Keepin it green in the Green Mountain State- The great and wonderful Penny Cluse Cafe

Dining in Vermont is an experience all should have once in their life. The restaurants make every effort to locally source their ingredients, plan seasonal menus that support local farms, and are always reinventing themselves. Though only there for a few days, we found many gems in and around Burlington.
IMG_0427Breakfast. We are always on the lookout for a breakfast spot that inspires our palettes and makes us dream about it long after we have left. Burlington has such a place, Penny Cluse. Loved it so much we went three times in five days! Inventive food with fresh, local ingredients has never been done better.
Cornmeal French Toast with Rhubarb Compote!

Cornmeal French Toast with Rhubarb Compote!

The first trip offered cornmeal french toast with rhubarb compote, and though fresh Vermont maple syrup was served, it was not even necessary. Our son went for the original french toast with bananas on top and I think it may have been the largest plate of french toast I have ever seen. By the way, the food is big at Penny Cluse, so come hungry!

Huevos Ranchero

Huevos Ranchero

We also sampled the Huevos Verdes with a homemade avocado tomatillo salsa served atop poached eggs, spicy black beans and pickled vegetables. And, because my daughter and husband could not come to agreement, we also got the Huevos Rancheros for a sauce taste-off.

Huevos Verde

Huevos Verde

Personally, Iiked the Ranchero sauce better. It had more depth of flavor and the chili was more prominent. Both were good though, and we ended up getting one Huevos the third day with both sauces- the perfect combination! We also repeated the french toast the third day because I just couldn’t miss out on more serving.

The second visit, we went for the gingerbread pancakes, biscuits and gravy, turkey hash, and tofu scram.

Gingerbread PancakesThe thing about Penny Cluse is that they have an amazing menu, but there is a lot of magic going on with the special board.

Biscuits with Herbed Gravy- and yes it was as good as southern sausage gravy!

Biscuits with Herbed Gravy- and yes it was as good as southern sausage gravy!

The turkey hash, like the cornmeal french toast were both products of the special board. Another bit of advice our waitress imparted, order the bucket of spuds. You may think they are just glorified home fries, but you would be wrong, and if you ask, they will make you a half portion!

Not your usual side of fruit!

Not your usual side of fruit!

The fruit side is also unexpected. Raspberries, watermelon, peaches, grapefruit, pineapple, a date, and all of it was firm and fresh! Expect a wait because the Penny Cluse secret is out. We waited 40 minutes each day and that is about average. They have tasty coffee to stave off the hunger! If you are in Vermont, Penny Cluse is a must!

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Keepin’ it green in the Green Mountain State- Part 1

IMG_0537I wonder as an adult what it means to “head home”? Vermont was my childhood home. It is the place that still has Al’s creemee stand with the maple creemees I gobbled up as a child. It is the place with the little one room schoolhouse in Jericho where I completed 2nd grade. It is the place with my first apartment- a yellow Victorian on North Winooski Ave. where I rented the turret. It is the place where I learned to hike, kayak, bake, garden, and be the person I am today. It is where I spent summers on Nanny’s farm, where I had my first child, where I buried my father, and where I learned to appreciate hard work. All those are still a part of my childhood home, but now I have a new home with my own family. So then what is home for an adult- the place that formed you, the place that shapes your current life or a tapestry of memories and experiences that are less tangible, but more present? As we turned onto route 7 in Vermont, all of those concepts merged in me as I pointed out places I had long stowed away to my husband and daughter.

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Even the rest stops in Vermont are beautiful!

Planning out our vacation, I knew there were touchstone places I wanted to visit. We were there to celebrate our son’s birthday and we wanted to do some old school family stuff since we only see him a couple times a year. On the list was kayaking on Lake Champlain, tour of Ben and Jerry’s factory, a vineyard visit, shopping local artisan stores, walking the waterfront, and visiting some of my old haunts…plus eat fabulous, locally prepared foods at some of the best restaurants in the nation. We accomplished all and more! This post details the places and activities; the next will explore the foodie stops.

