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A Trip to Brussels: The Food, Part 2

I left off my last post about Brussel’s food with my dinner on Monday evening. I went to work again on Tuesday, and while we didn’t go out for lunch (we ordered sandwiches), my lunch was fabulous; a baguette with brie cheese on it. It doesn’t sound like anything special, and to some might actually sound boring and not enough, but it was hands down the best bread and brie cheese I’ve ever had. Seriously, so good.

Dinner on Tuesday night took me to a more authentic and traditionally Belgian restaurant, Fin de Siécle. The restaurant had mostly rave reviews, but I was a little timid knowing that their only menu was a  giant blackboard in the middle of the restaurant, and it was only in French as it was a “locals” place. I decided to take a chance and go for it, and arrived around 6:30pm. The restaurant was mostly empty, but in a matter of about 40 minutes it was completely packed and people were waiting for seats! The restaurant is actually hall/cafeteria style, so you’ll likely be sharing a table and sitting next to people you don’t know (unless you snag one of the single tables, which are few and far between). While there were a lot of things on the menu that I couldn’t decipher, there were also a lot of things that I did know, which is the beauty of being somewhat familiar with the culinary world (albeit in a very novice sense), since a lot of words aren’t English. While I was deciding on what to get, I noticed one of the waitresses taking the time to talk with two young girls (in English) about their menu and what everything was, and I was impressed that she’d take the time to do so, as customer service isn’t put at such high standards as it is here in the U.S. (service people are paid accordingly so they don’t rely on tips, and they work together). Eventually I decided on the Stoemp, which was essentially fancy mashed potatoes. It was served with two sausage links (that I didn’t eat – but I’m not picky when it comes to that, I don’t care if meat might have touched what I’m eating – I just don’t want to eat it myself) and a phenomenal gravy. I washed everything down with a beer (of course) and loved the entire experience. It’s cash only (they have a bunch of signs) so make sure you stop at an ATM beforehand!

Stoemp | FoodosaurusRex.com

After dinner I decided to take a trip to EXKi, which is a quick service health food restaurant. They serve up pre-made salads and sandwiches, as well as baked goods, coffees and tea, and juices. I had read about a speculoos cheesecake, and knew I had to have it. I grabbed myself a slice of the cake and ordered an espresso machiatto to wash it all down. I should note that they aren’t big on “Americanos” (or what we know to be regular ‘coffee’) so most of the coffee drinks you’ll get are espresso based, and served in miniature cups. The cheesecake and espresso were both delicious, and I wished I had more time to visit the restaurant to try more.

Speculoos crusted cheesecake FTW

Speculoos crusted cheesecake FTW

I worked from my hotel on Wednesday since we were done with our necessary meetings, and made my lunch break a little nontraditional – hot chocolate at Frederic Blondeel! In addition to having a shop full of their delicious chocolates (or as the Belgians call them, confections), they also have a tea room that serves up coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. I settled in to a comfortable seat in the adorable little shop and ordered myself their 100% cacao hot chocolate. Each of their drinks come with a chocolate that compliments your hot chocolate, a biscuit, and a small glass of water to help wash it all down. This was hands down the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and I didn’t want it to end!

This picture does not do the deliciousness justice!

This picture does not do the deliciousness justice!

For dinner, I decided to try a restaurant literally around the corner from my hotel, that had rave reviews – Bia Mara. A fish and chips restaurant started by two Irishmen is simple, no frills, and seriously delicious. You have the option of choosing the kind of fish and the batter you want, a seasoning for your chips, and also a dipping sauce for it all. They also have a vegetarian option, which is always appreciated! I had walked by the restaurant my first night and noticed people literally waiting in line outside for a seat, so I knew I’d have to get there early (which seemed to be the theme of my trip). And let me tell you, it did not disappoint! The chips were unbelievable (dare I say better than any of the frites I devoured), and the dipping sauce (I went with their lemon truffle aoli) was absolutely amazing. The service was also super quick and really really friendly, and I left wanting more! I wish I had tried Bia Mara earlier in the trip, because I definitely would have made a point to make my way back there at least one more time to try another combination. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the deliciousness – but trust me – it was great!

Despite being pleasantly full and happy with my dinner, I knew that my trip wouldn’t be complete without at least one Belgian waffle. There are tons of stands and stores all around the city that offer up the same thing, so it was really just a matter of picking one. The waffles start at one Euro and go up from there depending on what kind of toppings you go for. Naturally I picked the Nutella waffle, and loved it. They aren’t just any kind of waffle; they have just the right amount of crisp with a hint of caramelized sugar, but are stilly chewy and soft like you’d expect from a waffle. Whatever topping you get melts all over, and there’s really no good way to eat one. I’m pretty sure I had it all over my face by the time I was done, but it was worth it!

