Summer Vacation: Puerto Rico and Cape May, NJ

So let’s just put it out there. Ive been slacking on my posts. Its summer for goodness sake! Give me a break. ūüôā¬†Ive been traveling for the past month and bought everyone back a gift. Inspiration!

Puerto Rico

This year our family visited Loiza, Puerto Rico. Loiza is located about 35 minutes from the San Juan airport and is filled with awesome beaches. Though not as popular as San Juan for tourists, the locals dominate this area and now I understand why. We stayed on a beachfront rental community. I cooked most of our meals but we did get a chance to try two places that we enjoyed.

El Verde BBQ

El Verde is a truly local, no frills restaurant. Great for grabbing food on the go for the family as the portions are huge! The meat is sold by the pound and the sides are very large. Before I get to the food I must mention their pina coladas. The pina coladas were sooo good! No mixes used at El Verde; very authentic with just the right amount of rum. They were so good we went back two times during our stay. Now onto the food… We ordered the chicken(whole), rice and peas, sweet plantains, mofongo, and pork ribs. Monfongo is a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine. It consists of garlic flavored mashed plantains that are not ripe(sweet) yet. It’s a savory dish that pairs well with various meats and sauces. El Verde makes their mofongo very simple but tasty. If you are visiting the San Juan area try to visit this local gem. The prices are low and the food is just plain good!

BBQ Chicken, mofongo, and pork sausage

Pork ribs, plantains, BBQ chicken, rice and peas, and dried pork

Punto De Vista Restaurant

We decided to visit the Old San Juan area to walk around pick up some local treasures. When we arrived in the city we were hungry and decided to stop at Punto De Vista. It was conveniently located on the corner right across the street from the water and offered outside seating. The waitress mentioned the mofongo was really good so I ordered that with skirt steak and a garlic sauce on top. I would imagine this version of mofongo would be perferred by someone not familiar with the dish. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of steak and potatoes. The consistency of the plantains were more like chunky mashed potatoes so they paired well with the small strips of steak. The garlic sauce was just salty enough. The rest of the girls ordered fish tacos as they weren’t as daring as I was. They were just as tasty as I snagged one from my sister’s plate. Their version of tacos are rolled up versus being rolled over.

Cape May, NJ

After a great week with the family, I decided it would be a great time to spend some time with Shonn before he heads off to grad school. The time has finally come for my Mason scholar to head into the world of higher education. I know that he will be studying and networking for the next two years so I wanted to plan a little getaway. He decided he wanted to visit somewhere with sand so I chose Cape May. I always wanted to visit Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast so this was a perfect opportunity to get what I wanted and what he wanted. We stayed two nights at Akwaaba’s Buttonwood Manor in Cape May, NJ. Before we got on the road we stopped at Panera Bread for breakfast. I ordered the egg white, spinach, tomato, and avocado power sandwich. The sandwich also came with white cheddar and I added ham as well. Yummy!

410 Bank St

En route to Cape May I started reading articles about the town’s food offering. Based on reviews, we decided we would try 410 Bank St for dinner. Upon arrival we were immediately seated outside in the garden area. Our very attentive waiter greeted us and opened our bottle of wine(they are BYOB but also carry local wines from Cape May Winery).

We started with the mako shark. Overrated, but Shonn enjoyed it. It was seared in a sweet thai chili sauce. Very popular dish according to our waiter. Shonn ordered the gumbo after rave Yelp reviews and recommendation from the waiter. I order the chilean sea bass. I usually order the sea bass whenever its on the menu. The gumbo was really good; not too spicy as I feared. It was more of a stew consistency and was loaded with yummy andouille sausage and seafood: shrimp, scallops, crawfish, and a lobster tail. The chilean sea bass had a pecan crust and was accompanied by a shrimp and crawfish creole sauce. So good and the portion was huge. The fish was cooked to perfection, so moist and flaky. I attempted to eat all of it but Shonn was ready and waiting to finish it for me. The thing that made this restaurant a winner was the service. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been blown away by stellar service. This was at the top of my list. We recommended 410 to a couple staying at our B&B and after visiting, they shared my sentiment. Great place!

Mako Shark

 

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Chilean Sea Bass

Gumbo File

Gumbo File

Rea’s Farm Market

Simple review… Stopped at this small farm market on our bike ride to the Cape May Lighthouse. I picked up a ripe, sweet tomato and was greeted by Mrs. Rea. She was so sweet and told me the tomato was a great choice. Agreed!

