A Travellerspoint blog

USA

A Long Weekend in NYC: Sunny With a Chance of Meatballs

New York is the only city in the world where you can get run down on the sidewalk by a pedestrian.
— Russell Baker

2013_NYC_OpeningScene_6.jpg

If you've ever been to New York City, you've probably noticed that we're an impatient lot. We walk at a slow jog, we talk like an auctioneer with a bad case of Tourette's, we fold our pizza for maximum eat-on-the-run efficiency, and we expect everybody to get with the program. That Chinese delivery guy better be buzzing our apartment before we've even hung up the phone, and our taxi driver better weave through traffic like a lead-footed drunk wearing a blindfold, while we holler from the backseat, "Yo, I'm kinda in a hurry here!"

2013_NYC_OpeningScene_5.jpg

2013_NYC_OpeningScene_3.jpg

Amid all of this hustle and bustle, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of what possessed us to make New York our home in the first place. Which is why, when out-of-town guests arrive, armed with their to-do lists of landmarks and restaurants and shows, we are reminded that we live in one of the greatest cites in the world. We recall why we moved here and why we are now completely unsuited to ever live anywhere else.

large_us-nyc-20110712-194319_1_.jpg

When company comes, we actually get a chance to stop and smell the roses. Or, you know, the garbage. Whatever.

2013_NYC_OpeningScene_4.jpg

large_2013_NYC_MidVero_11.jpg

And for this particular visit, we weren't hosting just any houseguests. We were hosting a tiny, tattooed terror otherwise known as my sister Trina, and her boyfriend Scott, a brave soul who agreed to fly to NYC to meet a couple of strangers and spend two nights on a sofabed in the middle of their living room in a masochistic mash-up of Airbnb and "Meet the Parents."

2013_NYC_EastVillage_30.jpg

Adding to the excitement of squeezing four adults into an apartment the size of a Port-a-Potty was the fact that a Nor'easter decided that this would be the perfect weekend to blow into town and blow all of our outdoor plans to smithereens. But Trina, who with good reason refers to herself the Good Weather Fairy, wasn't the least bit worried. When, at the last minute, the forecast changed from three days of chilly temps and pouring rain to three days of warm, glorious sunshine, Trina took all the credit, explaining, "I just put Mother Nature in a headlock and stuck my fingers in her nostrils." Oh.

2013_NYC_OpeningScene_1.jpg

Trina and Scott left me in charge of our agenda, which is a lot like leaving a monkey in charge of all the bananas. And so our weekend began, as so many of my weekends do, with a food tour. None of us were particularly interested in an organized tour -- we dislike being on other people's schedules almost as much as we dislike other people -- so I made up one of my own, with double the carbs, triple the fat, and quadruple the calories of a typical organized tour, minus those annoying admonitions about pacing yourself.

With approximately 500 eclectic restaurants in an area that would fit easily inside Central Park, Greenwich Village was the perfect place for us to begin.

large_2013_NYC_FoodTour_12.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_18.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_02.jpg

Abandoning the formal grid structure that defines the city north of 14th Street, Greenwich Village is a mish-mash of narrow streets made for meandering, and the area's low-rise buildings allow more sunshine to reach the street.

2013_NYC_VillageScene_01.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_07.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_06.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_04.jpg

thumb_2013_NYC_VillageScene_23.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_16.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_25.jpg

We began our tour at Joe's Pizza, a Village institution that many famous people have said they would choose for their last meal on earth. Sure, the pizza at Joe's is pretty good, but if your last meal fails to include things like bacon, cheeseburgers, and bacon cheeseburgers, you obviously need to spend more time watching "Locked Up Abroad" and planning ahead.

2013_NYC_FoodTour_07.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_08.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_09.jpg

2013_NYC_meytreen_1.jpg

Next up, we made a stop at Grom, a gelato shop based in Turin, Italy, and renowned for its rich, creamy gelato and refreshing granita, which is a coarse, Italian-style slushie.

thumb_2013_NYC_FoodTour_10.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_13.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_14.jpg

You can make granita at home, of course, but I can tell you from experience that nailing the exact consistency between "water" and "frozen block of ice" requires a degree of scientific skill that could probably be put to better use doing something useful, like curing cancer or cooking meth, instead of hacking away at an ice floe with the tines of a fork.

2013_NYC_FoodTour_11.jpg

Next, we made a few quick stops for cheese, pasta, bacon brittle, and cookies that were bigger than Trina's head. Then again, even regular-sized cookies are bigger than her head.

thumb_2013_NYC_FoodTour_01.jpg

2013_NYC_pastaMur_1.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_16.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_15.jpg

Then it was on to Bantam Bagels, which, like taco shells made out of Doritos and cronuts, are one of those things that I really wish I'd thought of first.

2013_NYC_FoodTour_02.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_06.jpg

Bantams are round, donut-hole-style mini bagels stuffed with whatever you'd normally spread on top, in creative flavors like the Cinnamonster (cinnamon-raisin bagels filled with sweet walnut cream cheese), the Bleecker Street (a pizza-dough bagel topped with a thin slice of pepperoni and filled with marinara mozzarella cream cheese), and the Hangover (a cheddar cheese and egg bagel filled with bacon cheddar cream cheese and a drizzle of maple syrup).

2013_NYC_FoodTour_05.jpg

2013_NYC_FoodTour_04.jpg

large_2013_NYC_FoodTour_03.jpg

We scarfed down half a dozen, which was a really good idea after pizza, and then lugged our leaden bellies around to take in the sights.

2013_NYC_VillageScene_09.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_10.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_12.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_05.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_26.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_27.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_13.jpg

Some of which were more unusual than others.

2013_NYC_VillageScene_21.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_08.jpg

Along the way we encountered a number of homeowners ready for Halloween . . . or just desperate to keep nosy tourists off their property.

2013_NYC_VillageHall_12.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_08.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_09.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_11.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_10.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_02.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_03.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_04.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageHall_07.jpg

These jack o'lanterns are so wildly creative that I bet it's no accident that a few of them look just like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."

large_2013_NYC_VillageHall_05.jpg

large_2013_NYC_VillageHall_06.jpg

Eventually we made our way over to the Meatball Shop, a polpette-y playground of balls, sliders, and heroes, plus Jell-O shots, ice cream sandwiches, floats, and fun cocktails.

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_05.jpg

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_02.jpg

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_01.jpg

The naked balls can be mixed and matched with various sauces and come four-of-one-kind to an order, but luckily there were four of us, so we got to try a little bit of everything, including the classic beef balls with tomato sauce, chicken balls with creamy parmesan sauce, spicy pork balls with mushroom gravy, and the day's special ball and sauce, bratwurst balls paired with beer and cheddar sauce.

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_13.jpg

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_10.jpg

large_2013_NYC_MeatballRedo_1.jpg

large_2013_NYC_MeatballShop_09.jpg

large_2013_NYC_MeatballShop_12.jpg

Oh, and a side of rigatoni, a side of Brussels sprouts with chorizo, a round of Jell-O shots, and some cocktails, including a Moscow Mule for Trina that was served in a traditional copper mug. Yeah, that's alot of food, but walking off pizza and bagels takes a lot out of you.

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_06.jpg

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_07.jpg

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_08.jpg

Which is why we had to order a walnut brownie (or, as Trina called it, a Bronut), and a scoop of heavenly brown-sugar ice cream, for dessert.

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_14.jpg

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_15.jpg

I wasn't sure if the Meatball Shop could live up to all the hype, but the balls were meaty, tender, and delicious, and the sauces were "I could eat this like soup" good. Throw in some interesting cocktails, crazy ice cream flavors, and the fantastically awesome Whiskey Grid -- and magic markers to mark up your menu, so you don't have to talk with your mouth full when it's time to order more stuff -- and you can see why I am petitioning them to let me move my bed in there.

2013_NYC_MeatballShop_04.jpg

Post-balls, we spent a little more time walking off the damage, also known as "preparing for more damage to come."

2013_NYC_Steps_1.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_15.jpg

large_2013_NYC_VillageScene_17.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_18.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_24.jpg

2013_NYC_VillageScene_19.jpg

Eventually we headed back uptown to show Trina and Scott around our neighborhood in midtown, which we like for its mix of towering skyscrapers, historic walk-ups, and charming pocket parks.

2013_NYC_MidVero_03.jpg

large_2013_NYC_MidVero_05.jpg

2013_NYC_MidVero_12.jpg

2013_NYC_MidVero_14.jpg

2013_NYC_OpeningScene_2.jpg

thumb_2013_NYC_MidVero_01.jpg

2013_NYC_MidVero_02.jpg

2013_NYC_MidVero_13.jpg

Oh, and this. You didn't really think we picked this neighborhood at random, did you?

2013_NYC_MidVero_06.jpg

Just as running a marathon leads to vomiting, walking around leads to drinking, and so we ended up at Vero, a small wine bar near our apartment where we could sit outside and enjoy the warm weather.

2013_NYC_MidVero_09.jpg

large_2013_NYC_MidVero_08.jpg

A quick nap and change of clothes later, it was time to head downtown for dinner.

2013_NYC_MidVero_15.jpg

New York City has more Italian restaurants than the Pope has pointy hats, and the more tiny, quaint, and candlelit the spot, the better I like it. And so we made a beeline for Chelsea and one of our regular haunts, Cola's, a postage stamp-sized storefront complete with tiny topiaries, exposed brick walls, a pressed-tin ceiling, and warm, caring service.

2013_NYC_Colas_02.jpg

2013_NYC_Colas_03.jpg

2013_NYC_Colas_06.jpg

2013_NYC_Colas_09.jpg

Oh, and a lion's head! Nothing says Italy like la testa de un leone.

2013_NYC_Colas_05.jpg

2013_NYC_Colas_04.jpg

Meals at Cola's begin with crusty Italian bread served with a large dollop of fresh ricotta swimming in extra-virgin olive oil and topped with ribbons of fresh basil, all served gratis. In a town where a bowl of chicken soup can set you back $25, some free ricotta is as close to winning the Lotto as you're likely to get.

2013_NYC_Colas_08.jpg

The guys both ordered the homemade pappardelle with wild boar ragu, while I decided on the pork loin with cremini mushrooms, fresh sage, and dry Marsala.

large_2013_NYC_Colas_11.jpg

large_2013_NYC_Colas_10.jpg

Trina went all vegetarian on us with the penne topped with eggplant and goat cheese, so no picture for her.

2013_NYC_Colas_07.jpg

New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience — if they did, they would live elsewhere.
— E.B. White

The next morning we headed down to SoHo for brunch at a popular spot called Jane.

2013_NYC_Jane_01.jpg

Angel and I used to be regulars here, or at least we were until an ill-fated dinner with friends last year, when the restaurant kept us waiting for over an hour despite a reservation, then seated us near the kitchen at a table for five . . . even though there were six of us. I swore that I'd never return, but the location was good for the rest of the day's plans with Trina and Scott, and what were the chances of yet another hour-long wait?

Pretty good, it turns out, as our wait at the crowded bar dragged on toward 40 minutes . . . despite again having a reservation. At least they had the decency to send over some free homemade donuts with hot chocolate and creme Anglaise dipping sauces this time.

thumb_2013_NYC_Jane_03.jpg

We soothed our irritation with a round of brunch cocktails -- tart apple-Champagne cocktails and a passionfruit Screwdriver -- plus a Concord-grape margarita, which was insanely delicious. If grape juice had tasted like this when I was a kid, I might not have thrown such a fit about going to church on Sundays.

2013_NYC_Jane_02.jpg

2013_NYC_Jane_04.jpg

Then it was on to the kinds of dishes that keep me coming back to this place despite the abuse: Poached eggs with maple chicken sausage, corn pancakes, and roasted tomato hollandaise for Trina; scrambled eggs with smoked ham, gruyère, and caramelized onions for Angel; the vanilla-bean French toast with crème brûlée batter for Scott; and scrambled eggs with cheddar grits, ham steak, and a flaky buttermilk biscuit for me.

2013_NYC_Jane_09.jpg

2013_NYC_Jane_08.jpg

2013_NYC_Jane_07.jpg

2013_NYC_Jane_05.jpg

After lunch, the guys wanted to catch the end of the Steelers-Jets game, so they headed over to Milady's, a knock-'em-back, rack-'em-up dive bar that has somehow managed to survive SoHo's transformation from "starving artist" to "wealthy artiste" with its outer-borough prices still intact.

That left me and Trina free to scour the neighborhood for everything from jewelry and bath products to sweaters and shoes.

2013_NYC_SoHo_01.jpg

2013_NYC_SoHo_08.jpg

2013_NYC_SoHo_10.jpg

2013_NYC_SoHo_11.jpg

large_2013_NYC_SoHo_07.jpg

2013_NYC_SoHo_02.jpg

2013_NYC_SoHo_12.jpg

2013_NYC_SoHo_17.jpg

large_2013_NYC_EastVillage_31.jpg

On Prince Street, we saw these guys setting up a piano and a set of drums in the middle of the street while a crowd began to gather.

2013_NYC_SoHo_03.jpg

Soon they began to play, and the guy on the piano was into it, white-guy-jazz-face and all. As for Trina, she was into poking a little fun at him.

thumb_2013_NYC_SoHo_05.jpg

thumb_2013_NYC_SoHo_04.jpg

After that it was time for a little snack, so we stopped at Marie Belle, whose tiny, jewel-like chocolates come in eclectic flavors like dulce de leche, jasmine, caipirinha, saffron, and cardamom.

2013_NYC_SoHo_14.jpg

2013_NYC_SoHo_16.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_32.jpg

Later we stopped in front of a real estate office, where we spotted this apartment with a shoeboxed-sized living room for the bargain price of $22,500 . . . per month.

2013_NYC_SoHo_18.jpg

Eventually we stumbled upon Novecento, a cute Argentinian bistro on West Broadway. We put our names on the list for one of the four Parisian-style cafe tables fronting the sidewalk, then waited on a bench out front while staring at the people hogging the prime tables in an effort to get them to move along.

2013_NYC_Novocento_1.jpg

2013_NYC_Novocento_3.jpg

2013_NYC_TTGatNove_1.jpg

Once seated, we decided to take advantage of the two-for-one Happy Hour deal. We settled on a glass of sangria for Trina and a cachaça-spiked mojito for me, which might have been a good deal if the "one" hadn't cost $14. I mean, you'd think they'd cut the locals some slack, seeing as how they're already shelling out $22,500 a month for their apartments.

2013_NYC_Novocento_5.jpg

We met the guys back home and then got ready for dinner at Naya, a cool, cleverly designed Lebanese restaurant around the corner from our apartment.

2013_NYC_Naya_01.jpg

2013_NYC_Naya_02.jpg

One of the many reasons we love Naya is because they serve kibbe, which are addictive little fried meatballs fattened up with bulgur wheat, minced onions, and pine nuts.

2013_NYC_Naya_06.jpg

I know you are wondering how I manage to live so close to unlimited meatballs and still have time to hold down a full-time job, but it's really not that hard: When my colleagues duck outside for a smoke break, I take a meatball break.

2013_NYC_Naya_03.jpg

Angel insists on calling these little Lebanese balls of bliss "kippe," which is what they are called in the Dominican Republic. The day you find yourself arguing over the correct pronounciation of a food that most Americans have never even heard of is the day you become a true New Yorker.

In addition to the kibbe, we ordered shrimp in a spicy red sauce; pita stuffed with minced lamb, onion, and parsley; hummus with ground sirloin and pine nuts; potatoes sauteed with garlic and fresh coriander; falafel with tahini sauce; pickled baby eggplant with walnuts and garlic; Lebanese rice; and muhammara, a spicy red pepper dip with walnuts, pomegranate, molasses, and cumin.

2013_NYC_Naya_04.jpg

2013_NYC_Naya_05.jpg

2013_NYC_Naya_08.jpg

2013_NYC_Naya_09.jpg

large_2013_NYC_Naya_07.jpg

What was our favorite dish? That’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child. Then again, my parents did, so what the hell. While everything was delicious as usual, one of the dishes Scott chose that we hadn't tried before -- the hummus blended with ground sirloin and pine nuts -- was so good that eventually we dispensed with the pita bread and just spread it directly onto our tongues.

2013_NYC_Naya_10.jpg

After dinner we jumped in the car and headed upstate -- a geographic area that New Yorkers understand to encompass everything from the northern Bronx to the Canadian border -- to the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze.

2013_NYC_Blaze_01.jpg

You might remember that Angel and I visited this flaming free-for-all last year, and we couldn't wait to return this year to share it with Trina and Scott. Bundled into cozy sweaters on a crisp, clear fall evening, we enjoyed the addition of some new displays, dinosaurs, dragons, and Venus fly traps among them . . .

2013_NYC_Blaze_02.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_03.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_04.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_05.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_08.jpg

large_2013_NYC_Blaze_07.jpg

Along with even more stunning, intricately carved works of art than last time.

2013_NYC_Blaze_10.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_15.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_17.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_09.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_14.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_16.jpg

2013_NYC_BlazeRedo_1.jpg

2013_NYC_Blaze_11.jpg

Best of all, none of us managed to accidentally set ourselves on fire. That's two years and counting!

New York is where you can get the best cheap meal and the lousiest expensive meal in the country.
-- Robert C. Weaver

Our last morning was shaping up to be warm and sunny yet again, so we headed down to Alphabet City, an edgy, bohemian enclave in the East Village, to celebrate Columbus' discovery of America . . . with Mexican food.

2013_NYC_ElCamion_08.jpg

2013_NYC_ElCamion_05.jpg

large_2013_NYC_ElCamion_06.jpg

El Camion, which means "the bus," serves up inexpensive, authentic Mexican fare and Herradura margaritas in fun flavors like hibiscus, tamarind, ginger (for Trina), and blood orange (for me), along with grilled corn on the cob with chipotle-lime mayo and cotija cheese (for everyone who brought dental floss).

2013_NYC_ElCamion_01.jpg

2013_NYC_ElCamion_02.jpg

2013_NYC_ElCamion_03.jpg

large_2013_NYC_ElCamion_04.jpg

The restaurant was serving brunch instead of lunch since Monday was a holiday, so Trina went with the organic poached eggs served on a habanero-corn muffin with carnitas and served with a umami-rific chipotle hollandaise, while Scott kept it simple with scrambled eggs and bacon. Angel had the steak & egg dobladas, which were served enchilada style with red rice, black beans, guacamole, and salsa fresca, while I went straight for lunch, settling on the messy-but-delicious Coca-Cola carnitas with onion-cilantro salsa and the aforementioned grilled corn.

2013_NYC_ElCamion_09.jpg

2013_NYC_ElCamion_10.jpg

2013_NYC_ElCamion_07.jpg

2013_NYC_ElCamion_13.jpg

large_2013_NYC_ElCamion_12.jpg

large_2013_NYC_ElCamion_11.jpg

After lunch we wandered around the East Village, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the funky vibe.

2013_NYC_EastVillage_07.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_11.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_10.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_12.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_01.jpg

thumb_2013_NYC_EastVillage_02.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_09.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_08.jpg

large_2013_NYC_EastVillage_26.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_13.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_24.jpg

large_2013_NYC_EastVillage_25.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_21.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_23.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_27.jpg

large_2013_NYC_EastVillage_22.jpg

Of course, this is the East Village, so we did run into some weirdos along the way.

2013_NYC_EastVillage_04.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_28.jpg

Soon we found ourselves in Tompkins Square Park. Once a haven for drug dealers and the homeless known as "Needle Park" in the late 80s and early 90s, Tompkins Square has since been cleaned up.

2013_NYC_EastVillage_03.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_06.jpg

Today, the park even has a dog run, which is the surest sign of gentrification short of a Starbucks . . . and guys wearing snap shirts.

large_2013_NYC_EastVillage_05.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_29.jpg

Since we were in the neighborhood, I wanted to show Trina one of my favorite wine bars in the city, Il Posto Accanto, and by "show" I of course mean settle in with a bottle of wine (in this case, a Supertuscan from the Maremma region).

2013_NYC_IlPosto_1.jpg

2013_NYC_IlPosto_4.jpg

2013_NYC_IlPosto_2.jpg

Il Posto holds a special place in my heart because Angel and I spent many hours there while I was studying for the bar exam, sipping wine and running through flash cards. Oh, you're not supposed to study for the bar at a bar? I object.

2013_NYC_IlPosto_3.jpg

2013_NYC_IlPosto_6.jpg

2013_NYC_IlPosto_7.jpg2013_NYC_IlPosto_8.jpg

large_2013_NYC_IlPosto_5.jpg

We walked a bit more, exhorted at every turn to get drunk, get cozy, or get lost.

2013_NYC_EastVillage_15.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_16.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_17.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_14.jpg

2013_NYC_EastVillage_18.jpg

But just when you start to think that New Yorkers are hard-hearted and soulless, a cooing crowd will form around a couple of sparrows happily splashing about in a tiny makeshift birdbath on the sidewalk. Awwww.

2013_NYC_EastVillage_20.jpg

large_2013_NYC_EastVillage_19.jpg

Too soon, it was time to take Trina and Scott back to the airport for their flight home. We said our goodbyes, then sped away toward Hoboken and Leo's Grandevous, a legendary Frank Sinatra hangout and red-sauce pasta joint that has served Hoboken for the last 72 years.

thumb_2013_NYC_Leos_1.jpg

2013_NYC_Leos_2.jpg

2013_NYC_Leos_3.jpg

2013_NYC_Leos_4.jpg2013_NYC_Leos_5.jpg

2013_NYC_Leos_6.jpg2013_NYC_Leos_7.jpg

After all, it had been 24 hours since I'd last had some meatballs.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fall is houseguest season in New York, but we'll be back on the road for a 10-day trip to the British Virgin Islands in December. Can it get any more exciting than boating around the Abacos?
We sure hope not.

Posted by TraceyG 06:18 Archived in USA Comments (15)

A Weekend in Philly: This Little Piggy Went to Market, Pt. 1

Philadelphia is my kind of town. Just across the river from New Jersey and only 75 minutes from New York City, Philly is the defiant middle child of the mid-Atlantic. Keenly aware that it'll never be as dazzling and fast-paced as its big sister to the north, nor as tanned and tattooed as its younger one down the shore, Philly just shrugs its shoulders and barks in its inimitable accent, "Eh, who needs 'em? We got hoagies as big as beach balls ovah heah!"

Philly_Spring13_Sammie_1.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_016.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_056.jpg

Indeed, Philadelphia is renowned for its doughy delectables, most notably soft pretzels, hoagies, pork rolls, tomato pies, and cheese steaks, also known collectively in some circles as "Tracey's Christmas List." In recent years, however, Philadelphia has expanded its culinary repertoire to include the likes of Jose Garces, an Iron Chef and James Beard Award winner who presides over a mini-empire of eight Philadelphia restaurants, and Marc Vetri, whose namesake eatery was called "probably the best Italian restaurant in America" by no less than Bon Appetit magazine.

Philly_Spring13_Redo1_1.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_14.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_01.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_03.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_06.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_07.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Chick_1.jpg

You smell what I'm cookin', right?

Philly_Spring13_Art_12.jpg

But first things first. Angel and I decided to take the train down, partly because it was faster than driving, and partly because the idea of a taking a train trip together sounded old-fashioned and romantic.

Philly_Spr..RedoTrain_1.jpg

And it might have been, if we hadn't accidentally ended up in two seats that faced backwards for the duration of the ride, and if somebody hadn't decided that it would be a good idea to bring their three-year-old onto the quiet car. After asking for the 800th time, "Mommy, is that a bridge?" I'm happy to report that the little one finally fell asleep. Either that or she drugged him to keep the other passengers from flinging him off one of those bridges.

Philly_Spring13_Train_2.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Train_3.jpg

We decided to stay in the heart of Center City for easy access to all the neighborhoods we planned to visit. Angel, who went to school in Philadelphia and hadn't been back since, tried to warn me that the area was pretty rough around the edges, and that some of the other neighborhoods we'd be venturing into were even grittier. But a lot has changed since dinosaurs roamed the earth, and Angel was as pleasantly surprised as I was to find the city safe, clean, and welcoming.

Philly_Spring13_Redo1_3.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_19.jpg

And full of public art interesting enough to make you wonder if the pot is better in Philly than elsewhere.

Philly_Spring13_Art_09.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_15.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_13.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_02.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Art_20.jpg

Our first stop was the Reading Terminal Market, also known as The Happiest Place on Earth. Founded in 1892 and featuring more than 80 vendors spread over 1.7 acres of gastonomic paradise, the market is an enormous Willy Wonka-style wonderland, with Italian hoagies and cheese steaks standing in for lickable wallpaper and Everlasting Gobstoppers. Who needs a river of chocolate when there are deli cases overflowing with bacon?

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_001.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_002.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_003.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_004.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_005.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_068.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_077.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_098.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_037.jpg

I knew as soon as I saw this sign that I was among my people: Cheese steaks and fries for breakfast!

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_069.jpg

And a lunch called the Train Wreck? It's like they knew I was coming.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_071.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_006.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_009.jpg

The epicurean delights at Reading Terminal Market aren't just limited to bacon, of course. There's everything from peppermint daisies and pork rolls to peach cobbler and Peking duck.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_013.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_017.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_070.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_083.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_091.jpg

And lest you think there aren't any chi-chi gourmet foods here, not only can you find Gadzooks ice cream, but Gadzooks Blanc. It doesn't get much fancier than that, oui?

Philly_Spr.._Gadzooks_1.jpg

Plus you can get ramps without getting into a fistfight, which is almost never the case in New York.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_094.jpg

And some more interesting delicacies, like jujubes and angel dust.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_093.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_072.jpg

If that doesn't interest you, perhaps rainbow-hued veggies, eggs, donuts, or cream cheese might.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_034.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_035.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_076.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_075.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_074.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_085.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_044.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_043.jpg

Or this, Lemon Delight, which I am still kicking myself for not ordering, because who in their right mind passes up a plateful of lemon meringue pie guts???

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_082.jpg

This is a deliciously sticky-looking accumulation of pastry glaze and some crullers? bear claws? blintzes? I have no idea. They could cover tree limbs in this glaze and I'd gnaw my way through them.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_087.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_086.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_089.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_088.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_084.jpg

Just when I thought my heart might burst from a clogged artery happiness, I spied case upon case of burgers, salami, pepperoni, and cheese. Sweet Baby Jesus.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_028.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_032.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_033.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_031.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_027.jpg

Philly_Spring13_salami_1.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_036.jpg

Not to mention oil, vinegar, spices, olives, and my new favorite cookbook.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_046.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_047.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_041.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_042.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_053.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_054.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_039.jpgPhilly_Spr..dingMkt_040.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_073.jpg

This is the Valley Shepherd Creamery, where I learned that apparently I have been making grilled cheese sandwiches completely wrong all these years.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_048.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_049.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_051.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_050.jpg

I had suspected that the sheer volume of food would be overwhelming, and of course it was, so I was glad that I'd decided to pick and choose what we'd eat ahead of time, lest it turn into a Sharknado-type frenzy. We decided to start with the tomato pie at By George.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_014.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_018.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_020.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_019.jpg

Oh, how I love thee, sweet, tangy, crunchy Tomato Pie. Indeed, I was thisclose to ordering an entire pie for myself and skipping our other scheduled stops, but pound cake and pork rolls beckoned. And so it was on to Termini Bros. for their raspberry pound cake.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_023.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_022.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_021.jpg

Unfortunately the pound cake was more like a dense birthday cake, and there wasn't as much raspberry goo as I'd hoped for. I knew I should have held out for the Cozumel I saw near the market entrance.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_011.jpg

With our appetizers out of the way, we decided to explore the market a bit to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of what had quickly surpassed "any place that serves cheeseburgers" as my new favorite spot on the planet.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_030.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_026.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_025.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_010.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_008.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_007.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_057.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_099.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_100.jpg

Soon it was time for the main course: The famous pork roll at DiNic's. Originally opened in 1918 as a South Philly butcher shop run by Gaetano Nicolosi, today DiNic's is run by one of Gaetano's sons, Tommy, and his cousin Franky DiClaudio, resulting in the blended name.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_063.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_064.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_066.jpg

The orders come in fast and furious, but DiNic's employees take their time to make each sandwich perfect.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_059.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_062.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_061.jpg

And perfect it was: Juicy pork, bitter greens, and squishy bread, plus a fork "just in case."

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_065.jpg

Because we hadn't eaten enough carbs yet, our next stop was a soft, buttery, salty pretzel at Miller's Twist. With cheese, for some protein.

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_078.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_079.jpg

Philly_Spr..dingMkt_080.jpg

Finally, having spent nearly three hours in the market, we started to make our way toward the exit. And I almost made it out . . . until I saw the raspberry ice cream.

large_Philly_Spr..dingMkt_095.jpg

It was truly heartbreaking to not be able to eat every. single. thing. in the market during our visit, and even more heartbreaking to have run out of time to return on a subsequent day. Obviously I have a plan for next time, though, and without giving away all the details, let's just say that it involves some rented warehouse space with a walk-in freezer and a refrigerated 18-wheeler.

You might think that we were stuffed to the gills after all this, and you would be right. But the same law of physics which states that no matter how full you are, the smell of movie-theater popcorn will still make your mouth water, also applies to the holy grail of fast-food fried chicken: Chick-fil-A.

thumb_Philly_Spring13_Chick_2.jpg

Now, I know that refusing to patronize a Chick-fil-A has become something of a political statement lately. And although Angel and I are both staunchly opposed to Chick-fil-A's particular viewpoint and should have voted with our feet, we instead voted with our taste buds and settled in with an 8-pack of crispy, juicy chicken nuggets and this new Tracey-sized ketchup packet.

thumb_Philly_Spring13_Chick_4.jpg

Hypocritical? Yes. But when the chicken is this good, the folks at Chick-fil-A could be clubbing baby seals in their spare time, and I'd still be forced to look away. I mean, it's not like I wear sneakers made with child labor or anythi . . . oh, wait. Maybe I am going to hell.

Philly_Spring13_Chick_3.jpg

The day was sunny and warm, so we took a leisurely walk over to Rittenhouse Square Park.

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_02.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_03.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_04.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_05.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_06.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_08.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_09.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_10.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_11.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_12.jpg

The park is a great place to practice your art, whether that's cello-playing, guitar-strumming, or goat-racing.

