Category Archives: Foodies

Italy: The Food

Hi friends.  Remember that one time we went to Italy five months ago and I did a post per city we visited and then never spoke of the trip again?

Well, there are just a few more posts I never wrote but wanted to, so there’s no time like the present to get those up on the old blog!  Plus, if you are going to Italy, maybe you are of the same travel planning school that I am (read some blogs, read some guidebooks, read some Trip Advisor) and this will be helpful.

So, here are the restaurants we ate at that we would visit again, if we were in Italy.  I wish I had some suggestions for Venice, but honestly my favorite food memories there were picking up some pastries to snack on as we were walking back to our hotel on our first afternoon in the city after visiting the Jewish Quarter.  The other place we loved was a very local wine bar stationed near the gondola repair yard.  The food was passable but the vibe was great.  So there is that.

Florence

As I mentioned in my previous post about Florence, this is the point where we got to Italy and I wasn’t even really sure why we were specifically in Florence besides to Eat Food and See Old Things That Are Probably Religious.

We were supremely aided in all things food during this leg of the trip by Sally.  Her daughter has some friends that visit all the time and they sent us their best recommendations for what to eat while we were in town.

Mercato Central

For our friends in the states, this is set-up like one of the many public markets we have scattered in hip cities across the country.  What we didn’t know (and what took us 10 minutes to figure out) is that all of the restaurants, etc. are upstairs.  So find the staircase and go up.  It is 100% not obvious until you are in the building and you are at the actual staircase.  Everything we ate there was great, so you really wont make a bad choice.

Café Rivoire

I didn’t take a snap of this one, but they have a really killer cioccolate con panna (hot chocolate with whipped cream) that is the consistency of chocolate sauce that you will die for.  Go for an afternoon treat, go for dessert, just be sure to try it.

Alla Vecchia Bettola

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This is a 20 minute walk from the Piazza della Signoria (so basically the Ponte Vecchio area) and it is on the old side of the river.  You are going to walk through neighborhoods for a really long time and basically wonder if you are ever going to get there.  You will.  It is not touristy at all and the staff are very friendly. This is also one of those places with all you can drink house wine for like $5 (does not suck).  Their big dish is the Penne alla Bettola so that’s a good one to order along with anything else.

Il Bufalo Trippone

IMG_1299 IMG_1243This is my five-star, one dollar sign contribution from Trip Advisor.  Marcus and I visited this little sandwich shop as one of our stops dinner hopping on our night out alone.  We were so impressed that we dragged Mom, Dad, and Sally back the next night to dine on the same pull-out counters that we did the night before.  They do sandwiches, charcuterie boards, and have wine for like $1.50/glass and it is all just so beyond killer even though the restaurant/shop is probably the size of a medium-sized galley kitchen.

Cinque Terre

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This restaurant is located in Manarola and after our first hike, we were starved to death and ready for a hearty lunch.  This was my first pesto on pasta experience of the trip (delightful).

Gambero Rosso

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This meal might have tasted the best because we had been hiking all morning and it was like 2:00 PM when we arrived.  Or it might have tasted the best because it just was.  What I do know is that people were falling out of the door to get a table and that everything we ate was just perfect.  It was also the fortification we needed in order to make our next assault on the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia.

La Lanterna

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Riomaggiore is not the hoppin’ town in Cinque Terre.  I think it is actually in a competition with Corniglia for quietest/least travelled.  Our guest house owner suggested that we would enjoy a nice meal here and it was Quite Fancy in terms of atmosphere and price compared to the other restaurants we visited.  It was also a great welcome to the town.  If we were in Riomaggiore just a month later, most of the “seasonal” restaurants would be open and we would likely have a different go-to, but this was certainly lovely and obviously the locals are keeping it in business if they’re operating year round.

Mama Mia!

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This is a little takeaway shop in Riomaggiore.  What we were here for (and what I was dying to try because of some NYT article about how to do Cinque Terre on the cheap) was the fried seafood.  So we ordered two of the mixed calamaris and feasted on literal troughs of small fried fish and squid and whatnot for a grand total of $15 or so.

