Ikaika Bistro, Langley, WA., 8/18/23

building – 14096 WA-525, Langley, WA 98260 (soon to move)

Ikaika Bistro was in the American Foreign Legion building when we visited but you’re in luck because they’ll be in a new location by the time you read this.  Stephanie and Chris Balora own the place that serves Polynesian cuisine among other dishes.  Opening in Sept. of 2022, Chris named the place Ikaika which means “strong” or “warrior” in his native Hawaiian language.  It’s a 2-person operation with Stephanie taking your order and busing tables while Chris does the cooking.  They’ve had good success which is why in Sept 2023 they are going to move their restaurant to a food truck in downtown Langley where they’ll have indoor and outdoor seating and be near a coffee shop, which is good as they serve breakfast and lunch. So I won’t describe the AFL building, just include a couple photos, but the move will create a major improvement in the ambiance.  The couple are the nicest people and easily make conversation with guests filling them in our their journey to get to this spot.  The food was novel, generous and tasty and I hope you’ll give it a try if you are in the area. Continue reading

Orchard Kitchen, Langley, WA., 8/17/23

seating area – 5574 Bayview Rd, Langley, WA 98260

The Orchard Kitchen was the most farm-to-table place I’ve eaten.  The summer dining tasting menu was served behind a barn, housing the kitchen, in between the planted fields that have served as farms since 1914.  Chef Vincent Nattress and his wife Tyla own Ebb Tide produce, the farm that surrounded us and produces much of what is served there.  They offer one seating at communal tables Thursday through Saturday with an ever-changing menu, depending on what is fresh and available.  In the winter they move indoors and also offer cooking classes.  Chef Vincent is from Whidbey Island and he and his wife returned there buying this 5-acre farm after operating another restaurant elsewhere and wanting to get back more to basics.   Chef starts off the evening with an explanation of what’s to come and acknowledges that the menu is just as new to him as the diners.  They offer wine pairings to go with the menu but also have wines by the bottle and glass but no liquor.   As the evening went on and people relaxed our table came alive with conversation and bonding over fun food.  It helps that they have great weather that can support outdoor dining but regardless it was a wonderful experience filled with fine food and new friends. Go if you can, it’s magical. Continue reading

Langley Kitchen, Langley, WA., 8/17/23

building – 138 Second Street, Langley, WA 98260

Owner Jim Goodall opened Langley Kitchen in November 2020 after running a restaurant in Seattle.  He thought Langley needed more baked goods, especially cookies and set up shop there during the pandemic.  He was ready for portable food with the inside having no tables just the kitchen and items for sale.  You line up and order at the counter, then they call your name out a back window where there is a lovely patio to eat on.  The metal tables are surrounded by red Japanese maple trees with overhead heaters for when needed.  They offer a variety of salads, baked goods and sandwiches for both breakfast and lunch.  Their logo features an owl with a quiver holding a spoon and fork, rather than arrows.  We tried 2 of their sandwiches a bar cookie and it was all delicious.  This place should be on your list if you’re on Whidbey Island. Continue reading

Ultra House, Langley, WA., 8/16/23



exterior – 221 Second Street # 9A, Langley, WA 98260

Ultra House opened in 2018 when the owners, Denis and Cheryl Zimmerman were ready for a lifestyle change and Denis wanted to honor his Japanese roots.  Already living on Whidbey Island they thought the town was ready for a ramen shop.  It’s a tiny shop in Langley Village, where you can’t park in front of it.  There are a few counter spots and several large interior tables as well as some tables on the patio.   The larger tables can be shared.  Shelves line the walls, housing items for sale and some art is scattered about. They have a good selection of beer, sake and wine and a small menu that features variations on ramen and rice bowls.  It is very casual but if you need a ramen fix this is the place to go. Continue reading

Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar, Langley, WA., 8/16/23

exterior – 113 1st St, Langley, WA 98260

Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar was opened in July 2017 by Jenn and Sieb Jurriaans, who also operate the nearby Prima Bistro restaurant.  They try and source their seafood from Coupeville’s Penn Cove Shellfish except for the lobster which comes from Maine. It’s a fairly small place and they take no reservations so people start lining up before the doors open.  Inside are small wood tables (counter seating at the bar and in the middle of the room), music and photos of fish and other nautical items.   Some fish nets hanging from the ceiling are decorated with glass fish.  The full bar also offers a number of beers on tap.  Service was friendly, efficient and helpful.  It’s about the only seafood restaurant in town but my reaction to the food was mixed.  Dinner offered more choices especially if you don’t want fried seafood. Continue reading

Chez Noir, Carmel by the Sea, 8/12/23

Exterior – 5th Ave between Dolores and, San Carlos St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921

Chez Noir was the result of the husband and wife team collaboration of Jonny and Monique Black.  He runs the kitchen and she manages the front of the house, both with lots of fine dining experience.   The craftsman house that holds the 36-seat restaurant also houses the couple above it.  Out front are enough patio tables for 22 more guests that also can be reserved.  Another 8 seats are in front of the small bar in a separate interior room.  A small seasonal menu relies on local products but they also offer a “let us cook for you” option.  They call it a shareable feast and it is.  The whole table must participate and wine pairings are offered.  It is a fantastic way to sample much of the menu and I heartily recommend it.  It is relatively new on the dining scene of Carmel, opening in Oct. 2022 and already has one well-deserved Michelin Star.  Trust me, this is a fabulous place to go if you get the opportunity. Continue reading

Stationæry , Carmel by the Sea, 8/12/23

patio – 5th Ave between Dolores and, San Carlos St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921

Stationæry is a medium-sized (11 indoor tables) place operated by Anthony and Alissa Carnazzo.  They offer brunch, dinner, coffee and wines in a casual setting.  Also available are tables on the patio that opens to other stores and a couple stools at the tile counter.  A bench seat lines the wall set with small wood tables.  Many windows add lots of natural light and plants provide the decorations with music in the background which was sometimes hard to hear due to the crowd noise.  It was very busy and walk-ins had a long wait.  We had reservations luckily and the attentive and friendly staff moved the meal along nicely.  One note to service is that there are no refills on coffee – this was just house pour not a specialty cup.  The food primarily is sourced from nearby farms and ranches and varies with what’s in season.  It was good food, especially the roll which could have been a meal in itself.  I encourage you to try it but have a reservation. Continue reading

Aubergine (update), Carmel, 8/11/23


exterior –L’Auberge Carmel, 7th avenue Monte Verde St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921

Aubergine has re-done the dining room since we were there in 2019 (in 2020 we were there but it was during the pandemic and we ate outside) and it looks even better.  It has fewer tables but they’ve added some upstairs and dining outside is a regular option for the 5 nights a week they are open.  Chef Justin Cogley runs the kitchen with skillful pastry chef Yulanda Santos to offer an ever-changing 8-course tasting menu.  (There was an optional Japanese A5 wagyu supplement that night which we took).  A huge wine cellar supplements the meal as does the full bar.  They have maintained the Michelin Star they earned in 2019.   Music is in the background and artistic fish swim around the walls for the 5 tables in the dining room.  Gone are the dark beams above but they’ve added a cabinet for glassware and burled wood center fixture topped with candles and flowers.  The staff are all friendly and ready to help with any requests.  Chefs bring out some of the plates and explain them.  It was a wonderful dining experience and I recommend it to anyone who can get there. Continue reading

Dad’s Luncheonette, Half Moon Bay, CA., 8/11/23

exterior – 225 Cabrillo Highway South at, Kelly Ave, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

Dad’s Luncheonette was in a historic train caboose on Highway 1, near a strip shopping center.   It was a dream of Chef Scott Clark, who we met when he was Chef de cuisine at a 3-star Michelin restaurant, to open something small and casual that also serves great food.  He wanted a lifestyle change after having a child with his partner, Alexis Liu.  When she saw this little train car he knew that was it.  That was 6 years ago and it’s still a successful business.   There are a few seats inside, where you order, and picnic tables outside, but many just eat on the hood of their car or get stuff to go.  The cooking is on the upper level of the caboose and bathrooms are in the shopping center.  Lo and behold when we entered we found he brought another friend from the close by San Francisco dining scene that we had also dealt with before, Anthony Keels (Eight Tables).  The place is surrounded by farms and they make the best use of that supply chain but have a small menu.  I didn’t get a photo of the menu but you can see much of it on their website or in the photos.  Unfortunately, they were out of the homemade chips today. Continue reading

Fitzgerald’s, “The Fitz” (update), Eagle River, MI., 7/31/23

exterior – 5033 Front St, Eagle River, MI 49950

We were at the Fitzgerald about a year ago (as well as in 2019) but this time we stayed on the second level in the newly re-done large rooms.  The view and sounds of Lake Superior are fabulous and with so many hot places, the cool breeze here was refreshing.  The staff are super friendly and there’s plenty of parking out front.  The restaurant does get full, so reservations are a must.  Guests at the hotel have first grab at reservations and I found out they hold the window tables for guests.  This visit the fires in Canada were making a haze on the horizon but last time we were at the windows and the sun is so bright I believe I prefer the inner tables.  It’s a small place though, so there aren’t any tables without a great view.  Another thing I learned is to come early as they have limited quantities of some items and the later in the evening the more they’ve run out of.  Unfortunately, they were out of ribs again when we arrived and no ends were available.  They did look large and meaty from what I saw on earlier tables.  Service is friendly and helpful but their wine list is small, especially compared to the array of whisky that is available.  It’s a fun lovely place but the food is mixed.  Some of the desserts looked and sounded good but those were all gone by the time we finished. Continue reading

Parkview Lodge and Grill, Toilvola, MI., 7/30/23

exterior – 32423 State Hwy M-26, Tiovola, MI, 49965

Parkview Lodge and Grilll is a large place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The lodge has 16 rustic rooms ready to house those enjoying the snowmobile and ATV trails nearby.  Attached is a large bar and restaurant open 11 to 9, seven days a week.  It was opened in 2005 by two sisters and their husbands, but after 10 years they closed for 2.  In the middle of being closed, it was taken over by their brother, Scott Johnson who started doing renovations.  The bar and restaurant can hold up to 200 people and one new feature was the addition of some cutout trees dividing the bar and restaurant.  They are fabric covered to help with noise.  We didn’t have any noise issues as it was empty when we stopped but the middle of the afternoon would be prime time for the explorers to be outside.  The bartender took our order, helped with suggestions and was very friendly.  I don’t know about staying here but it’s definitely a place I’d recommend for a good burger. Continue reading

The Ranch Supper Club (update), Hayward, WI., 7/29/23

exterior – 10590 N Ranch Road, Hayward, WI., 54843

We visited The Ranch Supper Club in 2022 and had a great time so decided to go again, but this time we didn’t have a reservation.  Not a good plan for a Saturday night.  The wait wasn’t as bad as they thought so it was only a half-hour – time for a martini and a look around the bar area.   The bar is a hopping place and they turn out a decent cocktail but their wine list is not too exciting, so we stayed with cocktails for the evening.  The bar itself has a beautiful inlay of stones and the wood room is decorated with fishing objects and sporting goods.   It’s a good meal with nice service. Continue reading