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_14.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_07.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_13.jpg

This is my new building. Or, rather, it will be, just as soon as the world's factory workers stop hogging all the winning lottery tickets.

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_43.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_45.jpg

After relaxing on a bench and taking in the sunshine, we explored the surrounding neighborhood.

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_16.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_17.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_18.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_19.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_22.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_23.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_27.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_29.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_38.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_39.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_41.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_28.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_01.jpg

thumb_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_26.jpgthumb_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_31.jpgthumb_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_30.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..tenhouse_37.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_19.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._Society_20.jpg

And made a list of all the restaurants we'd need to visit next time.

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_15.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_32.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_33.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Redo1_2.jpg

If the Reading Terminal Market and Chick-fil-A and the gorgeous homes near Rittenhouse Square weren't reason enough for me to consider a move to Philly, our restaurant experiences certainly were. That's because here in New York City, you get so used to dinner and drinks being a gigantic hassle that you just assume that every other city is like that, too. Everything from enjoying a margarita after work on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon (along with 5,000 of a your closest friends) to snagging a table outside for an al fresco dinner (after a wait of upwards of an hour or two) to the old "wait at the bar even though you have a reservation" trick (during which you are jostled and bumped for the next 45 minutes while dropping 50 bucks on drinks waiting for the table that you already reserved) is so commonplace here that when all of these irritations failed to materialize in Philly, we thought we'd died and gone to heaven. Or at least to one of the 8,359,246 places less annoying than New York.

Philly_Spring13_Art_11.jpg

Case in point: Around 5:30pm that afternoon, we decided to walk over to Tinto, chef Jose Garces' Basque-style wine bar that earns consistently rave reviews. As we strolled in the warm sunshine, it suddenly hit me: It's Friday afternoon. It's gorgeous out. Tinto is really popular. Translation: We're not getting anywhere near this place.

Philly_Spring13_Tinto_4.jpg

But this is Philadelphia, not the Big Hassle, er, Apple. Right in to Tinto we sailed, with seats to spare at the bar and huge front windows flung open to let in the warm breeze. This is why they call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love, I thought dreamily, as absolutely no one elbowed me in the ribs or shoved their way past me.

Philly_Spring13_Tinto_2.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Tinto_3.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Tinto_1.jpg

Already high on amor fraternal, I nevertheless settled on one of the stronger drinks on the menu, the Mairritze, made with cachaça, muddled mint, lime, and blood orange, while Angel went with the non-traditional house red sangria with Applejack and a hint of spicy-sweet guindilla peppers.

Philly_Spring13_Tinto_5.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Tinto_7.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Tinto_6.jpg

Afterwards we decided to check out the buildings Angel had lived in when he was a student. Based on his descriptions over the years, I was kicking myself for not bringing my bulletproof vest, but both buildings were perfectly lovely.

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_34.jpg

Philly_Spring2013_Back_1.jpg

As was the surrounding neighborhood. And to think he lured me in with that "starving artist" shtick.

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_35.jpg

Philly_Spr..tenhouse_36.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Digs_2.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Digs_3.jpg

By this time it had been about an hour since my last cocktail, so we beat feet back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

Philly_Spring2013_Back_7.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Digs_8.jpg

Philly_Spring2013_Back_6.jpg

That night we had reservations at Amis, one of the restaurants owned by Marc Vetri, whose first Philadelphia restaurant, Vetri, was hailed as one of America's 50 best restaurants by Gourmet magazine.

Philly_Spring13_Amis_01.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_02.jpg

But we chose one of his newer spots, Amis, instead of Vetri for two reasons: Bruschetta with whipped fava beans, spring peas, and pecorino; and Sal's old-school meatballs. Which were the first two things we ordered, right after two glasses of Prosecco and some fried cauliflower with still more pecorino and a spicy, creamy tomato sauce.

Philly_Spring13_Amis_03.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_12.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_05.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_06.jpg

For my entree, I decided to try the cacio e pepe, a simple peasant dish made by combining hot pasta with butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cracked black pepper, and some starchy pasta water to thicken it. How anyone ever manages to make this dish without it becoming a watery mess of floating cheese is beyond me, but I guess that's why my oven is used to store books.

Philly_Spring13_Amis_13.jpg

For his part, Angel went with the Beast of the Night, duck, which for the entree choice was made into a thick ragu over whole wheat rigatoni.

Philly_Spring13_Amis_14.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_11.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_09.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_08.jpg

After we'd eaten everything put in front of us save for a few uncracked peppercorns at the bottom of my dish, our waiter correctly surmised that we wouldn't be interested in dessert, and suggested that we split a final glass of wine instead. More alcohol, you say? It was the perfect end to a perfect night.

Philly_Spring13_Amis_15.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amis_10.jpg

--------------------------
We still have two more days left, and they're filled with food, wine, cocktails . . . and the occasional corn dog. Click here to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 04:42 Archived in USA Comments (8)

A Weekend in Philly: This Little Piggy Went to Market, Pt. 2

The next day we awoke bright and early, ready for the piece de Whizistance of our visit: a Cheese Steak Throwdown. We decided to walk from Center City down to South Street to build up an appetite and see the sights along the way. We started at the small pocket park near Reading Terminal Market, then made our way down to Washington Square Park in the historic area.

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_01.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_02.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_03.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_04.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_05.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_06.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_08.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_07.jpg

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier memorial, which honors the thousands of soldiers who died during the American Revolution, many of whom were buried in mass graves in this very park. The unattributed quote along the top reads, "Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness." Thank you, anonymous quote writer, for making me sob in public.

large_Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_11.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_12.jpg

Philly_Spr.._SouthSt_09.jpg

Angel had warned me that the South Street area was somewhat gritty, and it was . . . but in the same way that a 1973 Lincoln Continental is both cool and pimpy at the same time.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_01.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_03.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_02.jpg

Old Italian man + horse's heads = only the greatest movie ever made.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_05.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_16.jpg

Our first stop for the Throwdown was Jim's Steaks, which opened in 1939 at its original location in West Philadelphia, where it still operates. Jim's gets its bread from Amoroso's, which has been around since 1904 and survived the Great Depression by making home deliveries twice a day. You'd think that rolls would have been one of the first luxuries to go during the Depression, but I can't fault anyone who would rather give up cable TV than good bread.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_07.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_08.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_09.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_14.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_15.jpg

Angel got in line to order, while I went upstairs to stake out some seats.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_10.jpg

After waiting about 15 minutes or so, one of Jim's employees told me that I wasn't allowed to reserve a table -- I'd have to wait until I actually had my food to sit down. As I stalled for time by calling Angel to see if he'd made it to the front of the line yet, the couple seated at the table next to mine offered to let me sit with them. "Just pretend you're friends with us!" they urged, and I gratefully took them up on the offer. What I didn't realize is that they'd turn out to be exactly the kind of people I'd love to be friends with: Paul, who's originally from New Zealand, spent the last 30 years as the executive director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a huge, Tony award-winning company with more than 500 members. Newly retired, he is often called upon to teach and give talks regarding theater, and his wife, Cathy, comes along for the ride, exploring the area and making pit stops for cheese steaks along the way. This is who I want to be when I grow up.

Finally, Angel appeared with our cheese steaks, and we dug right in. We'd ordered the classic cheese steak "wit Whiz" but decided to forego the sauteed onions on this first go-round, which was fortuitous since nobody, including Cathy and Paul, wants to be friends with an onion-breathed blogger.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_11.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_12.jpg

Our verdict? Jim's cheese steak was salty (a plus in my book), pillowy, with lots of Cheez Whiz and fantastic bread. The meat, however, was content to let the bread and Whiz do all the heavy lifting, seeing as how it didn't appear to have been seasoned in any way. Overall a pretty good cheese steak, and I finished every bite, but the steak itself was something of a letdown. (This picture lies, I tell you.)

large_Philly_Spr..sesteaks_13.jpg

After parting ways with our new friends (but not before making plans to meet up in Oregon one of these days), we decided to try a newcomer on the steak scene, Steaks on South, which won a local news contest for Best Cheese Steak in Philadelphia. SOS, as it's called, took longer to grill our order than Jim's, and was pricier, both of which might explain why there was no line when we arrived.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_18.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_19.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_20.jpg

The steak, however, should have had folks lining up around the block and happily waiting as long as it takes. Peppery and garlicky and juicy, I could have eaten it all by itself. And I almost had to, since SOS is pretty stingy with the Whiz. Still, the steak here was so good that it definitely made up for the so-so bread and Whiz-hoarding.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_21.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_22.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_24.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..sesteaks_25.jpg

By now we were two cheese steaks in, so it was time to walk around for a bit to gear up for Round 3. You can cue the "Rocky" music here.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_17.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_06.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..sesteaks_37.jpg

Have I mentioned that Philly is my kind of town?

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_36.jpg

Round 3 was at Ishkabibble's, a place I chose more for its fun-to-say name than for anything I'd heard about its cheese steaks, which I guess tells you everything you need to know.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_27.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_28.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_29.jpg

As Vanity looked on, we ordered two non-traditional steaks, with provolone and sauteed onions for Angel and mozzarella and pizza sauce for me.

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_30.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_32.jpg

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_34.jpg

But who could tell the difference? Mine and Angel's tasted nearly identical -- the meat wasn't seasoned, the sauce wasn't seasoned, and the bread was too doughy. In fact, I didn't even finish mine, and before you chalk that up to having eaten two other cheese steaks only an hour earlier, you will recall that I ate a slice of tomato pie, a hunk of pound cake, a pork sandwich, a soft pretzel with cheese, and raspberry ice cream for lunch the day before . . . and then went out for some fried chicken afterwards. Sure, I have a tapeworm, but that doesn't mean I'll eat just anything. Well, I mean, I will, but I might not finish it. I mean . . . hey, look! Cute kids!

Philly_Spr..sesteaks_35.jpg

So, which one was the winner of our Cheese Steak Throwdown, Spring 2013 Edition? That would be the Frankensteak, which, if it existed, would consist of the airy Amoroso rolls from Jim's, the generous slather of Whiz from Jim's, the perfectly seasoned meat from Steaks on South, and the hole-in-the-wall atmosphere of Ishkabibble's. (If you know of someone already serving these Frankensteaks, please let me know in the comments, since a Fall 2013 Rematch is already in the works. And remember, no stinginess wit the Whiz!)

That afternoon we decided to take in the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, which stretched about ten blocks down Broad Street and featured the theme, "If You Had a Time Machine..." If I had a time machine, I'd go back and skip that pizza steak to make room for meatballs and fried cheese curds.

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_16.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_20.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_21.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_06.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_01.jpg

large_Philly_Spring13_PIFA_05.jpg

Oh well. I did find some room for a foot-long corn dog.

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_24.jpg

Luckily after that I was able to lie down for a bit, in one of these cute little insta-parks that had been set down in the middle of the street.

large_Philly_Spr.._RedoPIFA_1.jpg

Unfortunately we didn't actually see any art at the art fair, but we did see dinosaurs, the DeLorean from "Back to the Future," these cool stilt/horse things that require way more coordination than I was born with, and much more.

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_14.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_02.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_03.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_04.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_17.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_18.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._RedoPIFA_2.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_10.jpg

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_11.jpg

And some really scary stuff, too, like Ferris wheels and The Bravest Mother in the World.

Philly_Spring13_PIFA_23.jpg

large_Philly_Spring13_PIFA_19.jpg

After the street fair it was time for a glass of wine, so we headed back over to the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood to check out two cute French places I'd spied the day before, Rouge and Parc. Both were both pretty crowded, however, and since we'd thusfar managed to enjoy almost two full days without wanting to Taser anyone -- score another one for Philly! -- we headed over to Cicheterria 19, a quiet Venetian wine bar and restaurant that just happened to have a table for two right in the second-floor window overlooking the street and the Parisian-style bakery across the way.

Philly_Spring13_C19_03.jpg

Philly_Spring13_C19_14.jpg

Philly_Spring13_C19_04.jpg

Philly_Spring13_C19_05.jpg

Philly_Spring13_C19_06.jpg

At C19 I discovered my new favorite drink, the Rossini, which is fresh strawberries, sugar, Prosecco, and impossible to put down.

Philly_Spring13_RedoC19_2.jpg

Angel started with a glass of Cabernet, then moved on to the gorgeous Catching Fire cocktail, a spicy-sweet mix of jalapeno-infused tequila, passion fruit, fresh lime, and orange liqueur, finished with a vibrant purple hibiscus salt rim. Though it wasn't my cup of tea, Angel thought it was one of the most interesting -- and delicious -- cocktails he'd had in a while.

Philly_Spring13_RedoC19_3.jpg

After two cocktails apiece, it was time to order some munchies, so we went with this tasty platter of cannellini bean hummus with smoked paprika, rosemary flatbread, and veggies, along with some bread grilled with olive oil.

Philly_Spring13_C19_10.jpg

large_Philly_Spring13_C19_13.jpg

For those keeping track, that's 3 cheese steaks, a corn dog, two Rossinis, a bread bowl, and some hummus. I had to save room for dinner, you know.

On our way over to C19, we'd passed these people hanging out on the sidewalk on a random Sunday afternoon chatting and sipping Champagne.

Philly_Spring13_RedoC19_1.jpg

Philly_Spring13_C19_01.jpg

You can do that in New York, too, of course. While playing a fun guessing game called, "Which Citation Will the Cops Issue First?"

That night's reservation was at Amada, where we planned to enjoy a light meal of tapas and wine.

Philly_Spring13_Amada_01.jpg

Philly_Spr..RedoAmada_1.jpg

Philly_Spr..RedoAmada_2.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amada_05.jpg

Philly_Spr..RedoAmada_3.jpg

We started off with this gratis little plate of garlic crisps and a dip made from tuna, oil, and capers, which was salty and crunchy and therefore addictive.

Philly_Spring13_Amada_08.jpg

Philly_Spr..RedoAmada_4.jpg

Next up, baked goat cheese in romesco (delicious, though how could it not be?), patatas bravas (cute but rather tasteless), and wild mushroom rice with English peas and manchego (two words: English peas).

Philly_Spring13_Amada_10.jpg

Philly_Spr..RedoAmada_5.jpg

large_Philly_Spring13_Amada_13.jpg

That was followed by baby artichokes with parmesan, which were salty and sharp and delicious, and lamb meatballs with shaved manchego, which were so tender and juicy and flavorful that we nearly came to blows over who'd get the last one. (I won, of course.)

Philly_Spring13_Amada_11.jpg

large_Philly_Spring13_Amada_14.jpg

It was a warm night and the French doors had been flung open, and these seats in the gravel pit completed the indoor-outdoor vibe.

Philly_Spring13_Amada_04.jpg

Philly_Spring13_Amada_12.jpg

Philly_Spr..RedoAmada_6.jpg

After dinner we weren't quite ready to call it a night, and the soaring windows of Del Frisco's, housed in the 1920s-era First Pennsylvania Bank building on Chestnut Street, had caught my eye earlier in the day, so we popped in for a nightcap.

Philly_Spring13_Friscos_5.jpg

large_Philly_Spring13_Friscos_2.jpg

large_Philly_Spring13_Friscos_3.jpg

Once seated at the expansive bar, Angel decided on a delicious-sounding cocktail made with blackberries and bourbon. I'd actually wanted that one, too, but Tracey + bourbon = laughing hyena, so I stuck to the basics with a pomegranate martini.

Philly_Spring13_Friscos_8.jpg

thumb_Philly_Spring13_Friscos_7.jpg

thumb_Philly_Spring13_Friscos_6.jpg

We had barely begun sipping our drinks when we looked around and realized that the after-dinner crowd at Del Frisco's leaned toward what I like to call halfway-hookers: Girls that aren't exactly hookers, but aren't exactly . . . not. Feeling downright Amish in my skinny jeans, heels, silk halter, and real boobs, we quickly downed our cocktails and headed back to our room. Which we'd rented by the night, not the hour. Ahem.

Sunday morning means Sunday brunch, and where better to brunch . . . than at a martini bar?

Philly_Spr..ContMart_01.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_02.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_11.jpg

And so we took a leisurely walk down to the Continental Restaurant & Martini Bar, a retro-hip spot in Old City where we could enjoy my kind of breakfast: mac & cheese and martinis.

Philly_Spr..ContMart_09.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_12.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_03.jpg

As soon as we sat down, I spied a waitress bearing a tray of candy-colored strawberry-watermelon sorbets in mini Champagne glasses. "Ooooh! So pretty! Cute glasses! Must have!" I thought to myself. I immediately began scanning the menu so I could order some, but before I could, the waitress came by . . . and dropped them off at my table! For ME! For free! This E.S.P. thing is really working out.

Philly_Spr..ContMart_04.jpg

Post-sorbet, I decided to go with the "Saturday Morning Cartoon" starring banana-infused gold rum and Lucky Charms horchata, a milky libation made from rice (in Mexico) or tigernuts (in Spain) and served over ice as a refresher in those hot climates. Obviously anything made with Lucky Charms (and rum) is magically delicious, and this was no exception.

Philly_Spr..ContMart_06.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_08.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_07.jpg

For his part, Angel went with the Market Street Mocha, which was made with double espresso vodka, chocolate milk, and this cute little chocolate candy "swizzle stick" that we fought over like it was the wishbone from a Thanksgiving turkey.

Philly_Spr..ContMart_05.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_19.jpg

The food menu was equally inventive, but I had already made plans to snarf up an entire tomato pie before I left town that evening, so we decided to order a few small plates to tide us over. After some intense horse-trading, we went with the cheese steak eggrolls with Sriracha ketchup, the lobster mac n’ cheese with orzo, gruyère, and fontina cheese, and the Korean BBQ pork tacos made with Berkshire Farms pork and pickled cucumbers. Giddy up!

Philly_Spr..ContMart_13.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_15.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..ContMart_14.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_17.jpg

Philly_Spr..ContMart_18.jpg

large_Philly_Spr..ContMart_16.jpg

Of course one should repent after spending a boozy Sunday morning at a martini bar instead of church, so off we went to Sunday School.

large_Philly_Spr..riaPizza_01.jpg

Sunday School at Tria Cafe consists of a featured, not-so-common wine, beer, and cheese every Sunday at a discounted price. Naturally we figured it would be mobbed, but were pleasantly surprised when an outdoor table opened up within minutes of our arrival . . . and we were the only ones waiting. I know this doesn't sound like your typical miracle, but the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_06.jpg

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_07.jpg

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_03.jpg

On this particular Sunday, Angel and I lucked out with the featured wine being a Rosé Txakolina from the Basque region of Spain, which was enticingly described as "springtime in a glass." And it was: The Txakolina (pronounced "choc-o-lina") was dry, fresh, fruity, and crisp, and I immediately noticed what turned out to be its trademark fizzy taste (though it contains no bubbles).

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_02.jpg

It paired beautifully with that Sunday's cheese, a Podda Classico from Sardinia, which is similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano but differs from the classic parm in that it's made from a blend of cow and sheep milk (parm is all cow), giving it a rich, creamy, almost toffee-like flavor.

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_04.jpg

After the Rosé Txakolina disappeared with alarming speed, I moved on to the white Txakolina for comparison's sake. The white was very similar to its pink cousin, with the same fizz and mineral, almost salty flavor, but minus the strawberry and watermelon notes of the rosé. Either way, I've found my new "sip by the pool" wines for this summer.

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_05.jpg

After a few hours of wine-tasting, cheese-nibbling, and outfit-critiquing of the various passers-by, it was time for some tomato pie. We decided to take the scenic route. We started in this beautiful little park in Society Hill . . .

Philly_Spr.._Society_07.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_04.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_03.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._Society_09.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_06.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_08.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_05.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_11.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_10.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_13.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._Society_12.jpg

Then looped back to the area near the Continental Martini Bar.

Philly_Spr.._Society_01.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_02.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_22.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_24.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_25.jpg

The more we wandered around, the more tiny alleyways and historic homes I fell in love with.

Philly_Spr.._Society_27.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._Society_23.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_26.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_28.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._Society_29.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._Society_30.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._Society_31.jpg

Nearby Independence Park is the pillar of the neighborhood.

Philly_Spr.._Society_15.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_14.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_16.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_17.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_18.jpg

Philly_Spr.._Society_21.jpg

Finally, it was time for Tomato Pie. I was hoping for some thick Sicilian-style T.P. like By George's, but a quick scan of online reviews all pointed to Gianfranco's, and as luck would have it, it was just a short walk away.

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_08.jpg

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_09.jpg

Sure, this place is pretty fancy, but was the tomato pie any good? Judge for yourself:

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_10.jpg

large_Philly_Spr.._RedoGian_1.jpg

Of course, we finished it. I'd sooner leave a man behind than a slice of pizza.

Philly_Spr..riaPizza_13.jpg

Before long it was time to retrieve our luggage and head over to the train station for the short ride home. Once on the train, we settled into our (forward-facing) seats and pulled out our reading material, but as the train began to chug along, I found that I just couldn't focus on my book. Instead, I spent half the train ride reflecting on what a fantastic weekend full of great food, inventive drinks, and perfect weather it had been.

And the other half researching that refrigerated truck rental for next time.

--------------------------------------------------

Philly_Spr..LastPhoto_1.jpg
Next up, we're exploring the Abacos by boat. So what if neither of us knows how to operate one? Subscribe here and you'll be the first to know whether the adage, "If you don't know the knot, tie a lot," holds any, um, water.

Posted by TraceyG 04:40 Archived in USA Tagged philadelphia philly tria continental_martini_bar jim's_steaks steaks_on_south amada del_frisco's Comments (8)

The Key West Food & Wine Fest 2013: This One's a Real Corker

So, you might remember our last trip to the Key West Food & Wine Festival, at which I almost poked my eye out with a long stick and set my own eyebrows on fire, agreed to mud-wrestle my friend Donna for the last of some coconut vodka, tried to strangle Angel over a wine-filled cheesecake pop, and forgave him only after he brought home the coveted Silver Platinum Coconut at Coconut Bowling.

2013_KWFWF_Coconut_2.jpg

I am happy to report that this time around I behaved myself much better. Chugging Champagne straight from the bottle while dressed like a naughty Marie Antoinette doesn't count, does it?

2013_KWFWF_TTGbottle_1.jpg
thumb_2013_KWFWF_TTGtongue_1.jpg
Photos courtesy of KWFWF/Sheel Photography

Our first order of business upon arrival was to visit the festival's Hospitality Suite to pick up our VIP passes. Our friend Mark, the wine-swilling Svengali who runs the Key West Food & Wine Festival, had read my write-up of the KWFWF last year, in which I called him a sick $%@# and a liver-loathing genius, and then inexplicably proceeded to invite me back this year to once again blog about it. Which just goes to show you: He really is a sick %$#@.

2013_KWFWF_Beach_3.jpg

I already knew it was going to be a good festival when I spotted this classy pooping-chicken wine in the hospitality suite. So what if it was 11 a.m.? Mark's friend Deborah, a volunteer at the festival, poured me a generous glass and didn't even blink, and that's when I knew we'd be friends for life.

2013_KWFWF_06.jpg

Plus, I later learned that the fabulous Deborah went to the University of Pittsburgh, and if yinz can't bond over chipped ham n'at, yinz can always bond over the Stillers.

2013_KWFWF_30.jpg

That evening we set off for the Barefoot Beach Party, where people dig their toes in the sand, sip fantastic wines, nibble on tasty snacks, and laugh, Dr. Evil-style, at those suckers back home suffering through single-digit temperatures.

large_2013_KWFWF_03.jpg

There I ran into Qmitch, the outrageous star of 801 Bourbon's Drag Queen Bingo. A few years ago I did a "Key West Top Ten list" blog post, and Drag Queen Bingo of course made the list. Qmitch then left a comment on the blog that read, "I'm Number Two!!" However, because I am what people pityingly call "book smart," it took me forever to realize that he was referring to being #2 on the list and not just to suffering from low self-esteem. Don't worry, Qmitch: Anyone who can rock a Chiquita Bananalily hat like you is #1 in my book.

2013_KWFWF_07.jpg

2013_KWFWF_09.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_08.jpg

Indeed, elaborate headgear was de rigueur at this shindig, and I sure wish I'd known that ahead of time. God knows I'm not above duct-taping a pineapple to my head for the sake of fashion.

2013_KWFWF_Beach_1.jpg

This year's beach party featured a slew of different wines, a roast beast carving station, and some lady making what I thought were mini crab cakes, but turned out to be tuna sliders. I don't mind the old switcheroo if you replace my cheeseburger with a double cheeseburger, but fooling me into a eating a tuna slider by shaping it like a mini crab cake is just . . . fishy.

2013_KWFWF_Beach_2.jpg

2013_KWFWF_04.jpg

2013_KWFWF_22.jpg

2013_KWFWF_05.jpg

2013_KWFWF_14.jpg

2013_KWFWF_15.jpg

2013_KWFWF_20.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_18.jpg

Indeed, everywhere you turned, someone was offering food or wine or bendy straws.

2013_KWFWF_21.jpg

2013_KWFWF_16.jpg

2013_KWFWF_17.jpg

When we weren't eating, we were drinking, and when we weren't drinking . . . well, whatever. Let's just say that in between sips, we managed to chat with friends Donna, Greg, Claudia, Alden, and some guy who slyly inquired as to the whereabouts of my red super-straw. I'll bet he says that to all the girls.

2013_KWFWF_10.jpg

2013_KWFWF_11.jpg

2013_KWFWF_12.jpg

2013_KWFWF_13.jpg

2013_KWFWF_24.jpg

2013_KWFWF_25.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_27.jpg

As soon as the sun went down, it was time to board the trolley for our Wine Around the Neighborhood Stroll. This guy was filling wine glasses as we waited for everyone to board, a move that could go a long way toward making the subways bearable if adopted here in NYC. I'd recommend serving a wine called something other than "New Age," though, to avoid getting stabbed.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_02.jpg

This year our group voted to do the "Quieter Side of Duval" stroll, which I knew right away was a mistake since nobody in our group is ever quiet about anything. We started at Croissants de France, where we were served a little skewer of lemongrass beef paired with a Lichine Le Coq Rouge from France, which I believe translates to There's a Red Chicken in my Pool, n'est pas?

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_05.jpg

I'm not sure what has so frightened Angel and Greg, but whatever it is . . .

large_2013_KWFWF_Stroll_07.jpg

It's probably under the table (though Greg is clearly skeptical). Maybe Angel's skewer fell on the floor? Maybe I'm already under there scrounging around for scraps?

large_2013_KWFWF_Stroll_06.jpg

Our next stop was Le Petit Paris, a cute new cafe that served us a plump, perfectly cooked black pepper and lavender dusted sea scallop, which was paired with Napa's Caymus Conundrum. The only conundrum here, however, was how to stuff a half-dozen more scallops into my purse without arousing suspicion.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_08.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_10.jpg

Next up, nine one five, where we were herded upstairs to Point Five, the restaurant's charming wine bar.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_09.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_11.jpg

Unfortunately the bottleneck at this spot meant that we were left waiting right in front of the open kitchen, where this guy cruelly prepared pizzas and homemade potato chips right in front of me.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_12.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_13.jpg

I guess he didn't realize that I carry my own Freeloader Fork.

After a few minutes spent sampling the Justin Sauvignon Blanc from Paso Robles, it was time to move on to Blackfin Bistro. Blackfin is notable for being the only restaurant on the Stroll that actually allowed us inside: The rest learned from last year that it's best to keep the drunken hordes far away from the paying customers.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_17.jpg

At Blackfin we sampled a conch cake with dijon remoulade and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, then moved on to Better Than Sex for the, er, climax of our evening: The Popcorn Pimp.

large_2013_KWFWF_popcornpimp_1.jpg

Better Than Sex described the Popcorn Pimp as follows: "This cheesecake manages to expose itself freely while allured to rest on top of a sweet sugar cookie dough crust. His velvet creamy filling remains protected with a robe of soft caramel and eventually gets dressed smartly with a white chocolate bark poked with salted popcorn, and a dark chocolate dribble!" No, none of that makes any sense, but I'll still have what she's having.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_20.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_21.jpg

As the stroll was winding down, a few of us were still hungry and began making plans to get some dinner. Part-time Key Westers Stephanie and Ari have a townhouse not far from the last stop on the stroll, so they invited us to continue our revelry there with more wine and some food delivery. Yes, invited. Though by the end of the night it was clear why I usually have to crash house parties rather than wait for an invitation.

But first things first. We arrived, and were greeted by this:

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_26.jpg

You know it's going to be a good night when someone's kitchen counter is strewn with half-empty wine bottles as soon as you walk in the door.

Once we'd all settled in with some wine, it was time to order food. Stephanie suggested we order from The Flaming Buoy, a well-regarded seafood restaurant nearby, and everyone agreed . . . except me. Isn't it common knowledge that that after a long night of drinking, the body requires pizza and Death Dogs, not tuna ceviche and grilled shrimp? It's like they were trying to give me a hangover.

After much haggling, we decided on three large pizzas -- one for me, and two for everyone else to share.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_27.jpg

I ordered my usual with pepperoni and extra sauce, and as I was scarfing it down . . . plop. A blob of sauce landed right on poor Stephanie's couch.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_30.jpg

When you are as clumsy as I am, however, you become pretty good at on-the-go stain removal, emergency toe repair, and the like, and you understand that time is of the essence. I therefore immediately shifted into crisis mode.

"Quick!" I hollered to Stephanie. "Get me a Tide stick, stat!"
"Oh, we don't have one," she replied casually.
"No Tide?!? Ok, how about some Shout?"
"Nope, no Shout, either," she said, reclining on the couch like there wasn't a dime-sized orange stain on it, beginning to set.
"For god's sake, man, don't you people eat around here?!?" I asked, incredulous.
"Of course we eat," Stephanie replied, "We just don't wear it."

Oh. Well. I guess we know which one of us is the Tasmanian devil in this scenario.

"I do have some hydrogen peroxide, though," Stephanie finally offered, seemingly unconcerned that her household's lack of stain removers was costing us valuable time.
"But that's bleach!" I responded, horrified. "You can't put that on your couch!"
"Wait, peroxide is bleach?" she asked.

Really? I'm the only one who ever turned her entire head orange with a bottle of Sun-In back in the 80s? I'm no Bill Nye, but you don't soon forget the active ingredient that turned your hair from "sun-kissed blonde" to "carrot-tinged tangerine" in the space of one ill-fated summer afternoon.

