Heaven Must Be Like This.

Summer is for long walks, to get tans, to take each moment a little slower than the last, and most of all to eat ice cream. Ice cream is one of those sweet reflection desserts. It is like with every lick or each spoonful a quick transport to a happy place flickers in your members and when the ice cream is absolutely delicious a sense euphoria comes alive in you and you feel compelled to chase it like a drug.

So the story goes,

I was walking on the Upper East Side of New York City and I passed by an ice cream shop called Van Leeuwen. The sign on the door read, “ice cream + vegan ice cream + coffee.” Now I have always been under the impression that vegan ice cream was a gimmick and should not be mentioned in the same sentence as real ice cream, and it was these words that initiated my hesitation, but I was coaxed in anyway by a reliable source.

Upon entering I asked for a sample of ice cream, but due to Covid all samples have been discontinued until further notice, which is also known as, “take my word for it that it is good.” With no samples I had to ask the most appropriate question “is the chocolate fudge brownie ice cream amazing?” The Van Leeuwen employee replied, “its very good.” With that statement my reluctance grew more intensely. It grew because everyone knows that “amazing”and “very good” is as close as the north is from the east, sure not a grand distance, but far enough to be recognized. Then the employee said something that calmed all of my misgivings about this ice cream, and what he said was, “if you dont like it bring it back immediately and we will find you a flavor that you do like.” And so, it was with that statement that I dove right in to the chocolate fudge brownie ice cream and although it didn’t need it I added chocolate sprinkles simply to commemorate the weekend.

With my second taste, my brain tapped into the creaminess that was simply undeniable, the ice cream coated my tongue with a depth of of flavor that registered a dark chocolate that was perfectly sweetened. Brownies so delicately entangled with semi-thick small burst of fudge that it took my brain on a ethereal ride; one bite ice cream, the next bite brownie, and the next bite fudge, it was an unadulterated party for my palate.

This ice cream with no preservatives, nothing artificial, this flavor gluten free, not a hint of fabricated colors or enhancers, just simply delicious and completely enslaving, left me smiling like I just hit the food lottery.

I always fancy myself to believe that because God loves me so much that He will have all of my favorite things on earth also in heaven waiting for me when I arrive. However, in this case it is the owner/maker of Van Leeuwen who has earned their spot in heaven and even if God doesn’t say it to you, I am here to write, well done good and faithful ice cream maker, you have done my tastebuds a wonderful service.

Not quite Chef-Boyardee, but close.

Yes, we are still in a quarantine, and yes only some people are wearing their mask in New York City, and yea it remains super humid outside, but amid all of those disenchanting situations when the night falls the concrete jungle remains just as busy and social as ever.

Restaurants are closed for inside dining and the streets of the jungle have turned into sidewalk cafes, that make the sidewalks crowded, the wait long, and take-out the best option out there.

On the docket for tonite was take-out pasta from a three year old restaurant called in Biogi Venezia located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Take out pasta dishes only and it is up to you to find a sidewalk table and chair or grab your food and prepare to eat it while you watch Chris Tucker in the movie Rush Hour (a true classic if I do say so myself).

What I opted for tonight was yet again the Pasta Bolognese, made with a thick sauce, lamb, pork, beef, and scratch made thick spaghetti noodles. Unfortunately I have to write that upon first bite, I felt no love or should I write I tasted no seasoning. No salt, no pepper, no Worcestershire sauce, absolutely nothing, my chagrin led me to do the unthinkable and that was to grab the salt and the shaved parmesan cheese and pray to the food gods that those insufficient side samples camouflaged as season would add a sapor that would excite my palate just a smidgen, but my attempt failed and the food gods turned a blind eye to my efforts.

The smell of the pasta was extremely reminiscent of beef-a-roni by Chef Boyardee, yes the cook had a hat on like Chef Boyardee, but I am confident that I didnt see him open a can of it in the open kitchen. But the noodles were gummy like Chef-Boyardee, the flavor profile was nil like Chef-Boyardee, could it be that it was Chef Boyardee and I was given the 52 fake out?