Cry Wolf (update), Dallas, 7/25/23

exterior – 4422 Gaston Ave, Dallas, TX 75246

Cry Wolf is a regular on our schedule if you haven’t noticed.  The menu like the wine list is ever-changing.  Some things work fantastically and others miss the mark slightly, but it’s never dissatisfying as I always leave in a great frame of mind.  It’s a vibe some restaurants can achieve but it’s tough to maintain, however, they do and so I’ll keep posting updates to our dinners there.  It helps that they know us and this night they brought a couple of dishes to us just to try.  It made for a lot of food but what fun.  Even though Chef Ross Demers was not in the house, Tim Case was there finding excellent wines to go with our order and Chef Mike Stites sent out terrific dishes.  If you’re in Dallas this place is a must for you to go relax and enjoy a fantastic meal. Continue reading

Yolk (update), Manzanita, OR., 7/14/23

exterior (when closed) – 503 Laneda Ave, Manzanita, OR 97130

Yolk serves breakfast and lunch in Manzanita, on the coast of Oregon.  We visited there about a year ago and had fond memories so we were looking forward to dining there and interestingly found out it had been sold in the last couple of days.  The past owners were still there when we went, helping the new owners with the transition, particularly cooking.  Even so, a little snafu with the ordering process made it take longer to get the bill and impossible to check on our order.  It is still a bright and tasteful interior with music in the background, a patio, a full bar and lots of windows to the outside streaming in the sunshine.  The food is good but they don’t take reservations, so get there early or be prepared to wait.  It’ll be worth the wait. Continue reading

Neah Kah Nie Bistro (update), Manzanita, OR., 7/13/23

exterior – 519 Laneda Ave, Manzanita, OR 97130

We visited Neah Kah Nie Bistro last year and it was much better than this year’s visit.  They were really short-staffed, meaning one person working the floor and one in the kitchen so any walk-ins were turned away and service was tremendously slow.  It’s a small place with some outdoor seating, although the tarp over those seats was gone.  I felt for the server but they should have canceled some reservations or notified guests.  This was horrible.   We didn’t try for a cocktail and instead were thankful to finally get to sit down.  We also didn’t try for multiple courses, it took so long to get our wine and then it was the wrong bottle and vintage too.  She took it back to try again but finally came back with what we drank and said they’d been delivered it by mistake.  (The bill tried to reflect the charge for what we ordered and we waited to have that corrected as this wine was half the price of what we ordered – and was awful).  They have a small parking lot but lots of street parking is available.  Music was in the background and there was lots of light from the windows in the room to supplement the low lighting.  Even so, you could tell the menus were well used and no daily specials were available.    I’m sorry to say I can’t recommend this place. Continue reading

Pacific Roots Coffee and Mini Donuts, Nehalem, 7/13/23

sign on street – 35915 N Hwy 101, Nehalem, OR 97131

Pacific Roots Coffee and Mini Donuts is a food truck off the main street in Nehalem.  It is by the water in the same clearing as the Riverside Fish and Chips Truck, both of which we tried last year.  The signature mini donuts are made fresh, on the spot when you order them and come with a variety of toppings.  You order as many as you wish and they will mix the toppings in an order.   These little donuts are made in a remarkable machine and I have found them in a number of places but the flavor and quality do vary.  These are good ones, served nicely hot with a perfect amount of cinnamon sugar.  Another nice feature is that these are served in a styrofoam container as opposed to the usual paper bag.  They are perfect to order, especially while you wait for fried cod from the fish and chips stand.   While the fish was nice and the slaw interesting, the mini donuts were the star of this lunch for me. I encourage you to find a stand and try some. Continue reading

Wanda’s Cafe & Bakery, Nehalem, OR., 7/13/23

exterior –12880 H St, Nehalem, OR 97131

Wanda’s Cafe and Bakery is family owned and operated where you can dine in or grab something to go.  It’s a small to medium-sized place with additional seating outdoors.  They do not take reservations, so expect to have a wait, but while we waited for breakfast they had coffee available.  Parking is limited on site but there is free parking in a close city lot.  Named for the original owner’s grandmother, there is no Wanda associated with the place now.  Music was in the background and the entrance and check-out are filled with goods for sale, both edible and novelty.  The servers were efficient and friendly.  It’s a place I’d recommend but I’d like to go on a day they make the fresh cinnamon rolls. Continue reading

Offshore Grill and Coffee House, Manzanita, OR., 7/12/23

exterior – 154 Laneda Ave, Manzanita, OR 97130

Offshore Grill and Coffee House is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday and tries to showcase local foods. The Coffee Shop is open all day on those days.  They moved from nearby Rockaway to Manzanita during the pandemic when they added the coffee house.  It’s a medium-sized place with art for sale on the walls.  Polished wood makes up the tables and wood is on the floor as well as the curved bar.  Lots of families were diners and there was faint music in the background.  A few parking spaces are out front but mostly it’s street parking or walk-in guests.  Lowered lighting was supplemented by bright sunlight from the windows.  Service was friendly but only would rate okay.  All though there is a bar area they serve just wine and beer, no hard alcohol.  No specials were offered that evening and the food was mixed. Continue reading

SAISON (update), San Francisco, 7/7/23

entrance – 178 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

SAISON had been a favorite restaurant of ours for years but had gradually drifted away from yummy so we haven’t been back since 2016.  The introduction of a new team lead by Chef Richard Lee sparked our curiosity and so we decided to re-visit and are so glad we did.  They still stress open hearth cooking and the use of local products all while expanding their wine list.  The space is the same with well-spaced polished wood large tables with music in the background.  The walls of brick and piles of wood give it a softer feel than the large open and modern kitchen that takes up one end of the space, which is the show people come to see.  The other end is the bar with an abbreviated menu. Chef Richard Lee led a large team of chefs, each with different assigned tasks, and coordinated the serving the same tasting menu to all of the guests.   It’s about a 2.5-hour meal and they do turn the tables.  Wine pairings are available and a supplemental A5 Wagyu is offered when booking.  They were dropped to 2 Michelin Stars a couple of years ago but with the level of service and the quality of the meal, I can see that third star back in their pocket soon.  It’s pricey but if you can go it is once again well worth the money.  At the end of the meal, you will receive a menu. Continue reading

Sam’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant (update), San Francisco, 7/7/23

entrance – 374 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94104

Sam’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant is the fifth oldest restaurant in the US.  It was first listed here in 2015 but I didn’t write up subsequent visits.  They credit themselves for helping establish San Francisco as the culinary mecca it is today.  They serve local seafood, simply prepared, alongside local vegetables.  I thought of it as similar to Tadich Grill but it doesn’t seem to have weathered the pandemic as well.  The crowd at lunch was very light and the server was marginal (maybe some language issues here)  and tried to sell us on more items when we were ordering plenty.  The medium-sized place is full of wood and white tablecloths with some natural light from the windows to the street.  The walls are decorated with photos and nature shots.  The food was marginal to bad and they charge for bread service. Continue reading

Acquerello (update), San Francisco, 7/6/23

entrance – 1722 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94109

We last visited Acquerello in 2018 and you can read that one here.  It is in Nob Hill in a building that had housed many businesses but the main was a chapel which you can recognize by the high peaked ceiling. For 3 decades they have offered Italian-inspired cuisine and have been recognized with 2 Michelin stars.  It’s a good-sized room with music in the background and friendly yet very professional service, including purse stools.  Executive Chef Suzette Gresham still co-owns the place and runs the kitchen.  Co-owner Giancarlo Paterlini was at another of his restaurants that evening but his most capable sommelier son was on site.  They offer 2 tasting menus, one seasonal and one where you select 3-5 courses from several choices.  We specified the seasonal tasting on our reservation so didn’t even see the other menu but their website has it online.  Wine pairings are available as are some supplemental courses of caviar and cheese.  We opted for our own wines and no supplements.  It is a lovely place but should I go back I’d pick the menu with choices because although the plates were gorgeous they didn’t pack the flavor punch I remembered. Continue reading

Tadich Grill (update), San Francisco, 7/6/23

exterior – 240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Tadich Grill was reviewed here back in 2015, but we visited many times after that and I didn’t write it up.  But with the pandemic, it’s been at least 4 years since we were there.   It was old school and consistent quality, meaning little changes, but downtown San Francisco has changed with a lot fewer people working in offices and a lower number of tourists.  Tadich was ‘started’ by 3 Croatian immigrants in 1849 as a coffee stand that went through numerous moves when in 1871 another Croatian, John Tadich started working there.  It became known as The Cold Day Restaurant through a political incident and Tadich took ownership in 1887.  He joined with another restauranteur when both needed to recover from the 1906 earthquake, but when their partnership dissolved in 1912 and his partner named his new restaurant The Cold Day.  Tadich then named his place Tadich Grill, The Original Cold Day Restaurant.  It’s a fairly large place with wood tables and booths set with white clothes and napkins.  A long bar with stools runs the length of the place with the kitchen being partially open in the back. Staff are friendly and dressed in long white aprons and white jackets.  They have a large menu featuring much local and imported seafood with a few daily specials.  The food is fine but nothing to write home about.  You no longer seem to need a reservation at lunch, if that’s progress. Continue reading

Cry Wolf (update), Dallas, 6/28/23

Chef Ross Demers – 4422 Gaston Ave, Dallas, TX 75246

Cry Wolf has become a regular on our playlist and I swear I am not on their payroll – but the food is just too good not to share with you.  The combinations continue to evolve and are different week to week and the atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming.  Chef Ross Demers was finishing the plates tonight so we got to chat with him as we had the two “chef’s table” seats adjacent to him. He and Chef Mike Stites share cooking and finishing rolls, which helps the evolution of the menu.  Sommelier Tim Case always has some fun and new wines to tell you about and is very mindful of your menu choices in helping you make a selection.  In fact we had picked one wine and he came back and said we needed another under consideration based on our menu choices.  I was closing the end of a week of birthday celebrations and Tim started our evening with a complimentary glass of champagne.  If you haven’t been here, I strongly urge you to put it on your agenda.  Maybe Frankie and I will see you there! Continue reading

Louie’s on the Lake, Cumberland, WI., 6/21/23

building – 1780 Arcade Ave, Cumberland, WI 54829

Louie’s on the Lake was the byproduct of Doris and Louis Muench Sr. moving to Cumberland from Chicago, where he had been a meat cutter. In 1970 they opened Louie’s Finer Meats and from that came the opportunity for family dining featuring Louie’s meats.  It’s a small place with booths on the sides of the room and tables in the middle.  A few more tables are in the entry room where there is also a counter selling meats.  There is a large outdoor patio which the dining room looks out to, as well as the parking lot.  The bare wood tables are set with flatware wrapped in a napkin and other condiments for seasoning the food.  You can see the lake on an angle from the back windows.  Open every day except Tuesday, they serve breakfast and lunch and close earlier on Sunday.  Service was friendly but not the most efficient, but then finding workers in small towns is difficult.  The food was very acceptable and I’d go again but it’s not worth driving out of your way for. Continue reading

Shokunin, Calgary, 6/17/23

exterior – 2016 4 St SW, Calgary, AB T2S 1W3, Canada

Shokunin is a 50-seat Japanese Izakaya-style (informal place for drinking and snacks) restaurant serving charred yakitori and other small shared plates. On the 100 Best Restaurants of Canada, they ranked at #82.   They have a seasonal menu for the room as well as a full bar and lots of bottles of sake.  There are 4 seats at the bar in front of the cooking area that are reserved for the Shokunin Yakitori Omakase tasting.  It also has optional drink pairings and an additional course of 45-day aged beeswax-wrapped wagyu.  It is not A-5 from Japan but rather a Wagyu from Australia.  One item on the menu, the chicken ass (tail), is only available to those having the omakase.  The place was packed and service was well-paced and friendly.  I was surprised by how little interaction there was between the 4 guests and those in the kitchen, but that was affected by plexiglass between us and the grilled area.  It felt a bit impersonal with slight explanations of courses and a rushed feel.  Some of the food was outstanding and others were just so-so.  The tasting was a good way to get to know the place if you’re a one-time visitor. Continue reading