First on our list was exploring Church Street. It has changed a lot in the last decade, but the value of supporting independent, local businesses still rings strong on the Marketplace. I am an independent bookstore junkie and seek them out in every place I go. Burlington is home to a few and I made my way to one, Crow Bookshop at the top if Church Street.

IMG_0394They have a wide selection of new and used volumes arranged in neat shelves running vertically along the length of the store. A comfy seating area, and lots of natural light make it a great place to spend a couple of hours among the stacks. I happily found Purple Hibiscus, a book I have been hunting for a couple of months to no avail. The young lady working the counter was friendly and knowledgeable, and I got to leave some money in the local economy rather than the online behemoth’s coffers. After Liv and I acquired some new books, we moved down the Marketplace for some local jewelry purchases and a handmade scarf before heading out to kayak Lake Champlain.

Street musicians on the Marketplace

Street musicians on the Marketplace

As a child, we would kayak out of Jeffersonville which offers rushing rivers, as well as larger pools. For our purposes, we wanted something more local and Community Sailing Center offered the solution. The Waterfront in Burlington has exploded with activity over the past decade. The city has poured money into revitalizing abandoned warehouses and buildings and made room for cute cafes, local shops, and housing. they also spent time and money rehabilitating the bike path. When Dylan was a baby, we would bike the Bike Path every day from Oak Ledge to downtown, but it was always in disrepair and not long enough. Now it is this gorgeous swath of green snaking its way all over the state. It is a marvel to travel. Along the bike path is the Community Sailing Center- a warehouse converted to a rental facility for all things watersport related.

IMG_0405They offer paddle boards, canoes, boats, and kayaks for very reasonable rates. The kayaks rent for $15 per hour- single or tandem. Lake Champlain is enormous and offers lots of area to explore for those wishing to enjoy some outdoor adventure. There are also ferries, dinner cruises, and guided tours of the Lake Champlain region available for those interested.

In addition to fantastic outdoor activities, Vermont is also home to the best ice cream around and some beautiful vineyards and we planned on enjoying some of that. On our last trip we visited Snow Farm Winery, which was wonderful, but we wanted to branch out a little on this trip. I did a little research and decide on Shelburne Vineyards. IMG_0429They have some award winning wines and Shelburne is a quaint town with lots to offer. The vineyard is pretty small, but has an incredibly knowledgeable staff.

Our tour guide, Emily, knew everything there was to know about the growing region, the grapes, and the process of making wine.IMG_0430 She was personable and funny- ask for her if you can! We did the vineyard tour and then the complete tasting, which for $7 comes with a souvenir wine glass. They also offer a cheese plate of Vermont cheeses that was quite tasty. We ended up going home with a bottle of their sparkling wine that was a fave among our little group!

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Post wine-tasting called for some ice cream indulgence, so we made our way to the home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Waterbury, VT. As a kid, my family would drop in on the scoop shop on the corner of Cherry Street in Burlington. It was an experience- there was a piano downstairs and usually somebody was playing, there was an old-fashioned ice cream maker where you could mix up your own ice cream (rock salt and all), and some of the creamiest tubs of ice cream upstairs in the scoop shop. It was always a treat to have my parents regale us with stories of the original Ben & Jerry’s of their youth- a converted garage down the street. Hard to believe that small place of my childhood has become the global business it is today!

