NashVegas

29 Mar

The Best Bites in Music City

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to visit some friends who live in the Nashville area.  I had  heard many things about Nashville, most of which focused on the gold and glitter of twangy country music.  I was pleasantly surprised by the newly established indie rock wave that has set up there.  It’s given Nashville much more of an Austin vibe.

While there, our group was treated to some really amazing restaurant experiences!  I recognized some of our stops from Guy Fieri’s Drive-Ins, Divers and Dives, but all were  unique, tasty and quirky in their own ways.

 

Loveless Cafe

Mama - Rest in Peace! Your Lagacy Continues!

 

The Loveless Cafe is a must for breakfast/brunch.  Family style was definitely the way to go, with unlimited breakfast treats including fresh fruit, biscuits with jam, a variety of meats (bacon, sausage patties, Canadian bacon, etc), grits and – my personal favorite – the hash-brown casserole.  Every bite was incredible, and they are by far the best biscuits around!

 

Smoker Outside? Try a Smoker-Mobile!

 

I was once told that a BBQ joint is not legit unless it has a smoker on the property.  Well, this place has several, including one on wheels!  This is a must for tailgating in this region, for sure.  Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint lies just outside of Nashville, in Nolensville, TN.  We walked in and the place smelled

redneckpancake

The Redneck Pancake

like home – only sweeter.  I vied for the brisket sandwich with a side of pinto beans and cornbread pancakes (yes, they legitimately look like pancakes!).  Some other highlights from the table included the pulled pork and the redneck pancakes (OMG – WINNING!).  The sides were great; just don’t eat any of the “green bean” looking items in any of the beans.  We were not sure what they were or what they were marinated in, but they were HOT!!!  Beware!  I loved how the signature sauces were sweeter than any Texas BBQ sauce I have ever tried.  They weren’t TOO sweet – just right!  Same thing with the cornbread; there were hints of sweetness compacted with the spicy jalapeno flavors.

 

If visiting Martin’s, make sure to keep on down the road a bit until you hit an Amish grocery store called the Feed Mill.  They have tons of great take-homes, like their various fruit butters (blackberry was my favorite by far), specialty pickles (mmmm bread and butter!) and honey.

 

Half Priced Wine + Champagne? Yes Please!

As the weekend involved some birthday celebrations, our trip would not be complete with out some fancy food and several bottles of wine.  Enter Rumba Rum Bar and Satay Grill.  Our waiter was tons of

stuffed peppadews

Small Favorite: Peppadews

fun and then some, and kept the wine flowing.  Because we all went there on a Sunday, we were able to enjoy their special of the night: half price bottles of wine and champagne.  FUN.  The menu set up resembled tapas – lots of flavors and interesting fusion.  We tried the flatbreads, tempura green beans, stuffed peppadews (pictures – AMAZING), mussels and fried/grilled artichoke to start.  Round 2?  Sliders, more flatbreads (they are that good), the chorizo burger, the red curry stir fry and the roasted Piedmontese beef tenderloin.  Everything was so good, and no one at our table shied away from sharing.  Sampling great food is the best!

 

All our escapades eating out should not be overshadowed by some amazing homemade pizzas my friend Susan cooked.  Her husband (and birthday boy for the weekend) is originally from Kentucky, and he had some special, spicy sausage which was local to the state of Kentucky to add as a killer topping for one of the pizzas.  Oh yeah, small other tidbit about the sausage pizza: substitute marinara sauce for mashed potatoes.  BOOM!  For the vegetarians in the group (and those observing Lent), Susan provided a roasted veggie pizza, too.

One thing I love about Nashville, aside from being Austin’s doppelganger, is how inexpensive everything is!  Food, beverage, land – everything.  It’s nice!  The weather was gorgeous.  The spread out homes with giant lawns, built upon acres and acres of land were all so pretty.  The attitude there was refreshing, too: very laid back, calm and all about enjoying the space and sounds.  I definitely want to go back soon!

 

Our Group
Eating Out

What a Fun Group to Eat Out With

 

 

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Il Formaggio, la Carne & il Vino: Una Boccata

18 Mar

Jimmy’s Food Store: A Dallas Staple

Jimmy's Food Store

I wanted to take the time to pay homage to one of my favorite local spots: Jimmy’s Food Store.  It amazes me every time this locally owned and run Italian grocery store comes up in conversation and so many people pause and say, “Wait, what’s this place?  Where is it?”

