Since this year’s holiday vacation drive to Michigan via the US route is around 13 hours, this gave us a good excuse to break the drive up into two pieces, with a night in Buffalo. I rather like Buffalo as a food destination, since while it’s not exactly known for haute cuisine, it does have quite a few interesting regional specialties that I rather like. One good example is the beef-on-weck sandwich, one of my favorite variations of the roast beef sandwich (and you can read about one such beef-on-weck joint with my review of Charlie the Butcher’s). Another is Buffalo-style hot dogs, with Ted’s Hot Dogs being one of my favorite hot dog joints (although I usually visit their location located in the far, far distant suburb of Tempe, AZ). And, probably most famously, Buffalo is home of the Buffalo wing, with the Anchor Bar and Duff’s being two of the more-regaled places to get wings. Well, our stopover in Buffalo gave us another opportunity to check out Duff’s (the last two times I tried to go we got there after closing).
This Christmas, we decided to visit Carol’s extended family in the Detroit area again, which meant for a long drive through Vermont (picturesque as Vermont is, it’s a terribly slow state to cross East-West. I’d be in favor of building an interstate crossing it), New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. To cross Vermont, we decided to cross along the southern part of the state at Highway 9, going through Bennington, for another try at The Blue Benn Diner. You see, the Blue Benn has been on our hit list for, well, over a decade. It’s not that we’ve never tried to come her before, it has just never worked out. At least once we arrived just after they stopped serving. Another time, a kitchen fire had caused them to be closed. And yet another time, a power outage had them closed… and at that. this visit was a close call on that front, since several power lines were down in the area and detoured us around in our efforts to get there. But this time we finally made it. Pulling into the Blue Benn around 12:30, we got there in time for a late breakfast with only a short wait in line in the cramped vestibule. Moving inside the restaurant, it’s a cozy diner (I originally thought it was a Worcester diner, but more careful research indicates it’s actually a Silk City diner) with the classic long counters and two sets of booths. Settling into a booth near the end of the diner, we selected our items and enjoyed our coffee while waiting and listening to the crowd, a nice mix of tourists and locals.
Twice in the last few years we’ve celebrated my birthday with a trip to the same place: Trattoria Delia in Burlington, VT. Nestled into a basement a block south of City Hall park, Trattoria Delia is the sort of place you can easily walk by without checking out… but behind the fairly subtle frontage is a fairly elaborate Italian restaurant with a slightly funky vibe that’s best described as “Sugar house meets Alps”. But despite the quirky decor, Trattoria Delia remains one of Vermonts best Italian restaurants, and this trip was no exception.
On December 9th, we traveled up to Burlington, VT to celebrate my birthday. En route, we took a short detour to Plainfield, VT, to check out Maple Valley Cafe, which had been strongly recommended by one of Carol’s coworkers. Located on Route 2 just east of downtown Plainfield, Maple Valley is a slightly quirky place. It’s a café, take-out place and gift shop, all under one roof. But the back of the gift shop holds a surprisingly large dining area, and they’ve got a rather extensive menu of omelets, pancakes, fruit smoothies, and other breakfast treats.
As you can see from all of the other Twin Cities postings, earlier this month I was visiting Minnesota. The reason for my visits was than I was an invited guest speaker at the University of Minnesota Mechanical Engineering Department (where I got my PhD, for those that don’t know about my ‘day job’ as an engineer). After my seminar, several professors from the department took me to Caffe Biaggio in St Paul for dinner.
After an afternoon of work in Minneapolis, and a quick trip over to St Louis Park to visit The Four Firkins (one of the finest beer stores I’ve ever been to), it was time to have some dinner. I decided to meet up with my friend Andy from my MSU days, along with a former FIRST robotics student and intern of mine, Mas (and his fiancee) for dinner at Butcher and the Boar, one of Minneapolis’ newer bars located on Hennepin Avenue on the edge of the Loring Park neighborhood (looking at a Minneapolis Map, I guess technically most folks call this the “Harmon Neighborhood”). Opened by Jack Reibel, formerly the chef at the well-respected La Belle Vie in Stillwater and the Dakota Jazz Club, Butcher and the Boar is really about two things: beer and meat. First of all, the beer: one of the two centerpieces of the restaurant is their large bar (the other is the open kitchen across the dining area), with a rather impressive tap list, indeed, the beer list was one of my main reasons for coming. With a good list of American beers, with particular emphasis on regional brewers, it’s one of the best beer lists I’ve recently found in the Twin Cities. Indeed, I was able to have some local Surly, some “Goes to 11” by Bells, and some Deschute Mirror Pond. They’ve also got rather good wine and whiskey lists, although I wasn’t in the mood for indulging those that particular night.