Ironically, I never toured the factory in all my years living in Vermont. It may have been more of a tourist thing toIMG_0445 do, or I just enjoyed the local scoop shop enough to not make the trek to Waterbury, but I wanted my family to experience some of that ice cream-making magic that happens only at the factory now. The tour is fairly inexpensive, $4 for adults and includes samplings of the featured flavors. They also offer a package deal where you get a t-shirt as well for $20. This is also a good deal considering the shirts are usually $22- $26.IMG_0463 Our tour guide ushered us through the history of Ben & Jerry’s through the philanthropy and mission of the company. Ben & Jerry’s is truly one of those companies that has stayed the path of its original ideals. Though now owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s still maintain creative control over the company’s direction to ensure the company is run in a way that holds true to its roots. The tour ended in the tasting room where we indulged in the featured flavor of the day, Caramel Truffle served up by friendly scoopers. In addition to the factory itself, there are also many activities to enhance your visit. There is a station where you can tye dye your own t-shirts as a souvenir. There was also a posed photo-op area where you can take pictures with cut-out pints. My kids especially enjoyed the spin arIMG_0456t station. They had a glass enclosed table with a spinner underneath and a slit for paint. They got to choose as many colors as they wanted and create their art. The staff hung them on a clothesline to be picked up as we left. Maybe the coolest part of the factory is the Flavor Graveyard.IMG_0472 This where all retired flavors go for their final rest. It sits on top of the hill above the actual factory and is set up just like a traditional graveyard with markers for the flavors, dates of production and short epitaphs about their life. It was fun to try and figure out which flavors might be “resurrected” based on their gravestones. We have a running bet that White Russian, Wavy Gravy, and Vermonty Python will see the inside of a pint sometime in the future.

Much of the rest of our long weekend was spent driving around the backroads of the state marveling at the pristine green of the fields, covered bridges, and newly installed solar panel farms. Vermont still manages to be the cleanest state I have ever set foot in and the most supportive of locally-produced food and beverage. It sort of amazes me a state with little-to-no industry other than tourism and agriculture keeps finding a way to reinvent itself economically, yet stay true to its grassroots nature. Needless to say, we did not want to leave.

Stay tuned for Part 2- Eats and Treats from Vermont’s finest restaurants and stores!

Keeping Knoxville Scruffy

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I have been a long fan of Austin’s mission to keep it weird- a movement meant to preserve local arts and happenings that can only be experienced in Austin, Texas. I was intrigued as I wandered around Knoxville, TN and noticed the abundance of “Keep Knoxville Scruffy” memorabilia. I wanted the story. Turns out the phrase was birthed out of a reaction to a negative comment by a journalist in 1980 on the eve of the World’s Fair held in Knoxville. The journalist dismissed Knoxville as a,”…scruffy little city on the Tennessee River.” Knoxvillians, particularly Preservation Pub owners Scott and Bernadette West, adopted the critical comment to promote their own city’s local artisans and shops, as well as the city’s history. Meandering through Knoxville’s neighborhoods, I found a city that embraces its laid back attitude while still being funky and friendly. It was not dirty as journalists over the years have implied. The vibe is smooth and alluring as music from street musicians filters into the air and the windows of eclectic shops capture attention with their unique displays and shop names. The reclaimed spaces and old Southern architecture invites exploration and that is just what I did.

One of the lesser known but hip attractions is a graffiti wall we happened on by accident. We finished our breakfast on the Market and were checking out the shops when I noticed a woman taking photographs of a family at the top of a narrow alley. After they finished, we made our way over to see what was going on in the alley. The first image I saw was the one at the top of the post. There were a number of different graffiti styles covering the walls and I could not look away. The story these local artists told through paint on old walls drew me in. Just another piece of Knoxville’s scruffiness.

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We stayed at the Marriott Knoxville on East Hill Avenue. It was an older-looking building, but staff was very friendly, rooms were clean and the location could not have been better. We were close to Old City, downtown, as well as the university. Even with all the people staying here for the UT Softball camp, we had no trouble parking right outside the hotel. We will stay here again!

Tupelo Honey– Located right downtown, this small-chain restaurant was exactly what we were looking for. The wait was very short considering its ranking among other local restaurants. The interior was Southern eclectic with old barn doors as wall dividers, old windows used as decor and restored antiques scattered around the dining room. The menu is not extensive, but what was on there made the breakfast decision difficult. We decided we would come for breakfast two days so we could truly test the place out. Especially since the before breakfast accoutrement was homemade buttermilk biscuits with fresh blueberry preserves and tupelo honey….