Jimmy's Food Store

Jimmy's, Located on the Corner of Bryan and Fitzhugh

Jimmy’s has a rich history in Dallas, starting back in 1966.  Grandpa Jimmy DiCarlo owned a grocery store in South Dallas for over 20 years, and then he and his son (also Jimmy, also owned his own grocery with his wife, Marie) decided to open Jimmy’s Food Store together.  After Grandpa Jimmy’s passing, Father Jimmy recruited his sons, Paul and Michael, to work in the store.  Over the course of its existence, Jimmy’s served as an imports store catering to many different cultures in the community.

Marie DiCarlo

Mama Marie, Rolling Her Infamous Meatballs

It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that the brothers decided to go back to their roots and start featuring Italian products as the focus of the store.  Their mother, Marie, rolled her famous, home-made meatballs, and the boys started stocking the shelves with Italian wines.

Today, while you won’t see Marie rolling her meatballs anymore, her recipes are still in full force.  Upon entering Jimmy’s, you will see hundreds of Italian wines stocked on shelves, fresh produce, home-made pastas and sauces in the refrigerators (I highly recommend their lobster ravioli and tomato vodka sauce), Italian-imported sweets and the famous meat counter in the back where everyone finds their way.  The family still owns Jimmy’s, and nine times out of ten I see Mike when I walk through the door.  The staff is nothing but knowledgeable and helpful when you are trying to pick out the best salami for your dinner party or when you are perusing the wine section, broken down by Italian provinces.  You might be caught off guard by their cheese selection; Jimmy’s offers an array of cheeses to pair with your sausage/salami of choice.

Muffuletta

MMmmMm - Muffuletta

You can also order food from the kitchen.  If you are in the area and happen to be craving a muffulleta, you now know where to go!  It’s to die for!  Stop by on a Saturday for a meatball sub and snag a wine sample (they are always offering tastes of the different regions).  The house-made cannolis are nothing to be joked about.  Order a side of olives to take home with you – you won’t be sorry!

What really makes this spot unique and wonderful is its commitment to staying “local,” as well as its family roots.  So many restaurants in the Dallas area feature meats from Jimmy’s Food Store; you probably have no idea how many!  One of my favorites at Fireside Pies, the Hot n’ Crumbled, features spicy Italian sausage from Jimmy’s meat counter!  Parigi on Oaklawn, Bolsa in the Bishop Arts District, State and Allen in Uptown and Rise n°1 in Inwood Village all feature foods from Jimmy’s as well!  I love the atmosphere when you walk into the store; everyone is so friendly .  I can’t tell you how many dinner parties I’ve planned for and purchased food for there; the guys at the counter are so helpful and always have great tips for serving!  While Central Market might have a more extensive cheese selection, they have nothing on Jimmy’s meat options!

James DiCarlo

James, aka "Father Jimmy," DiCarlo

If you find yourself in the area and planning for dinner, needing something to do on a Saturday afternoon or if you happen to be coming into town to visit friends/family, definitely check out Jimmy’s!  You won’t be disappointed with the experience, the smells, the tastes – anything!  They also offer gift cards which make for excellent stocking stuffers around the holidays or gifts for the culinary savant in your life.

For more information on Jimmy’s Food Store and the history of the family, CLICK HERE.


Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Chocolate

22 Feb

The Chevy Sweet Hunt

The Aussie & The Longhorn

Words cannot express how fun this event was!  My company, Fleishman-Hillard, held a sweet scavenger hunt, so to speak, for foodies who are prominent in the Dallas social media scene.  Not only did I transition myself immediately to this account solely to help plan this project (OK, I ❤ Chevy, too), but I also was able to tag along as an “undercover” blogger.  I helped recruit some familiar faces to participate, too!

So, the rundown:

  • 2 Video Cameras
  • 4 Stops Along the Way
  • 4 GM Vehicles With OnStar to Get Us “There”
  • 12 Foodies, Mouths Watering
  • 100+ Tweets and FB Posts For the Event
Rise No. 1

The Strawberry Soufflé

Participants were given either a Buick Regal or the new Chevy Cruze to test drive for the weekend in honor of the Hunt!  How cool is that?  Free gas and that new car smell? YES please!  Participants went from restaurant to restaurant, dessert tasting to dessert tasting, in their designated car with the help of clues and the use of OnStar.

