Thursday, July 28, 2011

Whirlwind San Francisco: Day 1

Earlier this year I told Steve that I was going to take him somewhere for his birthday, and of course it was his job to choose the place. Because his brother had recently moved to San Francisco, it was almost no choice at all; unfortunately, the amount of vacation time we could allot for this trip wasn't very much. What we were left with was flying out west on a Wednesday evening - after work - and not arriving until past midnight. This would give us two full days in San Fran before a one-night stop in Vegas on our way back east.

Of course, our flight was delayed - because that always happens - and we checked in to The Hotel Carlton on Sutter Street at around 2 AM. It was right to bed and up by 10 for our first day in San Francisco!

We wanted a nice big breakfast/brunch and Steve's brother suggested The Grand Cafe - but when we arrived there around 11, it wasn't open yet! Thankfully we had just passed a deli on the other side of the street - David's Delicatessen (at 474 Geary Street) - so we decided to pop in there. And it was really, really good. Not exactly cheap, but for around $40 we each got huge meals, Cappuccinos/Espressos, and mimosas. I have since checked out the Yelp! reviews for this place and honestly don't understand why it has such terrible ratings. The coffee was good, the pancakes were light and fluffy, the server was attentive enough and got our orders correct...we were nothing short of pleased with our meal there.

After breakfast/brunch we were off to pick up Steve's brother at his office (he works in the same building as the Twitter offices!) and from there to a baseball game - Giants vs. Marlins at AT&T Park.

Sadly, the Giants lost - but our seats in View Box 317 were worth every penny we paid for them on Stub Hub (about $45 each with Stub Hub fees). If you're ever headed out to San Fran and want to catch a baseball game, I highly suggest checking for seats in this View Box!

Post-game we stopped at Eddie Rickenbacker's (133 2nd Street) for a couple of drinks. This bar is a favorite with locals and the motorcycles and Tiffany lamps showcased in this bar give it a feel all its own. I was almost disappointed when we left to go change and grab some dinner! We ended up eating at Buca di Beppo - yes, I know it's a chain but we don't have them here and I'd heard good things. We weren't disappointed! The family-style dishes were great - it was so nice to be able to order three huge meals and share with everyone. And on top of that, the restaurant itself was cozy and had tons of great decor items lining the walls. I'd go back in a heartbreak!

And as for being a bit disappointed about leaving Eddie's earlier in the day? No fear...we went back for more [drinks, that is]! We rounded out our first day here and honestly, it was a perfect first day - because really, what's better than yummy food, baseball, and beer?
Phew...do we look ready for bed, or what?

Monday, July 25, 2011

"I'll take the butter burger, please!" or, The Story of how One Woman lost her Steak-n-Shake Virginity

I'll admit it - I have a long history with Steak-n-Shake.

Not because I'd ever been there before, mind you. Because I refused to go there.

I'm not even sure how or why it started. I do know that in the summer of 2002, one of my best gal pals extolled the virtues of Steak-n-Shake to me and repeatedly attempted to convince me to go along with her as she grabbed numerous late-night meals there each and every week.

"No," I kept saying. "I just can't do it."

Something about Steak-n-Shake grossed me out. Was it the name? A little bit. Was it the fact that I didn't eat fast food, and wrongfully assumed that's what Steak-n-Shake was? Partly. It also didn't help that the only Steak-n-Shake in my area at the time was in the G H E T T O.

When I "met" my friend Marcy in late 2008 and realized that she had what can only be called "a Steak-n-Shake problem", I had been set in my ways for so long that at best I would ignore her stories about her numerous Steak-n-Shake visits; at worst I maybe poked fun of her about them (to her, not behind her back!). But when she started her quest - "Around the State in 70 Steaks. And Shakes." - I had to follow along.

Now, the idea to participate in said quest was something that came to me slowly but surely. Maybe it was that Marcy was going out of her way to visit every Steak-n-Shake in the state of Indiana...in the course of a single year. Maybe it was the mouth-watering pictures of burgers and milkshakes on the monthly Steak-n-Shake coupon page that kept finding its way into our mailbox. Or maybe it was the anagrams.

Okay, it was probably the anagrams.

But I digress.

Finally, one Sunday I pulled the Steak-n-Shake coupons out of our junk drawer (seriously, that's what we call it) and announced to my husband that we were going there for dinner.

"What the heck is Steak-n-Shake?" he asked - because he never lived anywhere other than Connecticut (until late 2009) and we don't have Steak-n-Shakes there.

"Err...I think it's sort of like Friendly's?" I explained (yes, with the inflection of a question. HA! rhyme.) "But with milkshakes instead of sundaes."

Husband wasn't sold, but he knows better than to say "no" to me and off we went.

The restaurant wasn't too busy when we arrived, but the hostess didn't seem to have any idea on God's green Earth where to sit us. Seriously, I couldn't tell if she just didn't want to be there or if she maybe wasn't intelligent enough to handle her job. We were finally shown to a booth and greeted by our waitress - who was the same age as the hostess (late high school? just graduated? an age that's so far in the past for me I can no longer tell exactly how old kids are when they're in that general range) but the exact opposite of her in personality. Her name was Mandie and although I think Husband scared her a bit with his anger over his placemat puzzle, she was absolutely great. Really friendly and engaging.

I, on the other hand, impressed her with how quickly I solved my anagram. I maintain that I did not use the picture of a stack of 32 pancakes as a hint. (Yes, we counted the pancakes, and there are 32 pictured.)

My meal was a Wisconsin Buttery Steakburger, fries, and a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough milkshake with chocolate chip cookies on the side (!!!), which I just had to order after reading about it in one of Marcy's blog entries. Husband ordered a Pepperjack melt and a Peach milkshake.

The verdict?

::DRUMROLL PLEASE::

...it was all delicious! Though I'm not sure about the butter burger (a bit too greasy, but that should have been obvious) we both wolfed down our food, and when we were too full to finish the milkshakes there you bet your butt we took them home with us.

And - excitement abounds! - those coupons even came in handy! Albeit only for my burger and Husband's milkshake.

Our Very First Ever Steak-n-Shake visit was a rousing success. I think it helped that when we walked back outside, stuffed to the gills with burgers and fries and milkshakes, there was a gorgeous classic car parked right in front of the restaurant.

Dear Steak-n-Shake,

Though you may never replace Friendly's as my favorite burger-and-ice cream-joint, I will be back. Just keep sending those coupons. Thanks for being so good during my first time.

Yours, butter burger filled stomach and all,
Tara

Friday, July 22, 2011

First Girls' Pint Night Out at The Art Bar on Main

The Art Bar on Main opened back in early May and I've been dying for a chance to check it out.

Enter a new Meetup group, Greenville's Girls Pint Out. Normally I'm not big on rushing downtown after a long day of work, but the first event they posted - a beer tasting with cheese pairings for only $10 - was right up my alley and I couldn't say no. Needless to say, I'm glad that I dragged myself out last night!
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The Art Bar is above all a great concept. Located right on North Main downtown in a narrow three floor storefront, it is decorated with some truly interesting artwork by local artists (most of which, from what I could tell, was for sale). With eclectic - but not too big - beer and wine menus and a smattering of tapas-style food options (try the French-style flatbread with artichoke hearts, goat cheese spread and carmelized onions! it's amazing), the great thing about The Art Bar is that they aren't trying to hard. And yes, that's a good thing! They are doing what they do well rather than giving patrons too many average options.

Top all of that off with some amazing happy hour specials (half off bottles of wine and $2.50 quality beers such as Bavaria, Duck Rabbit and Thomas Creek - just to name a few), which run from 4 - 7 PM every day (even on Saturdays!) and all I can say is that I will be back.

As for the event itself - for $10 they started us off with a bottle of Bavaria and moved on to tastings of four different beers. The tastings were served in large shot glasses and paired with delicious cheeses, crackers, salami and chocolate from Whole Foods. And one of the best things about this event was that a portion of the proceeds went to Meals on Wheels Greenville! Pint Night Out lasted about two hours, but when it was over they announced that happy hour specials would continue all night long for those of us who had participated.

The proprietors of Art Bar were on hand to talk about their restaurant and chat with the customers, which added a truly friendly, open feel to the place. Let's just say that this is another great downtown establishment, so whether you stop in for happy hour or check out a future Pint Night Out I'm sure you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hotel Review: Econo Lodge Downtown Louisville

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I stayed here over a holiday weekend (Labor Day) and was honestly surprised at the value we got with this hotel - a fairly low rate of $60-ish per night (though keep in mind high taxes and a parking fee, the latter of which was not being assessed when we stayed).

As a warning, it is across the street from a night club and we did have one night where there were some loud people outside--but overall, the room and lobby/breakfast area were clean, the staff was pleasant, the continental breakfast was good, and the location for the price was awesome! Walking distance to many downtown attractions - 4th Street Live is just a few blocks away but if you don't mind a bit of a hike you can walk to the Galt House, many other downtown restaurants, the Yum Center, even the Louisville Slugger Museum.

Beyond the one night where there were loud people outside, the only other complaint I had was that the maids threw away my personal bar of soap. I'm not sure why they did so, but I was a little annoyed at that.

Keep in mind that this hotel is on the cusp of a not-so-great area of Louisville so I would make sure to keep your car locked and valuables on your person.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mojo's is no Five Guys, but still worth a stop

I'm not big on fast food, but personally I don't count restaurants like Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Mojo's as part of that category. They serve high quality meat and fresh-cut french fries, so really...who's going to argue with me?

My mom - a big burger fan - has been raving about Mojo's for quite some time now and I finally dragged Steve there on our way to the movies one day. The Greenville Mojo's is conveniently located in the Cherrydale area, a quarter mile at best from the Regal Cinemas there. It was a perfect stop for a quick meal before a matinee movie.

The restaurant is spartan in decor, perfect for a laid-back burger joint with black-topped tables and bright red chairs. Everything was spotlessly clean and the employees were friendly.

At Mojo's you order your food and they give you a number, which you take to a table to wait for them to bring your meal to you. They have baskets and peanuts available to snack on - for free - while you wait, which is always a plus. But don't snack too much, because they load you up with the food here! I ordered a Cheesy Haystack burger, Steve a hot dog, and we shared a large fry (big mistake, pardon the pun - we really only needed a small fry!) and a vanilla milkshake.


This entire meal cost us $15 and change and as you can see it was a lot of food for that amount of money. Everything was tasty and high quality and while I wouldn't say either the burger quality or fries were equal to Five Guys, I really love how Mojo's offers some great specialty burger options and the milkshake was one of the best I've ever had. Needless to say, we enjoyed our meal at Mojo's and we will be back!

Mojo's Famous Burgers & More on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Off-Season in Traverse City

Earlier this year - toward the end of March, to be exact - I had the option of taking a short trip up to Traverse City, Michigan. In the summer - and especially during the time of their Cherry Festival - Traverse City is bustling with tourists. But in the winter, it's cold, the beach isn't an option, and to be honest there isn't a whole lot to do.

Thankfully I still had a blast, as I was visiting a good friend of mine, someone I hadn't seen in about three and a half years - and I was at least able to get a taste of what Traverse City has to offer. It's a quaint little lakeside town and I can only imagine how much fun it is in the summer!

(Of course, that's me writing knowing that people from the surrounding - a.k.a. driveable - areas are the ones who frequent TC the most. To be completely honest it's not exactly the place one would plan a full vacation to, involving flights and whatnot.)

My trip, though quick, consisted of a few great highlights, starting with great meal at North Peak Brewing. This was later followed by a few drinks at what locals call "The Top of the Park", officially known as the Beacon Lounge. This cozy bar has some amazing views of downtown Traverse City and Lake Michigan!

After Top of the Park Beacon Lounge, we headed over to Kilkenny's, an Irish Pub located under North Peak. There was a great live band and we even got a glimpse of some of the local color as we watched people dance ;) And of course, more drinks were had and we got a bit, well, silly...
Kelly and I
Mocking the crazy people dancing

Eventually the band took an extended break and we headed over to one of TC's other [few] nightlife spots, two connected bars that are locally known as "The Doublewide" but officially named Bootleggers and Dillinger's. They were playing a decent mix of 80s hits, 90s alternative and current pop and hip hop and whereas I can see it getting old if it was one of the only places to ever go, it was fun that night. Of course, the tequila helped.

The next day was a late wake-up and a yummy hangover meal at local favorite Bubba's, and then I had to say goodbye to Kelly (sad) and head back to southern Michigan for a very early flight the next day.
One last picture with my girl!
(Told you it was a short trip!)

The short of it is, I doubt I'll ever return to TC, especially as my friend is now talking about moving away from Michigan. But I can definitely see why someone who lives within a few hours of the area would return there for long weekends time and time again. Even at only 25-ish degrees, it was a pretty little city and the option of the lake in the summertime is surely a huge bonus :)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

We'll definitely be back to The Velo Fellow!

The Velo Fellow opened about two months ago in the space below Mellow Mushroom at 1 Augusta downtown, and having heard good news about it we knew we had to get over there and check it out. So one night after a Drive game, looking for a beer other than Yuengling and a quick snack, we stopped in for what we thought would be just a quick drink and bite to eat.

There was a decent crowd and we could tell at first glance that the layout and decor were right up our alley. We approached the bar to order and the bartender was knowledgeable about their beers; although their selection is not as extensive as Barley's or the Trappe Door they have some great different taps and over two dozen bottles.If you're looking for Miller or Bud, this isn't the place to go, but if you enjoy craft beers and beers from the UK, I highly recommend checking out the list!

As for the food, we ordered a delicious brie & bacon sandwich and the fried green tomato appetizer. The pimiento cheese was some of the best I've ever tasted, but I wasn't so sure about the batter on the fried tomatoes - it was, to be honest, a bit too seasoned for my tastes.

When we arrived the background noise was just people talking, but a little while later a two man band took the floor. I think some actual background music - maybe Stones, Beatles and the like - would have been a great addition while waiting for the band, but at the same time it was nice to sit and wait for our food and have the ability to hold a conversation and hear each other.

Of course the title of this review says it all - we will be back to the Velo Fellow, to sample more of their menu offerings and hopefully a few new beers as well.

The Velo Fellow on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Beach time!

This morning I received an email from TripAdvisor about 10 beaches that should be on your bucket list. Now, to be completely honest...I hadn't been to any of the specific beaches listed. But I have been to a lot of beaches - one in California, many in New England and Florida, a couple in North Carolina and Virginia, and of course Myrtle Beach here in South Carolina. Not to mention Nice and countless beaches in the Caribbean. So I thought...hey, why not make my own list?

Of course, I'm only going to name five beaches. And they are my "top 5". Of all time. One of them is members only (sorry) and the other you can only get to on a Disney cruise (again, sorry)...but they all come highly recommended by yours truly!

5. Elephant Rock Beach

I think the actual beach is technically in Rhode Island, but you have to drive through Massachusetts to get to it. This is the "members only" beach that I mentioned, but trust me when I say that it is amazing. The beach is pristine, there are beautiful houses along it, ruins of houses destroyed in hurricanes past, and really cool rock formations out in the water. If you ever have a chance to go here, do it. You won't be sorry.

4. Pass-a-Grille Beach, St. Petersburg Florida.

Pass-a-Grille is a beautiful white sand beach with clear water. It tends to be less crowded than other beaches in the St Pete/Tampa area (in my experience), so if you're looking for a beautiful, quiet beach where you can relax...Passe-a-Grille fits the bill! (err...pardon the rhyme)
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3. Clearwater Beach, Clearwater/Tampa area, Florida.

Clearwater is just up the road from Pass-a-Grille and much more touristy, but I love it. Again, it has the white sand and beautiful water that many beaches on Florida's west coast boast (look at my rhyming skills today!) but a bit more life than Pass-a-Grille and other Gulf Coast beaches near Tampa.

2) Castaway Cay, Disney's island in the Bahamas.

I heard so many amazing things about Castaway Cay that I assumed it was too good to be true - but I'm here to tell you that it's not. Specifically the adults-only beach, but the island as a whole is spotlessly clean with again...white sand beaches and gorgeous water (I'm hoping you're seeing the pattern, here). Even better? The beachside cabanas where they offer massages. One of the best experiences of my life.

So yes, it's Disney, but trust me when I say it's more than worth the trip!

1) Tabyana Beach, Roatan Island Honduras.

This beach more than deserves this number one spot. Although it is a tourist beach and can get a bit crowded, the people who run it do an amazing job of keeping everything clean. There are locals selling their wares, $25 beach side massages, parasailing, and the best snorkeling I've ever experienced on the reef just off shore. This little island off the coast of Honduras is a great getaway and less touristy than most Caribbean islands and I really can't suggest Roatan as a destination - and Tabyana as a beach - enough!
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I hope you've enjoyed hearing about my five favorite beaches! What are some of the best beaches you've been to?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Trappe Door has it all!

(If amazing food and an awesome beer selection constitute "it all" for you like they do for us, that is)

We got together with a group of beer loving friends to check out The Trappe Door last weekend, and I can't emphasize enough how great the entire experience was. Although I do wish they had assigned our group of 14 two waiters, the one we had did a good job keeping up with us and was also extremely knowledgeable about the beer list and able to make some great suggestions.

The Trappe Door is a fairly new establishment located under Barley's Taproom, the main entrance being on West Washington between Barley's and Wild Wing Cafe. Personally I'm a bit tired of bars opening in basements in downtown Greenville - when they get crowded it gets a bit creepy and the bathrooms never work properly. But thankfully, The Trappe Door isn't trying to be more than exactly what it is - a Belgian themed restaurant and bar located in the exact place it should be, a basement with wood beams, dim lighting and sparse decor.

Along with a great setting, The Trappe Door offers over 150 beers, the majority being true Belgians with a short list of Belgian style beers brewed in the US and Canada. As previously mentioned, our waiter (I'm pretty sure his name was Eric) had tried many of the beers on the list and with just a bit of explanation about what beers we liked was able to give many of us perfect suggestions. My absolute favorite of the ones he gave me was Unibroue's Trois Pistoles - by far one of the best beers I've ever tasted!

Now, I was so hungry that I put away my food (and some of Steve's) before I could take pictures, but we tried the Lamburgers with beet relish and goat cheese, the Carbonades flamandes, and the Belgian waffle dessert. The Lamburgers were good as an appetizer, but to be honest for $9 I wish there had been more than just two of them. Also, the Belgian waffles could have used more ice cream (one tiny dollop of vanilla over three large portions of waffles just wasn't enough!) and maybe some more fresh fruit as well, but were otherwise delicious.

However, the Carbonade flamandes - a traditional Flemish beef stew - was possible the best beef stew I have ever tasted. It was worth every penny (at only $14) and I cannot recommend this dish enough.

A friend that was with us also tried one of the mussels dishes and ranted and raved about it; in fact not one of the 14 of us had complaints about any of our food or any of the beers suggested by our waiter.

All in all, The Trappe Door is a great experience and an awesome new hangout. Whether you just want to grab a great brew or have a tasty meal and the whole shebang, this is truly the place to go. Just keep in mind that you pay for what you get - although there are a handful of beers on the list that run $4-4.50, the majority are in the $7-9 price range...but worth every penny ;)

The Trappe Door on Urbanspoon