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The first breakfast included a delicious bowl of layered black-eyed peas, goat cheese grits, cucumber salsa, peppered bacon and fried eggs. The bacon was smokey and the grits were some of the creamiest I have ever tasted. Definite win! We also had the Shoo Mercy omelet, a blend of smoked ham, maple peppered bacon, fried green tomatoes, pickled jalapeno and pimento cheese. I normally do not jump on the pimento cheese boat but I was intrigued. It proved to be a smart choice. The fried green tomato was chunky and blended well with the light pimento cheese and spicy jalapenos. Again, a winner.

Super Southern breakfast bowl

Super Southern breakfast bowl

Day two saw sweet potato pancake with whipped peach butter and caramelized pecans and fried chicken and biscuits. I will say I like our local Wildflour cafe sweet potato and blueberry pancakes better. the pancake had shredded sweet potato in it rather than as a base for the batter. It was still delicious, just not as good as Wildflour’s. The chicken and biscuit sandwich though was another story. The layering of buttermilk fried chicken, country ham, fresh basil over buttermilk biscuit was inspired. The crowning achievement of this morning was the Bloody Mary. The Queen Mary is made with roasted golden yellow tomatoes, Demitri’s Bloody Mary seasoning, fresh lemon juice and moonshine. The garnish was a lemon, lime, pickled okra, pimento-cheese-stuffed olives, grilled shrimp, maple pepper bacon, celery, asparagus, pickled jalapeno and cherry tomato with a lime-salt rim. It is quiet a production. If you want something simpler, their house Bloody Mary garnished with pickled okra is yummy as well.

As an added bonus it was the Festival of Lights weekend and there was an enormous ice skating rink set up right outside the restaurant. We enjoyed some ice skating, some local shopping and some of the best of what Knoxville has to offer. If you are in town, don’t miss Tupelo Honey!

Tomato Head– Love, love the interior of this place. The walls are filled with local art. The floors were gorgeous. The windows and view were exactly what you would be looking for in Knoxville’s hip downtown market area.

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We started with a hummus plate and bread and pesto. Both were gobbled up quickly. We followed that with Lamb Sausage & Sundried Tomato with herbed tomato, black olive and capers pizza, as well as a Roasted Portabello with roma tomatoes on a pesto base. The ingredients were bursting with freshness and the lamb sausage was divine. The lamb sausage pizza had a nice balance of brininess and earthiness. I thought the pesto base would be too much with the portabellos but I was wrong. The freshness of the basil combined with the smooth pine nuts in the pesto were the perfect accompaniment to the meaty portabellos.

We ended with some homemade sweets from the bakery case. My daughter and I split the black forest cupcake. Sometimes with black forest, the cherry can be sickeningly sweet, but it was not this time. the cherries were tart and a nice cut to the rich chocolate cake. It was another delicious Knoxville experience!

Cru Bistro and Wine Bar– Extensive wine list with lots of unusual choices. Enormous cheese board that boasts one of the best cheese selections I have ever had in a restaurant. Cool atmosphere with exposed brick, beautiful floors and Old City architecture. We also had the perfect view of all the bicycles decorated with Christmas lights riding around town after the parade.

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In addition to the great food, Knoxville boasts some fun shopping. Make sure to stop by Earth to Old City for eclectic gifts and decor and my personal favorite store, Bliss Home. I spent two hours just wandering around like a child through their space. Whatever you are looking for, you can find it on the market and be sure to go on a Farmer’s Market day so you can get the full experience of local artisans and food purveyors. Knoxville has a great deal to offer and I will be back to do more sampling!

Lebanese for lunch

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The azure sky and cool breeze demanded a lunch outside today. My friend, Harry, has been after me to try Cedars Lebanese downtown and today presented the perfect opportunity for some top down, wind in our hair, music playing loud traveling to the hip ethnic eatery. The streets were buzzing with Farmer’s Market shoppers but I easily slipped into a parking place just a short walk away from the restaurant. They have very limited outdoor seating and you may have to wait, but it was worth it on such a gorgeous day. It is rather smallish inside so be ready to be cozy if you decide to wait.