We started at rise nº1 in Inwood Village, one of my favorite spots in Dallas!  After Urbano had to pass at the last minute due to a large party renting out the space, Sarah F. and I had an epiphany: RISE to the occasion!  And that the restaurant did!  It was definitely a favorite of the day.

Choc Secrets

Chocolate Well Kept Secrets

Second was Chocolate Secrets, a fabulous sweet boutique on Oaklawn.  I have driven by this place millions of times, but I had failed to ever stop by.  The decor was so cute, and the soothing sounds of live jazz set the mood.  Smells of wine and chocolate swirled in the air.  It was definitely a delectable experience; stop by and try the dark chocolate with sea salt caramel!

Dude, Sweet Chocolate

The Dudes & The Sweets

A quick jaunt across town to the Biship Arts District took us to Dude, Sweet Chocolate.  This was a great experience, as the owner Katherine Clapner opened up her store to us as a school of the savory and sweet!  She shared with us how she concepted, created and sold her wares, all while chopping, mushing and sharing a taste of said wares.

Bolsa

A Plate Full of Bruschetta

And finally, we ended up at Bolsa for a fun lunch.  We shared apps (like the bruschetta sampler) and enjoyed what local produce and goods the Bag had to offer.  Several hunters enjoyed what the proclaimed Bishop Arts mixologist had to offer as well.  Me? I needed a tall glass of water after all of that sweetness!

What a fabulous day, and what a fabulous way to promote local restaurants and an incredible brand!  Thank you @ChevyTexan!  Check out the new blog page, Driving the Heartland for a write up and more information on the foodies who took the tasty tour about town.

Chevy Sweet Hunters

Chevy Sweet Hunters

Almeh…

21 Feb

Triston Simon’s New Digs Are A-OK – And That’s About It

Alma

Almost...

Perhaps it was the prolonged opening, pushed back again and again by torrential winds, ice and snow.  Perhaps it was the excitement that I let build too high.  Perhaps it was the legacy that sits before the Simon restaurant name that ended up leading to a let down.  Either way, our experience at Alma (the old Cuba Libre spot) was just Ok.

The Drinks

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.  We started off with some signature cocktails: hmm, interesting selection but nothing stood out.  I was expecting sangrias and margaritas, but instead we saw odd tequila based punches and brandy meets milk.  I really felt this was mixology gone sour.

Sopes

The Brandied Horchata and Tasty Sopes

The Apps

The queso fundido, featuring Chihuahua cheese and touted by the select few who enjoyed the pre-opening private dining event, was greasy and the cheese almost seemed to curdle.  A crony at the table brought up a good point: you must be careful when mixing oily and greasy together.  Chorizo is a very oily sausage, and when mixed in a mini crock with melted cheese you’ll need multiple napkins and some hand sanitizer to feel clean.  The sopes? TO DIE FOR!  They were great!  Perfect mix of veggie, crunch and flavor!

Enchilada Rojo

Just Alright: Enchilada Rojo

The Mains

Everyone on our four-top ended up ordering something different with a few sides!  This is a prime opportunity to showcase how well rounded your menu is.  I opted for the signature pork dish, the cochinita pibil (anchiote-marinated pork shank).  It was tasty, and I thoroughly enjoyed the side of mole sauce the waiter brought me; sadly, the latter was the best part of the meal.  The main component was just OK.  The enchilada rojo, featuring braised short rib, left MUCH to be desired.

Street Corn

It's the Small Things That Count: Side of Street Corn & Mole Sauce

The enchilada de pollo verde was very good!  The flavors were definitely there, and the Chihuahua cheese fit in wonderfully with this mix.  However, keep in mind  you are still pay $16 for chicken enchiladas.  The breadwinner was Michael who actually ordered the tacos de carnitas (pork jowel – you heard me) but received the tacos de carne asada.  He definitely had no complaints as this was the best entre of the night.  The meat was very well seasoned, came with an array of sauces that were delightful but not even needed, and the house made tortillas were soft and delicate.  The sides and sauces really made the meal.  The favorite of the night was the “street corn,” scoops of grilled sweet corn mixed with queso fresco and chili mayonnaise served in mini husks.  Talk about delicious!