A few years ago I did a review of Toscanini’s Ice Cream in Cambridge, MA, in which I mentioned that their burnt caramel ice cream is my second favorite ice cream ever, losing out to my favorite ice cream, the salted caramel from Izzy’s in St Paul, MN. However, I recently went to go point someone to my review of Izzy’s, and I realized that I’ve never actually written them up. Well, last week’s trip to the Twin Cities gave me another opportunity to visit Izzy’s, and this time I figured I should actually write them up.
Last week’s schedule had me flying to the Twin Cities to give a guest lecture at the University of Minnesota (anyone want a lecture on radioisotope power supplies for space exploration?), and my flight arrived at lunchtime, so I decided to check out one of the area’s better-regarded Jucy Lucy joints; the Nook. First of all, some background for those not familiar, a “Jucy Lucy” is a hamburger with a layer of cheese crimped between two patties. Done right, it’s a nice combination of cheese, crispiness, and juice, albeit with more than a bit of a hazard of hot cheese burns on one’s lips. As you can read over on my review of another Twin Cities stalwart, Matt’s Bar, there’s always the perennial question of who makes the best Jucy Lucy in the Twin Cities. When I lived in the Twin Cities, there were always two places that claimed supremacy and had their followers, the abovementioned Matt’s Bar, and the 5-8 Club located a few miles south on Cedar Ave. But since I left the cities in 2001, the Jucy Lucy phenomenon has spread greatly, with over a dozen places selling them (and the trend is even national, I noticed a “Juicy Lucy” is on the menu at Richard Blais’ place now). The Nook is a relative newcomer to the Jucy Lucy scene in the Twin Cities, opening in 2000, but in the last few years, their Nookie Burger (their variant of the venerable Jucy Lucy) is now frequently mentioned in Jucy Lucy supremacy discussions, so I figured it was worth dropping by.
I’ve had a rather strong love of Vietnamese food since discovering it in the early 1990s. And I’ve been relatively blessed to have some decent places to get Vietnamese food in most of the places I’ve lived. East Lansing, MI wasn’t exactly a culinary mecca, but it did have Saigon Restaurant, which was a reliable source of Phở for my college years. Minneapolis was chock full of Vietnamese (and Cambodian) places, most of them very delicious. And I’ve even enjoyed watching the demographics of my parents’ neighborhood in Arizona change, with several good Vietnamese places popping up within a mile of their house. Northern New Hampshire, however, is basically bereft of Vietnamese food. When we moved here, we discovered that not only did the area not have any Vietnamese restaurants, but almost nobody up here even knew what Vietnamese food was. After some web searching and talking around (including a brief period at work where I had a Vietnamese coworker), we discovered the unfortunate fact: Vietnamese food required traveling at least to Nashua to the Southeast, or Williston to the Northwest, in order to find a Vietnamese place. So we hopped in the car and checked things out. Fast forward almost a dozen years, and the situation isn’t much changed. You can actually buy sriracha sauce in the stores now. And Golden Bowl now offers Phở in Manchester, NH. And quite a few places have come (and gone, even) around Burlington. But generally, that means a craving for Phở, cha gio, or any other Vietnamese food requires a road trip. So this weekend, when we found ourselves passing through Nashua after a weekend shopping trip, we decided it was time for another visit to Vietnam Noodle House.
Last weekend, we decided to spend a day down in SE New Hampshire, and this gave us a good opportunity to check out someplace new for breakfast. After a little bit of research, I decided to try a relative newcomer to the generally sparse Concord breakfast scene, The Newell Post, on Fisherville Road in north Concord (almost in Penacook). The Newell Post opened in April of 2012, and their goal is operating a “small, warm, and welcoming restaurant”, offering breakfast and lunch. Settling in to a nice cozy booth, the waitstaff was very friendly and outgoing, telling us that their main chef was from the Carolinas, and that he was able to whip up good crab cakes and a good Hollandaise sauce. With those recommendations in hand (although I was mightily tempted by the corned beef hash omelet as well), our breakfast order was simple: I ordered the Eggs Benedict, while Carol went for the Crab Cake…