Category Archives: road trips

Two fronts walk into a bar…

That, my friends, is what my Kansas City trip was all about, inside jokes and laughing until we cried. It was a nonstop laugh fest from the second we hit Iowa at 77 miles an hour, which resulted in a speeding ticket, but plenty of laughs, well worth the $120 price of admission.

We started off early Saturday morning, Laurent, me and Friend X. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Well, she’s not so innocent, but I promised I would protect her anyways!) We were heading to Kansas City for the heck of it. Well, really, we were going on a reconnaissance mission to check out this snow cone truck, Fresher than Fresh. Even KC, which completely shuts down on Sundays, more about that later, has food trucks. Come on, Chicago, you are sooooo far behind the times. You are willing to let a city in Missouri be more progressive than you? Sad.

We decided to take the smaller roads hoping to find some small towns to stop in and explore. Well, we stopped alright, or were stopped, doing 77 miles an hour in Hwy 80 in Iowa. Oops.  We were actually very lucky.  The cop was very nice. We were nervous, of course, when he asked where we were going, Kansas City. Why? To check out a snow cone truck.  How did we know each other? Friend X used to be my boss. Why I didn’t just say “friend”, I don’t know. He said “I’m just trying to figure you guys out”. Then he looks in the back seat and sees Laurent sitting there quiet as a mouse. He asks how he fits in the picture and Laurent, nervous as heck to be stopped by a cop in Iowa, says “I’m her wife”. (Oops. I promised Laurent I wouldn’t spill those beans. Don’t tell him, ok. That was the funniest part of the trip. I couldn”t keep it from you, dear readers.) I throw in “husband” and the cop goes to look up X’s registration. Let the laugh fest begin! Oh my gosh, we were in tears. Let me tell you that joke did not die the entire trip. I don’t think we will ever let it go. Poor Laurent. Well, the cop comes back and asks if we have any marijuana in the car or meth or cocaine or heroin. I don’t know if he saw us cracking up or what. Funny, he never asked about alcohol. The meth comment supplied us with even more material for our laugh fest. We were off to a good start!

I think it was then and there that X found a spot on the map about 100 miles away and circled it and wrote “Beer” on the map. So, that was our destination, Chariton.  That is when I had my first Budweiser in probably in 20 years, and hopefully my last. That is always my question when people say they love dive bars. What the heck do you drink? I guess know I am just a snob. Of course, when we walked in, all eyes turned and stared. We were the only two women in the bar and definitely the only Chinese! It was all good, though. The beer was cold and cheap.

Speaking of beer, Boulevard Brewery was our first stop when we rolled into town at 6:00ish, eleven hours after we started!! That Bud wasn’t going to hold us much longer. So, we pull up to Boulevard looking for the tap room, just to be told by the security guard that it doesn’t exist. What do you mean a brewery with no tap room? I guess it has to do with backwards Missouri law; they cannot sell beer on premise. We later took a tour, on Sunday, as it was the only thing to do in KC as everything else was closed. We were able to sample beer, but couldn’t buy a pint or even a six pack. The beer we brought home, we had to buy elsewhere.  So, it is 7:00 and we are still without beer. We headed over to 17th and Summit to West Side Local and had a few Boulevards. They have a great outdoor patio, but it was still 95 degrees outside and we weren’t willing to brave it.

When I started researching where and what to eat in KC, I came across Ferverve, a tiny artisan bakery at 17th and Summit.  This was a great little corner. They are not only closed on Sundays, they are closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday also! They close at 2:00 on Saturday.  When I told Friend X this, over our Budweiser in Iowa, she was as upset as I was about this unbelievable fact. X is a business woman and could not fathom only being open three days a week. She said she wanted to peek in the window anyways, just to even see it. I joked that the blinds would probably be pulled. They were! Laurent suggested she peek through the mail slot, which she thought about attempting, but it was way too low!

Now we were getting hungry and decided that this was the night for BBQ. We heard that Jack Stack had great “burnt ends”, so that’s where we went.  We did brave the patio here, as they were the only seats in the house.  The burnt ends were good, but nothing compared to the lamb ribs and short ribs. I have never had lamb ribs before. I don’t think I have ever even seen them on a menu. They should be on every menu. The gaminess was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the bbq sauce. These were lean very tender ribs, but I found a little fat to munch on. I love lamb fat. Small tangent- My grandfather used to roast whole lambs on a spit in the back yard when we were kids. We would all stand around the spit with forks pulling off the salty fatty skin once it got crispy enough. Yum. I don’t know if I have ever had bbq short ribs either. Or if I have, they were not half as tender as these, fall off the bone goodness.

This not so light but very tasty bbq, a few beers and eleven hours in a car made it bedtime, so off to check into our hotel. Not so fast….they were overbooked and we got bumped…to another state! Nooooooo. So much for the convenient roll out of bed and grab a coffee the next morning plan. It was back in the car for another 15 miles before we could take a shower and rest our weary heads. I guess that is what happens when your hubby works for the hotel and you are only paying $49 for a room.

Sunday in Kansas City. This was when we found out that absolutely everything on my list was CLOSED!! Hello….why didn’t anyone tell me this? Cute little breakfast place, closed. Coffee bar/wine bar, closed.  Chocolate shop, closed. Alrighty then. One place that was open and the reason we came here, the snow cone trailer, over on 17th and Summit. That corner is tiny, but has everything you need. We found ourselves over there quite a few times on the trip.

First, breakfast. We ended up in the Westport district.  The only place open was Simply Breakfast. We had seen it the night before. Cool space, although they could have done so much more with it.  Counter service, I’m a huge fan.  The place was busy, but there was no hustle bustle and we only ever saw two people, one working the counter and one bussing/running. This was weird coming from Chicago where we were totally staffed up on a Sunday with a line out the door.  No espresso machine. Laurent would have to live. No numbers for your table, just a name given. That didn’t seem efficient to me. It was weird; you could not smell any food cooking at all. Guess I am used to tiny breakfast places with an open kitchen and a non working hood spewing cooking fumes into the dining room. We weren’t in Kansas Chicago anymore though.  We joked that maybe alien body snatchers on meth had taken over the diner! (Guess you had to be there. I knew our jokes weren’t going to translate!) Breakfast was good. Egg sandwich on a biscuit which was light a fluffy and only $5.99. Damn.  The whole time, though, we talked about how we could have done it better! Hazard of being in the industry.

We had slept in, so by this time it was time for snow cones! Yay! (I won’t lie; there was a beer in between breakfast and snow cones!)

So we headed back to 17th and Summit to “the garden”.  Such a great environment and the vintage trailer parked in the corner with a line a mile long. The snow cone trailer is called “Fresher than Fresh” and it was hotter than hot outside, so it was the perfect treat.  Let the “recon” begin. So many flavors to choose from, good thing they had a sampler. Perfect. Blackberry lavender, green tea pear, lemon verbena, pineapple Serrano, lemon prickly pear. All refreshing and light. I think prickly pear was my favorite. Don’t think I even know what prickly pear is. I’m going to have to Google that. We drove over 500 miles for these treats so after the sampler we jumped in the line again to get a full size espresso and Mexican cane sugar snow cone. That was going to be Laurent’s caffeine fix for the day. This might have been my favorite. Better than a Frappucino any day, and only $3.00. Hmmm, I’m getting some ideas here. Stay tuned!

Ok, dinner was inevitable at this point, but where should we eat? What was open? Lydia Bastianich has a place in KC, so we went there. Lydia must not spend much time in KC. The room was dated and the food, corporate, but you could buy her cookbooks and jarred pasta sauce at the host stand! It wasn’t bad, just huge portions; I guess we were in KC, bland flavors and doughy pasta. At least get the pasta right, come on. I was expecting hoping for a Mario Batali experience. He is not in his restaurants that often, but the people who are damn well know how to cook! Oh well. It served a purpose. We were fed.