The group was too full for dessert, but the menu didn’t even provide many tempting options. Once again, nothing stood out and no one was “WOWED” instantly.  So, it was easy to pass.

To sum up, the overall experience was fun.  The ambiance was great.  I really love what they did with the decorating, especially upstairs.  They added a fireplace which was a nice touch to a fun lounge area where patrons enjoyed pre dinner cocktails and apps.  The service was friendly – but almost too friendly.  There’s something to be said about a waiter who knows his boundaries and when to leave the table alone.  I left feeling like I wouldn’t really go out of my way to come back to Alma.  With anchors like Hibiscus and Victor Tango right across the street and at similar prices, that’s a no-brainer.  Plus, I have a problem picking out my courses at those restaurants because everything sounds SO good!  At Alma, nothing was exciting or really jumped out.

Cafe San Miguel

Try the Pomerita!

For the price, I just really was not impressed.  As before mentioned, it wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either.  Just a tip for those who want to be in the know: Cafe San Miguel is right down the street if you want regional Mexican cuisine; they are the self proclaimed inventor of the pomerita (pomegranate marg) and have a FABULOUS queso fundido, sans the grease-o.

Tomato Bisque Bliss

10 Feb Tomato Basil and Grilled Mozarrella
Tomato Basil Bisque and Grilled Mozarrella

Tomato Basil Bisque and Grilled Mozarrella

I am still in a soup coma after Tuesday night’s creativity session in the kitchen.  Inspired by a near and dear friend, Katie McKinley, along with Dallas Snowpocalypse Part II, I decided I wanted to make a warm and comforting soup with plenty of leftovers to last throughout the bitter cold remainder of the week.  You say potato, I say tomato.

Legs like spaghetti after Monday night’s spin class with Cindy, there was NO way I was headed back to the gym Tuesday night.  So, I hurried off to the Walmart grocery in Uptown to grab a few delectables for a soup concoction.  Go ahead and check off all materials except the basil for my tomato basil bisque.  Hmm… that won’t do.  Albertson’s? Same story!  Was everyone having the same epiphany on Tuesday night?  Evidently basil sales spiked at 4pm on 2/8/2011.

New flats rubbing my toes wrong told me it was time to head home.  I knew it was time to call in reinforcements.  Coaxing Andy with a free meal, I asked him to help out and swing by Newflower on the way over.  An hour later, poor Andy showed up with cold hands, basil, a ball of the best Mozarrella Company mozarrella (duh?) and a loaf of fresh French bread.  Oh, the plot thickens with extra ingredients, but what’s with the delay?  He had to stop by not only Newflower, but also Whole Foods AND Tom Thumb to actually locate any basil.  Wow – stock up, Dallas.

Tomato Basil and Grilled Mozarrella

Gooey, Melty Mozarrella Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

So, stealing tips from Miss McKinley’s recipe while adding my own love, I created what was possibly the most flavorful and comforting tomato basil bisque.  Andy made tasty mozarrella grilled cheese sandwiches to accompany.  Another revolutionary food movement!  The leftovers might be just as good, too.  MMmMmmmMMMm…

Quick side note: FINALLY heading out to Alma tonight!  Due to the two rounds of aforementioned Snowpocalypse, the opening of Alma had been pushed back.  However, it looks like we will still be enjoying a first taste as they are just now quietly opening to the public.  Sit tight for a review to come!

NOSH > NOM

10 Feb AuroraClosed

Move over, Aurora!  Avner Samuel, you made a very wise choice in reinventing your little restaurant on Oaklawn.  The buoyant atmosphere and constant crowd at the bar is a strong indicator of the successful revamp.  Not to mention, the food speaks for itself.

Nosh

The New Aurora

Not a stranger to the location (across the street from Al Biernat’s and down the strip from La Duni) and having heard acclamations from plenty of my fellow foodies, I had been dying to try Nosh.  It has been open for six months, maybe, but I just had not taken the opportunity to stop by.  A partner in crime, Jodie, texted with an open invite to her reservations on Super Bowl weekend – I couldn’t possibly pass up!

