Last Bit of Toronto Recap

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Ah, Toronto. You’re going on my list of places to return to. Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin was around the corner from my Air BnB rental. Albany John found them and they were a favorite morning stop for us. They even made me a really tasty decaf cappucino (I was on a decaf kick for a while there). They also had a pretty tasty pecan butter tart, which makes for a fabulously decadent vacation breakfast.

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Since I was staying in the heart of Hipsterville, Toronto (Kensington Market), I decided to check out one of their many unique food offerings. Bunner’s Bake Shop on Augusta Ave was just a skip away from my rental. The storefront itself was minimalist once inside, with an open plan so you could peep everyone making goodies in the background. They have a vegan soft serve which I had to try just out of curiosity. It was a small cone, about 3-4″ high for around $3. We’d probably call this kiddie-sized here in the Capitol Region.
Overall it wasn’t really my thing. It was icy, had a bit of a lingering aftertaste that was parts cloying and bland. I think it was an almond-milk based plain vanilla cone that tasted mostly of almond milk, which is to say, not much. Hard serve vegan ice cream has a better texture and flavor to me. It was fairly icy because of the milk used (coconut milk, with its higher fat content, would yield a creamier confection). If I were vegan, this would rock my world because I hadn’t seen vegan soft serve before. But since I’ve been eating dairy-based ice creams all summer I found this gritty and generally unsatisfying.

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But thankfully Bunner’s is right next door to Dolce Gelato. Someone tipped me off to their pistachio gelato, and I had to get in on that (left). Oh man, was that ever delicious. They use real pistachios, and the flavor just shines through. This rich, toasty pisatchio gelato just hit the spot for a creamy, rich dessert. The pink grapefruit on the right was also a winner – tart, sweet and perfectly nailing grapefruit in frozen form.

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And then I got a cold, because what else do I do on vacation? Albany John and I walked around downtown Toronto as much as I could (not much). We came upon a street fair and watched some buskers perform. That was cool. This guy was great, too. He really knew how to work the crowd and heckle rude audience members.

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More walking called for some banh mi. Not as good as Montreal or NYC, but better than we have in Albany.

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And a disappointing falafel wrap back in Kensington Market for dinner.

We grabbed some Montreal-style bagels at NuBugel on our way out. I like the size. They are a little more dense than NY bagels, smaller, and sweeter. Good for what it is, and something I’ll grab if it’s around, but not something I’ll go out of my way for.

I still hate crossing back into the US. The guards in Toronto were more aggressive than in Montreal. I wish the US guards would take a note from our neighbors to the north. The Canadian guards are nothing but polite, convivial, and generally nice people. The US border guards in my experience are usually aggressive and combative, as if they assume that you’re doing something illegal and want to catch you. The last time I had a positive interaction with US border patrol was over a decade ago. I just don’t see the point in the current mentality. Dude. I didn’t buy anything. I just went to Toronto for the weekend to see family and tourist around. No I didn’t buy anything. No, really, I’m not bringing anything over. Ok, did I buy anything? Yes, I bought dinner last night. And some chips at duty free. Which you should see since I have to give my license to check out at Duty Free. We could really be doing a better way of policing our border without coming off as stereotypical American bully types, you know? When I was at the 100th birthday party dinner everyone else spoke of how much they disliked crossing into the US because of how rude the US border patrol was. I am embarrassed as an American for this to be the first interaction someone may have when crossing the border, for this to possibly be their first interaction with an American.
The silver lining to this is that while the border patrol agents are more aggressive at the US/Toronto border, the line also moved much faster than Montreal, where I’ve usually had a 45 minute wait to return on a good day. Toronto was about a 20 minute wait. So I guess if I have to pick, I’ll go with ruder but faster border (ugh, one time I waited 3 hours in line to return to the US from Montreal. People were getting out of their cars and playing football on the side of the road).

Friends, and the Food They Bring

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Talk about a sweet week – on Sunday R came by with a whole bunch of delicious salted salmon roe from her trip to Mitsuwa the day earlier. Mitsuwa is one of those place I keep meaning to travel to. Any way, R hooked me up with a whole bunch of these roe for $34.99/lb!

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Delicious briny roe! I can’t find any salmon roe up here. The Asian Supermarkets have flying fish roe, but they’re not really well packaged and their turnover is poor, so the quality and flavors can be off. I was thisclose to sucking it up and paying $125/lb for a pound of salmon roe shipped from a website, so this was SUPER duper awesome!

Thanks R!

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And today R from Chopsticks Optional dropped off Monteal Banh Mi and Vietnamese cake from her mom! What a lucky girl with awesome friends I am!

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These were awesome banh mi. Albany John and I wolfed the first one down, but the second one we toasted on R’s suggestion and OMG, that brought the crisp crust back to perfect levels. Banh mi is all about the bread.

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Pandan, coconut, and mung bean cake! So delicious.

Chinese New Year in Flushing 2014

 

 

Last weekend I drove down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It was our first year celebrating without Yeh-Yeh, our family’s patriarch. That didn’t really hit me until shortly before my drive down, but for me simply having these traditions with family keeps us together and that is what is important.

The drive down was a breeze (when I drive to Flushing from Albany I go: 90E > Taconic > 84E > 684S > 678SHutchinson River Pkwy> Whitestone Bridge. It’s about 15 minutes more than taking 87S down, but it saves on the tolls up until the Whitestone Bridge ($7.50) and breaks up the drive into smaller chunks so I don’t get bored. It also probably seems more complicated to hop off of the Taconic onto 84E, but it’s a much smoother drive with better drivers than taking the Taconic down all the way (you avoid where the road narrows, and all of the crappy drivers on it).
I got in shortly after 5, and figured I’d have to drive a while for parking, but found free street parking within 30 minutes! Woo hoo! I didn’t have to move the entire time I was there. I don’t know about you, but when I head down to NYC, I like to park and just leave my car until I’m ready to head back home.

