Posts Tagged ‘Fries’

Center Street Cafe & Deli – Healdsburg, CA

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 by virginia


On the morning of our friends’ wedding, we couldn’t bear the thought of stomaching another breakfast at our hotel (which admittedly was not so terrible, especially considering it was free, plus there was even an automatic pancake machine!) so we headed into downtown Healdsburg to grab some brunch. We walked around the square for a while contemplating our options and came across the Center Street Cafe & Deli, which was perfect for us because some of us wanted breakfast and some of us wanted lunch, and the diner-like menu offered both.

I was firmly in the lunch group while Josh was sort of in between, but we both wound up ordering sandwiches and splitting them. Josh picked the hot corned beef sandwich with swiss cheese on rye toast. The corned beef was surprisingly good – thick cut, flavorful, and appropriately fatty, and the rye toast was appropriately studded with lots of caraway seeds. We both upgraded to french fries, which were thin cut and looked like they were made from real potatoes. They tasted fine but were a tad soggy.

Corned beef sandwich with swiss, and french fries

Corned beef sandwich with swiss, and french fries

I selected the Thanksgiving sandwich, which featured thick cut turkey, provolone, lettuce, onions, mayo, and cranberry sauce. The turkey was tender and moist, but the cranberry sauce totally overpowered everything. I appreciated that it was made with real cranberries, not stuff that comes out of the can looking like cranberry jello, but it was overwhelmingly sour and completely detracted from the otherwise fine sandwich. Josh and I both agreed that the corned beef sandwich was the better choice.

Thanksgiving sandwich

Thanksgiving sandwich

Overall we thought the Center Street Cafe & Deli was just ok. It served its purpose, in that everyone found something they wanted to eat, and its location on the square couldn’t be beat. The food was decent. Not great, not awful, in line with what you would expect from a regular diner. Service was friendly, our glasses were always refilled, and prices were reasonable.

Center Street Cafe & Deli
304 Center St.
Healdsburg, CA

Brasserie Les Halles – Park Avenue

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 by virginia

I guess it’s pretty obvious that Two Fat Bellies has become more of a travel food blog than a NY/NJ food blog. It’s been pretty tough for us to find new interesting places to eat around here since J was born, especially because Josh and I both still work full time and we don’t like to impose on our families any more than we already do. Not that we don’t go out to eat, but we go to familiar places where they know J or where no one would notice if she were disruptive (ie., kid-friendly chain restaurants). For an almost-2 year old, she’s actually really good in restaurants, but we certainly won’t be taking her to Daniel anytime soon, for example.

Ever since I was pregnant with J, I’ve been craving steak frites. And not just any steak frites – the one specifically from Les Halles. I’ve eaten plenty of steak and french fries since then, but there’s just something about Les Halles’ version that keeps it on top in my mind. But sadly, we haven’t had the opportunity to go there in almost three years. And so when I had an early summer Friday from work, I convinced Josh to meet me for a super late lunch at the Park Avenue location, which was about a 30 minute walk from where we were in midtown. We’ve never eaten at the Park Avenue branch, only the one in the Financial District. I was impressed by the old woodwork and real brasserie feel, though the restaurant was smaller than I thought it would be.

We got there just after 3 pm so it was fairly empty inside, but we were just in time for the start of happy hour. That meant a $5 beer special, and, best of all, $1 east coast oysters and $2 west coast oysters. We love raw oysters, so it was too good a deal to pass up. We ordered 6 east coast and 6 west coast to start.

Kumamoto (west coast) oysters on top, blue points (east coast) on the bottom

Kumamoto (west coast) oysters on top, blue points (east coast) on the bottom

The oysters arrived nicely chilled with lemon, cocktail sauce, and mignonette sauce on the side. We just like it with just a little squeeze of lemon though, so we can really taste the flavor of the oyster. We started with a west coast oyster, and then alternated with an east coast one, so we could compare them side by side. Even though we’re east coast snobs, we have to admit, the west coast oysters were far superior. They were kumamoto oysters, slightly smaller in size than the east coast blue point oysters, but much more flavorful. They were incredibly briney, with syrupy liquor that coated our tongues with a wonderful sea flavor that reminded me of fresh uni. The blue points, in comparison, were watery and weak. That’s not to say they were bad, but when eaten right after a kumamoto, it was no contest. Both varieties though were very fresh and pretty well cleaned. Definitely a good bargain at $1/$2 each.

For our main course, we decided to share an order of steak frites and a croque monsieur. The steak frites, which we ordered rare, was exactly as I remembered – tender, juicy, beefy. It just need a good sprinkle of salt from the table, and then it was absolutely perfect. The fries were also just as I remembered, double fried so they’re crispy on the outside and soft and potato-y on the inside. And the salad is not slouch either, lightly dressed with a flavorful vinaigrette that I wish I could replicate at home.

Steak frites

Steak frites

The croque monsieur was was gorgeously browned and bubbly on top when it arrived. It’s really a classic version of the famous ham and cheese sandwich covered in bechamel – it’s cheesy and rich and toasty all together. Unfortunately, I thought there was a bit too much nutmeg in the bechamel, which is a bit of a turnoff for me. Josh loved it though. The sandwich came with the same crispy fries and dressed salad on the side.

Croque monsieur

Croque monsieur

You know how typically when you put something up on a pedestal in your head, it usually disappoints when you get to have it because it’s not as good as you remember? This definitely wasn’t the case with the steak frites at Les Halles. It was everything I remembered it being, and is still my standard for all other steak frites. It’s just that good. And the oyster happy hour was just a bonus – it looks like it’s running from 3-7 on Tuesdays-Fridays until October 1. Even without the happy hour though, Les Halles is definitely worth a visit (or many).