It has a fancy name, and an intriguing chef who told me himself that he had been cooking for 55 years, but unfortunately it tasted like he was a quarantine cook, who had never cooked before, who got excited about the concept of cooking from scratch and decided to charge his friends for the experiment.

Biogi Venezia you missed the mark here with this Bolognese. The thing is Biogi, I dont suggest you remove this from the menu, but I do suggest you get a focus group who will give honest feedback so you can go back to the drawing board and potentially drum up something more appetizing.

Better luck next time Biogi, better luck next time.

No Additives Needed

Let me start by writing that I have not dined in a restaurant since March 10th and the struggle has been real. To not have the dining out experience of being waited on, to chat it up while my food is being prepared, to have someone check on me and see if all is well is a luxury that I have truly missed.

Going out today to North Italia in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania was like going out on a first date. I was overly excited, slightly giddy, and a tad nervous. The idea of being waited on by people in mask, how would it all go down is what I whispered to myself. I mean under a pre-Covid situation to be confronted with multiple persons with gloves and masks would look like a highjack situation that I clearly was not going to make it out of unscathed. But now here we are in the midst of a Covid society and to see only eyeballs and foreheads is the way we operate in this new normal.

So how does a restaurant function in this wonky environment and how does the restaurant not only build that food connection, but the personal connection that speaks you are safe here, you are welcome here, and you will be satisfied? Well you do it the North Italia way thats how. You welcome people with such a warm greeting that somehow we see the smile hidden behind the mask. Yes they are wearing gloves, but they are showing that cleanliness doesnt mean less engagement. The inflection in the waitresses voice displayed that she was happy to see me as I was her and we never even met. She approached us with an attitude that screamed North Italia knows you could have stayed home and cooked, but we appreciate you taking the time out to trust us with your dining experience.

So first up on the menu was the White Truffle Garlic Bread, just writing it causes me to salivate. It is always a treat when bread comes to the table, but it is something loving about the bread when its hot, when its thick cut, when it lightly toasted so the edges are crispy and the center is warm and chewy, when it is lightly flavored with garlic, and the accoutrement of trufle takes you to a delightfully savory place that your tongue will be forever grateful for.

Second on the dining table was the Grilled Cauliflower. Now I like to think of cauliflower as the quintessential adult vegetable. I mean it doesn’t hold the beauty that broccoli carries, yet you eat it because although its not as vibrant as its sister broccoli it has the ability to grab hold of flavors broccoli can only dream of. And so when you add a fried egg atop for creaminess, pancetta cream for texture and saltiness, breadcrumb for a slight grittiness, what you have is a stroke of genius in a cast-iron bowel.

Last up, house recipe Bolognese. In case you were wondering it seems to me that when they write “house recipe” that means that the ingredients are top secret and can only be shared with someone super cool like Dr. Fauci or something. Nonetheless my tastebuds tell me the beef and maybe some pork for fat flavor had cubed carrots, fennel, super ripe tomatoes, a hint of sweetness, and plethora of other flavors that needed nothing to be added other than my fork.

North Italia is so confident in the flavor profiles that salt and pepper were not even on the table, neither did they offer it. No one came by to offer extra cheese, because the amount present in the pasta landed on perfection. The pasta was so delicate, so light, so airy, the meal left me satisfied, but not so full I felt compelled to push the car home.

North Italia you checked all the boxes during this Covid dining experience, you were safety first, you were compliant to all cleanliness rules, your service was pleasing, and your food was delectable. Well done North Italia, well done!!

Condensation & Reservations Lessons 🍴

I was taught a very valuable lesson regarding marketing by the Cheesecake Factory very early on and that lesson was not taking reservations serves as the best piece of visual marketing ever. So the masterful idea is that not taking reservations forces people to stand around and wait from fifteen minutes up to two hours and with there being no space to accommodate the often large parties, by default people stand outside, in the lobby, in the corridor, on outside benches, just absolutely everywhere. What this marketing screams to passerbyers is that this food is absolutely delicious, it bolsters the onlookers with anticipation that you too must be in on whatever it is they are selling, Cheesecake has basically perpetuated the “I want in” syndrome.

