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Lalo’s Taqueria (Lebanon, NH)

Well, it’s been pretty quiet here at the blog. My last real restaurant review (of a repeat trip to Pied de Cochon’s Cabane a sucre) was for a visit that happened almost a year ago. Here in NH, March 16th 2020 brought the abrupt closure of restaurants, and now a full six months into Covid, we’re still not back to order. Many places have closed permanently, and with very few exceptions, almost every restaurant still running is, quite frankly, trying to make do with a combination of takeout, outside dining (now on the wane as the temperature drops), and “socially-distanced” dining, and most places are trying more to just stay open than put their best foot forward. I’ve actually got photos and partial reviews for a good dozen places in my backlog, but most of them are now outdated reviews of how things once were, and not how things are, but it seems like a poor time for restaurant reviews in general until things recover a bit more (and nobody wants to read reviews of an experience they can’t currently indulge in). But there have been quite a few bright spots throughout the dismal Covid-19 landscape. I’ve seen more than a few creative approaches for outdoor dining, takeout (including more than a few retrofitted takeout windows), and ways to just keep basic operations going (and staff employed). And in this landscape filled with restaurant closures both temporary and permanent, my local area has even had one notable restaurant opening: Lalo’s Taqueria.

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Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, Fall 2019 Edition (St Benoit de Mirabel, QC)

As regular readers know, every few years I try to go to one of Quebec’s bigger culinary events, the Cabane à Sucre (“Sugar Shack”) event run by Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon. It’s one of the Montreal-area big ticket events, and a bit of effort is required to score a reservation, usually requiring waking up at midnight to get a good spot on the waitlist. It is truly a culinary “shock and awe campaign”; you can read my writeups of my trips there in the winter of 2014 and 2017, but both of those visits were to the winter maple sugaring event (which is mostly a “how many dishes can a chef come up with that involve both foie gras and maple?” sort of event). But this year, we decided to mix it up a bit. In addition to their annual maple sugaring feast, Au Pied de Cochon also runs a fall harvest season event, focusing on apples and other fall harvest fruits and vegetables (with, again, an implausibly large amount of foie gras worked into the menu as well). So this year, I arose very early on April 1st, and managed to score a table for 8 in late October. So, rounding up an assortment of my local friends, we drove up to Montreal for a merry weekend of excessive dining, Montreal-style.

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Health Check: Reservoir (Montreal, QC)

Back in 2013, I did a brief review of one of my favorite Montreal beer bars: Reservoir. Since then, I’ve had half a dozen revisits there, ranging from just stopping in for a pint, having dinner, and, well, everything in-between. On our recent trip to Quebec, we needed a light “fill in” meal to tide us over to a feast the next day at Au Pied de Cochon’s Cabane a Sucre, and this turned out to be the perfect opportunity to stop in and do a follow-up review of reservoir, including some of their mid-day menu.

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The Parker Pie Company (West Glover, VT)

Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is very pleasant to visit: nice, rolling, forested hills and meadows, with some very nice views of the White Mountains to the east, the Green Mountains to the West, and a few smaller peaks scattered across the landscape. It’s also rather rural at times, so there’s not always a lot of good dining options. But there are some real gems hiding in some of the smaller towns and villages across the Northeast Kingdom’s landscape. One such spot is located in the village of West Glover, VT. Going behind the Lake Parker Country Store, you find yourself at the entrance of a pizza place: Parker Pie.

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Oak and Grain (New London, NH)

In a recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of our first date, Carol and I decided it was a nice opportunity to check out a local restaurant that has been perennially near the top of our hit list: Oak and Grain. Oak and Grain is the in-house restaurant at The Inn at Pleasant Lake, a small lakefront hotel overlooking Pleasant Lake that specializes in weekend getaways and appears to have quite the nice barn rental for weddings as well.

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Barrio Cafe (Phoenix Airport)

If there’s one place in Phoenix that friends are consistently telling me I should visit, it’s Barrio Cafe. Opened back in 2002, Barrio showcases the work of chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, who has gotten quite a following for doing upscale Mexican-American cuisine. Well, I still haven’t made it to Barrio, but I have made it to a close cousin: there’s an offshoot of Barrio Cafe in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A combination of weather and equipment issues had me with first a very-delayed, and then a canceled, flight, so I had more than a few hours to wander over to Barrio Cafe in Concourse D (the newest one at PHX, which has substantially more space dedicated to food than the other concourses), so I sit back and had a nice dinner at Barrio Cafe, Airport Edition.

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FnB (Scottsdale, AZ)

On my second night in Arizona, I met up with my old friend Allyson. She wanted to try out a place in Scottsdale recommended by her friends, FnB. Opening back in 2009, FnB has gotten quite a bit of press in recent years, up to and including the head chef Charleen Badman winning the 2019 James Beard award for Best Chef of the Southwest. FnB is primarily known for doing farm-to-table cuisine with local ingredients (including the wine list; FnB has quite the list of Arizona winemakers in their cellar), serving up gastropub food in a modest restaurant space located off of Craftsman Court in Old Town Scottsdale.

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Health Check: Haji Baba Middle Eastern Market (Tempe, AZ)

Despite doing most of my growing up in Arizona, once I graduated from high school I pretty much immediately moved across the country for school, and haven’t lived there in almost 30 years. However, I still have a small stable of favorite restaurants from my years living there that I like to revisit on occasion. Many of those places I used to love are now gone (like Apache Junction’s The Mining Camp, which closed after a fire back in 2015), or some of even sadly morphed into poorer versions of themselves, but there’s a good number of places like The Chuck Box that manage to soldier on, even as the neighborhood around them changes (the Box, for example, is now dwarfed by high rise buildings built by ASU). Every once in a while it’s nice for me to do a followup on old favorites, revisiting them and make sure that they are staying in form. With that in mind, when I was passing through town on a recent business trip, meeting up with my friend Karla for another trip to Haji Baba was in order.

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The Famous Steak House (Colorado Springs, CO)

Colorado Springs has a lot of the old, classic “Out West” vibe going strong, and one place that really stands out is in the selection of fine dining restaurants: Colorado Springs has quite a few high-end steakhouses right in town: Saltgrass, Mckenzie’s Chop House, Peppertree, and the Famous, just to list ones easily walkable from my hotel. After several long days of work, we decided that it was worth going out and celebrating, and since I had wandered by The Famous a few times, we decided to drop in and give it a try.

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Denver Biscuit Co. (Colorado Springs, CO)

If there’s one culinary topics I’ve railed on a lot here at Offbeat Eats, it’s the basic concept of biscuits. I love a good biscuit, one that’s delicate, flaky and rich, with a nice buttermilk flavor to it, and a nice caramel browning on top. They are great with sweet or savory filling, and oh so enjoyable. Alas, with a few exceptions (like, for example, Montpelier’s Downhome), most everyplace in New England makes biscuits, that, quite frankly, suck. So when I’m traveling, particularly in the South, I like to search out good biscuits. So when I find a regional chain that’s reliably able to produce some tasty biscuits, I figure it is worth a shoutout. That takes us to the Denver Biscuit Company.

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