Les Halles (multiple locations)
411 Park Ave S.
New York, NY


Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 by virginia


I had figured that for any road trip, there would be a time when we would have to hit up a fast food restaurant for a meal. But my rule for eating “locally” while traveling applies to fast food as well, and so I prefer to go to chains that aren’t readily available back home. In Texas, this meant checking out Whataburger, which is primarily in Texas but also has locations in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

We stopped by for a quick lunch before exploring the Johnson Space Center, so we went to the location on NASA Rd. Josh and I both got the original Whataburger with the default toppings – mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and diced onions. Josh opted for double meat though while I stuck with a single patty.

Original Whataburger

Original Whataburger – double meat

At first glance, the Whataburger looked fairly standard with a squishy, seedless bun and lettuce and tomato poking out. It was a decent size in circumference, though I thought the beef patty was on the thinner side. Josh had the right idea in ordering a double, as the toppings to meat ratio was completely off on my single burger. I usually don’t order mustard on my burgers, but did so here because it was part of the standard package. I thought it overwhelmed the meat, which was pretty bland and nondescript. I did like that the bun had been buttered and toasted before assembly, but even that was more flavorful than the meat.

Autopsy shot

Autopsy shot – single patty Whataburger

We got an order of six chicken bites for J. She ate a few pieces but then started tossing them on the floor so we wound up eating the rest ourselves. They were heavily breaded but still had lots of meat inside. I thought they were pretty good for fast food nuggets, although the portion seemed small for the price. The bites were pretty tiny compared to the super large containers of dipping sauces they offered.

Chicken bites

Chicken bites

And of course, our meal wouldn’t have been complete without french fries. These were skinny fries, similar to McDonald’s, though with more potato flavor. They weren’t as crispy as I would have liked, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

Thin french fries

Thin french fries

Overall, we thought Whataburger was just ok. Better than McDonalds and Burger King for sure, but no comparison to In N Out. The burger reminded me a bit of Wendy’s burger, which isn’t a bad thing, but also isn’t that impressive. The ingredients did seem fresher though, and the burger was constructed better. But maybe I just had higher expectations because of the hype around Whataburger. Would I eat here again? Sure. Would I go out of my way to eat here? Definitely not. What I did like, however, was the service. The staff was friendly and courteous, and rather than having you get your own condiments, someone walked around with a tray of ketchup/sauce containers, straws, and napkins and offered to replenish our supply whenever we ran low. That’s something you don’t see at other fast food places, and I appreciated the extra level of hospitality.

Whataburger (multiple locations)
100 East NASA Rd. 1
Webster, TX

Oyster Round-Up – New Orleans

Friday, January 3rd, 2014 by virginia

Josh and I both love to eat raw oysters, and there is no shortage of oyster bars in New Orleans. It was our second time in the Big Easy, and even though we spent a great afternoon at the Acme Oyster House on our previous visit, we tried our best not to repeat restaurants this time around. With oysters, it was easy to find new places to try.

Our first experience with raw oysters on this trip was John Besh’s Luke Restaurant. It was a convenient stop for us, as we were staying the night at the hotel that the restaurant is located in, the Hilton St. Charles. We had heard about their great happy hour special – 50 cent oysters and half off on beers and wine, which is offered every day from 3-6 pm. Although it was too late for us to reserve a table when we called, we were told that bar seating was available on a first come basis. We dropped off our stuff in our room and headed downstairs precisely at 3, the start of happy hour. Not surprisingly, the bar was already full, so we hovered in the corner and ordered a round of beer and a dozen oysters.

Truthfully, I did feel a bit conspicuous standing at the bar holding a 14-month old baby, but fortunately, a few seats opened up almost immediately and we were able sit in the middle of the bar with Baby J on our laps. If anyone disapproved, no one said anything to us. The bartenders were incredibly accommodating, stopping to chat and make silly faces at her, and even filled up her sippy cup with milk after she ran out. Our oysters were delivered promptly, along with an order of fries we got for J to snack on.

Happy hour at Luke - 50 cent oysters, half priced beer, and milk in a sippy cup

Happy hour at Luke – 50 cent oysters, half priced beer, and milk in a sippy cup. Plus french fries.

The oysters were gorgeous specimens – big, plump, and juicy. They were nicely presented on a bed of crushed ice with lemon, horseradish, and ketchup. These oysters were deliciously briny and refreshingly cold,  tasting of the sea. Our only complaint was that they were pretty gritty. I guess with the volume of oysters that they were cracking open during happy hour, they don’t really have time to clean them properly. Too bad, because the oysters themselves were really great, but it was annoying to have to keep pulling bits of grit out of our mouths.

Oysters up close

Oysters up close

Still, we put away 5 dozen oysters between the two of us, and probably could have done even more except we were saving room for dinner. At $6 a dozen, it’s a hard deal to beat. Plus the fries were fantastic – thin, hot, and wonderfully crispy. With half-price beers at around $3.50 each, it was a pretty inexpensive way to spend an afternoon considering the amount and quality of the seafood we were receiving.

The next night, we tried out the oysters at Felix’s, which is right across the street from the Acme Oyster House. While there was a line out the door at Acme, Felix’s was pretty empty, with someone standing outside trying to get people to go inside. Generally that’s not a good sign, but I had read good things about Felix’s so I was still determined to try it out.


At $14 a dozen, these were the most expensive raw oysters that we had on our trip. However, they were nicely cleaned and mostly grit-free.