I am happy to report that we were able to eradicate the stain with some homemade club soda, saving me from having to buy a brand-new couch and earning Stephanie the coveted title of Most Nonchalant About Stains. Me, I'm Most Likely to Obsess Over and Finally Burn Said Couch.

Besides Stephanie's admirable laissez-faire attitude toward Scotchguard, the other reason to visit is her adorable puppy, Babka, who is sweet and soft and snuggly and unfortunately did not fit in my purse. Must've been all those scallops in there.

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_23.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_24.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Stroll_28.jpg

The next day we were scheduled to attend one of the festival's many seminars, Tacos and Tequila, at Agave 308. Last year's seminar was a little heavy on the talking and light on the eating, but I knew this one would be more interesting, since everything is more interesting after a few shots of tequila.

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_15.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_04.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Tacogirl_1.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_11.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_09.jpg

We started with a silver, or "pure" tequila, then moved on to the "reposado" (rested) and "anejo" (aged) tequilas, an order which also describes how you will feel as the tasting progresses. Luckily we stopped before they could get to the "muerto."

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_08.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Tacos2_2.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_17.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_14.jpg

Heck, for a while I even thought that lovely cannibis sculpture behind the bar was actually changing colors, but that was just the tequila talking.

thumb_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_05.jpgthumb_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_06.jpgthumb_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_07.jpg

The tasting ended with a roasted pork taco with spicy slaw. That's right, just one.

large_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_16.jpg

It was delicious, to be sure, but I don't know what kind of stunt these Key West people are trying to pull here. I repeat: A single taco, a small bowl of tuna ceviche, or a skewer of grilled shrimp are simply not acceptable apres-drinking foods. The bread-to-cheese ratio is way too low, and the lack of grease is downright appalling.

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_19.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_18.jpg

Afterwards we caught up with two new local friends, Sue and Jack, at Agave's bar, where I sampled the fantastic Paloma de la Fresa, a sweet-tart cocktail made with strawberry-infused tequila, agave, strawberries, and fresh grapefruit, and Angel was the lucky recipient of a serious over-pour. Sure, tequila can make you love almost anything, but Agave 308 doesn't need much help.

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_20.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_21.jpg

A mere two hours and one pepperoni pizza later . . .

large_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_02.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Tacos_03.jpg

. . . and we were off to the highlight of the festival, the "Bottles and Busts" Grand Tasting at the Mallory Square Sculpture Garden.

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_09.jpg

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_11.jpg

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_03.jpg

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_05.jpg

You might remember that last year's Grand Tasting was held at the Key West Aquarium, where the temperature hovered somewhere around Turkish Baths. This year's outdoor tasting was much more comfortable, though a little harder to navigate since the wine vendors were scattered about the sculpture garden, instead of lined up all in a row like they'd been at the aquarium. No matter: I just kept visiting my same three favorites while pretending to be disoriented.

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_04.jpg

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_13.jpg

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_10.jpg

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_06.jpg

Toward the end of the tasting two guys sidled up to me and Donna and began chatting us up. Without missing a beat, Donna stuck out her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Diane." Diane, eh? "And I'm Trina," I added. Later we clarified that that's Dianne with two Ns, which is much more exotic. And fitting for a woman who works at a strip club and hangs out with the likes of Trina.

large_2013_KWFWF_TTGDDGT_1.jpg

2013_KWFWF_glasses_1.jpg

I know what this looks like, and it's terrible. Who wastes good wine on a dog??

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_15.jpg

Just kidding! Of course no animals were harmed at the Grand Tasting. Dimples, however, were brutally violated.

2013_KWFWF_GrandTast_14.jpg

After two hours of tequila tasting and two more hours of wine guzzling, you might think that we'd finally head back to our hotel, and indeed we did. Where else could we change into our Marie Antoinette attire for the "Let Them Eat Cake" masquerade party?

2013_KWFWF_DonnaD_1.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_17.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Cake_06.jpg

Now, the Let Them Eat Cake party was probably originally intended to be elegant: There was a delightful assortment of miniature cupcakes and petit fours, fluted glasses of Champagne, charmingly mismatched silver forks engraved with the words "Eat Cake," and a DJ playing subdued music in one corner.

2013_KWFWF_cakefork_1.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_18.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_04.jpg

This, of course, would not do.

2013_KWFWF_Cake_05.jpg

With Mark's blessing, I grabbed a bottle of Champagne and began filling friends' and strangers' empty, and not-so-empty, glasses, adopting a "one glug for you, two glugs for me policy" that left me and everyone else covered in Champagne, and later found me fluffing up this nice woman's tulle at every opportunity, accepting an invitation to arm-wrestle the policewoman in the purple wig, and flapping my poufy Victorian sleeves on the dance floor like an injured seagull. Not for nothing was this time period called the Reign of Terror, people.

9557B6152219AC68173DF337FB818212.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_11.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_22.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_20.jpg

Also at the Let Them Eat Cake party, I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person an online friend from Tennessee, the fabulous Vicki H, who, like me, blogs about her traveling and eating adventures and, unlike me, is a proper Southern lady whose ears were likely scandalized a dozen times over by me and Dirty Dianne (two Ns). Vicki is also to be commended for donning a costume -- and a tres magnifique one at that -- when no one else in her party did. Let them eat . . . their hearts out.

2013_KWFWF_Cake_13.jpg

[2013_KWFWF_Vicki_1.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_10.jpg

Not counting the slutty costumes and Champagne-chugging and tulle-fluffing and arm wrestling, the most interesting thing at the cake party was apparently . . . Angel. Despite numerous trips to NYC's famous costume stores and a significant outlay of cash, we'd still had a hard time nailing down the appropriate period menswear, leaving Angel dressed less like a member of Marie Antoinette's court and more like an artist/mime (look it up, millennials), decked out in a pair of my knee-highs and a fur-trimmed beret.

2013_KWFWF_Cake2_2.jpg
Photo courtesy of KWFWF/Sheel Photography

Still, once he got to shaking his ascot, women started crawling out of the woodwork to bump and grind with the Count de Cayo Hueso. Indeed, at one point someone noticed that a very well-endowed woman was gyrating against dancing with my husband out there on the dance floor, and wasn't I upset? Of course not. That's as close as the poor guy's gonna get to some big ta-tas, having married the honorary president of the IBTC.

2013_KWFWF_Cake_19.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_14.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_15.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_16.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_25.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Cake_07.jpg

After I'd gone through about a half-dozen bottles of Champagne and Angel had gone through about a half-dozen dance partners, we decided to head home . . . to Grand Vin Wine Bar. Donna and Greg do live there, you know.

2013_KWFWF_Grandvin_2.jpg

There we discussed a very urgent matter: Where could I get a cheeseburger at this hour? When the consensus was that Denny's was probably the only place still open, I realized that as much I love Key West, l will obviously never be able to live in a town where I can't get a decent burger after midnight.

Luckily, however, I had some provisions back at the hotel. These were supposed to be for breakfast, but an emergency is an emergency.

2013_KWFWF_Tacos_01.jpg

The next day we were scheduled to go Coconut Bowling so Angel could try to win me the coveted Golden Coconut, but hurling coconuts at plastic pineapples when you feel like hurling yourself is never a good idea, so instead we headed over to Sunset Pier for a quick lunch before Duval Uncorked got under way that afternoon.

2013_KWFWF_SunsetPier_1.jpg

2013_KWFWF_SunsetPier_2.jpg

2013_KWFWF_SunsetPier_3.jpg

There we had some conch fritters, followed by grilled mahi-mahi for Angel and a grilled chicken Caesar salad for me. Naturally the grilled stuff cancels out the fried stuff.

2013_KWFWF_SunsetPier_5.jpg

2013_KWFWF_SunsetPier_6.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_SunsetPier_4.jpg

Over lunch we perused the photos I'd taken thusfar, and realized that Dianne and Trina's antics had apparently set tongues wagging all over town.

thumb_2013_KWFWF_Tongues1.jpgthumb_2013_KWFWF_Tongues2.jpgthumb_2013_KWFWF_Tongues4.jpg

At 3:30 sharp our group of ten -- me, Angel, Donna, and Greg, plus New Jersey friends Mike and Ann and Tennessee friends Vicki, Matt, Teresa, and John -- gathered at the foot of Duval Street to begin our mile-long wine wandering. Keeping this many people together and on track while they imbibe at almost 40 stops might seem almost as impossible as finding a decent midnight snack in this town, but Greg, our epicurean Drill Sergeant from last year, was promoted to Colonel (Un)Corked, and fearlessly led the way.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_03.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_05.jpg

Duval Uncorked started off the way all good parties do, with a couple of hippies and some food wrapped in bacon.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_01.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_02.jpg

Next it was on to Cork & Stogie, where we sampled some wine and checked out their wares.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_04.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_06.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_07.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_08.jpg

Then we made a beeline for Key West Cakes' miniature cupcakes. Sadly, they weren't as pretty as last year's peacock-hued extravaganza, but at least that made it easier to gobble them up without feeling bad.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_10.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_11.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_12.jpg

Our next stop was the Green Pineapple, where the Stoned Crab brought their namesake stone crab bisque. This stuff was so good that Angel got the munchies afterward. Me, I always have the munchies.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_13.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_14.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_15.jpg

In short order we made our way across the street to the Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn, where we took a break from the wine with some Painkillers.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_16.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_17.jpg

Because we'd only had bacon, cupcakes, and Painkillers so far, it was obviously time for some chocolate cake and key lime pies over at the Key West Key Lime Pie Co.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_19.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_18.jpg

Then it was on to Grand Vin for more wine and a group photo.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_21.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_22.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_23.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_20.jpg

Following Cabernet-and-Champagne sorbet at Flamingo Crossing and the Cubanisimo rose at nine one five, it was on to sauteed calamari at Le Petit Paris.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_24.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_26.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_27.jpg

As we strolled down Duval past the Tutti Frutti drink stand, I noticed this bright red Batphone. I don't know about you, but I will definitely sleep better knowing that an emergency fish replica is just a phone call away.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_28.jpg

Next up, curried chicken salad at Croissants de France, and samples of T-Vine at Vino's on Duval. Now, there's no denying that the T-Vine wines are both excellent and expensive. Still, given the minuscule pours we experienced at the Grand Tasting, I suspect that Mike and Ann are probably haggling with Mr. T-Vine for a tasting poured from the bottle instead of parceled out with an eyedropper.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_29.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_30.jpg

Across the street, 801 Bourbon served up pink Jell-O shots, which provided quite the unexpected, um, pick-me-up.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_31.jpg

large_2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_32.jpg

One of the most anticipated stops on the crawl was DJ's Clam Shack, which serves a tasty clam chowder and even tastier puppy kisses.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_34.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_35.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_36.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_37.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_38.jpg

Speaking of tasty kisses, we then moved on to Leather Master, where all the boys were decked out in their best "My sex dungeon or yours?" attire.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_44.jpg

Indeed, Donna couldn't pull her eyes away from the, uh, back entrance.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_43.jpg

About 15 years ago, a short-lived S&M-themed supper club opened in NYC that was considered quite risqué for the time (this is before the Real Housewives, remember), and I teasingly suggested to my sweet but naive friend Janet that we should check it out. "What do you think they do there?" she asked, all wide-eyed innocence. "Oh, come on, " I said. "Surely you have some idea." Janet hesitated, and then said, "Well . . . I guess they probably shove your dinner plate at you all mean-like, and then they say something really nasty to you." "Really?" I asked, trying not to laugh. "Like what?" "Oh, you know," Janet replied, blushing. "Here's your dinner, you dirty hog!"

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_46.jpg

As we were leaving Leather Master, I playfully asked the guy on the left if he'd be willing to paddle his buddy for the camera. Let's just say that I didn't have to ask him twice.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_45.jpg

"Thanks, you dirty hogs!" I called as I walked away. It figured it was the least I could do.

One of our last stops was at the bright and cheery Island Style, where we were treated to some steel-drum music and J. Lohr wines and cheesy lobster pesto pizzas from Cafe Sole.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_47.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_50.jpg

There I got to chatting with Cafe Sole's Chef Correa and his adorable wife Judy, the former of whom makes the world's most amazing portobello mushroom soup and then doles it out in little finger bowls just to torture gluttons like me. When I rambled on for the next 20 minutes about mushrooms and heavy cream and bigger bowls, the chef took pity on me and kindly wrote out a coupon for two free bowls of it, redeemable the next day at Cafe Sole.

2013_KWFWF_Uncorked_51.jpg

The next morning I bolted straight out of bed at 5 a.m. and hollered, "MUSHROOM SOOOOOOUP!!!" by way of an alarm clock for Angel. We quickly showered, dressed, and biked over to Cafe Sole for brunch.

2013_KWFWF_CafeSolebldg_1.jpg

They didn't have the soup.

The waitress told me some cockamamie story about how it wasn't ready yet. "Just nuke it, man, I don't care!" I implored her, my forehead breaking out in a cold sweat. "I need that mushroom soup!" She went back to the kitchen to see what could be done, but apparently the soup hadn't even been made yet. I thought about offering to help chop the shrooms or stir the pot or whatever, but Angel gently reminded me that we had other plans for the day, so I ordered the Jan Brady of the menu, the French onion soup, plus a crab cake.

2013_KWFWF_CafeSole_4.jpg

2013_KWFWF_CafeSole_6.jpg

2013_KWFWF_CafeSole_2.jpg

2013_KWFWF_CafeSole_5.jpg

Afterwards, we biked around a little, and I happily came across some additional possibilities for my future Conchmobile, if I can't get my hands on a VW Thing when the time comes.

2013_KWFWF_transpo_2.jpg

2013_KWFWF_transpo_1.jpg

2013_KWFWF_transpo_5.jpg

2013_KWFWF_transpo_6.jpg

Then it was off to the Outdoor Wine Market on Eaton Street. We'd skipped this market last year on the incorrect assumption that they sold nothing but bottles of wine, which we didn't want to carry home, and wine gadgets, of which we have enough to build our own rocket.

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_02.jpg

Later, however, we learned that the wine market offers everything from artwork to marinades to puppies (for petting, not purchasing) to . . . still more wines by the glass.

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_05.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_03.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_04.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_09.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_11.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_12.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_06.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_07.jpg

Oh, and rubbers. Of course.

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_15.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_13.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_14.jpg

Best of all, they had purses with chicken-pattern lining. Go ahead and drool.

large_2013_KWFWF_TTGchicken_1.jpg

Even with the large crowd, we still managed to bump into the town's resident lushes.

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_08.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_22.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_28.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_23.jpg

The highlight of the market was the Seafood Shakedown, a cook-off where the contestants were required to create dishes using Key West pink shrimp. The four competitors squared off face to face across the small parking lot, two on one side and two on the other, and we were given wooden "nickels" to drop in a bucket in order to vote for our favorite.

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_25.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_24.jpg

It was therefore quite important to be memorable.

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_16.jpg

We started with the jambalaya, then moved on to simply grilled shrimp with assorted dipping sauces, a fantastic paella, and a spicy shrimp with collard greens.

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_19.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_18.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_21.jpg

2013_KWFWF_Winemarket_17.jpg

The dishes were all unique, yet equally delicious, and it was difficult to choose our favorites. Actually voting, however, was next to impossible: There they were, all four contestants (each of whom we'd spent a fair amount of time chatting and laughing with), staring us down as we stood in the middle of the square debating which buckets we'd drop our wooden nickels in. Did I mention that the buckets were located at each contestant's stand? I attempted a fake-out by wandering around a bit before stealthily approaching the paella stand to give them my vote, and I thought I'd gotten away with it . . . until they all started whooping and cheering, alerting the other 3 cooks that I certainly hadn't voted for them. Angel was up next, trapped in the square like the unlucky winner in the "The Lottery," trying to avoid being stoned by the three cooks he wasn't voting for.

Despite the awkwardness, I'm actually thinking of entering this thing myself next year. No, I can't cook, and yes, the humiliation of receiving just one wooden nickel -- Angel's -- would be worse than being called a dirty hog, but just look at the crown I could win!

2013_KWFWF_crown2_1.jpg

It's sure to be the talk of the Barefoot Beach Party next year.

------------------------------------------------------------------
2013_KWFWF_Qmitch_1.jpg

Want to see if your liver's up to snuff? Buy tickets for the the Key West Food and Wine Festival here: https://www.keywestfoodandwinefestival.com

Posted by TraceyG 06:18 Archived in USA Comments (6)

Key West: Walking in a Wiener Wonderland, Part 1

Christmas with my family in snowy Pittsburgh, PA, can be a bitter, cold affair . . . and the weather usually stinks, too. So this year, we rounded up a bunch of friends, jumped on a plane, and headed to the Conch Republic, where we were all but assured of a warm, if weird, welcome.

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_04.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_23.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_02.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_15.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_13.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_01.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_26.jpg

Not too warm, though.

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_10.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_signs_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Local_08.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_signs_2.jpg

For the first eight days of our trip, we were joined by our friends Frances and Todd, who live in New Jersey. Aside from that they are very nice people and, unlike the last time we spent a weekend with them, this time they mostly behaved themselves and nobody had to call out the Coast Guard.

2012_Xmas_KW_portrait2_2.jpg

The four of us decided to rent a house instead of staying at a hotel, which especially suited Frances and Todd, seeing as how, "Welcome to Disney World!" are the only four words they might dread hearing more than, "Where are y'all from?"

2012_Xmas_KW_Pineapple_4.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Pineapple_5.jpg

The house, Pineapple Cottage, was very large, extremely private, and around the corner from Walgreen's, which was perfect considering that I'd spent $150 to haul 6 pieces of luggage to Key West, only to forget basics like mascara and hair gel.

2012_Xmas_KW_Pineapple_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Pineapple_3.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Pineapple_6.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Pineapple_7.jpg
large_2012_Xmas_KW_Pineapple_2.jpg

Mid-week we were joined by two more friends, Ellen and Brian, who were more than ready for a re-do after their last trip to Key West involved weather so unusual that folks went kayaking . . . down Duval Street. Throw in the fact that Ellen had just quit her job, Brian works enough hours for two jobs, and both of them treat Happy Hour like it's a competitive hot-dog eating contest, and you can see why I put some bail money aside just in case.

2012_Xmas_KW_Openers_4.jpg

After running a few errands on arrival day (picking up our bikes, making a Fausto's run, and buying a 22-gallon drum to hold the rum punch we planned to make for our last night in the house), our first order of business was to jump on the Conch Train Holiday Lights tour that was departing from N. Roosevelt Blvd. The tour consists of the train's driver cruising up and down the streets of Midtown and Old Town looking for the most ostentatious Christmas lights, blaring Christmas carols from a set of immense speakers, and encouraging his passengers to scream "WOOOO!!!" as the train lingers in front of the most impressive displays.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lightsredo_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_01.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_02.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_06.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_10.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_04.jpg

After we'd stopped and screamed in front of the third or fourth house, I figured the beleaguered homeowners inside were doing exactly what I'd be doing if I lived there: Flipping that train the bird with one hand while loading my BB gun with the other. But this is Key West, which means that not only did these homeowners not call the cops on us -- they actually welcomed us. At least once on every block the proud occupants came outside to greet us, dressed in festive Santa hats and waving like they were on a float at the Macy's Thankgiving Day Parade. By the end of the night I was half-expecting them to throw candy at us. Or, you know, Mardi Gras beads and beer cans.

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_13.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_14.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_15.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_16.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_lightour_11.jpg

After the tour we met up with Frances and Todd for a late dinner at Cafe Sole.

2012_Xmas_KW_Sole_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Sole_2.jpg

Angel and I like this place for their out-of-this-world mushroom soup and free bottles of wine, while Frances and Todd like it for the hogfish, a local fish that feeds on shrimp and other shellfish and therefore comes, as Todd put it, "pre-stuffed."

2012_Xmas_KW_Sole_3.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Sole_6.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Sole_5.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Sole_4.jpg

And everyone loves the bananas Foster.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Sole_7.jpg

The next day we decided to revisit the home of the fabled Free Bacon Happy Hour, 2 Cents Gastropub, for brunch. If we could get a couple of slices of bacon for free at happy hour, I figured, just imagine how much could we get our hands on if we actually paid up!

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_9.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_5.jpg

Much like the little brother that I never had (unless you count Trina), Frances delights in grossing me out with tales of things like having the cyst/devil horn sprouting from her head surgically removed (that really happened), knocking her front teeth out on a jet-ski (that really happened), and ingesting drinks like the Herbal High, a concoction of fresh sage, grapefruit juice, and Miller High Life that could give Syrup of Ipecac a run for its money (that really happened).

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_1.jpg

Although there were lots of tempting choices, I settled on the Eggs Sardou, which was basically eggs Benedict topped with creamed spinach and with mini artichokes standing in for the English muffins. Normally vegetables should never be permitted to muscle out stuff like bread, but those little artichokes were pretty good, not to mention cute. I also had the Sauvignon Blanc with lemonade, which only sounds white trash-y.

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_8.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_3.jpg

In addition to the egg dishes that Frances, Todd, and Angel selected, the four of us also shared two sides of bacon and two orders of silver-dollar pancakes with raspberries and, yes, more bacon.

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_4.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_6.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_2Cents_7.jpg

That afternoon we biked around a bit and took in some holiday cheer.

2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_08.jpg

Oh, and looked at decorations, too.

2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_03.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_04.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_01.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_09.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Decor1_10.jpg

That evening we headed over to Colombian Grace, a spot I'd been wanting to try ever since I heard about a dish there called the Cartagena, which immediately makes me go, "Joan Wiiilder? Zee Joan Wiiilder???" in my head.

2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_1.jpg

Made with shrimp and calamari sautéed in basil, garlic, and fresh tomato broth, the Cartagena is offered only as an appetizer, which was surprisingly large enough even for me.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_4.jpg

Just to be safe, though, I "shared" the arepas -- grilled white corn cakes with melted cheese -- with Angel, and had a side of empanadas, too, just in case he was serious about that whole sharing thing.

2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_8.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_3.jpg

Angel had the shrimp with white wine, butter, lime juice, garlic, mushrooms and tomato, while Todd had the Bandeja Paisa (red beans, rice, chorizo, skirt steak, bacon, sweet plantain, green plantain, and two fried eggs), which I believe roughly translates as the "Paul Bunyan Special." For her part, Frances went with the Petronia Chicken glazed in orange juice, rosemary, brandy, and a little spicy sugarcane sauce. If your mouth is not watering by now, you need to stop looking at this on your iPhone and get to a real monitor.

2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_6.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_5.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Grace_7.jpg

On Christmas Eve we headed over to Louie's to catch up with Donna and Greg, two local friends whom you might remember recently threw a fabulous, Champagne-and-sweat-soaked wedding on a sailboat, and who are to be commended for guiding us through last year's Key West Food and Wine Festival without once passing out (that we know of).

2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_3.jpg

This time around, though, Donna and Greg were knee-deep in moving boxes, as their cottage on Big Coppitt Key was set to be demolished so that a roomy new two-story house can be built in its place, which will have sweeping water views and a bedroom just for me (I guess Angel can sleep there, too). While the new house is being built, however, they will be living in a camper on a friend's property, which Donna has eloquently named the Redneck Ranch. The idea of the lovely, perfectly polished Donna -- she of the little black dresses and sky-high stilettos and perfect manicures -- ruling the roost at the Redneck Ranch is so ridiculous that I can't believe people spend their time watching Honey Boo-Boo when this kind of entertainment is available in person for the price of a plane ticket.

2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_5.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_6.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_4.jpg

After lunch, Donna and Greg met us back at the house with a few bottles of wine. Soon we were joined by Frances and Todd and, as is usually the case, where Frances goes, trouble follows. This time, the trouble started with Donna needing to make a Christmas ornament for a friend's Naughty Ornament Party that evening; Frances making like a pervy MacGyver and dropping fifty bucks at Walgreen's to buy supplies that included condoms, an assortment of rubber balls, and some paper clips; the three of us sending Todd out on an emergency vodka run while Angel and Greg pretended not to know us; Frances concentrating like she was making the next atom bomb in order to send Donna off with the perfect dirty ornament . . . and Tracey and Angel deciding to crash said house party.

2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_7.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Eve_8.jpg

It ended with Angel having to drag me out of the party (it is apparently bad form to refuse to leave if you were never invited to begin with) and me being angry because (1) Did I mention they had a buffet? and (2) I was right in the middle of a conversation with the deputy at the jail about that giant pig who died at the petting zoo there. Yes, a petting zoo. At the jail. Where else would you expect kids in Key West to have their field trips?

It really didn't feel like Christmas when we woke up the next morning: The sky was bright blue, the sun was hot, and nobody had spent the night on a guest futon covered in cat hair. And somehow we'd managed to rent the only house in Key West without a single Champagne glass, so our traditional Christmas morning mimosas were sipped from mismatched martini glasses.

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_01.jpg

Nor was there a towering Christmas tree surrounded by presents, but both Frances and Angel came through nonetheless, the former getting me a flip-flop bottle opener and matching coasters and wrapping it all up in the world's cutest gift bag, and the latter finally admitting that he married a 13-year-old boy and getting me a "best of" DVD of Beavis & Butthead.

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_02.jpg

Even Ellen, who arrived later that day, brought me a fabulous gift: A huge, round, hot-tub-sized raft that looks like a lime and that I cannot wait to hog the whole pool in the Hamptons with. That I repay all of these people by picking off their plates at dinner just goes to show you what good friends they really are.

On top of all that, Frances and Todd had breakfast at their usual spot, Pepe's, and kindly brought me back a to-go order of their fantastic grilled mashed potatoes.

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_14.jpg

I turned my back on those potatoes for one second to grab a fork, only to see this when I returned:

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_13.jpg

Like he ever had a chance.

Later that morning we biked over to the elegant Casa Marina for their Christmas Day brunch buffet.

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_03.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_04.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_06.jpg

Tapeworms and buffets go together like Frances and raunchy ornaments, so I was obviously in my milieu, and I didn't waste any time. After an eggnog shooter and my second mimosa of the day, it was time to dig in.

That is au gratin potatoes, rice pilaf, a block of chestnut stuffing with cream sauce (why hasn't anyone thought of that sooner?), and, off to the left there, a mound of pepperoni and hard salami. The Caesar salad is there in order to create a well-balanced meal with vegetables.

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_07.jpg

Next up, more potatoes, more stuffing, and some pizza. You've heard of the Atkins diet? I'm on the Fatkins.

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_08.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Casa_12.jpg

Ellen and Brian arrived that afternoon, and we'd chosen A&B Lobster House as the perfect spot for a celebratory Christmas dinner.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_ABgroup_1.jpg

From the outstanding lobster bisque to the moist, meaty crab cake, to the sweet-and-tart Tropical Martini, everything I tasted was delicious . . . and my own meal wasn't bad either. And because it was Christmas, I only got stabbed in the hand with a fork once.

2012_Xmas_KW_A_B_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_A_B_3.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_A_B_5.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_A_B_6.jpg

The next day, Frances and Todd went on a fishing charter, leaving me, Angel, Ellen, and Brian to fend for ourselves for lunch. We decided to try Caroline's Cafe since none of us had ever been there.

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_01.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_02.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Carogroup_1.jpg

There, we started with an assortment of rum drinks and the kind of salads that allow you to tell people you had a salad for lunch, when in fact you had a plate of fried chicken garnished with some lettuce.

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_03.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_10.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_09.jpg

And oh, what fantastic fried chicken it was. They really ought to sell these tasty little nuggets in go-bags so you can walk around and snack on them without getting the insides of your pockets all greasy.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_08.jpg

As we were finishing lunch, I noticed a small white chicken under our table, so naturally I wanted a picture of it.

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_11.jpg

Our waitress then helpfully informed us that there was a much larger, friendlier rooster around named Abby . . . and that we could pick him up. Never being ones to turn down a dare, Ellen and I immediately shot out of our seats and began searching the restaurant for Abby. Finally, another waitress tipped us off to his location: They'd chased him out back because the health inspector had shown up. (Note to potential restaurateurs: Numerous small chickens on the premises are acceptable, but one large rooster is a no-go.) Round the back we went, where we were greeted by a small turtle named Shelby, a Yoda-topped Christmas tree, and a little Asian man who realized he'd hit the photography jackpot when Ellen burst onto the scene chasing a giant rooster. Weird, it was.

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_12.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_13.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_24.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_15.jpg

We had to approach Abby carefully, of course, since everyone knows what happens when a chicken in this neighborhood gets angry.

Plus, there's always the danger that if you can't fool the chicken, it will gleefully peck your eyes out at the first opportunity. Luckily Ellen was more than up to the task.

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_16.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_23.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_18.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_21.jpg

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_19.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_20.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_17.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Caros_22.jpg

Finally: success! Ellen grabbed hold of Abby, hoisted him up light as a feather, and even gave him a peck on the head for good measure. All puns intended, of course.

2012_Xmas_KW_Carockn_1.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Carockn_2.jpg

That evening the six of us headed over to Rooftop Cafe to celebrate Todd's birthday (and Ellen's brave handling of Abby).

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_04.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_14.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_10.jpg

Several of us were excited to try Rooftop's version of one of my favorite frozen concoctions, the key lime pina colada, but the frozen drink machine was down . . . which is the Key West equivalent of McDonald's running out of buns. No matter. Brian went with the second runner-up, the key lime pie martini, while Angel, Todd, and I used a few of those ubiquitous "free glass of wine" coupons to score some free hooch. There was also a pineapple-y rum punch for Ellen, and a ginger-pear martini for Frances that can best be described as having your mouth washed out with soap. (We know this because the first thing one says after tasting something awful is, "Ewww, gross. You have to try this!").

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_03.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_01.jpg

An assortment of crab cakes, fish, pasta, and risotto later . . .

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_06.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_08.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_09.jpg

And it was time for dessert, delivered by the mischievous Christopher, whose hilarious sendup of Frances politely ordering a cup of coffee sent booze flying out of noses all around the table. Only in Key West does use of the word "Sir" sound so formal that you might as well take up residence at Downton Abbey.