As we waited, I looked around the interior. They have some beautiful landscapes on the walls and the door is one of those heavy wooden ones with multiple square panels I love. The kitchen is open to view and boasts efficient work space. As  I was admiring the mix of old architecture and new fixtures, we were called. We ambled to our table and started perusing the expansive menu. Lots of my faves- falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh- made it hard to choose. We decided to start with the Vegetarian Sampler so we could try a little of everything.

IMG_0892The pita wedges were thin and  perfect for dipping into the tahini-scented hummus. The baba ganoush was equally tasty with the earthy eggplant undertones. The star for me though was the falafel. It was crispy outside and a smooth grain inside- delicious with a dash of the tahini sauce provided. I can’t say I was a fan of the tabbouleh. It was just tomato and parsley seasoned with lemon juice. I like mine heartier with some obvious bulghar to soak up some of the wetness.

The appetizer was quite large but I did not want to miss out on some of the entrees so we ordered a couple to split among the table. I love a good shawarma and they had beef and chicken. We went with the beef shawarma platter and the chicken shawarma wrap.

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The beef shawarma was enormous! The beef was shredded in nice size bites and seasoned fragrantly with cumin and coriander. It was tossed with grilled onions and tomatoes. On the side was a heaping mound of rice laced with crunchy noodles and tahini sauce. The wrap was equally tasty with the same fragrant seasoning treatment except chicken. My only complaint about this wrap was it needed either some tahini sauce or a shmear of hummus to bring it all together. They were both tasty lunch fare. Sharing was definitely the right idea. Between the huge appetizer and the large entree portions and our need for some dessert, we did not finish everything.

The dessert menu held many interesting options including one of our favorites, baklava. Each dessert is a bite-sized single serving so again sharing was the way to go. We ordered the baklava and a shortbread, date pastry called Maamoul. The baklava was flaky and dense. The honey and nut mixture melded with the buttery layers it was sandwiched between. The Maamoul was the star. The shortbread had that crumbly, melt-in-your mouth texture and the date filling was smooth and sweet. The dates were perfectly blended and a delicious match to the buttery shortbread.

All in all, lunch was fantastic! I noticed they had some great happy hour specials for another day and a “Mezza” tasting menu option for another time. If you are feeling adventurous or just love the flavors of Lebanon, make the trip to Cedars.

Thai done right!

I have a serious love affair with authentic Thai food. Unfortunately, our little berg of Roanoke does not have much to offer a curry-loving soul. I have tried the two other Thai places in town with just so-so results. This week a friend of mine introduced me to this hidden gem in Vinton. The place has a homey feel and is a family-run business. The owner is full of family lore behind the recipes. Ask her about the dumplings and her brother’s journey to the United States if you try it out! We sampled the Satay and the Thai Dumplings as appetizers. They were delicious. the satay was tender and juicy and the peanut sauce was a smooth consistency. For lunch, my daughter ordered the Shrimp Pad Thai. Everything was very fresh, but the dish lacked a little seasoning. My friend ordered the Shrimp Green Curry. This was REALLY tasty. The baby eggplant was thinly sliced and perfectly cooked. The bean sprouts were firm and added nice texture. The curry itself had nice round heat and did not overpower the jasmine rice’s delicate flavor. I ordered the Thai Silk Noodles with the large noodles. The spice was perfect. The noodles were redolent with thai basil and the seafood was very fresh. Again, the bean sprouts added the perfect textural contrast and the pieces of squid were unusually tender.

We did not hesitate when offered dessert…the Mango Sticky Rice was divine! There was a fragrant coconut sauce drizzled over the sticky rice and the mango was perfectly ripe. It was the perfect cooling end to a spicy Thai lunch. Be warned that it is not necessarily an inexpensive lunch. Each entree was about $10, appetizers were about $6 a piece and dessert was about $6. The freshness of the vegetables, the perfection of the rice texture and the family food lore made the meal worth the price. If you like Thai, you must make the journey to Red Jasmine!