Oh yes

Oh yes

Thursday was my last full day in Brussels as I had an early flight out on Friday morning, so I made sure to get in everything I had on my to-do list. First up was “breakfast,” which by the time I got out of the hotel and walked all the way to the restaurant, it was more like lunch. I had read this particular restaurant, La Clef d’Or, was a bit further off the beaten path, but worth the trip. It reminded me a lot of an old school diner, where they offer up a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and it’s no frills. It’s actually right across the street from a flea market which would have been fun to check out, but it was raining and I was already pretty miserable from the cold and wet walk over. I remember reading about their Spaghetti and that it was not only a generous portion that was delicious and covered in cheese, but you could order it any time of day. After looking at the menu and their specials, I went with the giant bowl of spaghetti (for only 8 euros) and a coffee. It was absolutely delicious and filling, and worth the trek there. It’s cash only, though, so keep that in mind!

Nothing fancy, but oh so delicious!

Nothing fancy, but oh so delicious!

After lunch I made sure to stop and get as much chocolate as possible to bring home. This sounds like an easy task, but I was actually a little overwhelmed. I wanted to get “the best” chocolate, and with so many artisan chocolatiers in Brussels, I didn’t know what stores to go to. Eventually I decided on Neuhaus and Galler, and picked up a bunch of different variations of dark chocolate for myself as well as some friends and family. I also read fabulous things about Mary and Pierre Marcolini, and would have stopped in to grab a little something if I had more time. After loading up on chocolates I headed over to Maison Dandoy to get myself some speculoos biscuits. If you know me at all, you know I’m completely obsessed with Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter (which is made up of ground speculoos cookies), so it was only natural that I bought some of the real thing while in Brussels. I wanted to buy everything in the store, but eventually settled on a box of vanilla speculoos biscuits and left before I got myself (and my wallet) in deeper trouble.

It IS a good day when you have speculoos

It IS a good day when you have speculoos

When it came time for my final meal in Brussels, I had one requirement – moules and frites. Despite it being a “must have” meal when you’re visiting, I couldn’t really find any one particular restaurant that had good enough reviews to make me want to venture out somewhere new. Having eaten at Houtisplou on my first day and enjoying it, I decided to head back there since I knew they offered moules and frites. The restaurant is two stories, so I decided to sit upstairs for dinner on my last night, which felt fancier (although it wasn’t really). I ordered the famed moules and frites and of course enjoyed it with a beer. I’m going to be honest here – when I’m traveling abroad I’m not strict with my vegetarian diet. When there are language barriers, and typical traditional cuisine, I like to try and fully experience the city I’m in. That being said, if there are vegetarian options available I will always order it, and if not, I go for a fish dish. So knowing that moules and frites were a must-have in Brussels, I went for it… even though I’ve never been a fan of mussels. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these were probably the best mussels I’ve ever had. While eating them I remembered why I didn’t like them – you almost always get a few that are super gritty, as well as a bunch of shells that haven’t opened from cooking. Well that wasn’t the case with these mussels; they were almost all completely open, and there was no grit. Not to mention the broth they were served in was phenomenal. The meal was well worth veering off of my vegetarian diet for – but I don’t plan on making it a regular occurrence.

Mussles from Brussels (not to be confused w. Jean Claude Van Damme)

Mussles from Brussels (not to be confused w. Jean Claude Van Damme)

Being stuffed from dinner, I didn’t make a stop for one last frites cone or one last waffle. But I did head back to Delirium Café for one more beer! After my farewell beer it was back to the hotel to pack up and get to bed, since I had to be up early for my flight back the next morning. While it isn’t really specific to this trip, I think it’s worth noting that the meals I was served on both of my United flights were actually quite impressive. I selected the vegetarian option, and received an Indian styled dish on both flights, which looked infinitely better than either of the meat options that were available for everyone else. So I suggest to anyone flying that isn’t vegetarian, you should still request the vegetarian option (if available)!

My next post will be all about the beer – so stay tuned!!

Tell me…
Ever traveled somewhere that has a famous or traditional dish? What was it? Did you try it (and like it or hate it)?

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A Trip to Brussels: The Food, Part 1

When I found out about a month ago that I needed to take a trip to my company’s office in Brussels, Belgium to work on documenting a new product, all I could think about was the awesome food and drink I’d get to experience. They didn’t even have to finish the sentence or tell me much about the project in order to get me to say yes! So I took a trip “across the pond” last week, and am back (likely heavier) to talk about the deliciousness.

Whenever I’m planning a trip, I do as much research as I can, and really appreciate when people take the time to review things. I rely heavily on Yelp and FourSquare when it comes to food and drink, and I feel as though it’s only appropriate to pay it back by doing the same. So in addition to the reviews there, I wanted to blog about it too. I’m going to break it into two parts: first the food, then the drink. You can experience most of Brussels and the “sights” in a matter of three days (if you hit up the big attractions and are diligent with your time), but obviously staying longer means you’ll have more of an opportunity to try different restaurants and bars. I was in Brussels for six days; three days of work and three days of sight seeing and being a tourist.

