related story, the University of Florida appointed a booster of the football program to adjudicate a Title IX hearing on a rape case involving Gator football players.
  • Deadspin reports on the opening hostilies in the battle over the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark boondoggle. The City Council of Arlington approved the stadium proposal 7-0 despite no evidence whatsoever of economic benefit and some early signs of public dissent.
  • ISIS has become a hot-button term in our Presidential election, but that doesn’t change what they are, the evil the Daesh do in Syria and Lebanon, or their attempts to sow terror in Europe. This piece on how they’re kidnapping and training child soldiers will chill your soul.
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan is facing an opponent in the Republican primary for his seat. This wouldn’t be notable except that his opponent wondered aloud why we allow any Muslims to be in our country.

Stick to baseball, 5/28/16.

My Mock Draft 2.0 Is now up for Insiders. You can also see my post from Tuesday ranking the top 25 prospects in pro ball. I’ll expand that list to 50 after the Futures Game in July.

I also held my usual Klawchat, this time on Friday morning on a flight from Birmingham to Baltimore.

And now, the links…

Saturday five, 8/29/15.

My main Insider piece this week was on sustainable MLB breakthroughs in 2015. I meant to include Rougned Odor on this list, and somehow just plain forgot him when I sat down to write the piece. Anyway, this is my mea culpa and statement that I believe his improvement at the plate is real, sustainable, and only the beginning for him.

I also covered the Metropolitan Classic high school tournament that’s hosted and organized by the NY Mets, writing about the top 2016 and 2017 draft prospects there.

And now, this week’s links…saturdayfive

  • The nationwide rise in the popularity of authentic barbecue has left black pitmasters behind, even though that style of cooking has roots in African-American culture.
  • An excellent longread from the BBC on the forced repatriation of Chinese sailors in the UK after World War II, with the story of one woman whose biological father was one of those deported.
  • Baseball is on the rise in Uganda, believe it or not. It’s a sport that requires a long gestation period when it manages to take hold in a new region or country, but it seems to be growing well in the small sub-Saharan African nation, where it’s still against the law to be gay.
  • A chemistry decoder to send to that idiot friend from high school who keeps posting FoodBabe links on Facebook.
  • A personal post from a woman whose son nearly died from the flu. It’s just about flu shot season, too.
  • Another sugar (sucrose) substitute, the natural but uncommon sugar allulose, may be moving toward the marketplace, but like sugar alcohols, it passes right through the upper GI tract and can cause some problems further on down the line.
  • Kevin Folta, a scientist at the University of Florida, is under attack by the tin-foil hat crowd because Monsanto provided $25,000 for an educational outreach program, covering his travel costs. The personal nature of the attacks and the ignorance of how corporate funding actually works in academic research result in a deeply disturbing application of the genetic fallacy.
  • Longtime reader Tom Hitchner has a good post up on why teams keep getting sweetheart government-funded stadium deals. It’s happening in Milwaukee, and it’s happening in disgusting fashion in St. Louis, where a law prohibiting such deals was overturned by a judge as “too vague.”
  • TV critic extraordinaire Alan Sepinwall asks if there’s too much good television right now. I say yes, there is, and I have little to no hope of watching most of it.
  • U.S. tennis pro Mardy Fish had to quit the sport due to anxiety, but he’s back, and he’s talking about his affliction.
  • Mental Floss assembled a group of clever airline safety videos from around the world. The two Delta ones are both funny and effective; the first time I saw each this year I had to put down my book to watch them.

Saturday five, 5/9/15.

My ranking of the top 100 draft prospects for 2015 is now up for Insiders, and I held a Klawchat afterwards to answer questions about it. I’ll be at UConn’s game today (Saturday) against Cincinnati to see Ian Happ before I head home for Mother’s Day.

And now, the links…

Saturday five, 4/10/15.