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_11.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_12.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Rooftop_13.jpg

The next morning Frances and Todd had another fishing trip scheduled, so Angel and I took advantage of having the house to ourselves and ordered lunch in. I'd heard good things about a new sandwich shop, Paseo, and the crowds gathered outside every time we rode by seemed to confirm the good reviews, so Paseo it was. In particular, I'd heard about their fantastic grilled corn on the cob, and today was the perfect day to order it, since, like Oreos, corn on the cob is one of those things best eaten at home with your toothbrush at the ready.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_02.jpg

The food from Paseo -- the Caribbean roast pork sandwich for Angel, and the marinated pork loin for me -- was delicious, even though that pork loin did look suspiciously like the cube steaks my mom used to beat into chewy submission when I was growing up.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_04.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_03.jpg

But the grilled corn on the cob? Let's just say that while I generally don't make a habit of licking aluminum foil, sometimes exceptions must be made.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_01.jpg

Half an hour after demolishing a pork loin, a plate full of rice and beans, and the best grilled corn this side of Mexico, it was time for a little palate cleanser. So off we went to our appointment at Lush bar for a wine and chocolate tasting.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_06.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_07.jpg

When he isn't busy dreaming up new ways to give folks the gout, our friend Mark, the cirrhosis-courting mastermind behind the Key West Food & Wine Festival, also runs the adorable Lush bar inside the Green Pineapple store on Duval Street.

Yes, those dimples are real, and, no, you can't stick your fingers in them. That's my domain.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_26.jpg

After I took this photo, I teased Mark about being just like Angel, whose random limbs are always showing up in my photos.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_20.jpg.

"Can't you get your damn elbow out of my picture?" I asked. Sure, he responded.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_21.jpg

No wonder those two get along.

At Lush, Mark specializes in wine pairings with chocolate, honey, and, if you tell him ahead of time that you don't much care for chocolate, generous cheese plates with this cool goat cheese/brain.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_10.jpg

The pairing began with some historical background on chocolate, which is made from the fermented, roasted, and ground beans of the cocoa tree. The raw beans are crunchy and somewhat bitter, and therefore more to my liking than actual chocolate.

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_12.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_14.jpg

And what better place to store them than in a redneck wine glass? I bet Donna has a whole cabinet full of these over at the Ranch.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_13.jpg

Each of the subsequent pairings was designed to match the wine to the chocolate both in terms of geographic origin and flavor notes -- in other words, if it grows together, it goes together. Our first pairing was a glass of sparkling wine from Washington's Willamette Valley, which was paired with a dark salted-almond chocolate from Seattle.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_08.jpg

A succession of red wines followed: An Argentinian Malbec paired with an Ecuadorean chocolate; a French blend paired with a Trinitario chocolate, which is one of only three types of cacao trees in the world; a South African Cabernet paired with a spicy cinnamon-and-Sakay- pepper chocolate from Madagascar that almost melted my face off (in a good way); and a Portuguese porto with an Askinosie "El Rustico," which was my favorite of the chocolates I tried because it was laced with vanilla bean and had an appealingly gritty texture.

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_15.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_16.jpg

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_17.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_18.jpg

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_19.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_22.jpg

For each pairing, the idea was to sip the wine, taste the chocolate, and then sip the wine again to note the differences between the first sip and the second. For me, however, it went something like, sip the wine, take another sip, harass Mark a little bit, eat a hunk of cheese, take another sip of wine, nibble on the chocolate, take another sip of wine, harass Mark some more, and then eat another hunk of cheese.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_25.jpg

We were joined during our tasting by this woman, Megan, who left her kid back at the hotel with her husband so she could hang out and drink wine and eat chocolate undisturbed . . . and who should never, ever get divorced.

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_23.jpg

Also during our tasting, we were approached by a lovely woman named Donna from West Palm Beach, who recognized me from this blog. I am always amazed when people recognize me, but I guess I shouldn't be. A few weeks ago I walked into the H20+ store on Madison & 53rd, a shop I usually visit every six weeks or so but hadn't been to in a while, as they'd been closed for several months due to a fire. As soon as I walked in, the saleswoman greeted me in very heavy Russian accent, "Oh, you are back! I remember you. Your face, it is not so popular." Indeed.

Our tasting wrapped up with a glass of Mt. Difficulty's "Roaring Meg" riesling, served with milk chocolate drizzled with honey and dusted with sea salt. Which I'd think is what heaven tastes like . . . if I didn't already know that it tastes like bacon double cheeseburgers.

Also, did you notice how Mark ended the tasting with a wine from Mt. Difficulty? Obviously it would be paranoia to take that as some kind of hint. Right? Right?

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_24.jpg

Afterwards I decided to do a little shopping at the Green Pineapple, which sells everything from jewelry to tunics to chocolates to stemware.

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_33.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_35.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_27.jpg2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_28.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_29.jpg2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_30.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_31.jpg2012_Xmas_KW_Lush_34.jpg

That night Mark was stuck with me again, as was his partner Steven, plus Donna and Greg and two friends from Key Largo, Claudia and Alden.

2012_Xmas_KW_Santi_1.jpg

I'd reserved a table for 8 at Santiago's Bodega and made sure to let them know ahead of time that we expected flaming cheese, and lots of it, and they'd better not run out. That's because Donna, Claudia, and I might flame you on our blogs if the food isn't good . . . and at least one of us might have a meltdown if there isn't enough of it. (As it was, there was so much flaming cheese that we set off the smoke alarms.) Luckily the army of servers assigned to our table, including this cutie named Ivan (who is, by coincidence, our Key West tenant), came through with nary a singed eyebrow.

2012_Xmas_KW_Santi_4.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Santi_3.jpg

Before the saganaki, however, our evening started with a gratis pitcher of sangria (thanks, Ivan!), a bottle of white wine (thanks, Alden!), a bottle of red wine (thanks, Mark!), then devolved into a melee of saganaki and meatballs and more sangria, and ended, finally, with Steven and I mock-heckling a lounge singer at La Te Da while plotting to pick up frat boys together at Irish Kevin's and, once again, Angel dragging me away before things could get interesting.

2012_Xmas_KW_Santi_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Santi_6.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Santi_7.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Santi_5.jpg

The next day we met up with Ellen and Brian for lunch at Southernmost Beach Cafe.

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_01.jpg

I decided to eat light in preparation for the pizza party we planned for that night, which was our last night in the house, and for which Angel and I had whipped up the aforementioned batch of rum punch. So I had a turkey burger, some pasta salad, and one of my beloved key lime pina coladas, which is like a boozy Shamrock Shake with a better straw.

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_02.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_03.jpg

Our go-to rum punch recipe calls for orange juice, pineapple juice, guava nectar, grenadine, amaretto, nutmeg, a whopping 64 ounces of rum, and Angostura bitters, this last of which actually took some effort to find. The kids these days must be huffing them, seeing as how they are stashed away behind the counter like they're the good Sudafed.

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_13.jpg

Little did we know that by the end of the night, we'd be wishing we'd kept that rum punch hidden away, too.

----------------------------------------------------------------

CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Key West: Walking in a Wiener Wonderland, Part 2

That evening, while I made the final preparations for the pizza party, Angel went to the turtle races with the rest of the gang to try to redeem us after that time I was thisclose to winning the entire jackpot, but got distracted by what was behind door #3 (a bottle of Heinz ketchup) and blew my chance.

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_turtlredo_1.jpg

As Angel well knows, you can take the girl out of Pittsburgh, but you can never destroy her abiding love for ketchup. So if we were ever going to win some Turtle Bucks, it was all on him. Luckily he's pretty good under pressure.

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_08.jpg

Back at the house, we killed the rum punch, made a sizable dent in the vodka that we'd goaded Todd into buying on Raunchy Ornament Night, devoured three large pizzas, and participated in a rousing game of "Guess The Definition" of a number of unmentionable slang terms on Urban Dictionary, which is how people used to entertain themselves in the olden days before TV.

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_10.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_12.jpg

Ellen had been plotting for months to bring one of those "Adults Only" cakes from Croissants de France to the party for dessert, but as soon as arguments broke out as to how each of us would be depicted, anatomically speaking, she went with the world's prettiest edible Yule log instead.

2012_Xmas_KW_turtles_11.jpg

After all this, there was only one place left to go: The Green Parrot.

2012_Xmas_KW_gpsanta_1.jpg

Now, sometimes I'm in the mood for a nice glass of Cabernet and quiet conversation. Sometimes I'd like a frosty pina colada and a water view. And sometimes, I can even be dragged out to Sloppy Ho's or one of the other bars on lower Duval for free music and cheap beer. But when I'm in the mood to act like a dancin' fool, only one place will do: The Green Parrot. That night the band was bringing Friends, Funk & Fortitude from New Orleans, and we were more than ready to laissez les bons temps rouler. And unlike most nights when I just stumble on in to the Parrot, this time I was prepared. See, back in early December, Angel, Brian, and I had celebrated Ellen's birthday at NYC's Hurricane Club, a so-tacky-it's-chic tiki spot that specializes in group drinks that are consumed with absurdly long red straws.

2012_Xmas_KW_Tiki_2.jpg

Those straws allow you to suck up much more than you normally might drink in one sitting, which prompted Ellen to remark to me, in complete and utter seriousness, "Your eyes look beautiful in those glasses." Yes. Like space crystals.

2012_Xmas_KW_Tiki_1.jpg

Sensing an opportunity, I gathered up as many of those straws as I could that night, smuggled them home, cleaned them up, and promptly stowed them away in my luggage for this trip. (I can't remember to pack things like toothpaste, but I can remember to pack a slew of two-foot-long straws.)

Thus armed with my super-straws, it was time to head over to the Green Parrot. Fragile Frances had been felled by a bad case of too much rum punch (or, more likely, the volcano-sized pile of nachos she'd inhaled at the turtle races), so only six of us made the pilgrimage. While the guys staked out a good spot near the popcorn machine, kept an eye on our purses, and wisely kept the cameras hidden away, I busted out my mega-straw and began to make my rounds of likely marks. "Helllllloooooooooo!!!" I trilled in my best Mrs. Doubtfire voice, aiming my straw at whatever libation my next victim happened to be holding. "And what have we heeeere???" I am happy to report that my super-straw and I sampled everything from Jack & Gingers (eh) to a few warm Coronas (ick) to a diet Coke (quel disappointment!), all without a single refusal or communicable disease (so far). The night ended with Donna getting down like one of the Solid Gold Dancers up on stage with the band; me twirling a stranger's handlebar mustache (with permission) the wrong way (by mistake); Ellen slipping on the stairs and landing on said stranger; and Angel once again dragging me away just when things were getting good. And I know exactly what you're thinking: What a shame that Frances couldn't be there, what with us behaving like the cast from her beloved stomping grounds, Jersey Shore.

The next day we dropped off the keys to the house and checked in at the Chelsea House, an historic inn where we would spend our last three nights.

0A6840002219AC6817D42CCF871BE20E.jpg

0A654AB62219AC68174F857C39FE8969.jpg

0A609EE02219AC68178141ECC6857C7C.jpg

0A640F072219AC68175C66A46561ABD7.jpg

Although the Chelsea House and its sister properties, including the adorable Key Lime Inn cottages, are all perfectly nice (and the staff extremely accommodating), poor Chelsea House, having followed seven days at the most private house we've ever rented, suffered the same fate as whatever you happen to order after the free bacon at 2 Cents: It's nice, but it just can't compare.

thumb_0A68F0F12219AC6817704D5FFA291B0D.jpg

0A6B9F7F2219AC681763AF16EE371CCE.jpg

Which is not to say that it was boring, by any stretch.

0A6F965B2219AC68170BD5751097C7D7.jpg

0A64B0772219AC68174B0F3581D04774.jpg

After dropping off our bags, we made like a couple of sailors on payday and headed down to the Bight to spend Angel's hard-won Turtle Bucks.

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_02.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_03.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_FlagRedo_1.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_04.jpg

One of the newest and most beautiful sailboats at the Bight is the Hindu, which was built in 1925 in Maine and has been lovingly restored by the Rowan family.

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_06.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_05.jpg

Me, I'd be happy with this little boat, so long as the puppy came with it.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_DogBoat_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_11.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_10.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_12.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_harbor_13.jpg

By the time we reached Turtle Kraals, it was 11:45, and therefore almost noon, and therefore time for cocktails.

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_limezest_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_02.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Funontop_1.jpg

Then it was on to the crab and spinach dip with Townhouse crackers, followed by the shrimp Po Boy for Angel and the fried shrimp and a pathetic, naked, boiled corn cob for me . That cheesy grilled corn at Paseo has ruined me, I tell you.

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_06.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_08.jpg

Frances and Todd showed up just as we were digging in, ostensibly so they could eat lunch, but really so Frances could force me to look at her new Velcro sandals. Yes, Velcro. You know how people always say they'd rather be comfortable than fashionable? God help her, but Frances actually means it.

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_10.jpg

If you don't have anything nice to say . . . turn your head and try not to laugh.

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_11.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_14.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_TKLunch_13.jpg

That evening Ellen and Brian treated us to the Commotion on the Ocean sunset cruise on the Fury boat.

2012_Xmas_KW_Fury_3.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Fury_2.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Fury_5.jpg

As if that wasn't nice enough, Ellen picked this cruise specifically because they serve meatballs at the small buffet and unlimited margaritas during the cruise, and that is why we are convinced that she and I would clean up at that Friday afternoon Newlywed Game at Southernmost on the Beach.

2012_Xmas_KW_Fury_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Fury_6.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Fury_7.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Fury_8.jpg

The next day we met up with Ellen and Brian at Le Bistro, since Brian wanted a crepe. (Frances and Todd ended up back at their usual spot, Pepe's, due to her powerful addiction to their strawberry eggnog.)

2012_Xmas_KW_LeBistro_2.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_LeBistro_3.jpg

The food was great: A turkey croissant for Ellen, a chicken pesto panini and some spicy gazpacho for me, and the lobster-and-chorizo Benedict for Angel.

2012_Xmas_KW_LeBistro_5.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_LeBistro_4.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_LeBistro_6.jpg

Oh, and Brian had the scrambled eggs. I guess he pulled a crepe-and-switch.

2012_Xmas_KW_LeBistro_7.jpg

Later that evening we decided to revisit some of the inns and houses we'd seen on earlier bike rides to get some photos of their Christmas lights.

2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_08.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_07.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_06.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_01.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_02.jpg

We also came upon the horror of this terrible massacre. God only knows what kind of animal would slaughter Santa, and Tigger, too.

2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_09.jpg

After spying one particularly decked-out house, we pulled our bikes over and I walked across the street to get my shot. Or, rather, I walked across the street and, distracted by all the sparkly tinsel, didn't notice that big ditch in the street and promptly fell headfirst into it. As I lay on the ground wondering what the hell had just happened, my first thoughts were, in this order: (1) Thank god this fall didn't chip my pedicure; (2) Thank god this fall didn't rip my favorite jeans; (3) Thank god I brought my cute ambulance band-aids; and (4) Did I just break my kneecap . . . AGAIN? Priorities, people.

2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_03.jpg

The fall left part of my big toe a bloody mess with a sizable flap of skin hanging off of it, and my knee looking like a grapefruit covered in angry red brush burns. (I blew out my flip-flop, too, and I wasn't even wasted away again.) I patched my toe up with a band-aid -- being distracted by sparkly stuff is reason #1 why I carry band-aids on my person at all times -- and tried to get back to taking photos, but soon I could feel my knee stiffening up and, worried that pedaling my bike might soon become impossible, we headed back to the suite to clean my wounds and ice my knee.

2012_Xmas_KW_bestlites_05.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Xmasfence_1.jpg

As Angel set me up with a chair to elevate my leg and fashioned an ice pack out of some ice cubes and a washcloth and forced me into a series of excruciating knee stretches every ten minutes, I realized that we were probably going to have to order in for dinner, because both walking and pedaling seemed out of the question.

2012_Xmas_KW_injury_2.jpg2012_Xmas_KW_injury_4.jpg2012_Xmas_KW_injury_3.jpg2012_Xmas_KW_injury_8.jpg

But tonight we had plans. Big plans. Plans that were so important that I somehow managed to pedal my bike with one leg and brake Fred Flintstone-style in order to get there.

2012_Xmas_KW_injury_1.jpg

One gigantic veal parm, a glass of Pinot Noir, two meatballs, and a handful of Advil later, all was right with the world.

On New Year's Eve we decided to check out the Key West Dachshund Walk, otherwise known as the Wiener Dog Parade.

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_04.jpg

I'd been expecting maybe a dozen or so weenies and their owners and a smattering of gawkers, so I was completely unprepared for the throngs that greeted us (along with a blaring loudspeaker playing "Who Let the Dogs Out?").

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_01.jpg

I immediately realized that, like a politician with a camera phone, if I wanted to get some good wiener shots, I was going to have to get closer to the action. Still pretty banged up from my unfortunate meeting with that roadside ditch, I limped my way through the crowd, carefully sidestepping holes and uneven pavement and, you know, air, until I found a small opening in the crowd and weasled my way in. At first I tried shooting the weenies from on high because squatting was difficult with my knee, but I soon realized that if you really want to capture the beauty of a wiener, you've got to get up close and personal with it.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_weenieredo_1.jpg

So I sat down on the pavement, with my good leg tucked under me and the bad one sticking out since it wasn't willing to bend. Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that I was wearing a dress. Once you've flashed your undies to the spectators at a wiener dog parade, you know you're close to hitting rock bottom.

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_02.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_03.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_spotted_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_13.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_31.jpg

Of course, the parade mostly featured wiener dogs, though I did spot a few impostors.

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_11.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_18.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_23.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_17.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_chihua_1.jpg

See that lady in the red shirt?

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_14.jpg

That wiener-dog-hog brought a container full of bacon in order to lure the dogs over to her side of the street, so that folks on my side couldn't get any pictures. Why didn't I do the same, you ask? Because no matter how badly I want to get the perfect shot, no way am I wasting good bacon on a wiener dog. I mean, I might let him sniff it, but I'm the one who does the eating around here.

2012_Xmas_KW_Tunie_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_28.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_30.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_12.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_32.jpg

Thankfully, the guy next to me was a talented Weenie Whisperer, enabling me to get some decent shots as well as keep those pesky zombies at bay.

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_26.jpg

Obviously this dog can't tell us how he feels about that Hawaiian shirt, but that look, and his extended middle paw, really say it all.

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Hawaiian_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_21.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_19.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_22.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_10.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Wieners_08.jpg

After the parade it was time for some lunch. With no set plans, I suddenly remembered that the Westin's Bistro 245 serves its own version of that fabulous blackened grouper sandwich on griddled luau bread that we first discovered in Delray Beach and most recently devoured on Lido Key. We arrived and were greeted by this:

2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_02.jpg

That marvelous feat of engineering is a Disney cruise ship, which presumably holds something on the order of 45,000 children. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I would rather spend eternity tied to a stake while the devil gleefully dangles pizzas and cheeseburgers just out of my reach than spend 10 minutes on that ship. Though the all-meals-included thing is appealing.

2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_01.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_03.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_05.jpg

Just looking it started giving us the shakes, so we immediately ordered some drinks (a lemon-lime daiquiri for me; Planter's punch for Angel), followed by the gazpacho, which came topped with crispy toast and tangy cream cheese.

2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_07.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_08.jpg

Although the blackened grouper was tempting, I decided to go with the salad with feta, hearts of palm, pine nuts, and red and yellow tomatoes.

2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Bistro245_10.jpg

The afternoon was a flurry of activity -- a quick stop at Kermit's for some key lime cookies; a little pool time; and happy hour with Ellen at Southernmost Beach Cafe, where we enjoyed yet another round of key lime pina coladas -- and soon it was time for New Year's Eve to begin in earnest. We'd originally planned to have dinner at Latitudes at Sunset Key, and called in early October to make sure we'd be among the lucky few to get a reservation. Despite my repeated calls, however, Attitudes at Suckit Key refused to confirm our reservation until the day before New Year's Eve, since they'd been waiting to see if any of their owners or guests wanted our table instead. We turned them down, of course (Donna had already pulled some strings and landed us the best seats in the house over at Hot Tin Roof), making sure to let them know that we'd have been a party of five plus one tapeworm, which was clearly their loss.

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_01.jpg

Over at the lovely Hot Tin Roof, we started with some mango martinis, then moved on to a luxurious four-course dinner that included oysters with caviar, foie gras, crab cakes, lobster, and filet mignon.

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_02.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_03.jpg2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_04.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_06.jpg

Adjacent to Hot Tin Roof, Sunset Pier was trying out a new countdown-to-midnight "drop" this year, a lime wedge in a margarita glass.

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_07.jpg

And although Donna and Greg planned to be home by midnight for their puppies (who are frightened by the fireworks) and Angel, Ellen, Brian, and I planned to spend midnight watching the pirate wench drop at Schooner Wharf Bar, Hot Tin Roof had other plans: We hadn't even had dessert yet when the countdown to midnight began. "You're gonna watch our lime wedge, dammit, even if we have to hold your cheesecake hostage to make it happen!"

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_09.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_08.jpg

thumb_2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_11.jpgthumb_2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_10.jpg

But considering that the food was fantastic, and the generous manager gave us a locals' discount on the bill and bought our first round of drinks, we really had no cause for complaint. Plus, we'd spent the evening with great friends, and there was a burlesque show, and I think I might have even seen some boobs, and isn't that what New Year's Eve is really all about?

large_2012_Xmas_KW_NYEgroup_1.jpg

After saying our thanks and good-byes to Donna and Greg, and with the crowds thinning out, we figured it was safe to brave Duval Street on our walk home.

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_13.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_25.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_15.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_14.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_20.jpg

We even stopped at Angel's beloved Willie T's for our first drinks of the New Year.

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_17.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_18.jpg

Finally, we stopped at Bourbon Street to see the aftermath of Sushi's midnight shoe drop.

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_19.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_21.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_22.jpg

Was it the most debauched New Year's Eve on record? No, but when you have to check out of your hotel by 11:00am on New Year's Day and your friends are scheduled for an early morning jet-ski tour, it's probably best not to wake up with your pants on backwards . . . or missing altogether.

2012_Xmas_KW_NYE_23.jpg

As is always the case, our last day on the island was a beauty: Vibrant blue skies, plentiful sunshine, just a whisper of a breeze, and my knee had returned to close to its normal size.

2012_Xmas_KW_bikeknee_1.jpg

With Ellen and Brian on their jet-skis and Donna and Greg busy back at the Ranch, Angel and I decided to enjoy a leisurely lunch on the water and then spend the day at the pool at our condo soaking up some final rays of sunshine. We made a beeline for Louie's, where we luxuriated in the hot sun and sipped our fruity cocktails and had an excellent burger topped with melty Provolone and roasted tomato chutney.

2012_Xmas_KW_Louiecondo_6.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Louiecondo_7.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_tayhat_1.jpg

large_2012_Xmas_KW_Louiecondo_9.jpg

Over at the condo, we spent three blissful hours lounging, reading, swimming, and asking ourselves for the hundredth time why we don't just move here already.

2012_Xmas_KW_Louiecondo_1.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Louiecondo_3.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Louiecondo_5.jpg

2012_Xmas_KW_Louiecondo_4.jpg

Sure, it sounds like a great idea, but we'd better stay put for now.

2012_Xmas_KW_LastPhoto_1.jpg

I hear that too many key lime pina coladas can kill yer brane cellz.

--------------------------------------------------

Up next, more liver damage at the 2013 Key West Food & Wine Festival, a Cheesesteak Throwdown in Philly, and a boating trip around the Abacos. Did I mention that we're operating the boat ourselves? Subscribe here and you'll be the first to know how many docks we end up having to rebuild.

Posted by TraceyG 06:24 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys louie's_backyard hot_tin_roof turtle_kraals green_parrot chelsea_house Comments (2)

A Blaze of Glory in the Hudson Valley

What's not to love about fall? Autumn is the season of crisp apples and warm cider; of roasted chestnuts and glowing jack o'lanterns; of the incomparable smells of evening hayrides and fallen leaves.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_15.jpg

2012_Hudso..l_yellow2_1.jpg

And so, when I came across an article in Food & Wine magazine announcing that a number New York City's best chefs had decamped to Hudson, New York, a quaint little town 2.5 hours north of Manhattan, I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend: Taking in the fall foliage, picking apples and pumpkins, and eating everything these chefs could, er, dish out.

large_2012_Hudso..ke_Water2_1.jpg

large_2012_Hudso..VertPath2_1.jpg

The Hudson River runs more or less north to south down the eastern edge of New York state, beginning at the confluence of Indian Pass Brook and Calamity Brook (yee-haw!) and flowing south to New York City, where it serves the vital function of protecting separating New York from New Jersey. The Hudson River Valley, nestled between the Catskills and the Berkshires, is renowned for its rolling hills, breathtaking vistas, and grand riverfront estates built by early industrialists like the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.

large_2012_Hudson_hills_1.jpg

Our first stop on the drive up to Hudson was in Hyde Park, home to the famed Culinary Institute of America. Getting into one of the restaurants at the CIA is only somewhat easier than getting into the building at that other CIA, in that they required my birth certificate, first pet's name, and a promise written in blood that I would dress appropriately, all before I was instructed to turn over my credit card, which was then charged ahead of time just in case I didn't show up. Like I would ever skip a meal.

Of the CIA's four restaurants, we chose American Bounty for its dedication to traditional American ingredients. Well, that and I saw Minnesota wild rice soup on the menu.

2012_Hudson_CIA_01.jpg

Years ago the federal judge I was interning for in Manhattan brought me along to a circuit sitting in St. Paul, MN. I couldn't tell you what the cases were about, or where we stayed, or whether the temperature ever got above freezing . . . but I can tell you anything you care to know about the pride of Minnesota, wild rice soup.

2012_Hudson_CIA_03.jpg

The recipe for wild rice soup is deceptively simple: Start with diced onions sauteed in butter and flour, then add cooked wild rice, carrots, almonds, ham, and chicken stock.

Oh, and as much heavy cream as you can fit into the pot without overflowing it.

large_2012_Hudson_CIA_04.jpg

Although ham (or sometimes chicken) is the traditional protein in wild rice soup, American Bounty did that one better by using bacon instead. You know how bacon is always upstaging all the other meats.

Angel went with the mussels in a creamy coconut-curry broth, which was so good that I slurped up the leftovers with a spoon. You can dress me up, but you can't take me out.

2012_Hudson_CIA_05.jpg

All of the food is prepared by CIA students, who spend 3 weeks in the kitchen and 3 weeks in the front-of-house right before graduation. But if any of these students had Senioritis, you'd never know it: This was high-end gourmet cuisine that left us wishing these kids would hurry up and open their own restaurants already. Preferably in our neighborhood.

2012_Hudson_CIA_15.jpg

2012_Hudson_CIA_02.jpg

2012_Hudson_CIA_13.jpg

2012_Hudson_CIA_14.jpg

In an odd turn of events, Angel ordered one of my go-to dishes, short ribs braised in red wine sauce. I'd just had short ribs the previous Saturday, though, so I decided to go with the seared scallops with peas, artichokes, mushrooms, and baby arugula in a citrus vinaigrette instead.

2012_Hudson_CIA_07.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_CIA_06.jpg

I'm so glad Angel ordered those short ribs, because they turned out to be not only the best thing we ate during our lunch (which is saying a lot when there's wild rice soup to be had), but they were also better than the version I'd had at the trendy downtown restaurant the week before.

2012_Hudson_CIA_16.jpg

We'd originally planned to have dessert at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe at the CIA, but it happened to be graduation day (which occurs every 3 weeks), so the halls were crowded with graduates and their families. The line at the bakery was out the door as a result, so we stayed put at American Bounty, where we had the passionfruit, raspberry, and coconut sorbets in an almond-brittle basket.

2012_Hudson_CIA_08.jpg

2012_Hudson_CIA_10.jpg

I love a dessert where I can eat the bowl when I'm done, instead of just licking it.

large_2012_Hudso..ake_berry_1.jpg

It had rained most of the way up to Hyde Park, and the rain hadn't let up by the time we finished lunch, so I snapped a few quick photos, then cleaned out the campus bookstore of all its CIA gear and admired the world's fanciest student dining hall.

2012_Hudson_CIA_17.jpg

2012_Hudson_CIA_19.jpg

2012_Hudson_CIA_18.jpg

2012_Hudson_CIA_20.jpg

Back on the road, we soon found ourselves in downtown Hudson, whose main drag, Warren Street, is lined with home design stores, antique shops, restaurants, and still more home design stores. If we ever manage to own more than 650 square feet of real estate in this lifetime, I'll know just where to go for my decorating needs.

2012_Hudson_Town_14.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_17.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_18.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_19.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_01.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_05.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_20.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_Town_21.jpg

We decided to stay at the Country Squire Bed and Breakfast, which was built in 1900 as a rectory and later served as a convent for the sisters of nearby St. Mary's Academy. Despite the risk that the spirits of these prior residents might not appreciate a heathen like me bedding down under their roof, the Country Squire sold me with a line from their web site, which stated that the inn was designed to "eliminate the clutter and visual excessiveness expected of museum-like Victorian interiors." In other words, we might have ghosts, but we most definitely do not have doilies . . . and the latter is way scarier.

2012_Hudson_SquireSpire_1.jpg

2012_Hudson_Squire_5.jpg

2012_Hudson_Squire_8.jpg

In addition, nearly all of the original detail that had been removed from the home over the years had been stored away in the basement, including the doors, woodwork, moldings, and leaded glass panels, allowing the current innkeeper to restore the house, piece-by-piece, to its original tchotchke-free grandeur.

2012_Hudson_Squire_4.jpg

2012_Hudson_Squire_7.jpg

2012_Hudson_Squire_3.jpg

Our room was done up in black and white toile and featured this fantastic cowhide rug, which had no business being anywhere near a toile pattern, yet still somehow worked. And that is why we should leave the interior design to fabulous gay men people with taste.

2012_Hudson_Squire_2.jpg

2012_Hudson_Squire_1.jpg

Eventually the weather cleared up and we had a couple of hours to kill before dinner, so we decided to walk over to Warren Street to do some exploring, which is code for "Angel needs a beer." American Glory BBQ looked like just the place to find a seasonal brew on tap, so we settled in at the bar.

2012_Hudson_Swoon_02.jpg

Tempting as it was, we decided to pass on the pickle-flavored tequila. I suspect that ironically, the only people who might appreciate this aren't supposed to drink for nine months.