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Willow Creek Winery

In our journey to the lighthouse we stumbled upon Willow Creek. Needless to say I was super excited to stop and sip. We rode our bikes through the beautiful vineyard which was about a five minute bike ride to the actual tasting location. I enjoyed seeing and reading about the different grapes in the wine making process. We made it to the tasting room which was a massive room with immaculate woodwork. They offer about 10 different types of wines ranging from ones that were exclusively made on sight and some that were mixed with a California grape. The best part about the visit was our wine tender, John. He was very helpful and passionate about each wine. I definitely recommend this place for anyone in the Cape May area. Oh, and they also sell eggs! The chickens greet you as you ride by their area. ūüôā

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Key West Tacos

After an afternoon of bike riding, we were pretty hungry. On our walk back to our B&B, we walked past Key West Tacos. This place is very true to it’s surroundings and has a nice outside garden area for seating. My favorite taco was the shrimp taco that happened to be on special at the time. There was a nice pineapple habanero sauce that was super tasty. Shonn ordered the pork and mahi mahi tacos.

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Black Duck

It was our last night in Cape May so we decided to end the trip with a good meal. I hadnt been hungry the latter part of the day for some reason but knew I needed to eat something. I asked my friend Jessica for recommendations as she owns a shore house in Wildwood and knows a thing or two about the NJ shore restaurants. She recommended Black Duck so Shonn and I made reservations for their last seating of the night, at 9. We walk in and the restaurant was a bout half full as patrons were ending their meals as the restaurant closed at 9:30. We started with the guazpacho: roasted tomatoes, blackened shrimp, and housemade guacamole. Burst of flavor! Shonn ordered the crab cakes with spiced Yukons, garlic spinach, and a lemon nage. I ordered the pan roasted salmon with¬†lobster, spring vegetable risotto a red wine syrup and spiced shallot. The food was phenomenal. I couldnt finish my food but savored every piece I did manage to get down. I can’s wait to go back when we are in the Cape May area. By the end of our meal we were one of the two parties left so the wait staff was very attentive. We felt like we had the place to ourselves. What topped it off is that it was a 2 minute walk from our B&B.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

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Salmon with lobster, spring vegetable risotto a red wine syrup and spiced shallot

Crab cakes

I hope you enjoyed reading about my awesome time away from reality! Where are you vacationing this summer?

Empanadas: Reviews and a Weekend Getaway

Good news and bad news… Good news is that I was able to try a good deal of empanadas this month. Bad news is none of them were in Philadelphia.

Remember those gracious friends I told you I was visiting in New York? Well, they outdid themselves! All the credit goes to my friend Kim who made empanadas her mission. I am very thankful for the time and effort she put in to make sure I tried a diverse sampling. When all was said and done, I tasted six different kinds of empanadas.

I will also add some restaurant reviews at the end. Not at all related to empanadas but still helpful information if you visit New York and are overwhelmed by all the good eats.

1. ABC Cocina

As soon as you walk into this place you know you are in for a unique dining experience. The decor was very delicate but rustic. Chandeliers and brick walls set the tone of this eccentric menu. The tapas style menu includes remixes of familiar dishes. We started off with the spring pea guacamole. For my entree I ordered the spring pea empanadas and the beef empanadas. I also ordered churros because it seemed right. The spring pea empanada was very unexpected. They had a nice kick to them and the side of green chili yogurt was a nice compliment. The churros were perfect. Crispy and light with a yummy crunch.

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2. La Sonrisa Empanadas Flatiron

After walking around after brunch we decided to make our way to the Flatiron district. While there, we stopped by Madison Square Eats. I of course wanted empanadas and found this gem. As soon as I walked up I was greeted by a gentleman who was eager for us to try their empanada offerings. I ordered the chicken coconut curry and Shonn was undecided on the beef and veggie. He ordered both after chatting with the fellow taking our order. Shonn mentioned my empanada journey and he threw in the pork empanada for free so I could try them all and give a fair assessment. The four of us tried them all and the veggie and chicken coconut curry were tied. I personally enjoyed the veggie empanada the best. Very flavorful! They also served the empanadas with four different sauces which I can’t remember the name of. I do know one was a chipotle mayo. Yummy! I would definitely visit this place again.

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Restaurant Reviews

1. Miss Lily’s¬†Soho

This place is popping! We walked in around 10:45 and the place was way live. Reggae music permeated the place and set the tone for the hip crowd. We were seated and greeted by a sultry waitress who was serious about her moves. Any chance she got she was gyrating in the middle of the restaurant. She was of course joined by the other waitresses who had zero shame in their game. On to the food… The roasted coconut jerk corn. Seriously. Amazing. You really only need about 3 minutes to devour this piece of heaven. Go for it! Shonn and I shared the curried goat. Falling off the bone with just the right amount of heat.

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3. The Meatball Shop Upper East Side

Why use a dry erase menu? Because they can and they do. As the name suggests, it’s all about meatballs here and you can build any type of meal you want. Meatballs with pasta, meatball sandwich, meatballs with polenta, even meatballs with a simple salad. Have it your way. I chose the chicken meatballs with pesto on top of polenta. Comfort goodness! In addition to their regular menu items, they feature daily rotating specials that include items like the daily meatball, veggie, cocktail, and more. I ordered the Fool-aid off their specials menu. It tastes just like that stuff you drank as a kid. Too sweet for me. What was not too sweet was my custom ice cream sandwich. One snickerdoodle and one chocolate chip cookie with espresso ice cream in the middle. I would definitely recommend this place. Unlike the other million great places to eat in the city, this place won’t send you to the poor house. They also have jello shots. Cheers!