Rome

Taverna dei Monti

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We were really tired after our first day in Rome and we were so glad when our hotel recommended this down-the-street restaurant.  I had some minestrone to start and Marcus had some sort of cream of onion soup and those were hardcore restorative after our day out and about.  We actually ended up eating here twice because it was just so easy and we were just so tired.  The night we ventured out to a different (recommended) restaurant, we just wished we had eaten here.

Sorpasso

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I think that either this was listed in bon appetit or really, I have no idea where this suggestion came from but this was definitely our “nice” meal out in Rome and if you are checking out the Vatican then it is probably a 15 minute walk away.

Naples

Here is the deal.  Even though Rick Steves (and everyone else on the earth basically) is down on Naples, if you have any love of Neapolitan pizza in your heart, you should go for at least 24 hours.  But really, you could probably do 48.  We ate pizza for six meals and even though neither of us even thought about pizza in the states for several months afterward, it was I think the best eating experience we had in Italy.  Partially because These People Know What They Are Doing and also because it is the only time that we ever ate one style of food exclusively for that amount of time.  I think it gave us a better read on what was great versus what was good.  Big struggles, I know.  One pizza meal was Marcus bringing us carry-in because I got massive food poisoning (or possibly exhaustion) on our first evening in Naples.  The other pizzeria, I really 100% cannot remember the name of.  It might have been Sorbillo but according to The Google that is closed forever now, and even though the Pizza was good, I wouldn’t have ranked it as The Best, so we’ll live.  Here are some snaps of the “good” pizza, just in case.

Plus everything listed here (and closed Sorbillo) is on Italy’s list of top 15 pizzerias (they were actually all in the top 10) so, clearly life is not hard.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele

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This is The Best Neapolitan Pizza.  They are The Winners.  There are like all of two ways you can order a pizza (margherita or not) and two sizes you can order (giant or more giant).  They serve water and beer.  I think two pizzas and two beers cost us $17.

Di Matteo

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I think this was the most underwhelming experience for Marcus but I was pretty jazzed because we got to try calzones here as well as some other crescent shaped pizza.  You know, change it up a bit.

Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente

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This recommendation actually came from someone I follow on Instagram who has spent a lot of time in Naples.  The fried things were great (that was her big recommendation) and I was especially tickled when the waitress asked us if we wanted red tomatoes or yellow on our pizza.  Yellow, obviously.  I also want you to know that our waitress was exceptionally proud of herself for providing us with that opportunity to choose.  During our meal we learned that she was from Ukraine and a potpourri of other facts, usually delivered with an exceptionally intense stare.

L’Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba

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This was our first pizza meal in Naples and the moment we ordered I was all We Have Arrived In The Land Of Plenty.

 

 

 

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Saturday Date: Hmong Village St. Paul

Like, three months ago, Marcus and I set-up a double date with some friends to go to the Science Museum and see the SPACE exhibit and the Hubble Omni show.  Last week, we decided that we all probably needed to eat beforehand and so I suggested visiting the Hmong Village in St. Paul because I had never been before, and I had heard that it was a delicious place to eat and I have been meaning to go for too long now.

Hmong Village

Karen agreed and said that while her husband had been before and loved it, he had not taken her!  How perfect that we were all going on this adventure then, right?

For those of you who do not know who the Hmong people are, they are an ethnic group (per Wikipedia) from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.  St. Paul, MN is home to the largest Hmong-American community in the United States, which is pretty cool.

The Hmong Village is an indoor market in St. Paul where you can purchase a variety of things including traditional costumes and jewelry, groceries, electronics, and of course there is this huge food court with a number of different vendors.

When we arrived at the destination, Karen texted Marcus to let us know that she and her husband were actually at the Hmongtown Marketplace  and based on the amount of time that we all had to eat before the show, we agreed to eat separately (and essentially have the same date in different places) and meet up at the Science Museum.  Related/unrelated: Marcus and I now have a goal to visit the Hmongtown Marketplace.

