Recipes

Pasta with Butternut Squash

While it may not quite feel like it yet here in Florida, Fall is upon us. And with Fall comes lots of good harvest produce and recipes that feature one of my favorite vegetables – butternut squash. Inspired by one of my favorite dishes from Cooper’s Hawk Winery, I tried my hand at my own butternut squash pasta dish.

Pasta with Butternut Squash

  • 1 (2 pound) butternut squash
    • (if you can find pre-cubed squash in your produce section, I highly recommend – it saves a lot of time and energy!)
  • 1 (10oz) package of Ranna chicken and garlic ravioli
    • (gnocchi or penne would work great in this too!)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Peel, seed, and cube your butternut squash and dice your onion. Arrange on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 45 minutes to roast the vegetables.

Once the vegetables are cooked through, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add your pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Put your pasta and 1 cup of pasta water back into your pot and crumble in the goat cheese. Stir occasionally until the cheese melts and becomes a creamy sauce. Add the squash and onions and season again with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve and garnish with basil and Parmesan.

The slight bite from the goat cheese pairs so well with the sweet richness of the butternut squash in this dish. I may opt for just a classic penne next time, as the ravioli was pretty filling on its own, but this is a creamy and comforting meal that is perfect as we *fingers crossed* head into some cooler weather.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight

Metro Diner

I first had the pleasure of experiencing the original Metro Diner up in Jacksonville several years ago. When they opened one in Gainesville, I was ecstatic. Brunch is always the perfect way to end a Game day weekend and while Gainesville has a large variety of top brunch spots to choose from, it’s going to be hard to ever say no to Metro Diner.

J. and my last experience there was no different, catching up with a large group of friends before heading back to Tampa. Metro Diner, located off of SW 34th Street, emits that classic diner atmosphere, with their forest green and white color scheme, homey decor, warm and friendly staff, overstuffed booths and tables, and a line of bar stools overlooking the grill. The wait was pretty long, but with a group of eight, it was to be expected. Once we were seated, our orders were taken and food was served quickly.

Their menu is large with something for everyone, whether you’re in the mood for breakfast, lunch, or something in between. They also do not skimp on their food portions here. In typical diner style, there is plenty to share or take home.

J. went with their chicken and waffles. Half a fried chicken and a waffle topped with a sweet, strawberry butter and served with their signature sweet and spicy sauce (a mix of maple syrup and hot sauce that surprisingly works). The chicken is seasoned well and is fried golden brown, staying super crisp on the exterior, but still nice and moist inside. The waffle is a thick Belgian waffle style,  nice and fluffy. The mix of tastes and textures between sweet, spicy, fruity, crispy and soft all blend together harmoniously in your mouth. You can smell this dish as soon as it comes out of the kitchen and it just makes your mouth water. If you’re debating on what to order, I’ll save you the trouble – order chicken and waffles.

I, for once, deviated from my norm and ordered biscuits and gravy. Two large biscuits cut in half topped with homemade sausage gravy, accompanied by two eggs any style and served with hashbrowns. The gravy is thick, creamy, and hearty with hints of heat from the pepper and large chunks of sausage. The biscuits are soft and flaky and sop up all the delicious gravy. With eggs and hashbrowns this is great well-rounded breakfast any day.

Metro Diner has been doing it right for almost 25 years. Their dedication and love for food shines through, and it’s a warm and inviting place you’ll want to enjoy again and again.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight

Adam’s Rib Co.

With so many travel adventures the past few weeks, I figured it was best to start at the beginning with my trip to Gainesville at the end of August (and ironically also just this past weekend)! J. and I both went to the University of Florida (Go Gators!) and we love returning for game days, to visit friends, and of course, to eat at all of our favorite college restaurants. First on the list – one we really try to go to every time we visit – is Adam’s Rib Co.

Founded back in 2005, Adam’s has a South and brand new (bigger) North location off of 13th St., as well as offers catering services (perfect for your next Gator tailgate!) I love that you can smell the BBQ cooking as soon as you step out of your car to go inside. It’s mouthwatering. This is a no frills rib joint, white painted brick walls, booths, tables, and bar up front for seating, with a smattering of Gator decor. They focus on customer service with extremely friendly and attentive staff , and of course, their down-home BBQ.