Grand Place / Grote Markt

Grand Place / Grote Markt

I must admit I was a little nervous for my first dining experience in Brussels, as each country seems to have their own social and cultural norms when it comes to dining. I tried to do some research beforehand to see what was common, etc., but didn’t get much information. My timidness only stems from my first night in Berlin two years ago, when we walked into a restaurant and didn’t realize that they go by the “seat yourself” rule, and stood in the doorway for awhile until a surly man ushered us to a table. It seems as though in Brussels, you are acknowledged and directed by waitstaff when you walk in, but you’re able to pick your own seat. And when it comes to the check, they don’t rush you – so you either have to ask for it when they’re clearing your place, or flag them down to request it. Or, in some cases, just go up to the register and they’ll ring you up right there. It’s also worth noting that a lot of places are cash only – so make sure you have plenty of Euros with you! Now onto the food…

My ahead of time research led me to my first meal at Houtsiplou. There seem to be a lot of burger joints in Brussels, but this particular restaurant had the best reviews, and they their food is served up in a kitschy environment (all of their walls are painted with fun scenes and their food is delivered up from the kitchen via dumbwaiter). After perusing the menu for awhile, I ordered a beer (of course – review to come in a separate post) and their veggie burger, “Lola.” The burger had some grilled eggplant, tomato sauce, lettuce, and cheddar cheese served with frites in a cute little flower pot. I absolutely loved everything about the restaurant, and planned to take a trip back (which I did on my last night) before leaving. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a good burger and delicious frites just outside of the central tourist area of Brussels.

Lola Burger & frites

Lola Burger & frites

Since my sense of time was out of whack (Left at 6pm EST and arrived at 8am CET, took a little nap before and after lunch), I wasn’t really hungry for dinner that first night. After a trip to Delirium Café (full review on that awesomeness to come in my beer post) for beer, I headed to one of many Friteries just two blocks from my hotel for fries (yes, this was after having them with my burger at lunch). This particular location, Friterie Tabora, offered two different sizes (small or large) and a plethora of sauce options. I decided on the curry sauce, and watched the guy behind the counter smother my piping hot cone of fries thinking to myself, “Um, how am I going to eat this?!” Thankfully they offer those cute little forks for frites consumption, so I had no problem strolling back to my hotel while devouring them.

Frites!

Frites!

On Sunday morning I woke up with two goals in mind: breakfast that included a giant cup of coffee, and a visit to a museum and Mannekin Pis (and more beer, of course). Despite Brussels being a bustling city, there weren’t a lot of coffee shops around. And I quickly learned while trying to find one nearby that a lot of stores, restaurants, and even coffee shops are closed on Sundays. Eventually I settled on The Coffee Company, and ordered myself a blueberry muffin and a cappuccino. It was nice to sit back, relax, and enjoy my breakfast in a familiar environment (well, except for the fact that everyone around me was speaking French). Eventually I made my way to the Magritte Museum to enjoy a little culture. The museum actually made me really tired (it was quiet and dark), so I knew I’d need to walk around outside a bit to wake up.

Brussels | FoodosaurusRex.com

After wandering around for a bit, I decided on my early dinner haphazardly. The hotel I was staying at offered wifi, so I was able to look up the location of things and read reviews, etc., anytime I was in my hotel, but I kept my phone in airplane mode the entire trip so I wouldn’t incur any international data charges. This worked out well, until I was out somewhere without internet and needed it. I had bookmarked one restaurant, Rachel, based on it’s reviews and location, and just as my stomach started to grumble, I walked past the restaurant. This is also a bit of a burger joint, but they offer more than just burgers (apparently their brunch is very good). Even though I had a burger for lunch the day before, I went with their Frankenstein burger (with a veggie patty substituted) which was served on a bagel. That’s right – a burger on a bagel. It was as amazing as it sounds! I also had my first tasted of Kriek, which I really enjoyed (and was shocked I did). The service was quick and friendly, and I didn’t feel out of place at all. After my second burger of the trip, I walked down to the famed Mannekin Pis for a picture. I must admit it’s pretty weird, but funny, and picture worthy.

NSFW?

NSFW?

Monday meant it was time for work, so I took a trip to the office, which was about 20 minutes outside of Brussels in an office park. I must admit I have no idea where we went for lunch which isn’t very helpful, but again, it was outside of Brussels so I’m assuming the average tourist wouldn’t be out that way anyway. By the time I got back to my hotel I couldn’t wait for dinner. And again, I decided to go a few blocks away from the touristy section of the city. I should note that anyone who wants to have a good, non-tourist centered meal should avoid any restaurant near Grand Place, especially Beenhouwersstraat / Rue des Bouchers streets. You have to walk down them to get to the Delirium Café, but you really shouldn’t go down them for any other reason; unless you like having people jump out at you from the restaurant trying to get you to come in and eat. I nearly punched someone in the face after telling him no and saying excuse me (in French) multiple times without him moving. More on that later, though!

