Posts Tagged ‘Sandwiches’

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

Tam Deli and Cafe – Austin, TX

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by virginia


The last day of our Louisiana/Texas trip was really just a travel day. We had an early afternoon flight out of Austin and needed to return our rental car by midday, so we took it easy in the morning. We did have one last stop planned though, on our way to the airport. Rather than suffering through bad airplane food, we picked up some banh mis from Tam Deli and Cafe to tide us over.

The banh mi that I had read the most about during my research was the fried garlic shrimp banh mi. When we opened up the sandwich though, it looked more like a po’ boy than a typical banh mi, as it was dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, rather than cilantro, jalapenos, and pickled vegetables. We laughed that our trip had come full circle, considering we started out in New Orleans and ate more than our fair share of po’ boys while we were there. Nevertheless, it was a delicious sandwich – the shrimp were perfectly fried and covered with crunchy, pungent bits of garlic. The garlic flavor wasn’t overwhelming, but it definitely makes its presence known. The french bread was crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, and wrapped around the fillings nicely, without getting soggy or too messy.

Garlic shrimp banh mi

Garlic shrimp banh mi

We also ordered a grilled pork banh mi, which ended up being more like the traditional banh mi that we’re used to. It was filled with flavorful strips of savory grilled pork and topped with pickled shredded carrots, sliced cucumber and jalapeno, and of course, cilantro. It wasn’t as stuffed to the brim as the banh mis we’re used to from back home, but it was still tasty nonetheless.

Grilled pork banh mi

Grilled pork banh mi

Lastly, we also got two cream puffs, because, why not? These were fresh when we ordered them (and we devoured them right away), with a delicate choux pastry exterior and creamy custard inside. They were two lovely petite bites.

Cream puffs

Cream puffs

Overall, we thought the banh mis from Tam Deli and Cafe were pretty solid. The fried garlic shrimp sandwich was delicious in its po’ boy format, but might have been even better dressed with the traditional banh mi ingredients; I’m not sure if you can request it that way, but it’s worth a shot. The garlic shrimp itself is worth the detour, though this place is pretty far outside of downtown Austin. But if you have a car and are heading to the airport, it’s not too out of the way. Don’t forget to get a cream puff for dessert. We ended up eating our banh mis by the gate while waiting for our flight, and they held up really well. It was a nice conclusion to our week and a half of pigging out through Louisiana and Texas, and it definitely made us want to do more food-related road trips in the future.

Tam Deli and Cafe
8222 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX

Muffaletta Round-Up – New Orleans

Sunday, January 5th, 2014 by virginia

Muffaletta, a sandwich made from round Sicilian bread stuffed with Italian cold cuts, cheese, and olive salad, is another iconic New Orleans food. During our last trip, we tried the “original” muffaletta from Central Grocery and loved the combination of the soft focaccia-like bread, the savoriness of the cured meats, and the sharp brininess of the olive salad. I enjoyed it so much that I made Josh bring home a whole sandwich (they’re so big that they’re sliced into quarters and can be bought as a half or a whole; a quarter is a good-sized sandwich for one) after his conference ended. The bread suffered a bit from the travel/plane ride, but that olive salad was still great.

This time around we decided to try out some other muffalettas. The version from Cochon Butcher, the more casual sandwich outpost of Donald Link’s Cochon Restaurant, has gotten great buzz, so we headed over there for a late breakfast/early lunch.

Cochon Restaurant actually played a small part in the inspiration for this trip. We had been watching a movie with Jason Segel called Jeff Who Lives at Home, which takes place in Louisiana, and Cochon was featured in one of the scenes. While the movie was on, I was reading articles about it and learned that Jason Segel had gained over 20 pounds during filming because of all the great food in New Orleans. The funny part about the weight gain is that the movie is supposed to take place over the course of one day, so you can see his character thinner in one scene and then visibly bigger in another, even though no time has passed in the movie itself. It made me think about all of the great food we had eaten in New Orleans on our previous trip, and all of the great food we didn’t get to eat.

Josh and I usually don’t like to travel back to places we’ve been before because we feel like there are so many places we haven’t seen yet. With the arrival of Baby J, however, we’ve had to amend our way of traveling – less exotic, more low key – so I suggested making New Orleans the starting point of our trip, but also adding in cities where we haven’t visited before. It was a win/win situation.

Anyway, while I would have liked to eat at Cochon Restaurant, I thought that J would be better off in the less formal Cochon Butcher. She’s pretty good in restaurants but still has a habit of throwing food all over the floor, and I was afraid of her making a mess or causing a scene. Unfortunately, we got there right when a huge medical conference at the nearby convention center let out for lunch, so there was a huge line of doctors waiting to order food. J was getting fussy so I walked her around the block a few times while Josh stood in the line to place our order. Cochon Butcher is pretty small inside and I didn’t want to try to navigate her stroller around all the people. Luckily there were a few tables outside and I was able to nab one and park her stroller away from the crowd. It was a warm day and sitting outside was actually quite nice.

The long line outside Cochon Butcher

The long line at Cochon Butcher

Our food was delivered to us shortly, including the much-anticipated muffaletta. It’s definitely a “chef-y” version of the sandwich, with high quality, thicker cut meats that are cured in-house. It’s also a lot smaller than Central Grocery’s version, although still plenty of food.