Hankki, Banff, 6/16/23

exterior – 206 Buffalo St, Banff, AB T1L 1E4, Canada

Hankki means one meal in Korean and this meal is modeled after Korean street food.  They sell bowls or cupbop, and Korean hot dogs on a stick. The bowls are a stir-fry of different ingredients.  Cheap, quick and filling options which are a novelty in the tourist-laden Banff.  All the bowls contain Veggie Mandu which is edamame, sweet corn, lettuce, pickled carrot, sesame seeds and egg garnish along with some pan-fried veggie dumplings.  They are on a base of rice with sauce and then you pick your level of spiciness.  We both chose ‘hot’.  The Chee Bop bowl contained Korean-style crispy fried chicken and the Korean B.B.Q bowl contained sweet and savory marinated grilled pork, lettuce.  There were basic similarities but the flavoring was fairly different.  Both were quite tasty and best when all the stuff was mixed around.  Hot was a nice level of heat.  If you need a quick snack this is for you.  I saw some little kids getting and enjoying the hot dogs which are much less food, but we didn’t try one. Continue reading

River Cafe, Calgary, 6/15/23

entrance – 25 Prince’s Island Park, SW, Calgary, AB T2P 0R1, Canada

River Cafe dates back to 1991 when it started as a full-service café on Calgary’s Prince Island for the summer only.  In 1995 they enclosed the space and began operating year-round.  The desire was to create a restaurant space that would blend into the Bow River setting and they ranked at #22 on the 2023 100 Best In Canada.  Attempting to serve cuisine from local areas was also part of the plan.  To this day there is no access to the place except to walk there across the pedestrian bridge and through the friendly geese.  It’s a fairly large space with bare wood tables set with towel-shaped napkins, faint music in the background and decorated with a fishing/nautical motif.  An open kitchen is part of the rambling room as is a long bar.  They are open 7 days a week and serve lunch/brunch as well as dinner. At dinner, they offer a Chef’s Tasting menu as well as an a la carte menu.  We chose the tasting and they were willing to give me a copy of the night’s menu, but the dessert listed was not accurate. Service was friendly but the pacing was off and the food was good but not outstanding.  It’s such a pretty spot, though I would recommend you try it. Continue reading

Meat & Bread, Calgary, 6/15/23

building – Grain Exchange Building, 821 1 St SW, Calgary, AB T2P 7N2, Canada

Meat and Bread started in Vancouver and now has a number of locations in Canada but this one is in the old grain exchange building and opened in 2017.  Stylishly designed and decorated they make everything themselves.  They prided themselves on the simplicity of their products  – offer just a few things but use the highest quality ingredients and make it yourselves.  That simplicity is seen in the efficient layout of the space.  You enter and immediately see the porchetta roast and some sandwiches being assembled for to-go orders.  The menu is on a blackboard-like surface above the long prep area and the sides and drinks are arranged so you can see and pick.  You can watch your sandwich being made as you pay for it and then they’ll call your number when it’s ready.  We were there when they first opened, so no line, but my understanding is that it can have long lines however they move quickly.  The staff were super friendly and loved showing off a whole roast ready to go to the slicer.  This is a wonderful place and I hope I get to eat their sandwiches again. Continue reading

D.O.P., Calgary, 6/14/23

exterior – 1005A 1 St SW, Calgary, AB T2R 0T8, Canada

D.O.P. is a small place that merited the number 23 spot on the 2023 list of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants.  In the next few months, around Sept. they are moving a couple blocks away to the Grain Exchange Building because their current building is being demolished.  This will allow them to have a bigger kitchen and add about 10 seats.  The name roughly translates to “Protected Designation of Origin” meaning that its products are locally grown or made, as much as possible.  The narrow place had small tables running the length of the room opposite the bar/counter seating.  The end with the entrance had windows to the street and a couple of side-by-side tables and the other end houses the 6′ x 8′ kitchen.  The server said they have a room downstairs for some prep work and storage but this was about the smallest kitchen ever.   The room’s long wall is decorated with posters and art, has a high ceiling, music in the background and the small bare wood tables are set with cloth napkins.  It filled up quickly and was quite noisy, with reservations being a must unless you’re a singleton for the bar seating.  Service was friendly and helpful and the food started with a flourish but then fizzled slightly. Continue reading

Silver Dragon Restaurant, Calgary, 6/14/23

exterior – 106 3 Ave SE, Calgary, AB T2G 0B6, Canada

The Silver Dragon Restaurant is located in the heart of Chinatown in Calgary.  They offer over 200 Chinese dishes as well as brunch dim sum cart service daily (till 2:30).  It’s a fairly large place on the second floor of the building that has been successful enough to now have a second location in Banff.  The tables were well-spaced but not set with pepper oil, soy sauce or vinegar.  It’s old-school Chinese food and service was friendly and fast with lots of carts coming to your table at any time.  However, if you didn’t see what you wanted on a cart they would get it for you if it was presently being served.  If it wasn’t they would only serve it if you had 2 orders of it.  That made it tough since there were just the two of us but there was plenty of selection to choose from.  They did bring us a tray with a bit of hot oil and some vinegar, but the hot oil was gone quickly.  Some items came with sauce and then I saw others asking for soy, etc. and they cut most items when served.   I would not call it outstanding but it was perfectly satisfying, just not extraordinary. The only specialty item worth commenting on was the ginger beef – a dish invented in Calgary.  It’s a fried strip of beef in a sweet/spicy sauce.  Fun to try something new. Continue reading

Major Tom, Calgary, 6/13/23

view from the restaurant – Scotia Centre, 700 2 St SW #4000, Calgary, AB T2P 2W3, Canada

Major Tom is a restaurant and bar on the 40th floor of Stephen Avenue Place in downtown Calgary.  It is the only restaurant in Alberta to be ranked in the top 20 of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants for 2023, claiming #13.  Opening in the summer of 2021 it offers spectacular views of downtown (and further depending on the weather) with a menu that is heavy on steakhouse fare.  While they offer other dining options, the menu highlights their beef selections which are all broiled at 1800º and brushed with Major Tom butter.  It’s a large place and very popular, judging by the crowd and reservation options.  The attractive interior is nicely lit by the walls of windows on the perimeter.  Music is in the background, as well as much conversational noise and a full bar is available.  Service is excellent and very friendly, with our great server Raven willing to pace out our meal and offer guidance on how much to order.  Fortunately, the food matched the wonderful views and it was a fantastic evening.  I recommend you include this one when you visit Calgary. Continue reading

The DeBruce (tasting), Livingston Manor, 6/3/23

dining room – 982 Debruce Rd, Livingston Manor, NY

The current owners have run the place for 6 years and offer 6 “seasons” of menu to span the year.  We were there for the ‘Stream’ season which features the many trout in the area.  We were fortunate to get the same wonderful server both nights and he really made the meal enjoyable.  Knowledge and friendliness are important in a great server and Giovanni Costantino has plenty of both.  The tasting is offered at 6:30 and 8:00 pm so it moves at a fairly rapid pace.  However, we had the later time and were there past 10, so the early seating moves more quickly.  Portions are well-modulated.  The beautiful landscape outside made a perfect backdrop for a meal of fish, that I didn’t have to catch or clean.   I imagine the other seasonal tastings are well-crafted too.  I recommend this place. Continue reading

The DeBruce (breakfast), Livingston Manor, 6/2 &3/23

dining room – 982 Debruce Rd, Livingston Manor, NY

When you stay at the DeBruce breakfast is included the next morning.  The sun-filled dining room opened at 9:00am and the menu changed slightly the 2 days we were there.  We tried some of the same things and new items the second day.  The menu says you are allowed to pick two items per person but I did hear some people customizing there order.  This may have worked as the place was not full or maybe they are flexible.  It never hurts to ask.  Also included was coffee, tea, orange juice and apple juice.  The service was not nearly as good in the morning as in the evening.  For example, I asked for a coffee refill and the server complied but never offered my husband any.  The service was also slower and that was probably due to fewer people working in the kitchen.  The food was more mixed at breakfast and it sometimes made me wish they offered a simple omelet.   But all that said, it satisfied and readied me for the day ahead. Continue reading

The DeBruce (a la carte), Livingston Manor, 6/2/23

building – 982 Debruce Rd, Livingston Manor, NY

The DeBruce Lodge and Restaurant, built in the 1880s, sits on a ledge overlooking the Willowemoc Vally and river in Catskill Park.  There are 12 rooms whose stay includes dinner and breakfast, as well as access to many fishing spots.  On Friday the menu is ‘a la carte’ and Saturday is the tasting menu (which will be in a later write-up).  They sometimes offer a Carte Blanche menu for Fridays but it was not available the time we were there.  Some reservations are taken for diners not staying in the lodge, but reservations are recommended.  Downstairs is a club room if you desire additional drinks but upstairs, or the main floor, has the small glass-walled dining rooms that has around 8 tables.  A larger table is in the Great Room for bigger groups.  Music is in the background with wood walls and wooden benches lining the perimeter of the room.  The seats are padded and pelts and horns provide the decorations.  Skylights provide additional lighting to the votives on the tables and natural light coming in the 2 walls of windows.  Once the sun goes down the room did get much darker.  A large opening goes to the kitchen which is kept amazingly dark, which is nice for diners but more challenging for the chefs.  Eric Leveillee is the Executive Chef but he spends most of his time in Philadelphia and Chef de Cuisine Robert West runs the kitchen here.  It is a lovely spot and if you like fly fishing, pack your bags now.  If you’re not a fisherman you can still enjoy this place’s wonderful hiking and food.  We enjoyed both types of menus and they are quite different, so stay 2 nights if you can.


dining room
Frankie explored



For dinner we were told we could order whatever we wanted off the menu.  We wanted to try a lot and were willing to share all.  The server was most helpful in crafting our meal.  Our Sourdough was their bread topped with peas, fiddleheads and ricotta.  The thick slice of bread was heavily spread with their housemade ricotta and then decorated with fresh fiddlehead ferns and English peas.  It was delicious and a delight to have the ultra-fresh vegetables.

Our sourdough
another angle


Roasted carrots were mixed with coffee, maple and pistachio.  These might have been my husband’s favorite plate of the evening.  The beautiful fresh carrots were perfectly cooked and seasoned with the nuts adding a bit more texture to the dish.  They were great.



Chilled mussels were mixed with white beans and topped with housemade potato chips.  It was described as chilled but it still jolted me to have the cold mussels but they were fun and tasty.  The chips gave the texture some crunch and a bit of salt which the beans needed.  There was also some briny liquid mixed with the beans underneath.  Some of the beans could have been cooked a tad more but better this than turned to mush.  The large mussels were great.

Chilled mussels


Ricotta dumplings were mixed with wild mushrooms and parmesan.  The large pasta wrappers were stuffed with the tasty ricotta and then blended with tons of mushrooms and topped with lots of grated cheese and a bit of cream.  They were rich, heavy and wonderful.

Ricotta Dumplings


Mangalitsa pork chop au poivre was served sliced and de-boned on a fabulous sauce.  The large fat cap on the meat gave it extra richness and a wonderful depth of flavor.  It was slightly chewy, but this one you didn’t mind working on, especially the delectable bone meat.