Dinner on Monday night was at Publico – a small and intimate Mediterranean restaurant. I was thrown for a loop when I first opened the door, since you need to completely close it before being able to stand inside. When you do, it’s pitch black as there is a big heavy curtain separating the doorway from the actual restaurant (which I’m assuming is to help keep out the cold). Once you realize what’s going on and you open the curtain, you’re faced with a warm and inviting restaurant. I ordered the bruschetta to start followed by one of their specials (orecchiette) and it was phenomenal. They have an extensive wine list, and in addition to serving you bread (as all restaurants in Brussels do) they also had herbed olives that were delicious. My main dish was so big that I couldn’t finish it, and the server asked me if I didn’t like it and that’s why I didn’t finish it (and he seemed insulted). I had to assure him that I was just too full to finish, as they take finishing their food in Brussels seriously. I must admit that was the only meal I didn’t devour!

Wall art in Publico

Wall art in Publico

At the risk of getting too long and too wordy, I’m going to split this post into two parts – I still have three more days worth of food to talk about! And don’t worry, things like Belgian waffles, moules frites, Belgian chocolate, and speculoos are up next.

So in the meantime, tell me…
Have you ever traveled somewhere that had different dining customs? Did you know about them beforehand, or discover them once you were there? 

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Belated: San Francisco Food Recap

I’ve been meaning to write a recap about all the delicious food I ate while in San Francisco, but as the days and weeks (and now months) passed, I completely forgot. But after being reminded multiple times, I’m finally doing it! Better late than never, right?

After our fun trip in Disneyland, we took a 45 minute plane ride up to San Francisco to spend a few days before heading home. When it comes to trip planning I like to stick to what I know: food, and I leave the rest up to everyone else. So, prior to the trip I spent some time looking up restaurants, per the usual, and was thrilled with the amount of vegetarian and vegan restaurants I found with glowing reviews, along with tons of other restaurants and must-do suggestions. I knew going into this half of the trip that the majority of it would be spent doing two things: walking, and eating.

We arrived in San Francisco mid-day, so after a quick check-in at the Intercontinental San Francisco, we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf via trolley. Riding the trolley was simultaneously super cool and kind of terrifying. I couldn’t help but think of my mom who would have been mildly terrified to know I was hanging off the side of the trolley mere inches away from parked cars as it flew up and down the rolling hills of San Fran, controlled only by a man pulling and pushing levers. Mildly dramatic, but the truth (though not nearly as terrifying in real life as it would be for a mother thinking about it, I’m sure).

Lombard St!

Lombard St!

After spending some time walking around and admiring the tons of seals, we decided to have dinner at Pier Market Sustainable Seafood Restaurant, overlooking the bay. I started off the meal with an Anchor Steam beer since it’s a San Francisco institution, and devoured the pesto penne seen below. There is blackened swordfish on top that I didn’t eat, but I was told it was delicious… and I don’t doubt it was considering how awesome the pasta was. When we got our receipt, I noticed there was a note suggesting a trip to the Biscoff Coffee stand the pier nearby. Being completely obsessed with Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter and Biscoff Spread, I knew I had to get over there for dessert, immediately. I ordered a Biscoff latte, and it was as delicious as I had hoped, and helped warm me up since it was windy and quite cool for an early September evening (for me). After that we headed back to the hotel for an early night, and were up nice and early for the next day of fun.

Pasta at Pier Market Sustainable Fish

Delicious pasta!

One place I knew I needed to get to quickly was the Ferry Building, which is why I started my day there. It came highly recommended to me by a bunch of people, so I knew I had to get there early in the trip to make sure I had enough time. I absolutely loved the Ferry building! It was awesome – food, little shops, and they have a farmer’s market there on the weekend. I had a breakfast of Blue Bottle Coffee, and Cowgirl Creamery toasties. I’ve had Blue Bottle Coffee before in NYC, so I knew I had to have it in it’s birthplace. And, as someone who absolutely loves cheese, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have food from creamery! I ordered the cheddar toasties, which were two pieces of perfectly crunchy and chewy bread topped with grain mustard and melted cheddar cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee, the best!

In addition to grabbing breakfast, I saw an adorable canvas tote bag with birds all over it that I had to get, and I also picked up some chocolate for a friend (and myself) from Recchiuti Confections. Before leaving I decided to get a second coffee from Peet’s, to make sure I was sampling all the different kinds of coffee the locals love. We walked past the America’s Cup, and made our way to the Painted Ladies, which was another must-do on the list.

Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies!

I must admit, this trip was so long ago (over three months), that I don’t remember the exact order of events for each day, but that isn’t what this post is about – it’s all about the food!

One day we decided to venture to the Mission District with only one goal: a mission burrito. After scouring Yelp and Foursquare, we decided on Taqueria El Farolito. As soon as I looked at the menu I knew exactly what I was getting… they had a burrito with a chile relleno stuffed inside! The burrito was huge, and everything I could have dreamed it would be. And now that I’ve written about it, I want one.

Mission Burrito!

Mission Burrito!

After letting the mound of fried burrito deliciousness settle in my stomach, at the recommendation of a bunch of friends we headed to Monk’s Kettle for dinner. This is a (very small) gastropub that has so many beers to choose from it can be kind of overwhelming. Thankfully the waiters and waitresses as well as bartenders are more than happy to help you pick out a beer. I zeroed in on a beer that I’d heard so much about and knew I could only get on the west coast, Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny The Elder.

Scranton Swimming box in the background!