A dozen raw oysters (and a side of Sesame Street for J)

A dozen raw oysters

Flavor-wise, these were sweeter than the oysters at Luke, although not as briny. They were also a bit haphazardly presented on a bed of melting ice, which meant that the liquor on a few wound up tipping into the slush rather than into our mouths. That was a bit disappointing. On a whole though, I enjoyed the sweet flavor, though we ultimately preferred the brininess of Luke’s oysters.

Oyster up close

Oyster up close

We thought of Felix’s as a comparison to Acme, so we ordered a meal similar to what we had at Acme 6 years ago. In addition to two dozen raw oysters, we got an order of crawfish etouffee and a cup of jambalaya. The etouffee was thinner in texture, not as buttery. It had both plain crawfish tails and breaded tails mixed in, which was an interesting combination. The breaded crawfish was peppery in flavor and had a bit of a kick to them. It was satisfying over rice, though not as rich or hearty as the etouffee from Acme.


Crawfish etouffee

The jambalaya was really tasty. I didn’t enjoy the version at Acme because I thought it was a bit too smoky, but Felix’s jambalaya was zesty and flavorful, with a hint of sweetness from the red pepper.

Cup of jambalaya

Cup of jambalaya

Our last raw oyster stop was a New Orleans institution, according to Michael, the concierge at the Hilton Riverside where we stayed our final two nights in the city. He was a great concierge, passionate about food and knowledgeable in his recommendations. We usually find concierge restaurant picks to be tourist traps or places that advertise on the free maps they hand out, and so Michael was a pleasant surprise and a true source of insider information. He told us that we shouldn’t miss Casamento’s, which is located in Uptown and is a bit of a hike from the downtown/French Quarter area. However, it’s a short ride and walk away from the St. Charles streetcar, and not really all that difficult to get to.

The decor at Casamento’s is part of it’s notoriety. There are tiles everywhere – on the floor, lining the bar, and up the walls. Calvin Trillin, a great food writer, likens it to “having lunch in a drained swimming pool.” We got there right before they closed after lunch, which was fortunate because we weren’t even aware that they would close between lunch and dinnertime. We quickly ordered a dozen raw, as well as half an oyster loaf and a plate of fries.

The tile decor

The tile decor

The oysters were the cleanest specimens we received, completely free of grit and properly shucked so that they slide right into our mouths with no resistance. Even the shells were clean. Surprisingly, however, they were not served on a bed of ice, and while they were cold, they weren’t as chilled as we normally prefer. Taste-wise, they were also not as briny or as sweet as the oysters at Luke and Felix’s, but they were still delicious. We quickly put away two dozen before the shuckers closed up shop for the afternoon. At $12 a dozen, it’s pretty reasonable.

A dozen raw oysters

A dozen raw oysters

The oyster loaf, which is like a po’ boy served between thick slices of toast rather than the standard french bread, was a bit of a disappointment. The oysters were fried nicely but few in quantity, and they got lost in the thick bread. I was happy that we only got a half loaf rather than a full, so that we saved room for the raw oysters.

Oyster loaf

Half an oyster loaf

The fries were cut from real potatoes and freshly fried, so that they were piping hot. J enjoyed them a lot.

Piping hot french fries

Piping hot french fries

The last oysters on our round-up are sort of an outlier, as they were charbroiled instead of raw. We had heard that the best charbroiled oysters were from Drago’s, and fortunately, the New Orleans branch was located in our hotel, the Hilton Riverside. One night we decided to have a light supper and then finish with a nightcap of charbroiled oysters in our room. While I got J ready for bed, Josh went downstairs and got two dozen charbroiled oysters to go. When he got back, we opened up a bottle of wine in our room and had a little feast on our bed.

Charbroiled oysters to go

Charbroiled oysters to go

The oysters were still burning hot so I don’t think the integrity was lost since Josh took them right from downstairs and up to our room. Because we were staying in the hotel, they provided us real napkins and silverware, which I appreciated. The oysters were topped with seasoned garlic butter and grated parmesan and romano cheeses. The combination tasted delicious, but the oysters were totally lost in the mix. All we tasted was garlic butter and cheese; there could have been anything underneath. I also found the texture of the cooked oysters to be a bit mealy and tough, not at all like the succulent quality we love about raw oysters.

Charbroiled oyster up close

Charbroiled oyster up close

The charbroiled oysters were incredibly rich, and we struggled to get through a whole dozen. Ordering two was a mistake, though we did end up saving them in our fridge on snacking on them cold the next day. The garlic butter and cheese combination still tasted good. At $18 a dozen, charbroiled oysters are more expensive than raw oysters, and while I was glad to have tried them, I’ll stick with raw oysters going forward.

So the overall verdict? We didn’t have a bad oyster in the bunch, which is pretty good considering how many dozen we ate over three days. The flavor and presentation of Luke’s oysters, plus the incredibly cheap happy hour price, made them our favorites of this trip. They could really work on reducing the amount of grit though, which would go a long way. If I were paying full price though, I might not have been as happy.

Felix’s and Casamento’s were both top notch in quality and shucked cleaner. However, Felix’s lost points because they were haphazardly arranged on melting ice, losing valuable liquor, and Casamento’s had no ice at all so the oysters were not as cold in temperature. In addition, neither were as briny as the Luke oysters, which is what was our ultimate deciding factor. Still, I would happily go back to any of these places. A little squeeze of lemon juice, a dab of horseradish, tip back, and enjoy!

Luke Restaurant
333 St Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA

Felix’s Restaurant
739 Iberville St.
New Orleans, LA

Casamento’s Restaurant
4330 Magazine St.