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For dinner we went to Jin Cheng Restaurant, which I protested because last year we had a pretty craptacular experience at the kid’s table, and I thought we went there more for its close proximity to Yeh-Yeh’s condo than the quality of the food. I’ve since discovered they are better at lunch, or when they’re not busy, so they’re not a total lost cause, but I had prepped myself for a less-than-awesome Chinese New Year dinner because Chinese New Year Weekend in Flushing = every Chinese Restaurant is gonna be mobbed.

I was pleasantly surprised with how GOOD dinner was. Maybe it’s because we were a smaller group and not two big tables. (Maybe Yeh-Yeh was in the kitchen yelling at the chefs for me 😉 ) It was my dad, his best gal, my uncle, Albany John, and me.

We started off with Beef and gai lan. Great wok hei on the beef, and super tender.
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Honey-walnut-mayo prawns with broccoli on the left. Plump and fat shrimp, no complaints there. Fresh crispy skin chicken at the top, and the same beef on the right (after initial decimation)

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Lobster Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. We got two big lobsters. So perfectly cooked. I would say this is one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. This way, or just steamed.
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Whole steamed flounder. Mmm. It looks big, but it’s easy to eat a lot of. So light and good.

Albany John and I went for a little walk after dinner to digest. Naturally we wound up at Tous Les Jours, a French-Asian bakery.

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Like most Asian bakeries, there’s a bunch of goodies laid out for you to pick yourself, plus refrigerated things behind the counter.

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I wanted to keep walking, so we had a late-night (for Flushing, i.e. 9 PM) picnic on a bench near the police station (I know romance).

I usually love the stuff Tous Les Jours makes, but man this was mixed bag. The vanilla milkshake was really unpleasant – lots of large chunks of ice, and cheap vanilla ice cream. Bleh. And $4.50 to boot.
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Here was the statue we noshed at, right in between the hubbub of traffic.
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Macarons: skip. Red velvet on the left and Oreo on the right. Red velvet had no notable red velvet flavor, and used a pasty vanilla buttercream as the filling. The black “Oreo” macaron also bore no flavor of its namesake, and was equally pasty. Disappointing. I should have avoided from the start because while these were not cracked, they had some cracked macarons on display, and if they took pride in their macarons, the cracked ones would never be up for sale.
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Albany John got a cream cheese pastry. These are epically delicious in an it’s-so-bad-for-you kind of way. I’m pretty sure I could hear one of his arteries start to clog. They don’t skimp on the cream cheese.

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I had a backup pastry which was tasty – a soft and fluffy bun filled with sweet potato filling and covered in almond flour/meal. Yum. Stick with the baked goods you can pick yourself and you’ll be good.
The next day we kicked off the day eating (of course).

Joe’s Shanghai to start for breakfast. We got there right when they opened at 11 AM and had no wait.

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Bready, soft scallion pancakes.
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Big steamer full of 8 Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). If you go to Joe’s Shanghai, you absolutely must get xiao long bao. The tongs are kind of unnecessary, and the teeth on them can pierce the skin of the dumpling, and there goes all of your soupy goodness. Their skins were good (but Ala Shanghai’s are thinner!), but the broth is where these dumplings shine. Each soup dumpling contains a glorious broth. Each dumpling is a treat, and if I think just a bit, I can relive those flavors for just a moment. The broth is thick and rich, with hearty flavors from both the pork and crab, but neither standing out over the other and instead combining to make this magical soup that you can’t get enough of.
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Shanghai style rice cakes, with some veggies and meat. Nice softness and wok hei.

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Two big bowls of soup. I think their soups are a bit on the bland side, at least after eating the xiao long bao. Beef chuck on the left, pork and veggies on the right. Noodles are okay, but they need a little salt or something. I think the soups at Taiwan Noodle are better though (deeper broth flavors and better noodles).

Then Albany John and my uncle split off to do their own thing, and Dad and his gal and I were off to have more adventures. I was SUPER excited because I was planning on going to Sunrise Kitchen & Hardware Supplies (4205 Main St, Flushing, NY). This place is awesome for all of your Asian kitchen gadget needs.

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Sadly for me, they took the week off for Chinese New Year. No cheap and awesome kitchen supplies. Next time. Sigh.
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Saw some lions on the street.
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Went to Rose House for an English-style tea break. Overall, I’d say it’s a nice place if you want to get away from the loudness and crowds in a pretty atmosphere and comfy seats, but that’s about it. All of the teas seemed to taste the same, and they were on the expensive side – $9.00+ per small pot.

Service was weird. A server initially told us there was a 2 hr sitting limit because it was the weekend (which was fine and totally reasonable), but then after being there for a total of 40 minutes the same server took away our tea warmers and started checking the pots. There were no crowds waiting for a table, either.

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Their butter cookies were decent, and despite finding a hair in the rose hips jam after I spooned some on a cookie it was freaking DELICIOUS.

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I broke off to explore on my own and found Pho Hoang on Kissena Blvd.

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There are tables, but order here at the counter for to-go orders. It also shares space with a Chinese butcher further near the front of the store. It’s not the cleanest looking space, but $4.00 for a banh mi was calling my name.
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Hello gorgeous. A nice baguette tucked into a parchment sleeve.