Mangalitsa Pork Chop


Beaverkill trout was topped with fiddleheads and smoked roe.  It was a boneless fillet but the head and tail were on the plate for a faux whole-fish effect.  The cooking and flavor were excellent and the roe made a nice accent seasoning.

Beaverkill Trout


Rice pudding was with almond and sea buckthorn.  The thick round of rice was underneath a layer of cream and sitting in the sea buckthorn sauce.  It was light and yet full of flavor.  I love rice pudding and this was a interesting rendition.

rice pudding


Chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet was topped with lime shortbread. A final drizzle of cream finished off the dish.  The cookie was buttery and short and the dish had lots of textures.  Some herbs were mixed in and sprinkled on the top to add another layer of flavor.  It looked goopy but it was nice.

Chocolate mousse
Frankie explored the place

The Smoke Joint, Livingston Manor, NY., 6/2/23

building – 630 Old Rte 17, Livingston Manor, NY 12758

The Smoke Joint moved to the Catskills from downtown Brooklyn.  The chef/owners Ben Grossman and Craig Samuel have won accolades for their culinary ventures.  The tiny place is on the banks of the Willowemoc River and they are open from spring to fall.  Here they offer a variety of sandwiches, barbecue by the pound, fried chicken, hot dogs, a variety of sides and beverages (full liquor license).  They have a few tables inside but most of the dining was on the picnic tables right out the door.  The tables were set with napkins, flatware and hot and regular sauces.  You order and pay at the counter and then your food is brought out to you.  There were cans to dispose of your trash when you are through.  The people working there were pleasant and helpful and judging by the crowd we decided it was the place to grab a snack.  I’m no expert on barbecue as is John Tanner who publishes a restaurant blog you’d enjoy,  johntannersbbqblog.com but I think he’d appreciate the flavor of the brisket.  Check out John’s blog for not only barbecue but also Washington DC, the eastern USA coast and lots of other places.  You’ll enjoy his wit and writing style and add to your list of places to go and eat.
Continue reading

The Bocuse Restaurant, Hyde Park, NY, 6/1/23

entrance – 1946 Campus Dr, Hyde Park, NY 12538

The Bocuse Restaurant is the French restaurant in the Culinary Institute of America.  Named aptly for Paul Bocuse, it is staffed by students at the CIA who learn modern cooking techniques to bring diners classic French cuisine.  It’s in a large room at one end of a main building that has a parking garage next to it.  Tons of windows added even more light to the fairly bright white room.   Modern ceiling fixtures add soft light as does the see-through wine cellar.  One end of the room is the open kitchen.   Students not only do the cooking but also the service, drinks and wine service.  They were all very pleasant but varied in their competency.  Bench seating lines the walls with free-standing tables in the middle of the room and music was in the background.  The menu is set up as a prix fixe 3-course menu with several choices in each category.  They offered a nice wine list as well as many cocktails and mocktails – some made tableside. We were there with family so I got more pictures than I got to eat, but pictures tell a lot.  Overall the food was nice but some menu descriptions were off the mark. Continue reading

Garvan’s Gastropub, New Paltz, NY, 5/31/23

building – 215 Huguenot St, New Paltz, NY 12561

Garvan’s was opened 6 years ago by Garvan and Leonie McCloskey to bring a bit of Ireland to New Paltz, NY.  It is located in an historic home that was built in 1759.  The restaurant is spread over 5 spacious rooms in the building that have carpet and lots of windows to the outside.  With the addition of drapes and well spaced tables the noise level is quite nice.  There were no special that evening but the place does offer a full bar.  We were there with family and so my note-writing and picture-taking were limited.  The service was friendly but not particularly attentive.  Our main server took our orders and then disappeared for long periods of time while others brought the food and drinks.  The food was mixed with some plates good while others were quite ordinary.  The bar did turn out good cocktails though and as I said the noise level made it easy to talk.  We didn’t get dessert but I got a photo of the menu. Continue reading

Nick’s Family Restaurant, Spooner, WI, 5/17/23


Nick’s Family Restaurant is a large place, with seats for 120, and famous for its ‘pizzaburger.’  It has been in business for over 50 years and with it being locally owned and family run by the Tyler family since 1979.  Windows to the street are on many sides with booths next to them.  In the middle of the rooms are tables of various sizes.  The first thing you see when you enter is the display case filled with pies and the check-out counter where you pay.  They have a large menu that is supplemented with daily specials for lunch and dinner and serve breakfast all-day.  Closed on Tuesday, they are open 6 am to 8 pm daily and are even open earlier during the week.  They serve wine and beer but no full bar.  Service was amazing considering how few were working there and how many people continued to arrive.  The food was mixed but edible.  It looks like a no-frills place and that’s the food it serves too.  Nothing wrong just not calling you back to eat there again. Continue reading

Nook, Madison, 5/11/23

exterior – 2138 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704

Nook is a tiny 12-seat tasting menu experience.  It’s what I continually search for – a relaxed, fun-filled evening filled with wonderful flavors and textures.  The restaurant is family owned by Noah and Julie Przybylski and they cook and present the evenings’s meal.  Aided by some extra servers in the service, you can’t help but be consumed by their joyous and adventurous spirits.  The couple met in Chicago in 2005,  where the dream of opening their own restaurant hatched.  They married in 2007 and welcomed a son in 2014 (whose artwork you can see downstairs).  Now they have brought the dream to life with a restaurant that celebrates all that Wisconsin has to offer. A bargain at $125 per person for a 12-14 course meal.  Wine pairings are available, but we ordered our own bottle.  The tables each seat 2 and they’re lined up about 3 inches apart from each other.  As the evening moves on conversations begin to cross over the small separation.  Noah presented and explained each course as it came out with good pacing and portion control.  I strongly recommend this fabulous place, if you can get a reservation – they go quickly. Continue reading

Alimentari Deli, Madison, 5/11/23

exterior – 306 S Brearly St, Madison, WI 53703

Alimentari is basically Italian for food/groceries.  This deli is in an 1,800 square foot former laundromat space and sells fresh pasta, sauces, freshly cut meats and cheeses as well as sandwiches and other dry goods.  The sandwiches are made to order and there is no place to eat in the store.  They also had a gelato counter but we didn’t try it.  It looked like a great place to shop for Italian ingredients but for us we wanted a sandwich for the car.  Similar to last week, we wanted a snack before we went on a tour of a Frank Lloyd Wright site, but this time is was Taliesin.  I must say this sandwich was way better than the last both because of the filling but also the bread.  The buns for their sandwiches are made daily by Madison Sourdough.  They have a great chew with a crisp crust and a soft interior but it’s not too big that it dwarfs the fillings or hard to get your mouth around.  I actually found myself wanting to eat parts of the bread without any filling, it was that good.  If you need ingredients or just a snack, I’d head to this place right away. Continue reading

L’Etoile Restaurant, Madison, 5/10/23

building – US Bank Plaza, 1 S Pinckney St, Suite 107, Madison, WI 53703

L’Etoile Restaurant was opened by Odessa Piper in 1976.  She was an early supporter of the sustainable food or farm-to-table movement.  In 2005 she sold the restaurant to her Chef de cuisine, Tory Miller and his sister Traci.  They continued the tradition of supporting local farmers and expanded to open a bakery and a casual lunch spot also.  Dianne Christensen became a co-owner in 2007 and envisioned a new space for ‘L’Etoile and the addition of a gastropub.  Chef Miller was the recipient of the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest in 2012.  The new space is in the US Bank Plaza building with 3 walls of glass looking out at the dome of the Wisconsin capital building.  The widely spaced tables are covered with white cloths, sitting on carpet with a high ceiling overhead and music in the background.  Parking is on your own, so allow extra time to make your reservation.  They offer a “5” course tasting with 2 levels of optional wine pairings as well as an a la carte menu.  The full bar and wine list has a fairly hefty mark-up but it is a good selection.  We chose the tasting menu which included multiple extras and chose a half bottle of white and full bottle of red to accompany the meal.  The food is excellent as was the service and if you have the chance this is a place I would recommend, but it’s not cheap. Continue reading

The Plaza Tavern & Grill, Madison, 5/10/23

building – 319 N Henry St, Madison, WI 53703

The Plaza Tavern and Grill is the home of the “world-famous Plazaburger.”   The burger is dressed with a Plaza sauce which is a secret recipe from 1964.   The Plazaburger is ordered separately from a regular burger but they also offer a number of other food choices.  Inside is a long bar that runs the length of the long room and booths run along the opposite wall.  The middle of the room is open but you’ll find various game machines around the room.  A number of televisions were around the room and midday they were playing an old animated show.  It’s conveniently located by the capital and UW and open Wed to Sat from noon to 2 am.  Goggle wrongly said they weren’t open till 3 pm on Wed but that is not the case.  They were super friendly and cooked our burgers on the grill right behind the bar.  It is a cash only place. Continue reading

Paul’s Pel’meni, Madison, 5/10/23

exterior – 414 W Gilman St, Madison, WI 53703

Paul’s Pel’meni is a small place near the UW campus serving Russian style dumplings.  The owner, Paul Schwoerer, once lived in Alaska and found that Russian cuisine was good for colder climates.  While there he learned to make these dumplings from a man who wanted to move back to Russia.  Now he and his wife are in their 3rd location having been in business for 18 years.  Everyday in the kitchen downstairs he rolls the dough and stuffs it with mashed potatoes or a savory ground beef mixture.  Sour cream is the standard accompaniment but they still seemed plain to him.  Now he adds a topping of yellow curry, butter, sweet chili sauce with vinegar and cilantro.  They are sold in full and half orders of the beef, potato or mix.  You order at the counter and they are out quickly.  In the next room are tables and a water jug and a room with a bar.  Later in the evening they’ll be serving lots of cocktails and draft beer to go with the dumplings.  It was a quick and very satisfying lunch for us and I highly recommend you check the place out. Continue reading

The Harvey House, Madison, 5/9/23

exterior (daytime) – 644 W Washington Ave, Madison, WI 53703 

The Harvey House is a modern take on a supper club and train travel,  located in an historic train depot.  The old Baggage Claim House and a train car next door make up the interior spaces.  Opened by Shaina and Joe Papach, he runs the kitchen and she provides the design and business development portion.  Lots of Wisconsin classic cocktails are served as well as newer craft cocktails, but the wine list is limited.  The private car, which we could see out the window in our dining room, is used mostly for private parties according to our server.  Even so, it is a large place winding around different floors and rooms with music in the background.  A parking lot outside can handle some of the cars but parking can become an issue.  There were some area rugs on the hard floor but with all the brick walls and marble-top tables, noise quickly became an issue.  The lighting is very lowered which also became difficult as the sun went down.  The food was mixed but service was fine.  I do love supper clubs, but as much as I admire what the owners bring to the dining scene I probably wouldn’t go back. Continue reading

Oakcrest Tavern, Madison, 5/9/23

exterior – 5371 Old Middleton Rd, Madison, WI 53705

The Oakcrest Tavern opened in the 1950s and it’s famous for its burger made from “steak trimmings” but they offer a number of things on their menu, including a fish fry on Fridays.  It’s a casual place with the bar counter filling half of its space.  The cooking area is inside the bar area and a parking lot surrounds the building.  There were lots of TVs around the room but the sound was muted and music was playing.  Lots of beer paraphernalia decorated the wood walls.   The staff was all super friendly and they were quick with the food and you could see it was made to order.  We enjoyed Leinenkugel’s beer, which was served nicely cold in a bottle, with our lunch.  I suggest you give this place a try if you have a chance but be forewarned – it’s said to get quite busy at some hours. Continue reading