Muffaletta sandwich

Cochon muffaletta

The bread was fluffier and lighter, which was also different, but the biggest disappointment was the olive salad, which I don’t think was as briny and didn’t have a lot of impact. The biggest issue was that there simply wasn’t enough of it, so it got kind of lost between all the bread and the meat. Don’t get me wrong – the sandwich was still delicious. It was served warm and the cheese was all melty, which I liked. But it was more of just an upscale Italian style sandwich rather than what I think of when I think about eating a muffaletta.

Autopsy shot

Autopsy shot

We also ordered the pork belly sandwich, which came on white toast and was topped with a cucumber-mint salad. The pork belly was tender and flavorful, as you would expect from good pork belly. However, I thought it was just maybe slightly underdone. The pork belly was definitely cooked through, it just wasn’t as caramelized as I thought it would have been so that it would melt in our mouths. But maybe that’s just how the sandwich is supposed to be. It was still a delicious sandwich, with the refreshing salad to cut through the fattiness, but it didn’t have that wow factor.

Pork belly with mint and cucumber on white

Pork belly with mint and cucumber on white

We also got an order of boudin, which is a Cajun style sausage that is made with ground meat and rice mixed together. We were looking forward to eating the boudin in Lafayette, where it’s more well-known, but Michael the concierge told us not to miss Cochon’s version. It was intensely meaty, with a bit of a funk to it that I think comes from chicken liver. It was the first boudin we’ve ever tasted, and we were big fans. It was wonderful with the whole grain mustard and sweet pickles on the side.

Hot boudin

Hot boudin

Lastly, we got some pancetta mac and cheese, which was our favorite dish of the meal. The sauce was creamy and cheesy, as expected, and the pancetta added a savory, smoky aspect. The top was nicely browned, and it was just a bowl of comforting umaminess.

Pancetta mac-n-cheese

Pancetta mac-n-cheese

Overall I really liked Cochon Butcher, although the sandwiches themselves didn’t knock my socks off. It’s a great place for a low key meal with quality ingredients at a reasonable price. Plus when he dropped off our food, the waiter said, “nice order, bro”, which made me a bit proud and predisposed to enjoy it.

Josh was more disappointed with Cochon Butcher’s muffaletta than I was, so we decided to pick up a half from Central Grocery the next day and eat it back in our room later that evening. This was after our breakfast/lunch at Domilise’s and Casamento’s, and our long walk from Uptown back to the French Quarter. Since Central Grocery closes at 5 pm, we got half a muffaletta to go, and then walked over to the Napoleon House for a drink and late afternoon snack/early dinner.


Napoleon House is known for two things: inventing the Pimm’s Cup, and their hot muffaletta sandwich. We were hungry but not starving so we decided to share a half; it’s size is more similar to Central Grocery so a quarter for each of us was definitely plenty. I actually thought the sandwich would be hotter and more toasty, but it was just slightly warmed through and the cheese was barely melted. It was fine though, and the flavors were generally spot-on for me. However, visually, the proportions were off and the sandwich is constructed differently from Central Grocery’s version. Here, the bread is thicker and softer, and the cheese acts as a barrier between the olive salad and the bread, which prevents the olive oil flavor from soaking in. Nevertheless, there was a lot of olive salad, which I liked because the flavor was nicely pronounced, and there was a fairly thick layer of meat to balance everything out. While I enjoyed Napoleon House’s muffaletta quite a bit, Josh was still focused on the Central Grocery muffaletta.

Hot muffaletta

Hot muffaletta

The Pimm’s Cup was a pleasant surprise for me, since I typically don’t like gin-based drinks. It’s a combination of Pimm’s #1, lemonade, and 7-Up, garnished with a slice of cucumber. However, this tasted mostly like potent lemonade and was actually quite refreshing. It wasn’t overly sweet, and I could enjoy drinking a lot of this on a hot summer’s day.

Pimm's cup

Pimm’s cup

We also ordered a portion of jambalaya with our sandwich for J to snack on, but she was more interested in running around. It was a pretty good version, not too smoky, with lots of sausage mixed throughout.



The atmosphere at Napoleon House is part of its appeal. The bar has a ton of history and looks it on the inside. It’s dark with a classic, European feel to it, and old pictures and paintings hanging on the walls. We were a bit nervous about whether it was baby-appropriate, but the hostess was very gracious and seated us in a near-empty room where J wouldn’t bother anyone. Our waiter was great too, attentive but unobtrusive. He didn’t mind when J started taking a few laps around the empty tables. It’s definitely a place where I could see hanging out for a quiet drink in a historic setting away from the craziness of Bourbon Street.

The interior of Napoleon House

The interior of Napoleon House

After Napoleon House, we walked around a little more and then called it an early night. We knew we’d be hungry later so we picked up another fried shrimp po’ boy from Verti Marte to go with our half muffaletta from Central Grocery. When we finally cracked into the muffaletta, it was just as we remembered. Soft bread, not too dense or too fluffy, slightly oily from the olive salad soaking into it, and the perfect ratio to the meat and cheese. And that olive salad – bright and briny with a slight kick – it packs a punch of flavor into the sandwich.