Scranton Swimming box in the background!

It was as awesome as everyone said, and it helped ease the pain of having to wait an hour for a table in a small restaurant. And I should mention that while I don’t have any pictures of the food, it was phenomenal. We had a cheese plate (heaven) to start, and I went with their chickpea and spelt veggie burger. I couldn’t have been happier with the entire experience, and riding the bus home later at night is always fun and filled with characters.

Strikin' a pose at the Golden Gate Bridge

Strikin’ a pose at the Golden Gate Bridge

The second to last day involved being super touristy with a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge and a breakfast burrito at the little Warming Hut that was actually really delicious! After a lot of walking around, we refueled at Source, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant that wasn’t too far from our hotel. I ordered the Hummus platter and paired it with a house made kombucha, which were both awesome. I wanted to try everything on the menu, but resolved myself to grabbing a vegan twinkie on the way out instead of getting a second meal.

Hummus plate with falafel

Hummus plate with falafel

Our final day was spent up in Sonoma and Napa Valley, stopping at a few wineries. I had two favorites; Cline Cellars because their wines were phenomenal (we bought some to bring home with us – if you’re ever there, try their Cashmere wines), and V. Sattui Winery because they had an awesome little deli where you could buy food and then just sit outside and relax with wine. Also, the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards (yes, the same family that invented THE jacuzzi) has a little shop inside their main tasting building called The Olive Press that has tons of different kinds of fresh olive oils and balsamic vinegars. As soon as I locked eyes with their jalapeno olive oil I knew I had to have it. It was so good I bought a bottle to bring home with me, and have been babying it every since.

Jalapeño olive oil

Jalapeño olive oil

Before I knew it, it was time to pack up and head home. It was so fun to spend the majority of this trip based around delicious food… and I feel like I didn’t even crack the surface of the San Francisco food scene!  But at least that’s a good excuse to have to go back.

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Reunited

Two weekends ago, I attended my college’s 5-year reunion! It’s hard for me to believe I graduated 5 years ago from The University of Scranton, because it seems like just yesterday (isn’t that what all old people say?), but so much has changed on the campus since I was there as a student back in 2008. It was a lot of fun to check out the brand new science building, stay in one of the new apartment styled dorms, work-out in the amazingly fancy new gym, and reconnect with people I haven’t seen since the glory days.

The magic in the mountains!

The magic in the mountains!

My friends and I didn’t have much planned aside from the cocktail hour and class dinner on Saturday evening, so I took to the Internets (of course) to see what, if anything, was new in Scranton in terms of food to check out. I figured I might as well get some good eats while I was in the area! My college roommate and I headed to a Mexican restaurant that I had been to once before for dinner on Friday night, and obviously started things off the right way – with a margarita! I got the coconut margarita, which was delicious. It tasted like a lighter version of the typically creamy and heavy pina colada. It was a perfect match for my combination plate of enchilada, chalupa, and burrito.

Coconut Margarita

We were planning to race a cross country 5k on Saturday morning, but thanks to the rain and some flooding on Friday those plans were thwarted. I didn’t really mind too much, though, because we were staying in the dorm apartments, and I forgot just how uncomfortable dorm room beds are… so extra “sleep” was appreciated. We eventually got up and made our way to the new gym on campus – SO amazing! I spent my college years in a gym from the 80’s that definitely needed some updating… though I never complained while I was there because it served its purpose. But man, the new gym is spectacular – rows and rows of treadmills and elipticals, tons of free weights and weight machines, all in a well lit and spacious area. Plus, it’s on the bottom floor of one of the dorms, which is perfect for people that live in the building!

So fancy!

So fancy!

[Source]

After our time at the gym, I convinced my roommate to check out Eden A Vegan Cafe for lunch. I found the restaurant on Yelp, and whenever I have the opportunity to eat at a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, I do it! It’s nice to be able to walk into a place and order anything I want, instead of trying to find what I can have. When we first walked in and looked at the menu, my roommate turned to me and said; “wait, I’m confused…” because everything on the menu seemed to be a meat dish (burger, turkey sandwich, BLT, etc.). It was funny, but at the same time I could understand how it was confusing – so tried to explain it to her the best I could. Eventually she settled on a tuna melt, and I went with a chili cheeseburger and a green refresher smoothie. The restaurant is actually right next door to a tattoo parlor (where I got my very first tattoo – looks like it moved a few blocks), and I was tempted to go and get something… but I didn’t! The food was awesome, and I have every intention of heading back on my next trip to the electric city!

No meat here!

No meat here!

After lunch, we wanted a little something sweet, so we headed to Northern Light Cafe a few blocks away. This was the place to go when you were trying to get your serious study on in college. It was a nice change of pace from the library, and sitting in a coffee shop typing or reading away gave us all a sense of being “grown ups.” I ordered a soy chai latte and a 7-layer cookie bar, and was definitely stuffed by the time we got back to the dorm where we were staying.