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SO GOOD! Look at that bread. It’s deliciously perfect little baguettes with a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, squishy interior. Great for banh mi and stuffing with julienned veggies, pate, meat, and cliantro. Yum, yum, yum.
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$4.00 for all of this, versus $6.50 (to start) for a small banh mi at Pho Yum in Albany that doesn’t even use the right bread.

I wound up going to a friend’s that night.

The next morning we went to Jade Restaurant for dim sum with one of my aunts and some cousins.

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More lions!

The wait wasn’t too bad, but my aunt saw a friend of hers who was a manager, and we got whisked off to a side room that I’ve never seen before (that was opened up to handle the Chinese New Year crowds). That was awesome – less loudness and craziness, all of the carted dim sum goodies.
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Food, food everywhere. So good.

We hung out for a bit, but soon it was time to hit the road.

But not before hitting up Pho Hoang one last time since Albany John was back.
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And there was a DRAGON group that came in!
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I got a regular banh mi ($4.00) & a duck banh mi ($6.00).
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They withstood the drive up pretty well – the bread stayed crisp and the interiors didn’t get soggy.
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Duck on the left, regular banh mi on the right.

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We both thought the regular/standard banh mi was better than the duck banh mi. Better flavor overall. The duck was good, but man, the veggies and meat are just SO good!

Princeton, NJ

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Sometimes you need to get away from it all. Sometimes the location is important, but sometimes it’s the people that help you reset. Fall 2013 has been one heck of a doozy for me. Being an adult is a wonderful thing, but sometimes responsibilities and things like that toss in a few complications. I’d been planning on visiting Daniel in Princeton, NJ for a few weeks, and by the time I got there it was exactly the mental reset I needed. You can read his account of our adventures here.

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I left Albany Saturday morning, and by the time I got through all of the craptacular NJ traffic (seriously, it was smooth sailing until exit 17 on 87S, then a bunch of eye rolling until I got to Princeton) it was time for lunch. Greasy and so-bad-but-so-good sounded good to me, so Hoagie Haven it was!

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I loved the interior – one big open space with a menu and chips on the left, and the ordering line up front. You could customize any order you wanted, and they had a cute menu of their own custom sandwich combos.
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Daniel suggested we go with sandwich halves, which was a good call. Like, a really good call. Each half was about the size of my forearm. Dan and I split a Sanchez (fries, chicken cutlet, mozzarella sticks, cheese, special sauce) and a Wakeup Call, which is more of a breakfast sandwich that Dan customized as eggs, bacon, cheese, pork roll, .hash browns, and mozzarella sticks (mozz sticks in place of their “steak” slices). And we also got fried mac and cheese. The kiddos split a half sub which was a Sanchez, but with marinara sauce in place of the sweet sauce we got.

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Overall, the kids deemed the mac & cheese better than their sub, which I have to agree with. Those were freakin awesome fried triangles of mac and cheese. Just the right amount of crunch exterior and creamy interior. Get the mac and cheese bites from Hoagie Haven.
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We paired the subs with River Horse Hop Hazard beer.
The Sanchez. Meh. Not my thing. The sauce was way too sweet, and the fries were too heavy and didn’t add anything to the sub. The chicken cutlet was okay because it was meat, and how do you not like meat? But overall, just “meh” in terms of sub. Thank goodness Dan also got the wakeup call so I wouldn’t forever judge his select sub shop with a raised eyebrow. The wakeup call was pretty freaking awesome. Hash browns are a way better sandwich choice than fries at Hoagie Haven. If you see fries, just swap them for hash browns. But no, the pork roll, bacon, and eggs were pretty tasty. I didn’t think the mozzarella sticks added much flavor on either sandwich, which was pretty disappointing and weird that they didn’t add much flavor.
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After lunch, the food coma started to set in, so Dan made some of his super sugary Cuban coffee for me.
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The mixing of the espresso with some sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff of sorts.
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The pour

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Bam, energy shot in a glass
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And then, get this, we went for a WALK after coffee time! I know! The Veal of People wanted to go for a walk. I am so happy for the exercise addition in his life!

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Princeton’s grounds are beautiful.

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Okay, enough of walkies, let’s get back to food. We went for two dinners, because that’s how we roll. The first place was Papa’s Tomato Pies.

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There was a magician at Papa’s, which the kiddos enjoyed, and was a nice distraction from the relatively short wait until our plain cheese pie came out. From what I can tell from this brief experience, Tomato Pie is kind of like a really thin (crackery) crust pizza with chunky tomato sauce, or chunks of sweet tomato sharing the spotlight with cheese.

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Papa’s crust was nicely thin. Not quite crackery, but quite ephemeral on its own. Papa’s tomato pie had a very short half-life in terms of enjoyability. The first slice was great. The second slice just a few minutes later was firmer and less enjoyable than the first as it cooled off. Still enjoyable, but just not as good as the first slice.
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Our second stop was DeLorenzo’s, which had one hell of a wait, and one hell of an inefficient hostess. The waiters were all taking peoples names and putting them on her list, telling her to seat people quicker. Yikes. And for some reason, she just kept telling the servers to wait, and slowly seating people. It was a weird experience. I’ve never seen waiters so openly tell the hostess they could handle more tables, and to seat more people.

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DeLorenzo’s pie was more of a crackery-crisp crust, which Dan and I preferred. The kids deemed Papa’s pie to be their preference of the two.

Compared to Papa’s the atmosphere at DeLorenzo’s was more chaotic – lots of TVs, bright lights, and not much in the way of noise control. It was a little overwhelming for me. BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD SOUNDS, AND PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Bit the pie was a nice crackery crust, and the tomatoes shone through.