The original muffaletta from Central Grocery

The Central Grocery muffaletta

I guess it’s no surprise that Central Grocery reigns supreme as our favorite muffaletta. What really puts it over the top is the tangy and spicy olive salad that just bursts with flavor. It’s also the first muffaletta sandwich we ever ate and is the standard that we use to compare all other muffalettas. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy the other versions we tried on this trip. I thought Napoleon House had a pretty good example of a hot muffaletta, and I enjoyed the slight meltiness of the cheese in the sandwich. And Cochon Butcher’s muffaletta was still delicious, with the best meats and cheese out of the bunch. If I had to deconstruct a muffaletta and eat each component separately, Cochon’s would be the one I would prefer to do that with. But as a whole, nothing beats the original.


Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA

Napoleon House
500 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA

Central Grocery
923 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA

Po’ Boy Round-Up – New Orleans

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 by virginia

Prior to our arrival in New Orleans, Josh and I had two main goals for the NOLA portion of our trip – to eat as many oysters and po’ boys as we could. Having eaten over 10 dozen oysters in three days, I think we accomplished that goal pretty well. As for po’ boys, we didn’t do too shabby in that regard either.

Immediately after we checked into our hotel and left our bags with the bellhop (our room wasn’t ready yet since it was still morning), we headed a few blocks down to Mother’s Restaurant for a late breakfast/early lunch. I’ve always read great things about their po’ boys with debris and wanted to try it out. Josh had eaten there without me during our last trip to New Orleans (he stayed a few extra days for a work conference after I flew home) and wasn’t impressed, but I convinced him to give it another shot.


Turns out he had ordered the Famous Ferdi Special last time, which is a po’ boy with baked ham, roast beef, debris, and gravy. I had read that just the plain roast beef po’ boy with debris and gravy was the way to go, so we decided to split a large one of those. The slices of roast beef were pretty tender but the real star was the debris, which is basically the shreds of roast beef that fall apart into the gravy. The resulting meat was juicy and flavorful, and there was a tangy slaw on top that helped cut through the richness of the beef. The gravy soaks through the bread and although it does get a bit soggy, we were still able to devour the sandwich with relative ease.

Roast beef po' boy with debris and gravy

Roast beef po’ boy with debris and gravy

We also split a biscuit sandwich with black ham. Black ham is basically the caramelized ends of the baked ham, which has an incredibly flavorful crust. The ham was delicious, meaty and slightly sweet, although it a bit dry. The biscuit was more cakey than flaky, but it worked well to contain the pile of ham.

Biscuit sandwich with black ham

Biscuit sandwich with black ham

The ordering process at Mother’s is pretty efficient. People line up to place their orders at the front of the restaurant, and then find seats in the back rooms. Waitresses will then look at your receipt and deliver your order. Since we had J with us in her stroller, they let me find a seat first while Josh stood in line. Although the line was long, there was plenty of seating available so it wasn’t a big deal. It’s a much larger place than it first appears. Most of the tables are big and round, and I guess when they’re really busy, seating may be communal. Despite Josh’s reservations from his previous visit, we really enjoyed the food at Mother’s, and he was happy to have tried it again.

Our second po’ boy on the trip was a recommendation from the bellhops at the Hilton St. Charles. They suggested we try out Verti Marte, which is basically a little deli/grocery store on the outskirts of the French Quarter. There is no seating at Verti Marte, so we got a fried shrimp po’ boy to go, intending to eat it later back in our room as a post-dinner snack.


After walking around the French Quarter, stopping for beers to go on Bourbon Street, as well as dinner at Felix’s, we ended up back at the hotel. In the interest of full disclosure, this was also the night we picked up two dozen charbroiled oysters from Drago’s. Quite the little piggies we are! Even though we were already full from the first dozen charbroiled oysters, I was looking forward to cracking open the Verti Marte po’ boy. I was worried that it would be a soggy, disgusting mess from being left in the bag for several hours while we were out and about, but to our surprise, the sesame seed-studded bread was remarkably fresh. While the shrimp were no longer hot and crispy, as I’m sure they were when the sandwich was first made, they were still plump and delicious.

Fried shrimp po' boy

Fried shrimp po’ boy

The best part of the po’ boy was definitely the shrimp, which were large specimens coated with a tasty, well seasoned breading. The sandwich was dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo, which helped prevent the shrimp from drying out but didn’t overwhelm the flavor. We were shocked by just how good this po’ boy was, even though it was cold and had been sitting around for hours.

Gorgeous, large shrimp inside

Autopsy shot

The next morning, we ventured further out to the Uptown area of the city to check out Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar. Michael, the concierge at the Hilton Riverside, who was our inside source of restaurant information, said that while it was a neat place to check out, the po’ boys were just ok. His assessment was pretty spot-on.


Domilise’s is located in a pretty residential area, surrounded by private homes. It was a bit of a hike from the St. Charles Streetcar, but we enjoyed seeing parts of the city that most people do not experience outside of the French Quarter. The decor at Domilise is part of its draw – there are photos of patrons hanging on the walls going back many years. Some are recognizably famous (the Manning brothers feature prominently, which is cool for Giants fans such as ourselves), most are not, but one could spend hours poring over each photo.