2012_Hudson_Swoon_03.jpg

While I figured that a BBQ joint would have a decent beer selection, I did not expect that they'd have over a dozen autumn-inspired cocktails, too, including a S'mores martini, Pumpkin Pie martini, Spiced Cinnamon Cider, a Maple-tini, and a Candy Corn-tini. I decided on an off-the-menu special, the Angry Caramel Apple, which is carefully constructed by drizzling American Glory's homemade caramel sauce inside the glass, adding butterscotch schnapps, Angry Orchard hard cider, and apple vodka that's been steeped with that same house caramel sauce, then topping the whole thing with a generous dusting of cinnamon.

2012_Hudson_Swoon_04.jpg

Despite the name, however, the only thing angry about it was me . . . because something that good should be served in a much larger glass.

Later that evening, we walked the short distance over to Swoon Kitchenbar, a hip new Warren Street spot where the chef cooked in Newport, RI; the South of France; and Nantucket before setting up shop in Hudson. Poor guy's really been roughing it.

2012_Hudson_Swoon_05.jpg

2012_Hudson_Swoon_07.jpg

2012_Hudson_Swoon_06.jpg

The menu at Swoon changes daily, and they must have known I was coming, because not only was there bacon . . . there was house-made bacon. I went with the creamy leek tart with goat cheese and the aforementioned bacon, while Angel tried to compete with a fig & herb salad with pickled fennel, candied pecans, and the close runner-up for Best Food Ever, crispy speck.

2012_Hudson_Swoon_08.jpg

2012_Hudson_Swoon_09.jpg

I'd call it a draw.

Next up, Point Judith weakfish with new potatoes, green beans, and a balsamic glaze for Angel, and dayboat blackfish with spiced carrot puree, local chard, and citrus vinaigrette for me.

2012_Hudson_Swoon_10.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_Swoon_11.jpg

I'm picky about fish and don't often order it, but the blackfish, with its crackly skin and moist flesh, was terrific, and it allowed me to save some room for dessert: Crispy shoestring fries with spicy dijon aoili.

2012_Hudson_Swoon_12.jpg

The next day we decided to make the scenic drive over to Copake Lake to have lunch at Greens, the restaurant at the Copake Country Club.

2012_Hudson_Copake_02.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_CopakeDrive_1.jpg

Although a country club probably isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of great food, we chose Greens because their menu lists more than a dozen local farms where they source their ingredients, and why not? They're surrounded by 'em.

2012_Hudson_Copake_04.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_03.jpg

The country club sits on Copake Lake, which is surrounded by expensive weekend homes, each with its own small dock.

2012_Hudson_Copake_07.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_06.jpg

Inside, Greens restaurant is a model of good interior design: Evocative of a chic mountain lodge, the warms space is done up in crisp whites and luscious chocolate shades, with nary a stuffed jackalope or mounted deer head in sight.

2012_Hudson_Copake_09.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_11.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_12.jpg

The outside ain't bad, either.

2012_Hudson_Copake_08.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_19.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_22.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_20.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_18.jpg

The waitress told us they had cream of mushroom soup on special, which sounded perfect on a fall day, so Angel and I both ordered a bowl. When it came, however, the mushrooms seemed oddly chewy, so I decided to take a closer look.

2012_Hudson_Copake_13.jpg

2012_Hudson_CopakeSpoon_1.jpg

That is a mussel. Which sounds a little like mushroom, and looks somewhat like a mushroom, and can also kill you like a mushroom if you happen to be allergic. Thankfully neither of us is, but we quietly alerted the waitress to the mix-up to avoid marring Greens' stylish decor with an incident of anaphylactic shock.

Next up, we decided to share two entrees, the pesto pizza with shrimp and asiago, and the slow-braised pulled pork sandwich with Chef Glenn's homemade BBQ sauce.

2012_Hudson_Copake_15.jpg

2012_Hudson_Copake_17.jpg

The pizza was good, but that BBQ sauce was such a perfect combination of sticky, sweet, and heat that I am hereby appealing to Chef Glenn to start bottling it . . . and shipping it directly to my house.

large_2012_Hudso..akesammie_1.jpg

After lunch we made the short drive over to Taconic State Park in order to check out the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, a 15-mile-long walking and biking trail on an abandoned portion of the New York and Harlem Railroad. The railroad opened for business in 1832, making it one of the oldest railroads in the country. Or at least it was, until they paved over it.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_05.jpg

C5536CE12219AC6817F7C0F221678DF9.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_06.jpg

The section of the trail that we had access to was 8 miles roundtrip, so we decided to bike it rather than walk. Bash Bish Bikes is the only game in town, and they call the shots . . .

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_02.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_03.jpg

. . . which includes forcing all of their renters to wear helmets. Oh, how I hated that helmet. It squashed my ears. It was too tight under my chin. It looked ridiculous. And it was completely unnecessary.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_07.jpg2012_Hudson_RailTrail_08.jpg

You see, over the years, Angel and I have spent many a long weekend biking the crowded streets of Cape May. We have spent countless days biking the narrow streets of Key West. And not once have we ever worn helmets, or seen anyone who wasn't on training wheels wearing one.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_12.jpg

On the Rail Trail, however -- where cars are not permitted, and we saw maybe a dozen other people over the 8-mile stretch -- we had to wear helmets. The end result? My head was still intact, but my hair looked like a mushroom cloud. Mushroom.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_09.jpg

Just past the Depot Deli was the entrance to the trail.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_04.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_10.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_11.jpg

The deeper in we rode, the more postcard-y the scenery became.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_16.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_18.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_30.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_RailTrail_22.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_RailTrail_14.jpg

Every so often the trail opened up and was surrounded by local farmland. The farms were beautiful but miles from civilization, and all I could think was, Good thing they can grow their own food. Priorities!

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_20.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_21.jpg

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_32.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_RailTrail_31.jpg

large_2012_Hudso..mviewRedo_1.jpg

At the end of the trail we were high-fiving each other for successfully biking 4 miles without collapsing when we saw these people, who were following state route 22 . . . which is 340 miles long.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_33.jpg

Like I always say: Nobody likes a show-off.

2012_Hudson_RailTrail_35.jpg

2012_Hudson_pathkitch_1.jpg

C56840B92219AC68175A1C8BC4379760.jpg

2012_Hudson_pathkitch_2.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_RailTrail_28.jpg

On our way up to Hudson the previous day, we'd passed through the tiny town of Red Hook (population: 1,964), where we had dinner reservations at Mercato Osteria & Enoteca for the following evening. We drove through the town, such as it was, passing a dozen or so Colonial homes in various states of haunting/hoarding, before coming upon Mercato.

2012_Hudson_Mercato_01.jpg

"Whoa," said citified Tracey.

"Whoa," echoed urban Angel.

2012_Hudson_Mercato_02.jpg

And we might not have returned, except for the fact that the chef at Mercato is Francesco Buitoni, a seventh-generation member of the Buitoni pasta-making (and Perugina Chocolate) family. Francesco learned to cook from his grandmother in Italy, and was a sommelier for Mario Batali for a number of years, all of which means exactly one thing: I married the wrong guy.

2012_Hudson_pathkitch_3.jpg

2012_Hudson_Mercato_04.jpg

The best way to sum up the food at Mercato is with the exchange we had with the folks seated behind us. I'd spent a good part of our meal photographing the food, and in the small dining room that didn't go unnoticed. Finally, the woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked hopefully, "Are you taking photos so you can try and recreate the recipes?" As soon as I stopped laughing, I explained that I was actually taking the photos for a travel blog, at which point she leaned in and confided, "Well, we're from Manhattan, and I have to tell you: This is Manhattan-quality food!"

"Manhattan quality," agreed her city-slicker husband. "In this tiny little town!" he marveled.

But was this just a bunch of NYC food snobs amazed that someone outside of the city could actually cook, or was the food really that good? Judge for yourself. We had . . .

Coach Farm goat cheese gnudi with a vibrant green lacinata kale pesto . . .

large_2012_Hudson_Mercato_05.jpg

Crispy prosciutto-wrapped figs and arugula dressed with a five-year-old balsamic and topped with a fist-sized hunk of fresh mozzarella . . .

2012_Hudson_mozzie_1.jpg

2012_Hudson_Mercato_06.jpg

Homemade tagliatelle with authentic Bolognese sauce, meaning heavy on the veal, pork, and beef, and light on the tomatoes . . .

large_2012_Hudson_Mercato_09.jpg

And the homemake squid-ink pasta fra diavolo with fresh mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops.

2012_Hudson_Mercato_10.jpg

Oh, and the apple crisp made with local apples.

2012_Hudson_Mercato_11.jpg

And photos don't lie, particularly this one: That's the near-empty bowl my gnudi came in. Which I refused to give up until I got some bread to mop up that remaining blob of pesto.

thumb_2012_Hudson_Mercato_07.jpg

On our last morning we took one final walk over to Warren Street, where the gorgeous architecture and unique doors almost distracted me from my main goal: More food.

2012_Hudson_Town_32.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_31.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_33.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_29.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_Town_30.jpg

We decided on brunch at the Crimson Sparrow, where the chefs hail from New York's temple of molecular gastronomy, WD-50, which is known for such far-out menu items as deep-fried Hollandaise sauce, onion "soil," and bagel-flavored ice cream.

2012_Hudson_Crimson_01.jpg

2012_Hudson_Crimson_02.jpg

2012_Hudson_Crimson_03.jpg

At brunch, however, the only nod to the offbeat is the menu organization, which allows you to choose four small brunch components for a set price.

2012_Hudson_Crimson_11.jpg

2012_Hudson_Crimson_12.jpg

Cutting-edge or no, mimosas at brunch are mandatory.

2012_Hudson_Crimson_05.jpg

2012_Hudson_Crimson_06.jpg

Outside, Crimson Sparrow has a gorgeous garden. Unfortunately it was too chilly to sit outside on this morning, though unlimited mimosas might have helped with that.

2012_Hudson_Crimson_08.jpg

2012_Hudson_Crimson_04.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_Crimson_07.jpg

For my four brunch items, I settled on (creamy, just-loose-enough) scrambled eggs; (cheesy, just-thick-enough) polenta with oregano and asiago cheese; (adorable) mini-biscuits with (thick, rich, over-the-top delicious) sausage, sage, and pepper gravy; and the (tangy, thick) Greek yogurt with granola and fresh berries.

2012_Hudson_Crimson_09.jpg

Angel ordered much the same, swapping (crisp, salty) potatoes for polenta and French toast with a (foamy, tart) apple cider dipping sauce.

large_2012_Hudson_Crimson_10.jpg

Everything was delicious, but next time I'd just ask for 4 orders of those biscuits with the sausage gravy, and then I'd make Angel do the same, and then I'd eat all of mine . . . and half of his, too.

thumb_2012_Hudson_Crimson_13.jpg

After brunch, a little more exploring on Warren Street was in order to loosen up the ol' arteries.

2012_Hudson_Town_03.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_02.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_04.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_11.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_12.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_28.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_13.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_15.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_16.jpg

Next time, we'll work in visits to Hudson's taco trucks and pizza joints. I mean, we'll have to eat breakfast somewhere on the days we're not scarfing down biscuits and gravy.

2012_Hudson_PizzaTruck_1.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_10.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_06.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_Town_07.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_09.jpg

We'll also spend more time in Hudson's unique shops. I hear that they've got the goods.

2012_Hudson_Town_25.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_23.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_22.jpg

2012_Hudson_open2_1.jpg2012_Hudson_openclosed_2.jpg

2012_Hudson_Town_24.jpg

Later that afternoon we paid a visit to Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie, NY (population: 1,805), a short drive from Hudson.

2012_Hudson_Distill_06.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_05.jpg

I chose Golden Harvest because they make their own apple cider, fruit pies, cider donuts, and packaged goods such as honey and maple syrup.

2012_Hudson_Distill_02.jpg

2012_Hudso..spumpkins_1.jpg

2012_Hudso..spumpkins_2.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_04.jpg

And they have their own distillery. That's moonshine, y'all!

large_2012_Hudson_Distill_19.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_09.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_18.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_07.jpg

That Pillsbury Doughboy is there as a reminder of owner Derek Grout's former life as a designer, whose claim to fame was the viral Internet game in which poking the Doughboy's belly resulted not in his signature giggle . . . but in a fart. Hey, we can't all be Rhodes scholars.

Using fruit from the orchards that Derek's grandfather bought from a descendant of Martin Van Buren, Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery makes regular and black raspberry Core vodkas, along with several interesting brandies (Applejack, Peach, Rare Pear) and flavored grappa, all of which are available for tasting.

2012_Hudson_Distill_15.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_16.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_10.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_11.jpg

Derek experiments with all sorts of flavors and spirits, including apple bitters, green herbs, and fennel seed.

2012_Hudson_Distill_20.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_21.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_14.jpg

Oh, and eye of newt and wing of bat.

large_2012_Hudson_Distill_08.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_17.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_22.jpg

We happened to arrive right as the tasting-room crowd thinned out and Derek was working on his latest batch o' bootleg.

2012_Hudson_Distill_23.jpg

2012_Hudson_Distill_12.jpg

We got to talking, and Derek kindly offered us a taste of his latest concoction: Pear brandy mixed with a not-yet-on-the-market rosemary hooch, which resulted in a subtly fruity, herbaceous gin-like flavor.

2012_Hudson_Distill_25.jpg

After stocking up on Northern Spy and Honeycrisp apples, a few big carving pumpkins, and a box of pumpkin spice pancake mix, we headed back to Hudson and the punctuation-happy (p.m.) Wine Bar for a glass of wine and some snacks before heading back to the city.

2012_Hudson_pmwine_1.jpg

2012_Hudson_pmwine_2.jpg

It wasn't quite 5:00, but it was p.m., so we figured it was o.k.

2012_Hudson_pmwine_3.jpg

2012_Hudson_pmwine_4.jpg

2012_Hudson_pmwine_5.jpg

Soon it was time to leave, and we departed Hudson with fond memories, but also with hopes of ending our Hudson Valley weekend in a blaze of glory. The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze, that is.

2012_Hudson_Blaze_02.jpg

The Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze is a pyromaniacal spectacle of over 5,000 jack o’lanterns hand-carved by staff, volunteers, and local artisans — everything from your standard triangle-eyed, gap-toothed pumpkins to elaborate Spirograph-worthy designs — lit up throughout the nine acres of Van Cortlandt Manor in the village of Croton-on-Hudson. We'd purchased tickets ahead of time and arrived right on time for our 7pm pumpkin promenade.

2012_Hudson_Blazetent_1.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_03.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_05.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_21.jpg

Blaze uses a combination of real and "art" pumpkins, which are said to be harder to carve than the real thing because they are less pliable. Carving begins in June and real pumpkins -- 100,000 pounds' worth -- continue to be carved throughout the event's run into early November.

large_2012_Hudson_Blaze_06.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_Blaze_08.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_09.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_10.jpg

Blaze also features theme areas, which this year included Jurassic Park, Undersea Aquarium, and Buzzing Beehive.

2012_Hudson_Blaze_11.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_15.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_16.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_17.jpg

large_2012_Hudson_Blaze_12.jpg

Scarier motifs include witches, scarecrows, skulls, and Angel's personal nightmare . . . sunflowers. You know how terrifying they can be.

2012_Hudson_Blaze_20.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_19.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_14.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_18.jpg

Each area is set to an eerie soundtrack, the best being the plaintive cries of "MEOW! MEOOOOW!" punctuating the spooky Halloween music at the cat-themed area.

2012_Hudson_Blaze_13.jpg

Near the end of the Blaze, people-sized jack-in-the-boxes made of pumpkins scared the living crap out of surprised visitors when an extra-large jack o'lantern unexpectedly popped out of the top.

2012_Hudson_Blaze_23.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blazebox_1.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_25.jpg

Every time we thought we'd reached the end, there were more pumpkins just around the bend, each display more creative and whimsical than the next. Yet somehow Blaze still managed to save the best for last: A display of intricately carved, impossibly beautiful pumpkins whose gorgeous patterns cast glowing light and soft shadows in all directions.

2012_Hudson_Blaze_26.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_27.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_29.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_28.jpg

2012_Hudson_Blaze_30.jpg

By the end of the Blaze, the air had grown chilly and our feet weary, and our weekend masquerading as country mice had finally come to an end.

2012_Hudson_Blaze_22.jpg

As the Manhattan skyline came into view and rolling fields and quaint villages gave way to blaring horns and snarled traffic, our nerves began to fray, and suddenly I realized: We city dwellers need Angry Caramel Apples and vodka distilleries way more than those country folk do.

Some biscuits 'n' gravy wouldn't hurt, either.
-------------------------------------
Next up, we're off to Key West for turtle races, drag queen bingo, six-toed cats, and all the beer, bacon, burgers, and bourbon we can consume in ten days. Click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know if we end up exiled to Cuba!

2012_Hudson_End_1.jpg

Posted by TraceyG 06:18 Archived in USA Comments (11)

A Girls Weekend In The City of Magnificent Intentions

My younger sister Trina is a 4-foot, 11-inch wedge of spite with spiky platinum hair, a killer wardrobe, and a tiny body sporting numerous tattoos depicting everything from a pin-up girl wielding a hair dryer to a slyly grinning cat sporting a ladylike set of pearls. The owner of a retro-style salon in Pittsburgh called Pompadour (hence the hair dryer), she is short-tempered, quick-witted, foul-mouthed . . . and hands-down the funniest person I've ever met.

2012_DC_TrinaPirateShp_1.jpg

And for that reason alone, there's no one I'd rather spend a Girls Weekend with.

2012_DC_Trina_3.jpg

We decided to meet up in Washington, D.C., partly because it's roughly equidistant to both our homes, and partly because when I discovered that there's a Mellow Mushroom there, I would brook no argument (a risky move, given that ticking Trina off is akin to repeatedly poking a hornet's nest with your face). Having made this same trip a few years back, this time around we decided to try a variety of new spots . . . which turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to do.

2012_DC_WashMon2_2.jpg

You see, thanks to the disconnect between the city's grand aspirations and its swampy reality, Washington, D.C. is sometimes referred to as the City of Magnificent Intentions, which also happens to accurately describe a weekend in which all of my carefully laid plans went to hell before my very eyes. Notwithstanding my magnificent intentions, we still had a great time, even though traffic, the weather, and my own stupidity all attempted to conspire against us.

2012_DC_Monuments_03.jpg

I decided to take the train to D.C. since the times were more convenient than flying, and in doing so I was reminded of the first time my mother ever came to NYC to visit me. An infrequent traveller, she'd insisted on taking Amtrak, even though it entailed a grueling 10-hour train ride as opposed to a short 50-minute flight. I therefore expected her to arrive exhausted, irritable, and ready to die of boredom, but she'd actually had a great time: She became friendly with some of the other passengers on the train, and they'd passed the time playing cards. Eventually, however, as passengers disembarked, she found herself playing one-on-one with a young man in his late 20s. "Hey Mel," he'd whispered conspiratorially, "Now that it's just you and me, you wanna play for clothes?" Confused, my mother looked him up and down and finally responded, "But I don't even like your clothes!"

2012_DC_Monuments_01.jpg

After I successfully wrangled enough luggage for a 3-month stay off the train, Trina picked me up at Union Station and we made a quick stop at the hotel to drop off said luggage before the weight of it caused her car to suffer a flat tire. Our next stop was at La Tasca, a sprawling Spanish spot in D.C.'s Chinatown neighborhood that we like because they offer 10 different sangrias plus a virgin one ("What the hell?" Trina asked, offended at the very thought), as well as an enormous selection of cured meats and cheeses, paellas, and meat, seafood, and vegetarian tapas.

2012_DC_LaTasca_11.jpg

2012_DC_LaTasca_13.jpg

La Tasca was also offering a $20 all-you-can-eat tapas menu when we arrived, which was right around the time that they began to lose money on this deal.

2012_DC_LaTasca_10.jpg

The word tapa means "lid" in Spanish, and it's believed that centuries ago laborers and farmers would visit their local tasca, or pub, for a well-earned glass of sherry, on top of which they'd place a slice of bread to protect it from pesky fruit flies. Over time the barkeeps gradually began placing small snacks, such as cured meat or sausage, on top of the bread, and these edible lids evolved into the tapas of today.

This sangria was well-earned, too, but if you think I'm putting some snacks on top of my glass instead of in my mouth, you're loco.

thumb_2012_DC_LaTasca_15.jpg

After much haggling and a little hair-pulling, Trina and I started off with two red and green tomato salads with honey-herb dressing and goat cheese (in order to keep the peace, goat cheese cannot be shared), bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese, patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), wild mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic, and a mini seafood paella.

2012_DC_LaTasca_12.jpg

2012_DC_LaTasca_04.jpg

2012_DC_LaTasca_05.jpg

Next up, grilled steak in a sherry-mushroom sauce with roasted potatoes, and two orders of chicken and beef empanadas.

thumb_2012_DC_LaTasca_06.jpg

Still stubbornly sober, we also decided to order more sangria. This time we went straight for the "Cadillac" version, which is La Tasca's traditional sangria with the addition of a bottle or two of brandy. That'll do it.

2012_DC_LaTasca_14.jpg

The day was warm and sunny, so after lunch we decided to take a walk, heading for the general direction of the Tidal Basin but having no real route or destination in mind, which worked out nicely since neither of us was capable of reading a map after that sangria . . . or at any time, really.

2012_DC_Monuments_19.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_20.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_07.jpg

large_2012_DC_Monuments_02.jpg

Another day in D.C., another politician with a big head.

2012_DC_Monuments_05.jpg

We found ourselves first at the neck-craning Washington Monument, then later at the tear-jerking World War II memorial.

monument.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_09.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_24.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_10.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_13.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_12.jpg

2012_DC_Monuments_11.jpg

After a few hours our ballet-flat-clad feet began to ache, a signal that the sangria had worn off and it was time to head back to the hotel.

2012_DC_Monuments_14.jpg

2012_DC_PostOffRedo_1.jpg

That evening we had reservations at Barcode, a nightspot that's about as hip as it gets in a political town where old white men outnumber people with sense by about 20 to 1. We were completely exhausted from a long day of traveling, walking, and stuffing ourselves silly, so we called to see if we could push our reservation back by an hour or so to allow time for a nap, but were told that they were fully booked and could not accommodate any time changes. So we got ready in record time and cabbed it over, only to see this.

2012_DC_Barcode_02.jpg

That's right: All of their patrons were invisible.

Partly irritated that we'd raced around and gotten all dressed up for nothing, and partly relieved that we were now free to eat as much as we wanted without the disapproving stares of skinny strangers (or anyone else, for that matter), we started off with a couple of cocktails . . . and some gazpacho . . . and the tuna ceviche . . . and a trio of meatball sliders.

thumb_2012_DC_Barcode_04.jpgthumb_2012_DC_Barcode_07.jpg

thumb_2012_DC_Barcode_09.jpgthumb_2012_DC_Barcode_08.jpg

And a side of fries with "assorted dipping sauces." When I saw that on the menu, naturally my imagination went wild. What kind of dipping sauces could oh-so-trendy Barcode possibly come up with? Creamy Parmesan and truffle? Garlic and rosemary aioli? The hipster irony of a vat of melted Velveeta?

2012_DC_Barcode_10.jpg

Nope. The "assorted dipping sauces" turned out to be . . . ketchup and mayo. Which might explain why this place was empty on a Saturday night.

On Sunday we realized that, despite our walk around the Washington Monument and the World War II memorial, we hadn't really scratched the surface of Washington, D.C.'s incomparable cultural and historical offerings, and not to do so would be almost un-American. And so we made the short drive over to Alexandria, VA, in search of a dessert called "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because." Because, really, what could be more American than devouring an entire birthday cake when it's not even your birthday?

2012_DC_Alexandria_01.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_02.jpg

We'd decided to eat a light lunch so that we'd be good and hungry for the Birthday Cakes, plural, and Columbia Firehouse's menu of soups, salads, and other light brunch fare was just the ticket.

2012_DC_Firehouse_1.jpg

2012_DC_Firehouse_8.jpg

As were the classic Cuban daiquiris (circa 1898) with crushed ice.

2012_DC_Firehouse_5.jpg

2012_DC_Firehouse_4.jpg

The wait for brunch in the soaring atrium was about an hour, so we happily snagged two seats at the old-fashioned bar instead.

2012_DC_Firehouse_2.jpg

2012_DC_FireWindow_1.jpg

2012_DC_Firehouse_7.jpg

We both decided on the butter lettuce wedge salad with dried cranberries, toasted almonds, and buttermilk goat cheese dressing, an ingenious concoction that looked like sour cream and tasted like heaven.

2012_DC_Firehouse_6.jpg

The day was cool and overcast but the rain held off, so after lunch we decided to do a little exploring, completely taken with the colonial charm of Alexandria's main drag, King Street.

2012_DC_Alexandria_03.jpg

2012_DC_Firehouse_9.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_04.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_09.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_06.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_13.jpg

This is the Alexandria Cupcake shop. Although I love cupcakes, no way was I going to eat one when I was just minutes from devouring an entire birthday cake by myself. That would be gluttonous.

2012_DC_Alexandria_11.jpg

Plus, a vegan cupcake made without eggs, butter, and milk would be like making a cheeseburger without the cheese . . . and the burger.

2012_DC_Alexandria_12.jpg

Up and down King Street we walked, browsing in the stores, stopping to take photos, and biding our time until Birthday Cake bliss.

2012_DC_Alexandria_14.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_10.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_17.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_18.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_19.jpg

large_2012_DC_Alexandria_47.jpg

It's not every day that you see a dog that's as big as your sister. Well, unless your sister is Trina.

2012_DC_Alexandria_25.jpg

Later on our stroll we came across a another dog, Bella, a pit bull whose sweet demeanor and wagging tail were clearly intended to distract from her real agenda of ripping us apart with her killer jaws.

2012_DC_Alexandria_27.jpg

large_2012_DC_Alexandria_28.jpg

Onward we walked, our cakey cravings growing stronger with each passing step.

2012_DC_Alexandria_16.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_21.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_23.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_26.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_24.jpg

Finally we reached the gorgeous Restaurant Eve, home of the hallowed "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because."

large_2012_DC_Alexandria_29.jpg

After a quick glance at the menu posted outside, we passed under the brick archway and found the door.

2012_DC_Alexandria_31.jpg

Trina pushed, and . . . nothing. Then she pulled it. Still nothing. Growing panicky, I shouted, "For god's sake, man, turn the #$%@ knob!" She turned it, and still . . . nothing.

2012_DC_Alexandria_30.jpg

THEY WERE CLOSED.

The home of the "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because" was closed . . . just because. Because it was Sunday? Because the tapas place had called ahead and warned them about us? We may never know.

Dejected, we headed off into the gloom in search of someplace to drown our sorrows. On the way we passed Captain's Row, a cobblestone street closed to through traffic and lined with the kind of houses that make you wish it could be October all year round . . . and that you could be a gazillionaire.

2012_DC_Alexandria_46.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_32.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_33.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_36.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_39.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_40.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_41.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_42.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_44.jpg

2012_DC_Alexandria_45.jpg

Our salvation turned out to be the Union Street Public House, which, true to its name, takes all comers, including those yearning to be free from the tyranny of Birthday Cake(s) Bait-and-Switch.

large_2012_DC_UnionSt_1.jpg

By then it had started to drizzle, and the Union Street Public House, with its flickering gas lamps, well-worn booths, and menu of comfort food classics, enveloped us like a warm blanket.

And the lobster-and-crab bisque, creamy grits, macaroni and cheese, and individual buckets of tater tots served with two, er, dipping sauces --ketchup and Ranch dressing -- lulled us into a sweet stupor.

2012_DC_UnionSt_3.jpg

2012_DC_UnionSt_4.jpg

2012_DC_UnionSt_6.jpg

2012_DC_UnionSt_5.jpg

Or maybe that was the wine.

2012_DC_UnionSt_2.jpg

By the time we returned to the hotel, it had begun to rain in earnest, and neither of us was feeling particularly energetic. We also couldn't bear to eat another bite of anything covered in cheese, and so we decided to get into our jammies and then order some fruit from room service.

With whipped cream.

large_2012_DC_RmSvc_1.jpg

Oh, and two bottles of the Rodney Dangerfield of booze, Smirnoff Ice. Because they were out of Zima, obviously.

2012_DC_RmSvc_2.jpg

We immediately noticed that the blackberries in our fruit bowls were roughly the size of golf balls, which made us wonder what kind of hormones they're putting in our food . . . and why they couldn't have done that back in the 70s to save Trina from a lifetime of shopping in the kids' department.

2012_DC_RmSvc_3.jpg

Later that evening I took shameless advantage of the fact that Trina is a hair stylist and asked her to help me add some loose curls to my straightened hair. We set the hot curling iron on the nightstand and Trina went to work. Afterwards, she reminded me to move the curling iron away from the assorted odds and ends on the nightstand to prevent the hot iron from damaging them. As I approached the curling iron, I had a temporary brain freeze and, for some inexplicable reason, could not determine which end was the handle and which was the hot barrel -- they looked so very much alike. So I reached for the handle, hesitated, reached for the barrel, hesitated again, and then repeated the same sequence in a bizarre, split-second dance of indecision: Heat-handle; handle-heat. Finally, I made my decision . . . and idiotically grabbed the hot end of the curling iron.

Yelping in pain, I dropped the hot iron and bolted for the bathroom to run my burned hand under some cool water, leaving Trina utterly speechless for the first time in her entire life. When I emerged from the bathroom, her face was a mix of curiosity, concern, and that tight-lipped face she makes when she's trying desperately not to laugh.

"Um . . . so . . . what the hell just happened?" she asked, lips pressed together to force down a giggle.
"I don't know," I responded sheepishly. "I got confused."
"But I saw you deciding which end to grab," she answered. "How on earth could you have picked the wrong end?"
"Like I said, I was confused."

"Oh, confused. Of course." Unable to contain herself any longer, Trina finally doubled over laughing. "Confused!" she hooted. Tears of laughter streamed down her face. "Well, I sure hope nobody ever drops a flaming torch in front of you!"

Ha, ha. Didn't mom ever teach you not to make fun of the mentally challenged?

Monday dawned chilly but sunny, and our options were almost limitless: Should we visit the National Gallery of Art? Spend the day at the National Archives? Tour one of D.C.'s more than 30 museums? Nah. We headed over to Georgetown to drool over the houses and drink some mimosas.