Honest seafood without the Tourist Trap

When I am out of town, at the beach, I am looking for a good seafood restaurant that does not fry everything or charge $30 for a basket of oysters. Not that I am unwilling to dine expensively, if that is what I am in the mood for, but when I come off the dive boat and am ravenous at 3:30 in the afternoon, I want some fresh, honest seafood prepared well. Dee’s Hangout provided that!

We moved away from PCB a number of years ago and come back frequently to visit friends. we are always on the lookout for a new place to try out. We went to Dee’s based on their Urban Spoon rating and we were not disappointed.

Our server, Tim, was friendly and honest about the menu. He steered us to their smoked tuna dip appetizer. It was a huge portion full of smoked tuna. It was dense and not mayonnaisey- just like we like it. We also ordered the cajun platter, the blackened lunch grouper and blackened fish tacos. All were delicious and enormous. Come hungry! We especially liked the blackened grouper with sweet potato fries. The fish was flaky and had a nice crust of blackening spice coating it. The sweet potato fries were obviously fresh and that perfect consistency of crisp outside and soft inside. Everything we tried was tasty though so have at the menu.

I wish we would have known about this place sooner in our trip; we would have gone more than once- it was that good. It is definitely on our list for future trips. The location and interior are not fancy, but it was one of the best meals we had on this trip!

Oh for a Noodle Bar!

For a foodie, a noodle bar is kind of like nirvana in a bowl…or many bowls. Sadly, our little berg of Roanoke does not have one, so of course when I visited New York, it was one of my must destinations. Momofuku, a smallish family-style noodle bar offered up a life-changing noodle experience on a cold, blustery night while on vacation. The restaurant had come with high acclaim from a fellow noodle enthusiast and she was dead-on!

There was a wait when we arrived and it was a Monday so plan accordingly if you are visiting. The vibe is lively and hip. The tables are a rustic pine and run along the restaurant to allot for family-style dining. This appeals to me; I love turning to the stranger next to you and finding out they just flew in from London or just finished a tour in Afghanistan or were in town for a particular show. New York is filled with stories and places like Momofuku bring them to the surface for everybody to share. Service came quickly and we ordered up a ginger beer for my daughter, a Brooklyn brew for my husband and some saki for me, as well as the tempting rice cakes appetizer on special and the grilled octopus from the menu. Cara Cara orange coulis, how could I resist?

The server returned with our drinks and we placed our dinner order: momofuku ramen and chicken ramen. They had buns on the menu too that looked delicious, but we were all in for noodles. As our server was leaving the table, the appetizers arrived. The rice cakes were piled high with braised brisket and the grilled octopus had a beautiful char to accompany its vibrant orange coulis. I have to say, these were some of the best appetizers I have ever put in my mouth. The octopus was tender and succulent, not tough in any places. It was complemented with a scallion kimchi that woke up the taste buds. The rice cakes were crispy against the tender brisket. I was excited for what dinner held in store for us.

The chicken ramen and momofuku ramen arrived in no time. The steam was rolling out of the bowls and the aroma was intoxicating. I started with the chicken- spooning a generous portion into my bowl, making sure to get some of the swiss chard and soy egg. The chicken was smoky and juicy; it melted in my mouth. The noodles were perfect and dressed with a smokey broth that mirrored the flavor of the chicken. I went in for some momofuku and it was equally delicious. Hunks of pork shoulder delicately fell apart at the touch of the fork, pork belly was silken in the broth and the cilantro added a nice freshness to the broth.