Menu board and some of the photos on the wall

Menu board and some of the photos on the wall

We ordered our po’ boys up front at the counter by the fryers, and drink orders are placed at the bar. When our sandwiches were ready, we picked them up at the counter. We decided to split a large roast beef po’ boy and a large fried shrimp po’ boy. Each sandwich came in three pieces and was way more food than we needed; a small would have been plenty of food. The roast beef was dressed with mayo, lettuce, pickles, yellow mustard, creole mustard, and gravy. Sadly, the beef was extremely dry. The gravy was tasty, and I liked the kick from the creole mustard, but the dressings did little help with the poor texture of the meat.

Roast beef po' boys fully dressed

Roast beef po’ boy fully dressed

The shrimp po’ boy fared slightly better, but not much. The shrimp were freshly fried and crispy, but they were small and tasteless, not at all like the shrimp on the Verti Marte po’boy. All I tasted was the breading on the shrimp, which wasn’t very seasoned, and not the actual shrimp themselves. The sandwich was dressed with mayo, lettuce, pickles, ketchup, and hot sauce. I thought the ketchup was a bit weird but I didn’t mind it. I did end up adding more hot sauce, as well as some creole mustard, to the po’ boy to try to bump up the flavor a bit.

Fried shrimp po' boy

Fried shrimp po’ boy

After Domilise’s, we stopped in for lunch at Casamento’s (if you consider our po’ boys “breakfast”), and then took a long walk back downtown on Magazine Street. It’s a neat street, with lots of cute shops and galleries and tons of restaurants and bars mixed in with some beautiful residential homes. Back in the French Quarter, we walked around, took some pictures, had a drink and snack at the Napoleon House, and then decided to stay in for the night. We picked up a few provisions, including another fried shrimp po’ boy from Verti Marte. Again, it was a few hours before we ate it, but again, it was still really delicious.

The second leg of our trip was Lafayette, Louisiana, which is about a two hour drive from New Orleans. We picked up our rental car on Wednesday morning and decided to check out a few places in the Mid-City area before leaving town. After an incredible fried chicken “breakfast” at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, we stopped at Parkway Tavern & Bakery and picked up a roast beef po’ boy and a fried shrimp po’ boy to go, intending to eat them on our drive to Lafayette.


Then we immediately headed to Liuzza’s By The Track to try out their famous BBQ shrimp po’ boy.


New Orleans style barbecued shrimp is not as it sounds. I looked up recipes after our trip because I was completely befuddled by it. It’s neither grilled nor smoked. Rather, it just means that the shrimp is cooked in a sauce made with tons of butter and Worcestershire sauce, as well as creole seasoning, garlic, and lemon. On paper, it sounds fantastic. However, I just found the sauce to be oddly thick, oily but not buttery or rich, and surprisingly bland. I guess there was a hint of garlic, but not much. I made sure to stir up the seasonings that had settled on the bottom and it was still pretty flavorless.

The shrimp in the New Orleans style barbecue sauce

The shrimp in the New Orleans style barbecue sauce

We actually got the po’ boy to go because J was already asleep in the car, but we ate it immediately sitting outside the restaurant so I don’t think the integrity of the dish was compromised. We got a container of the shrimp in the sauce and a hollowed out roll of crusty french bread separately, so that it wouldn’t get soggy. I spooned the shrimp and sauce into the bread to form the po’ boy. They definitely gave us tons of shrimp, more than could fit into the bread, but we just didn’t enjoy the flavor of the sauce.

The constructed BBQ shrimp po' boy

The constructed BBQ shrimp po’ boy

We also got a cup of their creole gumbo, which is made with a dark roux and contains shrimp, sausage, and chicken. This was pleasantly complex and hearty. I could see eating a lot of this on a cold day with some of their excellent french bread.

Creole gumbo

Creole gumbo

We were kind of disappointed by the BBQ shrimp po’ boy so we decided to try out Parkway’s roast beef po’ boy before we officially hit the road. The regular-sized po’ boy (not the large) was huge and probably weighed about a pound. There was a ton of roast beef spilling it, and it looked very promising. The beef shredded easily, like the debris at Mother’s, and was dripping with gravy. Unfortunately, the meat was incredibly bland. The standard dressing of shredded lettuce, tomato, and mayo did little to help the issue. What the sandwich needed was a good dose of salt, and maybe some of that tangy slaw that Mother’s uses on top of their roast beef po’ boys.

Huge roast beef po' boy

Huge roast beef po’ boy

We ended up not eating Parkway’s fried shrimp po’ boy until later that night in Lafayette, as a sort of midnight snack in our hotel room, which meant it was sitting around for a while. Fortunately, it was still very good. The bread definitely suffered and was a bit of a soggy mess, but the shrimp were still tasty. They were large, not overly breaded, and well seasoned, giving the po’ boy more flavor than its roast beef counterpart. I’m sure if we had eaten it fresh, it would have been even better.