2012_DC_Gtown_18.jpg

large_2012_DC_Gtown_01.jpg

large_2012_DC_GtownRedo_1.jpg

But first, some lunch was in order, which meant a trip to the aforementioned Mellow Mushroom in Adams Morgan, an eclectic neighborhood of funky boutiques and restaurants.

2012_DC_Mellow_01.jpg

2012_DC_Mellow_13.jpg

2012_DC_Mellow_03.jpg

2012_DC_Me..hroomRedo_1.jpg

The building that houses the Mellow Mushroom appears to have once been part of a theater, as the entrance is outfitted with a now-defunct ticket booth. As a result, instead of usual hippie-dippy 1960s decor that prevails at most Mellow Mushrooms, this 'Shroom is decked out like a circus. And, like most circuses, the sheer creepiness of the thing is outweighed only by the presence of your favorite fattening foods.

2012_DC_Mellow_11.jpg

large_2012_DC_Mellow_15.jpg

The silent film star Lon Chaney once said, "There is nothing laughable about a clown in the moonlight," and I am here to tell you that there's nothing all that funny about one in the daylight, either.

2012_DC_Mellow_12.jpg

Hell, even I wouldn't be able to eat with that thing staring down at me.

Trina couldn't decide on a single pie, so she ordered half of a Thai Dye (curry chicken with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, basil, and sweet Thai chili sauce) and half of a Redskin Potato pie (potatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, sour cream, and spicy Ranch), while I went with my usual, a classic pepperoni with extra sauce.

2012_DC_Mellow_08.jpg

2012_DC_Mellow_07.jpg

large_2012_DC_Mellow_06.jpg

Oh, and two glasses of sangria. Tapeworms, they must be genetic.

thumb_2012_DC_Mellow_05.jpg

When our waiter came to clear the table, he let out a low whistle. "You chicks really cleaned up!" he exclaimed. Then, nodding knowingly, he leaned in and asked sympathetically, "So, are you really tired now?"

2012_DC_Mellow_10.jpg

Indeed we were, but Georgetown awaited, and soon we were strolling the tree-lined streets and ogling the picture-perfect row houses with their picture-perfect pumpkins.

2012_DC_Gtown_13.jpg

2012_DC_Gtown_02.jpg

2012_DC_Gtown_05.jpg

2012_DC_GtownRedo_2.jpg

2012_DC_Gtown_07.jpg

2012_DC_Gtown_06.jpg

large_2012_DC_Gtown_04.jpg

It soothes my OCD soul when things match so nicely. Ahhh.

2012_DC_Gtown_10.jpg

One of the things I love about Georgetown are the unique doors, everything from gleaming old carriage-house "garage" doors to those with transoms sporting their original moldings and stained glass.

2012_DC_GtownCarriage_1.jpg

2012_DC_Gtown_08.jpg

2012_DC_Gtown_11.jpg

Further north, the houses grow larger; the ivy, more insistent.

2012_DC_GtownIvy_2.jpg

2012_DC_Gtown_03.jpg

2012_DC_GtownIvy_1.jpg

I'd spied tiny Cafe Bonaparte online before our visit and decided that an elegant French bistro would be the ideal spot for a final cocktail before our departure.

2012_DC_Bonaparte_1.jpg

2012_DC_Bonaparte_2.jpg

We arrived, however, to discover that the location was on a less-than-charming block, and the restaurant itself was cramped and crowded.

2012_DC_Bonaparte_4.jpg

2012_DC_Bonaparte_3.jpg

Luckily they had an assortment of Champagne cocktails, including a Pom-Grand with pomegranate juice for Trina, and a Penchant de Mango with mango, lime, and a sugared rim pour moi.

2012_DC_Bonaparte_5.jpg

The drinks were just okay and our seats at the bar were treated to occasional blasts of cold air from the front door, and as we sipped I lamented that once again on this trip, my magnificent intentions had not turned out as planned.

No matter. It was wonderful to spend time with my sister, and the weekend certainly could have been worse.

2012_DC_Bonaparte_6.jpg

I mean, somebody could have dropped a flaming torch in my vicinity.

----------------------------------------------
UPDATE: Two weeks later, Angel surprised me by baking a replica of the "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because" for my actual birthday. Sure, he used a plastic CD holder to cut the sheet cake into rounds, and he discovered that sprinkles actually bounce back when you try to fling them at the sides of a cake, but all in all, I think he nailed it. We both wished Trina could have been there to have some, too, but let's be honest: This cake ain't big enough for the both of us.

2012_DC_CakeRep2_1.jpg

Posted by TraceyG 16:45 Archived in USA Tagged washington_dc la_tasca columbia_firehouse barcode union_street_public_house mellow_mushroom Comments (5)

Key West: Hotter Than a Summer Bride In a Feather Bed, Pt. 1

When our friends Donna and Greg announced that they would be getting married on a sailboat in Key West over Labor Day weekend, they didn't have to ask us twice (or really even once - we aren't too proud to beg). Angel and I immediately said yes, then set about making our travel plans. I mean, who wouldn't want to spend a long weekend in a town where you can get a drink before you even claim your luggage?

2012_Labor..irBar_1.jpg

And when Angel told me that he wouldn't be able to depart until the day before the wedding due to some prior work commitments, I did what anyone living in a city of 8 million people in an apartment only slightly bigger than a tool shed would do: I planned to arrive early in order to spend 60 blissful hours . . . completely alone.

After careful consideration, I decided to stay at Simonton Court because 4 pools + 0 children = happiness x 1,000.

2012_Labor..edSCt_4.jpg

2012_LaborDay_SCold_1.jpg

2012_LaborDay_09.jpg

2012_LaborDay_04.jpg

2012_Labor..ower1_1.jpg

2012_Labor..kpool_1.jpg

Shady nooks for reading or emailing gloating photos to Angel were tucked about the property.

2012_Labor..nooks_2.jpg

2012_Labor..prop_02.jpg

2012_Labor..aight_1.jpg

Plus, they have cats. And because there were no children to follow me around, the cats picked up the slack.

2012_Labor..tties_4.jpg

2012_Labor..tties_3.jpg

2012_Labor..tties_1.jpg

2012_Labor..tties_5.jpg

large_2012_Labor..edos2_1.jpg

large_2012_Labor..sredo_1.jpg

I stayed in the Royal Palm townhouse, which was bright and spacious and had a lovely view from the balcony.

thumb_2012_LaborDay_13.jpg

2012_Labor..edSCt_3.jpg

2012_LaborDay_01.jpg

2012_LaborDay_03.jpg

2012_LaborDay_12.jpg

With its numerous pools and abundant shade, Simonton Court turned out to be the perfect choice because oh, it was hot. Scorchingly, searingly, eyeball-meltingly hot. It was so hot that I contemplated buying one of those Uzi-style squirt guns and shooting myself in the face whenever I felt that I might pass out. It was so hot that everywhere I went, I could feel the sweat pooling between my boobs . . . and I don't even have boobs.

Oh, you think I'm exaggerating? It was so hot that I could barely eat.

2012_LaborDay_05.jpg

And it was most definitely too hot to go out alone for a meal - I couldn't risk that some friendly Key West local might try to chat me up, then recoil in horror when they noticed the rivulets of sweat sliding off my chin and plopping into my food. Which explains how I came to subsist on personal pan pizzas and fast-food cheeseburgers for two days, with a round of mimosas thrown in to prevent scurvy.

thumb_2012_LaborDayAlone_1.jpg

thumb_2012_LaborDayAlone_3.jpg

Not that I'm complaining.

Donna and I met up at Banana Cafe on Friday for a quick lunch in the midst of her final preparations for the wedding.

2012_Labor..anana_8.jpg

2012_Labor..anana_7.jpg

She arrived by car, looking cool and crisp, while I arrived by bicycle, looking on the verge of sunstroke. Is it an unwritten rule, I wondered, that when two friends in Key West meet up between the months of May and September, that each is to pretend that the other smells fine and doesn't look like she has just completed a marathon? If not, I'm going to start attaching a number to my back to discourage any untoward comments.

2012_Labor..anana_4.jpg

After the aforementioned round of mimosas, we both decided on the turkey and swiss salad, Donna because she was no doubt watching her weight for the wedding, and me because I knew I'd never have the energy to pedal that bike and a stomach full of food back to my hotel in that sweltering Easy Bake Oven known as Old Town.

2012_Labor..anana_5.jpg

2012_Labor..anana_3.jpg

thumb_2012_Labor..anana_6.jpg

12012_Labor..anana_1.jpg

That evening I met up with Donna again, along with Greg and a few of their local friends, at Grand Vin on Duval Street. As Donna reintroduced me to the group and we shook hands, each person greeted me warmly with nearly the same words: "So nice to see you again. WHERE'S ANGEL?" And you wonder why I spend all his money and eat all his food.

A large cloud had settled over the island by the time Angel made his apparently much-anticipated arrival the next day, bringing the temperature down to something less bubbling cauldron-y, and Angel was lulled into thinking that it might actually be safe to leave the house. Ignoring my warnings about the risk of immediate spontaneous combustion should the sun peek out from behind that cloud, he suggested that we bike the few blocks over to Amigos for some lunch.

2012_Labor..igos_06.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_01.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_02.jpg

Amigos makes its own corn tortillas, plus a killer salsa that comes in both hot and mild versions and is mashed up in a giant mortar called a molcajete.

2012_LaborDay_corn_1.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_03.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_11.jpg

large_2012_Labor..igos_13.jpg

As soon as the smells of carne asada and roast pork hit my nose, I suddenly realized that, thanks to the heat, I hadn't been eating nearly enough, and I decided to make up for lost time. So I ordered three tacos -- the pulled pork with adobo sauce, the shredded beef in traditional rojo marinade, and the beef short ribs with Mexican barbeque sauce -- plus an order of chips and salsa, a side of rice and beans, and a basket of tater tots -- and told Angel to stand back. And maybe don a beekeeper's suit, just to be safe.

large_2012_Labor..sredo_4.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_14.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_12.jpg

2012_Labor..sredo_3.jpg

The quality of the food at Amigos has gone downhill a bit since our last visit -- the amazing caramelized onion salsa that I raved about last time is now a mushy puree of barely-cooked onions, and the tacos were unfortunately quite soggy -- but they surely weren't the only things damp and soggy around these parts, so I will give them a pass for now.

2012_Labor..igos_08.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_05.jpg

2012_Labor..igos_09.jpg

The sun stayed thankfully hidden for the next hour or so, allowing us some time to take in the island's quirky charms.

2012_Labor..olor_19.jpg

2012_Labor..byetc_2.jpg

2012_Labor..olor_14.jpg

2012_Labor..olor_13.jpg

Although I have my heart set on a VW Thing, any of these would work, too.

2012_Labor..olor_16.jpg

2012_Labor..olor_08.jpg

2012_Labor..byetc_3.jpg

You gotta love a town that can support a business that sells nothing but pirate costumes . . . all year round.

2012_Labor..sredo_2.jpg

Well, this can only mean one thing: The lawyers have discovered Key West.

thumb_2012_Labor..olor_12.jpg

As soon as we saw that, we beat feet outta there and headed for the more civilized part of town.

2012_Labor..olor_03.jpg

2012_Labor..olor_09.jpg

2012_Labor..olor_11.jpg

2012_Labor..olor_10.jpg

2012_Labor..olor_04.jpg

thumb_2012_Labor..olor_20.jpg

2012_Labor..edSCt_8.jpg

As soon as the sun returned, Angel basked at another of Simonton Court's pools while I slathered myself in sunscreen and tallied up all my new moles.

2012_Labor..edSCt_5.jpg

2012_Labor..edSCt_7.jpg

2012_Labor..edSCt_6.jpg

That evening we attended Donna and Greg's rehearsal party at Vino's on Duval, where Donna had arranged for Blackfin Bistro to provide a generous spread of hors d'oeuvres including fruit, cheese, pâté, and sliders. Everything was delicious, but it would have been impolite to eat every single slider on the table, so we spent a few hours chatting it up with new friends and old, then ducked out for some dinner at Seven Fish. We'd made reservations to sit at the bar despite the fact that, after sharing a bottle of wine at Vino's, we certainly didn't need anything more to drink.

Not that that ever stops us.

2012_Labor..ncham_1.jpg

Would that all glasses of Champagne could actually be this big in relation to their bottles.

Now, I know that some folks find Seven Fish too loud, too crowded, and too rushed, but that is precisely why we like it: In the same warped way that New Yorkers have convinced themselves that unfinished brick walls are cool and bathrooms bigger than broom closets are for suckers, most of us wouldn't be caught dead in an empty restaurant where we're not sitting in our neighbor's lap and screaming ourselves hoarse over the din.

2012_LaborDay_Seven_8.jpg

More importantly, in all the years we've been coming to Seven Fish, we've never had a single dish that was less than excellent. Indeed, there is only one dish on the entire menu that I haven't tried, and what with the heat sapping my will to live appetite, I finally decided to tackle what will henceforth be referred to as the Mother of All Meatloaves.

2012_LaborDay_Seven_3.jpg

Yes, I know that ordering a meatloaf in a place called Seven Fish is akin to ordering the food at a Hard Rock Cafe, and I relayed my hesitation to our server, Fred. But when he asked pointedly, "Of everything you've ever had here, was there anything you didn't like?" I took that as a reminder that the food at Seven Fish is really, really good . . . and that I might have more in common than previously thought with that one species of shark that eats beer cans, old tires, and anvils.

For his part, Angel went with the snapper in a Thai curry and ginger sauce over rice, which was so good that it almost made me wish I'd ordered that instead. Just kidding!

2012_LaborDay_Seven_4.jpg

It was difficult finishing that meatloaf, after what I had for lunch earlier that day. Gotcha again!

Naturally, the meatloaf could only be followed by one thing: the strawberry-whipped cream pie.

2012_LaborDay_Seven_6.jpg

Consisting of a gigantic cloud of whipped cream studded with sliced strawberries sitting on a crust of graham crackers topped with a thin layer of chocolate sauce, this pie makes it socially acceptable to eat an entire tub of whipped cream with a spoon in public. Which Angel proceeded to do, with a little help from me. You know what a glutton he is.

thumb_2012_LaborDay_Seven_7.jpg

The next day we decided to bike over to Santiago's Bodega for lunch. By this time the ungodly heat had returned, so I spent the bike ride over daydreaming of swimming pools and air conditioners and Siberian gulags in an effort to stay cool. But it didn't work: I still arrived looking like an escapee from a dunk tank.

2012_Labor..anti_15.jpg

2012_Labor..anti_08.jpg

Smile though your face is melting . . .

2012_Labor..anti_06.jpg

Well, at least this helped.

2012_Labor..anti_05.jpg

The Spanish-influenced decor at Santiago's leans toward colorful tile, ornate chandeliers, and inspiring artwork gracing the warm sage and ochre walls.

2012_Labor..anti_01.jpg

2012_Labor..ichan_1.jpg

2012_Labor..anti_02.jpg

2012_Labor..anti_04.jpg

Normally I am not a big fan of tapas because (1) I hate sharing, and (2) I hate sharing. But everything at Santiago's is so delicious, and in such generous portions, that I agreed to split everything with Angel . . . at least while the waiter was watching.

2012_Labor..anti_16.jpg

We started with the shrimp bisque, which was fantastically rich and spicy, followed by the portobello soup, which had a surprising amount of flavor considering that, for some inexplicable reason, it hadn't been thickened with cream.

2012_Labor..tRedo_1.jpg

2012_Labor..anti_09.jpg

Next it was on to the patatas bravas, which I liked because they blended the sour cream into the tomato sauce instead of just throwing a dollop on top, and the saganaki, which I liked because it's broiled cheese floating in oil.

2012_Labor..tRedo_2.jpg

large_2012_Labor..anti_10.jpg

large_2012_Labor..tRedo_3.jpg

That was followed by the proscuitto- and provolone-stuffed croquettas, which reminded me of Angel's mother's rellenas de papas, the only thing she knew how to cook without burning it to the bottom of the pan. Ah, memories!

2012_Labor..anti_14.jpg

2012_Labor..anti_13.jpg

Finally, we shared the pork skewers with apple and mango chutney, which Angel liked because there were two of them, so he had a fighting chance.

large_2012_Labor..anti_18.jpg

2012_Labor..anti_17.jpg

After lunch we passed a few more hours at the pool before it was time to get ready for Donna and Greg's wedding.

2012_Labor..edSCt_1.jpg

2012_Labor..towel_1.jpg

large_2012_Labor..sredo_5.jpg

While I am happy to report that nothing so dramatic as forced evacuations and almost setting my own head on fire occurred at this wedding, that doesn't mean it was without its, er, more interesting moments. Click here to read Part 2!

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Posted by TraceyG 08:09 Archived in USA Tagged key_west western_union grand_vin Comments (2)

Key West: Hotter Than a Summer Bride In a Feather Bed, Pt. 2

Donna and Greg's wedding took place on the historic Schooner Western Union, which is appropriately moored right outside the Schooner Wharf Bar. We set sail on a perfect evening with just enough clouds to ensure a fantastic sunset.

2012_Labor..ellow_1.jpg

Although I normally take all of the photos on this blog, once on board I asked Angel to share in the camera duties because there was both food and Champagne, and I have my priorities straight.

2012_Labor..ding_03.jpg

2012_Labor..ding_04.jpg

2012_Labor..ding_08.jpg

2012_Labor..erver_1.jpg

2012_Labor..ding_09.jpg

The beautiful bride wore a traditional gown that she'd had tailored into a high-low style in order to show off her gorgeous shoes . . .

2012_Labor..ding_15.jpg

. . . and her New York Yankees garter.

2012_Labor..ding_11.jpg

Donna's friend Robin, a Culinary Institute-trained chef, had prepared a delicious seven-course tasting menu, which included inventive appetizers like chilled melon soup with mint and the crowd favorite, deconstructed French onion soup on crostini.

2012_Labor..ding_12.jpg

And Robin's sister Kellee exhibited great restraint by not gobbling up every delicious morsel before serving the rest of us.

2012_Labor..eredo_1.jpg

2012_Labor..iends_1.jpg

Soon we'd dropped anchor for the ceremony, as Donna's best friend Wayne walked her down the aisle and gave her away.

2012_Labor..ding_10.jpg

2012_Labor..iends_2.jpg

2012_Labor..ding_13.jpg

2012_Labor..ding_14.jpg

At the end, Donna and Greg released a pair of lovebirds, which went as well as can be expected when wild animals are involved.

2012_Labor..dbird_1.jpg

large_2012_Labor..dbird_2.jpg

But the highlight of the evening was the best man's toast. Greg's best man, Craig, also happens to be his partner in a sailfishing charter boat business, and over the years the two men have caught countless fish, many of which have served as trophies to be mounted on their walls. You know where this is going, don't you? That's right: The best man compared Donna to a trophy fish . . . that Greg can mount over and over.

2012_Labor..ding_18.jpg

2012_Labor..ding_19.jpg

Also in attendance was Mark Certonio, the liver-loathing genius behind the Key West Food and Wine Festival, where you might recall that Angel was crowned the winner of the prestigious Silver Platinum Coconut at Coconut Bowling, and I was crowned Most Likely to End Up at Betty Ford.

2012_Labor..dover_3.jpg

Mark graciously invited me back to blog about the upcoming festival, and piqued my curiosity by mentioning that one of the new events for 2013 is a masquerade Champagne-and-cake dance party called "Let Them Eat Cake." Can you imagine how many more trips I can make to the buffet if I'm wearing a mask? That sealed the deal.

2012_Labor..ding_25.jpg

2012_Labor..ding_26.jpg

2012_Labor..0redo_2.jpg

2012_Labor..light_1.jpg

large_12012_Labor..0redo_1.jpg

The evening was so humid and still that Donna's idea to hand out fans, along with her foresight to keep the chilled Champagne flowing like water, were the only things keeping me from jumping overboard.

2012_Labor..ding_07.jpg

That, and I didn't want to ruin my dress.

12012_Labor..nshop_1.jpg

I couldn't wait to wear this gown thanks to the delicious melon color and floaty layer of sheer chiffon, but I also knew that it was just a matter of time before somebody or something snagged it or stepped on it. Which doesn't explain why I was still surprised when I got in the taxi, only to find that my leather seat had been torn to shreds and haphazardly taped back together with duct tape, emperiling the back of my dress, and that the bows on my sandals threatened the hem with every step I took. Tipsy wedding guests holding glasses of red wine on an even tipsier boat spelled disaster at every turn.

But nothing could have prepared me for how my dress eventually met its doom.

2012_Labor..ding_29.jpg

It was the end of the evening, and the boat was on its way back to the marina. After spending the past few hours on my feet chatting with the various wedding guests, I decided to sit down for a few minutes with a chilled glass of Champagne, which was served in a plastic flute. I had just set the flute down beside me when, suddenly, a rather rotund wedding guest approached and, like a circus elephant lowering itself onto a little stool, began to sit down . . . right on top of the Champagne. "NOOOOOOO!!!!" I screamed. "Don't sit down!" When it became clear that he wasn't paying attention, I did the only thing I could: I yelled, "Fire in the hole!" and ducked for cover.

But not before he sat down squarely on top of that flute, crushing it under his rear end like a booze-filled water balloon, sending plastic shrapnel flying in all directions and drenching the entire side of my dress with Champagne. And you know what? Sure, my dress was ruined, but I'm not going to lie: That cold Champagne on my sweaty legs didn't feel half bad.

As soon as we disembarked from the sailboat, the open-air CityView Trolley was waiting to transport us to the reception. Naturally, after three hours on a boat with an open bar and nary a whisper of a breeze, we boarded the trolley looking like a pack of clammy, giggly, well-dressed hyenas. Much to the trolley driver's relief, just a short ride later we found ourselves at Grand Vin for the outdoor reception.

2012_Labor..Recep_1.jpg

2012_Labor..Recep_2.jpg

2012_Labor..anner_1.jpg

large_2012_Labor..Recep_5.jpg

There we spent most of the evening catching up with our friends Claudia and Alden, who live up north, meaning Key Largo. Alden is in the liquor business and Claudia is a writer, so together they equal one Ernest Hemingway.

thumb_2012_Labor..tion_11.jpg

One of the best things about this reception, besides the fantastic company and excellent food and seemingly endless supply of wine, was the cake made of cupcakes.

2012_Labor..tion_01.jpg

There are worse ways to spend an evening than chatting and laughing and indulging in Champagne and a cupcake or three.

2012_Labor..tion_07.jpg

2012_Labor..Recep_3.jpg

2012_Labor..tion_10.jpg

2012_Labor..Recep_7.jpg

The next day Donna and Greg had arranged to take a group of about 25 of us out to Snipes Point, a short boat ride away from Big Coppitt Key, where the bride and groom live in this adorable little cottage. Or, as Donna put it, where two hillbillies live in a dilapidated mobile home. Either way, it beats the hell out of living in a shoebox in Manhattan.

2012_Labor..ipes_01.jpg

Three boats were lined up and ready to go on the canal outside of Donna's neighbor's house, so off we went, 25 of us trudging through the neighbor's yard carrying enough beer for the entire British Navy and enough food for about ten people plus one Tracey.

2012_Labor..ipes_02.jpg

2012_Labor..ipes_03.jpg

2012_Labor..ipes_04.jpg

2012_Labor..ipes_05.jpg

Our little procession made its way through the canal, then fanned out into the open sea, which was like glass on this particularly calm day.

2012_Labor..ipes_06.jpg

large_2012_Labor..ipes_07.jpg

All boat captains should look so salty . . . and give such great best-man toasts.

2012_Labor..ipes_09.jpg

This is our friend Paul. Originally from Ireland and now living in Bulgaria, Paul and his lovely wife Sinead are interesting, well-traveled, and lots of fun, but the last time we went out for drinks with them, we woke up the next day just in time for breakfast . . . at 4:30pm. That's what we get for trying to keep up with the Irish.

2012_Labor..dpaul_1.jpg

I didn't actually see a sandbar at the sandbar, but there was sand, and we treated it like a bar, so close enough.

2012_Labor..ipes_11.jpg

At lunchtime we feasted on Dion's fried chicken (which in true Key West style can only be purchased at gas stations), as well as Cuban sliders, chips, salsa, potato chips, and every kind of beer, wine, and Champagne that could fit into the boats' massive, ice-filled coolers.

2012_Labor..ipes_10.jpg

large_2012_Labor..ipes_12.jpg

About an hour or so into our visit, it began to rain, just briefly at first, and then a full-on downpour that lasted more than an hour. Not that we weren't warned, as it got dark . . .

2012_Labor..ipes_15.jpg

And darker . . .

2012_Labor..ipes_13.jpg

And Apocalypse.

large_2012_Labor..ipes_14.jpg

And during it all, nobody moved. Well, that's not true - almost everyone made a move to cover their drink. But planted in the water we remained, still wearing our straw hats and baseball caps and sunglasses, chatting it up while the rain pelted our heads and the booze and conversation continued to flow.

During this marathon bull session we met two friends of Donna's named Lisa and Pete. I once accidentally mistook Pete for a dog (I'm sorry, but in this age of interconnectedness, if you don't have a Facebook page and no one knows your last name, obviously I have no choice but to assume that you are someone's pet), so he probably wasn't too excited to meet me, but Lisa certainly was (wine will do that). Which is how we ended up at dinner at La Trattoria with two people we'd just met that afternoon, plus Pete's former military buddy Rich and his wife Elvie, whom Rich picked up in the Philippines at a shoe store, and both of whom are now living in the land that time forgot, otherwise known as Gulfport, Mississippi. Got all that?

2012_Labor..atrat_1.jpg

2012_LaborDay_LaTrat2.jpg

Much laughing, teasing, and imbibing ensued, and Elvie didn't even blink when I finished off her leftover pasta, so all in all a lovely dinner was had by all.

2012_Labor..atrat_4.jpg

Of course, this mile-long martini list probably helped.

2012_Labor..atrat_2.jpg

I ordered the Pick-Up, which was appropriate considering how we'd come upon our dining companions.

2012_LaborDay_LaTrat4.jpg

For my entree, I went with the lasagna, while Angel had the seafood ravioli. Both were delicious, and the lasagna had the added advantage of being the only thing I'd consumed that day besides a half-bottle of Sancerre, some fried chicken skin, and an entire bag of potato chips. It's a good thing New York City just banned big-gulp sodas, or my diet might really be in trouble.

2012_Labor..atrat_3.jpg

large_2012_LaborDay_LaTrat6.jpg

The next day we biked over to Salute on the Beach for lunch. By now I had grown so accustomed to feeling like I might die from heatstroke that I actually agreed to sit outside . . . on the ocean, under a fan.

large_2012_Labor..alute14.jpg

2012_Labor..alute01.jpg

2012_Labor..alute02.jpg

2012_Labor..alute04.jpg

Salute is known for its spaghetti and meatballs, but I didn't order it. Too hot to eat, I tell you!

2012_Labor..alute15.jpg

2012_Labor..alute12.jpg

2012_Labor..alute13.jpg

Instead, we started off with some frozen drinks, and then I had the gazpacho, which was thick and spicy and delicious.

2012_Labor..alute05.jpg

2012_Labor..alute06.jpg

12012_Labor..alute_1.jpg

large_2012_Labor..alute08.jpg

That was followed by the blackened mahi-mahi sandwich for Angel, and the caprese salad for me.

2012_Labor..alute09.jpg

2012_Labor..alute10.jpg

2012_Labor..alute11.jpg

You might be wondering why I had nothing more than a bowl of gazpacho and a small salad for lunch, but that's because I wanted to be good and hungry for what was to come. And so, after picking up some souvenirs and spending some time at the pool, at precisely 4:30 we made a beeline for 2 Cents Gastropub on Applerouth Lane.

2012_Labor..cents15.jpg

2012_Labor..cents16.jpg

2012_Labor..cents17.jpg

2 Cents offers a unique selection of cocktails and beer, including beer shakes, which should obviously be served with French fry-stuffed cheeseburgers.

2012_Labor..cents01.jpg

2012_Labor..cents04.jpg

2012_Labor..cents03.jpg

2012_Labor..cents02.jpg

Lots of places in Key West offer specials at Happy Hour, of course, but 2 Cents offers something so awesomely fantastic that I can only compare it to finding a magical land where unicorns fart rainbows and the sky rains $1,000 bills and meatballs grow on trees.

What could possibly be that amazing?

large_2012_Labor..cents06.jpg

That, my friends, is free bacon. FREE. BACON. Holy crispy, greasy, porkaliciousness, but I love me some bacon.

2012_Labor..bacon_2.jpg

Now, I admit that when I first heard about Bacon Happy Hour, I was picturing a long table laden with a bunch of those big silver chafing dishes you see at breakfast buffets, perhaps with some tongs to make it a bit more civilized, where I could load my plate with mounds and mounds of bacon and then go back for more, so these tiny bacon votives were something of a disappointment. Even more disappointing was the fact that once the bartender saw that I was an insatiable bacon-eating machine, she stopped refilling our little votives and forced us to actually order our own snacks.

I'd hate to be the menu item that has to follow the free bacon, but the cheesy, bubbly artichoke dip put on a fine show.

large_2012_Labor..cents14.jpg

We also had a few cocktails and got to talking with the locals seated next to Angel, Michelle and Alan, whom you are allowed to hate because they were sitting at a bar eating free bacon on a random Tuesday afternoon instead of slogging away at work like normal people. In her spare time, Michelle runs the Crazy Shirts store, where you should definitely go because they dye the shirts with cool stuff like chocolate and wine, and Alan works at the Rum Barrel, where you should definitely go because there is rum there.

2012_Labor..lAlan_1.jpg

As soon as we told Alan how many times a year we visit Key West, he threw up his arms and said, exasperatedly, "For god's sake, just $#@%ing move here already!" Cheers to that, Alan.

2012_Labor..cents12.jpg

2012_Labor..cents08.jpg

2012_Labor..cents13.jpg

Soon it was time to go, and as usual we skidded into the airport a little tipsy, drenched in sweat, and with approximately 10 seconds to spare. As the plane began its ascent and the Conch Republic grew smaller and smaller in the window, I reflected on what another fantastic trip it had been and how lucky we were to have been invited to share in Donna and Greg's special day.