Excitement, we needed a little excitement. Frozen treats provided that before, I bet it would work again. Ice cream. We “needed” ice cream.  So we set the GPS to 4960 Main St. This was the address of Glace, artisan ice cream from Christopher Elbow, the local chocolatier, whose chocolate shop was closed on Sunday. By now Friend X had started calling the GPS “The lady”. That joke didn’t die for awhile. “The lady” was actually not a lot of help finding Glace. The streets got a little screwy. She’s not so good with one ways and street closures. In fact, an entire town in KC was missing! Anyways, I eventually got us to Glace. I was not going to miss out on ice cream with flavors like Farmer Bob’s sweet corn, fleur de sel caramel, Venezuelan spiced chocolate and salty pretzel, a small cup, which allowed you to choose two flavors, was only $3.75. I love KC prices. So that meant six flavors between the three of us. YES! Sweet corn was my favorite. It won over caramel. That’s saying a lot for me, as I am addicted to caramel. The fleur de sel caramel came in a close second though.

We said goodbye to KC the next day, but not before one more adventure, the search for the Maid Rite! Driving to KC I had seen a highway exit sign that said Maid Rite. I swear I had read about Maid Rite in Saveur. (How I remembered this and not where I put my keys, I don’t know!) I said “I think Maid Rite is a concept from the 30’s in this part of the country that serves “loose meat” sandwiches.” I was met with silence from Laurent and Friend X. I said “I could be wrong. But I think that is what it is.” I just said this part about being wrong to be polite. I knew I was right. Laurent and X were of the same camp, that “loose meats” didn’t sound like it could be right at all. Time to pull out X’s  I Phone. Oh ya…who was right? Yup, me. This is somewhat of a family blog (I was going to say respectable, but thought that was stretching It.) so I won’t repeat the obscenities I yelled  out.. Why we didn’t turn around and go to the Maid Rite then and there I don’t know,  because it haunted us for the rest of the trip. I was determined to find another on the way home. I’ll tell you right now it didn’t happen, although there was a fruitless ten mile detour through Springfield that turned up a shuttered sandwich shop with the same name. This detour also produced this great picture. No, we didn’t stop, just laughed and shuddered as we drove by.

We had time for one more adventure before we got home. Missouri was full of hoots and hollers. We stopped in Columbia, where X’s friends had gone to college. She was texting away trying to find a reco for where to eat and have a beer. Booches, her friend John said. Between her I phone, Laurent’s Blackberry’s GPS and “The lady” and directions from the guy at the hot dog cart (See, even Columbia MO has food carts! Sad, Chicago, sad.) we found it. It was a dive bar that had been around since the 1884 with burgers, pool tables and beer.  This is a dive bar with excellent beer though and the burgers  served on wax paper were voted Top Ten Burgers in 200 by USA Today. Score. This was no place for outsiders, though. I got a weird vibe the second I sat down.  It’s like the hackles were raised on the backs of the bartenders and regulars. We were served but not very willingly We ordered our beer and burgers. I was so excited. The burgers looked great. Laurent pulled out the camera to take some pics and that’s when the weird vibe was proven. The owner, I assume, came over and said “We respect people’s privacy here. This is not a zoo or a public place…………”  We were dumbfounded.  We weren’t in Kansas Chicago anymore. This resulted in another round of hysterical laughing and was fuel for more laugh until you cry moments the entire was home.  Basically it was their way of saying “You are not welcome here.”  I guess we were in Missouri, huh? Apparently.  Here is the one picture Laurent got in before we were yelled at.  There are plenty of pictures out there of Booches’ burgers, so cameras didn’t seem to be the problem.  They just didn’t like “our type”.

So, hopefully, you are still with me. I know it was a long one. All in all, the trip to Kansas City was a success. It was not what I expected, but so much more. It was a recon mission that resulted in tons of inspiration, a new direction, and validation.  It was a chance to bond with friends, laugh until you cried, or spit out your coffee or choked on your water.  I could tell you the punch line for “Two fronts walk into a bar”…but you probably wouldn’t laugh. You just had to be there.

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Filed under road trips, Uncategorized

Kale, kitties and caterpillars…

Last weekend we headed down to Bloomington, where Laurent has some veggies planted. Don’t ask why we couldn’t plant them right here in Chicago. It has proven to be harder to get down to Bloomington than we thought it was going to. You know, life just gets in the way. In my mind it is already Halloween, with all the weekends planned up the fall. So much for spontaneity!  Needless to say, the two other couples Laurent planted the garden with hadn’t made it down much either.

We were greeted with weeds as tall as the tomato plants and entire zucchini plants decimated by these evil looking white armored beetle bugs. Jerks!  That’s ok, I don’t like zucchini anyways!  The ones that did survive could easily yield a half dozen loaves of zucchini bread (with chocolate chips of course).  We were too overwhelmed to pull weeds; they grow back anyways, what’s the point? So we surveyed the rest of the plots. The banana peppers were looking good. They always remind me of my grandma. She used to pickle them and then eat them straight out of the jar, even the spicy ones. The Brussels sprouts were just starting to get little nubs on them.  I remember studying a Brussels sprout plant in my grandma’s garden for a science project in 7th grade; noting the activity of the insects whose entire world was this plant.  Gardens always remind me of my grandma. I remember picking lettuce straight out of her garden, washing it and eating it with just a little white vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.  She used to make whistles out of the scallion greens by just snipping them and blowing into them. I don’t know if I ever mastered that skill. My sister and I would spend endless hours shelling beans in the back yard, amazed by the kaleidoscope of colors the inside beans presented to us. The speckled purple ones were my favorites. Yup, that was the first tangent of this post! Back to this garden.  Pickles were larger than the garlicky monsters in a Jewish deli. We couldn’t find the beets anywhere. There were enough tomato plants to put Ragu out of business! I better find a good tomato sauce recipe fast. Actually one more little tangent about my grandma. Tangents about grandmas are totally acceptable. You wouldn’t want to cut me off now, would you? My grandma actually makes the best spaghetti sauce in the world and she’s not even Italian. She’s Serbian. She walked me through it recently. Two of her secrets are bacon fat, for flavor, and shredded zucchini for texture and nutrition. Maybe I should have brought one of those monsters home! Hope I remember her instructions when we are up to our ears in tomatoes.

The veggies I was most excited about were the chard, kale and shiso. The rainbow chard was untouched by those evil beetles, so we brought it home and sautéed it up with some garlic, shallots and mushrooms. Easy tasty healthy dinner. That’s all I really need.

I love exotic flavors. You can keep your oregano and sage, give me shiso. Shiso is also known as Perilla and is sometimes called Japanese basil. It is a member of the mint family and its flavor is lemony, grassy and fresh. Although it is very distinct, I think it is subtle at the same time. (Just like me! Ha!) When you go to a Vietnamese restaurant and order any of the dishes that allow you to “roll your own” spring rolls, they will bring a platter of sprouts and herbs and noodles. Shiso is usually one of those herbs. My favorite dish to do this with is #13 Bo Nuong Cuon Banh Trang at Hai Yen on Argyle Street.  You can also order “Beef Seven Ways” there. Do it!

This is a nice clear pic so you can see what shiso looks like.

