February 28, 2011

BEST House Salad

I think salads are the perfect introduction to a meal: light, fresh, and flavorful, they prep the palate and the stomach for what's to come. I'm happy enough with iceberg lettuce, a couple of cucumbers, and the token tomato slice - but when my entree comes with a beautiful nest of fruit, leafy greens, creamy cheese, and homemade balsamic, I'm ecstatic. It's so good, it makes eating salad almost feel like an indulgence!

I've declared this the BEST because it's such a delightful surprise to see such attention and care given to what is often a universally humdrum starter. Also, it's delicious. Lilly's house salad is plated with a field of dark green lettuces and layered with dried fruit and candied pecans, sprinkled with goat cheese, and drizzled generously with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. It's almost enough as a meal in itself (if you're a big salads-as-a-meal person) or it's a great way to start out your dinner!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Lilly's on the Canal
2 Canal Street
Lambertville, New Jersey

February 25, 2011

"Red" Polish Platter

In my opinion, this is the best way to try a new type of food: sample platter! Here, we've got a Pierogi (looks like a dumpling), Kielbasa (grilled meat in the middle of the plate), Golabki (stuffed cabbage - it's the red stuff on the left), Haluski (cabbage noodles - that'd be at the top of the plate), and Kluski (homemade noodles and cottage cheese).

I like Kielbasa - hot dogs would be the American equivalent, bratwurst would be the German equivalent of this meat. The perogies, filled here with mashed potatoes and onions, are the BEST Perogies I've had. But what surprised me the most was the stuffed cabbage. I really don't like cabbage - I go out of my way to avoid it, in fact - but I DO love tomato sauce. So...I was willing to give it a shot. And it was pretty darn good! (Read: couldn't taste the cabbage at all ;-)

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Bloomfield Bridge Tavern
4412 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

February 23, 2011

Baked Apple Dumpling

I'd like to call this a little piece of heaven, but the truth of the matter is, it's a HUGE piece of heaven. Taking a dinner break off the highway during a small road trip, I'd ordered the previously posted about Grilled Chicken Tenderloin, and (despite my huge appetite at the time) opted for the lunch portion instead of the dinner. So after licking my plate clean, I was looking for something to finish off the meal: cue the dessert menu. My only mistake was vastly underestimating the scale of this dessert. (I probably would have ordered it anyway, but maybe would have asked for the ice cream on the side so I could easily take the leftovers home!)

This is a dessert to write home about. Somewhere between the size of a nerf ball and a football, this oblong dish of oven-baked goodness will warm you straight to your core. Cinnamon-sugared apples, forming the foundation of this masterpiece, are sealed shut by a pastry "dumpling" crust, which is followed by a layer of pecan streusal, vanilla bean ice cream, and a syrupy cinnamon-apple sauce. The crust and the ice cream balance nicely with the sweet syrup and apples; this is not an overly sweet dish. The small crunch of the candied pecans, soft apples, baked crust, and hot topping with the cool ice cream make for a perfect bite with every spoonful. This is definitely a dessert you'll want to share (and believe me, there's plenty to go around)!

Where to enjoy this yourself:

Cracker Barrel
Locations nationwide

February 21, 2011

Cream of Mushroom Soup

I have a weakness for creamy soups. Cream of chicken, tomato, mushroom, broccoli - you name it, I'll love it. There's just something so comforting about a hot bowl of your favorite foods in a splash of cream. Topped with fresh croutons and drizzled with truffle oil, what made this soup stand out was its consistency. Rather than a homogeneous texture, the creamy broth was light with substantial pieces of mushrooms throughout. I think it's nice when a chef is proud of their ingredients and shows them off in a dish that typically hides them. The mushrooms were small and whole and plump and sliced. The fresh croutons, as always, added a nice crunch to each otherwise quiet bite, and I always love the enhanced, rich flavor truffle oil adds to a mushroom-heavy dish - it just gives it that extra punch of refined mushroom that lasts the whole meal.

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Tuscarora Mill Restaurant
203J Harrison St SE
Leesburg, Virgina

February 18, 2011

Roasted Vegetable, Mozzarella, and Pesto Wrap

I love roasted vegetables because they're easy, healthy, and filling. Wrap them up with some fresh mozzarella (preferably room temperature) and pesto, and you have a lovely little lunch that will both warm and fill you up. This tomato wrap was stuffed to the brim with freshly prepared mushrooms, peppers, and eggplant, then topped with the cheese and a spread of pesto, accompanied by a little cup of balsamic dipping sauce. And the fries were really great!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Groveland Grill
5960 Easton Rd (611)
Pipersville, Pennsylvania

February 16, 2011

Japanese Pan Noodles

To come across this cute little bistro with fresh ingredients and smiling service, and craving noodles as badly as I was, this was a nice little snack that just hit the spot. The slight heat to the soy sauce stopped me from scarfing the whole thing down in just a few minutes, but it was balanced nicely by the vegetables underneath. Though, in all honesty, I can't say this was quite what I was expecting to get. It was chock-full of Asian sprouts, cilantro stalks, and had a nice combination of shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and broccoli, but I was hoping for a little more 'noodle' and a little less 'pan,' as they say (or at least a better noodle-to-Asian-sprout ratio). I think I would best describe this meal (snack) as feel-better twist on typical fast food - I always give extra credit for fresh ingredients!

Where to find this yourself:

Noodles & Company
4238 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, Virginia

I'm used to finding Asian food at noodle houses, but I was thrown for a loop when I first saw the menu for this restaurant: there are three sections for Asian, American, and Mediterranean noodle varieties. Talk about being international! I suddenly had to choose between teriyaki, pesto, or salad with my noodles, which I have to say was a little unusual at a place where you order at the counter. I'd recommend going with either a very open mind or one firmly set!

February 14, 2011

Grilled Chicken Tenderloin

There are a lot of chain restaurants out there, and there's a typical group of them you'll find at food stops off of the highway. While I'd prefer to eat at a family-owned restaurant serving "Mom's Famous Chicken Noodle Soup" and the like, sometimes that just isn't an option, and it can also more economical and comforting (you know exactly what to expect) to eat at a chain restaurant. But don't dismay when your roadtrip takes you 150 miles down the turnpike - there are still great meals to be had! I feature this one in particular because I NEVER would have ordered it had someone not pushed me to.

The Grilled Chicken Tenderloin at Cracker Barrel is AMAZING - it's actually a contender for BEST Grilled Chicken. It doesn't look particularly extraordinary, but the grilled chicken is Just. So. Tender. I've never had grilled chicken that was so juicy, and the savory teriyaki-based marinade is sure to please anyone's palate. I typically don't like to eat just chicken by itself, but I scarf these tenderloins down like there's no tomorrow. You will be taken aback by how great this chicken is - and want to know the best part?? (/why I never would have ordered them on my own?) They're on the low-carb menu! Now, granted, I got macaroni and cheese as my side dish (which I highly recommend, it's my favorite side of theirs - very homey, rustic, comfort food in a perfect little portion!), but they also do list 'low-carb sides' that you can get to complement your meal, as well.

Don't settle for McDonald's, or Wendy's, or Sbarro's. This dish at the Cracker Barrel is highway food at it's absolute best - give it a shot on your next long drive!

Where to enjoy this yourself:

Cracker Barrel
Locations nationwide

February 11, 2011

Homemade Donuts

Admittedly, every once in a blue moon, I like to indulge in a Dunkin' Donuts chocolate-iced donut. The light, fluffy texture makes me feel like I'm eating a chocolate cloud, and I get a kick out of the fact that I can finish the whole thing in about four bites.

But this? This is in an entirely different league. We split this homemade donut between three people and I could barely finish my portion. We watched them douse it in cinnamon sugar ourselves and it was served to us so fresh it was still warm. This is a dense little mouthful of heaven, with a richness in flavor and texture that shoots every commercial brand out of the water. And the cherry on top (literally!) is that every donut ring comes with the donut hole that was popped out of its middle. How cute! AND delicious!

Where you can enjoy these yourself:

Fred's Breakfast
13 East Randolph Street
New Hope, Pennsylvania
*But! The donuts are typically only available on Tuesday mornings.