Prices for both of the pies were in the $13 range. Not expensive, but I could see an adult eating a whole pie with ease.

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Then we were off for two desserts for our two dinners. First up was The Halo Pub, which is an ice creamery and not a pub.

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I got a scoop of peanut and cashew praline. The cashew was really good. The peanut, eh. This was only like, $2.50 for the ice cream, though!

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Then it was off to the Bent Spoon. I suppose you could call the Halo Pub an old school institution. Lots of wood everywhere. The Bent Spoon would be like the hipster child of the Bent Spoon. They had banana “ice cream” and more non-traditional flavors than the Halo Pub (but Halo Pub had more selection).

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Wall of hard to read flavors (for old people. I could read them just fine).
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Flavors for the sampling! These seemed more like gelato than ice cream by how they had them displayed.

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I got their Wild Turkey & caramel flavored ice cream, along with the very locally sourced NJ pumpkin and NJ mascrapone ice cream. They were both so good. Expensive, but so good. Something like $4 for this small ice cream. But really good. Like, I couldn’t pick a favorite between the two. They just nailed those flavors.

One of my favorite moments here was when Little Miss Fussy almost started crying. Why? Because she was full and sad that she couldn’t finish her ice cream. So freaking cute.

So then we went and slept off our foodings. To prepare for more foodings the next morning:

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Nino’s Pastry Shoppe for their icing filled donut. Which Dan said was more of a frosting sandwich, so of course I was all in.

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Their portions were enormous. Every good here was gigantic.
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Then it was off to the Eet Gud Bakery. Love those signs.
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Also very large portions.
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Here are the sweets we got from Nino’s: frosting-FILLED donuts, cream puffs, and cookies for the kids. The cream puffs were pre-filled, but maintained crisp exteriors. Nice job.
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We may have gone a little crazy at Eet Gud. So many things just looked so gud, though.
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So here is Nino’s frosting-filled donut on the left, and Eet Gud’s frosting-filled donut stick on the right. Nino’s frosting had more of a buttery feel to the filling, but it wasn’t great butter, so it had a bit of a greasy lingering thing going on in your mouth after you ate it. Not too sweet, either.

Eet Gud’s donut stick was my favorite of the two similar donuts. A slight shell of an exterior on the donut, cushy interior, and a sweet, thick frosting inside. Nice textural differences. Dan preferred Nino’s to Eet Gud’s for those same reasons, haha. He liked the softness of the whole dougnut and wasn’t a fan of the different textures of Eet Gud’s donut.

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Raspberry filled donut on the left, “mango” on the right. I say “mango” because that filling seriously tasted like Pez. There was no mango in there, but a whole lotta Pez.

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Pumpkin filled on the left, custard on the right. The pumpkin was awesome. Mixing the pumpkin with their frosting, Eet Gud churned out a donut with a great pumpkin flavor and a mousse-like texture filling. The custard on the right was like a Boston cream, but without the chocolate.

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the custard. It was kind of weak in the flavor department, so this was my wee dreg of donut.

And then I drank an entire pot of coffee, filled up with some cheap NJ gas and was on my way to Flushing, NY to see my uncle.

Manhattan & Queens

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Albany John’s Aunt and cousin were visiting NYC from California one weekend recently. Albany John and I took Megabus down, and it was hands down my worst experience with them to date. I will probably not use them again in the future because of how poor the service was. Their bus was 90+ minutes late with a heat index of 100+F  with only one update as I was driving there saying that the bus would be delayed, but not why, and just to stay in the area nearby the bus stop. The driver had extremely limited and poor communication skills, and there was a loose, capped syringe with needle on the bus entry way. When someone mentioned this to the driver, his only response was a frazzled shrug and “Heh, I don’t do drugs. I don’t do drugs!” The ride back was thankfully without incident, but after I emailed customer service, I only received a generic reply 10 days later that answered absolutely none of my questions or concerns. The main reasons I take Megabus is because of their timeliness, safety, and my previously positive experiences with them, but this was so awful… I’ll just drive myself next time I even think about going to NYC. Any way, once bitten twice shy, you know? Thanks for letting me vent.

So after all of that fun (the bus was also jam-packed, roasting), I made my way over to Copia to meet a friend where some of her friends were guest bartending with cheap (for NYC) drink specials.

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And then we continued the party at some pub place after that.

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Tasty fried calamari

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After that we huffed it to Rego Park to crash with Maka & CVS. Lunch the next day was from this place called Asian Bowl. They do some Thai & Chinese dishes. Sure, the name’s a little hokey, but they made some dishes that weren’t very heavy, and they’re all Kosher (no piggie :'( ), and only use olive oil.

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Albany John got Pad Thai and they had some really meaty shrimp in it. The chicken were really thin shreds, though. I thought it was a little heavy with fish sauce, but Albany John really liked it.

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I wasn’t super hungry, so I got some wonton soup, which they use chicken for. Very light, but good simple flavor.

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You know Albany John’s family is in town when we do something other than eating, hee hee. We visited the tenement museum in Manhattan that afternoon.

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Here are some houses that used to be tenements. But aren’t tenements any longer. I thought the tour was a little long, and they seem to really stretch out all of their information through multiple tours, which is unfortunate, because I’d like to be able to see everything in one go, not have to schedule 4 tours to see an entire building.

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Any way, enough with the educational stuff. I managed to convince everyone to walk on up to Big Gay Ice Cream on the East Side.