Before visiting the Hmong Village, I did a bit of reading about the different sorts of food on offer so that we would know what to expect.  There were so many vendors selling so many similar dishes (roasted pork belly, sausages, forbidden rice, papaya salad, spring rolls, etc.) that ultimately, we made our decisions based on two factors: which stall had the longest line, and which stall would make the papaya salad from scratch in front of you.

First up: Mai’s Deli Mais Deli

I stopped by this stall because first and foremost, they made papaya salad to order in front of you.  After placing your order, specifying the style (Thai v. Regular) and heat level, a woman would begin adding ingredients to her mortar and pestle and start the blending process right in the ordering window.  After the papaya was added and stirred in, I was offered a taste to ensure that the heat level was appropriate, which it absolutely was.  She then piled the papaya salad into a container that probably could have fed four people, all for $6.  This right here is just a small scoop of it.

Papaya Salad

I also ordered a mangonada, which was $4.

Mangonada 2I tried to get a snap of Marcus too, but I later realized his eyes were either half-shut or closed in both of them, so…oops.

I am still not entirely clear on what a mangonada is, but my understanding is that it is a blended fresh mango drink (like a slush) with a swirl of spice and salt.  It was awesome.  It also came with this exciting straw that was wrapped in some sort of candy that was unidentifiable at that particular moment in time, but I later learned was tamarind.  How excellent!

Second Stop: Mai’s Kitchen

Mais Kitchen

This stall had a rockin’ line so Marcus got right in that.  Here, we ordered pork belly, Laos sausage, forbidden rice, and egg rolls for a grand total of $19.

Pork Belly and Sausage

Forbidden rice is a black rice that is incredibly sticky.  Marcus had wondered if there would be a specific flavor to the rice, and while I would not necessarily say that it had a unique flavor, it did have a great texture.  After doing a little bit of research on this after the fact, it sounds like black rice is exceptionally nutritious compared to other varieties of rice!  Who knew?

While we were given forks for our meals, I saw many people eating meat and rice with their hands before we sat down, so we discarded the forks and did likewise.  The egg rolls, not shockingly, were the most basic part of our meal.  The sausage had a very coarse grind and Marcus preferred that to the pork belly.  I on the other hand, really enjoyed the pork belly which was an 11/10 combination of tender and crisp bits.  All of it got dipped into a sauce filled with hot pepper flakes.  Marcus found it to be too spicy, I found it to be the perfect amount of spicy.

Even though we missed out on eating with our friends, it was just an incredible meal, and we will be bringing more people back for another visit soon!

Butterscotch Pudding Confessions

Pudding

Last week, The Pioneer Woman posted a recipe for Butterscotch Pudding.  I don’t know why I read that post and was compelled to act.  I rarely read full posts from her anymore and I never put pudding on our grocery list.  But apparently it spoke to my soul on some level.  So I made pudding and that was good and Marcus was sort of confused because it was like 8:00 PM and I was whisking away.  I had never made from-scratch pudding before so that was a mildly exciting challenge in the way that combining six ingredients can be and I was proud of myself.

Related/unrelated: the pudding tasted like manna from the heavens even though I am positive that by all other standards, it was mediocre at best.  I think I may have scalded the milk a bit.  (oops)

Anyway, yesterday I was once again compelled to Make Pudding and as you all know, I was quick to heed that call.  I actually had to run to the store to buy more milk and more cornstarch but it didn’t really matter because pudding was on the way.  This time, I used a pot instead of a pan and the result was even more delightful, if that is possible.  Would it be even better if I were to use whole milk/heavy cream?  Most assuredly yes, but the only thing we ever have in the house is some version of low-fat.  This is something to aspire to for next time.

Just a bit about my weekend.

Happy Sunday, kittens.

We “moved” back into our house on Friday night and that was really lovely.  Even though I slept super-well while we were staying at my in-laws’ place, it was so so so good to be able to reunite with my bed.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that on Saturday, I spent 30 minutes meeting with and breaking up with a travel agent from a business we’ve worked with before and then I spent the next hour at home booking all of our Italy hotels.  Confrontation is never fun, but it is important to say NO when you have been clear about your budget and someone is trying to talk you into spending an additional $1000.  As it stands now, the only thing we have left to do is book tickets to and from La Spezia/Cinque Terre.  Once that’s finished I can settle the rest of our sightseeing itinerary and start hunting for restaurant ideas on Trip Advisor.

Our Saturday night was a little bit more laid-back.  We went grocery shopping and I was fascinated by how the clientele of ALDI, Trader Joe’s and Cub changes with the setting of the sun.  Marcus and I cooked dinner.  We watched Gravity (which has been on our DVR for probably three months now) and drank cocktails.  On Friday, Marcus gifted me a set of those ice cube molds that freeze into baseball-sized spheres, so I was extremely excited to give that a try.  Verdict: My cocktails look fancy now.

I did get out and about to do a few fun things.

On Friday night, Linds, Katie and I headed over to Spoon and Stable for dinner.  I made the reservation probably three months ago and we ended up being able to eat at the Chef’s Table which was super cool.  They cooked while we watched them place edible flowers and whatnot on things with tweezers.  Gavin Kaysen actually brought us food and talked to us and all I could say was “hi.”  Twice.  Truly, I was astonished.

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For dinner I had the squash soup, the bison tartare and the crispy potatoes.

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For dessert, the lemon mousse.  And some cotton candy.

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On Sunday morning, Lis and I went to The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen.  I have wanted to go there for a year now and finally it happened.  It’s actually owned by a guy I met in my Freshman writing seminar workshop group and his wife.  Brunch was spectacular so it is a given that I’ll be back for that.  My next goal is to get back there for their burger because I hear that it is a treat!

Copper Hen

The real reason I wanted to post this snap is because the french toast was just beyond.  I am not a french toast order-er ever, but the pecan loaf and the whipped butter are possibly something I will have dreams about.  It also compels me to expand my repertoire from Chocolate Chip Banana Bread to Maple Pecan Bread as well.  More is more, right?

I don’t want to say that I’m looking forward to Monday because an endless weekend would be quite nice, but what a lovely one this was.

Reverb 14 | November | Let’s Talk Turkey

#reverb14 is the opportunity for us to reflect and project throughout 2014.   Each month, Meredith, Sarah and I will be posting on a new prompt.  Join us by writing, or join us by reading. No matter what you choose, come with us.

Let’s talk turkey: Do you even like Thanksgiving food? If you could make the menu, what would you have? What was the most memorable Thanksgiving? What was served? 

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it took me until college to realize it, but it is the best holiday with the best food.  While it commemorates a meal cooked long ago, it survives today for us to gather with loved ones and ensure that each family member consumes one stick of butter disguised as “gravy” and “side dishes” and “dessert.”  Period.  There are no gifts.  There are no ceremonies.  There’s just us, with our people and our favorite food.

Fact or Truth: I have loved mashed potatoes my whole life and this is a the holiday that celebrates them.

Fact or Truth: I believe that Hand Turkeys are the one, true, original American art form and my love of them has been documented.

Fact or Truth: Each year, my aunt delegates the blessing over the meal to me.  There have been years with very serious prayers for family members in the operating room and friends fighting cancer.  But probably 75% of the time, I rely upon Ben Stiller’s prayer from Meet the Parents: Day by day, by day by day by day, O dear Lord, three things we pray. To love Thee more dearly. To see Thee more clearly. To follow Thee more nearly… day by day… by day. Amen.

Fact or Truth: I take it very personally that the New York Times wrote a story about 50 states worth of Thanksgiving side dishes (which I refuse to link to) that ascribed to Minnesota via an unnamed source something called Grape Salad.  I still don’t really get what it is, I am 100% positive that I have never eaten it and I am also 100% positive that in my sojourns across the state, I have never seen it on a menu.  From Austin Minnesota to Tofte, from Woodbury to Moorhead, We Don’t Eat That.

Fact or Truth: There was the Thanksgiving that wasn’t because I was packed off to a day full of rehearsals for the Nutcracker.  At the time, I thought it was more exciting to go to another entire day of ballet, but in hindsight it seems like it was more of a plot fashioned by the artistic director of the ballet school to keep us from eating.

Fact or Truth: Each year I throw a Friendsgiving so that I can celebrate twice.  Take that, ballet school director.

Fact or Truth: My love for this holiday is deep enough that I could go on for ages.

 

 

Minneapolis, in a weekend.

A few months ago, Beka mentioned that she might want to come visit Mads and I in Minneapolis and we said Absolutely Yes.

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Also, thank you Mads for letting me use this snap!

Our city is beautiful.  Admittedly it is easier to show off without snow because our outdoor life is second to none.  It’s hard to argue with the Land of 10,000 Lakes or the fact that we have more coastline than the state of California.  But we made do with the wintery  hand we were dealt.  While I think that our restaurant/activity choices were absolutely ideal for the amount of time we had (and the amount of time we wanted to spend driving!), I know that we could have planned our time together a thousand different ways.  I think that is the hardest part about showing off a city that you love: there is never enough time.

Friday

I picked Beka up from MSP and we started making our way toward dinner at the Blue Door Pub.  Because we had some time to kill before we needed to meet up with Mads and Priscilla, I drove her down Shepard Road (and along the Mississippi River), through downtown Saint Paul so we could view the Capital building and St. Paul Cathedral, up past the beautiful homes along Summit Avenue and then again down Grand Avenue.  St. Paul: Our Splendid Capital City.

We chose the Blue Door Pub for several reasons.  As Minnesota is the birthplace of the Jucy Lucy we felt very strongly that Beka needed to sample one.  While it would have been more authentic to visit Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club, both of which both lay claim to the creation of The First Jucy Lucy, we were also seeking a venue that would allow Beka to sample cheese curds.  Non-Minnesotan/Wisconsinite/Texans live largely ignorant of this fact but true cheese curds as we know them (not those nonsense mozzarella stick bits that pass for “cheese curds” in the rest of the country) do not exist outside of these states.  So it was very important to us that Beka try these.  We feasted on jucy lucys, cheese curds, totchos and it was good.

Saturday

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To start our day, Mads brought an assortment of donuts from YoYo Donuts in Minnetonka.  They were absolutely delightful.  I know there are many arguments to be made for other bakeries in the area (I’m 100% sure I have tried all of them), but this was what was closest to us, end of story.

For lunch/brunch, we visited World Street Kitchen.  I have been very vocal about my love of their caramelized lamb belly since our very first visit.  It is absolutely delightful, there is no other food on earth like it, and once we were done feasting Mads and Beka understood why as well.  I had my first experience with the WSK brunch menu (Southside with Eggs for the win) and my heart was filled with joy.

After lunch, we drove over to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to look at their large Asian collection (it covers over half of the second floor) and…everything else.  Weekend Snaps 003

The permanent exhibits are free and they are just top-notch.   If you live here and you have not been you must go.  I’ve already made notes in my calendar about two exhibitions I want to visit in 2015 (the DaVinci Codex and another about Ferran Adria).

We played around with a few (translation: 10) ideas for dinner.  The sad reality?  We could only eat dinner once.  What we finally ended up settling on was a trip to Pig Ate My Pizza in Robbinsdale.  We ordered a few tasting menus ($50 per couple for three small plates, a pizza of your choice and dessert) and got to work.Weekend Snaps 004

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After dinner, we headed over to The Rookery for another drink.  Since they work with molecular gastronomy and run an open kitchen, it was a pretty great show to watch.

Sunday

We planned for this day to be a lazy one since we spent Friday and Saturday out and about.  However, we did have one action item on the agenda.  While mildly authentic, the cheese curds at the Blue Door Pub had Italian Seasoning in the batter and we felt betrayed because Cheese Curds Are Not Mozzarella Stick Bites.  So we ran over to The Sunshine Factory in Plymouth.  This is not  fancy sports bar, but their cheese curds are an excellent rival to those served up at The Mouse Trap during State Fair season.  If you are a cheese curd fan, you must get here immediately.  During happy hour, it’s $6 for a dinner plate full.  These people mean business.

Minnesotans, how would you fill a weekend for out-of-town visitors?

New Orleans: The Eats

The food heritage of New Orleans and the American South is just incredible.  I knew that the only real issue we would encounter on this trip was the painful reality that we have one stomach each.  Sadly, this is an issue we have encountered repeatedly throughout our travels.

Our food itinerary was pretty much fueled by family and friend recommendations.  It is always so fun to hear what people have loved (and despised) and what they wish they could chow down on just one more time.

Cafe Du Monde

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We (obviously) were going to eat beignets because who doesn’t want to eat pillowy bites of powdered sugar-covered joy?  Prior to this trip, the only time I have eaten beignets is when Michael and I made them from a box mix that Mom brought home as a souvenir from her trip.  It was a filthy undertaking and they were delicious that time as well.

Cochon

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I don’t want to say that Billy was a significant contributor to the food portion of our trip, but he was a significant contributor to the food portion of our trip.  He did not make it to Cochon on his trip to New Orleans and cited it as his largest regret, so I knew we had to go.  It is a popular spot (a number of walk-ins were still waiting to be seated at 9:00 PM on a Wednesday night) so you need to make reservations ahead of time.  It’s also a more expensive meal, so we planned this as a part of our big night out.  I would do it again in a heartbeat!  The food was truly phenomenal.

Wood Fired Oysters with Chili Garlic Butter

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Roasted Gulf Shrimp with Artichokes and Mushrooms

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Smoked Pork Ribs with Watermelon Pickle

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Caraway Sausage with Celery Root Mash & Caramelized Onions

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Macaroni & Cheese Casserole

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Creamy Grits

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Smothered Greens

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Tableau

This restaurant is right off of Jackson Square, really.  While you’re waiting for a table, know that there is a spectacular chandelier store just up the block and around the corner that you should take the time to wander through.  With that in mind, the food was great and the service was terrible.  We could also subtitle this meal: The One Where Everything Looked Sort Of The Same But Different.

Truffled Crab Fingers

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Turtle Soup

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Seafood Gumbo

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Creole Courtbouillon

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Cajun Mike’s Pub and Grub

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Billy to me: You are going to walk past this place and wonder, should I be here?  His observation was not incorrect.  This is absolutely a hole-in-the-wall dive bar that we never would have thought twice about!  The food was so cheap and so incredibly good, plus the low-key atmosphere was a nice break from the rest of the city.  Just how good was it?  We stopped for lunch on Wednesday and dinner on Thursday.  You must (must!) visit this place if you are in the city.

We had the Cochon du Lait sandwich.  Twice.

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The Fried Shrimp basket.  Twice.

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And Crab Claws.  Once.

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Willie Mae’s Scotch House

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Allegedly this is the best fried chicken in America.  I would have to say it is.  This restaurant is in the Treme neighborhood so we did take taxis to and from.  This seems to be the way that most all of the out-of-towners manage to make it over here.

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We both ordered the fried chicken.  Marcus chose the red beans and rice as a side.  I went with the butter beans at the advice of our server.  I also grabbed a corn muffin because it just seemed to “go” with the meal.

J’s Seafood Dock

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This spot is located in the French Market which is a great outdoor market in the French Quarter.  Half of the market is dedicated to vendors selling crafts and local items, the other half is dedicated to food stalls with local dishes and fresh seafood.

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This was my first stop in the city and I was so excited to sit down in the 75 degree weather and tuck-in to this basket of fried oysters.

I would have to say that based on the evidence presented, this trip was a successful one, feasting-wise.  We got to eat fancy things and not-so-fancy things.  Inside and outside.  And most certainly some things that we could not easily find up North!