New Orleans, LA

Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
2 Poydras St.
New Orleans, LA

Molly’s Restaurant & Bar – Hanover, NH

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 by virginia

Molly’s was always one of my favorite restaurants when I visited Hanover back during my college years. The menu was broad, the prices inexpensive, and the food good. Plus they had the perfect gimmick for college students – $2 margaritas that were strong and tasty. At first, there was usually a weather-related caveat to the margaritas, ie., $2 until the weather went above XX degrees (there are some cold winters up in NH), $2 while there was snow on the ground, etc. Whenever the weather or temperature reached the threshold, the sign would be crossed out and a new bar was set, which basically meant they always had $2 margaritas. Now, returning a decade later, I was happy to see they did away with the caveats and just offer $2 margaritas all the time on the menu.

While I really wanted to get a margarita for old time’s sake, we had done a bit too much pre-wedding partying the night before and were not in any condition to partake; I stuck with water while Josh had iced tea. I dove into the bread basket and was surprised to see that it was the same exact bread that they had always served – a soft peasant-style loaf with shredded cheese baked into the crust. To be perfectly honest, the bread isn’t great. It’s doughy and dense, and even the cheese can’t save the crust. However, it is the perfect vehicle for the honey butter that comes with it, which is airy and sweet.

Bread with honey butter

Bread with honey butter

I used to crave Molly’s artichoke and spinach dip in college, and so of course we had to order it on this visit. This dip was around well before spinach and artichoke dip became popular and started appearing on all chain restaurant menus. It was also always a more elevated version, with large chunks of artichoke hearts and browned, bubbly cheese, and it used to be served with crostini. When I saw that the dip now came with pita chips, I was worried that it had gone the chain restaurant route and would be chips out of a bag alongside overly-processed spinach dip with little cheese and artichoke. Fortunately, I was wrong. These chips were made from real pita bread and were crispy on the outside but still chewy on the inside. The edges of a few pieces got burned, but there were more than enough chips on the plate. The dip itself was just as I remembered, maybe even better. It’s intensely garlicky with a bit of a peppery kick and lots of gooey cheese, and artichoke is definitely the star of the dip. You need a fork to place the pieces on the pita bread, and the spinach mixed into the dip is more of a garnish. That’s why it’s artichoke and spinach dip, and not the other way around.

Artichoke and spinach dip

Artichoke and spinach dip

Josh go the Express Lunch, which I was also happy to see them still offering. It’s a salad and half a pizza for about $10. Josh picked the caesar salad, which has a lemony and garlicky dressing and tasted exactly as we remembered. However, there wasn’t enough dressing on the salad, which made it a bit bland. The shredded parmesan on top helped a little though.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad

For his half pizza, he chose the Summer Salad, which was new to us. It’s a thin crust pizza brushed with garlic butter and baked with prosciutto, tomatoes, and fontina, and topped with arugula after it comes out of the oven. I’m usually not a fan of baked prosciutto on pizza, but this was cut into small pieces and crisped up in the oven rather than getting chewy. It was hard to see the pizza under the huge pile of arugula though, which was not necessarily a bad thing since we both love arugula, especially when it’s dressed with lemon. Plus the salad helped cut through the richness of the fontina and the garlic butter. It was a pretty good pizza, although I was pushing him to order our old favorite instead, the Got Yer Goat, which is pizza topped with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil.

Summer salad pizza

Summer Salad pizza

I was also tempted to try something new from the menu but I went the nostalgic route and ordered my old standby, the chicken avocado sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon, swiss cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato on a brioche roll. I think back then it was served on a roll similar to the bread basket bread but sturdier, and there were slices of avocado rather than guacamole, which made it a messier sandwich. However, I liked this version and found it easy to eat. There’s nothing spectacular about it but the combination is pretty classic and it tastes good. The sandwich comes with fries that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Chicken sandwich

Chicken avocado sandwich with fries

Overall we found that there was still lots to love about Molly’s. The food is almost the same as we remembered, but they’ve also made some menu updates and changes. It does have a bit of a chain restaurant feel to it with its primary focus on salads, pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers, but the dishes are more carefully constructed and prepared, taking quality ingredients into account. The booths in the front are great for people watching on Main Street, and there’s plenty of space in the back room for large groups. It’s definitely a great college town restaurant with reasonable prices and good variety. We’ll definitely be going back the next time we’re in town, hopefully within the next decade.

Molly’s Restaurant & Bar
43 South Main St.

Hanover, NH

Ben’s Chili Bowl and Pizza Mart – Washington DC

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 by virginia

We only had half a day of sightseeing in Washington DC before we needed to head back north for our next destination, Philadelphia. It was fine by me because it was the hottest weekend of the summer and I really wasn’t feeling up to doing too much walking around (107 degrees + 7 month pregnant belly = not a happy camper). We did a short circuit of the major landmarks closest to our hotel – the White House and the Washington Monument.

The White House (true story: we sent the Obama family J's birth announcement and we got a congratulatory card in return. Obviously sent by a staffer, but still a cool keepsake for J!)

The White House (true story: we sent the Obama family a copy of J’s birth announcement and we got a congratulatory card in return. Obviously sent by a staffer, but still a cool keepsake for J!)

Looking up at the Washington Monument

Looking up at the Washington Monument

The Lincoln Memorial was within sight but simply too far away in the heat. Instead, we cooled off in the air conditioned Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Why that particular museum? I wanted to see the Julia Child exhibit. Unbeknownst to us, the exhibit had closed in January (it later reopened, and is now part of the new FOOD exhibit), and I was pretty disappointed to have missed it. However, the Star Spangled Banner exhibit is really incredible, and worth a visit on its own.

