Earl’s Steak Sandwiches, Dover, N.H., 6/11/21

exterior (99 Oak St., Dover)

Earl’s Steak Sandwiches is family owned and specializes in shaved beef sandwiches.  Wife Mo (Maureen) Donovan works the floor, husband Jim cooks and their daughter Sophie, who is 10, makes rings and bracelets to sell in one of the booths.  Opening in October, in a location that had previously been a diner,  during the Covid pandemic they rose to the challenge by concentrating on take-out until indoor dining resumed.  The decor features a ‘vintage car theme’ with old hot rod magazines at the table and the walls decorated with oil signs and car parts.  The inside area is small, with a few counter stools, but there also is a good number of outdoor tables.  Behind the counter is a window to the kitchen where you can see, hear and smell the owner’s cooking.  One of the booths is “reserved for Earl” which is where the daughter assembles and sells her jewelry.  Earl has a photo but it is actually not a family member, they just liked his name.   They cure their own meats and make their own sauces. Continue reading

E Bar Tex Mex (update), Dallas, 5/27/21

 

building

Our last visit to E Bar Tex Mex was in 2018 and I wanted to update it as I was not wowed by the food on that visit but speculated that you had to find the items that spoke to you.  They continue to get crowds and now I know why cause I’ve found my item – Jorge’s Tacos.  The place is physically about the same except they’ve added a non-enclosed tent next to the enclosed one and their name is on a nearby parking lot to provide additional parking. Service is good, helpful and friendly. Continue reading

Suraya, Philadelphia, 5/22/21

building

Suraya is a Lebanese restaurant in Fishtown that started as a bakery and market.  In 2018 it opened a huge dining room and large outdoor patio for evening service.  Across from the seated area is the large open kitchen, surrounded by bar seating that was not used probably due to Covid.  Sections of the dining room have partitions between them.  Booth seating is matched with armed chairs with music in the background.  It is a striking, stylish place.  On weekends they have a brunch menu where you get a set of cold mezze served with pita and then chose a mashawi for a fixed price.  They also offer 2 possible sides and whatever pastries you want from the bakery.  A server brings your food, wine and whatever you might need but you order and pay through the QR code on the table. Continue reading

Vetri Cucina (update), Philadelphia, 5/22/21

mural on the outside of the building

Vetri Cucina opened in 1998 through the collaboration of Chef Marc Vetri and business partner Jeff Benjamin.  In 2005 Chef Vetri was named Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Awards.  Frankie last visited here in 2014 and although the menu has changed the format is still the same and the giant mural of Chef and others is still on the side of the building. The 3 story building has the Vetri dining room on the first floor with private parties, classes and events taking up the higher 2 floors.  The lights are lowered, music is in the background, old wood floors are opposite Italian chandeliers with the glasses on the table also being Italian. They offer all diners a 4 course fixed price menu where you choose from several options.  You can add an add several supplements for a fee.  Wine pairings are available but the sommelier was able to help us pick a great bottle to go with our meal.   Service is fabulous with great pacing and portion control.  I highly recommend this place. Continue reading

Vernick Food & Drink, Philadelphia, 5/21/21

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Vernick Food & Wine (2031 Walnut St., Philadelphia) opened in 2012 by Chef Greg Vernick, who won the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation in 2017.   He serves “an honest, no-fuss menu featuring his version of new American cooking.”  The menu is divided into small and large plates with some sides to supplement.  This is a place where a tasting menu would be fun – to have more dishes in smaller quantities.  There are a couple outdoor tables but otherwise dining is in a relatively small room upstairs across from the 2 windows to the kitchen.  They offer dinner only with a few seasonal specials and you have a 2 hour window for your reservation. The full bar downstairs offers lots of cocktails to those at the small light wood tables in lowered lighting.  Music is in the background.  Service was helpful and friendly but pacing of service felt hurried with the small table getting crowded. Continue reading