Di Anoia’s Eatery, Pittsburgh, 5/4/23

exterior – 2549 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Di Anoia’s is an Italian restaurant run by Chef/Owner Dave Anoia from Lebanon, PA. that opened in 2016 in the Strip District with his wife, Aimee DiAndrea (get how they came up with the name?).  They accept reservations 6 weeks in advance but do have a waiting list that actually works.  The bar and patio are for walk-ins.  It’s a large bustling place serving all ages on closely spaced faux marble tables with red-checked napkins.  Windows to the outside are on 2 walls and one looks like it used to be a garage door.  They are open for all three meals except for no breakfast on Sunday and closed all day Monday.  It’s a deli/cafe by day and a full-service restaurant at night.  You enter into the bar/cafe area where there is a pastry case and a full bar.  The dining room is to you right.  Service was helpful and friendly and the noise level is loud. Continue reading

Groceria Merante, Pittsburgh, 5/4/23

entrance –3454 Bates St, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Groceria Merante is an Italian grocery store selling supplies and sandwiches.  It started in the late 1950s and moved to its present location in 1979.   The family had seven children and some of them still take part in this family run business.  We were on our way to visit Falling Water, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed home about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh.  We wanted something we could keep in the car and eat before going in and this was perfect.  The little corner store had wonderful products and a deli counter in back.  Some sandwiches were ready made and in the cooler.  At check out she gave me napkins and mayo for our meal.  The sandwiches were well stuffed but did want the mayo for extra moistness.  If you need Italian supplies I highly recommend this place and if you want a sandwich to go it’s a fine choice.  There is no place to eat at the store. Continue reading

Altius, Pittsburgh, 5/3/23

exterior/day – 1230 Grandview Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15211

Altius was a combination of fine dining and spectacular views.  Located next to the top spot for the Mt. Washington Incline, the 2-story restaurant makes the most of its views with windows on three sides and 2 levels on each floor, so everybody can look around.  The comfy seats have adequate-sized tables on carpet with only faint music in the background.  Most of the lighting was from the windows and that would have been an issue if we hadn’t been lucky to be located under one of the ceiling spots.  Some tables got quite dark as we watched the sun go down and the city’s lights go on.  Bridges, stadiums and buildings are all within view as was the Duquesne Indian station and its car.  A more casual crowd seemed to be celebrating special occasions among us regular diners.  Service was good as was the food but the view was exceptional. Continue reading

Primanti Bros., Pittsburgh, 5/3/23

exterior – 46 18th Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15222

Primanti Bros. started in 1933 during the Great Depression.  Joe Primanti had a sandwich cart that was successful enough to turn into a storefront feeding shift workers and truck drivers.  Their signature is potato fries on the sandwich.  The story is that someone came to the restaurant during the winter with a load of potatoes.  He was concerned if they were frozen but when cooked on the grill they were fine.  As other customers came in they wanted some so Joe put them on the sandwich and it was a hit.  It allowed the drivers to eat with one hand while they drove.   They now have 40 restaurants in over 6 states.  We tried to hit the original location of this Pittsburgh icon.  It is definitely worth trying and they are open daily 8 am – 10 pm and even later on Fri and Sat. The interesting thing was their menu had no prices and the drink menu on the table didn’t either.  You can order extra meat or cheese on your sandwich but then I heard another patron asking how much and the server had to go to the register to check.   On the website, most of the sandwiches are around $9 with $2 for extra meat/cheese.  Service was super friendly and the place has murals you could study while you wait a short time for your order.  They also had a full bar and several options for draft beer, which is what I tried. Continue reading

Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Pittsburgh, 5/2/23

entrance – 150 Smallman St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Eleven was in a renovated warehouse beside the rail lines and served a seasonal menu with an accompanying large wine list.  Opening in 2004 it was named because it was the 11th restaurant opened by the big Burrito Restaurant Group and it has been a launching spot for many of the best Pittsburgh chefs.  It’s a striking interior, with a two-story dining area where the second floor is glass-enclosed private rooms (and a patio) and downstairs is filled with curved booths opposite straight booths that are next to the wall separating the open kitchen.  The wine cellar is the glassed-in area on the second level above the middle of the space.  On the opposite end of the dining area/kitchen was the large bar area that had a separate menu.   Music was in the background with lighting lowered and curtains on the windows to the street.  The food was quite good but there were a few service glitches that showed a lack of communication among the staff.  It was a dressier crowd, many looked like expense account eaters.    I would recommend the place based on the food and the lovely setting but with some reservations. Continue reading

Lindey’s, Columbus, 4/27/23

building – 169 E Beck St, Columbus, OH 43206

Lindey’s is owned by Sue Doody who opened it in 1981 in the German Village neighborhood.  Now two of her sons are involved and both have found careers in the restaurant industry.   It’s a huge place serving American cuisine in a white tablecloth setting.  There are several dining rooms as well as private dining rooms in the 2-story corner building.  The 1884 building housed another restaurant prior to but earlier served as a grocery, a saloon, flower shop and hardware store.  Doody named the restaurant after the linden trees that used to grow on the property.  The small tables are on carpet with the walls covered with drawings and music somewhere in the background.  The entrance room had a long bar and tables but we were in the next room with windows to the street adding a bit more light into the room.  Service was friendly but jumbled and the food was mixed. Perhaps we should have ordered the daily special. Continue reading

Katalina’s, Columbus, 4/27/23

building – 1105 Pennsylvania Ave, Columbus, OH 

Katalina’s is “The Little Cafe with Lots of Local Goodness.”   Housed in a 100-year old gas station it is covered in grafitti art and serves breakfast, lunch and brunch.  The small corner building has a couple inside tables and some stools at a counter but most of the seating is outside on the pet-friendly patio.  (Someone actually had their leash-trained cat sitting on the planter box next to their table).  There are a couple of parking spaces right next to the building and a lot behind it.  Music was piped out onto the patio which is where we sat after ordering at the counter inside.  The menu hangs on a chalkboard above but they also have printed ones.  The food was brought to the table when ready.  I was intrigued by a number of things on their menu but the counter person said they are famous for their Pancake Balls which are trademarked and their breakfast tacos, so we got those two things.  Super friendly staff and a funky feel make this a place I suggest you try.  Who could resist a pancake ball? Continue reading

The Refectory Restaurant, Columbus, 4/26/23

exterior at night – 1092 Bethel Rd, Columbus, OH 43220

The Refectory has a long storied past with buildings from the 1840s and 1850s which were combined to make it.  The current dining area is in the 1853 church that was sided with walnut and served as the main building for a church, which unfortunately was only 75 yards away from some noisy railroad tracks.   When the church bought 2 school buildings 200 yards away the physical church was moved to be adjoined with them around 1918.  In 1954 a brick school was added to the structure but by 1969 the congregation was larger than the buildings could accommodate so they moved. In 1971 the original church was turned into The Olde Church-House Restaurant and in 1981 the building became The Refectory Restaurant, which is the name of the dining hall in a convent/monastery.  The original schoolhouse became the Lounge and Bistro dining area and the church housed the Dining Room with its original hand-hewn beams and exposed wooden roof structure.  Kamal Boulos, the present owner, has worked in the building for almost 50 years.  He brought in Chef Richard Blondin from Lyon, France to run the kitchen, which he still does.  Over the years they have greatly expanded the wine cellar to over 700 selections.  Music was in the background, lights were lowered and the white cloth-covered tables are surrounded by lots of stained glass.  They offer a 5-course Chef’s Tasting that also has a vegetarian option in addition to an a la carte menu.  We tried the tasting with our own wines and the pacing was fairly quick with good portion control.  The food was mixed with too many additions of microgreens, dots and smears of sauces.  It is definitely an elegant setting but the flavor profile and repetition made me wonder if the chef really was in the kitchen. Continue reading

Wario’s Beef and Pork, Columbus, 4/26/23

building – 111 W Nationwide Blvd, Columbus, OH

Wario’s Beef and Pork was created by Chef Stephan Madias, who wanted to bring a chef-driven sandwich shop to Columbus.  He wanted customers to feel like family and to serve them quality food that is responsibly sourced and made from scratch.  Their signature semolina roll is baked and delivered to the shop daily from Matija Breads and he makes, cures and smokes the other ingredients in-house.  They opened in late fall of 2020 as a little sandwich window that quickly became a new city food spot.  Named for a character in Nintendo’s Mario Brothers video game series, they are open Wed. through Sun. and have a few tables inside and a large patio outside.  A really friendly spot, we immediately struck up a conversation with one of their regulars and their counter person was also friendly and helpful.  The sandwiches are huge and excellent.  I would eat there often if I lived nearby. Continue reading

St. Elmo Steak House, Indianapolis, 4/21/23

exterior – 127 S Illinois St, Indianapolis, IN 46225

St. Elmo Steak House has been a landmark in Indianapolis since 1902 when it opened.  It is the oldest steakhouse in the city that’s in its original location.  The place is huge, covering several floors with lots of different rooms and private dining options.  It was founded by Joe Stahr and named for the patron saint of sailors, St. Elmo.  Having had several owners over the years it is now run by Stephen Huse and his son Craig. They’ve won awards, have a huge wine cellar, valet parking and professional tuxedoed waitstaff.  The large white cloth-covered tables are surrounded by brick walls and lots of photos with lowered lighting.  The evening we were there, there were a number of large parties in the private rooms as well as on the floor.  It had a very typical steakhouse ambiance that you have to be in the mood for.  It was mixed on food but service was outstanding. Continue reading

Bluebeard, Indianapolis, 4/21/23

entrance – 653 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203

Bluebeard is an amazing farm to table restaurant open for lunch and dinner.  They have a full bar as well as lots of wine.  It started as a European-style bakery, as one was not in Indianapolis in 2010.  Tom Battista found a 1924 factory building in an historic Italian neighborhood in downtown and started Amelia’s Bakery which now supplies all the bread for Bluebeard.  The space was large enough to house more so Tom brought in Chef Abbi Merriss and his son Edward to open a restaurant that would have the same artisanal approach to food, and they did just that in 2012.   They named it Bluebeard after a book by Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut.  Many of the decorations in the place reflect Vonnegut’s books.  The winding space moves through numerous cozy rooms packed with fun decorations and happy people.  They take no reservations so get there early if you don’t want to wait in line.  The food is fantastic as is the service.  It will be a memory you won’t forget.  We didn’t get dessert but I snapped a photo of the menu for reference. Continue reading

Vida, Indianapolis, 4/20/23

exterior – 601 E New York St, Indianapolis, IN 46202

Vida offers innovative cuisine using locally sourced ingredients, when possible.   It’s a large building with a bar on one side and the dining room on the other.  The bar offers more casual dining and is in the original part of the building.  They offer a  6-course Chef’s tasting menu (optional wine pairings available) or a 4-course fixed price menu with several choices for each course.   Opening in 2016, it is an elegant space with a super high ceiling that has windows much of the way up.  One wall of the dining room had a cushy bench that was mated with medium-sized dark bare wood tables.  Carpet was on the floor and lots of wood in the room help keep the noise at a good level even with music in the background.  The service was very nice with the team working together.  The pacing was good as was portion control.  We chose the Chef’s tasting with a dessert substitution for me and our own bottle of wine. Continue reading

The Workingman’s Friend, Indianapolis, 4/20/23

building – 234 N Belmont Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46222