Fried shrimp po' boy

Fried shrimp po’ boy

So the final verdict? Mother’s took the roast beef po’ boy title pretty easily. The beef was tender, the gravy was flavorful, and that tangy, crunchy slaw just put it over the top. Parkway’s roast beef had the potential to be a great po’ boy, as their sandwich had the most meat and was probably the best quality, but the meat was just way under seasoned and basically flavorless. Domilise’s roast beef was simply too tough and dry, though I liked the combination of mustards and mayo in their dressing.

In terms of shrimp po’ boys, Verti Marte was the clear victor, hands down. Their fried shrimp po’ boy was so good that we ate it twice, cold both times, and loved every bite. I would go back there in a heartbeat, and maybe try to eat it hot next time, standing outside the store. They had the largest shrimp and the most seasoned breading. Parkway’s fried shrimp po’ boy was also delicious cold, though the bread suffered a bit. The shrimp were the second biggest and also well seasoned. Domilise’s fried shrimp po’ boy was clearly at the bottom of the pack, with small, overly breaded shrimp that lacked seafood flavor.

The BBQ shrimp po’ boy from Liuzza’s By The Track was a bit of an outlier, as it was vastly different from the fried shrimp po’ boys, and it was probably my least favorite sandwich out of the bunch. I really was just not a fan of the New Orleans style barbecue sauce, but that’s just a personal taste.

Po’ boys are everywhere in New Orleans, and I’m sure there are plenty of great places that we didn’t get to try. Based on our experience, I think Mother’s has pretty good food and is a NOLA institution that shouldn’t be missed, and Verti Marte is one of those hidden gems that you would only find out about if you talk to the locals. Both are worth a visit if you’re in town.

Mother’s Restaurant
401 Poydras St.
New Orleans, LA

Verti Marte
1201 Royal St.
New Orleans, LA

Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar
5240 Annunciation St.
New Orleans, LA

Parkway Bakery & Tavern
538 Hagan Ave.
New Orleans, LA

Liuzza’s By The Track
1518 N Lopez 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


Thursday, October 27th, 2011 by virginia

For my birthday, Jess and Jack got me tickets to see a Times Talk featuring Eric Ripert and Jennifer Carroll. It was part of the NYC Wine and Food Festival, and Josh and I were excited to see one of our favorite chefs in person. We absolutely love Le Bernardin, and I have a not-so-secret crush on Chef Ripert.

The talk was during the afternoon at the Times Center on 41st St. so Josh and I decided to get a late lunch on our way over. We couldn’t really decide on where we wanted to eat, but Josh mentioned that he was craving croque monsieur – specifically the croque monsieur from L’Express. Since we were nowhere near L’Express, I suggested we check out Marseille, which was on the way and is owned by the same people. I was hoping that the croque monsieur would be similar since we both loved the version at L’Express.

Turns out that Marseille didn’t offer croque monsieur, but they did have croque madame, which is basically the same thing, with the addition of a fried egg on top. We decided to share that and a chicken sandwich. While we waited for our food, they brought us a basket of breads and muffins to munch on. There was slices of marble rye, a crusty roll with raisins, and mini muffins that tasted a bit like carrot cake – I enjoyed the variety.

Assorted breads and muffins

The croque madame arrived and looked extremely promising. There was a thick layer of cheese on the outside that was nicely browned, and the fried egg on top looked like it was perfectly runny. While the egg was actually cooked well, when we cut into the sandwich, we could see immediately that it was pretty different from the L’Express version. For one thing, there was no cheese in the middle of the sandwich, only ham. All of the cheese was on the outside, and what looked deceptively brown and bubbly was actually lukewarm and kind of congealed. The bread itself was soggy, not crispy, and there was mustard in the sandwich that was unevenly distributed. Some bites were all mustard flavor, and other bites had none. We were both pretty disappointed.

Croque madame

The chicken sandwich fared slightly better in terms of execution, but we also found it a bit disappointing. It featured grilled chicken breast, roasted peppers, arugula, bacon and aioli on a brioche roll. The combination looked good on paper but it was kind of boring in flavor. The chicken was tender but bland, the roasted peppers almost non-existent, and not even the bacon could help boost the flavor. Plus it was actually a pretty small sandwich and didn’t do much to satisfy us.

Grilled chicken sandwich with roasted peppers, arugula, and bacon

Both of the sandwiches came with small salads on the side, just a simple mix of greens and halved cherry tomatoes. The salad that came with the chicken sandwich was pretty bad – there was no dressing on it, plus the lettuce was sandy. I don’t know what happened there since the salad that came with the croque madam was fine. We were also disappointed that the sandwiches didn’t come with fries as they did at L’Express. We added a side order, which was a good call because they were hot and crispy and probably the highlight of our meal.

French fries

Overall we were both disappointed with Marseille, especially since we enjoyed L’Express and Nizza so much. I guess the same owners doesn’t necessarily mean the same chef/recipes. The restaurant itself is nice, with an upscale bistro feel to it, but the food was pretty lackluster for us, and kind of pricey to boot. The sandwiches at L’Express were much better, both in flavor and execution, plus they came with fries in addition to the salad. I don’t really see us going back to Marseille unless we’re in a pinch, but there are tons of restaurants in the area along 9th Ave. that serve much tastier fare.