Cleavers, Philadelphia, 5/21/21

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Cleavers opened in March 2016 near Rittenhouse Park (108 S. 18th St., Philadelphia).  They use 100% domestic ribeye meat in the Philly Cheesesteak sandwich creations and freshly baked bread.  The menu has a chicken version made from fresh chicken breasts or a vegetarian option from Portobello mushrooms.  Also they have salads, sides and a full bar. They are open 7 days a week, do take-out and have dine in and out seating.  We chose to sit inside near the bar to enjoy their wonderful air-conditioning on a warm day in Philadelphia.  The bar has multiple cocktails and an amazing number of tap beers.  We tried one of the latter. Continue reading

DanDan, Philadelphia, 5/21/21

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DanDan (126 S. 16th St., Philadelphia) serves Sichuan and Taiwanese dishes along with having a full bar.  It is a smaller place in Rittenhouse Square that also offers some outdoor seating.  Inside the downstairs has counter seating around the bar and in the window.  Upstairs are multiple tables in different combinations of sizes.  The spheres that are the light fixtures hang from the ceiling and give it a fun view from upstairs.  They appeared to do a lively takeout business but were not busy at any of the tables, but we were early. Music is in the background and some paintings are on the walls.  It is a large menu but several favorites had been suggested by local magazines and we got most of them.  This place got rave reviews but we seemed to hit it on an off day. Continue reading

Parc, Philadelphia, 5/20/21

entrance

Parc is an all day restaurant designed to represent a French sidewalk café.  It is a large, extremely popular place with inside dining in many rooms and more than 75 outdoor covered and uncovered spaces to dine.  Restaurateur Stephan Starr brought this place to a corner lot in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.  Inside dark wood tables are well spaced and set with red napkins to match the red booth seating along the walls.  Old wood floors are juxtaposed with elegant tile ones, especially around the large bar that was currently not in use.  On the table are a special set of directions about Covid and their policies – notably that you have just 90 minutes for your table, that you are not to move any of it and must wear a mask when not seated. We also found that they would not seat you until your exact reservation time.  It felt stiff but the lovely server soon relaxed the vibe.  The menu has a good range of things but there are even more drink options.  We got a bottle of sparkler to go with our meal. Continue reading

Laurel, Philadelphia, 5/19/21

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Laurel is an American restaurant with French influences. They have 2 rooms, one of which housed a large bar and the other the well-spaced tables and opening to the kitchen. There was also patio dining available. The bare wood tables are set with armless chairs in a room with lowered lighting and wood floors. Assorted rock music is in the background but sound panels on the ceiling help keep the noise level down. They offer only a surprise tasting menu and had one addition offered that evening- a 3oz Japanese A5 Wagyu beef for $75 designed to be split. The wine list was limited but they do offer pairings and limited bar service. We added the supplement and opted for the pairings (which turned out to be pretty small pours). Portion control and pacing of the menu were great. Chef de Cuisine that evening was Alex Beninato and the menu changes seasonally. Continue reading

HUDA, Philadelphia, 5/19/21

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HUDA is “fast casual concept by Philadelphia based Chef Yehuda Sichel” who loves sandwiches. The sandwiches come on homemade milk buns and sourdough and they also offer salads. It’s a small shop with one indoor table and 4 outside ones. They do a lot of takeout. The menu uses seasonal and local ingredients and the staff were all super friendly. You go inside to place and pay for your order and then they bring it to your table. We went there for a late afternoon snack to split and it was perfect and really tasty. I’d go often if I had the chance. Continue reading

Le Bernardin, New York City, 4/12/21

entrance

It’s been several years since Frankie visited Le Bernardin, Chef Eric Ripert’s 3 Michelin starred restaurant.  It’s an elegant interior with lots of wood, windows, flowers and a massive wave art piece at one end.  In the daytime, light flows in through the windows but at night the lights are lowered and windows are shaded.  Now plexiglas partitions are between the tables and servers are masked.  Every table was full and turned by regulars and those celebrating something, but it was still easy to talk at the table.  Heavy white linens drape the smallish tables and service is excellent.  The menu offers 2 longer tastings, one seafood and one vegetarian, or a 4 course fixed price where you choose from a large selection in each section with an optional addition of a cheese course.  Wine pairings are available for the tasting.  In the front part of the restaurant is the Lounge with a limited menu. We decided on the Chef’s tasting menu and ordered our own wines. Continue reading