My ranking of the top 50 prospects in this year’s draft class went up on Friday for Insiders; I also had a draft blog post specifically on Nate Kirby and Kyle Funkhouser, and I broke down the Craig Kimbrel/Melvin Upton trade. I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the excellent baseball-themed deckbuilder Baseball Highlights: 2045, which is currently $32 over at amazon. My daughter, who doesn’t have much interest in the actual baseball thing, even asked me last night if we could play it again this weekend.

Amazon is having a huge sale on strategy games today in honor of International Tabletop Day, with almost half off Splendor, 7 Wonders, Five Tribes, and King of Tokyo.

And now, the links:

  • A repost from my social media accounts this week: Why the “Food Babe” is full of shit. The shame is that she could marshal her small group of followers to make meaningful changes to our food supply, like pressuring vendors to stop buying meat from animals raised with antibiotics, but instead propagates ignorance and anti-science sentiment.
  • More on the FraudBabe: A post from September on the harm such pseudoscience quacks can cause in their followers. And followers they are, much like those of a cult leader.
  • One baseball link, from my colleague Stephania Bell: What we’ve missed about Tommy John surgery, with a focus on why some pitchers require a second transplant surgery soon after their first one.
  • Longread of the week: Vanity Fair delves into the deterioration of NBC’s news department that culminated in the Brian Williams debacle. Shorter version: This was the end of a long decline.
  • The health of our bodies is related to the health of the trillions of bacteria that live in our GI tracts; one gene in the mother may affect the composition of bacteria in a newborn’s gut.
  • Children with maple syrup urine disease, an organic acidemia similar to the one my daughter and I have (3-MCC), can only be cured via a liver transplant. Now their discarded livers can be transplanted into other patients who might not qualify for a liver from a “healthy” (meaning dead but not diseased) donor.
  • This excerpt from Masha Gessen’s The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy on the death of one of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s friends at the hands of the FBI poses some uncomfortable questions about the nature of policing in an endless war against terror.
  • Cops are much more likely to stop black drivers than white drivers for investigatory (that is, non-safety) reasons. And that’s how you get situations like the murder of Walter Scott. (Confession: When I saw #WalterScott trending, I started thinking of Waverley jokes or something I could tweet in Scott’s variety of the Scottish dialect, only to discover what the trend was about and stop myself from being horribly insensitive.)
  • Daniel Vaughn, aka @BBQSnob aka Texas Monthly‘s barbecue writer/editor, went to Phoenix’s Little Miss BBQ and loved it. I feel validated by this. I like the slaw more than he did, and I’ve had better sausage there than he got, but otherwise we’re on the same page.
  • Vice has some ominous news for almost everyone on the Internet: Your porn is watching you, or, more specifically, it would be rather easy for someone to reveal any online porn viewer’s habits if they were to compromise any major site’s server logs. There’s some skepticism, but I think the larger point about our lack of privacy online (porn or not-porn) is valid.

Austin eats.

Getting to Austin even for just a couple of days was a huge treat for me, as it’s one of the country’s great food (and cultural) centers, yet my travels have rarely taken me there, since UT has produced just one pick in the top five rounds since 2011, and the high school talent in the area has been relatively weak. I think I made the most of my time there, hitting the country’s best barbecue joint, the restaurant run by one of the most dominant Top Chef competitors ever, and a fantastic third-wave/direct-trade coffee roaster all in one twelve-hour stretch.

Franklin BBQ has earned vast acclaim as the country’s best barbecue joint, first coming to my attention in 2011 when Bon Appetit gave it that title, although BBQ guru Daniel Vaughn was a few months ahead of BA. Vaughn, who tweets as @BBQSnob, still rates it as the best Q in Texas (which, by his definition, makes it the best Q in the country).

Franklin’s brisket is the best I’ve ever had, in every aspect. It’s salty, smoky, peppery, and most importantly, fatty, so it’s moist throughout and each bite just melts when it gets the heat of your mouth to break it down. I’ve had very little brisket that’s even close to Franklin’s – Little Miss in Phoenix and 4 Rivers in Orlando are the only two that might come close – but this is on its own level. There’s plenty of bark on each slice, and a thin but clear layer of fat underneath it, but the fact that the meat itself was still so moist was the great separator. Once smoked brisket dries out, you might as well skip the meat and go for tofu. Franklin’s brisket was perfectly moist and yet still hot when it was cut.