The Lincoln Memorial in the distance

The Lincoln Memorial in the distance

After driving around to see some of the other sights that we weren’t able to walk to (ie., the Capital Building, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial), we headed over to the U Street Corridor to another Washington DC landmark: Ben’s Chili Bowl.


It was a little past lunchtime so we were able to get seats at the counter right away. It was cool to be in the middle of all the hustle and bustle and see all the workers in action behind the counter.

View from a counter seat at Ben's Chili Bowl

View from a counter seat

The menu is posted on a board, and we zoned straight in on the chili half smoke. The menu isn’t very broad, although you can get hamburgers and other sandwiches. The main feature is obviously the chili, which you can get on pretty much anything.

The menu board

The menu board

Josh and I each got a chili half smoke. A half smoke is a smoked sausage that is half beef and half pork. It looks like a hot dog but is fatter in size and a lot more flavorful. The casing had been browned on a griddle, which gave it a good snap, and the texture of the sausage was firmer than a hot dog, which helped it stand out from underneath the chili. The chili itself was delicious. The meat is ground pretty small but as whole, it’s thick, savory, and has a nice kick to it. Rounding out the chili half smoke was a slather of mustard and some raw chopped onion.

The infamous chili half smoke

The famous chili half smoke

We also shared an order of fries (the chili half smokes come with potato chips on the side), which were fresh out of the fryer and piping hot, but otherwise fairly standard. We probably should have gone for the chili cheese fries, if only to be able to eat more of that delicious chili.

A side order of fries

A side order of fries

On our way out the door, we stopped to look at all the half smokes crisping up on the griddle.

Half smokes piled up on the griddle

Half smokes on the griddle

Overall Josh and I both loved Ben’s Chili Bowl. In addition to having great chili and half smokes, the place just has so much history and character. It’s definitely a DC landmark that you shouldn’t miss out on.

After leaving Ben’s, we headed to the Adams Morgan neighborhood in search of a ginormous slice of pizza. I wasn’t a huge fan of the now cancelled tv show Food Wars, but sometimes the food depicted on the show just called out to me. The Pizza Mart vs. Jumbo Slice episode stayed in my memory (probably because I love pizza and couldn’t get enough of it while I was pregnant), and we decided to try a head-to-head battle ourselves. Unfortunately, Jumbo Slice was closed, which only left us with Pizza Mart.


The inside of the shop is a bit dingy, but that’s never stopped us before. There are a few small tables in the front and some counter seating, but it looked like most people took their food to go. Josh and I decided to split one jumbo slice, since we had just filled up at Ben’s Chili Bowl right beforehand.

Jumbo slice from Pizza Mart

Jumbo slice from Pizza Mart

To get a better perspective on just how large this jumbo slice is, it was more than twice the size of my hand and covered two paper plates.

Jumbo slice vs. my hand

Jumbo slice vs. my hand

Size aside, I actually found the slice to be pretty decent. It was similar to NYC pizzeria style pizza and had a good flavor to it. It wasn’t overly cheesy, though it could have used slightly more tomato sauce. But the sauce was tangy, the cheese was nicely browned, and the crust was thin.

The underside shot. Folded in half, each half was like one super long slice of regular NYC pizza.

Is this also a can’t miss landmark? Definitely not. But it was fun trying to manage the absurdly large slice of pizza, and I enjoyed eating it. Josh wasn’t as impressed, but he’s more of a pizza snob than I am (it horrifies him that I enjoy eating Elio’s). At $5 a slice, I can see this as a great, cheap place to grab a quick bite after a night of drinking.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U Street NW

Washington, DC

Pizza Mart
2445 18th St NW
Washington, DC

Chez Ashton – Quebec City

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 by virginia


One food that I really enjoy every time we’re in Montreal is poutine, or french fries with gravy and cheese curds. I knew going into our trip that we probably wouldn’t have time for any poutine in Montreal, since we were only spending one night there, so I looked up places to eat it in Quebec City. Overwhelmingly, all my research pointed us to Chez Ashton.

I was a bit hesitant since Chez Ashton is a fast food chain, but the reviews of the poutine were mostly positive. Plus there was a branch just down the street from our hotel, so on our way back after touring the Old City, we stopped in to pick up a poutine snack. We ordered the “regular” size, which is actually the largest size. Medium is “mini”, and small is “baby”. At just under $10 for the regular, it’s a bit pricier than what you would expect from a fast food chain, but it was a pretty hefty pile of food. We took it to go, and it was served in a large round foil container, absolutely packed to the brim with fries, gravy, and curds.

The "regular" size poutine

The “regular” size poutine

Fortunately, since it was such a short walk back to our hotel, the poutine was still piping hot when we opened it up, and it hadn’t steamed in the container for too long. The fries were still crispy on the outside, and the curds were warm and soft but still squeaky, which meant they were fresh. And boy, were there a lot of curds in the dish, more than I’ve ever seen before on any poutine. They were huge too, with most pieces thicker than the french fries. Josh and I actually aren’t really fans of the squeaky curds- we prefer the cheese on our poutine to be more melted and gooey, but the curds do add an interesting textural and flavor component to the dish.

Tons of squeaky curds on the poutine

Tons of squeaky curds on the poutine

The gravy on the poutine was actually really delicious – just the right amount of saltiness and a meaty, savory flavor. I wished there was more of it, because it eventually all got soaked into the french fries, which made the dish a bit dry. The fries did end up losing their crispiness midway through, but they were never really soggy.  We managed to eat about two-thirds of the container before calling it quits – it was definitely a huge portion. Perhaps next time we’ll go with the mini size instead.