As for the Times Talk, Chef Ripert was delightful to listen to, and very easy to relate to as well. He has a great sense of humor that you wouldn’t really expect from such an esteemed chef. As for Chef Carroll, we were fans of her from Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars, but she didn’t add too much value to the talk. She did provide some color commentary and anecdotes, but the real highlight for us was definitely Chef Ripert. He is clearly very passionate about food and takes great pride in the dishes that he puts out in his restaurant. His passion is infectious, and I hope that I will always strive for the same kind of perfection, both in my own cooking and in my life.

630 9th Ave. at West 44th St.
New York, NY


Saturday, August 20th, 2011 by virginia

Josh and I were recently in the Union Square area because we were looking for some hiking backpacks at Paragon Sports. For my 30th birthday, Josh got me a 3-day hiking trip over Labor Day weekend in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, since I’ve always expressed interest in climbing Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. We decided to get brunch before trying on all the different packs, and I suggested going to L’Express because I had read that they serve a really great croque monsieur.

L’Express has a French bistro vibe to it, with mirrors on the walls and lots of dark wood paneling, but it’s a massive restaurant. It’s owned by the same people who own Nizza, Five Napkin Burger, Marseille, etc., and I tend to find these restaurants to be just a bit commercial in appearance. Nevertheless, I love the food at Nizza so I had high hopes for L’Express. It was fairly late for brunch so the restaurant wasn’t crowded, and we were seated immediately.

Josh and I decided to split the croque monsieur and the merguez sandwich. Our food came quickly, and everything was piping hot. The croque monsieur looked gorgeous, with a cheesy top that was perfectly browned.

Croque monsieur, frites, petite salad

I cut the sandwich in half so that we could share, and the cheese inside just oozed out. The sandwich itself was made on perfectly grilled white bread, and there was a thin layer of ham and cheese on the inside. The ham was salty but not overly so, and the combination was just perfect. This was by far the best croque monsieur we’ve ever eaten in NY.

Autopsy shot

The merguez sandwich was comprised of two sticks of merguez sausage on a baguette with tomato concasse. The merguez was very flavorful, with lots of Moroccan spices in the sausage. There was some spicy harissa on the side that I slathered on the sandwich, giving it a nice but not overwhelming kick. Both of our sandwiches came with thin cut french fries and a small salad. The dressing on the salad was classic vinaigrette, which I love, though this version was maybe not as good as the dressing from Les Halles. The fries would have been amazing had they been fried just a tad crispier, but I liked how thin cut they were.

Merguez on a baguette with tomato concasse

Overall Josh and I both really liked L’Express. That same night, we were both craving another croque monsieur. It seems like such a simple sandwich to make but it’s surprising how many places just don’t do a good job. The version here was cheesy and crispy, exactly as it should be. I enjoyed the merguez as well, and service was fast and efficient. It was a hot day so we were both guzzling water like crazy, and our waitress patiently refilled our glasses at least a half dozen times. Portions are big and prices are very reasonable, with all sandwiches coming in under $15. It’s definitely a place that we’ll come back to, especially for the croque monsieur.

249 Park Ave. South at 20th St.
New York, NY

Bonus Cayman Post – Singh’s Roti Shop

Saturday, August 20th, 2011 by virginia

So on our way from Georgetown to Seymour’s Jerk Centre, we passed by a place called Singh’s Roti Shop. It was another local joint that I had read about before coming to Grand Cayman. The shop features Trinidadian and Caribbean cuisine, and I really wanted to try a roti, a sandwich wrapped in a flaky flat bread.

Because we were already on our way to Seymour’s for lunch, I knew I wouldn’t have much of an appetite if I ate a roti immediately beforehand, so Josh suggested that we get a sandwich to go and eat it later, since our hotel room had a refrigerator and a microwave. I knew it wouldn’t be quite the same as eating the roti fresh, but it was still better than not trying the sandwich at all.

The woman at the counter who took our order was very friendly, and when we ordered the curried chicken roti, she said we would love it so much that we would be back again the next day. That’s a pretty confident statement, and I liked that she seemed very passionate about her food. We also tried to get an order of doubles, which is curried chickpeas sandwiched between two fried flat breads, but unfortunately they had run out. It’s only served on Saturdays so I guess it’s very popular.

The menu

I really wanted to tear into the warm roti right away but I exercised some restraint. The next day, before we headed out to get marinated conch at Alfresco, we briefly microwaved the roti until it was warmed through. The flat bread was still flaky, but probably not as flaky as it would have been had we eaten it fresh. I was also surprised by the size and heft of the roti, since it looked pretty small when it was all wrapped up tightly in foil.

Curried chicken roti

When we cut it in half so that we could share it, the smell coming from the curried chicken was absolutely incredible. The chicken was still tender, and it was layered with soft, mashed potatoes. The curry was the typical yellow curry, but this version was extremely flavorful and complex. We could see all the layers of the flaky roti, and each bite was a wonderful mix of spices and textures.

Autopsy shot

Josh and I absolutely loved the curried chicken roti from Singh’s, and the woman was right, I absolutely would have gone back the next day to get a fresh roti had we not had a flight to catch. The shop itself is very casual, though there are tables where you can sit and eat inside. The curried chicken roti was C$7.50 so while it’s not dirt cheap, it’s pretty reasonable and one sandwich will definitely fill you up. The roti was one of the best things we ate on our trip, which says a lot considering we ate it after it had sat in a refrigerator all day and was reheated in a microwave. I would definitely recommend trying it out, and if we’re ever back in Grand Cayman, I would go there again in a heartbeat.