As a result of this masterful marketing scheme, many restaurants including Rose Petal Cafe & Lounge in Philadelphia have adopted the no reservations scheme and to be honest I cannot hate, because thanks to Cheesecake Factory I have been indoctrinated into the “I want in” syndrome where restaurants are concerned.

In conjunction to the no reservations the Rose Petal Cafe has a niche that they are known for and that niche is waffles all kinds of waffles, chicken and waffles, quesadilla waffles, spinach cheese waffles, almost any kind of waffle that strikes your fancy. But, while coming out of the “I want in” syndrome coma I decided to go against the grain and get catfish and grits. After all this is a soul food brunch and there nothing more soulish than grits.

When I was growing up we made grits with water and although fair tasting they weren’t creamy, they needed a boat load of salt and if you didn’t have any Philadelphia Rapa scrapple to mix in with it, you were left with a bland grain. Nowadays grits have become elevated, by adding milk or maybe half and half to develop that creamy texture, along with an infinite amount of sweet butter, and enough salt to balance it all out. It is this levitation of flavors that the Rose Petal Cafe & Lounge has done well, not just with grits, but with waffles also. Those grits came out piping hot and there were enough grits to feed a family of five a top with chives. The grits needed absolutely nothing but a spoon for me to dive in.

Accompanying the grits was a bowl of curled up catfish. Now before I proceed about the catfish, let me take you on a small trip down memory lane. Do you all remember your momma or grandma cooking fried chicken, and for some reason she was cooking it with the anticipation that your father or father figure would be walking in the door shortly, momma and big momma would cook that chicken to a golden crisp. That chicken skin glistened, the crispiness was displayed with the ever infrequent skin bubble filled with grease, the meat was juicy and flavorful, and with every crunch you felt a feeling of jubilation you could only get in your family kitchen. Yet, inevitably that father or father figure never came in the door when he was supposed to, so what happened? Mommy and big momma put that chicken breast in a flower bowl and put a plate on top of it to keep it somewhat warm. Now I don’t know what happened to the chicken breast in your house, but in my house by the time my father got home, the condensation had deflated the crispy, crunchy chicken and unfortunately, what he ate was wilted, no more grease bubbles surprises, basically unimpressive home cooked chicken. Ok ok now fast forwarding to the present to the Rose Petal Cafe, the catfish resembled that flashback fried chicken. That catfish was not crispy because the lid has been placed on top of the bowl, did I see the bowl and the top with the fish in it? No, but I tasted it and I saw and felt the skin. The fish was bordering on soggy, the crust had lost its initial burnish shimmer. The fish tasted fair but certainly unmemorable. The reason it was characterless was simple, it was not hot and it was not crispy.

Whenever you order anything crispy what the palate is really craving is layered eating even if they aren’t able to articulate that. What the gustatory cell is craving is the crunch from the skin, the slight coarseness across the tongue when it hits the crust, then the burst of flavor that implodes in the mouth which in this case should be the saltiness from the breading as it mixes with sweetness yet tanginess of the fish, then the heat from the fish just being fried, evokes the commodity of every human which is to be seen. When food is hot, it conveys to the eater that this was made just for me, the preparer is thinking of only of me, when the chef received this order, he sprung into action to present to me fried crispy catfish.

Rose Petal Cafe and Lounge you didn’t think of me when you made that catfish, you took a 1970’s home cook rookie mistake and distorted my crispy experience. In the age of Food Network and the Cooking Channel even the novice cook now knows that the lid on the bowl to conserve warmth is the enemy to crispiness.

Rose Petal Cafe I believe in redeeming grace, this fish is fixable, you can give the eater of fried food the layered eating experience they crave, it not to late to let the patron know you cooked that meal just for them and that what they eat matters. On the bright side my counterparts raved wildly about the delicious waffles.

Johnny Come Lately

We all know of a place around the way that has soul food, most of these restaurants/take out spots hold a reputation. Sometimes that reputation can be for running out of food and sometimes it can be that you are waiting forever for your food. Despite the shaky reputation somehow people still flock to the establishment because of the tasty food.

Whenever this flocking occurs toward a restaurant where you are never quite sure your needs will be met, yet you wait with bated breath with hopes that today your low expectations will be exceeded by the dependable taste of soul always amazes me.