Overall, I really liked the poutine from Chez Ashton. The website boasts that everything is made fresh, and it really seemed to be as such. The fries were the right size to stand up to the gravy and curds, not too thick or thin, and tasted like real potatoes, not the frozen variety. There were plenty of fresh cheese curds on top, and the gravy was really flavorful. Maybe next time I’ll ask for some extra gravy on the side, to help avoid the dryness issue once the fries soak up all the gravy in the container. I would definitely recommend the poutine here, and it’s probably even better after a few drinks!

Chez Ashton (multiple locations)
640 Grande Allée E
Quebec City, Canada

Clare and Carl’s – Plattsburgh, NY

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 by virginia

Our drive to Canada wouldn’t have been an official road trip without first consulting one of my favorite resources, There weren’t too many options on I-87 before we crossed the border so I ended up researching a few places in Plattsburgh, the last “big” city we would pass through in NY. The regional food of choice there is the Michigan, a hot dog covered in chili.

We planned to leave our house early enough to get to Plattsburgh for a late lunch. An unexpected detour through Schenectady slowed us down a bit (we missed a turn somewhere in Albany and ended up getting on I-90 by accident) so we were hoping to make a quick pit stop at Clare and Carl’s roadside stand for some hot dogs before continuing on our way.

As we entered Plattsburgh, I did a quick search on Josh’s iphone for the address and came up with 2 Dock Street. The GPS directed us to a spot right on the shores of Lake Champlain. However, we didn’t see any hot dog stands nearby. Baby J was starting to fuss so I fed her while Josh got out of the car to investigate. He found an old abandoned and condemned building that had Clare and Carl’s signage nearby in the parking lot, but we were clearly at the wrong place. I re-googled the correct address, and fortunately, we weren’t so far out of the way.

It was gorgeous outside, sunny and warm, so we took a few photos by the lake before heading off. We finally found the right spot, and it was exactly what I was expecting – a nondescript building full of character on the inside.


Clare and Carl’s in Plattsburgh, NY

It reminded me of White Manna, our favorite spot for sliders. There was a long u-shaped counter, the menu on a board on the wall, and lots of old signs with humorous statements.


The menu board

We sat at the counter and placed our order, although there were a lot of people eating in their cars outside. We each got a Michigan, and we decided to share an order of french fries and onion rings. I was a bit worried about getting chili all over myself, but the Michigan was pretty delicious despite the messiness. The chili was meaty, well seasoned, hot, and had a little bit of a kick to it. We ordered it with onions on top, though the waitress said her preference is to have them buried under the chili. The bun was pretty generic, but the hot dog itself was a little disappointing – a bit mushy with no snap. It kind of got lost under all that delicious chili.

The Michigan - a chili covered hot dog with onions on top

The Michigan – a chili covered hot dog

The fries and onion rings were pretty standard, though well fried. They were piping hot and crispy, and the onion rings were made with real onions, not some sort of fake composite.

French fries

French fries

Onion rings

Onion rings

Overall I was really glad we stopped at Clare and Carl’s. It’s exactly what I think of when I think about road food. It was definitely a “local” place, as the waitress knew almost everyone who walked in the door by name. There was a lot of teasing and good-natured ribbing going on, and the food was pretty good. Was it the best chili hot dog I’ve ever had? Probably not. The chili was great but the hot dog was a bit lacking. But it was quick, cheap, satisfying, and an enjoyable experience.

Clare and Carl’s
4729 NY-9
Plattsburgh, NY

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Roadfood Trip to South Carolina

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by virginia

Instead of flying down for our annual August vacation in Hilton Head, Josh and I decided to take a short road trip and drive down, making a few food-related stops along the way. I was inspired after reading Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern, who wrote about their various adventures in exploring the country’s best roadfood experiences. I loved the idea of just packing up, getting in the car, and driving off to taste the local cuisine at hole in the wall kind of places all over the U.S. I used their website,, in finding good stops along the way on our own road trip down south.

We hit the road on a Thursday morning, waiting until just after rush hour to get started. We decided to forgo a proper breakfast and picked up some of our favorite bagels to eat in the car instead. Our first Roadfood stop was about five hours away so we had quite a distance to travel before we could have lunch. We hit a little bit of traffic outside of Allentown, PA, so we were a little behind schedule by the time we got to our first destination in Winchester, VA, the Snow White Grill.

The Snow White Grill in Winchester, VA

The Snow White Grill is a small burger joint that features sliders, one of our favorite eats. We’ve been big fans of the sliders at White Manna in Hackensack, NJ, although the last few times we’ve gone there, the burgers were unseasoned and dried out. The Snow White Grill had a similar old timey feel, with seats at a long counter and a small menu. It’s in a quaint part of town, down a pedestrian mall with lots of restaurants and shops. It’s really a small place though so it might be easy to miss.

The menu board

The counter and grill

Josh and I both ordered red birch beer to drink, which is similar to root beer, but less sweet and not as medicinal-tasting, in my opinion. Josh and I both got sliders and shared some fries and tater tots on the side. We were surprised when the sliders came out of a warming tray instead of being cooked fresh on the grill. I was disappointed that we couldn’t watch their slider cooking method, but fortunately, the burgers still tasted fresh and hot. The meat was well seasoned and the onions were soft and sweet, though not super caramelized.

Slider with tater tots

Josh had his sliders with cheese, but because they were added after the burger had already been cooked and put together, the cheese wasn’t melted on. The residual heat softened it up though, and Josh didn’t have any complaints. The fries were the shoestring variety, which I prefer. They seemed to be the frozen kind though, as were the tater tots, but both were fried well – hot and crispy, so we enjoyed them.