At Franklin BBQ with @lanaberry

A photo posted by Keith Law (@mrkeithlaw) on

Lana Berry (@Lana) was my dining buddy for the day, so we split an enormous platter of more food than we asked for – we had the “Last Man Standing” paper from our two-hour wait in line, signifying that we were the last people guaranteed to get served, which somehow ended up with us getting a lot more food than we ordered – including four different meats. The sausage, made to pitmaster Aaron Franklin’s recipe by an outside vendor, was suffused with smoke flavor, deep pink throughout, seasoned with some black pepper but not so much spice that it overwhelmed the smoke. The gigantic pork spare ribs – seriously, those had to be some mutant hogs – are more aggressively seasoned with salt and black pepper, and the meat still had some tooth to it even though it slid right off the bones. Lana and I agreed that the turkey was the meat to skip on the tray – it can’t hold up against everything else we tried. (Franklin also serves pulled pork, but it was gone before we reached the counter.)

The sides are all strong, although I can’t say I’d go wait two hours for any of them. I thought the potato salad was the best of the three, as it was lightly sauced with a mustard/mayo combination, and the potatoes still had some tooth to them. The beans aren’t the sickly-sweet BBQ beans I’m used to seeing at Q joints; they’re served with chunks of meat in a spicy broth, a much better match for salty smoked meat … but my subconscious kept looking for rice to go with it. The cole slaw was freshly made and crunchy, probably best served in the “Tipsy Texan” sandwich that puts the slaw right with the brisket. And then there are desserts, four different options of single-serving pies, including a banana bourbon pie in a vanilla wafer crust and a Texas pecan tart in a true shortbread-style tart crust, both excellent although I’d favor the pecan tart even though I’m not normally a fan of pecan pies (they’re usually too sweet).

Lana got in line for us both around 10:15 am on a cool but sunny Thursday morning, and we waited over two hours to get our food, so you need to line up pretty early even on a weekday. My suggestion would be to go with friends and share a lot of brisket with a few sausage links and some pork ribs as your main sides, with some potato salad just to pretend there’s a vegetable involved.

After a hard afternoon of watching Kyler Murray DH for Allen HS in 40-degree weather, Lana and I went for an epic meal at Qui, the ~40-seat restaurant run by Top Chef Season 9 winner Paul Qui. (Sarah Grueneberg, the runner-up to Qui that season, is opening her first restaurant, Monteverde, in Chicago this summer.) Qui, pronounced “key,” has just two menu options, an omnivore’s tasting menu for $65, and a vegetarian one for $55, each of which has seven listed courses and can come with wine pairings for another $45 or so. We both did the omnivore’s menu (without booze), and it was among the best meals I’ve ever had anywhere, and might have been the best value when you consider the quality of the inputs and the execution.

The first course was a gazpacho with cured curls of foie gras, PX sherry gelee, chunks of diced pear (I think), and house-made marcona almond milk as the liquid, an outstanding combination of flavors and textures when you got every element in one spoonful, particularly as the finely shaved foie melted into the almond milk to provide a huge hit of umami without the slight yet distinctive liver flavor of foie. (I say this as someone who’s never quite warmed to foie gras the way most food lovers have.) The second course was a finely diced bluefin tuna tartare with cucumber curls, smoked trout roe, and beef bone marrow, where the cucumber surrounded the roe and sat on the tuna to resemble a cross-cut bone with marrow in it, with the actual marrow served on the side like a condiment to the main dish – although bluefin tuna is so luxurious that it needs little but salt to bring out its flavor. That was my least favorite dish of the night, which isn’t a criticism considering how good the rest of the courses were.

Third was the fried chicken you may have heard Lana raving about – it was marinated in a Thai-style green curry, sliced very thinly, and came to the table smoking hot, served on a smoked oyster aioli with dots of egg yolk and a sprinkle of sal de gusano, a blend of sea salt and dried, toasted, ground agave (maguey) worms. It was like no fried chicken I’ve ever had before, tasting very little of chicken and more of all of the potent seasonings around it, with grade-80 crunch to the breading and a bright, herbaceous, lightly spicy kick from the curry paste.

The fourth course was the stunner – yellowtail seared tableside on binchōtan wood, served with a midorizu (Japanese green vinegar, made with rice wine vinegar and grated cucumber) and edible flower dressing. The server said the yellowtail was “cured,” but I think she meant lightly aged as the fish had no discernible seasoning; it was simple, incredibly high-quality fish, which just kissed the coals briefly on one side to get a touch of char and ash and then moved directly to the dressing. The presentation is amazing – there’s something unreal about seeing a miniature grill with glowing logs arrive at your table, then to have your fish cooked on it for a few seconds – and the results kept the flavor of the fish at the front, using the acidity of the dressing to accentuate that flavor. As much as my cynical side tried to tell me that the binchōtan was for show, the fish benefited greatly from the smoky (yet smokeless, as the wood used for this type of grill lets off virtually no smoke at all) notes added by the dusting of ash on each slide. If you enjoy food as experience, this was your course.

Somewhere in here we received a “gift from the kitchen,” an unlisted course that I think everybody gets, a “broken rice porridge” (that is, congee, or jok) with egg yolk and little cubes of crispy pork, which I think was cheek, as well as black vinegar. It’s apparently comfort food in southeast Asia, but on a very cold night in south Texas it hit the spot with its temperature and the sweet-savory hits from the pork. The fifth course was maitake mushrooms coated in a pork blood sauce with red onions, pickled garlic, seared Brussels sprout halves, and henbit, an edible weed native to Europe, highly savory but a little overshadowed by the slightly metallic taste of the blood (and I do like some blood dishes, like black pudding). Next up was the final savory course, the ‘burnt ends’ of braised Wagyu short ribs served in a kimchi broth with bits of kimchi, nori (toasted seaweed), leek, and turnip; as a person who’s never met a decent short rib he didn’t like, I was shocked to find the best part of the dish was the kimchi broth, which did more than just complement the beef but brought out its meatier notes with a combination of sour and umami flavors.

The dessert course had a quenelle of goat milk ice cream served over a coffee-cashew semifreddo (like a frozen mousse) with a thin layer of chocolate genoise underneath, with a huckleberry compote and bits of shaved chocolate over the top. Lana was considering asking the server to send about six more to the table. The most impressive aspect of the dish was the way nearly all of the elements worked together to create the sense of other flavors that weren’t on the dish – for example, a stronger cocoa flavor than you should have gotten from the minimal chocolate involved, or the peanut butter-and-jelly nod of the huckleberry with the nutty semifreddo.

That was a $100 or so meal in a larger city, and Qui could probably charge more and still get it in a wealthy mid-sized city like Austin; I’m glad he doesn’t, as it makes the meal accessible to a few more folks than it otherwise would be, even though $65 is still out of the price range for many folks. It’s an amazing value for a splurge meal that is as much an experience as an a culinary tour de force.

Cuveé Coffee is a third-wave, direct-trade roaster that serves several outlets around Austin and also operates its own coffee shop on 6th just east of downtown and down the street from Qui; they offer two espressos each day, their Meritage blend and a rotating single-origin offering, as well as various pour-over options, teas, and pastries. I tried espressos from both their Meritage and their Laguna Las Ranas beans from El Salvador, each very different from the other but both superb, lightly roasted to preserve the distinct characteristics of the beans. I preferred the Laguna because it was more idiosyncratic, but that’s just a matter of personal taste – I like single origins because they’re always a little different. The peculiar bit was the tag in front of the espresso machine making the Laguna, which identified one of the coffee’s notes as “kale.” I like kale, but I don’t think that’s a flavor I want in my coffee, nor did I get that from the beans at all.

