Auberge des 3 Pucelles (Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, France)

After a hectic April and May of traveling, I was looking forward to a relatively quiet June, and then work came up with an opportunity; for several days my coworker and I were visiting a commercialization partner in Grenoble, France, culminating in a trip to the Paris Air Show. So yeah, life is tough. After packing up and catching a flight out of Montreal (my general rule seemed to hold; Montreal is cheaper than Boston for French-speaking destinations, I’m guessing because of higher demand and competition?) into Paris, and then catching a flight to Lyon, and then about an hour’s drive, we found ourselves in Grenoble in the western foothills of the French Alps. After an afternoon of actual work and facility tours, our hosts wanted to take us out to a nice dinner. Normally an easy task, much like the US, Monday isn’t the greatest day for restaurant outings; most of the places in Grenoble are closed on Mondays. But our host had a place he enjoyed west of town, up in the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors, up a winding mountain road outside of the village of Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte): L’Auberge des 3 Pucelles (roughly “The Inn of the 3 Virgins”, named after the nearby rock formation).

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Cloudland Farm (North Pomfret, Vermont)

One of the more interesting places I’ve had dinner around the Upper Valley is hiding in the hills north of Woodstock in North Pomfret’s “Cloudland”. If you find yourself driving up that way, it’s really easy to see why the area has its name (something about the valley construction seems particularly adept at forming and holding low-level clouds). But Cloudland is also the home to Cloudland Farm, an over-a-century-old family farm that’s well known for supplying meats at various farmers markets, general stores, and as a purveyor to local restaurants. But they also have a dining room that’s open Thursday-Saturday (plus occasional special events) for dinner, usually with special themes. Previously, I’d been there twice to celebrate birthdays, once on a Brisket Night, and once on a Ramen Night, and being a birthday dinner, taking photos wasn’t my first priority. But for the last few months, our friends Liz and Wesley wanted us to join them for a Burger Night, and in June we were finally in town at the right time to make it happen.

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Phnom Penh Sandwich Station (White River Junction, VT)

Okay, I know that my regular readers are already asking, “Wait… didn’t you already review Phnom Penh?”. The answer is, yes, I did, but that was the review of their Lebanon, NH location, and earlier this year, after a lengthy renovation, Phnom Penh opened up a newer location in White River Junction in the former Polka Dot Restaurant location. Normally, I wouldn’t do a review on a second location of someplace, but with the opening of Phnom Penh’s second brick-and-mortar location, a few changes have happened. First, the new location is primarily dine-in, versus the primarily take-out nature of the Lebanon location. Second, they’ve got a liquor license and a decent selection of wine and beer, with the latter focusing on local breweries (like River Roost, just down the street). Finally, the transition from a “Sandwich Station” to a full dine-in restaurant has allow Sarin Tin, the owner, to add several additional Cambodian dishes to the menu.

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Lucky’s Coffee Garage (Lebanon, NH)

Back in the summer of 2017, my friend Deb Shinnlinger signed a lease for a recently-closed service station on the green in Lebanon, NH, Roy’s Service Station, with the intent of quickly turning it into a “West-Coast Style Coffee Shop” serving up quality coffee, espresso, and bakery items within a month or two. Well, like a lot of endeavors in food service, the “month or two” turned into several months of drama of permitting and the sort of refurbishment challenges one can expect when turning a tired, old service station into a fresh and welcoming coffee shop, but in December of 2017, Lucky’s Coffee Garage became a reality and opened to the public.

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Surly Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)

When I lived in Minneapolis, one of my major activities was playing Ultimate (aka “Ultimate Frisbee”) in the Twin Cities Ultimate League, and I met a lot of interesting people playing in that league (including a future mayor of Minneapolis). One of the people I’d regularly encounter in league play was a pretty talented player named Omar, who really liked beer and brewing. He’d occasionally brought some rather good homebrew, and even commented, somewhat jokingly it seemed, that one day he was going to open a brewery. Fast forward a few years to a visit of mine in 2006, we were visiting Gluek’s (a former brewery that still runs a nice tap room and restaurant), and the bartender urged me to try this new, extra-hoppy (this was 2006, before the great IPA explosion) beer from an upstart brewery called Surly, run by a local guy called Omar Ansari. Yup. He did start. First in Brooklyn Center, growing like crazy, and then in late 2014 opened a $20M flagship brewery in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park, in a former industrial area that, in the 1990s, I would have never in a million years thought would become a “beer destination”.