Ok, back to shiso. We harvested a bunch of this lovely fragrant herb and on the way home I was trying to figure out what to do with it. I had used some before to make a lemongrass shiso syrup for my start up syrup company. I am hoping to have Paul at the Whistler try it in cocktails. But what else could I do with it. We couldn’t eat that many spring rolls in one sitting. It is called Japanese basil so I decided to make pesto with it.  I wanted to make it Asiany, but thought it would be good in a more traditional version. I decided to make two versions, one with almonds and shallots and one with ginger, scallions and sesame oil. I think both would be excellent on pasta, either angel hair or buckwheat depending which version you were using. It would also give a fresh spin on fish, choosing your sides to reflect either an Asian influence like bok choy and shitake or a more Italian flair like eggplant and spinach.  You can buy shiso at the Asian grocery store on Argyle.  For the pesto, just throw everything in the Cuisinart and blend until smooth-ish. Unless you soak the almonds, or use sliced almonds, the pesto will be a little chunky, but I love texture.

This is my artsy fartsy picture of shiso.

Shiso Pesto Version 1

1 ½ cups shiso leaves

½ shallot

3 Tbl almonds

½ cup olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

Few shakes of white pepper

Shiso Pesto Version 2

1 ½ cups shiso leaves

2 scallions, rough chopped

3 tsp ginger, rough chopped

2 Tbl almonds

1/3 cup sesame oil

¼ cup olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

Few shakes of white pepper

Ok, We’re not done cooking here yet. I haven’t even got to the kale. I love kale. If I hadn’t named this blog “that’s not lettuce”, I would have named it “kale is your friend”. I discovered kale later in life, although I do remember wearing a kale garnish as a brooch once in a younger drunken state!  Now I can’t get enough of it. Like I said, those evil beetles hadn’t touched my beloved kale, so we harvested away. Laurent’s idea of harvesting, though, was pulling the entire plant out of the ground and taking it with us! Ok, that worked. It seems like Ozzie, one of our cats loved the kale as much as I do. He wouldn’t stop trying to eat it.

Bad cat!

Another entity or should I say entities that loved the kale as much as me and Ozzie were about two dozen caterpillars, which we found as we plucked the leaves from the stalks and triple washed them. First I thought they were inch worms, but when they didn’t get all slinky like on me, I figured it out. I don’t think these were “good guys” and got kind of freaked out seeing two dozen of them crawling around in my sink. If anything, it proved the kale was organic.

Bad caterpillar!

Now we had a gigantic bowl of kale. What were we going to do with it? I remember both Richard and Nicole, who I work with, singing the praises of kale chips. So that is what we did. It was super easy and now we have a big Ziploc of a super healthy addictive snack. I’m surprised it actually even accumulated, as we ate at least one whole cookie sheet as soon as it cooled down. Who needs potato chips? (Unless they are Tyrrells sea salt and black pepper, which I ate an entire bag of the other day. Shhhhh. Let’s hope Laurent skips reading this post!)  All you do is toss the kale with a little olive oil and sea salt, lay it on a cookie sheet and bake it in an oven preheated to 350° for about 10 minutes. Don’t crowd it. It will steam instead of bake if you do. Be careful, it will burn, but you also don’t want to pull it out too early, or it will be too chewy. I had a blast trying different spices and salts on it. My favorite was a little bit of smoked paprika. Coming in a close second was a Japanese smoked salt.  I love smoky flavors, as much as I love kale.

So, that was our little mini Bloomington harvest. We did pick squash blossoms also, but I don’t think I did them justice. I’ll have to get some pointers for the next attempt. I’ll leave you with a picture of them, as they were prettier than they tasted.

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Filed under Recipes, road trips

Tacolicious deliciousness…..

One more San Fran post…This is the real stuff, into the city for some serious adult eating (No offense Aaron.) This post is part lucky stumbled upon, but found out it was on “my list” deliciousness, part deliberate  top of “my list” we must eat here hip, chef hangout tastiness, and part oh, how did that slip past my radar and not get on “my list” amazingness.

On Sunday, after an afternoon of family brunch where we made ricotta blackberry crepes and endive, crème fraiche, frizzled prosciutto hors d’ oeuvres, we headed into the city to shop/eat/explore.  We drove straight to the Marina District, where we had success on our last trip in the shopping/eating category. I never thought I would say “I love this neighborhood”, but I do. It is so civilized. Told you, I’m getting old! It is clean. There are great boutiques, lots of food choices and we can find parking. How can a neighborhood be “boring” if the amazingly tasty top of “my list”A16 is in it? As good as A16 was, you know me; I want to try something new and exciting, or at least different.

We actually weren’t even planning to eat, we were just in search of a cool place to imbibe, but stumbled across Tacolicious. The place was rockin’, so of course we wanted to go in.  We had a drinks at the location when it was Laiola and were wondering what was up. When we looked at the sign, I knew the name sounded familiar and fun. I pulled out my handy dandy list and there it was but listed as a stand at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  They had closed Laiola in 2009 to grow their farmers market taco stand. YES! I could cross coca cola braised beef tacos off my list.

Problem was…we weren’t really hungry. Oh well, minor problem. Just one little taco wouldn’t hurt. Oh, but, you could choose four tacos for $12.00. Ok, twist our arms.  Here was the line up….Fried local cod with cabbage and tangy crema, house made chorizo potato, guajillo braised beef short ribs, and shot and a beer braised Petaluma chicken. Plus the tacos came with a salsa sampler. Laurent was in heaven and boy were they pretty colors. The green was a creamy tomatillo and jalapeño; the creaminess had to come from a touch of avocado blended in. That’s my guess. The beautiful yellow was habanero and was not going to get near my tongue. The smoky red was smoky in flavor, too, from, you guessed it, chipotles. Mmmm. I love smokiness.

Ok, tacos. Fried cod – yes, yum, thank you.  Chorizo potato – good.  Chicken – surprisingly above the house made chorizo in our very scientific ranking system. Short ribs – chewy, tender, sticky, smoky, slightly spicy, wish I could eat three more of these tacolicious deliciousnesses.

After Tacolicious, it was onto Tornado, the Haight dive beer bar for a beer, as Tacolicious’ beer list left a lot to be desired. Plus we had to digest before heading to……drum roll please….Nopa.  I knew I only had one day and one restaurant to choose from on “my list”, my entire excel spread sheet of choices culled from Food and Wine, blogs, and foodie friends. Talk about a hard decision, especially for someone who is notoriously bad at making decisions (I just want it ALL!) Actually, I lied, it was an easy decision. Hands down, Nopa won, recommended by Alex Lopez, the Food Diva and Food and Wine magazine and touted as a chef hangout. If the chef’s are eating there, then I am eating there.  Nopa stands for North of the Panhandle, where the restaurant is located.  Sounds hip.  That’s what counts, right?  Nopa was delicious. That simple. You knew the moment you stepped inside that it was going to be good. Actually, I knew a few blocks away that it was going to be good, as we smelled the wood burning oven belching out its sweet smoky, meaty smells. Mmmmmmmm.

There were two seats at the bar, lucky for us, as we walked in with no resos and not a chance in hell at getting a table. We prefer to sit at the bar anyways, less commitment, if it’s not good, which was not going to be a problem at Nopa. Plus, if you order a full meal at the bar, that makes the bartender happy as his check, and tip, just went way up. If you order just appetizers at a table, pricey real estate at busy restaurants, you make for an angry waiter, which equals bad service. It is hard enough getting good service these days.  I much rather have a happy bartender wait on me.

This happy bartender was a pleasure. He was well versed and knew what he was talking about and took the time to explain white whiskeys to us, which caught our eye on the drink menu, and the drinks that were made with them. He suggested a white Manhattan for Laurent so we could compare it to the white buck that I ordered, which, by the way, is a cocktail made with ginger beer and lemon. White whiskeys are whiskeys made with no barrel ageing, hence they are white, as they do not pick up any color from the barrel they are aged in. I am just getting into whiskies, and love tasting them and learning about them. I don’t think I like white whiskeys, though, as I love the taste that the barrel imparts on the booze. It tasted a little too much like tequila to me. (Tequila and I go way back and do not really agree with each other, if you know what I mean.) It was a fun experiment, though; he white whiskey, NOT the tequila.