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The shop is tiny. Like, really tiny. Like, very easily under 400 sq ft tiny.

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So tiny. So very little waiting room. But they are fairly quick.

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I got the Monday Sundae which was a nutella lined waffle cone, soft serve twist, with dulce de leche, sea salt, and whipped cream. I’d read a bunch about them, and perhaps I’d built them up just a bit in my head, because while I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was all that amazing or soul shaking. The dulce de leche was tasty with the sea salt, but the actual ice cream I didn’t really enjoy. It was okay, but nothing special. I’d say you can skip the Big Gay Ice Cream if you’re coming from Upstate New  York. The toppings are what set this shop apart, if only the ice cream matched it.

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Albany John got a $7 horchata milkshake, and it only dawned on me when we checked out that I’d just spent over $14 on ice cream for two people. Wow, a $7 milkshake makes that $5 milkshake from Pulp Fiction look like a deal.

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It started pouring, so we found the closest restaurant: Caracas for arepas. It was on the same block and reviews looked promising. We were a group of 7, and the guy who sat us told me that they normally don’t seat 7, but since they had the space he’d do it this one time, but they usually don’t. I kind of get the policy, but we 7 were in and out faster than a few other tables of two next to us. Eh, whatever.

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I was starting to drag, when I noticed that they had Blue Bottle coffee on the menu! Yay, my favorite! Unfortunately, this was a really bitter and sour cup. Oh, poor Blue Bottle coffee. All of the other adults went for some kind of boozy concoction, which I heard were quite enjoyable.

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Apps. Soup and fried yucca patties, i think.

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Plantains like woah.

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Arepas galore! These were all under $10 and quite enjoyable. We pretty much ordered half of the menu.

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The next day we wound up in a mall and my stomach reached “Eat something or be a grumpasaurus” level. So Boc Boc Chicken looked like my best option.

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Fair menu prices, and they touted organic chicken. Cool.

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I got the Korean flavored chicken strips/pops. Which were just breaded fried chicken. Sigh. I was hoping for spicy. Or at least some flavor. But otherwise they were fine, just bland. At least they weren’t dry.

Fried calamari at the mall? From a take out counter? And it was good!

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Oh, and if you need a discreet roomie in Rego Park, here’s your guy. These were all over the place outside.

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Boogied out to Flushing on my last day for nibbles with my uncle. We went to Jin Cheng, the place YehYeh used to go to a lot, especially with him. Beef and bitter melon as our nod to Yeh-Yeh.

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Special fried rice, the kind with scallops in it. Not bad for a rice dish.

Pho Yum

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Pho Yum. It’s okay. Not great, but not bad. I think they’re just a little expensive for what they have. I think what partially bugs me about their pricing structure is that everything starts off at a base price, but if you want to add anything, then you pay per ingredient.

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$6.50 for summer rolls ($5.50) with shrimp ($1) if you want one filling. These were really good and refreshing. Tuong ngot sauce was refreshing and went well with the shrimp.

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Albany John and I also got a pho ($6.75) with beef tendon ($1.25). Tendons were somewhat sizeable in that they were not thinly sliced, but on the sparse side. Also, so few condiments! Where is the fun, there? No condiment bar or anything. Not even a selection at or brought to the table. Just a sad squirt of sriracha and some hoisin. Does anyone ever get just a soup with noodles and no… extra stuff? Why not just price them starting at $8.00 with a note that additional ingredients cost more?

A grilled pork sausage banh mi ($5.50 for just the veggies on the banh mi, and who gets just that? All toppings are $1 extra. The pork sausage was naturally cased but kind of dry, and there was too much bread for my tastes. Not french roll either – reminded me of the par-baked bread restaurants get to heat, slice, and serve to guests. Good, but not for banh mi.

Any way, it was fine enough to scratch an itch, but like I said earlier, there’s just something about the pricing structure that bothers me.I’d go back for the summer rolls, but I’d stick to making pho at home instead of eating it here, and hoping I snag a banh mi from one of the Asian markets brought up from NYC for <$5.00.

I’d still give a kidney for a Pho Express! here in Albany. Heck, or even a Pho 32.

San Diego

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After Albany John and I went to San Francisco , I cut off to San Diego for a little solo trip while he came back for some previous commitments. I like that we can take separate vacations from each other and aren’t joined at the hip all of the time. My camera also ate it while I was in SF, so all of my pictures from here on out are on my phone. So, not great, but they’re something.

Any way, shortly after I got off the commuter plane to SD, I met up with Albany John’s Uncle and his new fam for dinner. (Side note: we kind of forgot that they lived in San Diego (because we are evidently really bad relatives) until after we made plans, so only I met up with them and they really missed him. yeah. really bad relatives). But they are really good and nice relatives, and my new auntie took us all out for dinner at a place in Old Town that makes fresh tortillas. 

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See? Ladies making tortillas. 

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Queso fundido app. 

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Tortillas were okay, but kind of meh and heavy. 

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I got some pork, beans, and guac. Hearty stuff, lol. It was great to spend time with more family. Maybe this is weird of me, I don’t know, but I like being around people when I’m bad at expressing my feelings. Yeh-Yeh was not doing well at this point, and I’m not one to say it to family I haven’t seen in a while. I just don’t want to be “that guy” being mopey or having people think I’m trying to get attention because of my sick grandpa. Or just making things awkward with sad subjects. Besides, he wouldn’t want a big deal about that any way. But when times are tough it’s nice just to be around people you like, you know? Reconnecting/connecting and all. I spent several hours with them at their house, too. They have an orange and lemon tree right in their backyard! They smelled so good!