The arctic blast coursing Dallas’ every vein tried to foil our plans.  My ride showed up a few minutes late due to the treacherous road conditions, and THEN his car got stuck in my driveway (which might as well have served as an ideal sledding hill).  Having averted a real crisis of sliding the Bimmer into trash cans, trees and a few pipes, the poor car was at a standstill, tires whirling in place on a sheet of solid ice with no snow shovel in sight (we live in Texas, people).  What to do? Pass on the reservations and settle for a cozy night in by the fire?  Of course not…

Twelve pitchers of steaming hot salt water later, the sheet of ice was ready to be picked at and broken up by a dust pan.  Free at last, free at last – we finally showed up to meet the group almost an hour late.  Whoops!  Oh well, TOTALLY worth it!

On the menu for our table –

  • Starters: humus with hand crafted pita, the life changing Egyptian falafel, and creamy parsnip soup with truffle shavings
  • Entrés: lamb chops for Jodie (if you think I passed up an opportunity to share, you are sick), the flat iron steak “au poivre,” roasted pork shoulder, the Kobe burger (simple, but one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted), and the fish special – a comforting breaded and pan seared fluke; OH, can’t forget the side of mac & cheese with truffle oil and shavings (the latter we actually didn’t ask for – HUGE pet peeve when waiters assume you want an addition, but it was TASTY).
  • Dessert: what?
Port

Port = Much More Elegant Than This

Several bottles of fabulous wine (Silver Oak at wholesale, thankyouverymuch) lead to and even more fabulous decision to end the night with port wine.  Content and completely full.  Thank you, Jodie Fagan.

Insignificant notes from the night: we were stationed at a table by the entrance to the back room where Jennifer Aniston and her entourage were dining.  Two diners whose attention spans were not as consumed by the food were escorted out of the restaurant after making fools of themselves while trying to catch Jenn’s attention.  Upon heading out, we passed a vibrant Chelsea Handler at the bar.  The camera does actually add a couple of pounds; she is TINY in real life.  Glad she was getting ready to eat a full meal of fabulousness.

Having a Moment: Linda Richmond Would Be Proud

27 Jan

Sharing Sentiment w/ Morgan, Mussels & My Old Friend, Pinot Noir

That’s right – I had a life changing experience last night.  It all started over a Benny’s Bad Day recovery plan, Dancing Bull and some juicy gossip.

Urbano

An Absolute Must

My friend Morgan called me with news that employment with her current company was finally over, and she was moving on to much better things.  Celebrating the new job was immanent! BYOB + Urbano Cafe was a must; I had the wine (so I thought) and I live super close.  Reality check: my wine stash had drastically depleted since arriving home from work – what happened???  A quick text from Morgan affirmed everything was alright; a bottle of La Crema and a bottle of Dancing Bull were on the way.  Stress release – it would indeed be a good night!

I had been to Urbano for lunch before, but never dinner.  What a fabulous experience!  The venue is intimate (as you very well know if you have ever been there), but there is an adjoining bar studio next door for overflow and first taste libations.   Pop goes the La Crema.  Perched at the bar counter, we mingled with some of the staff and learned about a wonderful online community for artisans and craftsman called Etsy.com (touted as the world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace for all things vintage, artsy and, well, handmade).

On the way back to the main cafe, we passed a long, family style picnic table where appetizers were abundant – particularly a mussel dish that looked bright with color.  I thought to myself, “We will revisit this.”  Then a quick aside – when have I ever considered ordering mussels???

Good conversation, appetite evaluation and consumption of another glass of Pinot finally lead to menu selection.  Everything we tasted was amazing.  The mussels put everything to shame in comparison.  They not only melted in  your mouth immediately upon contact, but the soupy tomato sauce the mussels were served in acted as a grade-a dish in it’s own.  You order extra bread to lap up goodness such as this!  The pork poppers, salads (we tried the 1410 and shaved fennel) and chicken Saltimboca were all spectacular; I knew they would be.  We kept eating – and eating – and eating.  But I digress; let me get back to the mussels. A-MAZING.

