¡Salud!

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Santé is, first and foremost, a wine bar — and they do have an impressive selection of wines on tap. They also have beer and other beverages, and their food (which is the primary reason I go there) is very tasty. They serve up small bites (I’ve heard these referred to as European-style tapas) that are pretty damn good. I’m a big fan of their walnut and blue cheese spread (it looks like a brown ball in a bowl in the picture below), but pretty much everything I’ve eaten at Santé has been fantastic. I’ll admit that the service is hit-or-miss depending on who you get, but on a sunny day their patio can’t be beat and is well worth the slow (bordering on neglectful, with the wrong luck) service.

In addition to wine, Santé really does dessert right. If you take a look at the picture above and the last picture of the post, you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about. In my opinion, their desserts are the best-plated, best-tasting, and best-designed dishes of all.

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Santé on Urbanspoon

Oh, honey!

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The first thing you should know about Tupelo Honey Cafe is that they will offer you a free biscuit when you arrive. Say yes. Oh man, say yes! Their food is delicious, but that big fluffy biscuit is like 75% of the reason I brave the lines and take out-of-town guests to Tupelo. It’s indescribable (and if you buy their first cookbook, the recipe for the biscuits is in there but you don’t get the secret to the herb & butter deliciousness they spread on it in the restaurant) and totally worth the wait.

But their food is no slouch — I tend to go for the Breakfast Bowl (pictured below), but on occasion I get their famous Sweet Potato Pancakes (pictured at end of post). To be honest, I only order one because it’s the size of a dinner plate and as thick as two ordinary pancakes combined. Still, it’s delicious. Everything here’s delicious. Nom nom nom. I mean, this is a great place for foodies looking to experience some Appalachian-inspired cooking.

*Note: I’ve categorized this restaurant as a “Local Chain” despite the fact that Tupelo is spreading to multiple states; given its roots in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I didn’t feel right lumping it together with the really big chains that have lost their region-specific flavor.

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Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

How do you take your eggs?

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Over Easy Cafe is one of those tiny little breakfast joints that’s so top-notch you wonder how they fit all their customers into such a limited space. Their food is locally-sourced, fresh, and well-prepared. I typically go for the Basic Breakfast (pictured above), and it may be “basic” but it’s definitely a cut above the rest. That’s their house “soysage” you see between my scrambled eggs and side of fruit, and yes, you can opt for a biscuit instead of toast (at no extra charge).

In addition to breakfast, Over Easy has an impressive selection of juices and smoothies (that’s the Waking Up juice pictured below) which they make right there when you order. Yup — freshly juiced fruits and veggies to round out your meal. I really, really love this place. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that they have excellent service!

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Over Easy Cafe on Urbanspoon

Afta Dinnah Special

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While visiting some friends-of-a-friend who live in Vassalboro, Maine, I wound up at the Pointe Afta in Winslow, Maine (no website). The restaurant was definitely a local hangout, with a majority of the patrons milling about, untethered to their tables as they wandered through the dining area visiting with friends. The Pointe Afta is casually decorated and immediately comfortable, and even though there aren’t a lot of vegetarian options on the menu, their choose-your-own-toppings pizza provided the opportunity I needed…and the pizza was delicious. While this is one of those “local hangout” establishments, I never felt out of place or alienated in the least. It was a laid back and easy dining experience.

Pointe Afta on Urbanspoon

Camden Delight

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I ducked into the Camden Deli while visiting the beautiful seaside town of Camden, Maine. I was starving, so I got myself a little treat to begin with: a lemon cupcake with raspberry filling (above). It made a delicious appetizer, and was really cute as well. For my entree, I ordered sandwich #37: the Lazy Jack (below). This vegetarian sandwich is served on the bread of your choice, and comes with Monterey jack cheese, fresh avocado, black olives, tomatoes, and mixed greens. All of the ingredients were fresh, and the sandwich was very tasty.

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Of course, once I finished my entree, the friend I was with opted for some Maine blueberry pie (below). I helped her out by having a couple of bites, and I have to say that it was a very yummy pie. The blueberries were especially flavorful, and the pie itself was quite good.

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While I don’t eat meat, my Maine-blueberry-pie-eating friend (who is also a native Mainer) opted for the Lobster Roll. I thought that, since I was in Maine, I should probably mention the Lobster Roll at some point. I’ve included a photo of her Lobster Roll (below), which she told me was not bad, but was also nothing special. It certainly looked pretty, though!

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Finally, I have to point out the very best feature of the deli: the view! I’ve included a photo from the second floor patio, because it’s pretty much everything a visitor could wish for from a restaurant in Maine. Overlooking a quiet waterfall that feeds directly into the harbor, it was a lovely way to spend an hour as we enjoyed our sandwiches and sweets in the sunshine.

Camden Deli on Urbanspoon

A Fast Break at Geno’s

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While visiting the Mohegan Sun resort and casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, I stopped by Geno’s Pub one day during a short break in the conference I was attending. The pub was comfortable and inviting, with several flatscreens displaying an assortment of live sporting events. I placed an order for the tomato and mozzarella salad (above), which was a nice light lunch. The friend I was dining with gave me her fries as well (below), which were crispy and nicely flavored. It was a quick, simple, and yummy experience.