Keens Steakhouse, New York City, 5/11&12/21

front door

We last visited Keens Steakhouse in May of 2018 and this trip we made a visit to the pub for a late snack and had a full lunch with friends in the main dining room the next day.  It is dark wherever you sit so photos are harder but it is worth the visit.  The dark woods, white table clothes, tile floor in the bar and pipes on every square inch of ceiling, give it the feel of a classic.  For the pandemic they have erected individual pods outside that are still there even though NYC is now allowing indoor dining.  Inside the tables and bar stools are all separated by plexiglass barriers and seating is spaced.  The nice thing about that is that it made conversation very easy as did the relaxed pace our server gave us both  days.  The food was all very good and nicely prepared in generous portions.  They are famous for their mutton chop and this time we were smart and split one. Continue reading

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, New York City, 5/11/21

exterior of building

We were last at The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare in May of 2019 and not much has changed in the physical place but Covid 19 has made spacing between guests larger (50% capacity).  Brooklyn Fare is the grocery that is the front of the building and the Chef’s Table is in the rear.  Chef César Ramirez was in the kitchen and doing much of the plating of courses.  It is a tasting menu only with seats around a large C-shaped wood counter and booth seating around the perimeter.  The open kitchen is the center of the well lit room with older rock music in the background.  Wine pairings are available or bottles can be individually purchased.  There are a lot of staff and all are very friendly with guests but Ramirez is more about cooking than visiting with diners.  The beautifully presented luxury foods are filled with flavor and texture, but many of the courses were quite similar to what we had 2 years ago. Continue reading

El Zarco Restaurant and Cantina, Grand View, WI., 6/4/21

front

El Zarco is on US Highway 63 in Grand View, WI.  It offers “homestyle fresh Mexican Cuisine and hand crafted margaritas. “  They have been open 4 months in a building with 2 rooms, one of which is dominated by a pool table and bar and the other having a combination of tables and booths. The website said they open at 11:00 but the sign out front said noon however, the owner was kind enough to let us come in and start early. On weekends they open earlier and have brunch options. Inside are tile floors, wood ceiling, AC, music in the background and walls decorated with photos and memorabilia. Two TVs were in the bar area but both just streamed scenery visuals and they have free Wi-Fi. Talking with the owner he asked if it was our first visit and when we said yes he pulled out 3 flavors of tequila and said we were due a complimentary shot to welcome us. He was so nice and friendly it felt like we had been coming for years. I know I’ll be back. Continue reading

Buskey Bay Resort, Iron River, 4/30/21

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Buskey Bay Resort was previously Hyde’s and before that the Hermitage.  Deciding to make a change from their city lifestyle Chris and Brenda Diesing and Valerie and Kevin Zimmerman purchased it the first part of 2021.  Next to the restaurant/bar building are cabin rentals and across the highway is an available dock for your boat or pontoon rental.  Covid-19 has made it a challenging time to open but they are gradually being able to open back up with in house dining Wed. thru Sunday and specials most night.  Inside now you will find 2 rooms decorated with numerous animal head mounts shot by the owners and muted TVs.  The entrance room is surrounded by windows and the more interior room houses the large bar that does have stools available for drinking and/or dining.  Fun instrumental music was in the background and Chris was at the bar making cocktails.  Tables were well spaced and staff wore masks.  We went on a Friday which is fish fry and had good martinis to go with it.  The server was slow in getting our order but once it was in, service progressed rapidly. Continue reading

