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Saap (Randolph, Vermont)

While I rather enjoy many of the towns of central Vermont (Randolph, Bethel, and Northfield, for example), we don’t usually get to do much culinary exploration of them simply since we’re on our way someplace, like hiking or hitting up an event in Montpelier or Burlington. But we did make a special point to go back to Randolph and try one of the area’s better Thai places: Saap. Located on the eastern side of Randolph as you are entering a fairly industrial area, Saap is nestled into the first floor of a converted large house, it’s a friendly location with a nice patio. It isn’t the sort of place you’ll likely just happen upon, but since they opened a few years ago and have focused heavily on Northern Thai cuisine, I’d gotten more than a bit of a word of mouth advertising.

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Black Krim Tavern (Randolph, Vermont)

One of the rules I generally observe when selecting places to review here at Offbeat Eats is that I tend to avoid doing writeups on special holiday dinners and events, since those events aren’t necessarily representative of the restaurant in general. While I do make the occasional exception, such as my occasional visits to the Cabane à Sucre, all too often special events (particularly “dining out” holidays like Valentine’s Day or Easter) end up being a below-average experience: the restaurant usually has a higher number of tables, a busied staff, and a menu of unusual specials. But the occasional place will shine under these circumstances, like our trip to Black Krim Tavern in Randolph, Vermont, for an Easter brunch (yes, those looking at a calendar will realize that despite my best efforts, I’m again 4 months behind in reviews…)

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The Partisan (Washington, DC)

The second night I found myself in National Harbor, I instead got on public transit (buses! Metro! The wonders of SafeTrack!) and went downtown to meet up with more friends from TCF to try out The Partisan. Located in the Penn Quarter, The Partisan is the culinary partner of Red Apron Butcher, and the result is a bistro style restaurant with an impressive beer list, a good selection of wines, and a really good dinner menu focused on small plates and charcuterie, and, somewhat surprisingly, wasn’t that difficult to book for a large group (over a dozen in our party). So I soon found myself with my friends, enjoying a pleasant Saison, while watching them assemble our table.

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El Rancho (Oxon Hill, MD)

Recent work travel has taken me to several conferences at the Gaylord resort at National Harbor in Maryland. Considering that the DC area generally has rather good transportation, National Harbor is notable in that it doesn’t; it’s mainly it’s own little isolated enclave with a large resort, a casino, and a handful of touristy restaurants (although among the various tourist joints are a few serviceable places like Nando’s and the quite good Succotash). And while I do love some Nando’s, I was really in the mood for something more like Peruvian chicken. As you may remember from my reviews of Super Pollo or El Pollo Rico, I rather enjoy a good, fresh, Peruvian-style pollo, and the DC area does have a lot of options. So, on a recent trip to National Harbor, I called up my friends Jen and Tom, and they came and took me to Oxon Park (just barely beyond what I’d call a “long walk” from the Casino to a fairly new joint in Oxon Hill called El Rancho.

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El Colima (Nashua, NH)

As I mentioned in last year’s review of El Rodeo, there’s a certain challenge in finding good Mexican places in Northern New England. We don’t get a lot of Mexican (or even Latin American) people moving north of Boston, and when they do, the local tastes up here tend to cause them to water them down the spicing level and amp up the queso factor a bit. So when I’m traveling around and see a Mexican place I haven’t tried yet, I’m usually skeptical, but when I spotted El Colima in Nashua, it looked like it had a fair bit of promise. Nashua is actually generally a pretty good town for restaurants, and several places gave the place good marks, so I figured it was worth stopping in.

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Doug and Lil’s Potato Patch (Deland, FL)

As I mentioned in my review of Smoke Shack, I always enjoy a trip to the South for some culinary treats, one of these being a classic Southern breakfast joint. We were visiting Daytona Beach, which doesn’t have the greatest selection of the breakfast joints, but on a previous trip, I had discovered Deland, FL. While driving out of town after a splendid dinner at De La Vega, I had spotted a rather charming little place on the south end of downtown Deland called “Doug and Lil’s Potato Patch”, and made a note to check it out on my next trip. So, this time, I made it a point to go over there on my last day in town for breakfast.

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Betty’s A1A Cafe (Ormond Beach, FL)

Back in my recent review of The Gnarly Barley, I met up with my friend Leslie from My Adventure Bucket, who used to live in Ormond Beach, Florida. Ormond Beach, being essentially a one block wide town on a barrier island, doesn’t have a lot of restaurants, but Leslie spoke quite highly both of Betty’s A1A Cafe, and its friendly owner, Betty. So, my coworker and I decided to do the short drive up there from Daytona Beach to get some dinner. Interestingly, in my last review, I mentioned that one of the things I like about traveling is getting different cuisine than at home, so, ironically, I arrive at Betty’s to find two things: (1) that, sadly, Betty passed on in 2015, although the restaurant is alive as well, and (2) that Betty’s actually features “New England Cuisine”. While “New England Cuisine” is definitely a thing (baked beans, brown bread, clam strips, Lobstah rolls, etc. Mmmm.), it’s not one that usually gets a lot of love outside of New England, so I’m actually happy to see that someone so far south is offering it up. Indeed, the night’s specials were meatloaf and New England clams with bellies.

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Smoke Shack BBQ (Daytona Beach, FL)

I’ve always been a big fan of barbecue (heck, it is one of my top categories), but one of the drawbacks of living far in the Northeast is that almost nobody up here understands good BBQ. For every rare place up here that can make a decent barbecue with some tender texture, good moisture, and a nice smoke flavor, there are dozens that serve up truly mediocre barbecue, usually some sort of overcooked, tough meat (or even worse, boiled meat) served up with a cloying sauce. It’s happened to me enough that I treat any sentence containing both “New England” and “BBQ” in the same sentence with extreme skepticism. But when I’m traveling, it often gives me a chance to actually score some decent BBQ, since I can get down South where folks actually understand that “barbecue” means “smoked” and not “grilled” or “sauced”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also important to do some research: the various BBQ regions of the US all have their specialties (Brisket and sausage in Texas, pork in the Southeast, and ribs in Memphis and St Louis), and that’s usually what they do best. So with that in mind, a recent trip to Daytona Beach had our group searching out lunch, and we decided to try out the Smoke Shack, across from the Daytona Speedway.

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Zaza New Cuban Diner (Orlando, FL)

Much of my recent business travel has been to Florida, and that generally gives me a chance to get one of my favorite cuisines: Cuban food. However, while Orlando is a relatively short drive from Miami (which is loaded up with Cuban places), it only has a smattering of Cuban places itself, but there’s at least one small, local chain (~3 restaurants) that’s attempting to remedy that… enter Zaza New Cuban Diner.

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The Gnarly Barley (Orlando, FL)

My work has had me traveling a lot to Daytona Beach to meet with a collaborator at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and it’s always a bit enjoyable traveling down there (usually via Orlando), since while I’m not always the biggest fan of large metro areas, the greater Orlando area has a lot of things going for it. First of all, it’s a distinctly different climate (half of the year, that’s an advantage). Second, it has a relatively good selection of ethnic restaurants, especially for things like Cuban food and Southern food that aren’t really around in NH. And, on this trip, it was also a good opportunity to meet up with fellow traveler, in this case Leslie from My Adventure Bucket. While she’s often away touring the world in the way only a retired funeral home director with a random number generator can, for our visit, she was still in town prepping for an extended trip to Sri Lanka. So, after arriving in the early evening, we decided to meet with Leslie at a nearby joint: The Gnarly Barley.

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