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The Wienery (Minneapolis, MN)

Another former haunt of mine of Minneapolis that I wanted to visit was a little restaurant over on the West Bank in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood: The Wienery. Originally opened in the early 1980s in the location of the former “Edna’s Diner”, sitting in the shadow of the large Riverside Plaza apartment complex (those not from Minneapolis may recognize them from the opening of The Mary Tyler Moore Show), The Wienery continues to serve up a variety of hot dog. Started by a pair of transplanted Chicagoans who wanted to offer up Chicago-style hot dogs to the locals, The Wienery has had several changes of owners over the years (I know it changed hands at least twice while I lived in Minneapolis, and at least once since then), but even as the neighborhood has slowly changed from the 1960s hippie neighborhood adjoining the University of Minnesota’s West Bank, to the current mix of “Little Mogadishu” and slightly seedy bars, the Wienery is basically unchanged.

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Shuang Cheng (Minneapolis, MN)

Like my review of Al’s Breakfast, several of my dining choices in Minneapolis were picked to revisit old favorites and see how they are doing. While Al’s Breakfast is one of my most-frequented restaurants (having eaten there pretty much once a week for 6.5 years), around the corner in Dinkytown is a pretty close second place: Shuang Cheng. AS a long-time tradition when I was at the University of Minnesota, my IT coworkers, led by my boss Bob, would go out for a group lunch every Friday. Most Friday’s that would mean rounding up a posse and heading over to Shuang Cheng (the name means “Twin Cities”), grab a large table, and have a big lunch. Indeed, we went so often that my boss Bob had his own special, the “Bob Special” (Sesame chicken, an egg roll, and a large wonton soup), that those in the know could order off-menu even if they didn’t know “Bob”. Indeed, Bob wasn’t available on this particular Friday, but we managed to round up a number of my former coworkers and make a lunch posse.

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Health Check: Al’s Breakfast (Minneapolis, MN)

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. In this case, my trip to Minneapolis gave me a good chance to stop by and check in on what remains as perhaps my favorite breakfast place ever, Al’s Breakfast. It’s best if you read over my older review, but it’s basically a small, 14-stool diner wedged in what’s literally a roofed over alleyway in Minneapolis’s “Dinkytown” neighborhood. “Narrow” is an understatement, since a limber person literally can touch both walls at points, and as you sit enjoying your breakfast (aside from special events, it is a breakfast-only joint), if it’s at all busy there’s someone hovering mere inches away waiting for your seat. And the food? The breakfasts at Al’s are fantastic, ranging from egg dishes and omelets to pancakes to house-made CBH, and it’s the ultimate in the short order experience: your order belted out by the staff, echoed back by the person running the grill (back in the days, it was almost always one of the two owners, Doug or Jim).

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Khyber Pass Cafe (St Paul, MN)

A recent trip for a conference in Minneapolis gave me plenty of opportunities to both check up on some of the new happenings in the Twin Cities dining scene, and revisit more than a few of my old favorites. In this case, I was heading out to dinner with Prof. Simon, my PhD adviser, and his wife Nancy, who were kind enough to take me to an old favorite that I hadn’t visited for many years: Khyber Pass Cafe. I rather liked Khyber Pass as a graduate student (scary how events when I was in Graduate School include things happening almost 25 years ago). At the time, Khyber Pass was an established small cafe on St Clair Ave a few blocks east of Macalester College, and was a notable exception to the generally “American” food offerings of most of the local places (Groveland Tap, the now-defunct St Clair Broiler, etc). But the owners, who had come to the Twin Cities and opened Khyber Pass in the early 80s after leaving Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. The Afghani offerings on their menu were a welcome addition to St Paul’s up and coming food scene, and Khyber Pass got a lot of good coverage in the food media.

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Airport Dining, Midway Airport, and the Hot Italian Beef Sandwich

Well, let’s face it, airport food options always kind of suck. Just by being in an airport, the food is more expensive, the clientele more hurried, and most everyone isn’t even in the best of moods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above writing up food joints in airports, since there are a few gems out there, but overall, one doesn’t ever go to an airport looking for great food. At best, they find good food despitebeing in an airport. But all that aside, there are a handful of airports that, while not really caring for the airport in and of itself, at least manage to give me some easy access to some regional food cravings. That’s definitely the case with Chicago Midway Airport. While it is night and day better than it was pre-2000 (when the new concourses and arrival/departure main terminal across Cicero opened), it’s still a sucky airport, dominated by discount carriers, and seemingly having been designed with each gate having about 1/3 as much seating as a typical Southwest flight. But, with a substantial fraction of my cross-country flights connecting at Midway, it’s also a handy place for me to indulge in some of my Chicago-area food indulgences. I’ve prattled on before about the Chicago-style hot dog, and Midway isn’t a bad place to get one of those… but this time, I’m talking about that other Chicago-area sandwich, the Hot Italian Beef.

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