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Left to wander San Diego on my own (I was staying downtown), I ended up making foods I can’t get here in Albany a priority. Hello, Pho Express! My gosh, this place was awesome and I’d give a kidney for something like it in Albany. This was a small pho Tai, which is supposed to be rare beef. It was piping hot and basically cooked all the way through by the time I got it, but oh my gosh, still so freaking good. It was $6.25 and came with the side of Thai basil, lime, jalapenos, and bean sprouts that I tossed in the soup. There’s a condiment bar on each table, too. Great flavorful broth alone. And the noodles were vermicelli & flat rice noodles. Cool texture. 

I got the shrimp rolls, too. They were the shrimp pounded with a bit of sugar and then grilled. 

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I think regular shrimp might have been better than this, but just marginally. Can I please have fresh rice rolls like this? So refreshing. The peanut dipping sauce on the side was also the bomb. I was so full after eating all of this. Because no way was I leaving any of it behind. Although to be honest, it would have been enough to split with another person. So much!

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This new donut bar just opened.

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Vanilla bean glazed twist doughnut. Eh, just okay. On par with Bella Napoli in Troy. 

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All of that pho = afternoon walkies. Cool effect to walk on a sidewalk between water.

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Walked down to North Embarcadero park. 

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Sadly I did not get to try any of my delicious neighbors.

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Looking at South Embarcadero.

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Walking into the tourist section. There were a lot of chain restaurants here. Old Spaghetti Factory, Chili’s. They all had hosts outside kind of hawking for people to come in. Interesting. 

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And then I walked to a Grocery Outlet. Oh man do I love grocery store tourism. Forget a magnet, I wanna see what’s on your shelves. 

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BOXED WINE FOR $5.99. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I cannot even fathom these prices. And they had Unjunked candy bars for $3 for 12. I may have bought a box. And ate a lot of them.

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After a good afternoon & evening of walkies, I wound up by J. Wok for some Asian tapas fusion. 

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I got a few small plates: Shrimp with lemongrass salad, papaya salad, and kalbi. Dinner was like, $13 with tax! I thought I would want to eat more, but these were good portions of food and I left feeling quite sated. 

The shrimp w/lemongrass salad had a hearty dose of sprouts and a light hand on the dressing. Papaya salad = refreshing and YUM! Galbi – how can you not like galbi, especially when it’s got a bit of char on it. 

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I walked on down to Crunch Time because I heard they make their own ice cream.

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Peanut butter ice cream with some caramel sauce. Caramel sauce was pre-made and too saccharine. Albany John’s caramel is way better. The ice cream was okay but melted really quickly (it wasn’t really hot) and I think we have better homemade ice cream in the Cap Region. This was also crazy expensive. Like, over $5 for a small ice cream. 

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The next day I woke up ready for more walking. I never did make it out of downtown, but there’s so much to do and see down there. Like the Chinese benevolence center, which was mainly a bunch of grandparents playing mah jong. 

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It was right next to the cultural museum that I peeked into, but then kept on walking. Maybe next time. It was pretty small. 

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More walkies into the south Embarcadero! I liked these things. Reminded me of the moving art sculpture at RPI. 

 

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The south embarcadero featured more homeless people and a fishing pier. No homeless folks ever hassled me in all of my walking, though.

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I liked this! How cute!

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This is the bridge for crossing the main road to the South Embarcadero. 

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And the view of the city. The other side is the more industrial port.

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I walked a little more to Rolando’s Taco Shop.

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Shrimp burrito & a fish taco! The fish taco was piled high with cabbage. I really liked the fish taco! It was only $1.50

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The burrito was like $7.50 and CHOCK FULL OF SHRIMP. And cheese. And it worked. I ate half of it easily, but the 2nd half I wound up picking the shrimp out and eating the burrito skin. So good, but SO. MUCH. FOOD. My stomach just cannot.

 

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My uncle & auntie wanted to hang more, so we drove around to the beach. Nice beach. Next time I will bring swim wear. Or find a beach where I don’t have to worry about forgetting a suit, lol. 

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Dinner time was, you guessed it, more walking to Gaijin Noodle. Is it weird that I was all about these Asian fusion restaurants in San Diego? We just don’t have anything like it up in Albany, so I kind of wanted to get my fill of any and everything I can’t get normally. 

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The bartender greeted me as soon as I walked in and invited me to sit at the bar so he could keep me company. Aw, sweet gesture even though I’m very comfortable by myself.
I ordered one of their shaved ice cocktails ($9), which was cherry syrup, chocolate pocky, and a side shot of sake to pour over. They put the cone in a cup with a wee spoon, so it makes for hands free drinking/consuming. I am super uncoordinated, so I wound up pouring about half of the sake on the counter. Whoops. Still tasty, though. It helped offset my meal, which wound up being EVERYTHING SPICY on them small dish menu. Even better, the bartender comped my drink at the end for whatever reason (I would hope my general awesomeness, but probably the pity comp for a single lady dining alone)

Yellowtail poke with purple potato cups on the bottom (with spicy togarashi dashed across!), a freebie salad on the left, and blistered shisito peppers sprinkles with more togarashi on the left. Oh man, I am all about shisito peppers now. They pack a punch, but nothing I can’t handle. Really enjoyable heat. 

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Fire chicken wings. Slathered in a spicy sauce with peanuts, the skin was cooked non-crispy style, so it was okay, but I think it would have put them on another level if they crisped the skin just a bit.

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I walked back to Pho Express for lunch on my last day. Papaya salad with shrimp. Oh man, I fell in love with papaya salad while I was in San Diego. I tried recreating it at home with absolutely no success. But this. Oh, this was great.