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Chicago Dining

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The Chicago Diner is awesome! I have to begin this post by apologizing for the quality of this photograph: the lighting in the restaurant was very red, and this picture doesn’t do the food justice. (In an attempt to rectify this, I’ve pasted a photo of the same dish from the Chicago Diner’s Facebook page below.) The Chicago Diner is an entirely vegetarian (and very, very vegan-friendly) restaurant in Chicago’s Lake View district. I ordered the Radical Reuben at the encouragement of my friend, who introduced me to this wonderful establishment, and I was not disappointed. It was delicious. If I could, I would return to Chicago and eat the same sandwich all over again! If you’re ever in Chicago, whether you’re a vegetarian or not, you should definitely stop by the Chicago Diner for a memorable dining experience. This restaurant is one of my all-time favorites.

 

Chicago Diner on Urbanspoon

Purple Pig

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I ended up at The Purple Pig when I went to Chicago last month, and it was the happiest culinary surprise! All I wanted was something light and delicious, and that’s exactly what I got. I sat outside on their cute patio, at one of their oversized communal tables. It may have been mid-March, but it was also in the mid-80s and it was the ideal day for patio dining. I ordered one of the smears (I have now forgotten which one, although I remember it being sweet and delicious…pictured above), the marinated olives (which came with some really yummy pickled veggies…pictured below) to start.

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Then I ordered the best, and most surprising, dish of all: the Salt Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese & Pistacio Vinaigrette (below). It was amazing. This was a delightful find, and if you find yourself in Chicago, just north of the Chicago River along the Magnificent Mile, be sure to stop in at The Purple Pig for “cheese, wine, and swine” (as their subtitle proclaims)!

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The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon

A Sweet Start

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I used to eat at Jeannine’s Bakery and Restaurant when I still lived in Santa Barbara, California. I remembered them for their relaxed and sunshiny atmosphere and their scrumptious baked goods, and when I went back after about 7 years, they were just as good as I remembered them. Perhaps better, since their menu strikes me as being more creative than it was last time I was around (but that’s based sheerly on old memories, so don’t quote me on that). I knew immediately that I had to try their coconut and pineapple scone (pictured above). Oh man, it was incredible. And my friend ordered the strawberries and cream scone (below), which was equally delicious. The strawberry scone was milder and would have been great with a glass of cold milk, while the coconut scone was just amazing all on its own. Of course, for old time’s sake I also had to get a croissant for later (pictured at bottom), and it was just as light and fluffy as I remembered it being. I’ll be back next time I’m in town, and you can believe I’ll be counting down the days for this treat.

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Jeannine's Bakery - Upper State on Urbanspoon

Creative Pizza

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The Brewery at Lake Tahoe is one of those places I end up visiting every time I’m in town even though the service is unbelievably slow. There’s just something about the place — the casual, happy atmosphere; the vast menu full of comfort food; the noisy cheer and of course the house-brewed beer — that keeps me coming back for more. Even though we had an hourlong wait this time (we did, after all, walk in during the peak dinner rush with a group of 10 people), the staff was friendly and helpful. Our waiter even got up on a chair and took some pictures of our group for me (twice!) and smiled and joked the whole time. I couldn’t resist the Bad Ass Loaded Baked Potato Pizza (pictured), and I was not disappointed. The pizza comes with spicy white sauce, garlic, diced baked potatoes, parmesan cheese, peperoncini, green onions, bacon (I subbed tomatoes), and a drizzle of sour cream ranch sauce. It was perhaps the most delicious pizza I’ve ever eaten…and I could have split it with at least two other people, because there was no way I could eat any more than a couple of slices. So if you go to the Brewery at Lake Tahoe, you can expect some slow but friendly service, and some really great comfort food. It’s worth the trip, even if it does take a while.

Brewery At Lake Tahoe on Urbanspoon

Bella Breakfast

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On the way from San Francisco to Tahoe, I popped in to the Bella Bru Cafe in El Dorado Hills, California. I was just looking for a quick, simple breakfast and was really excited when I found that they had more than just bagels and muffins. The fact that they use natural and local ingredients was an added bonus. I ordered their Huevos Rancheros (pictured above), which came complete with eggs, corn tortillas, black beans (they’re hiding under the tortillas in this photo), salsa, avocado, and potatoes. It was cooked to perfection (the eggs weren’t at all runny, but they were also not overcooked or chewy), and the service was incredibly fast. I also ordered a white tea and an apricot scone for the road (pictured below), both of which were delicious as well. I actually forgot about the scone for a day or two, and when I got around to eating it, it was still fresh and flavorful. This was, by far, the best surprise-meal of the trip!

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Bella Bru Cafe on Urbanspoon

Gus Rocks!

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I stopped by Gus’s Grocery in San Luis Obispo, California, on my way up to San Francisco a couple of months ago and I really enjoyed my experience there. Gus’s is a casual little place where you fill out a checklist to place your sandwich order, and you can either take your sandwich to go or eat it outside in the sunshine on their simple patio. It didn’t seem like anything special, but their ingredients were fresh and they had a good amount of variety — two of the most important things in a deli, in my opinion. I had no problem ordering a vegetarian sandwich; some delis will charge you meat-sandwich prices even when you don’t get the meat, which can be really annoying when a sandwich is running you close to $10, but Gus’s not only didn’t charge me meat-sandwich prices but they also didn’t charge me for the avocado. I love it when places count the avocado as the meat instead of charging you meat prices and adding a fee for the avocado on top of that. So yeah, I loved Gus’s. The atmosphere was super low-key, and the staff was friendly and funny. Their service was really quick, too — we had 4 people in our party, and we all got our food really quickly. It’s not fancy, but it sure is delicious!

Gus's Grocery on Urbanspoon

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