Bastion, Nashville, 4/16/21

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Bastion is a little different during Covid.  They are a 24 seat restaurant with dining Wed through Sat and a special small bar for restaurant guests however that is currently not open so dining is in the well spaced big bar and there is no chef counter.  I suspect that the set up will change as Covid becomes more under control.  Either way it is a comfortable place to sit and eat tasty food while listening to actual records being played.  Chef Josh Habiger serves a selection of seasonal, creative dishes in a casual atmosphere.  The ‘big bar’ area has a long bar counter and some tables, all well spaced.  Exposed duct work, brick walls, hanging lights and lots of art make it a visually interesting place to be.  The staff all worked together to give a fun and interactional dinner. We chose to have their wine pairings with the tasting. Continue reading

Manny’s House of Pizza, Nashville, 4/16/21

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Manny’s House of Pizza is in the historic Arcade Building in downtown Nashville.  As you walk up don’t be surprised to see a line out the door but be assured it moves quickly and as you wait you can watch Manny toss the pizza dough and spread the tomato sauce.  Born in Sicily, Manny started in a Brooklyn pizzeria where he learned the skills needed to open his shop in the mid-80’s down in Nashville.  (His brother has a shop in Brentwood).  You can also get calzones, pastas, subs and pastas there but the majority in line with me were just getting a slice.  They are open weekday from 11 am to 4 pm.  When we went it was cash only. Continue reading

Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Nashville, 4/16/21

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Arnold’s is an institution in Nashville.  Opened in 1982 by Jack and Rose Arnold, now their children run the place.  It has received acclaim from many publications like Southern Living, SAVEUR, and Bon Apetit and been featured on Diners, Drive in and Dives.  They received the James Beard Award in 2009.   It is a cafeteria style restaurant but don’t let that mislead you.   Food is made in house and in real southern style with fresh ingredients.  Their most popular order is meat and 3 sides.  The roast beef is a signature offering but the vegetables are well regarded.  We got there early to avoid the line but there is a parking lot adjacent to the building if you drive.  Presently they are only at 50% capacity due to Covid and there are less tables available. Cutlery is plastic, napkins are in a dispenser and salt and pepper are in packets as are other condiments.  They now have a bar where you can get cocktails or other alcoholic beverages but it didn’t appear to be open yet.  Servers on the line were helpful and friendly and well masked. Continue reading

Catbird Seat, Nashville, 4/15/21

entrance

We last visited the Catbird Seat in Sept of 2017 and they have changed teams since.  Chef Brian Baxter now leads the u-shaped kitchen of 22 lucky people who scored a seat at the serving bar.  His last cooking positions were at Husk and Bastion.  A ‘chef’s table’ has been added which is a booth for a party of 3-4 in the back corner of the room, but the counter does not get all 22 seats filled due to Covid restrictions.  When you arrive you see a wood door next to the Catbird sign but it is locked.  You can not enter until it is the exact time of your reservation.  Up the short flight of stairs is a ‘speak-easy’ bar that is a fun place to have a cocktail while you wait. Staff will come for you and then you can enter that door and ride in the elevator, complete with a bench, to the large room that houses the restaurant.  All diners are served a 10-12 course tasting and when you make your reservation you can request an extended tasting.  Pairings are available but you don’t have to decide on beverages until you arrive. We ordered the extended tasting and bought our own bottle of red wine and a glass of white to begin with.  Older rock music played in the background. Continue reading

Merchants Restaurant, Nashville, 4/15/21

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Merchants Restaurant is in an historic building in downtown Nashville.  The 3 story building has a casual bistro and bar on the first floor, a steak house on the second level and private dining on the third story.  In 1988 Ed Stolman opened the restaurant as an upscale dining establishment.  In 2010 on the brink of closing again, Benjamin and Max Goldberg assumed control and started to make changes, but never closed. This 19th century building (1872) started as a 3 story pharmacy but has hosted a restaurant for 125 years now.  We ate lunch on the large street level floor which has 2 rooms divided by a large u-shaped bar.  Dark painted wood floors are well worn and complimented by black booths/chairs and the dark wood bar.  Brick is on many of the walls and there are lots of windows out to the street.  Oscillating fans hang from the ceiling, the tables and bar are topped with white marble, music is in the background and there is some wonderful old tile on some of the floor.  Booths are divided by plastic partitions for Covid 19 and the staff is well masked. Service was super friendly and not rushed. Continue reading