Just to Serve You in Wilmington, Delaware falls in this category. After an hour and a half wait for fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens, I can honestly write I was truly exasperatingly sullen. But with the first bite of that fried catfish with a cornmeal batter, the fire that burned inside from the lingering wait began to simmer. With the next bite I tasted the tanginess, yet sweetness of the fish, it was so light and airy I began to feel a calm. My next bite was the creamy mac and cheese, perfect cooked noodles, not a dash of salt or pepper needed, it was pleasureful to my palate immediately and before I knew it a smile cracked on the sides of my mouth. Now I have always been of the opinion that no one can cook a collard green better than my father. I mean no one I know takes such care of the green more than he. He cleans them slow, he cooks them on low, he seasons them with finesse, and the product is the best pot-licker you have ever tasted. But Just To Serve You must have secretly called him on the phone and in exchange for that their delicious fried chicken he gave up the recipe.

Needless to write Just To Serve You making a patron wait for over an hour is unacceptable, but I appreciated you recognizing your penitence by apologizing profusely, but the real apology came from that delicious food that made me feel like easy like a Sunday morning.

My recommendation to you would be to refine your system, make it a well oiled machine, exceed the patrons experience by going beyond the food, and if you do this you will be a staple in the state of Delaware because the food is flat out fabulous.

Smell the Spring in the Air🍴

Its seems so apropos to go to high tea in commemoration of Spring. What a better time of the year to get invigorated from the long winter than to smell the bouquet of loose tea and be reminded of the daintiness of the season. Spring and tea are like hand and glove, they both allow you to be elegant with pinky finger in the air while feeling the lightness in the air. When you inhale the the nosegay of sparkle markle and peach tea, it somehow awakens you to the concept that the tide is changing, that the sluggishness of winter is loosing its grip. The beautiful thing about loose tea as that the smell invokes a memory and perpetuates an inevitable smile. The smell of peaches reminds me of festival season, of outside lunches with friends, and of holding hands with a loved one. Sparkle Markle with its fancy name coined by SpecialTeas Tea Shop in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania is a medley of everything posy. The smell of roses, peaches, fruit, and mint not only provide the calmness of the senses, yet a sweetness that lingers on the palate.

SpecialTeas Tea Shop served high tea in a very darling fashion. The atmosphere was quaint, the service was light hearted and the raisin scones with strawberry jam were warm. The tea sandwiches came in a variety of chicken salad, egg salad, cucumber, and ham and cheese were honestly not the most delectable Ive ever had at a high tea, but somehow they were congenial. The deserts were tea tiny cookies, powdered madeleines, dark chocolate, and the moistest chocolate chip brownies. Aesthetically the desserts looked cute and immediately made me think I would have to go Chick-Fil-A afterwards to compensate for my hunger, but I am pleased to announce that my eyes deceived me, the portions were completely appropriate for the afternoon.

Its funny how the activity of high tea makes all ladies feel just a little more like a lady in that moment. Its as if all of the charm school classes kick in and go into overdrive. You seem to sit up a little straighter, eat a smidgen slower, and are more conscientious to stand in the moment that a new day is dawning. SpecialTeas Tea Shop thank you for helping with the onboarding of a new season, Happy Spring🍴

When in Wisconsin🍴

As soon as you hear the word Wisconsin you immediately think, CHEESE! Wisconsin is the cheese mecca, the place where you get your entire life, made of cheese of course. 

But there is levels to this cheese life, it is no walk through the whey alone and it is all about the curds, yes cheese curds and not just any cheese curds, but fried cheese curds. I know you are thinking this is a high falootin mozzarella stick, but I cast down that erroneous thought of blasphemy right now and tell you that it absolutely is not.

A cheese curd is curdled milk and per “What the Health” on Netflix this is gonna kill me, and as doubtful as that is, at least I will go to heaven smiling. 

This cheesy, super rich, creamy goodness when crispy fried with chipotle spicy mayo gives an immediate sensation of giddiness that strikes you, and Revere Wells Street Tavern in Delafield, Wisconsin does it absolutely right. Theses cheese curds know exactly how to take the blues away on a rainy day.