Now, the thing about Fred's is that it's all a big secret. You can read more on their website about details, but the general gist is that you need to be a member in order to dine at the 31-seat counter surrounding the open kitchen. How do you become a member? By recommendation of a current member! It's an exclusive breakfast club with a retro-diner feel and very casual atmosphere, located right on the Delaware River. If you happen to know someone (like me!) who is a member, ask them for a Guest Privilege card to check the place out. Fred's is one of New Hope's best kept local secrets.

February 9, 2011

BEST French Toast

How good is this French Toast? Good enough that I didn't even add syrup (in part because they didn't have real maple syrup, but that's beside the point). Really, this was THE best French Toast I've ever had. The toast was so light and fluffy, made with - get this - HOMEMADE Challah bread! The texture and flavor of the bread itself is extraordinary. There's a sweetness to it that complements the seasoning in the egg batter that makes you really sit back and say "Wow." The seasoning definitely had notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, but there was something else in there, too, that I just couldn't put my finger on. But the whole meal was delicious - definitely come with an appetite (note how small that fork looks)!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Metro 29 Diner
4711 Lee Highway
Arlington, Virginia

February 7, 2011

Mushroom and Gruyere Tarte

I only like to occasionally include homecooked meals - and this dish is worthy of one of those few times (plus there's a recipe link at the bottom!). It's positively delectable: a light and buttery puff pastry smothered with layers of Gruyere cheese, fresh sauteed mushrooms, and sweet onions. There is beauty in simplicity. The savory flavor of the mushrooms and onions sauteed to golden-brown perfection (which I'm always a sucker for) melts into the mild-with-nutty-undertones cheese. This is a PERFECT appetizer, or serve two per person to make it a meal.

Recipe available in this month's Real Simple magazine - or find it on the website right here!

February 4, 2011

Salt-N'-Pepper Onion Rings

Crispy, seasoned rings of fried onions...talk about great comfort food! Not only are these rings COLOSSAL, but the added salt and pepper into the batter adds a nice, seasoned flavor that raises the bar. They also aren't greasy at all, so you feel a little better eating them.

Where you can enjoy these yourself:

Ted's Montana Grill
1512 Main Street
Warrington, Pennsylvania

The service here is great. We were out on a Friday or Saturday night, and our waitress was honest and realistic to us about how things were in the kitchen - for instance, she recommended we order our burgers on the rarer side given how things were going back there, and after taking her suggestion, they came out just perfect to our tastes. It's worth noting when you have great service, I think it really enhances the overall experience.

February 2, 2011

Brick Oven Margherita Pizza

I love pizza. As Guy Fieri (on the Food Network) has said, even bad pizza...is good pizza. But this pizza...is REALLY good pizza, and in a really nice little restaurant. Perfect for a date night, catching up with friends, or just enjoying your own company. And it's also reasonable, which is always a plus! Cafesano, Italian and Mediterranean food, would be one of my regular spots if I was in the area more often.

So back to this pizza. Let's start at the bottom. For someone who doesn't usually eat her crusts unless she's STARVING, take this for all it's worth: this was one delicious pizza crust. It was chewy but had enough of a crunch to it to hold the pizza up on its own, and the flavor was a little different - in a good way - than what you normally find (I'm guessing semolina flour). The sauce was light and tasty and was strongly reinforced by the fresh tomato slices on top. They also get extra bonus points for using fresh mozzarella across the entirety of the pizza, and the basil (which you'll also find layered between the sauce and the cheese) garnish was not only beautiful but added just that extra little touch of freshness to each bite, if you wanted it.

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

South Lakes Village Center
(Sunrise Valley & South Lakes Drive)
11130 M South Lakes Drive
Reston, Virginia


You're greeted by a huge menu full of wonderful-sounding dishes and options, and then you place your order at the counter, where you're surrounded on one side by olives, salads, and cheese, and on the other, by homemade soups. After you place your order, you get a number for your table and sit down, then wait until your food is ready and is then brought right to you. It's like a fusion of counterside order+pick up and a regular restaurant set up. A little different than what I'm used to, but quite nice!

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