But mostly I thought, Thank god it's air conditioned in here.

------------------------------------

Can't get enough Key West? We're headed back in December with a bunch of friends, so click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know if we need you to post bail!

Can't wait that long? Check out our other Conch Republic adventures here and here!

2012_Labor..tties_7.jpg

Posted by TraceyG 08:08 Archived in USA Tagged key_west salute la_trattoria two_cents Comments (7)

Summer in the Hamptons: Stick a Fork In It

So, you've probably heard all about how the North Fork of Long Island is this picturesque vineyard- and farm-dotted peninsula, awash in quaint farm stands and vibrant sunflower fields and expansive bay views.

2012_NorthFork7_6.jpg

You may have even heard that the North Fork boasts several charming villages, over three dozen wineries, and a burgeoning Slow Food scene, and is home to celebrity chefs like Gerry Hayden, formerly of New York's famed Aureole, and Tom Colicchio, the Cueball-in-Chief on "Top Chef."

2012_OnionSignRedo_1.jpg

2012_NorthFork7_5.jpg

2012_NorthFork7_3.jpg

2012_NorthFork7_7.jpg

But what you may not know is that, beautiful as it may be, the North Fork of Long Island is also one of the most maddening places on Earth. Do you even know how annoying it is to be delayed on your way to a winery by some guy on a tractor? Have you any idea what it's like to listen to some chef brag about how the tomatoes and corn on your plate were picked just that morning from his own garden? Can you imagine the difficulty of deciding who's going to be the designated sucker driver for your day of wine tastings? I didn't think so.

2012_NorthFork4_07.jpg

DSC_0302.jpg

large_8_21_11_062.jpg

Despite these annoyances, we love the North Fork precisely for what it doesn't have: Hamptons people.

2012_NorthFork5_8.jpg

That's why, at least a few times every summer and well into the fall, we make the 30-minute drive north from our cottage to Route 25, a two-lane country road that begins in Aquebogue and ends in our favorite village, Greenport, a former whaling and shipbuilding port that still retains its fishy, small-town charm.

GportButta_jpg.jpg

GportTeaCo_jpg.jpg

2012_NorthFork3_1.jpg

Founded in 1640 as the town of Winter Harbor, Greenport was also a commercial fishing hub for the small, oily bunker fish prevalent in the surrounding waters, which were used to make fertilizer. Because regular fertilizer doesn't smell bad enough.

2012_NorthFork3_2.jpg

2012_NorthFork3_3.jpg

More recently, Greenport has welcomed a slew of new shops and restaurants, where you can slurp some oysters or buy a new pair of fancy shoes.

GportCalypso_jpg.jpg

12012_NorthFork1_2.jpg

12012_NorthFork1_1.jpg

12012_NorthFork2_1.jpg

Or you could just stick with horse shoes.

2012_NorthFork2_5.jpg

Greenport is also a favorite of the boating set, given its proximity to both Sag Harbor and Shelter Island.

large_2012_NorthFork2_7.jpg

8_21_11_050.jpg

I've seen more sophisticated instrument panels on remote-controlled boats. "No promises" you'll actually be able to find your destination.

18_21_11_051.jpg

This little red schoolhouse was built in 1818 and once housed Greenport's kindergarteners.

12012_NorthFork2_2.jpg

You'd look grumpy, too, if your teacher made you dress up like The Flying Nun.

2012_NorthFork2_3.jpg

One of our favorite places to eat in Greenport is at Claudio's, which bills itself as the oldest, same-family run restaurant in the U.S.

2012_NorthFork3_4.jpg

Claudio's traces its history to 1854, when a Portuguese whaling ship called the Neva set sail from the Azores and docked in Greenport with a whaler on board named Manuel Claudio. For the next 16 years Manuel Claudio sailed the world on the Neva. Finally, in 1870, he'd saved up enough money to never have to sail again, and he did what any man who hadn't set foot on dry land in 16 years would do: He opened a brothel tavern.

2012_NorthFork_15.jpg

8_21_11_016.jpg

Claudio's often adds an ethnic twist to its classic seafood, like this Cajun calamari with spicy banana peppers and chipotle aioli.

2012_NorthFork_18.jpg

Or this, their flounder bruschetta.

8_21_11_020.jpg

I like to stick with a classic artery-clogger: Baked, stuffed jumbo shrimp with creamy lobster sauce.

2012_ClaudioLob_1.jpg

No matter what you order, you'll be eating it off of a tiny pitchfork.

thumb_2012_NorthFork_17.jpg

Although Claudio's clam chowder has had no fewer than 8 first-place finishes in the Maritime Festival Chowder Contest, it is still no match for the Louisiana corn-and-crab chowder that has inexplicably disappeared from the menu. See how this pales in comparison?

2012_NorthFork_19.jpg

Because of its location at the very end of the North Fork, Greenport is a huge draw for bikers.

8_21_11_024.jpg

8_21_11_023.jpg

I imagine they start their day with spot of tea at the Greenport Tea Company, linger over oysters and Champagne at the Frisky Oyster, take a harbor tour on one of the town's tall ships, then lick the frosting off a few cupcakes from Butta Cakes before jumping on their hogs and riding off into the sunset.

98_21_11_026.jpg

8_21_11_027.jpg

8_21_11_028.jpg

8_21_11_029.jpg

After photographing the motorcycles, I asked one of the bikers if he'd be willing to pose for me. After he agreed, I teasingly warned him, "You know you're going to end up on the Internet, right?" "It wouldn't be the first time!" one of his buddies chortled. "Yeah, but at least this time, nobody will be looking for him," another chimed in.

large_8_21_11_03..rsion_3.jpg

I'm sure he was just referring to this guy's Facebook friends . . . right???

The North Fork's main road, Route 25, is dotted with farm stands large and small . . .

2012_NorthFork7_2.jpg

2012_NorthFork7_4.jpg

2012_Livestock_1.jpg

2012_NorthFork4_11.jpg

2012_NorthFork5_5.jpg

2012_NorthFork5_1.jpg

8_21_11_072.jpg

. . . and "Deliverance."

8_21_11_076.jpg

Route 25 and its northern parallel, Route 48, are also home to over 40 wineries. People often ask me which ones are my favorites, and the answer to that question is directly related to whether the winery's parking lot is filled with buses and limousines at the time I'd like to visit. No limos = great wine! Tour bus = probably swill.

There isn't actually a creek at Corey Creek, but there is good wine and a lovely, if creek-less, view.

2012_NorthFork4_01.jpg

2012_NorthFork4_03.jpg

2012_NorthFork4_02.jpg

2012_NorthFork4_04.jpg

As I always say, Why sip when you can chug?

2012_NorthFork4_06.jpg

2012_NorthFork4_05.jpg

2012_NorthFork4_10.jpg

Other wineries on Rt. 25 include Pellegrini, Peconic Bay, and Macari.

large_8_21_11_079.jpg

8_21_11_080.jpg

2012_NorthFork_01.jpg

2012_NorthFork_02.jpg

2012_NorthFork_03.jpg

2012_NorthFork_04.jpg

2012_NorthFork_10.jpg

2012_NorthFork_11.jpg

2012_NorthFork_05.jpg

I guess this is one way to pay for college. If stripping isn't your thing, that is.

2012_NorthFork_06.jpg

large_2012_NorthFork_07.jpg

This bite-sized sandwich cost Angel $4, but it cost me twenty minutes of my life, spent listening to him rant about what a ripoff it was.

2012_NorthFork_08.jpg

Yes, you.

2012_NorthFork_09.jpg

8_21_11_071.jpg

Although the wineries may look fancy, ya'll can also just relax with some sparklin' wine and locally-made potato chips.

2012_NorthFork_12.jpg

2012_NorthFork_13.jpg

Or you can grab a pizza, but not just any pizza. One of the newest players on the North Fork's Slow Food scene is Grana, which is already being touted as some of the best pizza in New York City . . . even though it's 75 miles away. New Yorkers, we're all about understatement.

2012_Grana1_1.jpg

The owner, David Plath, a native of Hampton Bays, took no chances before opening Grana: He took pizza-baking classes in Italy, studied dough and yeast making at the French Culinary Institute, and attended bread making classes at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Vermont before opening shop. You know how those Plaths love their ovens.

06-2011-M40.jpg

Grana uses only organic unbleached flour, house-made fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce, Duroc heritage breed pork sausage, and local North Fork vegetables in season.

But are the pies any good? Do I like meatballs?

large_2012_Grana3_1.jpg

Although the margherita pie was delicious, Angel and I are both still dreaming about the Rosa Bianca, a white pizza topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano, red onion, olive oil, rosemary, and a slew of skin-on Long Island potatoes, sliced paper-thin and left in the oven just long enough to take the bite out of them.

large_2012_Grana2_1.jpg

After devouring a few heavenly slices of the Rosa Bianca, one thing is for sure: Next time I find myself stuck behind a potato farmer on a tractor, I'll be sure to give a little wave . . . instead of that other hand gesture.

--------------------------------

Feel free to stalk me -- online, that is! Click here to subscribe, and you'll be the first to know when a new trip report is posted.

2012_Shinn1_1.jpg

Posted by TraceyG 16:04 Archived in USA Tagged grana hamptons north_fork claudios Comments (5)

Wherein I Crash Yet Another Highfalutin' Hamptons Event...

For a certain type of Hamptons resident, summer means a social calendar chock-full of elegant galas, balls, and soirees, all benefiting various local charities. With admission for some running into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, these events are wisely priced to take advantage of the influx of one-percenters during the summer season . . . and to ensure that the Forbes 400 don't have to rub elbows with the likes of me and Angel. But sometimes, the joke's on them: Perhaps you remember that time I crashed the $500-a-head Rock the Dock Bash in Sag Harbor? I'm sorry, but when the DJ plays "It's Raining Men," and 25 guys in pastel pants hit the dance floor simultaneously, I just can't help myself.

And so, when I found out that tickets to the Hamptons foodie event of the summer, Dan's Taste of Two Forks, were going for a hefty $225 per person, I immediately sent out some feelers (okay, begged) to see if I might be able to get in for free. Happily, a friend had some extra tickets, and she astutely surmised that if anybody was going to get their money's worth at an all-you-can-eat event featuring 40 restaurants and 20 wineries, it would be me.

2012_TasteTwoForks_03.jpg

We decided to dress up a bit on the theory that it's always better to be overdressed when (1) the event is co-hosted by famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and fashion designer Nicole Miller, and (2) you're planning to behave like a Tasmanian devil set loose at a BBQ. That theory turned out to be correct: You know it's a chi-chi event when the Porsche is the one slumming it between the convertible Maserati and the Bentley.

2012_TasteTwoForks_01.jpg

And both of those are slumming it next to this guy.

2012_TwoFo..ybach_1.jpg

And you know it's exclusive when Dan Rattiner of Dan's Papers -- who is both the founder and namesake of the event -- still needs a wristband to get in.

2012_TasteTwoForks_10.jpg

Once we got inside, we realized that not only were we dressed appropriately, but potato sacks might have been preferable to some of the getups we encountered. It is a brave woman who dares sport long-sleeved gold lamé on a humid evening in July. At least burlap breathes.

2012_TasteTwoForks_06.jpg

The memo about the white dresses and checkered shirts must have gotten lost in the mail along with my media pass.

2012_TasteTwoForks_09.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_07.jpg

Once we entered the tent, it was exactly like those horrible dreams you have where there's a vast, limitless buffet of every single one of your favorite foods, only you wake up before you get to eat any of it. Oh, wait, you don't have those dreams? Anyhoo, I literally didn't know where to start. My head said to be orderly and work my way down one side of the aisle and up the other, but my heart suggested that I dive headfirst into the wine booths in the center aisle, Slip 'N Slide style, and start chugging. Decisions, decisions.

large_2012_TasteTwoForks_12.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_35.jpg

Reason won out and we started on the left, where the first booth we encountered was for the excellent Amarelle. Tucked away north and west of the Hamptons in the small enclave of Wading River, Amarelle first came to our attention at the Long Island Food & Wine Festival back in 2010. That's where Amarelle's chef, the lovely Lia Fallon, managed to outcook every single person at the festival by making . . . a salad.

2012_TasteTwoForks_16.jpg

Not just any salad, of course, but one made with butter lettuce, frisee, arugula, sun-dried cherries, toasted almonds, white balsamic with vanilla-bean essence . . . and cocoa-dusted goat cheese. The play of sweet and sour, bitter and tangy, chewy and crunchy made this salad a real knockout. And it was, until Lia somehow managed to outdo even herself by making this:

2012_TwoForksRedos_2.jpg

That is a savory goat cheese cheesecake made with local Catapano Dairy Farm goat cheese, lemon oil, sea salt, and presumably some crack. Lia mentioned how difficult it was to make 1,700(!) of these come out perfectly, but I don't believe her: This ingenious creation's creamy, lemony goodness bested virtually everything else we had that evening.

Next we made our way over to Rumba, which will come as no surprise since we spend a good part of every weekend making our way over to Rumba. For Taste of Two Forks, owner David Hersh brought out the big guns: His Dominican ribs. You know these are good when they are a huge hit at an event where almost everyone got the memo about wearing white.

2012_TasteTwoForks_17.jpg

Over at Sarabeth's, which is located in Manhattan but apparently summers in the Hamptons, I couldn't understand why these were labeled "Morning Cookies." Aren't all cookies morning cookies?

large_2012_TasteTwoForks_13.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_30.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_14.jpg

These are Grana's miniature wagyu beef meatballs with organic stone-ground wheat buns, imported 24-month Parmigiano-Reggiano, and local arugula. Also known as the Mini Meatball Slider That Was Almost Too Cute to Eat But You Already Know How This Ends.

2012_TasteTwoForks_20.jpg

Next up was Anke's Fit Bakery, which had the good sense to serve these gorgeous tomato and mozzarella toasts instead of something healthy.

2012_TasteTwoForks_29.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_31.jpg

I am ashamed to admit that I originally dismissed Banzai Burger in Amagansett as one of those fusion places that tries to do several cuisines at once (in this case, burgers and sushi) and ends up succeeding at none of them. And I was partially right: When your burger is this good, you don't need sushi. Or even plates. I will still show up, and I will still banzai the hell out of your amazing burger.

large_2012_TasteTwoForks_37.jpg

Next up was Plaza Cafe's seared local scallop over sweet corn polenta with organic shiitakes. The chef at Plaza Cafe, Doug Gulija, is one of those people that you want to hate because they're so insanely talented, but you can't because they're also so damn nice. As for that polenta, let's just say that I'm booked at Plaza Cafe next weekend and there's a plate full o' cornmeal there with my name on it.

2012_TasteTwoForks_42.jpg

At one point I realized that I only had about 2 hours left to stuff down 30-odd dishes, so we had to move quickly. And so we had, in no particular order, Georgica's excellent soy-ginger tuna tartare...

2012_TasteTwoForks_21.jpg

A refreshing chilled raw sweet corn and cashew bisque from Babette's in East Hampton...

2012_TasteTwoForks_36.jpg

The Riverhead Project's Polish Town lobster pierogies with red wine and onion marmalade and sea beans, which managed to erase decades of this Pittsburgher's sauerkraut pierogie aversion in one fell swoop...

2012_TasteTwoForks_27.jpg

Nobu's miso black cod on butter lettuce, which was so delicious that I might be willing to brave the 6-foot-tall models and the 5-foot-tall men who chase them at Nobu in order to get some more...

2012_TasteTwoForks_62.jpg

Southampton Social Club's sesame-crusted ahi tuna on a lotus chip with wasabi caviar sweet soy reduction...say that three times fast...

2012_TwoForksRedos_5.jpg

Navy Beach's delicious something-or-other, which I'm sure I'd remember if I hadn't been so busy plotting to steal admiring their beachy weathered "Montauk" sign...

2012_TasteTwoForks_19.jpg

And Lunch's lobster and shrimp salads.

2012_TwoForksAgain_2.jpg

Wait, there's a restaurant called, simply, "Lunch"? Sort of. It's actually called The Lobster Roll, but the huge blue "LUNCH" sign outside earned them the nickname, and it just stuck. I guess they should be glad no one ever noticed their "PARKING" sign.

And then there was the parade of ice cream cones. I'll let you guess which one contained Bay Burger's cool, creamy mint ice cream, and which ones contained fluke and steak tartares.

2012_TwoForksRedos_8.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_54.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_55.jpg

Eventually the heat became too much and the overflow crowd moved outside for a bit.

2012_TasteTwoForks_71.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_72.jpg

Back inside, we had so much wine that we were grateful for some help aiming the food at our mouths.

2012_TasteTwoForks_50.jpg

large_2012_TasteTwoForks_51.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_39.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_33.jpg

In a sea of wine, Tito's Vodka dared to be different with a deliciously refreshing drink of vodka, lime, and ginger beer called Tito's Kickin' Mule.

2012_TasteTwoForks_67.jpg

In case you're wondering if that name is hyperbolic, ask yourself this: When's the last time you had a drink that inspired you to stick out both your tongue and your leg (in a stumpy parody of Angelina Jolie) for all posterity?

2012_TwoFo..ieLeg_1.jpg

After that, it was time for a palate cleanser: Strawberry-cucumber margaritas, of course.

2012_TasteTwoForks_68.jpg

It was also time for some sweets. We started off with these adorable Guinness stout cupcakes with Bailey's Irish Cream frosting.

2012_TwoForksRedos_6.jpg

That's where we ran into this woman cheekily trying to make off with the entire tray. She gamely posed by flashing that beautiful smile, while tanning bed manufacturers everywhere gave each other high-fives.

2012_TasteTwoForks_65.jpg

Another of our favorite stops of the evening was Love Lane Kitchen, which went in a completely different direction from every other booth and served up . . . breakfast! These are homemade griddle cakes with sausage.

2012_TwoForksRedos_4.jpg

Yes, I know what those little sausages look like, and no, it doesn't help that they're on a paper plate. But trust me: These pancakes were decadently moist and sticky, and I can now confirm that when you're trying to balance a wine glass, a cup full of Tito's Vodka, a camera, a strawberry-cucumber margarita, and two camera lenses, etiquette dictates that you may eat pancakes and syrup by picking them up and folding them in half like a burrito.

2012_TwoForksAgain_1.jpg

2012_TasteTwoForks_32.jpg

One of the few restaurants at Taste of Two Forks that we've never visited was Greek Bites, a new spot in Southampton that opened at the end of last year. I'm not a big fan of nuts and produce masquerading as dessert -- I'm talking to you, almond biscotti, carrot cake, and rhubarb pie -- but if Greek Bites' delicious baklava with rice pudding dipping sauce is any indication of the rest of their menu, I might be willing to overlook a rogue nut or two.

2012_TasteTwoForks_57.jpg

2012_TwoForksGreek_1.jpg

Speaking of rogue nuts, below is Chef Joe Isidori of Southfork Kitchen in Bridgehampton, whose boss is the indisputably nutty Bruce Buschel. That's because Mr. Buschel spent nearly three years chronicling, in a New York Times blog, his decision to open a restaurant in the Hamptons with absolutely no business or restaurant experience, and then submitted to weekly online floggings for not having enough money, having too much money, being too hands-on, being too hands-off, not knowing the first thing about lighting/seating/flooring, and (this is the part where the Internet exploded) deciding to hire Chef Isidori without ever tasting his food.

2012_TasteTwoForks_70.jpg

Luckily for Buschel o' Nuts, Chef Joe makes a mean smoked trout salad.

2012_TwoForksRedos_7.jpg

Another of our favorite dining spots is the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold. Chef Gerry Hayden's foodie credentials include being presented with the inaugural Two Forks Outstanding Achievement Award for his dedication to the local community and commitment to native Long Island produce and ingredients. Oh, and he ran the famed New York City restaurant Aureole before, er, buying the farm.

This is North Fork Table's summer vegetable-stuffed organic zucchini with tomato emulsion and goat cheese. Forget cotton candy: Next time I go to the circus, I want some tomato foam.

2012_TasteTwoForks_24.jpg

2012_TwoFo..tTent_1.jpg

On our way out, Taste of Two Forks presented us with a small parting gift, a tiny corn muffin from the gourmet market Citarella.

2012_TasteTwoForks_66.jpg

Although the muffin was delicious, might I suggest a lightly chilled Pepto-Bismol digestif for next year?

-----------------------------------------------

Next up, the bucolic North Fork, where my potato sack will blend right in! Subscribe here to be notified by email when a new post is published.

Posted by TraceyG 06:36 Archived in USA Tagged hamptons bridgehampton taste_of_two_forks dans_papers Comments (5)

Summer in Southampton: Bluebloods & Greenbacks

There's no place quite like Southampton in the summertime. Sprawling green lawns are dotted with pink and blue hydrangea, tall privet hedges are trimmed to perfection, and the gabled rooflines of grand estates peek out from windswept dunes.

7-17-11-025.jpg

87-16-11-021.jpg

7-17-11-023.jpg

large_7-16-11-004.jpg

In town, chic new shops pop up for the season, flowers tumble out of window boxes, American flags wave in the breeze, and the smell of money fills the air.

7-17-11-044.jpg

7-17-11-052.jpg

7-17-11-046.jpg

7-17-11-057.jpg

Nowhere is that smell more overwhelming than in Southampton's estate section, home to the town's wealthy bluebloods. Whether it's tree-lined Halsey Neck Lane, oceanfront Gin Lane, or ultra-exclusive Meadow Lane, the estate section is where polite society reigns . . .

7-17-11-028.jpg

large_7-16-11-005.jpg

And where impolite society must resort to stalking in order to sneak some photographs, given that these folks have spent untold millions on their spectacular homes, only to obscure them from prying, ill-bred eyes like mine with all manner of hedges, gates, cameras, and intercoms.

7-16-11-014.jpg

7-16-11-015.jpg

7-16-11-025.jpg

7-16-11-013.jpg

7-17-11-011.jpg

7-17-11-010.jpg

Still, you didn't really think I was going to let a handful of trespassing citations and three nights in jail stop me, did you?

7-16-11-019.jpg

7-17-11-034.jpg

7-17-11-019.jpg

7-17-11-016.jpg

7-17-11-035.jpg

I'm kidding, of course. It was only one night in jail.

In all seriousness, though, you know you've abandoned all sense of dignity when you pull your leased Honda onto the shoulder on Gin Lane, jump out in your flip-flops, and start taking paparazzi shots of the Old Guard's houses while the drool runs down your chin.

7-16-11-006.jpg

7-17-11-032.jpg

The private estate at the end of this long driveway is called Fairlea. Fairlea Expensive, that is. Gravel ain't cheap, ya know.

large_7-16-11-017.jpg

I guess this is the high-class version of that old bumper sticker, "My Other Car is a Lamborghini."

7-16-11-001.jpg

There's one in every neighborhood: that guy who doesn't cut his grass, or leaves his Christmas lights up all year. In Southampton, it's the guy with the windmill in his yard.

7-17-11-033.jpg

Or the guy with the O.K. Corral security gate.

7-17-11-014.jpg

Or, worst of all, the poor sap who couldn't afford a separate entrance for the help. How gauche.

7-17-11-012.jpg

Behind this hedge is the venerable Meadow Club, which was established in the 1880s and is known for its meticulously maintained grass tennis courts. The Wasps, they'll use any excuse to hire a groundskeeper.

large_7-17-11-029.jpg

7-17-11-026.jpg

Like this poor guy, who was apparently hired to spend the day on his hands and knees in a mile-long gravel driveway, pulling the weeds out with a tweezer.

7-16-11-012.jpg

Or this one, who probably trained with Cirque du Soleil before pulling off this feat.

large_7-16-11-005-2.jpg

Despite being manicured to within an inch of its life, Southampton has a tiny bit of natural beauty, too.

7-17-11-024.jpg

7-17-11-021.jpg

wavegirl.jpg

47-17-11-020.jpg

7-16-11-020.jpg

large_7-17-11-022.jpg

Because it is a sin to have more money than God, Southampton also has its fair share of lovely churches.

7-16-11-031.jpg

7-16-11-028.jpg

7-16-11-029.jpg

7-16-11-026.jpg

large_7-16-11-009.jpg

The only thing a church needs more than an iron pot? A cannon.

7-16-11-007.jpg

I'd have taken some pictures of the church interiors, too, but I'm not a big fan of bursting into flames.

In town, Southampton is chock-full of tony shops where residents of the estate section can burn through some of the money that's falling out of their pockets.

7-17-11-047.jpg

7-23-11-008.jpg

7-17-11-048.jpg

7-17-11-050.jpg

7-17-11-051.jpg

7-23-11-009.jpg

7-17-11-053.jpg

7-17-11-058.jpg

7-17-11-059.jpg

It's a sad day when you discover that a town's library is way nicer than your house.

7-17-11-045.jpg

Even the old library.

7-17-11-049.jpg

I don't know what I'm pointing at here, but it's a pretty good bet that I can't afford whatever it is.

7-17-11-039.jpg

If a shopping spree hasn't relieved you of the burden of a full wallet, one of the best places to lighten the load is at Tutto Il Giorno, a restaurant whose name means "all day" in Italian, and also describes how long you'll want to spend in Tutto's gorgeous, Tuscan-style garden.

7-5-11-025.jpg

7-5-11-007.jpg

7-5-11-002.jpg

7-5-11-005.jpg

7-5-11-004.jpg

large_7-5-11-016.jpg

Angel and I started by sharing the burrata . . .

7-5-11-003.jpg

7-5-11-017.jpg

. . . and ended by thumb-wrestling over the last of the tomatoes.

Then it was on to the spaghetti for me, and the ravioli stuffed with bitter herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sage sauce for Angel. It's a shame they both look so unappetizing.

large_7-5-11-020.jpg

large_7-5-11-019.jpg

Oh, you think I forgot something? Don't be silly.

7-5-11-018.jpg

The lovely decor was designed by fashion designer Donna Karan's equally-talented daughter, Gabby. My family is really talented, too, but there isn't much money in bickering.

77-5-11-012.jpg

large_57-5-11-011.jpg

Another spot we like in Southampton is Le Chef, a small bistro for the ladies-who-lunch crowd.

67-5-11-001.jpg

7-23-11-001.jpg

7-23-11-003.jpg

One of the things I love about Le Chef is that they give you a free bowl of soup with your lunch entree. Free! In Southampton! This day's soup was spring pea with basil. Did I mention it was free?

7-23-11-004.jpg

Angel ordered the local flounder, while I had one of my favorite sandwiches, the sundried tomato with goat cheese, cucumber, field greens, and basil-walnut dressing on 8-grain toast.

7-23-11-006.jpg

7-23-11-007.jpg

As I was photographing our entrees, one of the ladies a few tables over gasped loudly to her dining companions: "That young lady is taking a photograph . . . of her sandwich!!" Little did she know that the real shocker was how many vegetables I ate in one sitting. Between the soup and that sandwich, I might have actually eaten a day's worth of vegetables in a single day, instead of spreading it out over a month or two like I usually do.

7-23-11-005.jpg

Of course, not every place in Southampton caters to such highbrow tastes. This is the Golden Pear, a popular local mini-chain of cafes where you can grab a coffee, some breakfast, or a light lunch all year round.

2012_GoldenPear_2.jpg

2012_GoldenPear_6.jpg

The Golden Pear has the distinction of being one of the only restaurants within 100 miles of New York City where you can allow people to pour their own coffee without fear of someone getting trampled to death.

2012_GoldenPear_1.jpg

Of course, you might still be in danger of a stampede, given the lines that stretch out the door in the summer.

2012_GoldenPear_4.jpg

But at least you'll be trampled by the very well-heeled.

2012_GoldenPear_5.jpg

--------------------
Can't get enough huge houses and tiny sports cars? There's more Hamptons here, here, and here!

Want to know where we're headed next? Subscribe here!

Posted by TraceyG 18:40 Archived in USA Tagged southampton hamptons the_hamptons Comments (8)

Atlantic City, NJ: Against All Odds

Last month, when my friend Frances invited us to spend a weekend with her and her husband Todd in Atlantic City, I was understandably a little apprehensive. First of all, Atlantic City is in New Jersey, a state where calling someone pale is an insult so grave that it might result in your body being stuffed into the trunk of their Camaro. Second, for many years, Atlantic City's reputation was that of a city where the real gambling involved walking down the wrong street after dark. And third, did I mention that we'd be making the 2.5 hour journey by boat? I mean, who isn't dying to star in their very own remake of Gilligan's Island?

Our plan was to drive down to Frances and Todd's house in Brick, NJ, on Friday night, then depart for Atlantic City on Saturday morning. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling well on the drive down, and so after a tour of every rest stop bathroom in New Jersey, I slept in on Saturday and missed the omelets that Todd had kindly prepared for breakfast. Instead, I had this.

AtlanticCi.._Cake_1.jpg

That is a butter cake with orange filling and buttercream frosting that Frances made herself. It was supposed to be my dessert on Friday night, but it made a perfect breakfast instead . . . particularly when paired with bellinis.

AtlanticCity_2012_002.jpg

I know this looks like a lot of luggage for just one night, but Frances and I really wanted to blend in in Atlantic City, so two of those bags were filled with bronzer, hair extensions, fake nails, and lip liner, and a third was stuffed full of padded bras.

AtlanticCity_2012_003.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_004.jpg

2012_Atlan..dRedo_1.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_006.jpg

Our journey was thankfully uneventful, and after a few hours Atlantic City came into view.

AtlanticCity_2012_009.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_007.jpg

Soon we arrived at the state marina where we'd be docking the boat for the night.

AtlanticCity_2012_010.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_012.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_014.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_018.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_020.jpg

AtlanticCi..Poles_1.jpg

large_AtlanticCi..cleat_1.jpg

We then made our way over to the Borgata, where the glass-fronted lobby has those triple-width revolving doors that move automatically as soon as you step in. Some idiot kept touching the glass, though, which causes the doors to stop dead and everyone inside to pile up . . . but I just couldn't help myself.

AtlanticCity_2012_079.jpg

Although AC has dozens of hotels to choose from, Frances said she picked the Borgata because of the gorgeous Chihuly glass chandeliers and sculptures in the lobby and other public areas.

AtlanticCity_2012_077.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_078.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_071.jpg

Despite the beauty of the Chihuly sculptures, Frances has lived in Jersey for quite a while now, so I wouldn't be surprised if she really wanted to stay at the Borgata because the building is plated in fake gold.