Today was my 1st cheese curd experience and it is leaving me with an indelible imprint on tastebuds for Revere’s and the love of Wisconsin, well done Revere’s, well done.🍴

The Last Supper🍴🍴

One would think that after I watched “What the Health” on Netflix I would never eat another piece of anything for the remainder of my days. And if I did begin eating anything after coming out from my stupor it would be spinach and dark chocolate for life. With that being the case I did what any normal socially and health conscious person would do, I spent the next few weeks obsessing about the date I would begin my new plant based lifestyle and what was going to be my last delicious meal.

To think about a last meal is extremely overwhelming, I mean where would I start? Do I eat seafood, pasta, soul food, or Chinese? To be honest I couldn’t choose, so I found myself I in a quandary. So while I lingered in the land of indecision, I settled on a strategy instead. I would go to a place I had never been to, but nonetheless still order a food that I was very familiar with; so I opted for Bubby’s in Tribeca, New York.

First up, the biscuits, yes the biscuits as an appetizer not a accompaniment to the entree, a literal appetizer before the meal. This accompaniment was worth it’s weight in gold. I don’t know what it is like to bite into a cloud that is dipped in butter and baked until fluffy and airy like that of a featherweight pillow, but if I had to use my imagination it would taste like this biscuit. Yes I had the moment, the moment where I stopped mid-conversation, closed my eyes just a smidgen, and whispered to my companion “this is amazing” like it was a secret that was imperative that I kept tight to my vest. 

The second appetizer yes, second appetizer, remember now this is my last delicious meal, I am going plant based…I think. Ok next up was the deviled eggs. Now just to be clear I don’t even like eggs, or just to be specific I don’t like the yolks, yet I can tolerate the whites, but what kind of eating companion would I be if I only ordered everything I like, so deviled eggs it was. I am proud to say my palate was blessed by this devilish delicacy. It wasn’t eggy, it was smooth and creamy, it was tangy, with a backdrop of mustard, it was definitely an item I would order again.

Third up the entree, fried chicken, cole slaw, bacon mac and cheese. True this isn’t a new idea, definitely not creative sounding, and at this point not particularly worth the blog. But please keep in mind that this is my last real meal for awhile, so it was of utter importance that I order something that was familiar to me, something that spoke to my traditions, a food that in my heart I could be completely satisfied with. 

Th unoriginal fried chicken, was a brined bird that was fried to perfection. With a seasoning that would blow the roof off what your grandmother has been cooking all these years. It was crunchy, it was juicy, it was tender, it was AMAZING. The mac and cheese had shards of thick cut bacon integrated into the cheesy, gooey, white cheese, the noodles were tender, and the portion was just right. With each bite I thought I need more, so I ate more, but when I was done I felt completely satisfied. Normally in a southern trio, people find themselves getting pot licker with fried chicken and mac and cheese, but I got the creamy, perfectly seasoned, and continuously crunch cole slaw. Ohh did I lose you with the pot licker phrase? Well all of my old heads and southerners know that pot licker is collard greens. 

Bubby’s you made my last meal the most memorable in a while now. It was so good that it caused me to re-evaluate my plant based diet, it made me examine chickens real motive towards me, it made me ask if bacon was really as bad for me as they say. I started to question if cheese was as harmful as they led me to believe in “What the Health” and my conclusion is, it’s probably all true, but it was well worth it and I would repeat that meal again and again.

Thank you for not only having an old country name like Bubby, but having the best darn fried chicken and biscuits a future plant based eater could ever have.

The Doctor Is In 🍴

My mother came up with a term when I was a child called “doctoring it up.” “Doctoring it up” means taking something that currently exist and making it better. If a dress doesn’t have a pocket on it, add it. If a lamp has one little trinket hanging from it and you want two more, add it yourself, if something is the wrong color but the correct concept, no worries just remove that color and add the color of your choosing, and lastly if you order a dish at a restaurant and its not quite up to par take it home and “doctor it up.”

But, was does “doctoring it up” really mean anyway, does it mean that you dont really like the original? Does it say that the original was subpar, or does it mean that what you see or what you have tasted doesn’t quite measure up to the legend in your own mind.