We weren’t starving. Not a good position to be in here. We managed to eat an entrée, a side and a dessert, though, “for the sake of research”. You know how at some restaurants you can find a million appetizers you want to try and no entrees. Well, it was the opposite at Nopa. While the appetizers looked great, Laurent and I both eyed at least three entrees we wanted to try.  Time to call in the bartender for advice. I always go with waiter recommendations, as they have the inside scoop. I was in the biz for years, trust me, I know. We were leaning towards the milk braised goat with English peas, spring onions and tarragon, just because, well, when else do we eat goat? The bartender, though, said that the grilled country pork chop was the best pork chop we would ever have. Plus I was much more interested in the fried baby favas and kumquats on the side, than the English peas. The pork chop won. The bartender was right, it was the best pork chop we have ever had, cooked perfectly to medium rare, as promised. Yes medium rare. We are out of the dark ages of trichinosis and these pigs had lived a happy life on a local farm and were not going to make us sick if not cooked to a leathery death, like our moms used to do. Oops, sorry, I mean my mom! This was the second time we had fried baby favas on this trip.  I could move to Cali just to be able to eat those in early May every year.  The thin slices of kumquats were the perfect foil to the lightly fried favas and the juicy smoky, slightly fatty, in a good way, pork.

The polenta side dish we ordered was so much more than merely a “side”.  Cubes of polenta, I expected it to be a creamy soft polenta for some reason, but who am I to argue with this deliciousness, I would not have changed a thing.  So, cubes of polenta, with a creamy, sauce of blue cheese and honey and chunks of walnuts in a crock, raised to the roof of the wood burning oven to crisp and caramelize. I think I danced when I ate it. No, I KNOW, I danced when I ate it. I think know we sopped up every last bit of that salty/sweet sauce with a piece of crusty bread. Don’t worry, little polenta side, you are a main course in my eyes.

How we had room for dessert, I don’t know. Oh, I remember, we didn’t. Did that stop us from ordering it? No. Let me tell you, the portions here are a nice size, and dessert was no different. Dessert had my friend Stacy’s name all over it. Lavender pot de crème with dark chocolate pudding cake and cocoa nib caramel. You know that I can’t pass up anything with the word caramel in it. This was literally two desserts. Told you they weren’t shy with their portions.  The lavender pot de crème had chocolate on top of it…bonus….and was silky, creamy and smooth and did not taste like soap at all! Some lavender desserts do, you know. The dark chocolate pudding cake was delicious as well, and I managed to get every last bit of that cocoa nib caramel off the plate without actually licking it. I am very talented that way. Very happy. Full belly. Good night.

Good morning. Time for one last San Fran meal, on the way to the airport. Scott suggested Out the Door, the infamous Slanted Door’s casual restaurant.  This was a great idea, as we have never been to The Slanted Door, and we could now try the food without breaking the bank. Well…sort of. $50 for lunch was a bit of a stretch to be called “cheap”, in my book, but let me tell you, I would rather pay $9 for a bowl of soup and have it be a damn good smaller bowl of soup. You know, now that I think about it, $50 wasn’t crazy for lunch. $9 for soup, $12 for entrée, $5 for side, that is totally reasonable. It was the fancy beer Laurent ordered just for the cool bottle, $10, and the $4.50 fancy blooming jasmine tea that sent us over the “cheap” mark. It was all worth it, though, including the fancy beer bottle and blooming tea. It made for great pics, as you will see. (Hey, that rhymes :))  Plus I was one happy camper after eating at OTD (as us insiders call in. JK. That is what is actually on their business card.) And that is how Laurent likes me!

First the room is light and airy and modern and casual and comfortable.  We sat at the bar, as usual, but had no trouble committing to a great lunch. We were pretty “fooded out” by this point and welcomed the clean, light Vietnamese flavors on the menu.  I ordered chicken pho and Laurent ordered grilled lemongrass pork over vermicelli noodles with a crispy imperial roll. We also ordered a side of snap peas and shitake mushrooms. I love pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, but have never ordered chicken pho, thinking it was the wimpy way out. And I am no wimp! Hands down, this was the best pho I have ever had and the best chicken soup I have ever had.  It tasted like quality. It tasted of good, clean ingredients, excellent technique and of pure chicken. Now we make our own damn good chicken stock at home and think it is essential to a good soup. We do cheat and use the crock pot and it works. But this is the real deal. You could tell this stock was made by a trained professional. It was clean and clear, but none of the flavor had been filtered out. I will make an educated guess and say that the chicken bones were roasted, as they should be, before they made their way into the stock pot. The chicken was juicy, both the white meat and dark meat. Rare occurrence, indeed.

Laurent’s lemongrass pork was excellent. Classic  Vietnamese fare, but better. The cha goi, or imperial roll, was light and crispy and not the least bit greasy at all. And the snap peas were plump and crunchy and tasted like Spring, balanced by the earthy shitake mushrooms. I don’t think shitakes should even be called mushrooms. I take that back, button mushrooms, should not be called mushrooms. These are two different animals, or I guess I should say vegetables. The texture of shitakes is not at all slimy, like those insidious button mushrooms. I don’t even like those things fried with ranch dressing on them, which will make almost anything taste good. They just don’t taste like anything.  Shitakes are meaty, yet delicate, chewy (I would say “toothsome” but I DESPISE that word and its overuse!) with the most amazing burst of pure flavor umami. I could eat this kind of food all day long.

Since it was raining and we had a little time to spare before saying goodbye to San Fran, I ordered the Thousand Days Red Jasmine Xian Tao art tea. Green tea leaves are wrapped around the clover type flower and formed, dried, reshaped,  scented with jasmine and hand tied with a silk thread. If that is not worth $4.50, I don’t know what is! The tea had the most amazing bouquet and was so soothing to sip. We were mesmerized by the flowering of the tea and how it floated and danced and sunk in the glass.

It was a very pleasant way to pass a half hour on a rainy day and a beautiful image to take with us as a memory of our amazing trip. A trip that was full of pleasant surprises, unfolding in ways we hadn’t imagined, delighting us in its simple pleasures and exciting us with new discoveries.

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Tacos, ice cream and mochi =good times (and a little bit of a tummy ache)

San Fran part two. This is the part when I get into the city. Pt. Reyes, Sonoma and Petaluma were amazing, serene, relaxing, but now it was time for a little excitement. I was itching to get into San Fran proper. Saturday was the day to do this, with my sixteen year old nephew, Aaron, in tow. (It helps to be known as the cool aunt.) While the three brothers ,Laurent, Scott and Albert, were at Rachel’s graduation , I got out my excel spread sheet, popped the GPS on the rental car and told Aaron he had to be co-pilot, because I was nervous about driving in San Fran. Getting out of Scott’s 90 degree angle of a driveway was hard enough, but I did it.

First stop, El Tonayense Taco Truck, recommended by my friend Alex Lopez, the Food Diva. Unlike LA, trucks in San Fran seem to stay parked in one spot for the most part. This was very civilized for street food, as there were tables belonging to the adjacent restaurant, also owned by El Tonayense, that we were able to enjoy our tacos on. This was a welcome luxury. I’m getting old, what can I say. Tacos al pastor and carnitas taco were wolfed down in a second and hit the spot, nothing fancy, but damn good. So was the horchata. I forgot how good horchata could be, full of cinnamon vanilla creaminess. I might as well fess up now, as you will see from the picture I am about to post of the taco truck, that we went back after dinner so Laurent could have a taco. I swear I didn’t have another. I know when to call it quits….sort of!