Having a Moment

Still Having a Moment

I fear that I set too high a precedent with my first mussel eating experience.  I might never recover or find anything close to its equal in a similar dish.  Maybe I simply discovered a new favorite food?  Either way, I highly recommend them!

Last taste of the night: completely stuffed and satisfied, we rolled our way back to my house to see what Dancing Bull had to offer – NOT MUCH.  I do not recommend…

New Dallas Dives

26 Jan

Don’t Miss These New Dining Hot Spots

I came across this Pegasus post about new ventures in the area: Restaurant openings spell good times for Dallas scene and economy.

Huge Knife & Fork

Big Silverware is Funny

I would definitely take a minute to peruse that list towards the bottom of the page which spells out more than twelve new restaurants that are sure to peak your curiosity!  Note a prominent trend in this list, too.  Looks like elevated south of the border is the new black.

As you know, I will be partaking in Alma’s soft-opening next week, so I found the info on Komali to be of special interest as well.  For those who don’t know, Komali is yet another local favorite to-be which will feature regional Mexican cuisine, conceptualized by Salum head chef and restaurateur, Abraham Salum.  Let’s hope Komali is a bit better than its next door neighbor, which I found overrated.

My apologies for all the posts regarding new restaurants!  I guess it’s just that time of year…

Nourishing and Delicious – Alma Arrives!

25 Jan

The highly anticipated opening of Tristan Simon’s new Henderson hot-spot has finally arrived!  Filling in the old Cuba Libre space across from the Old Monk, Alma sings to new inspiration focusing on regional Mexican flavors.  Reports of the past weekend’s private event Tristan hosted for personal friends to preview the Alma experience have left the every-man hungry for more!

Alma Executive Chef, Michael Brown

Executive Chef, Michael Brown

Sorry Rick Bayless, but Dallas has gained one hot chef!  Previously the executive chef at Red O in LA, Michael Brown comes to the Big-D with high hopes of carrying on the Tristan Simon dynasty.  Brown brings quite a bit to the table, including a resume rich with history (including stints at several Wolfgang Puck restaurants throughout California).  I have the highest hopes for this restaurant rejuvenation as all of the elements are starting to come together.  Reading about, as well as talking about, the projected menu is enough to wet my palate.

Alma will feature an elaborate range of elevated Mexican cuisine, from the Chihuahua cheese appetizer (queso on steroids), to a spit-roasted whole pig (cochinita), to delicate and delectable dessert options (tres leches anyone?).  Brown promotes an experience that includes new and extremely familiar food options – all of which will leave you and your stomach in a state of dining bliss.

Alma Offers New & Exciting Flavors

Alma Offers New & Exciting Flavors

The closing of Cuba Libre’s doors has been a topic of frequent conversation.  The overall mentality regarding the restaurant in its last days was simply, “Meh…”  The management had changed.  The staff was not as sharp.  The prices had increased, while unfortunately the quality of the food had decreased.  It just wasn’t the same.  With Alma comes a Tristan intervention!  Bright and shining days are on the horizon!  Words cannot express how excited I am to see for myself the fruits of this face lift.  Needless to say, I will have much to report back after my first Alma dining experience at the soft-opening on February 1st!

Tasty tidbit: “Alma” is the feminine version of the Latin word, “almus,” meaning bountiful and nourishing.

Happy National Cheese Lover’s Day!

20 Jan

Seriously?  Really?  OH YEAH!  That’s right, my calendar says it’s National Cheese Lover’s Day!

I felt an instinctive need to share this with everyone, as pretty much ALL of my friends are obsessed with cheese.  Now I am starting to seriously reconsider my evening plan; a cheese tray comprised of delectables from Jimmy’s and some Pinot Noir at the Wine Therapist sounds very tempting!

Cheese Display

Happy Cheese Day!

Special acclamations to my friend Melinda who is enduring a rigorous no-cheese diet until April.  Girl, I have no idea how you do it!

Some thoughts I will leave you with:

  • What is your favorite type of cheese?
  • What Dallas restaurant do you think offers the best cheese tray?
  • When do you eat your cheese?  As an appetizer, with your main course or, as the French do, as your dessert?

Regarding the above, I would have to say aged, sharp white cheddar or a rich, creamy brie; Rise No. 1’s cheese cart; and cheese anytime – all the time!