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Crunchy green papaya in a tangy-tart sauce (it didn’t reek of fish sauce), and a whole bunch of crunchy crushed peanuts and sliced shrimp. How can anyone not love this? One of my favorite things about San Diego was that I got to eat seafood every day I was there. Albany Jane, depleting the oceans one bite at a time.

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I grabbed a banh mi for a snack at the airport. It was like $4. Very reasonably priced. About 1.5 Albany Jane hands long. 

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The bread was so great! Crispy on the outside & pillowy-soft on the inside. Beat the pants off of any $5 foot-long or any other airport snack option. 

IMG_20130404_132846Chock full of pickled carrots + daikon, cilantro, cucumber, porky pate, and a schmear of inoffensive mayo. 

Oh San Diego. I can’t wait to go back to you. With Albany John the next time. You weren’t as friendly as San Francisco, but holy cow were you full of so many tasty and dirt cheap eats. 

 

All Good Bakers Grilled Cheese


Tis the season for grilled cheese from All Good Bakers. It’s really a year-round treat, but the $5 Truffle Shuffle is especially comforting when there’s a chill in the air.

Cheese, jam, crispy toast. Yum. Chase it with one of Britin’s fruit waters and you have a nice light lunch or hearty snack.

All Good Bakers is also now taking credit cards! A big hooray from those of us who never seem to have cash in their wallets, and an especially big hooray for how they’ve been promoting it and encouraging their customers to use it.

Daniel B.: “The Tour de Egg Sandwich is going to start at 7:30 on a Saturday,”

Albany Jane: “Ha ha, that’s a good one. No, seriously, when does it start?”

Daniel B.: “7:30 am on a Saturday,”

Albany Jane: “Yeah, I’m gonna be late,”

Daniel B.: “You can’t be later. 7:30 A.M.. SATURDAY.”

Albany Jane: >_<


You may have heard about Daniel B.’s Tour de Egg Sandwich. You may have even been on it. Here are a whole lotta pics from that (way too) early Saturday morning. (For the record I made it there with THREE minutes to spare. That’s like arriving an hour early for me!)

Albany John and I decided to split a sandwich at each stop so we could hopefully stave off a visit to the cardiologist immediately following the tour. Our chosen sandwich?:

Bacon, Egg, & Cheese

Egg sammich #1 was pretty decent. Two eggs on the roll, although a bit pricey at $5. The cheese was white American, and the bacon was crispy and soaked the buns nicely. The buns also tasted fresh and were really pleasantly squishy-soft. We went to:
Jack’s on Central Ave (near the Co-Op). I’d never been there before, and is a little bit bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, not unlike a Tardis.
We also got two cups of coffee, because at 7:30 AM, Go Go Juice is absolutely necessary. The Profussor wisely paired us up with another couple we’d enjoyed hanging with on the Tour de Fish Fry. I don’t know about you, but bleary-eyed me is completely unfriendly and crankasaurus at sevenfreakingthirty in the morning.

Two cups of Joe & a BEC is just over $8.00 at Jack’s.

Stop number two was the deli at McCarroll’s in Delmar.
You order at their counter, give your name, and wait for them to call it. These guys were busy on Saturday morning, and not just because of our group.

$3.19 for a sammich here.

I LOVED the bacon. So crispy, plentiful, and they had just the right amount of fat. Mmm. I think the roll was from Prinzo’s, which is probably my hands-down favorite hard roll in the Capitol Region. It was also toasted up just a teensy bit on the inside.
I also liked that the egg yolks weren’t cooked 100% hard. I picked out any of the hard cooked egg yolks from all of the egg sandwiches we ate this day. Yes, I’m picky. Cooked egg yolks gross me out; I only like runny egg yolks.

Anyway, you can see how generous the bacon was here. I think Albany John started getting a little full. We have an unofficial 2/3-rule in our house. Usually Albany John eats 2/3 of food in the time I can eat 1/3 amount of food. I def ate 2/3 of this roll. Man, I wish I still lived in the DelSo. It would be so easy to go here.

Our next stop was Stewart’s on New Scotland Ave. I was all “YEAH, STEWART’S!” Because, dude. It’s Stewart’s. It’s our local convenience store chain! This was a mere $3.05 after tax for one roll…

But… it was bad. There is no minicing of words on this one. Stewart’s, you may have fabulous ice cream flavors, and local milk, but you need to improve your bacon, egg, & cheese sandwiches.

The bacon was in a roll. A ROLL. As in, sliced off of a log of bacon. This is kind of not a normal bacon shape, and if you have abnormally-shaped bacon, it should at least taste good and not like fail and sogginess.

The egg circle patty thing was gross – they tasted like powdered eggs, dense and unpleasantly heavy, yet not very eggy. You guys have local eggs – use ’em!
The roll was equally unpleasant – the crumb was too tight and dense, and rather overwhelming (but then again, you really didn’t want to focus on the egg & bacon circles).
The cheese was there, but absolutely flavorless and forgetful. A waste of calories. Albany John and I took two bites of this sandwich and deemed it painfully inedible. As in, our stomachs started hurting after eating these hockey pucks.

Thankfully our tour-long sandwiching mates (i.e., folks goodly enough to put up with my sarcastic and cranky demeanor) brought along Zero, who was more than willing to dispose of our undesired sandwich.

I still can’t get over how awful this bacon, egg, and cheese from Stewart’s was. I love their buttered hard rolls, and pretty much every thing else I’ve ever gotten from Stewart’s. How could something so bad come from Stewart’s?
Stop number four was Bella Napoli in Latham. It was about a 10 minute wait from ordering to receiving an egg sandwich. Saturday mornings are busy here!