Speaking of creaminess, it was onto Humphrey Slocombe for the crazy ice cream flavors I have been hearing about in Food and Wine, Gourmet and Bon Appetit.  How convenient, it was right up the street, even though I passed it up three times. The GPS chick kept saying “You have arrived” in her robotic choppy voice and I was talking back to her, saying “Where? Where? ”   I am used to Chicago/New York grid style address, so I figured that 2790 Harrison would be at 27th street, not 23rd. Right? After driving around the block three times and calling we finally spotted the line out the door of this tiny shop. Then we circled for a parking spot. You need a Smart Car to be able to park in San Fran. Driveways keep breaking up the sidewalk and create a million places you can NOT park. We should have left the car by the El Tonayense Taco Truck as we had only gone about five blocks.  Let me tell you, this ice cream was worth all the parking headaches in the world. Oh man. I dropped about $12 on two ice cream cones and would do it again. You know me and decisions, not such a good combo. How was I supposed to decide between Szechuan Strawberry, Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes), Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, Honey Thyme, Thai Chili Lime, Peanut Butter Curry, and Caramel Balsamic? Ohhh the pressure. I tried two flavors and then committed to two others…..Peanut Butter Curry and Caramel Balsamic. I can’t pass up anything with caramel in its title. Aaron got Peanut Butter Curry and Tahitian Vanilla.  I will excuse him for ordering Vanilla, even though it was Tahitian, and for ordering the same flavor as me, as I have not properly trained him, YET! Laurent should have warned him that the proper stance to take would be “What two flavors would you like me to try Auntie Melissa?”  It would be good training for his dating life…girls love that. Believe me.

Ok, I was so full by now, it wasn’t even funny….or comfortable. But I had to forge on. While driving to find the taco truck, we passed Japan Town. Mochi!!!!!!! How could I forget that San Fran has the best mochi I have ever had?  The best mochi are from Benkyodo, which also has a counter and sells hot dogs that spin around in that hot dog warmer thing with rollers. Don’t ask; just look the other way and head to the mochi counter. They must know what they are doing. They have been around since 1906.

Here is where my friend, Keiko, would correct me. Mochi is the pounded rice cake, with no filling at all. Manju, she tells me, is the filled rice cake.  I don’t care what you call them, they are good. (I need to insert here that my damn spell check kept trying to auto correct “mochi” to mocha”. So if I didn’t re-correct them all, you know what happened.) Mochi/maju might be a little bit weird to you at first, if you are not used to weird Asiany desserts. (I got used to them very fast, let me tell you. Don’t get me started on grass jelly.) They are basically chewy rice cakes stuffed with sweetened red bean paste.  Don’t confuse them with mochi ice cream. It’s just not the same. You can get them here at Chicago Foods, the Korean grocery store, but they are just ok. Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights has much better ones, but none seems to be as soft and chewy and heavenly as the ones from Benkyodo. I don’t know if you can call something chewy tender, but these are amazingly tender. I am a texture freak, and this texture makes me very happy.  We bought eight of them to share with the family. I was so full; I couldn’t even eat one on the spot. How I resisted I don’t know. That $5.oo ice cream cone had sent me over the edge!

What a great day this had been. Who knew that hanging out with your sixteen year old nephew could be so much fun? We had a blast. At least I did. I guess we should ask him if he did. Aaron was a great sport, being dragged around San Fran with not a one complaint. He was polite, considerate, funny, a great conversationalist. Was he really a teenager? There was a lot of good food, but most importantly lots of laughs, inside jokes (I will never be able to say Van Ness without adding an “A” on the end of it.) and quality time spent with family, and a little bit of a tummy ache (well worth it, though).  Thanks Aaron! This was shaping up to be an excellent trip.

Bye Bye…drive Safe :)

More San Fran eating adventures next week.

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Family, food, friends, fun …this is life…..

We just got back from an amazing trip to San Francisco. It was different from most of our trips to San Fran, where we run around the city, looking for tacos in the Mission or stuffing ourselves with dim sum in the Richmond District. We would be staying in Mill Valley with Laurent’s brother, Scott.  Other family would be joining us later for our niece’s graduation. Scott was taking two days off work and had planned some day trips to Sonoma and the Coast. Hmmm…could I survive not heading straight into the city to shop and eat until I dropped? Could I handle the mellow pace of life outside the city?  I decided to open my mind to it and just “go with the flow”, not so easy for me, who usually takes control and plans the entire vacation’s worth of eating and then some.

When we arrived on Thursday it was off the plane and then hit the ground running…or should I say eating?  So much for that mellow pace.  I was gonna like this.  After dropping off our luggage we headed over to Fish in Sausalito. Talk about California Cuisine, this was it. Fish is known for its commitment to sustainable fish.  Scott, and his girlfriend, Kit, gave us the scoop on Fish’s very simple, but do not read inexpensive, menu. There are about five fish of the day. You just pick one and the preparation you want. We followed Scott and Kit’s lead and chose one of the five fish, grilled and served over a salad.  I chose calamari and Laurent chose fresh sardines.

I didn’t think I liked sardines, but these were great; a stronger flavored fish, but not fishy by any means, just a little bony, actually a lot of little bones.  We also ordered tempura baby fava beans served with an aioli. I have never had anything fried that tasted so fresh and spring like. These baby fava beans SCREAMED fresh…as did our entire lunch.

Your food is brought out to picnic tables in the marina. It was a sunny beautiful day…it seemed that all the customers were regulars as all the ladies had their big floppy, yet fashionable, hats to shade themselves from the sun. We just soaked it all in and enjoyed. Great food, great company, great conversation, great atmosphere. What a fabulous welcome to California.

Ok, bellies comfortably full, we headed out to Sonoma, where Scott’s office is.  If I had an office in Sonoma, don’t think I would mind going to work every day.  It’s right next door to a winery. That seems like it would make for a very dangerous lunch hour! Yes, we were smack dab in the middle of wine country, but we went straight for the beer.  I tend to be a little rebellious. There are actually quite a few breweries in this area of California, hence lots of amazing beer, which we preceded to drink at Mondo where  we met some of Scott’s employees for happy hour. Oh boy was this something to be happy about, for hours! There were $3.oo drafts offered and we are not talking Budweiser here. Scott ordered a Lagunitas IPA, Laurent a Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA and I ordered a Russian River Brewing Company Double Imperial “Pliny the Elder” IPA. (Yes, we are bitter hoppy IPA fans!)Here are my reason on why we were so happy this hour;  #1, all these beers were made in Sonoma County, # 2, all these local beers  were all $3.00, #3, all these local $3.00 beers were amazing. My new favorite is the Russian River brew. Hoppy and bitter, yes, but floral, citrusy and piney, also. It was amazingly smooth and well-balanced, unlike me, after we left hours and many beers later.

But not before we ate some damn good bar food, that I did not even think to take a picture of, as I didn’t expect it to be this tasty, and once we found out it was this tasty, we inhaled it. But I can tell you about it. These objects of my affection were simply called Jambalaya Fritters. They were basically rice balls mixed with chicken and andouille sausage, spiced with Cajun spices, breaded and deep-fried. How could they be bad, you ask? They couldn’t, really. But how could they be this good? Spicy, moist, crunchy, flavorful, served with mustardy remoulade with a Creole kick.  When we raved about them, the owner told us that they came about by pure accident, as a lot of good things do. They had made tons of jambalaya for a Mardi Gras party and the next day, they still had tons left, the next day also. They had to figure out what to do with it (admitting defeat and throwing it out would not be good for food costs!) Someone in the kitchen decided to fry some up and wah-lah…an amazing appetizer is born. He assured us that this was not from that same Mardi Gras batch of jambalaya!

We had a great time talking with our new friends, Alex and Laura. This night was what life is all about to me; hanging out, with new friends, or old, laughing, talking, eating, drinking,  nothing earth shattering, just REAL.