Northern Light Chai Latte

By the time we had finished gallivanting around downtown Scranton, we had to get ready for the all-classes cocktail hour and then class dinner. The university does their reunions in 5-year increments (obviously), so since I graduated in 2008, my class was there for their reunion along with any other class that graduated with a ‘3 or ‘8. So we had the opportunity to mingle with other graduating classes during the cocktail hour, and then sat down for a dinner with just our class, which was served by plenty cafeteria workers I recognized! It was fun to catch up with old classmates, but it was clear that being only 5 years out of school, the different groups of friends that hung out while we were in college still exist today. There wasn’t a ton of mingling, but I imagine that will change as the years go by.

After cocktails and dinner we headed to some of the local bars to continue the fun, and before I knew it the weekend was over and I was driving on route 380 and 80 back to good ‘ole Central Jersey. It was great to spend time with people I don’t see too often (and people I get to see all the time!) and check out some new and old favorites. I have every intention of heading back to Eden next time I’m in the electric city, and with all the changes and updates that are happening at the University, I can’t wait to see what’s new next time.

Where did you go to schoool? Do you still visit?
Have you ever been to a high school or college reunion? 

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D.C. Food & A Giveaway Winner!

I had grand plans of posting my Food Should Taste Good giveaway winner early last week, but a bout with a stomach bug kept me quarantined for a bit instead, and then I was just trying to get back to normal life. Rather than talk about how miserable my drive home from Washington D.C. was, followed by the rest of Monday into Tuesday, let’s focus on the second best part of my trip — the food! But first… the giveaway winner is…

Winner

Becky! Who gave a great suggestion for apple styled nachos… sign me up! Shoot me your address to foodosaurusrex [at] gmail [dot] com, and I’ll have chips on their way to you!

Becky

So now onto the good stuff – the food in D.C.! I didn’t have any set plans when it came to where I wanted to eat or what kind of food I wanted to try while there, except for one thing – Baked & Wired cupcakes! I had asked Krissy for some recommendations, and I remembered her stopping for birthday cupcakes there after the Cherry Blossom 10-miler a few weeks ago. While I’ve always wanted to try Georgetown Cupcakes, the thought of having to wait in a long line for cupcakes that I’ve heard are “just okay” wasn’t appealing. So I headed to Baked & Wired instead, and was thrilled with what I found. The storefront was small, but it was broken into two sections – one for cupcakes and desserts, another for coffee, tea, etc. I didn’t venture over to the coffee line, but from reading reviews online it seems like their coffee is just as good as their cupcakes. I should mention that they call them cake cups, which is appropriate since they are huge!

Chocolate Doom, Dirty Chai, Flapjack, and Tessita [clockwise]

Chocolate Doom, Dirty Chai, Flapjack, and Tessita [clockwise]

We decided to get four cupcakes – one to enjoy right then, and another to save for Sunday. We wound up with the Tessita, Chocolate Doom, Dirty Chai, and Flapjack. These cakes are amazing; some of the best I’ve ever had. The frosting was generous, the cake was moist, and the size for only $3.50 was more than enough… I had trouble finishing one! I can’t recommend Baked & Wired enough. The store is cute, the employees are super friendly, and their treats are delicious. I mean, what more do you need? Plus, if it’s nice enough outside (like it was on Saturday) you can sit right outside their shop and lounge while eating baked goods and sipping coffee or tea. Talk about a perfect afternoon.

Aside from cupcakes on Saturday, we had personal pizzas for lunch at Paper Moon, followed by Santa Fe salads from Chop’t for dinner. This was my first time having Chop’t, and I really wish there was one near me. The salads are huge, and when you get avocado, they give you half of one… that’s a generous portion of avocado! I absolutely loved my salad, and on the way back to the hotel (we got them to go), we noticed the street was completely shut down. So, we stopped for a minute, and low and behold, who drove by? President Obama! I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I’m sure that it gets old for D.C. residents quickly (especially when it means road closures), but it was so cool to see the President drive by us on his way to the White House Correspondent’s dinner.

Oh hai Mr. President!

Oh hai Mr. President!

On Sunday morning after the race, Ashley and I headed to The Mad Hatter for brunch. We walked in and the restaurant was basically empty, but we were told that they really didn’t have any seats for us because they had a lot of reservations that morning. Huh? We were able to score a seat at an upstairs bar, and got to work on the most important thing – booze! I ordered a mimosa followed by a beer, and Ashley hit up their Bloody Mary bar. That’s right… your server gives you a glass of vodka, and the rest is up to you. Just look at all the options!

Hot Sauce, anyone? [Ashley's Picture]

Hot Sauce, anyone? [Ashley’s Picture]

I didn’t take any pictures of my food (post-race haze) but I had a really delicious Tex Mex burrito with home fries. When we left the restaurant was definitely crowded, but they could have seated us in the regular dining room. I mean, shouldn’t restaurants have seats for people with and without reservations? At least the food was good and our waiter was friendly. I would definitely return, but this time with a reservation!