Henrietta Red, Nashville, 4/14/21

sign at door

Henrietta Red is the dream of Nashville born Julia Sullivan with a focus on fresh, simple ingredients and a variety of raw oysters and seafood.  The name is in honor of her grandparent’s low-country hospitality.  It is a fairly large place with widely spaced tables over 2 rooms and an overall modern feel.  The entry room contains the large bar as well as a few tables in a less lit space.  The second room has more lights, lots of windows, sound panels in the ceiling, the opening into the kitchen, a large center table for service and the oyster shucking area.  There is a wood fired oven in the kitchen and a patio for seating.  The menu has a number of smaller plates, larger main course plates – but all seemed fine to split.  Our friendly server was helpful in making selections and willing to bring out in a spaced format to create our own tasting of sorts.  Overall the food was delicious and full of wonderful flavors with good attention to textures and fun compositions. Continue reading

Capitol Grille, Nashville, 4/14/21

exterior of hotel (dining area along second floor windows)

The Capitol Grille is the restaurant in the Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville that originally opened as the Grille Room in 1910, serving traditional southern cooking.  Not associated with the chain of a similar name it is currently is being renovated and so is operating in the hotel lobby.  The hotel has partnered with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who has restaurants in NYC, Paris, Shanghai and others to direct the food service once it re-opens in the fall.   The main dining room is on the street level and is currently closed so seating is on the second level enclosed terrace of the hotel, overlooking the 6th street entrance.  The present room has carpeting, coved painted ceilings, double clothed tables with coordinating napkins and music in the background.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Tables were well spaced and service was friendly but not especially polished. Continue reading

The Blue Door Kitchen & Inn, Flint Hill, VA., 4/3/21

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The Blue Door Kitchen & Inn has been the collaboration of Chef Andrea Pace in the kitchen and his partner Reem Arbid directing the front of the house for almost 3 years.  Located in a 100 year old schoolhouse, now the dining rooms take 2 downstairs rooms and 4 suites accommodate guests upstairs.  Their refurbished large patio out back would make a lovely place to eat or read.  The place gets its name from the highly polished blue front door and an additional blue one decorates one of the dining rooms.  Lots of parking is available out front and clear plastic partitions divide the various tables.  Polished wood tables, lots of mirrors, large cloth napkins and decorations of building materials make up the dining areas which are separated by the bar/reception area.  Service was well masked, helpful, well paced and super friendly.  The food is in generous portions that you won’t want to leave any of on the plate. Continue reading

Claire’s at the Depot, Warrenton, VA., 4/3/21

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Claire Lamborne started her restaurant in 2004 by replacing a Mediterranean restaurant with Claire’s at the Depot serving delicious food with a southern twist. The building used to be the town’s railway depot built in the 1850s and features a patio as well as indoor dining.  In the patio area are beds where many of the fresh herbs they use are grown.  Inside you’ll find brick walls, wood floors, paper on top of the  cloth covered well spaced tables, music in the background and a large bar area.  Lots of windows kept it well lit for the lunch service.   They serve lunch, dinner and brunch and offered a couple of lunch specials.  They have a small wine list with some by the glass and many cocktails.  Servers were friendly and well masked. Continue reading

Mama Chang, Fairfax, VA., 4/2/21

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Mama Chang opened early in 2019 in Fairfax, VA.  It focuses on family dishes from the Hubei province, where Peter Chang is from, ones his mother and other females in the family cooked.  There is less pepper than in the traditional Szechuan dishes.  The large interior is filled with light from the many windows and white walls.  Textured ropes hang from the ceiling, the well spaced light wood tables are bare and tons of green plants surround the room.  It feels open and spacious but a bit sterile.  Portions are generally large – we way over-ordered but wanted to try a number of the dishes.  The server was masked and willing to give advice. One note is about their to-go containers which were nice plastic dishes with good locking lids not the usual leaky styrofoam containers. Continue reading

