One of the many things I love about visiting London is that it has a rather nice variety of chocolate shops. Indeed, a few years ago, we did a chocolate tour in London (wow, has it been almost three years?), and William Curley Patissier Chocolatier was one of the stops. Our visit there highlighted their ice creams, sorbet, and hot chocolate, but they showed us what they serve for their "Dessert Bar", which is a multi-course dessert. We vowed to come back. Several trips to London since then threw various complications (primarily, coming during the holiday seasons, when they were either closed, or packed with holiday celebrants), but this trip, we were finally able to get a decent seating for their dessert bar.
One of the things I like about Montreal is that it has a rather good assortment of brewpubs. Dieu du Ciel, Le Cheval Blanc, and Reservoir being amongst my favorites. The last of these also has a rather fine pub menu, including items such as steak tartare, fish and chips, and the like. But that’s not why I’m writing about them (indeed, I’ve not actually sampled their dinner menu, although it always looks phenomenal). I’m actually writing about their brownie.
After two days spent around Husavik and the Myvatn area, we decided to check out the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park, Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. This is a stunning beautiful area, and we ended up seeing some excellent basalt formations, some raging rivers, and several waterfalls before hitting the real showpiece, Dettifoss falls. It was a full day of driving, exploring, and hiking. After Dettifoss, however, we need to get to Egilsstaðir by dinner. But having spent most of the day hiking, we were more than a little hungry, so shortly after getting back to Iceland’s Ring Road, we decided to take a ~15 mile detour to Möðrudalur for a snack…
I’ll admit I’ve got a love for real Belgian waffles. But one of the major problems I’ve had is that you can’t get a proper Belgian waffle here in the US. Sure, a rather large fraction of the breakfast places here will serve you something called a “Belgian waffle”, but what you are getting is really just a regular ole American waffle made in a waffle iron with bigger crenelations, usually served up with a small mountain of fruit (or fruit-like “pie topping”) and whipped cream. Not that there is anything wrong with that, heck, I like a good waffle, and even own an American-style “Belgian” waffle maker myself that gets used several times a month. But a real Belgian Waffle is a different beast. A proper Belgian waffle (also known as a Liège waffle, from the Eastern Belgium city of the same name) is a distinctly more refined item. First of all, it’s not made in a round iron, but a large rectangular iron with an open grid crenelations. A large lump of raised, yeasted batter is dumped right on the surface and the iron closes around it, allowing the lump to spread out into whatever globular shape it wants. The batter also has a bunch of pearl sugar crystals mixed into it, the idea being that as the waffles cook in the iron, the sugar crystals melt, resulting in a rich, crunchy, and caramelized exterior. The result is a nice hot treat that’s a noticeable leg up above the normal “Belgian waffle”, with a nice buttery interior, a yeasty taste, and a nice crunchy exterior. Well, it turns out that many food trucks of the Boardwalk on Bulverde that night included one that makes… proper Belgian waffles. The Begian Waffle Co is a nice, shiny, new food truck run by a pair of pleasant Belgians, offering up a menu of waffles. They start with three types of waffles: their original “Waffle de Liége”, as well as cinnamon and chocolate variants. They then offer up a rather impressive list of toppings: whipped cream, powdered sugar, and butter are free, while various modest surcharges will get you toppings ranging from fresh fruit, to Nutella, to peanut butter, to a variety of savory toppings (eggs, cheese, and ham, for example).