After having dinner at Blue Ribbon restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn I began to wonder if a patron should lean towards the “doctoring it up” method or should I just call it like I see it and not like I how I will eventually make it.

First up on the menu was the fried oysters in a bed of baked spinach and parmesan cheese. There are always a few key questions when eating seafood, is it fresh? It absolutely was, is it light as air? It was as light as a cloud, was the batter overpowering? Not even a little bit, did it taste divine? Divine is what I would classify as superb, but it was definitely, superior. The bed of baked spinach not only made me feel health conscious, but the parmesan added a nutty, yet salty back drop which made the oyster have an an explosive bite with each taste.

Last up the Paella Basquez, which was large enough for two, made with the traditional paella ingredients: rice, chicken, shrimp, octopus, and spicy chicken sausage. The rice was perfectly cooked, the shrimp a perfect pink like a babies cheeks, the chicken tender, and the octopus inviting with their tentacles dangling. 

It came out piping hot which is always a plus, but when I had the first bite I wasn’t quite sure if my tongue had been given an epidural or not. I felt nothing, my tongue went limp, no sensation of goodness, yet not a sensation of bad either. Not tantalizing, nor titillating, but it did leave me with the rush home sensation to “doctor it up.”

With every few bites I kept thinking if I could just add a little more flavor, a little more kick, and a little more backdrop, this could be absolutely fantastic.

Did this mean I that I hated the paella? Did this mean that this was another bought lesson,? Did this paella leave me saying I will never patronage Blue Ribbon ever again? Strangely no, it didn’t. It just made me say the next time I come, I will try the fried chicken.

Blue Ribbon I am not sure if its a good thing to be known as a restaurant where the food is food I must take home and “doctor up.” But I guess being known for something rather than being known for nothing, is worth something in the end. I will give you another chance Blue Ribbon, I will give you another chance🍴

Not just for the Rich Man, but for Every Man 🍴

Is a bacon cheeseburger classified as a treat, absolutely! Is it the type of food that you wait for the weekend to indulge in and the type of food that if you plan on eating it in the evening you definitely drink a fruit and vegetable smoothie in the morning to minimize the level of guilt, definitely!

Is lobster one of the luxe foods, the seafood that speaks special occasion, darn right! The kind of dish that you tuck away a few extra coins so you can order it when going to dinner, no doubt about it! 

What if you could have both of these items at the same restaurant, better yet on the same plate, served as a combo, presenting itself as lobster and burger combo?

Its no doubt about it that this combination reads weird and sounds even stranger, but when you think about this concept it is the blue collar surf and turf. This combo of a bacon cheeseburger and healthy side of lobster at Burger and Lobster in Manhattan, New York has basically taken the she she foo foo old man classic high price meal and reduced it down to not only to being affordable but accessible to every man. The environment at Burger and Lobster is welcoming, bright, and beckons the “every” man into their place of business. 

My burger was cooked medium-well on a black sesame seed bun, it was juicy it and it was extremely flavorful, so flavorful that I forgot to add the ketchup and mustard I requested, and for me that is something. I mean it is usually the condiments that top the burger off, but no topper needed here, it came to the table already topped perfectly. 

In my efforts to always be transparent and completely honest in my blogs, I have to write I am not a lobster person. I never go out to a restaurant with an intent on splurging on lobster, I never give lobster a second thought. I have always loved to look at lobster, it always has the ability to tantalize me, and it always takes the opportunity to woo me, but I never fall for the bait. But because this was apart of a combo I kinda felt that my back was against the wall. But although my back was against the wall at the first bite I completed succumbed, and lowered my mouth in surrender for every bite. The lobster was sweet, it was grilled, and it was tender and the herb butter though not needed gave it something just a little bit extra. 

Burger and Lobster you have won my heart, you have taken a traditionally high end combination and made it un intimidating, and you didn’t sacrifice the flavor while doing it. It is not often that I salivate days after my meal wishing that I could live off of fruit and veggie smoothies just so I can indulge in a burger and lobster , well done Burger and Lobster well done.