Sliders with cheese and fries

I only got one slider so that I could also try the chili dog. We had recently tried the chili half smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC (more on that trip later), so I was in a chili dog mood. The chili was the ground meat variety, not too thick nor too thin, and fairly standard in terms of seasoning. The hot dog was also pretty standard, and overall it was not bad but definitely not as good as Ben’s.

Chili dog

Overall, we really enjoyed the sliders at the Snow White Grill. They were flavorful and well prepared, not overly greasy, and I wonder if they would have been even better if we had gotten them fresh off the grill. I could pass on the chili dog the next time, but the fries and tots were tasty. We were off to a good start on our roadfood trip.

Our second stop was a snack break just under two hours later, at Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, VA. It’s a drive-in restaurant (although you can also sit inside if desired), which I was excited about as I had never experienced that before.

Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, VA

We pulled into one of the drive in spots and took a quick look at the menu, which is fairly big but features basic grill and fry items. Since this was supposed to be our “snack”, we decided to each order a milk shake and to split one of their famous Superburgers. We placed our order through the intercom, and it was brought to us shortly by the car hop and placed on a tray next to the menu.

The menu, ordering intercom, and food tray

Josh got a vanilla milkshake while I chose strawberry. The shakes were thick and creamy, though not too thick so that we could still suck it up through the straw. The vanilla tasted like melted high quality vanilla ice cream, and was pretty delicious. The strawberry was even better in my opinion, with real bits of strawberry blended into the shake.

Vanilla and strawberry milkshakes

The Superburger was supposedly created a few years before the Big Mac. It features two beef patties, American cheese, shredded lettuce, and special sauce on a triple decker bun. It was definitely similar to a Big Mac, but tasted fresher. The meat was beefier, though we found the special sauce (similar to thousand island dressing) a bit too sweet. We liked the novelty of it but would probably get a regular burger next time, if we ever go back.

The Superburger

Overall, we loved the milkshakes at Wright’s Dairy Rite. I would definitely go back for another if we’re in the area, and maybe try some of their ice cream. The Superburger was a notch above standard fast food burgers, but nothing extraordinary. Still, we thought that it’s a great place to stop by for a quick snack, and having your food delivered to your window by a car hop is pretty neat.

After leaving Staunton, we headed towards our destination for the night, my brother’s home near Charlotte, NC. We planned to stop in Greensboro, NC for a barbecue dinner at Stamey’s, which I also read about on Unfortunately, we hit massive amounts of traffic en route and wound up arriving well after all the barbecue joints in the area had closed. Luckily my brother had saved us some marinated flank steak so we still ended up having a tasty late dinner.

The next morning we hit the road again and headed to Charleston, SC. Even though it wasn’t really on the way to Hilton Head, I really wanted to have lunch at the Hominy Grill. The restaurant is listed on, but I’ve wanted to eat there for many years now, ever since I read a profile about it in The New York Times. I was looking forward to having my first lowcountry meal of the trip, and it didn’t disappoint.

Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC

We arrived just in time for a late lunch, so the restaurant wasn’t too crowded. They brought us some boiled peanuts to start, which were easy to crack open and fun to eat.

Boiled peanuts

To start off our meal, we shared the fried green tomatoes and okra and shrimp beignets. The fried green tomatoes were perfectly breaded discs, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The tomatoes were just slightly tart, and they paired well with the creamy ranch dressing on the side.

Fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing

The shrimp and okra beignets were loosely bound fritters that fell apart delicately when I cut into them. Though a bit messy to eat, they were delicious, with lots shrimp chunks inside, and just a hint of the oozy texture of the okra. They were served with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, providing a southwestern twist to the dish.

Shrimp and okra beignets with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream

For our entrees, we split the big nasty sandwich and the shrimp and grits. The big nasty features a fried chicken breast topped with cheddar cheese that is sandwiched between a biscuit and smothered with sausage gravy. It looks and sounds like a total gutbomb, but it actually wasn’t overly heavy. While I wouldn’t call it a light dish either, the fried chicken was moist, the biscuit was fluffy, and the sausage gravy was creamy but not too salty or rich. Splitting the portion was spot on, leaving us plenty of room to enjoy our other dish.

Big nasty biscuit with fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese, and sausage gravy

The shrimp and grits featured plump shrimp topped with sauteed mushrooms, scallions, and bacon over a bed of cheese grits. There was a lemon wedge on the side that we squeezed over the top, and added a healthy dose of hot sauce as well. It was a great combination of salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy, a big plate of comfort food at its best. My only quibble was that the dish was only served warm, not piping hot, and the grits weren’t as creamy as I prefer.

Shrimp and grits with with mushrooms, scallions, and bacon

Overall, the Hominy Grill was one of my favorite meals all year. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, since I had been eager to try this restaurant for years, but the food was well executed and really tasty. The menu features lots of southern/lowcountry classics, and there were so many things that I wanted to try. And even though this is a highly acclaimed restaurant, all of the dishes were under $20, with appetizers and sandwiches all under $10. I would definitely go back again, and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Charleston.

We arrived at our final destination, Hilton Head Island, in the early evening, just in time for dinner. So while our first Roadfood trip was pretty short, and we weren’t able to make it to all of the places on our list due to traffic, we had a lot of fun and got to try a lot of good food. Roadfood isn’t about finding the fanciest or best restaurants. It’s about eating locally, seeking out gems that represent the cuisine of the region. All the places that we visited served solid, down to earth food, and for cheap. It’s the best of all the worlds, and I look forward to our next Roadfood adventure.