Earth shattering. That was what my head was the next day! This was all too real!  I swear I only had two beers. Oh ya, and “tastes” of two others we just had to try.  Oh well, it was worth it. After picking up some coffee and tea, Laurent, Scott, Kit and I headed to the coast. On the agenda was Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.  The drive from Mill Valley to Pt. Reyes was beautiful. Rolling hills, mountains, redwoods, cows, goats, tons of farmland. Nice and calming. Just what vacation should be all about.  Point Reyes is a great little town,  mellow, but not sleepy.  I could have stayed there forever.   It’s funny how small towns in California are so much more progressive than small towns in the Midwest. Not a chain in sight, just great local businesses, beautiful produce, fresh food, and active people. No wonder it’s so expensive, everyone wants to live here.

Well, we didn’t make it up early enough to see cheese being made, but we managed to buy a ton of it for a picnic on the lawn behind the creamery. We chose St. Pats, their seasonal springtime cheese wrapped in stinging nettles leaves,  Inverness, a tangy creamy cheese,  and Wagon Wheel, a harder mild cheese that was a nice contrast to the two soft cheeses. We also picked up some blue cheese from Point Reyes Creamery, which was nice and mild and creamy.

We, of course, got a bottle of wine, some chewy sourdough, local honey, and the most amazing grassy olive oil from Toby’s Feed Barn. Toby’s was an incredible  market with local produce, healthy foods, nursery,  an art gallery and coffee shop. It seemed like the local hangout.  The sun was shining.  We had great company, easy conversation and  good food, yet again. What else could you ask for? Nada.

Even though we were full, we continued our local food tour! We continued up the coast with oysters right out of the bay on our mind. I was so excited to see the oyster beds, we couldn’t even make it to Hog Island, which is famous for its oysters. We pulled over and stopped at Tomales Bay. How to describe it. This was so not my reality. It was  basically a big parking lot on the beach with picnic tables , grills, some  portable hand sinks (good thing!), and a place to buy oysters, hot sauce, and limes! That’s it. Talk about a genius low overhead business. This was it. Oysters are sold by the dozen, by size, for about $13 a dozen. Yes, I said, $13 a dozen! Ok, I will admit, I am was not a huge oyster fan, but I was game to eat a few, or eight! This is the ONLY way to eat oysters, right out of the bay. We got a dozen small oysters to start and then moved on to the extra smalls, which we all preferred.

I was a little nervous, since I usually drown my oysters in cocktail sauce pumped up with tons of horseradish. Oh boy, had I been going about this all the wrong way.  These oysters  tasted of nothing but the bay. Sweet, briny, clean and delicious. All I needed was a squeeze of lime.  People brought entire picnics, wine, beer, and chicken to grill, etc, etc. We showed up with a towel, for shucking, and that’s it!

I will say, I am usually a planner. This was so liberating, though. So much better than stressing over making sure we had a cooler full of ice, did we have enough food, who brought the silverware. What else did we need? Nothing…again, great company, good simple food, great environment, you can’t get any better than this. We were on the bay eating fresh oysters with a squeeze of lime. This was life!

How can this day get even better? A trip to Lagunitas Brewery is how! My favorite beer is Lagunitas IPA. When I saw the signs for Petaluma-18 miles, a detour was in order.  We were going straight to the source. Lagunitas was not at all what I would have imagined. It is off the highway, in a sort of strip mall industrial park in a larger not so quaint city. That’s ok. Just a wakeup from the bucolic bay we had just come from. They had a huge beer garden with a band playing and tons of kids running around. What did I get us into? A very enjoyable few hours, that’s what. Somehow the kids were not annoying, maybe the IPA took the edge off. The band was very pleasant, rockin’, but in a mellow California kind of way. The sun was shining, there was good company and great conversation and a few Lagunitas beer samplers. All this and our bill was only $20 for two samplers and two pints. Who knew a great afternoon in California could be so cheap!

Our day was not over yet. We met up with Kit, back in Sausalito at a little Italian Bistro where Scott’s friend was playing jazz. This set up is not usually in our repertoire, jazz, tourist town, Italian food. Hmm….this was gonna be interesting. Would our idyllic day end on a sour note? Nope. The restaurant, Davino, was very quaint in a modern, but not too modern type of way. The glass pours were gigantic, the waitress charming and the food amazing, text-book examples of great Italian food with that fresh California flair. The jazz was not too jazzy and the older, tanned, slightly tipsy, wealthy Marin County clientele dancing on the nonexistent dance floor were entertaining!

This was the perfect ending to an amazing two days of family, friends, fresh food and fun.

Thanks Scott and Kit for taking time out of your busy schedules to enjoy life with us!

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“Best I”ve Ever Had” Austin……

Ok, one more Austin post, because there was more to Austin than just food trailers. My segway into that other Austin is P. Terry‘s Burger Stand. It is a drive thru. That’s it; no inside seating, no outside seating, just a drive thru. I am going to cut to the chase here. P. Terry’s is better than In N’ Out. I never thought I would speak those words, but it’s true. Skip LA and head to Austin instead. P. Terry’s uses locally grown organic tomatoes on their burgers and are all about quality ingredients. The burger is juicy, well seasoned and has a distinct freshly ground black pepper flavor to it. (I put freshly ground pepper on everything, so I was all about that!). The fries are hand cut, skin on, perfect French fries, not too skinny, not too thick. There is a sign at the pick up window telling you that it is not too late to order a homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. So, of course, I handed over $1.00 and got one.

P TerrysP. Terry's Burger

You know, Austin had a bunch of “best I’ve ever tasted” moments. My friend, Carol, said she had the best BBQ ever at Lamberts. That’s all the recommendation I needed to head over there. We actually went there twice in our four day visit, that’s how good it was. (That NEVER happens on food eating trips, which is actually what all trips are to me!) Country style pork ribs brined in citrus, rubbed in fennel and coriander with a maple glaze, served with an apple & roasted fennel salad. Sounds fancy, but it was just darn good. Tender, perfectly balanced flavors. I never want to ever eat any other ribs, really. They also set out three amazing sauces, as if the food needing any help, but, boy, were they tasty too. If anything could be better than the ribs, it was the cold smoked quail with Mexican rice stuffing, cheese enchilada, ranchero sauce and fried quail eggs. Talk about Tex Mex perfection, this was it. And the best baked mac and cheese I’ve ever had; even better than Kumas, when Kumas mac n’ cheese used to be good. This mac n’ cheese was rich and creamy and saucy, all good things to be for a mac n’ cheese (among other things). We went back for Sunday brunch. $26 deal of the century…all you can eat, with the house smoked brisket, ribs, prime rib at the carving station, along with “the best I have ever had” house smoked gravlox salmon with fried capers and chive crème fraiche. I am a picky salmon eater & this was heaven, lightly smoked to medium, served with fried capers and chive crème fraiche. There was also a sweet table with fried pumpkin pies and….well, I don’t remember past the fried pumpkin pies. They looked like empanadas and were spiced quite boldly and uniquely. I swear I got a taste of Indian spices, maybe garam masala or some other warm spice, not quite familiar in a pumpkin pie, but not at all out of place. Lamberts also cooked eggs to order in small portions, thank goodness, like smoked brisket hash or hanger steak benedict with tobasco hollandaise. Roll me out of there! Oh, but not before I ate mini churros with dipping/drinking chocolate.