I went to College Station and Bryan the next day and only had one meal while out there, at Fargo’s Pit BBQ, another recommendation from Daniel Vaughn. I recommend the smoked chicken, which changed my sense of what smoked chicken could even taste like, taking on a flavor profile more like game meats and less like boring old chicken (that’s from the dark meat). The brisket was moist and tender but had little flavor from the rub or smoke, while the baked beans were solid, sweet but not saccharine. It’s worth a stop if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t drive to Bryan from Austin or Houston just to try it.

Arizona eats, October 2014.

I spent six nights in Arizona last week to scout this year’s crop of prospects in the Arizona Fall League, and wrote two long posts on what I saw, one focusing primarily on pitchers and a longer one mostly on position players.

The best new restaurant of the trip was Little Miss BBQ, a tiny spot on University Ave in Tempe, just south of the airport, that specializes in central Texas Q – meaning primarily brisket and sausage, although they do pulled pork as well. The brisket was among the best I’ve ever had, certainly the best I’ve had anywhere west of Texas, rivaling Florida’s 4 Rivers for the best I’ve had outside of Texas itself. I asked for fatty (or moist) brisket rather than lean, my strong preference because you get that fat that just melts in your mouth and provides its own sauce for the meat – and the brisket didn’t need any other sauce than that. Little Miss smokes over pecan and oak, so you get a clear presence of smoke in the meat without the dominance of a wood like hickory (better for pork, IMO), and you get to taste the beef itself and the rub, salty and peppery but not so assertive that it took over each bite. The sausage was above-average but not as spicy as I expected or would have liked. For sides, they offer jalapeno cheese grits and baked beans, but I went with the lighter sides, potato salad and cole slaw, rather than add two heavy items to the copious quantity of cow on the plate. Both were excellent because they were clearly homemade and weren’t doused in mayo, so you could particularly taste the cabbage in the slaw. On a rainy morning at 11:30 am, the line was about 30 people deep and took me 20-25 minutes to get to the counter, although the guy doing the slicing (I think it was the pitmaster) handed out a few free bites of the brisket and sausage to keep everyone happy. It’s just a stone’s throw from the Angels’ stadium and not even ten minutes from the Cubs’ new place.

Chef Kelly Fletcher was among the most highly-regarded local chefs in the Valley while at Tempe’s House of Cards, but the high price point kept me from going there while I lived in the area and Fletcher ended up leaving earlier this year to start his own place. The Revival, also located in Tempe, has a more casual feel and I think a better mix of menu options at the high- and low-ends. The roasted pork belly with Asian caramel, mirin poached potatoes, and scallions starter ($7) was ridiculously good from all angles – literally, as the dish was a gorgeous panoply of colors and textures, and the pork belly itself had tremendous balance of textures (but not too tough, which I’ve had in some pork belly dishes when the meaty layers are overcooked) and sweet/sour/salty levels. The duck confit on roasted corn polenta main ($21) with house-made date-maple syrup, bitter greens, and candied fresnos was plus but not quite a home run; the duck meat didn’t pull right off the bone as it usually does when prepared this way, and the candied fresnos were way so fiery I had to avoid them. The polenta used a coarse grind of yellow corn, so even with the long cooking times required for the dish it had some tooth to it, while the roasted corn kernels amped up the sweetness (thanks to caramelization) while adding a smoky component. The date-maple syrup was a natural pairing with the duck as well, although I may be biased (!) as I could drink real maple syrup right out of the bottle.


Glazed pork belly starter from the Revival in Tempe AZ.

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Cuff is a rarity – a smart, high-end restaurant located in the west Valley, where chain restaurants abound. It’s in downtown Glendale, where it looks like there’s a quiet revitalization happening, great news if you head to Arizona to see any of the teams playing in the four stadiums on that side of town. (It’s about 15-20 minutes from Camelback Ranch because of all of the traffic lights you’ll have to pass.) Cuff just opened a few weeks ago and I was there on the fifth night since they began dinner service, so the strong execution across the board was very promising – you’d think they’d still be working some kinks out of their system. The menu is straightforward – a few salads and starters, a good cross-section of sandwich options to appeal to almost every eater, and a few mains that were quite generously priced.