Even though we had sampled hedonistically of the menu, we decided dessert was a must since the reputation of Momofuku’s Milk Bar preceded it. We ordered the chocolate cake and the beet/lime swirled ice cream. I know, I know, beet ice cream, but I was feeling adventurous. The chocolate cake was not what I expected. It was like we had left the comfort of noodle bowls and entered a laboratory. The cake was prepared with molecular gastronomy and everything on the plate from hazelnuts to blood orange was like little pieces of powder, dust and frozen balls. Not what I was looking for. The ice cream was interesting with the lime and beet flavors, but probably not something I would repeat. It felt like the dessert was not a part of the same meal we had experienced throughout the night.

All told, the noodles were ridiculously good and made up for the dessert and let’s face it, I could have skipped dessert. My lingering memory of the succulent octopus and smokey chicken erase any dessert disappointment. This place makes me fervently wish for a noodle bar to set up shop in Roanoke. Until then, I will dream of Momofuku‘s homey noodles floating in those delectable broths and the conversations forged across family-style tables.

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Dessert for Breakfast???

Before heading out to the Big Apple, I did a little research to make sure I hit some of the haunts I have seen showcased on Food Network. I am fan of the show “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and had seen Alex G. relishing some decadent french toast at famed Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien. The dish was Chocolate Decadence French Toast, and it was calling my daughter’s name for breakfast.

Norma’s was a short walk from our hotel and amazingly, there was no wait when we arrived. The dining room was posh, old New York glamour and the plates filling the tables looked scrumptious and bountiful. Our waiter came over with three shot glasses filled with the smoothie of the day: mango- pineapple- banana. I could have just drank smoothies all day; they were that good! Our waiter also had a carafe of fresh squeezed orange juice which he generously plied us with. We knew what we wanted so there was no messing around with the menu. Unfortunately, they were out of the duck hash and eggs my husband and I had been salivating over. We decided on the Huevos Rancheros instead, as well as the Artychoked Benedict and the Chocolate Decadence French Toast.

While we enjoyed our french-pressed coffee, I took a look around at the fare the other diners were enjoying. The omelets were fluffy and generous, the lox plate looked fresh and piled high- New York style. Fresh smoothies littered the tables and I was getting hungry. Fortunately, our food arrived quickly.

The smell of truffle oil rolled off the benedict and filled my nose and the french toast was monstrous. The huevos were my least favorite on the table. They were good, but not great. They needed some spice and less quesadilla garnish. The benedict was my fave! The artie was briny and a nice foil for the rich truffle porcini sauce. The french toast was a hot with my daughter, but I felt it was more of a dessert than breakfast. It was thick slices of what seemed to be chocolate poundcake, battered and grilled and then layered with strawberries, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. It was delicious, but maybe too much for breakfast. The pistachio garnish did lend a nice texture balance and a little salty to go with the sweet.

Overall, it was a decadent New York breakfast in a stylish dining venue. It is pricey so beware, but worth the trip at least once while in New York. I can’t say I agree with Alex G.’s assessment of the french toast, but Norma’s is a must while in NYC- especially if you are fueling up for a full day of walking.

 

New York Pizza on my mind…

Spring Break: sugar sand beaches, marine blue water, mojitos muddled with fresh mint…All vibrant memories of Spring Breaks past. This year: bright lights, polar bears in Central Park, Matisse up-close, corned beef piled high on rye and Elphaba working her magic on the stage. The first night in NYC demanded true New York style pizza at a local fave: Lombardi’s. Touted as one of the best coal-fired pizza spots in NYC, we had to try it! We were not disappointed and may never eat pizza in Virginia again.

Lombardi’s, located a short subway ride from our Theatre District hotel, lived up to it’s rep. There was a short wait when we arrived so, we bellied up to the bar and had a couple of Brooklyn brewed beers. The barkeep was phenomenal! No tickets, no POS (point of sale, not the other p.o.s.) system, genuine New York humor, knowledgeable- awesome. A customer ordered a “blue motorcycle” and the barkeep dryly stated it was a family place and blue motorcycles were out front. Entertainment and good brews, how could we go wrong? He did not miss a beat from server needs to a full bar of customers. A short wait later, our table was called and we preceded to an unforgettable experience with dough, sauce and cheese.