Ok, how can you top that? With the best Mexican food I’ve ever had.  If anyone knows any good Mexican restaurants in Chicago, please tell me. There is not a one that I am really addicted to. If I lived in Austin I would be eating at Polvos once a week. My husband, Laurent, would be there twice a week. First of all, they had a salsa bar. Laurent practically drank the stuff it was so good. He would definitely be banned if we lived there. The pico de gallo rocked. It was a perfect blend of diced tomatoes and the juice of the tomatoes, not pureed, just juicy. A little heat, some cilantro, onion. How this can be so hard to make perfect, I don’t know. Like I said, if you know a place that kicks out some great salsa, let me in on your secret. If the pico de gallo was great then the salsa ahumada was earth shattering! I’m serious. This salsa was smoky and had layers and layers of nuances and complexity. Not for the timid, but not crazy spicy either, just very flavorful. My notes say that it had pasilla and ancho chilies and chocolate brown/green. Don’t ask me what chocolate brown/green means. Maybe I thought I would remember after a few Negro Modelos! Well, I didn’t. I had entomatadas stuffed with pastor style pork for dinner. I have never seen that on a menu before. They are sort of like enchiladas, but folded instead of rolled, originally from Oaxaca. Laurent had a combo platter with a chicken taco and a steak enchilada with a chipotle sauce, guacamole, refried black beans and rice. The chipotle sauce, ohhh man. They are the king of sauces at Polvos. “Tender slightly salty grilled steak, oh this chipotle sauce is great, get a little refried black beans on the fork, dip it in some amuhada salsa, mmmm” I know that wasn’t very coherent, but that is what he mumbled. Those are the only words I got out of him the whole dinner, besides” una mas cerveza por favor!” Oh wait, that was me. He doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish! Polvos… I love you.

I wish I could say we are “bar people”, but we really aren’t. So when we spotted House Wine, while driving through P.Terry’s, we knew we had to go back later that night. I wish our friends Stacey and Jack were with us, because it was definitely a place to hang out with friends. It was a little house that was so comfortable. It felt like you were at your own house, but cooler…and cleaner. The house was tiny with groupings of comfy but stylish armchairs and couches and built in benches to sit on. The kitchen area is where you ordered. It was counter service, like at a café. I thought this was genius. No cocktail waitress to interrupt you when you’re in the middle of a good story. When you’re ready, you just go to the kitchen and order another glass. The owner told us that you can also bring in your P.Terry’s to enjoy with your wine. Hmm….I’m just about ready to pack up the minivan and move South…..at least for the winter!

If you are heading to Austin in the near future, drop me a line and I’ll email you my Excel Eating Spreadsheet for Austin.

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Airstream Austin……

I have never been so happy, in all my life, to see a city chock full of trailer parks.  This city is full of vintage airstream trailers dishing up some of the most creative food we had in Austin. It was 40 degrees when we were in Austin last week, but I was more than happy to sit outside bundled in my winter scarf, hat and gloves munching on a pork chop filled crepe, a barbacoa taco, a whip cream filled cupcake or a donut covered in caramel, chocolate & bananas.

I was in heaven. I am obsessed with street food and markets. One of my main gripes about Chicago is that we have neither. (Don’t get me started that is another post all together.) There are a ton of food trucks in Austin and it seems the most successful ones are the most creative ones. These are not just nondescript trailers with a hand painted sign saying “elotes” on the side. These are full blown creatively concepted mini restaurants with professionally painted signage, well thought out menus & delicious food.

When we got into Austin we headed straight to South Congress to start looking for food. That’s when we started seeing the trailers, cupcakes, crepes, snowcones…where to start?

We decided to start our trailer tour at Crêpes Mille, since crepes are my first love. I have made many a crepe in my day, but this trailer had me and any random crepe cart in Paris, beat, hands down! This was the best crepe I have ever had, seriously. The rectangular folded crepe was filled with mesquite marinated pork chop, which was cooked to order on a panini grill (so cool), grilled onions, asparagus, Monterey jack cheese & a chipotle cream sauce. It was then topped with grilled red and orange peppers. It was fresh. It was hot. It was flavorful. It was $6.95. What was there to not like about it?

Pork Chop Crepe

After a short coffee break to warm up, sort of, (more about that later), we were still hungry. After all, we only split a crepe. We headed to Torchy’s Taco Truck right up the street at the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery. This trailer park was complete with picnic tables, a stoked fire pit, which we sat by to keep warm, and two other cool trailers. We ordered The Democrat, corn tortillas stuffed with tasty tender shredded beef barbacoa, onions, avocado, cilantro and queso fresco. Much better choice than The Republican, I think! I thought the taco was a little pricey at $3.75 compared to my $6.95 pork chop crepe.

On the bright side, it left us room for cake balls from Holy Cacao. I get very excited when I see things I have never seen before. And I have never seen cake balls before (that I know of). You know the cupcake craze, well, these were even cuter. And they came on a stick, instant points right there.  Cake & frosting rolled together into a ball, plopped on a popsicle stick & dipped in a chocolate coating. Genius….and tasty! Holy Cacao also serves hot chocolate and cake shakes, which is exactly what it sounds like, a shake blended with cake! How could that be bad?  The cake balls were 3 for $5, so we had to get three, of course. Brass Balls was my favorite made with peanut butter cake, peanut butter, dipped in chocolate & topped with crushed peanuts. Charlie Brown’s Balls were just as good and Diablo Balls had a nice spicy kick.

I really wish we had room to visit Man Bites Dog in the same park. They just opened a few weeks ago, but we were finally full. Next time…and there will be a next time.

It just amazes me that the best places to eat in Austin don’t even have bathrooms!

We hit two more trailers in our time in Austin. “Hey Cupcake” was on South Congress, too. We had a Michael Jackson, which was a chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Of course we made it a whipper snapper by having whip cream injected into the center for free. Why wouldn’t you? That made it super messy, but who cares? It was fun.

I have been saving the best for last…. Gordoughs.  Big. Fat. Donuts. I was so excited by this trailer; I was talking a mile a minute. My husband had to calm me down. No, it wasn’t the sugar! Well, maybe… First, What a name! I know how hard it is to name a business…I’ve named three already. You want to be clever, witty, catchy, not too literal, something easy to remember…….. Gordoughs. Perfect. Perfect in that gordo means fat in Spanish and these donuts certainly were fat. Perfect in that it could be a combo of gourmet and doughnut which these certainly were. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. This business was perfect…and I hadn’t even tasted the donuts yet!  There were about two dozen combos, all cleverly named, The Mother Clucker; fried chicken strip with honey butter icing. The Dirty Berry; fudge icing and grilled strawberries. Flying Pig; bacon a nd maple syrup icing. You can also make your own. I did not know what to expect, how were they going to get all those flavors into my donut? And it was $3.25 to boot. It better be good. They fried each donut to order, so it took a little time. The suspense was killing me…. I was never so excited in my life when they handed me my cardboard boat with my donut in it. It was absolutely obscene! That’s the only way to describe it! The donut served as a base for all the toppings. And they piled them on, caramel, bananas, graham crackers and  pecans for the Granny’s Pie, which we ordered. (I couldn’t resist adding chocolate. It’s not dessert until there is chocolate involved.) You could barely see the donut underneath. And forget about picking it up, this was fork food! There is no way you can finish one by yourself, or if you could, talk about a tummy ache.  That is one tummy ache I would be happy to have. Gordoughs got my vote for the Best Little Trailer in Texas!

www.crepesmille.com 1318 S. Congress

www.theholycacao.com 1311 S. 1st St.

www.torchystacos.com 1311 S. 1st St.

www.manbitesdogaustin.com 1311 S 1st St.

www.heycupcake.com 4 locations

www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-TX/Gordoughs 1219 S. Lamar

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Good vegan cupcakes…really!

I think I would drive the 75 miles to Milwaukee just to eat at Honeypie, a cute new restaurant in Bayview, the hipster neighborhood on the south side of Milwaukee. HoneyPie’s logo is a big blue pig. And boy do they love their pork here. As a total contrast, though, they can make almost any dish vegan. The craziest twist, to me, is that all their cupcakes were vegan! You know how hard it is to make vegan pastries taste good? These were some of the best cupcakes I have ever had, vegan or not. Crazy! The pumpkin cupcake was moist, flavorful; no weird textures (telltale sign of a vegan pastry). It was a very rustic looking cupcake, with the delicious cinnamon frosting spread on with a knife, instead of being piped on;  a butter cream-like frosting, with no butter. Crazy!!