The Workingman’s Friend is said to be the “best blue-collar burger place in town.”  Founded around 1918 by Louis Stamatkin, an immigrant from Macedonia, who was helped by his fellow Macedonian immigrants to open the place.  He served lunch to local railroad workers and other factory workers and called his place Belmont Lunch.  Beer and liquor were a big draw for customers.  When the workers were on strike he let them run a tab for which the place was given the nickname “The Workingman’s Friend.”  When he died at the young age of 46 his sons (Carl and Earl) took over and renamed the place in his honor, but they also added some more expensive items to the menu and live entertainment.  Carl’s daughter Becky started working there in 1978 and by 1980 the live music and steaks were gone.  The place again focused on burgers and beer, of which the burgers are thin with a crispy edge.  The expansion the sons planned never happened but it is still a large place filled with small closely spaced formica-topped tables.  There are a number of lots around to park in and they were all pretty much full at 1:30 as was the interior.  At one point a line formed waiting for the tables.  It took close to an hour to get our food but the wait was worth it.  It is a fantastic burger.  The service was friendly but the noise level is loud from conversations.  Televisions over the long bar were turned off, but a full bar of liquors is available. Continue reading

Coat Check Coffee, Indianapolis, 4/20/23

building – 401 E Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Coat Check Coffee is open daily in the historic Athenaeum building.    They offer pastries and bialy sandwiches in addition to coffee beverages.  There are tables in the lobby next to the counter as well as by the first-floor entrance.  They are located in what was the coat check area of the old theater.  It is a small counter but they are fairly quick.  We tried one of their sandwiches and some of their pastries.  It was mostly a younger crowd but with a variety of seating options.  I also saw groups with their computers possibly having a meeting at the one large table.  It is run by the Small Victories hospitality group that operates several other coffee shops in the area.  If you are nearby, stop by for a coffee and an almond croissant. Continue reading

Oakley’s Bistro, Indianapolis, 4/19/23

exterior – 1464 W 86th St, Indianapolis, IN 46260

Oakley’s Bistro was started in 2002 and continues to be run by Chef Steven Oakley today.  His dream was to create “an affordable, everyday destination where every meal is a special occasion.”  He started cooking at 16 years of age and has gathered experience from many restaurants and other chefs.  Now he and his restaurant have been recognized with many awards and he also donates a portion of the bistro’s sales to an Indianapolis food rescue program as well as opening his kitchen for training and hiring of those who want to go into the restaurant industry.  The place is medium-sized with some outdoor tables also available and located in a strip shopping center.  They offer an a la carte menu but also have 2 tasting menu time slots on Wed- Sat nights.  We opted for that which must be reserved 24 hours in advance.  As you enter the dining room you’ll see the curved booth slightly above and next to the kitchen and that is where the tasting is served by the chef himself.    The 5 – 6 course tasting can accommodate up to 4 people but if you are a couple it will be just you.  At $85 per person it is a good value with wine pairings available.  We had a lovely evening there and would recommend the place if you are in the area. Continue reading

Goose the Market, Indianapolis, 4/19/23

exterior – 2503 N Delaware St, Indianapolis, IN 46205

Goose the Market offers a daily selection of sandwiches, soups and small plates as well as a deli counter with meats, cheeses, breads, gelato, specialty foods and beer/wine.  The market and butcher shop are all about the love of good food and the people who produce it.  Housed in a corner building, there are a few stools by a counter at the window to the street and some outside seating.  Inside is a long counter where the meats, cheese, and gelato are displayed and you can place your order.  Across from that are shelves of specialty items and downstairs is the wine cellar.  You could see them slicing and assembling your sandwich while you waited.  Different sandwiches are specials daily.  It’s a wonderful shop and the sandwiches are quite good. Continue reading

The Mercury, Dallas, 4/12/23

exterior –Preston Forest Square, 11909 Preston Rd #1418, Dallas, TX 75230

In 1998 the award-winning Chef Chris Ward joined the M Crowd Restaurant Group as Executive Chef of The Mercury.  Ward had garnered many honors including “Rising Star Chef” by the James Beard House Foundation.  Today he is still in the kitchen at this neighborhood staple and packing a crowd even in the middle of the week.  Located in a modest strip shopping center, inside you’ll find the lights lowered, dark wood tables, padded seating, stone and wood walls, shaded windows to the outside, and music in the background.  You enter into the large bar area and now next door houses a sushi bar that shares food with this place.  Along one wall is the opening to the kitchen where some terrific food is being offered to diners.  There was only one special that evening but the menu covers a good range of American classics.  The service was outstanding and we truly enjoyed an evening there with some friends. Continue reading

Longoven, Richmond, 4/8/23

entrance – 2939 W Clay St., Richmond, VA 23230

Longoven offers a seasonal 10-13 course tasting menu highlighting local products.  Owned by a trio of chefs – Andrew Manning, Patrick Phelan and Megan Fitzroy Phelan – it opened about 5 years ago.  The trio united after varying careers to do a series of pop-up dinners for 4 years starting in 2014.  They didn’t start out intending to offer fine dining but evolution found them receiving tons of awards as they refined their concept of flavors.   Open for dinner Wed through Sat, there are few tables so get your reservation early.  Wine pairings are offered and cocktails can be acquired at the Lost Letter which is the bar in the front of the building.  The Lost Letter and the patio on the side also serve food made in the same kitchen, just a more casual and a la carte version. Fittingly the name refers to the community ovens of the Civil War period.  They do give you copy of the menu at the end of the meal.  The space is fairly dark with dark wood tables and carpet and excellent service.  It is star for the Richmond dining scene and a bargain at $155/person.  Go if you get the opportunity. Continue reading

Garnett’s Cafe, Richmond, 4/8/23

exterior – 2001 Park Ave, Richmond, VA 23220

Garnett’s Cafe is a small neighborhood sandwich/salad shop on the lower floor of a 1908 corner building.  Parking is on the street and seating is limited.  There are several small tables in addition to seats at the L-shaped counter.  Art and other objects decorate the walls.  Wine and beer are available and there was a special sandwich of the day on the chalkboard outside.  They are open daily for lunch and dinner and also have a selection of desserts from Laura Lee’s.  Opening in 2009 they received a local dining award, an Elby, as the city’s Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant in 2014.  The place was named for the owner, Kendra Feather’s, grandmother Garnett Beckham, who lived to 103.  The staff was friendly and the food was good, with large portions.  We were there to catch up with a friend so apologies in advance as my note-taking and photo taking were distracted. Continue reading

L’Opossum, Richmond, 4/7/23

entrance – 626 China St, Richmond, VA 23220

L’Opossum offers a quirky take on traditional French cuisine in a very eclectic interior, masterminded by Chef/Owner David Shannon.  Opening in 2015 it immediately won the Elby (Richmond-region award) Dining award for Best New Restaurant and in 2017 won the Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year.  You can see why it also has claimed fame as the most romantic restaurant with a number of sexual references in the food and art.  Inside you’ll find a small darkly lit place with booths on one side of the long room, cut-outs holding statues between tables on the opposite wall and small tables in the middle.  The tables are embossed with gold patterns underneath heavy plastic coating that brought Rorschach to mind and the lighting is from dozens of colored balls hanging from the ceiling.  The walls are covered with plates, paintings and statues.  Service was great – helpful and friendly, offering advice when needed.  It may not be the best food I’ve ever had but the place itself is worth a visit and a chance to soak up the vibe. Continue reading

Stella’s, Richmond, 4/7/23

exterior – 1012 Lafayette St, Richmond, VA 23221

Stella’s serves rustic and modern Greek cuisine.  Stella was born in 1942 and emigrated to the U.S. as part of an arranged marriage.  Her husband opened an American classic cafe in 1956 and she joined him working there in the 1960s bringing in Greek dishes.  In 1983 she opened a restaurant bearing her name a few doors down.  Expanding on its success she opened a second place in 1998 offering eclectic cuisine.  The current location opened in 2011 and Stella still comes by and the kitchen prepares her old family recipes. The medium-sized place is on a corner and parking is on the street.  Windows make up two walls and the large L-shaped bar is opposite, set with stools with backs.  A large table is midway to the back and that and the bar are for walk-in seating.  Otherwise, it is a bunch of small bare wood tables with some bench seating or larger tables for 4 with chairs.  The ceiling is tin, Greek music is in the background and it’s very busy.  However, the service didn’t rush you and was glad to bring things out individually so we could split them.  The server warned us we ordered too much as the portions were large but agreed to give the kitchen our apologies that we were going to waste some food in order to be able to try lots.  If you like Greek food try and get a reservation and otherwise get there early and snag an open seat. Continue reading

Lemaire Restaurant, Richmond, 4/6/23

hotel exterior – The Jefferson Hotel, 101 W Franklin St, Richmond, VA 23220

Lemaire is the fine dining restaurant in the historic Jefferson Hotel.  It is named for President Thomas Jefferson’s maitre d’ Etienne Lemaire who is credited with introducing cooking with wine to America.  The menu changes seasonally and is under Chef Patrick Willis, a Virginia native, since 2009 when the place underwent a major renovation.  The hotel was lovely and had a nice bar just outside where you could wait for your table.   Inside the elegant dining room was one room with elaborate plaster moldings,  Italian chandeliers, mirrors, custom draperies and double-clothed large tables. Some windows were on two sides of the room and provided additional light to the small votive on the table.  The padded leather chairs, carpet and well-spaced tables make a conversation easy yet private.  Service was professional yet friendly and guests varied from those celebrating a special occasion to casual hotel guests.  We wanted to split a number of things and they were happy to course it out for us.  This place is worth a visit. Continue reading

Perly’s Restaurant & Delicatessen, Richmond, 4/6/23

exterior – 111 E Grace St, Richmond, VA 23219

Perly’s is a Jewish Restaurant and Delicatessen serving “traditional Jewish cuisine with a twist.”  In the heart of downtown, they are open Wed. to Sun. from 9:00 am till 3:00 pm. The place originally opened in 1961 and has had 3 owners with the current ones taking over in 2014 and adding the twist.  It’s a long place with one side taken up by the long bar that ends in the kitchen space.  The area that’s left is divided in two with booths and tables.  The marble bar had stools opened and we took that as there was a wait for tables even later in the afternoon.  Music was in the background, windows to the street provided additional light to the many fixtures, a black and white movie played silently on the screen above the bar, the ceiling looked like an old tin one and a pair of larger semi-circular booths flanked the doorway. Continue reading

Buck’s Restaurant and Bar, Louisville, 4/1/23

exterior – 425 W Ormsby Ave, Louisville, KY 40203

Buck’s Restaurant is in the heart of Old Louisville in the historic Mayflower building.  Established in 1992 they wanted to create a “moon garden” and filled the restaurant and bar with white flowers against the dark green walls.  The continental menu is served on artfully mismatched china and nightly live piano music adds to the ambiance.  The medium-sized place felt very retro with a large bar dividing the 2 rooms.  The tables were covered with white clothes and set with black napkins.  The lighting was lowered, the bar is decorated with liquor bottles, the crowd was a bit more casual and there is a dedicated parking lot.  Service was super friendly but in all honesty we were thrilled to have the young chef from our B & B be our server for the evening. Continue reading