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Photos courtesy of Yelp…

3. Locanda Verde Tribeca

This cute “urban Italian” place hosted us for brunch. We started with the Pastry Misti Del Giorno, which included a sour cherry jam scone, lemon pound cake(super lemon punch), blackberry glazed donut, and an almond danish. Decadence! For my entree, I ordered the zucchini fritatta with roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil. It had just the right amount of goat cheese. Nothing worse than have a heap of goat cheese that over powers every other flavor. My favorite thing about this place was the open kitchen. I loved seeing the food coming out and the flawless system they have.

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4. Luzzo’s BK Brooklyn

I love pizza, but that’s nothing new. This place is awesome! Service was impeccable. The pizza was everything you expect out of authentic Italian cuisine. Can’t decide which wine to drink? Just give the waiter liberty to decide for you. His choices were dead on for all of us. We ordered the margherita and Luzzo’s BK pizzas.Get here!

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After reading that novel of a post, hold tight for my recipes!

Road Trip: Raleigh and DC

After an awesome time in Savannah and Charleston, we arrived in Raleigh, NC. I had already researched a great BBQ restaurant(as featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives) and was more than ready to dig my teeth in some ribs!

Raleigh Dinner: The Pit Authentic Barbecue 

We walked in to the very crowded restaurant at 9:30 after making reservations earlier that day. Its a good thing we made reservations as the wait was around 30-40 minutes. After being seated our waiter greeted us immediately. He brought waters and gave us the run down on the restaurant. He also let us know that a team of three will be servicing us for the night. After giving us some time, he took our drink orders. We ordered a pitcher of the local brew, Lonerider Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen. It was a German-style wheat beer that complimented the BBQ really well. We ordered the pumpkin cornbread as a starter. Right after we ordered the cornbread another waiter bought out a basket of biscuits and hushpuppies. Bread heaven! I tasted a bite of each and all were so good! The pumpkin cornbread came out in a skillet so the bottom was nice and crispy and the inside was nice and moist. The accompanying maple butter was a nice compliment.

We decided to share the Big Boy combo after speaking to the couple sitting next to us. The boyfriend(from Lancaster, Pa) mentioned it was more than enough to share. The combo includes a nice portion of pork chopped BBQ, beef brisket, BBQ chicken and two pieces of each kind of rib(baby back and Carolina style). For sides, we ordered fried okra, mac and cheese, and baked beans. It was more than enough! We ate until we were about to pop and still took about half of it back to the hotel with us. Our waitress started casual conversation with us and asked if we were from the area. We told her we were from Philadelphia and she demanded we take some banana pudding home with us, on the house. Southern hospitality at its best. Thanks Kristy!

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Buttermilk biscuits and hushpuppies

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Pumpkin cornbread with maple butter

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Big Boy Combo: pork chopped BBQ, beef brisket, BBQ chicken and two pieces of each kind of rib(baby back and Carolina style). Fried okra, mac and cheese, and baked beans

Banana pudding with a meringue topping (picture courtesy of Yelp)

If I am ever in the Raleigh area, I will be making it my business to visit this place again.

DC dinner: Pizzeria Paradiso

I knew I wanted food that had nothing to do with Southern cuisine after having a weekend full of it. I decided to have my favorite food of all, pizza. We walked in and got seated right away. We ordered a local brew, Atlas Brew Works Saison Des Fetes, a fruity, refreshing beer. We ordered the Insalata Paradiso(Baby Arugula, Goat Cheese, Sweet Red Pepper, Mushroom, Pine Nut, Citrus Vinaigrette) to start and small Di Mare(Paradiso Tomato, Minced Garlic, Parsley, Mussels, Parmesan) and Genovese(potato, pesto, parmesan) pizzas. This brick oven pizza delight was everything a top notch pizza should be: a thin crispy foundation with a chewy crust and yummy toppings. The mussels on the Di Mare could’ve been seasoned better, but the broth on the crust was a nice compliment to the tomatoes. The potatoes and the pesto on the Genovese were just divine!

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Insalata Paradiso

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Di Mare: Paradiso Tomato, Minced Garlic, Parsley, Mussels, Parmesan

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Genovese: Potato, Pesto, Parmesan

This road trip was everything I hoped it to be. I stepped out of my box and engaged in dialogue with people who are passionate about quality food. I met people who were proud of their cities and its food offerings. I explored 5 cities and ate some of the best food. I learned a great deal from this experience and am so thankful for it.