Honeypie has the potential to make almost everyone happy. They are open for breakfast, lunch & dinner and have a liquor license.  We went for Saturday brunch at 2:00. I had a dish called “the failure bowl” which had roasted potatoes, brussel sprouts, scrambled eggs, cheese sauce and pork gravy. The mushrooms that were supposed to be in it, failed to show up., but I could care less. I had my pork gravy. I was happy. I asked the waitress why it was called “the failure bowl” and she said she had no idea, that the kitchen named all the dishes & always came up with crazy names. She told us that one day the special was called “Don’t You Think I’m Pretty?” I think the kitchen just loved messing with the front of the house; an example of that infamous front of the house/back of the house rivalry.

Honeypie blackboard

My friend, Andrea, had a chicken curry sandwich. It normally came with fries, but she could sub a side salad for $1 or, get this, a slice of pie, for $2. Oh yaaaaa! She went with the pie, as any sane person would do! And as any sane person would do, we took home another cupcake, a slice of apple streusel pie, and one of their homemade flaky biscuits that took two hands to hold. We had to be prepared for the hour and a half ride home. In all honesty, I actually didn’t eat again until noon the next day.

A couple other facts about Honeypie…..they make just about everything from scratch, using local ingredients whenever they can,  purchased from Growing Power and other local farms. (Growing Power is one of the amazing farms that participate in Green City Market here in Chicago.) While Milwaukee won’t go smoke free until July of 2010, Honeypie is smoke free all the time because, as they say, “smoking is gross unless it involves meat.” Hallelujah!

Honeypie is located in the Bayview neighborhood of Milwaukee at 2643 S. Kinnickkinnic Ave., 414-489-PIES and at www.honeypiecafe.com. Start planning your road trip today. And don’t you dare go without bringing me back a vegan cupcake!



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Nashville: According to Lisa Bleed

A road trip to Nashville is what a recent weekend in October held for us. We have this obsession with smaller cities. We always play the “could I live here?” game. The answer for Nashville was no, but it sure made for a great weekend. A friend who used to live there, recently moved to Chicago, so I had THE scoop on where to go and what to do.  I also consulted slowfoodnashville.org for places to eat. We wanted to experience the whole “meat & three” Nashville, but we also knew that that would get old fast and we would want some modern, cleaner tasting food.

Nothing could top our experience the night we drove into Nashville. We were tired after driving eight hours, but hungry. We headed to City House, which was recommended in the June 2009 issue of Food & Wine for their pizza. It just so happens that it is also my friend, Lisa Bleed’s, favorite restaurant in the city. (Yes, that really is her name! Cool, huh?!) City House is hidden in Germantown. It is tucked amid new townhomes, industrial buildings, fall foliage and nonworking street lights. We had a GPS and still couldn’t find it. The lovely hostess, Heather, ended up coming out of the restaurant with the cordless phone in her hand, waving her hands wildly so we could see her! That gesture alone was such a warm welcome to Nashville. I couldn’t imagine anyone in Chicago doing that for you. Once inside, it only got better. We were seated in Jocelyn’s station, who was a complete doll. She was so passionate about the food. We had lamb tongue to start, melt in your mouth tender (pun intended).  We also ordered an octopus salad. The mouth feel was such that it felt like there was fat around the slices of tentacles, sort of like the fat under the crispy crackling skin of a piece of pork. It made for a very tactile experience that I quite enjoyed. Onto the pizza, which is what we came for! House made belly ham, mozzarella, grana padano, oregano & chilies. This is some of the best pizza I have ever had, right up there with Pizza Bianco in Phoenix and Great Lake in Chicago. I am all about the texture of a pizza crust. It has to have “chew” and a perfectly blistered bottom. But I have never noticed the flavor of a pizza crust until that night at City House. Instead of the crust being tasteless, I tasted the flour. It added to the depth of the pizza, mingling with the saltiness of the belly ham, the richness of the cheeses and the spiciness of the chilies.

City House Pizza

Our waitress, Jocelyn, was so excited that we were so excited about the food, that she started telling us about other places in Nashville we might enjoy. This is when I pulled out my “homework”, my excel spreadsheet of restaurants complete with address, phone and any notes on what to order. (I love to research and do this for every trip we take, plus trips my friends take.) I was happy to say that she approved of my list, but added a few musts, such as The Patterson House, which is a pre-prohibition style bar by Toby Maloney, who is a partner at The Violet Hour in Chicago.

The next morning we continued Lisa Bleed’s “Tour of Amazing Nashville Food Spots” by visiting her old neighborhood of East Nashville. East Nashville is THE place to be in Nashville; A little grungier, a little hipper and a little more real. She sent us to Sweet 16th, a tiny bakery within walking distance from her old house. If we could live here, being down the block from Sweet 16th would have been a must. One of the things I love to see in a bakery is abundance. This tiny shop packed in the pastries. The selection was overwhelming. There were four different kinds of coffee cakes, and three kinds of Danish (all gone, so sad), macaroons, brownies, blondies, chocolate chip cookies, bread pudding, quiches, cupcakes, tarts, scones, and muffins. Heaven.

How to decide? I get so overwhelmed by choice sometimes. So I did something somewhat unprecedented, I asked my husband to make one of the choices. He did well, although I don’t think you could go wrong here. We had the best coffee cake we have ever had. It was amazingly fresh, tender and full of fragrant cinnamon spice, not too sweet. I ordered the breakfast sandwich which was a cheesy eggy casserole served on a cheddar scone. Oh boy was I happy. This was right up my alley. I am a self proclaimed scone snob and these passed the test with flying colors, not many do.

After those amazing pastries, we indulged some more by going on a Yazoo Brewery Tour. (Later in the day, not right after breakfast!)  Yazoo Brew is brewed right there in downtown Nashville in the historic Marathon Motor Works building. The tour was a bargain at $6 per person, which included a great beer glass with their cool logo to take home and sample beers from. After the tour, we settled into the cool tasting room where we sampled all the beers they are currently brewing. After this “research” we bought a growler of Dos Perros, which is an amber beer brewed with German Munich Malt  that we got to taste straight from the fifty pound bag. It tasted like grape nuts! The growler is a 64 oz jug that is filled for $11. You can bring the growler back for $8 refills. There was a steady stream of locals doing just that.

Yazoo Growler

This is where we depart from Lisa Bleed’s Nashville Tour. She heard that Loveless Café was on my list and was mortified. Loveless Cafe has been a Tennesse tradition since  1951. She called it “absolutely vile” and said “you couldn’t drag me back there tied to a church bus”. Landi, my friend and fellow foodie, said if we went to one place, it should be Loveless Cafe, and that it was “divine. So, we went.  Both Landi and Lisa Bleed were right. Undercooked grits, meaty ham and tasteless eggs; vile. Not greasy at all, juicy, fried chicken (for breakfast), buttermilk biscuits, and homemade peach, blackberry and strawberry jam: divine.

Loveless Biscuits

Nashville was a trip worth taking. There was plenty of food worth eating. If you are interested in perusing the complete Nashville list, drop me a line and I’d be happy to email you my Nashville Eats Excel Sheet. We didn’t make it everywhere on the list, but all the info came from great sources like slowfoodnashville.org, Food & Wine, Lisa Bleed, Dan, the owner of Sweet 16th and Jocelyn, our lovely server at City House. Thanks y’all for all the great Southern hospitality.

Have you been on a great road trip recently? I’d love to hear about it.

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