Frank’s Deli, Louisville, 4/1/23

exterior – 3342 Preston Hwy, Louisville, KY 40213

Frank’s Deli also sells meat and produce.  They offer a selection of made-from-scratch food choices, with sandwiches made while you wait.  Frank has been in business over 40 years.  His background was in butchering so he started the store with meat and produce in the late 70s.  The corner building offers an array of produce, meats, sauces, chips and snacks – as much locally sourced as possible.  Most of the folks in there were in the line to order food to go.  There is no seating inside or out but we were fine to eat in the car.  The line moved quickly and the person taking my order was nice enough to suggest the spicy mustard instead of regular with the corned beef.  The sandwiches were well stuffed and I bet if I lived in town I’d be there all the time getting something to bring home or eat in the car.   They do have a good-sized parking lot. Continue reading

610 Magnolia, Louisville, 3/31/23

exterior –610 W Magnolia Ave, Louisville, KY 40208

610 Magnolia was in a 125-year-old carriage house in Old Louisville – the creation of Chef Edward Lee.  In 2003 he wanted a modern take on the Southern Table and so offers a 5-course tasting menu with 2 options on 4 of the courses.  Wine pairings are available as well as a full bar.  Since there were 2 of us we decided to each order one of the options so we could try the whole menu.  The menu focuses on seasonality and locally sourced produce including their own greenhouse and farm.  It’s a medium-sized place with rock music in the background.  A large bar filled one area but it did not have seats.  The nice-sized tables were bare wood set with white cloth napkins and windows to the outside helped with the otherwise dim lighting.  They do 2 seatings a night and reservations must be made by calling.  We were in the early seating and as such the noise level was good at first but then became difficult as the later crowd arrived and more drink was consumed.  The food was mixed but Chef Lee was in the house and did come around to visit with guests.  We tried their pairings which were okay and small pours. Continue reading

J. Graham’s Cafe, Louisville, 3/31/23

entrance to restaurant – The Brown Hotel, 335 West Broadway, Louisville, KY, 40202

J. Graham’s Cafe is in the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville.   One of several restaurants in the hotel they are the ‘light and airy’ one.  They are famous for the “Hot Brown” which was invented there in 1926 and has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC’s Today Show and many other media outlets.  In the 1920s The Brown Hotel regularly had over 1,200 guests every evening for its dinner dance. As the guests grew tired and hungry they wanted something glamorous to eat and Chef Fred Schmidt created the open-face turkey sandwich he called the Hot Brown. The Cafe is on the first floor of the hotel and if you dine there you are given 2 hours free valet parking, which is nice in the busy downtown.  The room had windows looking out to the street which provided much natural light, bare wood tables, carpet, walls decorated with poster art and nicely padded seats and benches.  A full bar is available. Service was a tad pushy, trying to upsell a bit and not particularly attentive but there were enough service people you didn’t get forgotten.  The sandwich is an icon so I had to try it. Continue reading

Jack Fry’s, Louisville, 3/30/23

exterior – 1007 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY, 40204

Jack Fry’s is celebrating 90 years in business.  Jack and Flossie Fry opened in 1933 and the restaurant was mostly a sportsman hangout due to his love of horse racing and boxing.  He closed the business in 1972 and then the space served Mexican food until it was re-established as Jack Fry’s in 1982.  Susan Seiller bought the restaurant in 1987, the year Jack died.  She transformed the restaurant into fine dining and then sold it to Stephanie Meeks in 1996, who started working there in 1996.  She further upgraded the dining area and bar as well as adding climate-controlled wine storage.  The place has won many awards and is filled with photos of its history, including the photo of Jack with the winning Derby ticket that made it possible to purchase the restaurant.  It’s a cozy medium-sized darkly lit place with a small parking lot adjacent to one side.  The white tablecloths, tin ceiling and full bar are complimented by the lovely live piano music.  Service was friendly and helpful and I would heartily recommend this place if you find yourself in Louisville. Continue reading

Harbor House Restaurant (update), Elk, CA., 3/25/23

view – 5600 CA-1, Elk, CA, 95432

One of the aspects of Harbor House Restaurant that I haven’t written much about is its status as a sustainable site.  In 2020 they received a Michelin Green Star for their efforts in recycling and local sourcing. Nothing is wasted.  For example, they make their candles from recycled fryer oil and beeswax, they repurpose wine corks for mulch and re-use vegetable rinsing water to water growing plants – and that’s a small accounting of their efforts.  It’s wonderful to think you can come here and have the elegant and sophisticated experience of a 2 Michelin star restaurant and still not leave a huge carbon footprint as a result.  It’s excellent food and the staff is first rate.  Frankie enjoyed visiting with a number of the team during our visit.  Make your reservation for this tasting menu today! Continue reading

Gualala Seafood Shack, Gualala, CA., 3/25/23

exterior – 38820 S, CA-1 Unit 104, Gualala, CA 95445

Gualala Seafood Shack is a small place with shared picnic-style tables inside and tables on the outside patio.   Located in a one-story shopping center, you order at the counter from the menu hanging above but there are also signs about specials hanging on the window as you walk in.  After you order and pay, you get a beeper to buzz you when your order is ready.  Afterward, there is a place to stack trays and baskets and throw out the trash.    Music is in the background and bathrooms are available inside but this is a no-frills place.  They advertise that their seafood is sourced locally and are closed on Monday and Tuesday. Continue reading

Harbor House Restaurant (update), Elk, CA., 3/24/23

Harbor House Inn and Restaurant – 5600 CA-1, Elk, CA, 95432

Harbor House Restaurant has been written up on this site numerous times and they continue to excel even with the weather challenges California has faced.  The most recent rains and wind did real damage to their ranch and all the growing produce but, other than less vegetables on the menu the food there just gets better and better.  The wine list also grows and a new beverage director will be in place very soon but in the meantime sommelier Jason is doing a fine job with new additions.  The setting is beautiful and I encourage you to stay either in one of the rooms of the Inn or the cottages on the property.  Breakfast is another fun treat.  We were thrilled to spend 2 nights and enjoy 2 dinners with Chef Matthew Kammerer and the dynamic team working at the place and I’m sure you’ll see more posts about dinners there in the future.  Put this one on your list! Continue reading

Cry Wolf (update), Dallas, 3/23/23

Chef Ross Demers

Frankie took the night off and we slipped into Cry Wolf for a delicious dinner.  We were lucky to snag reservations for the Chef’s Counter seats where you are able to see all the dishes get prepared and chat with the talented chefs.  What a treat to find owner Ross Demers at the grill.   The menu had changed quite a bit in the month since we were there and many exciting choices were available.  Also, Sommelier Tim Case had added some fun new wines and Sous Chef Mike Stites was doing the finishing touches before the plates were served.  I’ve described this place before but my rule of thumb is to go as often as you can while a place is hot – you never know what the future holds.  So, get there now cause this place is on the top of its game. Continue reading

Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, 3/17/23

exterior – 2007 11th Ave. S, Birmingham, AL, 35205

Chez Fonfon was a casual French bistro that opened in 2000.  It is under the helm of Chef Frank Stitt but the night we were there it was his wife Pardis Stitt who was on site.  (She also is a co-owner of Highlands Bar and Grill).  The large place was crowded and busy with a large bar taking up about a third of the room.  Music was in the background, lights were lowered, windows looked out to the street and parking, and the good-sized tables were bare wood set with cloth napkins.  The vibe was of younger people and lively conversations.   We were lucky to get a table in a corner, otherwise, the noise might have made me like the place less. Service was good as was the food, which was first-rate.  I’d go back, especially for the dessert. Continue reading

Ranelli’s Deli & Cafe, Birmingham, 3/17/23

exterior – 1225 20th St S, Birmingham, AL 35205

Ranelli’s Deli has been on the southside of Birmingham serving sandwiches, salads and pastas since 1971.  It is family owned and operated and has live music some nights.  The place was a former gas station so there is parking on 2 sides.  Inside you approach the counter and make your order from the sign above and pay.  They will call out your name when it’s ready.  In the meantime, you can look around at the jam-packed room filled with music memorabilia and other things.  In the back of the room is a small stage where live bands can play.  There is an assortment of small tables crowded into the room with soft music in the background.  Their Italian dinners looked like quite a deal and they were served all day.  I’d go back and try those but we just wanted a sandwich midway through the day.  We should have split one – they are large and packed with ingredients.  Nothing outlandish here, just good solid plain food. Continue reading

Bottega Restaurant, Birmingham, 3/16/23

exterior – 2240 Highland Ave. S, Birmingham, AL, 35205

Bottega is open for dinner Wed through Sat and now reservations can be made 4 weeks in advance, online and by phone.  The formal dining room opened in 1988 in the historic Beaux-Art building.  A Café opened next door 2 years later which offers more casual dining.  The building originally was an upscale clothing store and later housed some medical care units until it became a restaurant, but it retains the original facade and front windows and tile floor.  Chef and Owner Frank Stitt received the James Beard Foundation’s Award for Best Chef Southeast in 2001 as well as many other awards during his time in the industry. Now the good-sized tables are covered with two white cloths, large metal chandeliers provide soft lighting supplemented with votive candles on the tables and some tract lighting in the high ceiling.  Currently, they are not using their upstairs seating due to staffing shortages.  It has a feel of elegance, the noise level is good and the crowd seemed a bit older.  Service was wonderful as was the food.  I heartily recommend this place. Continue reading

Johnny’s Restaurant, Birmingham, 3/16/23

exterior – 2902 18th Street South, Homewood. AL, 35209

Johnny’s Restaurant is a blend of Greek and Southern styles of cooking. Chef Timothy Hontzas has Greek heritage, naming the restaurant after his grandfather Johnny who also cooked.   Opening in 2012 this place offers a “meat and three” style with Greek specialties as well as traditional dishes like meatloaf.  It is located on the second level of a busy shopping center where parking could be an issue.  You place your order at the counter with the large chalkboard menu behind the counter but some additional specials were posted on the wall as you walked up.  You get a number and the servers find and bring your food out to you.  All lunch plates come with a choice of cornbread or yeast roll.  Music is in the background, the drink station is in the back and portions are generous.  The food is quite good, especially the vegetables.  I would love to go back and sample more dishes – hope you’ll get a chance to try it. Continue reading

Helen, Birmingham, 3/15/23

exterior – 2013 2nd Ave., N. Birmingham, AL, 35203

Helen is a contemporary Southern grill under the helm of Chef Rob McDaniel and his wife Emily.  Helen was Rob’s grandmother who cooked on an indoor grill.  The large restaurant is in downtown Birmingham in a 2-story 1920s shotgun-style building.  Opening in the summer of 2020 they serve diners downstairs with upstairs having private party rooms or it can seat diners as needed.  Small bare wood tables sit opposite a wood bench with movable pillow backs.  Some larger tables accommodate bigger groups.  Windows look out to the street, a small bar has chairs for waiting, pictures are on the walls, valet parking is available out front and a long open kitchen is in the back.  The noise level was acceptable but the service could border on pushy.  The food was good but once again we encounter “the small table and lots of plates at one time” issue. Continue reading

The Essential, Birmingham, 3/15/23

entrance –2018 Morris Ave, Birmingham, AL 35203

The Essential is a medium-sized bar and cafe in an historic part of downtown Birmingham that serves contemporary American food.  They serve dinner, brunch on weekends and lunch, which is what we had there.  They have seating inside at tables and at a long bar or tables on a patio, which did have heaters.  Along with a full bar, they offered a nice wine selection.  Large windows in the dining area overlook the outside patio and street and music plays in the background.  A fun tile floor was opposite a decorative ceiling and one wall had a bench seat that accompanied the small round marble tables.  The back end of the room was a large opening into the kitchen. At lunch, they have fewer items to pick from than at dinner but whenever you go you’ll find fine food and service here.  This place should be on your list if you visit Birmingham. Continue reading