The mixed greens salad ($7) was the ideal starter, especially since a few days of gorging on meat left me craving something plant-based. The mesclun mix (very fresh, nothing wilting or starting to spoil, a common problem in salads now) comes with crumbled fresh goat cheese, candied pecans, dried cranberries, and a delicate peach-shallot vinaigrette; that mix of leaves is slightly bitter, so three sweet elements, three tart ones, and two salty ones bring the balance the salad needs so that you don’t get that feeling that you’re chewing on lawn cuttings. The Amalfi-style lemon chicken, one of their main course options (at just $11!) was above-average but a little tricky to eat, served in a deep soup bowl with broth that made cutting the two pieces of chicken (an airline cut and a thigh) difficult. The lemon parmesan broth was fantastic, with a perfect balance of acidity, salt, and the umami of the cheese, providing flavor to the chicken itself (especially chicken breast, which has no flavor of its own no matter how it’s cooked) and to the baby broccoli in the bowl. The grilled ciabatta bread triangles are clearly there to spare you the indignity of tipping the bowl to your mouth to drink the broth, but I wouldn’t judge you if you did. Cuff also has a full bar including a variety of specialty cocktails.


Amalfi-style lemon chicken at the brand-new Cuff in downtown Glendale.

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Sumo Maya is a new Scottsdale hot spot that has taken the trendy “Asian tacos” theme and applied it to the standard upscale drinking spot popular in that town. I liked the food, but hated the vibe. Their happy hour specials are a steal – four tacos for $7, practically enough for a whole meal and a good way to sample a bunch of the menu options. Of the four different ones I tried, including pork, chicken, fried fish, and vegetarian, the last one was the best, filled with small wild mushrooms and tossed with a sweet soy sauce and micro greens. The flavors on the chicken taco were outstanding, including avocado and a chile-guajillo salsa, but I think the chicken had been cooked earlier and was simply reheated for service. I also tried the kimchi fried rice, which was solid but not much different from fried rice you’d get at a very good Chinese restaurant. I just couldn’t see going back there to eat when so much of the crowd was there to drink and/or be seen.

One recommendation I didn’t get to was the new Arcadia restaurant Nook, only because it wasn’t that close to any of my destinations, but that’s on the to-do list for spring.

I never went to the Jamaican rum bar Breadfruit while living in Phoenix, but that was a pretty big mistake on my part given my affinity for the demon spirit. I adored their rum old fashioned, with Appleton Extra 12 year as its base, and liked their Hemingway’s Daiquiri, with Matusalem Platino (a triple-distilled, highly refined Dominican white rum) as its base, mixed with grapefruit and lime juices and demarara sugar, although the latter disguised the flavor of the rum too much. Nick Piecoro dragged me there – not that it required much convincing when I heard “rum bar” – after I’d dragged him to Citizen Public House for a postgame drink, only to discover they’re doing a late-night menu (after 11 pm) for “Porktoberfest,” including their bacon-fat popcorn and a twist on Chinese steamed pork buns (baozi) that paired well with their signature negroni and basically everything else we drank.

I went back to several favorites for breakfast – the Hillside Spot, Crepe Bar, Matt’s Big Breakfast, Giant Coffee, and Cartel Coffee Lab, all of which were just as I left them: good and busy. Crepe Bar has expanded its menu slightly, which might have been my only complaint about it before, and they’re still offering lots of little freebies along the way, like a tiny cup of their housemade granola, a dark chocolate and hazelnut amuse with your coffee (from heart roasters in Portland, Oregon), or a rose-water marshmallow and dark chocolate twist on s’mores after your meal. (Great idea, but the marshmallow left a perfume flavor in my mouth that I couldn’t get out for hours.) Saigon Kitchen in Surprise didn’t live up to my recollections, unfortunately, but Pig & Pickle in Scottsdale exceeded them, with a bigger menu that has more small plates and starters, including more vegetable-based options so your meal can have a better balance of pork and not-pork.