Dinner on Sunday  night was pretty epic. I spent a lot of time looking through Yelp and FourSquare for suggestions, and stumbled upon a true gem – Founding Farmers. As soon as we walked in at about 6:30pm, thinking we’d beat the crowds especially since it was a Sunday, I knew we made a good choice. We were told that the wait would be about an hour and a half, and I quickly learned that once again reservations reigned supreme. We decided to wait based on the reviews we read and the fact that it was so crowded, and I’m really glad we did. The restaurant was founded on the premise of a farm to table concept (my favorite!) and is D.C.’s first green restaurant. They filter their own water, make everything from scratch in the kitchen (down to their condiments), and have a pre-prohibition era styled bar where their bartenders make their own syrups and infuse the alcohol themselves with juices, etc.

After waiting about an hour and a forty-five minutes we were seated, and had the nicest, most informative, and attentive waitresses I’ve ever had. She really was exceptional. Our meal started with their popcorn of the day (how cool is that?!) which was Old Bay seasoned, and fried green tomatoes. They were featuring Rogue beers on tap, so we each had one of those as well. Their menu is expansive, and I was really excited to see a separate vegetarian and vegan menu. Their regular menu denotes vegetarian and vegan (as well as nut allergy) options, but they also create vegetarian and vegan specials that all sound phenomenal. I was actually confused at first when I glanced over it seeing things like “bacon burger,” “shrimp scampi,” and “turkey burger.” Obviously they were all meatless, and it was awesome to know I could choose anything.

Not the best picture... but all those options are veg*n!

Not the best picture… but all those options are veg*n!

I eventually decided on the cauliflower steak with broccolini and risotto… and it was amazing. The cauliflower was nice and crunchy while maintaining it’s buttery flavor, and the fried onion strings that it was topped with added some extra flavor and crunch. For whatever reason I’ve found that people either really enjoy cauliflower or really can’t stand it, and I’m obviously in the enjoying it camp. But I really believe that this dish would convert someone with apathetic feelings towards cauliflower. It was fun using a steak knife to dig into a big hunk of cauliflower! I’d be remiss not to mention the risotto, because it really stole the show for me. It was creamy, cheesy, and everything I could want in a risotto dish… I just wish there had been more.

Not the best picture, but it was delicious!

Not the best picture, but it was delicious!

While we were waiting for our entrees, our waitress brought over their dessert menu, which I thought was absolutely genius on her part (get someone to commit to dessert before filling up on their entree). She pointed out their homemade biegnets, which under normal circumstances I would have been all over… but I knew based on how I felt before our meals even arrived that there was no way dessert could be in my immediate future. So we passed on their delicious sounding desserts, but a couple next to us got the biegnets, and you better believe I plan to order them if I’m ever back in town!

Nice neighborhood, eh?

Nice neighborhood, eh?

And unfortunately, that’s where our eating in D.C. stops. As I mentioned in my Nike Half recap, I woke up feeling okay on Monday morning with plans of coffee, but eventually started feeling sick. By the time I got home (about a 3 1/2 hour drive), it was only a matter of minutes before I was out for the count the rest of the day and into Tuesday. Obviously that was not the way I wanted to end the trip, but I’m thankful it didn’t happen while I was there!

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Filed under Food Blogging, Food Review, Giveaway, Restaurant, Running, Travel

Eating Through Disney: Character Dining

One of the few times I wish I had children is when I go to a character breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s always such a treat to see the kids light up as a character makes their rounds and arrives at their table (it’s kind of cute to see the little ones that are petrified of the characters, too). Since I don’t have any children and am not planning on having them anytime soon (or ever…), the next best thing is to go with friends. Even though not all of our character meals were spent with others, we still had a blast. And yes, we went to more than one – three to be exact!

Our first character experience was breakfast over at The Beach Club’s Cape May Café, with Krissy the day after the marathon! I had never been, so I was more than game to give it a try. I do remember way back when (I’m talking elementary school) having breakfast at the Yacht Club, and I’ve eaten at Beaches and Cream, but that was it. We took a bus from our hotel (Pop Century) over to Hollywood Studios (which I refuse to recognize as HS, it’ll always be MGM to me), and walked over to the resort, passing the Boardwalk, Swan, and Dolphin hotels on the way. We even strolled by mile 24 of the marathon, and I made sure to stop and strike a pose.

Disney-001

The view these resorts (Boardwalk, Beach, and Yacht) have is phenomenal, so I made sure to snap a picture. I wouldn’t mind waking up to that view on vacation! And, being that there is an actual boardwalk and a path that takes you from the resorts to Hollywood Studios, it’s a great place to get in a run… though the last thing on my mind the Monday after a marathon is running!

beachclub_view

Breakfast was delicious – they had your typical breakfast fare including eggs, hot and cold cereals, breakfast meats, pastries, etc. The highlight was of course the visit from Minnie, Goofy, and Donald, who had a little fun with us at our table. The tables are covered in paper (think Macaroni Grill) and when Donald came over he wrote a note to us for doing a good job on running the races over the weekend. Then, after an interaction with our waitress, Donald came back later to write that he was #1, and scribbled out our waitress’s name! Of course, Minnie made her way back around and detailed for us that Mickey was in fact number 1, followed by herself, Daisy, and THEN Donald. We were in hysterics the entire time – I love when the characters interact and joke with you! I even noted how their handwriting was so impressive using just little crayons, and Krissy immediately said “I don’t know what you’re talking about Danielle – that’s Minnie!!” Boy do I love feeling like a kid! We had so much fun, we spent almost 2 hours there and basically closed down their breakfast service. I’d call that a success!

krissy_brunch

Finally meeting online friends is the best!