Pettigru Place Bed & Breakfast, Greenville, March 2022

house – 302 Pettigru Street, Greenville, SC., 29601

Pettigru Place Bed and Breakfast is in the historic district of downtown Greenville.  The tree-lined street is mostly businesses and other B & Bs in the older large homes.  The Federal-style home has 6 guest rooms that come with breakfast every day.  They alternate between sweet and savory days but are 2 or 3 courses with very generous portions.  They were so lovely I thought I’d include them in this blog.  Here are 3 mornings’ indulgences.  Sorry, Frankie didn’t make an appearance – she likes to sleep in. Continue reading

Scoundrel Gvl, Greenville, SC., 3/11/23

exterior – 18 N Main St, Greenville, SC 29601

Scoundrel was opened in October of 2022 by Greenville native Joe Cash.  He wanted to create a French bistro like he’d find in NYC or LA.  It’s a good-sized place that’s divided in half by curtains, with the bar and its seating on one side and a long bench seat facing small tables on the other side.  Opposite those tables are semi-circle booths with larger tables and padded seating.  Music was in the background and lights were lowered, supplemented by spots on some of the tables.  Wood floors, exposed ductwork above, and art featuring the ‘scoundrel’ cover the walls.  they have 2 unisex bathrooms and one is marked with a warning that it is not ‘family friendly’ due to the provocative photos on the wall.  I’m betting the notice was posted after several comments were posted about it on the trip advisor reviews.  The full bar offers lots of options but the wine list was mostly uninspired.  Noise was not a problem here maybe due to spacing or design but that was nice as was the excellent and friendly service. Continue reading

Hall’s Chophouse, Greenville, SC., 3/11/23

back entrance – 550 S Main St, Greenville, SC 29601

Hall’s Chophouse was started by the Hall family in 2009 in Charleston.  They now have 5 locations in this area of the country with Nashville set as the next to open.  They bill themselves as serving the finest steaks money can buy, offering an extensive wine list and serving hearty family-style sides all with great service.  The Greenville location is located in the refurbished part of downtown overlooking the water feature.  Parking is on the street as well as in several city-owned parking garages.  It was a fairly large place with huge windows taking in the view with an equally huge bar available for drinking and dining.  At lunch, they had some different menu options but the entire dinner menu is available too.  Be advised that portions are large.  The nice sized tables were cloth covered but I found the service to be a bit overdone bordering on intrusive and pushy.  We were there for a relaxed visit with a longtime friend and the constant picking up of plates we were using to replace them with larger ones, changing out flatware after plates were served and the pushing of extra orders did not endear their service to me. Continue reading

The Anchorage, Greenville, South Carolina, 3/10/23

exterior – 586 Perry Ave, Greenville, SC 29611

The Anchorage was a small place in the Village of West Greenville serving an eclectic menu.  Partnered with Horseshoe Farms the restaurant brings the farm-to-table concept to life by having a variety of vegetable dishes on the menu. Executive Chef/Owner Gregory McPhee opened the restaurant in early 2017 and the place was a semi-finalist for the 2018 Best New Restaurant James Beard Award.  Carlos Baez, Chef de Cuisine has cooked in many places but joined the team in August 2020 and was in charge of the kitchen the evening we dined.  It’s a small 2-story place with a dining room and partially open kitchen on the first floor and dining and bar area on the second floor.  Next door is a tiny wine shop where you actually enter the restaurant, but wines are available for purchase. We were a little confused about where to enter and some of the regular patrons found us wandering and showed us the way in.  They were local people who said it was their favorite place and I can see why.  Parking was on the street, music was in the background, wood and brick made up the walls, and lighting was lowered with a bench seat lining one wall. The guests were made up of a range of people but it never got too noisy to talk.  The service was fabulous.  The menu offers 9 plates a la carte but there is a tasting option where you get to try all of the dishes in 3 groupings, with scaled portioning.  It is the way to go, which you should – as soon as you can. Continue reading

Comal 864, Greenville, SC., 3/9/23

exterior – 1112 Woodside Ave, Greenville, SC 29611

Comal 864 is the creation of Brownsville, Texas native Dayna Lee Márquez, who wanted to bring South Texas food to this region.  It started in July 2019 as a pop-up operation and in Nov. 2022  opened a storefront operation that also offers catering.  Chef Márquez was nominated in 2023 for a James Beard Best Chef Southeast Award.  The little house has parking on either side and picnic tables out front.  Inside a long counter with stools runs in front of the kitchen and order area and the rest is filled with tables and chairs.  You order at the counter and they’ll bring it to your table. Chef Márquez was in the kitchen and you could see her preparing plates along with her helpers.  For 2:00 in the afternoon, it was surprisingly busy but they are open all day.  The counter person was helpful in choosing what to order and the portions are very generous.  While the dishes may be novel to this area I found them very lacking in spice, but I admit I am surrounded by and love spicy Tex-Mex.   If I were closer I’d try the place again because the ‘bones’ of it were great but for me, the end result missed the mark. Continue reading

Coral, Greenville, SC., 3/8/23

exterior – 654 South Main Street, Greenville, SC., 29601

Coral was a large place in the West End district of downtown.  It’s basically divided into 2 rooms, one bar and one dining.  The kitchen is under the helm of Joshua Dill and Addison Stone, both South Carolina natives but it is owned by 3 friends who all were born elsewhere and ended up in the Greenville area.  It’s a busy and loud place that stresses the bar and cocktails as well as local seafood.  Painted brick walls are lined with booths and small bare wood tables.  The lighting is quite low but spots set in the black ceiling shine intensely on the outer ring of tables.  The floor was carpeted and there were sound panels on the walls, the only music was in the bar that blended slightly into the background but the crowds made noise an issue for me.  Service was friendly and helpful but it’s hard for servers when plates are large and tables are small.  The food was mixed but it’s definitely a happening place. Continue reading

Riverstreet Family Restaurant, Spooner, WI., 2/22/23

exterior – 519 River St, Spooner, WI 54801

Riverstreet Family Restaurant is a fairly large place divided into 2 rooms by a partial wall.  The good-sized tables are mostly in one room with the other having the bar facing the service area and opening to the kitchen,  Plenty of parking surrounds the building and music from the kitchen radio bleeds into the dining areas.  The interior is a combination of wood, brick, shingles, metal and windows to the outside covered with blinds.  A couple of deer head mounts and various signs complete the eclectic interior.  The large menu features breakfast all day, a lot of burger variations and is supplemented by daily specials.  The portions are large and the staff quite efficient and helpful as well as knowledgable of the names and situations of many of the regular customers.  Coffee comes as a pot on the table and overall the food was good but regular.  In other words, I would go again but not go out of my way to get there. Continue reading

Meridian, Dallas, 2/16/23

exterior – 5650 Village Glen Drive, Dallas, TX., 75206

Meridian brings modern Brazilian cuisine to Dallas as prepared by Chef Junior Borges.   Opening in 2021, the restaurant celebrates chef’s Brazilian roots in a lively and beautiful setting surrounded by apartments, offices and small businesses.   There is valet parking available but there are lots of places if you’re willing to walk.  You enter through the large bar area that also has some small booth seating and proceed into the large main dining room with one wall having an opening to the open kitchen.  Opposite walls are mostly glass with lights in the trees surrounding the place.  Music is in the background and the tables vary in size with some couch-like comfortable seating.  Maybe due to the wood floor or lots of plants but even in a very full room, it wasn’t too noisy to talk at the table.  Lights are dimmed but it’s not overly dark.   In the dining room, they offer a 4 course fixed price menu with several selections in each category or guests can go a la carte in the Bar Room or patio.  The fixed price menu also has some additions available as well as supplements and wine pairings.  We got the pairings and while it is a way to match the wine in food, the pours are very small and the matchings were not inspired.  There is a happy hour also with drink specials and different food items.  Open every day but Monday, it’s a fun place to try. Continue reading

FIG (update), Charleston, 2/9/23

exterior – 232 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

FIG opened in 2003 and this was our third visit, the last being in March 2017.  More plants are growing on the sign over the front door but you still enter into the bar area and then proceed to the big dining room.  The lights were lowered, white cloths covered the large tables, the ceiling dark, floors wood, and walls red with no music in the background.  We were privileged to be seated in one of the two red booths in back with really comfy seats.  The place was still very popular with tables being turned regularly even on a Thurs. night.  We were very happy to get to chat with Chef Jason Stanhope who was recovering from ankle surgery, but stopped by the table at the end of the meal as I requested getting an updated photo of him.  The place is named for “Food Is Good” rather than the fruit and it is well-named indeed.  When you have the chance I suggest you dine at this fine restaurant. Continue reading

Chez Nous (second visit), Charleston, 2/9/23


We were excited to return to Chez Nous but slightly dismayed to not see Chef Jill Mathias in the kitchen.  This visit we got to sit downstairs and enjoy the jazz music that plays in the background.  There is a second fireplace at the base of the stairs to the upper level and the tables are just as small down here.  There are also a few stools at the bar counter in front of some of the wines.  The decorations in the place are from a local antique store that one of the owners is also involved in.  Also found out that the doors to the bathrooms are original to the house.  The setup was the same as before, with 2 choices for each of the 3 courses and that really befuddled the neighboring table that wanted French onion soup or any soup (they eventually left).  We however were happy with the choices but this trip wanted the same things and split the dessert as we knew a heavy dinner was on the schedule.  The food didn’t dazzle me as much as the first visit but I would still plan to visit this place every chance I get because the food is that good and the concept is very refreshing to me. Continue reading

Wild Common, Charleston, 2/8/23

exterior – at Cannon Green, 103 Spring St., Charleston, SC., 29403

Wild Common promises “bold and inventive cuisine” in several dining spaces.  We chose the Chef’s Counter but there is also the indoor dining room or private courtyard.  The space is large and also accommodates a couple of event spaces, neither of which were in use nor was Chef Orlando Pagán in the kitchen.  You enter the plain building and go down a long hall, thinking you’ve entered the wrong space.  When you find the dining area there is also a marble bar that looks into the kitchen and a large changing digital painting that dominates the dining room.  Opening in the spring of 2019, you’ll find high ceilings and music in the background. They offer a tasting menu (with supplements) only and have optional wine pairings.  The pricing of the menu and supplements was off in that each supplement was as much or more than the whole menu – seemed odd.  We chose our own bottle and a cocktail from the bar to go with our tasting menu as printed. The menu had good portioning and very fast pacing.  Staff were all friendly and helpful. Continue reading

Chez Nous, Charleston, 2/8/23

building – 6 Payne Court, Charleston, SC., 29403

Chez Nous is a small place in an 1835  2-story home. Around 9 years ago Chef Jill Mathias started serving the cuisine of southern France, northern Italy and northern Spain for lunch and dinner 6 days a week.  She serves the same menu of 2 appetizers, 2 entreés and 2 desserts both times of day but changes the menu daily.  Chef writes the new menu by hand every day in a very stylized script, with the first line in the language of the area and the second in English.  The place just holds 36 guests inside and 20 on the outside patio.  Music is in the background, light streams through the many windows, upstairs a bench runs along the long wall with no pillows and tiny tables.  Upstairs wide plank old floors are opposite exposed ceiling rafters and the end of the room has a crumbling brick fireplace.  It all works to feel like you’ve jumped back in time to enjoy a meal in a friend’s home.  Don’t let anything stop you from getting to this place and eating some of her great food.  We were so impressed we made a reservation for the next day’s lunch while we sipped coffee. Continue reading