Florida eats, March 2014.

Recent posts over at ESPN: on young Dodgers players, on Jose Abreu and other White Sox, and on Nick Gordon and other Florida prep kids. I also held a regular Klawchat this morning.

After I posted my dining guide to Arizona, I was asked – as I am every year – when I’m going to do a similar one for Florida. The answer, of course, is never. Here’s why:

* I lived in Arizona for just under three years. I have never lived in Florida.

* All of the spring training sites in Arizona are located within about 30 miles of downtown Phoenix. The biggest gap between any two parks is a 75-minute drive. It might take you that long to get through Tampa, never mind far-flung sites like Fort Myers or Viera.

* Arizona has a wonderful, thriving culinary scene. Florida has oranges. Actually, the food scene in Miami is supposed to be pretty good, but there are no teams there.

So this is more of a quick round-up of where I ate on last week’s trip, not an exhaustive guide to eating in the state where you shouldn’t even bother going for spring training unless your favorite team is there. And even then you should think twice.

In the greater Orlando area, I had two meals of note at off-Disney sites (I stay at WDW because they own us and it’s cheaper to stay there than anywhere else), but also wanted to mention two others. One meal was at 4 Rivers, a wonderful Texas-style barbecue joint in Winter Garden about which I’ve waxed poetic many times. Get the moist brisket, the corn, and the collard greens. The smoked sausage is pretty good too, although it’s not always that hot. Their “burnt ends” aren’t my idea of burnt ends, so I haven’t ordered them again. There’s another location of 4 Rivers in Longwood.

I also ate at Prato in Winter Park, a trattoria focused on pastas and pizzas located on a cute, expensive-looking street well off I-4. I had dinner with a scout, so we split their meatball appetizer – three small, moist meatballs, firm enough to hold their shape, served with just a coating of tomato sauce on a bed of creamy polenta with some sauteed onions. I had to get the pizza, because I’m pizza-obsessed, and it was solid-average – good crust, a little doughy without much char, but with great toppings, including mixed mushrooms and arugula. I wouldn’t go well out of my way again to eat here, but if I were in the Winter Park area to see a player I’d consider it worth visiting again.

The Ravenous Pig was the best meal I had during the winter meetings, but I never had the chance to write the meal up afterwards and won’t dare to do it the injustice of writing it up now. I’ll just say that it’s the best restaurant in greater Orlando in my own experiences, and I want to try its sister restaurant, the more casual Cask and Larder, the next time I’m in the area. There’s a focus on local fare, artisanal ingredients, house-made charcuterie, and cocktails. You can’t lose.

I had to see a prep pitcher in St. Petersburg and went to Bella Brava, which has a little bit of a chain-restaurant feel (think Carrabba’s) but better food than that would indicate, other than the use of dried rather than fresh pasta. I had their slow-braised pork belly (which apparently is also smoked) rigatoni with pepper/onion confit, fresh rosemary and fennel, and crispy lardons, with the jus from the meat serving as the sauce. It was as good and rich as it sounds other than the dried pasta, which seemed flat and incongruous next to the powerful flavors of the meat and the sweetness of the pepper confit.

With two games in Dunedin, I took the chance to visit some old haunts but had mixed results. Eli’s BBQ Shack disappointed; Eli passed away a year ago of leukemia, and unfortunately the chopped pork wasn’t the same, coming out dry and tough with no bark. Casa Tina in downtown Dunedin was just as good as I remembered, solid-average to a tick above, serving authentic Mexican food with great attention to detail in the food; my entree was good but it was actually the salsa that blew me away, as the tomatoes tasted like they had just been picked that morning. The Whistle Stop Cafe in Safety Harbor still had good food, although the menu has changed and is now much bigger with more upscale (expensive) fare as well as the old sandwiches and salads, but the service – never good – was unbelievably slow.