The next character adventure took us to The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom for breakfast. I’ve eaten here before (at least two other times that I can remember), for both breakfast and dinner. Winnie The Pooh was (and still is!) one of my favorite Disney stories, so I love getting to see him and his friends. I actually remember waiting in a long line to have Eeyore sign my “autograph” book the first time I went to Disney World, and when I finally got up there and handed him my book, the cast member with him informed me he was unable to sign my book due to his “paws” (apparently the character costumes weren’t intuitive back in 1992 and Eeyore’s wasn’t pen-friendly), so I took my picture, and then started to hysterically cry out of embarrassment and not having his signature. As I’ve observed in the years since, I see that Eeyore can in fact now sign autograph books – those lucky kids! But I digress…

Disney-002

Aside from the characters, my second favorite part about the Crystal Palace is the atmosphere. It’s such a bright restaurant, and one that I think feels very “Florida.” In addition to the great atmosphere, I love the kid’s section they have for food, cutely named “Pooh’s Corner.” During breakfast they offer what they called stuffed French toast, but to me is more like a giant zeppoli that’s been covered in a cinnamon and sugar mixture… heavenly! Like I said earlier in the post, sometimes I feel funny without any kids at character meals, but the woman at the table next to us (with two young boys) leaned over after one of the characters had come to visit and exclaimed “you two are so cute! I love it!” That definitely made me feel better about being such a big kid. We even had  visit to our table from an absolutely adorable little girl in a Tinkerbell costume. She came over to us, sat down, and just smiled. Her mom came over and grabbed her while saying “sorry honey, but Tinkerbell isn’t part of this character breakfast!” … it was so cute.

Disney-003

The final character breakfast stop was at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort. I stayed at the Contemporary back in 1995 when my dad happened to be on a business trip to Orlando (score!) and the hotel is just as fabulous as I remembered. Of course, the selling point to a 10 year old was the monorail IN the hotel, and I still think it’s the coolest thing ever. Eating at Chef Mickey’s as a child was a ton of fun, and since I’m barely an adult (sure, my age may say so, but my actions say otherwise), I knew it would be just as fun on this trip. This was actually our last meal of the trip; we didn’t have a park ticket for the day since we had to leave at 2p, and getting to the Contemporary was easy – hop on the resort bus to Magic Kingdom, and then walk over. I can say without a doubt that this was by far my favorite breakfast buffet (and I had three on the trip!). There were a ton of vegetarian options (and just a lot of options in general), and everything was really delicious. Besides, how can you not love your meal when you’re visited by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto?!

Disney-004

I’m definitely planning on doing at least one character breakfast while we’re in Disneyland at the end of the summer for the Dumbo Double Dare – I’ve got to experience the characters on both coasts!

Have you ever done character dining? Did you like it?
Where should I eat while I’m in Disneyland (I’ve never been!)?

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Euro Success

I know you’ve all been chomping at the bit to see another post from me – and you need not wait any longer (do you feel the sarcasm oozing on you screen?)! We returned from our European adventure late yesterday morning, and I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what time it was, doing laundry, and playing with our extremely needy, but angry for leaving them, cats.

Aside from our yearly Disney World trips, my husband and I wanted to do something different as well this year, and figured a trip outside the US would do the trick. So, after scouring the Internet and trying to come up with all the places we want to visit (pretty much everywhere), the most affordable and doable trip for us this time around was to spend a few days each in Berlin, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. While I plan on doing a full foodie recap of each city, I figured I would break the radio silence to give you a few fun tidbits from the trip.

We left on 4th of July after rocking our 4 mile race, and were met with an oh-so-fun delay thanks to a mechanical issue on our United flight. This wound up putting us behind hours, almost  completely losing a day in Berlin. Thankfully we were able to make up for lost time, and really only missed out on a few stops that were planned originally. Initially we were supposed to fly from Newark to Geneva, and then to Berlin. In order to get us there as soon as possible, though, we wound up taking a detour to Zurich first, and then made our way to Berlin. So we took three planes just to get to Germany! But we made it safe and sound, and that’s all that really matters. Another plane took us from Berlin to Copenhagen, and a sleeper train the size of my closet took us from there to Stockholm. Good ‘ole United took us straight back to Newark yesterday.

While I didn’t get in nearly as much running as planned (a measly 15 miles over 12 days), we walked at least 5 miles every day, which I like to think counts for something. I also scored myself plenty of extra poundage, thanks to phenomenal food, liters of beer, and everything being served with pomme frites. I’m bummed to be back home because that means things like work, responsibility, and traffic, but it also means things I like – running, cooking, being a crazy cat lady… and so on. So stay tuned for the city recaps – Berlin is up first!

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