Breakfast Republic, San Diego, 3/25/21

Liberty Station

Breakfast Republic is part of a chain of places in southern California.  They serve innovative breakfast combinations surrounded by tons of fun, almost kitsch decorations.  We visited the location in Liberty Station built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style which was the site of the Naval Training Center in 1923.  The chain supports composting of uneaten foods and recycling.  This location had 2 good sized heated patios to dine on.  They are open daily from 7 to 3.  Service was friendly, masked and efficient.  While the food sounded great in the menu I would rate it acceptable + with generous portions. Continue reading

Addison Restaurant, San Diego, 3/24/21

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Addison, San Diego’s only Michelin starred (one) restaurant, has been on the property of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar for 15 years.  Chef William Bradley is in charge of the kitchen where they offer 5 and 10 course tastings featuring California gastronomy.  Wine pairings are available but there is a huge wine list also.  Due to Covid the recently renovated indoor area is closed but there is seating on the large heated outdoor terrace.  It you stay at the Fairmont it is a bit of a hike to get up the hill so the hotel graciously provides car service up for you and the staff call for a pick up when you are finished.  It’s little touches like this that make it a lovely experience.  The staff anticipate your needs – like bringing a glass of ice for my water or a stool for my purse -and yet it never feels stuffy, and there is the beautiful back drop of the hotel’s golf course with bubbling streams.  We chose the 10 course menu and got bottles of red and white to pair with courses as we chose.  In addition, it is a surprise menu but they were kind enough to email a copy of what we had that actually did have the courses detailed.  There was only one supplement offered that night and that was to substitute A5 Wagyu for Barbecued Squab.  I chose the supplement and my husband had the pigeon. Continue reading

Sushi Ota, San Diego, 3/24/21

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Sushi Ota Restaurant is in a nondescript strip shopping center in San Diego.   They have some indoor tables that are well separated with wood partitions and have also built an outdoor dining area that has plastic roofing and some sides.  At the entry is the large sushi counter that due to Covid has no seating but fresh seafood is in the counter.  The large menu has many options for ordering – lunch specials, the traditional check list or there are 3 plates of sushi combinations.  The combination “C” contains the local sea urchin for which Chef Ota is known, and that was the one we chose.  With the combination plates you also get miso soup and ice cream. Service was well masked, efficient and friendly and tables were distanced and thoroughly cleaned between customers.  The menu offers a good number of beers, wine and saki. Continue reading

Stanley, New Orleans, 3/20/21

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Stanley is on a corner in Jackson Square by St. Louis Cathedral.  In a tribute to Tennessee Williams their location is near the restaurant Stella that closed in 2014.  They feature all day breakfast/brunch as well as sandwiches and desserts in a casual location.  They are open Thursday to Monday from 8 am to 4 pm.  Outside is a lot of outdoor seating and some well distanced seats inside the place.  It is really popular so be prepared for a wait in popular times.  Service was efficient and friendly.  No reservations are accepted. Continue reading

Mosquito Supper Club, New Orleans, 3/18/21

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Mosquito Supper Club is a cajun restaurant that wanted to celebrate all the bounty of local fishermen and farmers.  Starting as a family style place at large farmhouse tables, Covid has had them shift to single party, well-spaced tables with a fixed price 5 course menu for all diners. They are open Thursday to Sunday with 2 seatings and offer wine pairings to go with the meal.  After our cocktail we chose to try their wine pairings with the meal.  They were nice and appropriate pairings but no refills were offered.  Located in an older house, there are many rooms where dining service takes place with wood floors, plaster walls and high ceilings.  A bar is in the first room where there are stools if your table isn’t ready.  Rock music plays in the background and lighting is lowered.  Diners are pre-paid with reservations but cocktails and wine can be paid for at the restaurant.  If you pre-buy the wine pairings you will also pay the 25% gratuity added to your meal charge whereas at the restaurant you can determine your own.  Staff was friendly but not overly. Continue reading