Singh’s Roti Shop
Corner of Dr. Roy’s Dr. and Shedden Rd., George Town
Grand Cayman

Yankee Stadium – Parm

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 by virginia

Josh’s cousins had two extra tickets to the Yankees/Orioles game last Saturday so we were lucky enough to be able to tag along. It was the night game of a day/night doubleheader, and the earlier game must have taken a toll on the Orioles, as the game we witnessed was a completely lopsided match-up. The Yankees scored 12 runs in the first inning, a franchise record, and I think everyone in the line up got on base and scored during the hour-long inning. It was pretty incredible, and lots of fun to watch.

The beginning of the first inning

A record 12 runs in the first inning for the Yankees

Because the first inning took so long, Josh and I were pretty hungry by the end so we immediately headed down to get some food after the third Yankee out. We knew exactly where we were headed – the new Parm stand in the Great Hall. The stand is run by the people behind Torrisi Italian Specialties down on Mulberry Street, a restaurant I’m really eager to try. They plan on opening up an actual Parm restaurant soon right next door to Torrisi, so this stand is almost like a trial run for them.

The menu is incredibly basic. You can either get a turkey sandwich or a meatball parm, both of which cost $14 each. Kind of steep, especially since the turkey sandwich is only $9 at Torrisi downtown, and $11 for a larger hero. But this is a ballpark so a markup is expected. I was pretty surprised though by the calorie count on the meatball parm, not that it really deterred me from ordering it.

The menu at Parm

Josh and I got one of each sandwich and asked the person behind the counter to cut them in half for us. The turkey sandwich had mayo on it, but Josh doesn’t like mayo so we compromised and asked for light mayo. Turns out, it didn’t need any mayo at all. The turkey was incredibly moist and flavorful, some of the best turkey I’ve ever tasted. In addition to the mayo, there was a spicy sauce slathered on that really had a great tangy kick to it. If you really don’t like spicy sauce though, ask for it light or without because it packed a surprising amount of heat. There was also lettuce, tomato, and raw red onion on the sandwich, which added a nice freshness.

The famous Torrisi turkey sandwich

Autopsy shot

The meatball parm featured a thick meatball patty that was soft and flavorful. The meatball had a wonderful texture to it, and it was also one of the best that I have ever tasted. There wasn’t a lot of cheese on the parm, but the tomato sauce was zesty and well seasoned. My major complaint was that the sandwich was lukewarm. I think it could have been even better had it been served hot, but the flavors were still pretty spot on. I really liked that they put fresh basil leaves on top of the meatball. My minor complaint was that the roll was slightly too sweet for the meatball parm. It was the same roll they use for the turkey sandwich, but it didn’t work as well with the parm. It is sort of like an eggy brioche bun. I liked that it was soft and squishy but it was really just a tad too sweet for my taste.

Meatball parm sandwich

Autopsy shot

Overall we really enjoyed both sandwiches from Parm, and I was happy to be able to try the turkey sandwich that helped make Torrisi famous. I’d love to go there for dinner sometime but the no reservation policy makes it kind of difficult. One of these days we’ll just have to suck it up and stand in line. As for the Parm stand at Yankee Stadium, it’s a welcome addition. Yes, it’s pricey, and the sandwiches aren’t huge, but the quality can’t be beat. I’m still thinking about that wonderful turkey.

It was really hot out so we also decided to grab a lemonade from one of the many lemonade stands in the stadium. At $5.25 a cup, it’s also pretty pricey. Unfortunately, it wasn’t worth the cost. The lemonade tasted incredibly watered down. It wasn’t too sweet, which I liked, but it also lacked the tanginess that you would expect from lemonade. As a result, it really wasn’t very refreshing, and I’ll pass next time.

Not very lemony lemonade

The rest of the game wasn’t as exciting as the first inning, though the Yankees still managed to tack on a bunch more runs. We started out the game sitting in the upper deck, in left field foul territory. Josh’s cousins also had two field level tickets behind the Orioles dugout, and after the fourth inning, we were allowed to move down and sit with them there because the stands were pretty empty. It was a nice upgrade, and we finished out the game with a pretty great view of the field.

The great view from our new seats

Jeter at bat

The Yankees ended up winning the game 17-3 and had a whopping 24 hits during the game. We had a great time watching the game and hanging out with everyone. Plus we really enjoyed our sandwiches from Parm, and I would definitely go back there if we make it to another Yankee game this season. I hope the stand sticks around, as it’s really worth a visit!

The final score

The Yankees lining up to celebrate their win

Grand Cayman Day 1 – Stingers and Cimboco

Monday, July 18th, 2011 by virginia

We had a long morning of traveling to get to Grand Cayman from New York, but our trip was a breeze compared to the people who were coming in from Ireland and California. After an early flight to Charlotte and a three hour layover where we met up with a few other friends, we were finally headed to the island. Unfortunately, it was gray and rainy when we landed, but our spirits were still high. We were on vacation after all!