Two eggs, a generous amount of bacon, and hooray, the egg yolks weren’t entirely hard! $3.51 with tax.
It was okay, but I think Bella Napoli’s hard rolls are a bit too sweet, so it’s not as perfect as a Prinzo’s hard roll, or… any other not-super-sugary rolls. The texture is great, though – airy and light buns.
Our final stop was Famous Lunch in Troy, NY. This was another one of my favorites. It was like $2.50 for a sandwich! When you go to Famous Lunch you just order with someone at the counter, and pay when you leave. It’s really low key.

BACON, so good! And the buns were nicely charred. Not burnt, but a good bit of browning and flavor. Just a hair from burnt, basically the diner-equivalent of wok hei. Tons of flavor, just awesome all around. All of the flavors were equally balanced, and it was just an enjoyable and delicious bacon, egg, & cheese overall. So good. <3 Famous Lunch! <3 Troy!

My two fave BECs were from McCarroll’s & Famous Lunch. Stewart’s was a surprising last place finisher (if you’d asked me before the tour, I’d have easily placed it in the top 3. Not a distant last).

It also seems like egg sandwiches in the Albany-area cook their eggs whole and the yolks most of the way through. In the future, I would probably ask for egg-white only, or sunny-side up yolks in my egg sandwiches, or else risk picking out hard cooked yolks from each sandwich (which grosses out everyone else around me).

New Orleans – Day

After a night of revelry, Bro, Margarita, Albany John and I were in need of sustenance. Margarita suggested Cafe du Monde on Decatur. There was a line of folks waiting to be sat – there is no real hostess – just grab a table if it’s free. Late-risers that we are, we had no problem finding a table and sitting within a few minutes of getting there. There are a lot of tables outside, and even inside, it feels very open and breezy.
When you order from a server, they go to a line and pay for your order out of pocket. Interesting system, but seems like pretty much anyone can be a server here. Once your order is delivered, you pony up to your server and pay your tab.
4 cafe au laits for us, and three orders of beignets. Fried dough covered in powdered sugar. These were just the teensiest bit oily on the outside. A bit of custardy/creamy interior inside. I’m normally not a powdered sugar fan, but these weren’t too bad with sugar on them.

Overall, I liked the coffee much more. I love chicory, such a nice flavor in coffee.

It was after noon, so I felt it appropriate to grab a refreshing beverage. Frozen peach bellini daiquiri! This was about $8.50 and came with a free shooter. It was more refreshing than potent, a good hair of the dog. I managed to finish about half of it – so cold!

And guess what’s close to Cafe du Monde? Central Grocery for muffuletta! My “go-to” food places were almost entirely skimmed off of Boots in the Oven. In a perfect world, I’d have been able to meet my blog sister. One day. Until then, I will take her eating suggestions in NoLa!

There was a bit of a line, but we made it through in about 20 minutes. And they take credit cards! Win! From here on out, all of the photos are courtesy of Albany John.
It was $14.50 for a whole muffuletta – these were premade, or being made quickly to accommodate the line. There are a few tables and stools in the back to nosh.

Hello, muffuletta! Sesame-seeded gigantic bun/loaf of bread.
I have so much excitement!! Muffuletta about to go in my mouth!

It was pretty tasty, though I think it could have used a little more filling. The bread ratio was pretty high, and uniformly squishy. The fillings inside were an awesome combination – olive salad, what seemed like some gardinera, and a bunch of different meat slices. Reminded me of an Italian sub with more stuff on it, but with squishier bread.

We walked around the French Quarter for a bit – saw this youth marching band rehearsing by a church.
And then we were off to Cochon Butcher on our way out of NoLa. It was easy to find parking near Cochon Butcher.

Inside our senses were regaled with cured meat-goodness. True story, our recently moved Chef Tanner worked with the owner of Cochon in his New Orleans days.
Albany John got a grapefruit cocktail and I got a Pecan beer. I swapped with him – the cocktail was so refreshing and tart. Bitters and such.

Charcuterie plate ($14) The pinky/tan plop in the foreground is a rabbit pate (or something like that). Tasty. The lardo on the left was ok, but I liked Chef Tanners better – his was a little more flavorful. The other cured meats were awesome. I’ve kind of forgotten them already. Sadness. But they were delicious on my tongue.
Boudin! This side portion was only $3! Awesome casings, and kicky mustard. I like boudin. It’s a sausage with rice in it.
This. Get this this this. It’s a quinoa side salad and I need to figure out how to make it at home. $3 for a refreshing cold salad with roasted califlower, scallions, and AWESOME. The cauliflower lent a nuttiness and… I want some more RIGHT NOW.

Really liked Cochon Butcher, and the next time we visit, I wanna eat at Cochon proper.

On our way out, Margarita gave us a tour of the neighborhood she grew up. Cute area. And we saw a place selling oysters. They sell oysters for $30 for 30 lbs, or $50 for 100 lbs. DUDE! Bro picked up a 30 lb sack. We got ice and such for the ride. S’cool.

These guys were fresh and covered in mud. They are of various shapes and sizes, and I think in warmer weather it would be fun to grill them.

Bro took to oyster shucking quite well. Mmm, so meaty and plump.
Oh, and they picked up some gulf shrimp. Look at how big those guys are! No preservatives or anything. So briny and good.

Bro & Albany John also cheffed up some baked oysters. A tasty way to end our day in New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps rouler, indeed!