After our stop for Italian Ice, the Death March continued through the UIC campus, and then downtown to the Loop. After brief stops to check out The Bean and Block 37 (for restrooms, and Beard Papa Cream Puffs, which have been on all three Death Marches), we walked through downtown on State Street to Chicago, and started heading west. At the beginning of the March, our Chicago host Kevin posted: “Today, friends, Richard Kaszeta, Carol Kowalski, Martin Puller and I shall embark on an event that swallows the weak: a 23-mile walk that few are expected to survive, one that challenges the gastronomic capacity of man. And there will be pie. Oh yes, there will be pie.” But here we were approaching the halfway mark on the March, and we hadn’t yet had pie. Sure, we’d already had pastries, carnitas, Italian beef sandwiches, Italian Ice, and cream puffs… but we were promised pie. Where was the pie? Well, after bit over a mile of westward walking on Chicago Ave, just after we passed Ashland, we arrived at the much-celebrated pie stop: Hoosier Mama Pie Company…
I’ve always liked Italian Ice as a treat. While I’ve always had a love for ice cream, there are times when I really am not craving a dairy treat, primarily due to weather or activity (others may vary in this, but for me, the combination of “parched” and “dairy” isn’t at all pleasant). A simple frozen dessert made with fruit, water, sugar, and little else, this dessert goes by a lot of names. Around the East coast it’s often called “water ice”. Growing up in Arizona, there was no standard name for it, but I always fondly remember trips to Sno Oasis (in Tempe, now long gone), or Eegee’s (in Tucson, still a solid regional chain) for a nice frozen snack with real fruit flavors (and possibly some food coloring…). In Chicago (and most of the Midwest), however, these go by the names “Italian Ice” or “Italian Lemonade”… and there’s one well-recognized place to get them in Little Italy/Taylor Street, and that’s Mario’s Italian Lemonade, which was Stop #4 on the Death March. We stopped at Mario’s for several reasons. First, Mario’s has location. Located in what used to be the front yard of one of four townhouses, Mario’s is literally across the street from Al’s #1 Italian Beef, and makes a perfect stop for a light dessert to offset the rather heavy, and somewhat messy, Italian Beef sandwich that you just ate from Mario’s.
I’ve always been a great fan of gelato. The Italian cousin to ice cream, gelato is a more subtler variation on the same idea. milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring. But just like the idea that while hash browns and french fries are both the same thing (fried potatoes), it’s the difference in execution that makes gelato such a great product. More milk than in ice cream, less air, gentle churning, and a warming serving temperature always make for a pleasant bowl of rich, creamy gelato. Unfortunately, while ice cream shops are plentiful (indeed, soft serve places are a dime a dozen around here in the summer months), good gelato places are fairly rare in the US. And, until 2010, nonexistent around here. Until Morano Gelato opened up shop.
Well, after our wonderful meal from Odd Duck, the trailer court on South Lamar still had more to offer. Next door to Odd Duck is a shiny Streamline trailer sporting a logo for “Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts”. Gourdough’s is well-respected in the in Austin area as a donut vendor (500+ reviews on Yelp, average rating 4.5!), serving up some deliciously crispy and fresh donuts with some very intriguing toppings and fillings.
One of the more interesting aspects of London is that there are so many good pubs, it can be difficult to experience them all. When we’re visiting London, we’re generally rather spoiled, as my brother and sister-in-law live almost next to the very excellent Cask Pub and Kitchen (which I haven’t reviewed here, since I’ve only ever had bar snacks for food there). The good part of this is that a quality pub with a very good selection of beer is almost always at hand. The down side of this is that I tend to ignore a lot of other good pubs, even ones that are just down the street. One case in point is The Queen’s Arms, which is just down the street from the flat, but until this trip I had only been in there once, and that for a quick pint. Our trip to London, however, was also coincident with my friends Rick and Sarah’s trip to London/Wales/Ireland, and they in particular enjoy getting together with friends from Metafilter (I’m semi-active there as well) for spontaneous meetups. So it was decided that their visit to London was the perfect excuse for a meetup on December 27th. Alas, much of London is shut down around the festive season, with publicans in particular using it as a good opportunity to take a well-earned break from their normal routine. So many of the pubs around Pimlico, including my well-loved Cask, were closed on the 27th. But Queen’s Arms was open, so the meetup was scheduled there instead. I’m rather glad it was, since this finally represented a good opportunity to check out the Queen’s Arms.