AtlanticCity_2012_008.jpg

Our first stop was at Buddakan for lunch, where this gigantic golden Buddha would turn out to be the most tasteful thing we saw all weekend.

AtlanticCity_2012_021.jpg

Since we'd arrived in AC later than anticipated, three of us were famished by the time we sat down for lunch, and Todd was downright delirious.

AtlanticCity_2012_026.jpg

However, since our dinner reservations were just 4 hours away by the time we arrived at Buddakan, we decided that we'd better eat light. So we had some spare ribs, and one or two other things.

AtlanticCity_2012_022.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_024.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_025.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_027.jpg

large_AtlanticCity_2012_028.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_029.jpg

After lunch we spent a few minutes exploring the Pier Shops and the boardwalk.

AtlanticCity_2012_031.jpg

I'm as lazy as the next guy, but cruising the boardwalk in one of these carts instead of on foot is really pushing it.

AtlanticCity_2012_032.jpg

After lunch we walked over to Caesar's, the legendary Atlantic City hotel that began life as a Howard Johnson's. You might think that Caesar's is much classier than a HoJo, but that's like arguing about whether Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan is the better behaved inmate.

AtlanticCity_2012_051.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_050.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_049.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_039.jpg

If you ever find yourself staring at a bunch of cement Caesars and a garish sign for Trump Plaza, do as this photo suggests and hire a moving van to get the hell out of there.

large_AtlanticCity_2012_034.jpg

The highlight of our visit to Caesar's was this multi-piece sculpture outside the hotel.

AtlanticCity_2012_036.jpg

Frances and Todd jokingly discussed getting a red-caped Caesar for their own front yard, but let's be realistic: One of their neighbors would steal it in a heartbeat.

AtlanticCity_2012_037.jpg

Angel and Todd decided to return to the Borgata to catch the Yankees game on TV, which left me and Frances free to do a little shopping.

AtlanticCity_2012_040.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_041.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_045.jpg

Oh my Gaudy.

AtlanticCity_2012_047.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_046.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_048.jpg

One of the highlights of the Pier Shops is a fountain that changes colors.

AtlanticCity_2012_042.jpg

Every so often the fountain is set to music, and since this is New Jersey, that music is either Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, or someone hollering, "Yo!"

AtlanticCity_2012_044.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_043.jpg

Our plans for that evening included dinner, drinks, and a comedy show, so, this being AC, I of course dressed up like a streetwalker.

AtlanticCi..2_TTG_1.jpg

For her part, Frances wore a black dress covered in 3-foot-long fringe, which she inadvertently peed on every time she went to the ladies room. I'm kidding! That only happened once.

AtlanticCity_2012_053.jpg

The four of us met up outside Frances' room at precisely 7:30, but Todd, who was fully dressed and ready to go, never even made it to the elevator before deciding that he was too exhausted to carry on . . . leaving Angel with a faux hooker on each arm and a dinner reservation at a place called Fornelletto, which sounds like something a real hooker might do for the right price.

AtlanticCity_2012_054.jpg

We started off with the burrata . . .

AtlanticCity_2012_056.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_057.jpg

then moved on to the spaghetti with lobster for Angel . . .

AtlanticCity_2012_060.jpg

and the basil-crusted halibut with peas, favas, and asparagus for Frances . . .

large_AtlanticCity_2012_059.jpg

and a veal parm, ironically shaped like a chicken, for me.

AtlanticCity_2012_058.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_061.jpg

After dinner we headed over to the comedy club, but between the group of drunken hecklers near the stage, and the pack of drunken hyenas behind us, the only person laughing was probably Todd, who'd had the good sense to stay home.

Undeterred, the three of us wound up at one of the Borgata's many bars, this one called Long Bar, where we had a few cocktails and Frances unleashed her inner Tracey by ordering a plate full of soft pretzels less than an hour after we finished dinner.

AtlanticCity_2012_064.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_062.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_065.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_063.jpg

Although I'd like to say that we stayed up and partied all night, Angel and I collapsed into bed by midnight.

large_AtlanticCity_2012_068.jpg

The next morning Frances and Todd headed back to the marina to ready the boat for our trip back, while Angel checked us out of the hotel and I took some photos of the casino.

AtlanticCity_2012_076.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_069.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_072.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_073.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_074.jpg

We ran out of time to grab breakfast, but luckily Frances had it covered: A danish for Angel, and for me . . . a tuna melt. That she knows that's my favorite breakfast and still hangs out with me just goes to show what a good friend she is.

AtlanticCity_2012_080.jpg

We were maybe only 15 minutes outside of AC when we saw this.

large_AtlanticCity_2012_081.jpg

Yup, that's the Coast Guard, who pulled up alongside us and boarded our boat for what was supposed to be a routine check of the boat's emergency equipment. I'm pretty sure, however, that this particular inspection was anything but routine, considering that the ensuing conversation went something like this:

Coast Guard: When is the last time you were boarded, ma'am?
Frances: Um, never? And who are you calling "ma'am"?
Tracey: Hey, would you guys like a tuna melt?!
Coast Guard [sternly]: No, thank you, ma'am. It's 10:00 in the morning.
Tracey: Well, how about some photos, then? You wanna be on a blog?
Angel buries his face in his hands.
Frances: Our friend Tracey here has this tapeworm, and lots of people like to read about it. You could be famous!
Todd [changing the subject]: Here, let me show you officers the life jackets and flares.
Tracey: Smile pretty, now!
Coast Guard [sternly]: Ma'am, please don't make us confiscate that camera.
Tracey: What did my friend just tell you about calling us "ma'am"?

2012_Atlan..eRedo_1.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_082.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_083.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_085.jpg

Inspection completed, the Coast Guard departed and we continued on our merry way, bound for Baker's Water Street Bar & Grille in Tom's River. Tom's River is notable for having a completely normal name, which really means something in a state full of towns with names like Ho-Ho-Kus, Bivalve, Cheesequake, and Buttzville.

AtlanticCity_2012_097.jpg

At Baker's, we ordered such a disgusting assortment of foods that you'd have thought we'd staggered into a 7-11 at 2 a.m. I went with a pina colada paired with the Asian salmon, which I don't really like but ordered for the basmati rice that came with it; Frances ordered a four-course lunch that included red pepper hummus, teriyaki steak, wasabi-crusted tuna, and a molten chocolate lava cake a la mode; Angel had the cashew-crusted tilapia with coconut rum sauce, which he ate with French fries and a side of BBQ sauce; and Todd nursed a coffee and ordered a lobster to go.

large_2012_Atlan.._pina_1.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_092.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_091.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_094.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_096.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_095.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_093.jpg

Amazingly, nobody threw up. Maybe because we had coated our stomachs with Baker's addictive corn fritters dusted with powdered sugar beforehand?

AtlanticCity_2012_090.jpg

Exhausted from taking in more tacky in one weekend than most folks do in a lifetime, Angel and I departed Brick around 5pm and headed for home. We were almost at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel when it occurred to us that there was only one possible way to finish a weekend in Jersey, and that was with dinner at Leo's Grandevous in Hoboken.

AtlanticCity_2012_098.jpg

I make it a policy to never use photos on this blog that I didn't take myself, but Leo's warrants a one-time exception. This is the photo that appears on their web site's home page, and it sums up Leo's better than any words I might write ever could.

leosimage.jpg

Opened by Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi in 1939, Leo's became a hangout for Frank Sinatra in his early days in Jersey, and today, all of the available space on Leo's walls, and a fair amount of the selections on the jukebox, are dedicated to Hoboken's favorite son.

AtlanticCity_2012_099.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_102.jpg

In 2000, Men's Journal named Leo's one of the "50 Greatest Bars in the United States," probably because it's the perfect place for a "grandevous," which is a clever play on the restaurant's location on 2nd Street and Grand.

AtlanticCity_2012_100.jpg

AtlanticCity_2012_103.jpg

As "Don't Stop Believin'" blared from the jukebox, Angel and I settled in at a high-top near the bar and ordered two glasses of bad Chianti, which arrived filled to the brim old-school style. (White wines at Leo's are served with ice.)

Soon our spaghetti and meatballs arrived, along with a side of meatballs to share. This is Leo's: Leave the Chianti; take the meatballs.

AtlanticCity_2012_105.jpg

large_AtlanticCity_2012_106.jpg

Sure, Leo's is delightfully tacky and staunchly old-school, but it's also a helluva lot of fun.

AtlanticCity_2012_101.jpg

Much like New Jersey itself.

------------------------------------------------

Want more Jersey? Check out our adventures in beautiful Cape May here.

Want to swap fake tans and big hair for tiny dogs and huge egos? Then follow us to the Hamptons this summer! Click here to subscribe, and you'll be the first to know how many lobster rolls a person can really eat in three short months.

Posted by TraceyG 05:41 Archived in USA Tagged atlantic_city new_jersey hoboken borgata leos_grandevous Comments (2)

Longboat Key & Naples, FL: Everybody Must Get Stoned

So, what do you do when dear friends are getting married in the slow-drivin', blue-hair-havin', socks-with-shorts-wearin' capital of Florida's Gulf Coast, otherwise known as Naples?

You realize that just two short hours away on Longboat Key is Moore's Stone Crab, the best stone-crab-servin' spot around, and you arrive five days early just to stuff yourself full of Moore's before the wedding.

Or, at least that's what you'd do if you had a tapeworm.

Longboat20..dgRedo1.jpg

We arrived at the Ft. Myers airport on a Tuesday morning with empty bellies, full wallets, and just 80 miles of Florida highway separating us from stone crab nirvana. We immediately set off for a tiny barrier island across the bay from Sarasota called Lido Key, which is connected to Moore's, er, Longboat by a short bridge.

Longboat20..utRedo1.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores12.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores19.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores20.jpg

The oldest seafood restaurant under the same ownership in Manatee County, Moore's opened in 1967 when Papa Jack Moore started walking the flats of the bays, catching stone crabs by hand. As his business grew, Papa Jack started rowing a boat up and down the coast, sleeping on the beach at night. (I know this makes Papa Jack sound like a homeless vagrant, but remember, this was the 60s.) He later bought an outboard motor to speed up the process.

Longboat2012_Moores15.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores21.jpg

Back then Papa Jack worked about 50 to 75 traps, whereas today, Moore's boats work as many as 140,000 traps, all of which are built by hand. You know it's time for a career change when you'd rather build 140,000 crab traps with your bare hands and sleep on a beach than review 140,000 legal documents and sleep in a real bed. I'm just sayin'.

Longboat2012_Moores03.jpg

For the uninitiated, stone crabs are similar in flavor (and, unfortunately, price) to very sweet Maine lobster, though the claw meat is actually more tender and less chewy than lobster. And, unlike lobster, stone crabs are an eco-friendly choice because, once removed, their claws will grow back in about a year, and each time the crab molts, the new claw grows larger.

Longboat2012_Moores07.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores04.jpg

Longboat20..eyRedo1.jpg

Stone crabs can be served hot or cold, and are accompanied by a wedge of lemon and your choice of drawn butter or a pungent mustard sauce. At Moore's, however, the stone crab is so sweet that the butter is altogether unnecessary and the mustard just masks the crabs' incredible flavor, so Angel and I stick to a healthy squeeze of lemon and a lot of swooning.

Longboat2012_Moores08.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores10.jpg

After lunch we checked in at our hotel, the Lido Beach Resort. At many hotels I find myself wondering why they don't just save us both some time and give me the room I'm going to end up in anyway, after I complain about the first one. Luckily there was no such time-wasting at the Lido.

Longboat20..tLido38.jpg

Longboat20..tLido29.jpg

large_Longboat20..erRedo1.jpg

Later that afternoon we stopped by St. Armand's Circle, an open-air shopping and dining area located on its own oval-shaped island just a short walk from Lido Key. Whether you're after a beachy frock at Shore or Lilly Pulitzer, drinks at the Daiquiri Deck, or, say, an inside-out Boston cream cupcake from Sarasota Cupcake Co., St. Armand's is the place to get it.

Longboat2012_Moores25.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores27.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores28.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores39.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores40.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores31.jpg

large_Longboat2012_Moores32.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores33.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores34.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores29.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores30.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores35.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores37.jpg

thumb_Longboat2012_Moores44.jpg

large_Longboat2012_Moores45.jpg

Since we weren't sure how tired we'd be at the end of a long travel day, we decided to wing it for dinner instead of making reservations. And so later in the evening we we set off for Euphemia Haye, which sounds like a particularly nasty pollen allergy, but is in fact a gourmet restaurant with an upstairs lounge called the Haye Loft.

thumb_Longboat2012_Moores47.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores56.jpg

The Haye Loft serves a small menu of appetizers, salads, entrees, thin-crust pizzas, and tapas, all of which fit the bill perfectly given the late hour. I decided to go for the pizza topped with grilled shrimp, pesto, pine nuts, and bell peppers, mainly because the menu read, and I quote, "Speaks for itself! (mmm)."

Longboat20..zaRedo1.jpg

For his part, Angel went with the spicy BBQ duck and shiitake mushroom pizza, topped with caramelized onion and garlic. Although the menu did not say "mmm," or anything else with regards to the BBQ duck pizza, I'd like to recommend a reprint in which the menu writer might add, "Holy mother of god this is the most amazing @#$%& duck. Mmm."

Longboat2012_Moores49.jpg

You know what this is, right?

Longboat2012_Moores51.jpg

Yep, it's that little bubble that pops up sometimes near a pizza's crust, allowing the cheese there to become more browned and nutty and crunchy than on the rest of the pie, and yes, I saved it for last. I'd been hoping to use it as a bargaining chip for some more duck, but by the time I'd eaten my way around to the bubble, Angel had long finished scarfing down that duck.

Turnabout is fair play, however. And so, when we were informed that the Haye Loft has its own Dessert Rar featuring everything from peanut butter mousse pie to chocolate chip cheesecake to triple berry pie (you didn't really think I'd picked this place at random, did you?), I ordered my absolute favorite -- the lemon tart -- which also happens to be one of Angel's favorites . . . then extracted a promise involving unlimited access to all future pizza toppings in return for a few bites of my tart.

thumb_Longboat2012_Moores52.jpg

thumb_Longboat2012_Moores53.jpg

thumb_Longboat2012_Moores54.jpg

Longboat2012_Moores55.jpg

large_Longboat2012_Moores57.jpg

The next day we did a bit of exploring around Lido Key and Longboat Key, by which I mean we admired the lovely waterfront homes and wondered if two people who spend as much money on food as we do might ever be able to afford one.

Longboat20..htRedo1.jpg

Longboat20..tLido40.jpg

Longboat20..tLido41.jpg

Longboat20..tLido42.jpg

Longboat20..tLido43.jpg

Longboat20..tLido44.jpg

Longboat20..tLido47.jpg

large_Longboat20..tLido45.jpg

For lunch, we decided on the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill on Longboat.

Longboat20..tLido04.jpg

Longboat20..tLido08.jpg

large_Longboat20..tLido07.jpg

We started off with a frozen rum runner for me, a frozen margarita for Angel, and an order of the fried grouper bites for me to hoard for us to share. The grouper came with a unique Ranch-style Thai chili sauce that was hard to eat in moderation . . . so I didn't.

Longboat20..tLido10.jpg

Longboat20..tLido11.jpg

Longboat20..tLido12.jpg

For our entrees, Angel went with the jerk shrimp tacos, while I went for the chopped chef's salad with . . . Ranch dressing. Like I said: Resistance is futile.

large_Longboat20..tLido15.jpg

After an afternoon spent lounging at the adults-only pool with a good book and an incipient sun rash, we arrived early for our dinner reservation at an old favorite, the Chart House, which we love thanks to its "dynamite" fish.

Longboat20..tLido16.jpg

The Chart House's dynamite preparation entails drizzling an addictive sauce made of cream cheese, mayonnaise, sweet Thai chili sauce, Sriracha, and rice wine over the fish; topping it with a healthy serving of lump crab meat, then broiling the whole thing until the cheese mixture is hot and bubbly and your dining companion is pounding her knife and fork on the table.

Longboat20..tLido20.jpg

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Our meal started off with a couple of cocktails, the pomegranate mojito for Angel and the pineapple-mint caipirinha for me, the latter of which was the runner-up in our "Best Drink of the Week" contest.

thumb_Longboat20..tLido18.jpg

Longboat20..tLido19.jpg

Longboat20..tLido21.jpg

Longboat20..tLido23.jpg

I couldn't decide between the clam chowder and the lobster bisque for my appetizer, so I went with the Best of Soup, which consists of small ramekins of both the chowder and bisque, plus the chunky gazpacho.

Longboat20..tLido24.jpg

Angel went with an appetizer called Calamari & Friends, which sounds like one of those insufferable political roundtables on Fox, but was actually lightly fried calamari rings and some other stuff that you might never think to fry, such as carrots, along with jalapeno peppers and tiny rings of zucchini, all served with citrus chili and chunky marinara sauces for dipping.

Longboat20..tLido25.jpg

Finally, the main event: Two orders of the dynamite grouper topped with a drizzle of basil oil and snipped chives and scallions, accompanied by an artsy pyramid of coconut-ginger rice.

Longboat20..teRedo1.jpg

We thought it was pretty good.

Longboat20..tLido27.jpg

The next day we decided to stay put at the resort for lunch, thanks to the presence of the blackened grouper sandwich on the menu. Although this is the first time I'm writing about The Best Fish Sammie Ever, this sandwich is actually one of the reasons why we continue to return to the silicone-sportin', Botox-injectin', skimpy-outfit-wearin' capital of Florida, otherwise known as Delray Beach, where an identical one is served at the Cascades Poolside Bar at the beachside Marriott.

Why all the fuss over a grouper sandwich from a nondescript hotel restaurant, you ask? Because this grouper sandwich is sweet and succulent and lightly blackened, then topped with carmelized Bermuda onion, chopped romaine, ripe tomato, creamy key lime aioli, and nestled onto two buttery, coconutty slices of griddled -- griddled! -- luau bread, that's why. Griddled!

Longboat20..tLido35.jpg

Also at this lunch, we crowned the winner of our "Best Drink of the Week" contest: A key lime pina colada that was so new it wasn't even on the menu yet. The bartender whipped up a batch of samples, then sent the waitress around with free tastes for all of the unsuspecting lunch patrons. If this sounds familiar, that's because it's the exact same method crack dealers use to reel in new customers.

Longboat20..tLido34.jpg

Longboat20..ssredo1.jpg

Between the sweet, creamy coconut, the slight tang of the lime, and the fact that the pale green color was reminiscent of my beloved Shamrock Shakes circa 1985, you can probably understand why I'd mumble, "Just one more hit, man!" every time Angel tried to cut me off.

Later that evening we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the key lime pina coladas and drove over to a neighboring key, Anna Maria Island, to catch the sunset at an oceanfront spot in Bradenton Beach known simply as The Beachhouse. Crossing the bridge from Longboat into Bradenton Beach was like leaving an ultra-posh, perfectly manicured five-star resort for a tiny beachside cottage where the weathered pastel paint is peeling a bit, a slew of brightly-colored beach towels are slung over the Adirondack chairs, and dozens of pairs of flip flops are scattered around the sandy deck.

In other words, we loved it.

Longboat20..enton09.jpg

Longboat20..StRedo1.jpg

Longboat20..enton01.jpg

Longboat20..amRedo1.jpg

Longboat20..enton02.jpg

Longboat20..enton03.jpg

Longboat20..nsRedo1.jpg

Longboat20..taRedo1.jpg

Longboat20..enton06.jpg

Longboat20..enton13.jpg

Longboat20..enton14.jpg

Longboat20..enton15.jpg

Longboat20..enton16.jpg

Nearby is the Bradenton Beach pier, where we caught the waning daylight just in time.

large_Longboat20..enton18.jpg

Longboat20..enton23.jpg

Longboat20..enton20.jpg

Finally we made our way over to The Beachhouse, where they usher in the sunset . . . by rounding up a random kid to bang a gong. Did I mention that we loved this place?

Longboat20..enton36.jpg

Longboat20..enton26.jpg

Longboat20..enton30.jpg

Longboat20..enton27.jpg

Longboat20..enton33.jpg

large_Longboat20..enton35.jpg

Longboat20..enton28.jpg

What could top that lovely sunset? I'll give you a hint: It starts with "m" and ends with "oore's."

Longboat2012_Moores09.jpg

We started off, naturally, with more stone crab, then moved on to Cajun shrimp and tenderloin tips for Angel, and a couple of crab cakes with an insanely spicy red pepper remoulade for me.

Longboat20..enton40.jpg

Longboat20..enton39.jpg

At one point during our meal, I picked up one of the rounded crab claw "knuckles" and applied a bit of pressure to extract the meat, at which point the slippery knuckle flew right out of my hand and landed under the empty table next to us, exactly like that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts lets that snail fly. Proving that I have even less class than a movie prostitute, however, I immediately retrieved my crab knuckle, applied the Five Second Rule, and ate it anyway. Like I've said, stone crab is both expensive and delicious.

On Friday it was time to leave Moore's Lido Key and head down to Naples for the wedding of our friends Ellen and Brian at La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, where the average room rate of $700 per night was discounted for the wedding to something a little less second-mortgagey. We'd planned to make the drive and then have lunch in Naples, but two hours seemed like at least one hour too long to be on the road without eating, so we headed over to City Island, a Cape Cod-style "hook" at the end of Lido Key that is home to the Old Salty Dog.

Longboat2012_Salty01.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty02.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty03.jpg

The Old Salty Dog is a waterfront pub that I chose specifically for one particular menu item: Dog Bites. Dog Bites are beer-battered, deep-fried hot dogs that are just as salty, greasy, and delicious as you might imagine, though not quite as healthy as you might expect.

large_Longboat2012_Salty10.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty11.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty12.jpg

I got so excited by those Dog Bites that I wasn't thinking clearly when it came time to order entrees, so I ended up with Beer Battered & Deep Fried II, which occurs to me is the perfect name for the boat I plan to buy once I've eaten everything here in NYC and have to start over in Key West.

Longboat2012_Salty13.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty05.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty04.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty09.jpg

Longboat2012_Salty06.jpg

The drive down to Naples was an easy one, and soon we'd arrived at the lovely La Playa, where we were upgraded to a room that opened directly out to the beach and afforded a peek-a-boo view of the water.

Longboat20..Playa03.jpg

Longboat20..Playa02.jpg

Longboat20..Playa04.jpg

Shortly after settling in, we wandered out to get the lay of the land.

large_Longboat20..ayPool1.jpg

Longboat20..rtains1.jpg

Longboat20..ldpool1.jpg

Longboat20..Playa12.jpg

Longboat20..Playa14.jpg

Longboat20..Playa16.jpg

large_Longboat20..Playa30.jpg

At the rehearsal dinner that evening, our friend Frances got a bit tipsy and announced to the entire table that I had a tapeworm, which should have been obvious considering that I'd just gobbled up three cheeseburger sliders in quick succession and was trying to wheedle Angel into getting me another one. Eyeing my bony shoulders suspiciously, Ellen's aunt pooh-poohed the very thought. Oh, I eat like horse, I assured her, explaining that just earlier that day, in fact, I'd enjoyed a lunch of beer-battered, deep-fried hot dogs. At which point Ellen's white-haired uncle suddenly jolted awake from his reverie and sputtered, "Deep fried hot dogs?!? WHERE???" I knew I liked that guy.

Longboat20..Playa26.jpg

Longboat20..Playa31.jpg

The morning of the wedding dawned bright and sunny, so we headed over to the Turtle Club at Vanderbilt Beach for a light lunch of salads and iced tea.

Longboat20..Playa35.jpg

Longboat20..Playa36.jpg

We each started with a bowl of soup -- lobster bisque for me, seafood chowder for the Ange -- followed by a grilled shrimp salad with white balsamic vinaigrette for me, and the Mediterranean salad topped with grilled rosemary chicken for Angel. Both were delicious.

thumb_Longboat20..Playa37.jpgthumb_Longboat20..Playa38.jpg

large_Longboat20..Playa40.jpg

large_Longboat20..Playa42.jpg

Our first inkling of trouble came as we were waiting for the valet to bring our car around after lunch: A few raindrops on my shoulder, followed by a full-on deluge just as the car arrived. By the time we returned to La Playa it had thankfully started to clear up, so we spent the afternoon lounging on the beach and dodging the intermittent thunderstorms before it was time to get ready for the wedding.

Longboat20..Playa28.jpg

Longboat20..Playa17.jpg

large_Longboat20..Playa20.jpg

large_Longboat20..sAgain1.jpg

I'd just taken a shower and had begun drying my hair when my hair dryer suddenly died. I quickly unplugged it and tried a different outlet, then another, and still another, panic setting in as I realized that I had only a matter of minutes before my hair began to air-dry into its natural state, which looks for all the world like cotton candy.

Finally, success! One of the outlets appeared to be working and my hair dryer roared back to life. Ten seconds went by, then twenty. Having coaxed the hair on one side of my head into loose curls, I was just about to beat the cotton candy on the other side of my head into submission when I heard a strange sizzling noise like an electrical charge, and then a distinct crackle.

My hair dryer had caught on fire.

I let out a surprised yelp and flung the dryer to the floor, where it left a burn mark on the carpet and lay there like a useless severed hand. Immediately I began barking out orders to Angel, ranting about nozzles and diffusers and frizz and basically carrying on like a wild-haired John McEnroe on the receiving end of a bad call from the line ump.

Longboat20..dding10.jpg

It's true: I may look somewhat normal, but I have a temper like a sleep-deprived toddler in the candy aisle at a Wal-Mart. Which is why, when Angel failed to produce a brand-new working hair dryer in .02 seconds, I trashed that hotel room like a rock star who discovers one yellow M&M in the bowl of contractually-guaranteed brown ones.

What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that my problems were just the tip of the iceberg.

That's because, while I was busy wrangling a flaming hair dryer and a head full of cotton candy like some kind of deranged circus performer, the building next door, where the bride and groom, the entire wedding party, and all of their relatives were staying . . . had also caught on fire, causing the entire building to be evacuated.

Longboat20..dding09.jpg

Longboat20..Playa21.jpg

Which meant that just an hour before the ceremony, our beautiful bride Ellen had to walk down 14 flights of stairs . . . in her wedding gown . . . and five-inch heels.

Which was also right around the time that this arrived.

Longboat20..dding02.jpg

All told, I'm happy to say that our girl kept it together pretty well. How many brides do you know who can evacuate a burning building, dodge her groom in the hotel lobby, make peace with a gigantic storm cloud, stop to pose for photos with some firemen, and still look this amazing???

Longboat20..ngRedo1.jpg

Longboat20..ireman1.jpg

Longboat20..dding03.jpg

large_Longboat20..Cerem21.jpg

Longboat20..dding07.jpg

For these two, though, looking completely adorable just comes naturally.

Longboat20..dding04.jpg

As for me, I decided that I'd earned a glass of Champagne or three after having successfully managed to not set my own head on fire.

Longboat20..Choosy1.jpg

The next day we attended the happy couple's farewell brunch, then headed off to Ft. Myers, where we arrived approximately 4 hours early for our flight home. While normally the only thing I'm ever early for is a restaurant reservation, given the events of the day before, I think Angel and I both half-expected the road to Ft. Myers to be closed by some only-in-Florida disaster, like an overturned truck full of alligators or a chain-reaction pileup of Cadillacs.

Luckily there were no such disasters, which left us free to make a pilgrimage to nearby Ft. Myers Beach, also known as Estero Island, for a much-anticipated stop at the Heavenly Biscuit.

Longboat20..scuit07.jpg

large_Longboat20..scuit08.jpg

We first discovered the Heavenly Biscuit in 2003, when we chose Ft. Myers Beach for a simple, stress-free beach vacation before I had to begin studying for the bar exam. The fact that I am still thinking about the Heavenly Biscuit nine years later should tell you everything you need to know, both about me and about those biscuits. If not, this might:

large_Longboat20..scuit04.jpg

This is the Heavenly Biscuit's homemade cinnamon roll. But as good as it looks, there's a reason they didn't name this place the Heavenly Cinnamon Roll.

Longboat20..scuit05.jpg

Longboat20..scuit03.jpg

That's because the biscuits at Heavenly Biscuit are exactly that: heavenly. They are buttery, warm, flaky, and soft enough to stick to your teeth, and to them you may add a host of delicious fillings, including eggs, cheese, tomato, gravy, bacon, thick-cut ham, sausage (link or patty), fried chicken, chicken fried steak, salmon, or ahi tuna.

Longboat20..scuit09.jpg

Longboat20..scuit20.jpg

Longboat20..scuit01.jpg

Longboat20..scuit11.jpg

I went with the classic ham, egg, and cheese biscuit, while Angel, apparently feeling like he'd cheated death after escaping both a hotel fire and Hurricane Tracey, went straight for the fried chicken.

Longboat20..scuit18.jpg

Longboat20..scuit16.jpg

large_Longboat20..scuit19.jpg

Back when we first visited the Biscuit in 2003, I'd quickly fallen in love with the spice mix they use to season their home fries, a peppery blend of garlic, salt, paprika, cayenne, red pepper, black pepper, mustard seed, and fennel that gives the mixture a unique taste that's hard to get enough of. And so I'd purchased a bag of it, intending to use it as soon as I got home. But every time I tried, I found myself hesitating: Once I used it all up, who knew when I'd be able to get more? And so that spice mix has sat in my kitchen cabinet for nine long years, waiting for the right moment to finally make its way into a skillet full of home fries.

Longboat20..iceMix3.jpg

That moment is likely to be this weekend. Of course, I'll use my new batch of spice mix and finally toss the old one, knowing that we'll make a return visit to southwest Florida some time soon, if only for more succulent stone crab, addictive key lime pina coladas, and heavenly biscuits.

Longboat20..iceMix2.jpg

I just hope the skillet doesn't catch on fire.

------------------------------------

Follow us to the Hamptons this summer! Click here to subscribe, and you'll be the first to know how many lobster rolls a person can really eat in three short months.

Posted by TraceyG 16:23 Archived in USA Tagged naples longboat_key moores_stone_crab lido_beach euphemia_hay old_salty_dog chart_house Comments (12)

(Entries 31 - 45 of 61) Previous « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 » Next