After clearing immigration and customs, we headed outside the airport to find a taxi to take us to our hotel. To our surprise, Claire and Sean were standing there, waiting to greet some of their family who had arrived on the same flight. We exchanged a few hugs and made plans to meet up at their hotel bar at the Grand Cayman Beach Suites later on in the evening. Then we all piled into a huge taxi van that took us to our own hotel, the Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach, which was about a mile down the road from the Beach Suites.

Checking in was a breeze and we made plans to meet up at the bar, Stingers, for drinks and food. We dropped our bags in our room, which was perfectly fine but nothing too fancy. It was an alcove studio with a little sitting area and a small kitchenette area with a nice breakfast bar, a sink, microwave, toaster, and mini fridge. Our only complaint was that the air conditioner sounded like a jet engine, but at least it did its job in keeping the air cold.

Stingers is located out the back of the hotel, next to the pool. It’s open air but covered, so we were safe from the rain. Josh and I started off our island vacation with some appropriate frozen drinks – a strawberry daiquiri for me and a pina colada for him. We also split a jerk fish sandwich, our first taste of the Caribbean. The sandwich was really flavorful, with lots of spice on the fish. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and flaky, and we enjoyed the burn from the jerk seasoning. The fries were good as well, thin cut and crispy.

Jerk fish sandwich and fries

Even though it was still raining after our late lunch, we decided to head to the beach anyway. We figured that we would be getting wet regardless, so a little rain wouldn’t hurt us. It was actually quite nice, since the beach was nearly deserted due to the weather. We were a little chilly when we first got into the water, but we warmed up pretty quickly. We had fun bobbing in the water and hitting a beach ball around. There were also some fake coral formations in the water so there were lots of fish swimming around. We donned some goggles and watched the fish dart in and out of the formations, and we did our best to avoid the spiny sea urchins.

When the air got a bit colder, we finished off our afternoon with a dip in the hotel pool, which was quite warm. It was also convenient since it was located right next to Stingers, so we enjoyed a few beers and cocktails while we were in the water.

After we retired to our rooms for a bit to shower and clean ourselves up, we rallied the troops and headed to Cimboco for dinner. It was billed as a Caribbean cafe, and the menu looked pretty good. Plus it was close to our hotel and in the direction of the Beach Suites, where we were going to meet up with Claire and Sean for drinks afterward.

The restaurant was pretty casual and had a nice colorful decor. The menu has a mix of Caribbean style dishes as well as pizzas and pastas. Josh and I both ordered a Caybrew to drink, which is the local Cayman beer. It was pretty light but perfectly drinkable, and refreshing in the heat.

Cayman Caybrew

To start, Josh and I split the plantain wrapped callaloo for our appetizer. Callaloo is like the local version of spinach, and it was rolled into fried strips of plantain. The rolls were served on a spicy Cayman style sauce that tasted like pureed tomatoes and peppers. The plantains were the savory kind but still had the banana flavor, and it worked well with the sweet and spicy sauce. I wished there was a bit more callaloo in each roll, but otherwise, it was a nicely composed dish.

Plantain wrapped callaloo

For our main course, Josh and I shared the banana leaf roasted snapper and the Carribean roti. The snapper was a perfectly roasted filet served with okra, carrots, zucchini, and a stuffed tomato. There were also pieces of creamy coconut infused cassava, or yuca, underneath the fish that had a great starchy texture to it and good flavor. The star of the plate was definitely the snapper though, with its flaky meat and well seasoned outer crust.

Banana leaf roasted snapper

The Caribbean roti was a wrap featuring curried vegetables, including potatoes, carrots, onions, and chickpeas. I was expecting more of an Indian style roti, which has many flaky layers, but this seemed to be an ordinary flour sandwich wrap. Nevertheless, the curried vegetables were very tasty, and there was a yogurt raita sauce and a tangy chutney on the side for dipping.

Caribbean roti with curried vegetables

Overall we all enjoyed the food at Cimboco, as well as the laid back atmosphere. We didn’t have a reservation but we didn’t have to wait too long for a table for eight of us. Service was pretty efficient, and I liked how the menu tried to incorporate local flavors wherever possible. Prices were pretty reasonable as well, with entrees topping out at about C$20, but most items were about C$15 (the fixed exchange rate is US$1.25 to C$1). Food in Grand Cayman was generally on the more expensive side compared to NYC, but they do have to import a lot of items. Plus the exchange rate doesn’t work in our favor. Nevertheless, I thought the restaurant was pretty good and would definitely recommend it to someone looking for something casual but still with a nice atmosphere.

After dinner, we continued walking down West Bay Road towards the Beach Suites. It was a bit scary because the sidewalks were narrow and there weren’t really any shoulders on the road, so cars would pass by us very closely. At the Beach Suites, we met up with Claire and Sean and their families for a few drinks, first at Hemingways, and then at Bamboo, which closed later. We ended up going to Bamboo most nights during our trip, so we made friends with the bartender there who was originally from Canada. All in all it was a great first day in Grand Cayman despite the rainy weather, and the best parts of our trip were still yet to come!

P.O. Box 30725, Behind Comfort Suites, West Bay Rd.
Grand Cayman

P.O. Box 30786, Marquee Plaza
Grand Cayman