J. and I typically order the same thing as it’s hard to mess with a tried and true favorite – the Pork Sandwich Plate.
5 oz smoked pork, on garlic toast with 2 sides (AKA: mac and cheese and baked beans). The pork is fall apart tender, with a nice bark on the outside without tasting overly smoky or burnt. You can tell the meat is fresh and has great flavor all on its own. Add your favorite BBQ sauce (they’ve got plenty of homemade option to choose from!) and you’ve got a sandwich that’s near perfection. The baked beans are sweet, a little tangy, and super saucy which is also perfect to dip pulled pork into. And the mac and cheese, oh the mac and cheese. Classic elbow noodles in the creamiest cheese sauce. I can say without a doubt that I have not had mac and cheese that good anywhere else.

Also worth noting are their fried pickles, corn nuggets, brisket, breakfast, and homemade desserts.

They aren’t shy to say they have “the best BBQ in Gainesville,” and I’d have to agree. So the next time you’re driving through, you’d be amiss if you didn’t stop there. And can someone please bring me some takeout when you do?

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Recipes Sweet Treats

Classic Chess Pie

Hi fellow foodies! Sorry to be MIA – September was a whirlwind of a month. Between a trip to Gainesville, Dallas, evacuating due to Hurricane Irma, applying to grad school, and a handful of other family matters, I just have no idea where the time went! But I’m glad to be back, and there’s no better way to get back in the swing of things than with J.’s company pie contest! I’m still on a quest to redeem my first place win with my classic apple pie. I’m hoping that by going back to basics with this classic southern Chess Pie recipe I’ll bring home the win!

And while I’ve always made my own crusts for the competition, this time it’s mandatory – no mo’ store bought.

Flaky pie crust:

  • 2 + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup 2 sticks cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk

Chess Pie Filling:

  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2  cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Before we get started:

Make the crust first, it needs time to chill. The tip to making this crust extra flaky is to not over work it and keeping it extra cold. That means you’re working sans-mixer and during the times you are handling the dough, you need to work quickly.  Once the dough heats up, it just becomes a sticky mess.

The crust:

In a medium bowl, mix together your flour, sugar, and salt. Chop up the butter into small pats or cubes. Using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture. It won’t be completely together, like a batter, but more of a flaky/crumbly consistency. Don’t be afraid if you don’t necessarily combine all of the butter with the flour, you may still have some small chunks left – you just want to work quickly before the butter starts to warm up. Place the mixture in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Stick the buttermilk in the freezer as well to get it extra cold before adding to your crust dough.

Remove the bowl from the freezer and add the buttermilk. Use a fork to softly bring the dough together. Again, this will not be a super squishy, moist dough – it will stay somewhat flaky. Add more buttermilk (a TBSP at a time) if your dough is too dry and not coming together.

Form the dough into two disks and wrap in parchment paper. (Note: You’ll only need one disk for the bottom crust of the pie. You can either freeze the other crust just to keep on hand in the future, or double the filling recipe to make two pies). Place the dough you’re going to use (as well as your pie pan) in the refrigerator to chill for an hour.

After it’s chilled, place your dough on a well-floured sheet of parchment paper. Flour your rolling pin, and roll out your dough into a thin circle. Place your pie dish upside down on your dough then carefully flip the dough into the pie pan. Press into the dish and carefully remove the parchment paper. Crimp the edges of your dough and place back into the refrigerator.

Onto the pie filling!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter, then set aside to cool. (Note: you don’t want to throw hot butter into your sugar/egg mixture – you could cook the eggs!)

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, flour, and salt. Stir with a whisk to combine. Add in butter, then buttermilk and vanilla. Mix until the mixture is smooth. Remove your crust from the refrigerator and pour in the filling.

Bake for 50-70 minutes until the filling is set (aka it barely jiggles in the center). Mine took the full 70 minutes. You’ll want to brown the crust edges and caramelize the top – keep an eye out on it to make sure it doesn’t burn. Around 30 – 40 minutes I had to cover mine with tin foil.

Let the pie cool and set further. You can serve warm or chilled – whatever you prefer! This pie is a perfect example of simple ingredients that can stand the test of time. The high sugar content provides that somewhat shell-like caramelized sugar topping (like creme brulee) that you just can’t beat. Wish me luck in the competition!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Cheers! Restaurant Spotlight Vino

Aspirations Winery

A couple weeks ago, J. and I had the pleasure of heading out to Aspirations Winery for a wine tasting and tour. Tucked away in a small plaza off of US 19 in Clearwater, the outside of Aspirations looks a little inconspicuous, but this small family owned and operated business has so much to offer.

Inside, you’ll find a quaint little tasting room, with a large wooden bar for check in/serving wine, a handful of tables and a spattering of wine-themed decor. Through the large glass window you’ll get a glimpse of their production area, and over in the corner there’s a nice array of cheese, fruit, chocolate, and bread to pair with all of the wines you’ll try.

First, let me say, Bill, Brad, and Olga – the family staff – were so incredibly friendly, happy to help and make recommendations. You can tell they take a lot of pride in their business and want you to enjoy yourself. As part of our tasting, we got to try two recommended wines (their most popular) and then five wines of choice. They have a nice selection of classic reds and whites as well as fruit infused wines. Their two recommended wines are from each category: Swamp Juice – a light, smooth red with a Cabernet base and Category 5 – a sweet, tropical Riesling infused with flavors of pineapple, banana, mango, and guava.

My other five choices, leaned more towards the fruitier side. As Brad and Bill kept saying, “if you like the fruit, you’ll like the wine.” These fruit infused wines are definitely on the sweeter side, but I found them very unique, refreshing, and perfect for summer. They recommended to use the fruit infused wines for sangrias, wine spritzers (topped with club soda), and…wait for it…wine slushies! Yes, please!

J. and my favorites were the Poolside Blush (a raspberry White Zinfandel) and the Blueberry Shiraz. Both slightly sweet, slightly tart, and all delicious. On the classic side, I loved their Argentine Trio which was a Viognier/Riesling/Chardonnay blend that was fresh and balanced.

Their wines are all made from original recipes and hand crafted in small batches, which allows them to be low in sulphites (aka, no hangovers!) Their small batches also allows them to offer seasonal wines and personalized labeling for the bottles.

The tour in their production area was equally as great. Brad, our “guide,” was funny and knowledgeable, giving an entertaining overview of the wine making process from fermentation, to bottling, sealing, and labeling. I loved being able to go behind the scenes and see how they operate. It’s something you get to see at a lot of local breweries, but seeing the wine process was extra special.

Tampa Bay may be more known for the craft beer scene, but it would be regrettable to come out this way and not enjoy the wonderful experience Aspirations Winery has to offer. As they go into their busier season with extended hours, I look forward to making this micro-winery a favorite stop on the weekends.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Recipes

Haddock Fish Tacos with Slaw

As I’ve shared before, J. and I love tacos. They are just such an easy, hand-held vessel for so many different flavors. Living in Florida,  fish tacos are a staple. Nothing quite says “fresh and Floridian” than something you know was caught right out of the Gulf. If we’re out to eat, I love getting tacos with some sort of slaw on top. It’s an easy way to add that crunchy texture to compete against the soft tortilla. So, I decided to take a stab at it at home with some haddock fish tacos.

Haddock Fish Tacos

  • 1 lb haddock (skin removed)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder (more for an extra kick)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 small tortillas (I used flour, but I think corn would have worked better)

Slaw

  • 2 cups thinly sliced cabbage (I bought a pre-sliced bag in the salad section)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 TBSP honey (or agave)
  • 2 TBSP white vinegar
  • 2 TBSP lime juice
  • 2 TBSP cilantro
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Start with prepping your slaw. In a large bowl, add your cabbage. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, honey, white vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper. Pour over the cabbage and toss well to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Preheat skillet to medium-high. Season your haddock with salt, pepper, and your spices. Spray your skillet (to keep the fish from sticking) and cook the fish for about 4 – 5 minutes per side. Once the fish is cooked, you should be able to break it apart easily with a wooden spatula.

Warm your tortillas, either on a dry skillet for about 2 minutes on medium heat , or zapping them in the microwave for about 20 seconds. (I typically choose the latter option!) Then fill your tortillas with fish and top with your slaw! Add extra lime juice, cilantro, or hot sauce if you so choose!

I’m pretty picky about coleslaw, it’s easy to make it too heavy, or too vinegar-y and pungent. I love the use of sour cream in this recipe as it added that creamy binder with a lighter (and healthier) taste than using mayo. I thought it was a great balance with the honey for a sweet and tangy flavored slaw that paired great with the slightly spicy haddock. I can’t wait to try this slaw on chicken sandwiches and BBQ sliders!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight

The Blind Goat

J. and I are on a mission to not repeat brunch spots for the rest of the year. While that may not be the most realistic thing to accomplish (as we do have our favorites) it’s a good goal to work towards. And even better motivation is a coupon, or a Groupon, for a good brunch deal. And with Groupon in hand for bottomless mimosas, this past Sunday we made our way over to South Tampa to The Blind Goat.

I want start out with the name, as at first I just thought it was something fun and clever, or perhaps someone owned a blind goat as a child. But the story behind it (grabbed straight from their website) is so much better than that:

“During the prohibition era, those in the know often knew speakeasies as Blind Pig or Blind Tiger. Given their secretive status and presence in the underbelly of the cities of the era, these namesake animals were more than appropriate. For our purposes, however, no tiger or pig would do. In searching for the perfect representation for our concept, we wanted to choose an animal that was resourceful, amiable, and has stood the test of time. In our opinion, there is no animal that represents these characteristics better than the goat; an animal that has been ever present in acting as a source of nourishment and companionship for humans since the beginning of our existence.”

Their atmosphere speaks to name, with dark walls and ceiling, plenty of tables, high tops, and bar stools, and games like pool and darts – perfect for friends to eat, drink, and socialize. The “happy hour hot spot, designed for the social, working adult.”

Their brunch menu also emitted their unique atmosphere. J. and I of course got the bottomless mimosas (they also offer bottomless beer and bloody marys) and helped ourselves to the juice bar with plenty of options for juice mixes and bloody mary accouterments. Our waitresses were diligent about topping our glasses with champagne so we never went empty. We then split the “totchos” – crispy hash browns topped with salsa, jalapenos, sour cream, and mozzarella cheese (we got ours with a side of buffalo sauce) and the breakfast pizza – topped with pancetta, tomatoes, fresh garlic, two sunny side up eggs, ricotta, and mozzarella.

I’ve had tator tot nachos before, but these were an amazing brunch version. It’s a great mix with the crispy tops of the shredded hash browns (that stayed crispy) and softer hash browns underneath. Cheese combines each strand of the hash brown into amazing stringy goodness. The breakfast pizza had the thinnest crust I’ve ever had. While it was a little burnt around some of the edges, it was seasoned extremely well. The tomatoes and runny egg substituted the pizza sauce, the pancetta added a nice saltiness, and the two different cheeses just melded it all together.  J. and I were both raving about the pizza and will probably each get our own next time!

This was the perfect, dark, little getaway for brunch and I’m excited to return for a fun night out for happy hour and dinner with friends. This will definitely be on our rotation for years to come.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight

Mr. Dunderbak’s

Have you ever stepped into a restaurant, bar, or store and felt you were instantly transported somewhere new? That’s how I felt when I first stepped into Mr. Dunderbak’s Biergarten in Tampa Palms. It was like I was transported straight to Munich, or at least what I imagine Munich to be like.

Mr. Dunderbak’s opened in 1974 offering up their own unique twists on classic Bavarian dishes – “Oma’s recipes, a little Americanized over the generations, but with a clear Swabisch heritage.” The atmosphere is warm and friendly, the inside is built to look like a little Bavarian cottage with long communal  tables (from the Hofbrau haus in Munich), animal heads, signs, and German flags mounted to the wall and ceiling, and a small little gazebo in the middle of the room where the typically have live music on the weekends. On both sides you’ll find two bars serving up a wide variety of European beers and some that they also brew in house.  Their staff was super friendly and made you feel right at home.

I started with a cup of their beer cheese soup that was thick, creamy, and delicious with just that right amount of beer to get the taste without being overwhelming. It paired nicely with my HPschorr Oktoberfest-Marzen beer.

For my meal, I ordered  their sour cream veal schnitzel smothered in a sour cream, white wine, and mushroom gravy, served with sweet and sour potato salad and potato pancakes. The schnitzel was fried to perfection, hot and crisp on the outside but the veal still tender on the inside. The sour cream sauce was rich and decadent with large pieces of mushroom (which I loved). I’d never had sweet and sour potato salad before but I gladly will again. It was served warm with a nice tangy flavor that paired well with my heavy veal dish. The potato pancakes were thick and soft, served with the classic sides of sour cream and applesauce. The portions are huge and I could barely finish this plate, but boy did I try my hardest.

They also have a wide variety of deli meats, sandwiches,  Wurstspezialitaten (sausages), and other classic German favorites. All of their meals are cooked to order and almost everything is made in house. It’s quality like that, that truly makes a difference in the food. You just can’t go wrong.

With a group of our friends planning to go to Oktoberfest in Munich next fall, I see Mr. Dunderbak’s being a great staple of our diets, prepping us for all the delicious food and beer Germany has to offer. So make your way over to Mr. Dunderbak’s and step into a little piece of Germany right in our own backyards.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Recipes

Gnocchi Bolognese

After our wonderful, busy, fun-filled trip to Los Angeles, of course J. and I came home and both got sick. After eating out the entire trip, we craved homemade comfort food and nothing seemed more comforting than a hearty bowl of pasta. With a pack of frozen ground beef calling to me in my freezer, a bolognese seemed like the perfect choice. And you can never go wrong pairing that with a rich, soft gnocchi.

Gnocchi Bolognese

  • 1 container pre-packaged gnocchi (I used Alessi Potato Gnocchi)
  • 8 oz ground beef
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 TBSP minced garlic
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 2 roma tomatoes
  • 1 TBSP chili powder
  • 2 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1 tsp chicken stock concentrate
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 2 TBSP finely chopped basil (optional)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Peel and grate the carrot and finely dice the onion. In a separate bowl, you’re going to grate your two roma tomatoes to make your own tomato sauce. Slice a thin round off the bottom of each tomato. Starting at the cut end, grate tomatoes on the largest holes of a grater over the bowl until all that’s left is the flattened tomato skin and stem; discard the leftover skin and stem. (Learn more about the great reasons to grate a tomato!)

In a large pan, over high heat, drizzle olive oil (or PAM) and add the ground beef. Cook until it’s browned through and season with salt and pepper.

In a separate pan, start your sauce by adding the carrot and onion. Cook down until it’s softened. Add the garlic, oregano, chili powder, and 2 TBSP of tomato paste. Stir to ensure all the ingredients and coated with the tomato paste and well combined. Next, add in your grated “tomato sauce,” chicken stock concentrate and 1 cup of water. Bring the sauce to a boil, then simmer until the sauce has thickened (around 7 minutes). Add the ground beef and cook for another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

(Note:  The broth concentrate [as opposed to boxed or canned chicken broth] has a slightly sweeter, yet still meaty, flavor that works well in soups and sauces. It’s an easy way to build some intense flavors quickly).

Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Once the gnocchi is cooked through, spoon the pasta into the bolognese and stir to combine. Serve and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and little basil.

This delicate potato pasta is the perfect accompaniment to the bolognese as it soaks up all the rich sauce. The addition of the chili powder gave it just enough of a kick to balance out that richness while the carrot adds some natural sweetness to compete against the acidic tomatoes. Gnocchi is also a great week night pasta as it cooks so quickly. Pair it with your homemade tomato bolognese and you’ve got a meal fit for kings (and queens) any day of the week.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight Snacks & Sightseeing

La La Land

J. has been traveling out to Los Angeles recently working with a new client. On his last trip, I tagged along at the end so we could spend a long weekend exploring and seeing the sights! We couldn’t have asked for a better trip – weather in the 80’s, clear blue skies, and, of course, lots of delicious food.

Los Angeles actually incorporate a lot of different areas and communities, not just Los Angeles proper. We tried to fit in as much as we could exploring Westwood, Downtown LA, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. Each community had its own hustle and bustle of people, restaurants, and attractions and thus its own unique personality. Here’s some of our favorite places, foods, and drinks we hit this weekend:

Westwood

J. was staying here for work, so we only caught dessert here the night I arrived. But boy was it some dessert. Napa Valley Grille’s Basil Cake – basil Chantilly, strawberry coulis, fresh berries, baked streusel crumb, strawberry frozen yogurt. The cake was not overly sweet but extremely moist. It was a perfect pairing of flavors and textures between the soft cake, berries, struesel and frozen yogurt. I will dream about this cake for a long time.

Downtown LA

We headed to downtown LA on Thursday. After exploring the Bradbury building and The Last Bookstore, we had lunch at the Grand Central Market. I think that this marketplace is just the coolest concept – this large open air (but covered) market runs between Broadway and Hill St. Around since 1917, “Grand Central Market’s mission is to celebrate the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles. Our commitment is to preserve the legacy of a historic downtown landmark, to gather the city’s many communities around a shared table, and to nurture the next generation of local businesses.” It’s filled with tons of food and market vendors that switch out occasionally so there is always new cuisine to explore. We ate at Villa Moreliana, an authentic Mexican vendor specializing in every cut of pork you can imagine. J. and I got the pork butt tacos and they were phenomenal. The flavor they were able to create out of slow-cooking that pork is beyond compare (and they give you a very healthy portion too!).

After lunch we grabbed drinks at the other end of the market at Golden Road Brewing. J. and I were so excited to run across this place as we knew were weren’t going to be able to make it out to their actual brewery during our trip and really wanted to try some authentic California beers! J. got their 329 Lager and I tried their on-tap cider. Both were light and refreshing, perfect for that LA weather.

After lunch we went and explored The Broad art museum and then bar hopped our way across town stopping at Rock and Reilly’s, Casey’s Bar & Grille (great Irish pubs!) before catching the sunset at the rooftop bar at The Perch.

Hollywood

Friday was a super busy, but great day in Hollywood. We woke up early to get over to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles that had been recommended to us by one of J.’s coworkers. The service staff was slow (especially since we were in a hurry) but the food came out quickly and was absolutely worth it. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles is soul food restaurant chain that made it’s way out to Long Beach back in 1975. They have a variety of southern classics, but J. and I were there for one thing and one thing only – chicken and waffles. the perfect mix of sweet and salty. The waffle was thin yet still extremely soft with hints of cinnamon. The chicken thigh was fried to golden brown perfection and well seasoned with the crispiest skin. Yum!

After breakfast we rushed over for our tour at the TCL Chinese Theatre and Dolby Theatre. I felt like I was walking among the stars! After the tours, we headed over to Koreatown to get our fix from a Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives highlight – Beer Belly. This was the one place we were dying to get to during our trip and we were not disappointed. This place is just a small little shop with a small bar and handful of tables, but is foodie heaven.

I started with the Absofruitly Berliner Weisse, made with peach and nectarine. It was a great mix of sour and sweet without being too heavy. It paired well with what we were about to eat. J. and I split the Duck Fat Fries – fries tossed in duck fat with duck skin cracklins and raspberry mustard and the Beer Belly Grilled Cheese – a “quad deck 4×4” sandwich with cheddar, swiss, asiago, goat cheese, applewood smoke bacon, and topped with maple syrup. The fries were super salty, crisp perfection. And the grilled cheese – ah – mouthwatering. It was a melty, ooey, goey mess of a sandwich. The goat cheese added the bite of acidity you needed to cut all the fat, bacon added the crunch and salt, and the maple syrup added just the slightest touch of sweetness. It’s a sandwich I would order over and over and over again.

After literally rolling out from lunch, we walked it off at our tour at Paramount Studios before heading back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. For dinner, we hit up Calle Tacos, right off of Hollywood Blvd. This place actually reminded me a lot of Taco Bus back home due to it’s actual food truck kitchen parked inside of this small hole in the wall restaurant. The menu features a variety of burritos, tacos, and quesadillas that you can customize with meat, toppings and secret family recipe homemade salsa. J. went for variety with a carnitas, carne asada, and pollo taco. I grabbed the al pastor quesadilla loaded with adobo marinated pork and pineapple. They buy their meat fresh daily from local farmers and it’s a taste and quality that you just can’t beat.

After watching the sunset at the Griffith Observatory we hopped down Hollywood Blvd checking out the rooftop bar at Mama Shelter and the super fun 70’s retro bar at Good Times at Davey Wayne’s. If you haven’t been to any of those places – stop what you’re doing immediately and go!

West Hollywood / Beverly Hills

Saturday we woke up and headed straight to brunch at Norah, an eclectic American style restaurant off of Santa Monica Blvd. I stumbled upon this restaurant while planning for the trip and was intrigued just by their website and photos I’d seen online. While we had a lot of great food on the trip, I was looking most forward to this brunch and was not disappointed.

The inside is open, clean, and modern with a large white marble bar across one side of the restaurant. It was the type of place where you just felt at home and could celebrate a myriad of different events. We started with mimosas, made with fresh squeezed orange juice, and homemade biscuits with pimiento cheese. You could see all of the flaky layers of the biscuit as soon as it was placed on the table and pimiento cheese was creamy and delicious. J. went for their breakfast sandwich  with a fried egg, sausage, aged cheddar cheese and maple glaze. The fried egg was perfectly running when you took the first bite and the bun soaked up all those flavors. I got their jasmine rice congee with glazed pork belly, crispy shallots, soft poached egg, and kimchi. The rice congee was a soft grits/porridge type of consistency but with deep flavors like a ramen broth. The pork belly glaze had a good amount of heat to it, but paired with the egg tempered out well. It was a great mix of different flavors and textures that will make your mouth water.

After brunch J. and I strolled down Melrose Ave., window shopped through Beverly Hills, tried to stalk celebrities (with no success) at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and finally made our way down to the iconic sunset strip for dinner and drinks. We had reservations at State Social House, a really relaxed, chill gastro pub. The inside has almost sort of a saloon type feel with dark wood walls, tables, and wooden bar stools. It wasn’t crowded at all when we went so we got a table right by a large window overlooking the strip. J. and I shared a huge plate of chicken nachos and a burger. Pretty classic bar-type food, but it was all seasoned and cooked well, and exactly what we were looking for after exploring all day.

Santa Monica

Our final day in sunny LA, J. and I headed down to Santa Monica. We walked down Ocean Ave., to our brunch reservations at The Penthouse on the top floor of The Huntley Hotel. A nice mix of classic and modern decor, this upscale spot is just breathtaking with its pale color scheme and sheer white curtained private tables. As soon as you stop off the elevator you are greeted by large windows offering up panoramic views of the city and beach below. We both started off with mimosas, of course. I ordered the chilaquiles – fresh tortilla chips, tomatillo sauce, queso fresco, and two eggs, topped with avocado, sour cream and cilantro. The tomatillo sauce was unlike any I’d ever had before. Very fresh and flavorful, but very light and not overly spicy. J. went for the bacon waffle stack – bacon waffle batter, topped with eggs (any style). I don’t think I’d ever had bacon IN a waffle before, but the combination is that sweet and salty goodness you’d hope for. The food + the view made The Penthouse a real winner.

After brunch, we rented bikes and road down from Santa Monica to Venice beach and back and walked around the infamous Santa Monica pier. We grabbed drinks and had a lazy afternoon at The Bungalow before heading to dinner at Enterprise Fish Co. When this place originally opened, they renovated the building resemble a wharfside eatery. This is exactly the feel you get as you enter, with hardwood floors and trussed ceilings. They act as a true wharfside eatery as well, bringing in fresh, whole fish daily, and doing everything from cleaning to cooking them in house. I started with a cup of Boston clam chowder, that definitely had a California spin on it with a broth base no where near as heavy as what you’d find in New England, yet all the classic flavors shown through. For my meal I ordered lobster rolls – the bread was nicely toasted and the lobster meat had a kick from a dash of cayenne pepper. I easily could have eaten another order of them. J. ordered their King Salmon that was cooked to perfection.

We ended our trip strolling back down Ocean Ave. to see the pier all lit up at night before heading back to our hotel.

The trip covered a small fraction of all there is to see out in Los Angeles, let alone in California and it was a whirlwind few days but we were so happy to fit in as much as we possibly could. I can’t wait to make my way back out to the West Coast to continue exploring and take in all of the culture, sights, and of course – food! If anyone has any recommendations for next time – hit me up!

Peace out, LA! I’ll miss you!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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