My husband and I ordered a small pizza with roasted red peppers, Italian sausage and wild mushrooms. Our daughter ordered a calzone filled with ground beef and fresh ricotta. The service was good, but not overly obtrusive. All of the pies coming out of the kitchen made my mouth water. Crispy crust, fresh ingredients- but not fussy. When our order arrived, I was ready to dig in! The crust was just as I thought: perfectly crispy to the bite, but soft enough in the center to be pliable. The cheese was obviously fresh mozzarella. The slices were melted but still visible on top of the pie. The toppings were robustly spread across the surface and the sauce, a San Marzano tomato variety, sweetly burst in my mouth. The combination was rustic and delectable. The calzone did not disappoint either if my daughter’s shoveling was any indication. I had a taste of her filling and it was as delicious as the pizza.

I know there is a rivalry for whoever may be crowned best pizzeria in NYC, but my vote goes to Lombardi’s. Their commitment to fresh ingredients, local beers on tap, and authentic cooking methods created a winning combination for my family’s first night in New York. Expect a wait if you go :)!

 

The Most Important Meal of the Day….

So, we are all told how important breakfast is. It fuels your day, gets your metabolism going etc., etc. I am firm believer in having a great breakfast and have lamented the almost lack of original choices in Roanoke since moving here. I enjoy Star City, but you can only go there so many times. This past Sunday I found a new love, Wildflour in Towers Shopping Center.

I have been to Wildflour a couple of times for lunch and it was fabulous, but never for brunch. For whatever reason Sunday is always a busy day and I never seem to set aside time to go and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Luckily, my routine changed up Sunday, and I ventured out in search of good brunch. Wildflour filled the bill in spades.

It was not packed when I arrived so I easily scored a good table. The interior is hip and eclectic. A recent renovation expanded the seating and allowed for more wall space for local art. My husband and I started perusing the menu. My mouth was watering as I read through each description. Crab and asparagus omelet, shrimp and avocado quesadilla, low country shrimp and grits…Yum, Yum! I ordered the sweet potato blueberry pancakes while my husband ordered the traditional eggs benedict- they have a vegetarian version of this that looked tempting, but we decided to give the original variety a whirl first. I will say the service was slightly haphazard; we had 3 different servers for various aspects of our meal which made for a somewhat disjointed service experience.

Food was coming out of the kitchen pretty steadily, and it looked delicious. The real stuff was no disappointment when it arrived. The pancakes were ridiculously good. They were fluffy and bursting with plump blueberries. The syrup was warm and obviously the real stuff! The eggs benedict were equally pleasing. I loved the hunk of sourdough they were served on rather than the traditional english muffin. The sourdough was from local bakery, On the Rise, and was a star of the plate. The hollandaise was definitely made from scratch. It had a nice lemony flavor. The portion was a little light considering the size of the sourdough, but when we asked for some more, it was immediately brought out at no charge. The eggs were perfectly poached and the canadian bacon was crispy around the edges- just like I like it!

Refills on beverages and getting the check was pretty slow so, expect to relax and have a leisurely morning, definitely not the place to go if you are on a schedule. As I said previously, I have been for lunch a couple of times and the food has been equally scrumptious. My husband and I can’t stay away from the Hummus Platter. It has a generous portion of housemade hummus drizzled with olive oil and a plate full of delectable goodies to scoop and spread with. I also love the Cobb Salad. I know, I know, cobb salad, everybody has them, but this is different. First, it is enormous- definitely a share plate. Second, it has housemade guacamole on top which is worth the plate in and of itself. Chunky avocado, zesty lime, tangy red onion, chunks of tomato and visible cilantro. It is divine! The rest of the salad is no slack either. The chicken is fresh off the grill, blue cheese crumbles are abundant and the greens are not iceberg! One of the top salads in town, in my opinion. Breakfast and lunch, both huge hits in my book…I will be back!

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