Snow White Grill
159 North Loudoun St.
Winchester, VA

Wright’s Dairy Rite
346 Greenville Ave.
Staunton, VA

Hominy Grill
207 Rutledge Ave.
Charleston, SC

Social Eatz

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 by virginia

Social Eatz is a restaurant that garners a lot of buzz because it is the restaurant of Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa. Josh and I are big fans of Top Chef but we didn’t root for Angelo when he was competing the first time around. While his food always looked good and his competitors clearly respected him, we had other favorites. Nevertheless, we didn’t object when Jess and Jack told us we should try the food at Social Eatz. They had eaten there before and enjoyed it, and so we decided to go on a double date with them and check it out.

Jess made a reservation for us on a Saturday night, but the restaurant was surprisingly empty when we arrived. We got a great table right next to the window in front. Jess and I got some beer while Josh ordered the carrot ginger fizz, an interesting cocktail featuring carrot juice, ginger beer, vodka, and citrus. It was sweet, tangy, and bubbly, and very drinkable.

Carrot Ginger Fizz cocktail

We decided to share a few appetizers to start. The first was edamame fritters, which our waiter said was a new dish for the restaurant. For some reason we were all expecting the individual edamame beans to be fried, and were quite surprised when we saw that it was actually like falafel balls made from pureed edamame. The fritters were fantastic – crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The edamame flavor definitely shined through, brightened up with some citrus. There was also garlic mayo on the side for dipping that was addictively delicious. I could have used that mayo on just about anything. My only complaint was that there were only two fritters in the order. I wish there had been more!

Edamame fritters with garlic mayo

Our other appetizer was the noodle salad with plum ponzu. It featured cold buckwheat soba noodles with baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, and sliced scallions all mixed with a sweet plum and citrus dressing. It was light and refreshing and also a good mix of sweet and tangy. The noodles were cooked well so that they still had a nice chewiness to them, and this time I had no complaints about the portion size.

Noodle salad with plum ponzu

Both couples decided to share a bibimbap burger and a pair of tacos. There are lots of different burgers to choose from but the bibimbap burger won’s best burger in America contest so we wanted to try it out. We were happy to see that they cut the burgers in half for us in the kitchen, because they were really quite messy. The burger featured a beef patty topped with a runny fried egg, shredded lettuce, and pickled carrots and cucumber. There was also sriracha mayo on the burger that oozed out when we bit into the burger and dripped everywhere.

Bibimbap burger

Autopsy shot

The burger itself was very flavorful, with the pickled vegetables and sriracha sauce definitely showing its Asian influence. The beef patty was cooked to a nice medium rare but it was kind of mushy in texture and got a bit lost under the egg and all the other components. What meat I could taste was well seasoned, and while I really did enjoy the burger, it didn’t seem like a regular burger to me. I wouldn’t compare it to a Shake Shack burger or Corner Bistro, because it’s a totally different genre of burger. So even though it was pretty delicious in it’s own way, if I’m craving a burger, this isn’t what I’d go for. Nevertheless, we were happy to have tried it.

As for the tacos, we got an order of the Korean beef tacos and the tilapia tacos. The Korean beef tacos featured marinated skirt steak that had a slight kick to it from gochujang, which is a spicy Korean pepper paste. The taco was supposed to have bean sprout kimchee as well but I didn’t really see it or taste it. There were pickled carrots and cucumber on the taco, as well as more of that sriracha mayo, which actually made the whole thing taste very similar to the bibimbap burger. The skirt steak was pretty tender, however, and flavorful on its own, and I enjoyed the fresh cilantro on top. I just wish that the taco had more pronounced kimchee flavor.

Korean beef tacos

The tilapia tacos were pretty spicy, as the fish had been brushed with Thai chili. I enjoyed the fish and the accompanying green tomato salsa and avocado, which helped temper the spice. It was a flavorful combination of spicy and tangy, and I preferred these tacos to the Korean beef tacos. I just wish they hadn’t added sriracha mayo to these tacos as well, as after a while, everything just started tasting the same.

Chili kissed tilapia tacos

Both the burgers and the tacos were a la carte, so we got two orders of fries to share. They were thin cut and crispy, like McDonald’s fries, and dusted with a bit of paprika (I think). There was a mayo based dipping sauce on the side but the fries were good on their own and seasoned enough that they didn’t need the sauce.

Side order of fries

For dessert, we split an order of the yuzu cream puffs. The choux pastry was filled with yuzu curd, which tasted similar to lemon or lime curd. It was slightly sweet but the citrus flavor made it refreshing. The cream puffs were served hot, which I liked, and delicately crispy on the outside. We quickly took down the whole bowl.

Yuzu cream puffs

Overall Josh and I both enjoyed Social Eatz but didn’t find it to be outstanding. The food was tasty but nothing was distinctive. The menu indicates Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese influences, but mostly, I just found it to be generically Asian fusion food. Sriracha mayo was on almost everything, and that flavor really dominates. After a while, all the flavors got muddled and everything just tasted like the mayo. I did enjoy the appetizers though, which were well executed and the highlight of the meal for me. On the surface, the menu at Social Eatz is very affordable. The burgers and sandwiches top out at $12, and the tacos at $9. Most things are under $10. However, since everything is a la carte, adding on a side dish is an additional $4.50 each. That means for a burger and fries, it’s really about $16.50, not $12, which is really not that cheap. In terms of atmosphere, the restaurant did fill up by the end of our meal. It was a bit loud but not overly so, and the place has a trendy but casual vibe. I would probably go back, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make another trip there.

Social Eatz
232 East 53rd St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY