Monday, September 9, 2019

Anything But Basic: Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew

Nothing mystifies more than the magnitude of reaction that pumpkin flavoring seems to elicit from the average person. Some people countdown to its arrival, while other people post hostile memes towards those who seem to enjoy it so much - but hate it or love it, it’s about to take over our world for the next couple of months. For me, I enjoy my fair share of fall flavored things with a pumpkin beer here and one annual pumpkin spice latte over there. Before you go ahead and buy me the “I am Basic” trucker hat, rest assured that I only dapple due to an aversion to overly sweet flavors that generally accompany these items.


This past Saturday, I found myself at a rest stop and needing some caffeine. Walking up to the Starbucks, I saw a fancy sign advertising their new Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew and wasn’t too sure what to make of it. While I do love their iced lattes, I find Starbucks iced coffee to be far too bitter for my very mild preferring palette, but with a quick comparison of the calories in this advertised drink versus the PSL – my mind was made up.


Due to this location having increased rest stop prices, as well as my own personal reservations, I kept my order to a grande, which clocked in at 250 calories, 12 grams of fat and 35 grams of sugar. For those of you readers at home without their own personal nutritionist, that’s enough to make anyone with health in mind to think twice for just 16 oz. Still, the sign didn’t have any actual description of what exactly was in the drink so the dice was rolled. Looking online now, the drink is described as cold brew coffee sweetened with vanilla syrup and topped with a pumpkin cream cold foam and a dusting of pumpkin spice topping.


This rest stop provided those new sip lids, which was quite interesting for this drink as all of the pumpkin cream was directly on top of the iced drink. The first sip was Heaven. Honestly, the regular pumpkin spice latte is just okay for me, but this drink really blew my mind. Since I couldn’t stir this, the first sip was like drinking a sip of melted coffee and faintly pumpkin ice cream.


As my drinking continued, the cream topping started to drip down the edges of the cup, mingling with the cold brew coffee located underneath. Never once did the drink taste burnt like their regular iced coffee, but that could have had something to do with the 12 grams of fat in the cream. This drink was a real home run for me. The only downside? My once a year pumpkin spice latte has now just become the “as often as I can get the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew”. Happy sipping!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Restaurant Chronicles: Adventures on Arthur Avenue

On a steamy Sunday in August, my boyfriend and I took the train trip down to Fordham. I had never been there and since he has a real taste for Italian food, we thought it was a great place to go to for a late lunch. Walking from the train to Arthur Avenue, there were so many different establishments to choose from. I had spent the night before doing considerable research to determine where we should have our meal, figuring that we needed to make it count.

The majority of reviews said that Mario's was the best place to go, with 100 years of cooking up Italian food and I don’t know what more I could ask for. When we walked in, it was around 3pm. There were several occupied tables of the kind of people you would expect, but nothing that made us experience any kind of wait. 


The bread brought to the table was standard Italian bread, if not a bit tastier than average. I love that the restaurant brought over oil and butter to let you decide for yourself. Butter was the way to go.


When I walked in, I had no intention of having an alcoholic beverage, but it was so hot outside that we ordered Peroni’s because “when in Rome”. 


To start, we split the Mario Salad, which was just your average salad with a dressing a bit heavy on the vinegar factor. The waiter offered to split the salad for us, unprompted which I thought was particularly classy. The salad had both black and green olives in it, and I really love it when it does. 


Now I do not like raviolis, but when I was younger I worked at a place that used to take a van down to Arthur Ave once a month and load it up with as much frozen raviolis as could fit. After that, I realized that I only liked Arthur Avenue’s raviolis. I tested it out here and I was not disappointed in the slightest. Mario’s red sauce is to die for and I would go back in a heartbeat. I am going to be sure to check out if Mario’s sells their sauce in any stores because it’s so good I would bathe in it.


We ate and ate until we were so full that we could barely stand up. That being said, we immediately realized that we should try out some of the Italian desserts while we were down there, so we walked far and wide to find a pastry shop. Since it was Sunday, sadly several establishments were closed, so we would be more cautious of that next time.


We saw people milling around outside of Egidio's Pastry Shop, open since 1912 - so that was enough for us to pop our heads in and to order a chocolate covered cannoli and a chocolate filled donut. Normally, neither of us are cannoli people, but if ever we could get a good one, this would be the time. 

The cannoli was good, the cream inside tasting fresh and not overly zesty. The chocolate coating on the cannoli was thick and enjoyable. The chocolate donut was a bit more disappointing due to a lack of freshness. That said, I wouldn't be shy to buy another donut there if I ever find myself back earlier in the day.


The dream is to go back with an empty stomach and a cooler filled with ice to load up on prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, red sauce, ravioli and Italian bread. Talk about a foodie's paradise. 


Mario's
2342 Arthur Ave, The Bronx, NY 10458
https://www.mariosarthurave.com/

Egidio Pastry Shop
622 E 187th St, The Bronx, NY 10458
http://egidiopastry.com

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Nuts about Fudge Covered Nutter Butters


In this modern day and age, there are a lot of things that are easy to take for granted. Between the constant stimulation from our smartphones, the constant need for validation on social media and a global world where news happens and is shared 24/7, 365 - it’s really easy to have high expectations when it comes to most things. Think about it, when’s the last time that you and all of your friends went out for plain vanilla ice cream? For me, that’s what happened to the Nutter Butter; a faithful friend from my childhood who never once disappointed me, lost somewhere up on the proverbial shelf to Frankenstein types of junk food, more outrageous than the last.

The good news for me? I have an awesome roommate; one who not only tolerates me, but who also surprises me on occasion with some of my favorite things and a few nights ago, it was no exception. Not only is Nutter Butter still churning out Old Faithful, but in keeping with the times, there is now a chocolate coated version. I love peanut butter, but 100 percent of the time, I will pick a dessert with peanut butter AND chocolate, so this is right up my alley.



Walking in after a long day to find a box of these cookies next to patriotic flowers, all I could think was God Bless America – the land where you can take a dessert and make it even more dessert-y. 



The box itself is vibrant, the picture calling me in. It’s amazing that two of these cookies are only 180 calories. Seems pretty reasonable as a dessert if you ask me.


Opening up the box, I was a little sad to see that there were only 12. I love to share, but this means that I would have six cookies, which isn’t a whole ton. Only thing left to do was to dig in and WOW, were these good!


If I had to compare the cookies to anything, it would be a less sweet version of Girl Scout Tagalongs, one of my favorite cookies of all time. 



The chocolate coating is thick and there is enough peanut butter in between that you could separate the cookie like it is an Oreo and enjoy two halves. 



The chocolate coating has a real texture to it, meaning it isn’t uniformly coated - in a good way, allowing for some bites to be heavier with the peanut butter and others with the chocolate.



The only negative to these cookies at all is that there are so few in the box. You can see in the tray that they need some space, probably to avoid melting and getting stuck together, but two is simply not enough to not want more. I’ll be buying these cookies again to be sure. Try them and you’re welcome!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Stamford Restaurant Chronicles: Pellicci's

Growing up Greenbaum, it wasn’t atypical for us to have pasta for dinner at least three times a week. As a kid, I remember eating so much pasta so often that as an adult I really don’t care for it much. For me, the carb laden meal is just a missed opportunity to eat the seafood or beef meal of my dreams. Second to that, it always gets my goat a little that a box of pasta with a dozen servings costs $1.00 at the grocery store, but a meal for one at the restaurant costs nearly $20. Talk about a cash cow for the restaurant.

The above being what it is, there are certain types of Italian restaurants that I can make exceptions for. Growing up, we spent countless nights at Paradise Pizza in Verplanck, NY; an unremarkable looking restaurant that holds some of my dearest memories, as well as the recipe for the world’s best pizza. Having been in Stamford for many years now, I have received the recommendation of Pellicci’s enough times to be led to believe that it had the potential to be something similar.

Pellicci’s has been operating in Stamford since 1947 in a neighborhood that I wouldn’t normally find myself hanging out in after dark, but for its reputation and the hopes of a local diamond in the literal rough, I just had to check it out. The restaurant exterior is nothing to write home about; an older house with the restaurant downstairs. Their parking is valet only, so we risked it and parked on the street.

Walking in, there’s a dining room reminiscent of my Great Grandmother’s house, as well as a room with a dark mahogany bar. To be fair, the room with the bar looked cooler, but when the waitress ushered us into the dining room, which was otherwise filled with people in their 70’s, we didn’t protest. There’s a lot to be said for eating where the elderlies like as they generally have a penchant for good deals and basic, decent meals.


We were seated in the back, by the restrooms in a wooden booth with a comical amount of space between the seats and the table. Let’s just say you could eat countless plates of pasta and somehow still fit into their booths. The waitress was very nice and in her fifties, memorizing our orders without writing them down. The menus were exactly like you’d expect – dated, simple and that of a no frills Italian restaurant operating for 70 years plus.


Settling in on prosecco as my drink of choice, I was as excited as I always am for the bread to arrive. A nice touch is that they offer you both oil and butter depending on your preference to wash down your bread with and it was good stuff. 


Going with the most obvious choice, I ended up deciding on chicken parmesan with salad on the side. For $20, you can have an entrée and a salad OR a vegetable OR pasta but not more than one option. Thinking that this was a bit frugal, I was expecting some superior chicken parm to be sure.


The salad was very good. It was a decent portion size to be sure. To continue my evaluation, I went with their house dressing – something between a vinaigrette and a creamy Italian. The flavor was good, but the consistency was surprisingly watery. There was no amount of dressing that seemed to coat the salad strangely.

At this point I was still optimistic. Nobody goes to an Italian restaurant for salad, so on to the main event. When my chicken parmesan came, I was surprised by the lack of cheese. You can see there are two big cutlets, and one small one. The second big piece was layered under the first, so it was a really missed opportunity to eat more cheese. 


The sauce, which looks abundant in the picture was really inadequate for the entire meal. I would have asked the waitress for more sauce, but she never came back after delivering the meal. The last nail in that coffin was that the chicken came out at room temperature. Usually chicken parm is broiled last minute to heat the cheese, so I was a little put off by when that must have been made. Overall, it was really a disappointing meal in light of my high hopes.

The restaurant space is cool, particularly for its history. Based on the neighborhood and the fact the meal wasn’t inexpensive, I wouldn’t rush back. That said, I am particularly curious about their pizza, so you never know. There must be something that’s been keeping this place open and operating for the past 72 years.

Pellicci's
96 Stillwater Ave, Stamford, CT 06902

Monday, May 20, 2019

Frank about Pepe's

1925 was a big year from the sounds of it. The first motel in America was opened, The Great Gatsby was published and Frank Pepe invented New Haven-style thin crust pizza. As the story goes, the pizza was originally fired over coke, which is a byproduct of coal used extensively until the late 1960’s when it became unavailable. Ever since that time, Pepe’s people have been cooking the pizza in an oven, over coals with long pizza boards to remove one pizza at a time from the fire.


Ever since I started working at my current employer, a handful of folks have been telling me that I have to get up there and try Connecticut’s most raved about pie. After being cautioned frequently regarding the expected wait and being familiar myself with the ungodly traffic that one must suffer through to drive north on I-95 from Stamford, I’ve put this particular journey off. The thinking was, this pizza has been around since 1925 – what’s the rush in getting up there? That said, it was amazing to me how many people that I have encountered when travelling or drinking at a Financial Information Networking Event who would ask me if I have ever had this pizza. I was starting to worry that if I didn’t eventually give this a try, then Governor Ed Lamont was going to knock on my door and take away my residency personally.

A few things happened at the same time that finally made me bite the bullet and visit. The most motivating perhaps being that it’s recently become a pretty serious discussion that I may move out of Connecticut in the mid to near term future. The second thing being that I was lucky enough to receive a generous Pizza Gift Card for my three year dating anniversary. On an evening in May, after waiting for traffic to dissipate as much as anyone could expect on a Friday, we hopped in the car for our hour plus journey for CT’s crown jewel pizza.


Now I’ve never been to Wooster street, so it was super cool to see “New Haven’s Little Italy” and I would be tempted to try any restaurant on that block. Arrival time was around 9:15 PM and I was surprised to find there was still a bit of a wait. We were the first people in the waiting room, but had very little instruction to how this all worked. As we stood there waiting, many people continued to file in. The restaurant closed at 10, so I was surprised to see that it was still filling up at that time of night. When they call the tables, it’s based on the honor system without any line to be formed in the space so I could imagine that could be unpleasant with a pushy enough crowd.

The interior of the restaurant really makes for a cool experience. The décor is old school with wooden panels, lamps from another era and no frill booths with numbers above them to let the staff know exactly where to bring what. The service we experienced was nice, but we did see one woman yelling at anyone who came in beyond the waiting room. If we hadn’t bumped into staff walking into the first door, we would have committed the same offense looking for a hostess. It’s obvious that people want this pizza so badly, that the staff can be however they want and the people will still pour in.


Our order was simple. From their website, any Yelp review, my coworkers, etc it was obvious we’d have to try the white clam pizza. This pie is made with fresh shucked clams, garlic, olive oil and grated cheese on a “charcoal colored crust.” Normally, the BF and I would not be ordering any clams but figuring that we may never be back at the original Frank Pepe’s, we went ahead and ordered this as a small pie. To round out our order, we got a medium original tomato pie with mozzarella to be sure we could fill our starving bellies so late at night.

The restaurant has beer and wine, but I stuck with a diet Coke while my dining companion tried the Foxon Park Soda, which was marketed as being served at the restaurant since the beginning. The verdict on the specialty soda was that it tasted like a sweeter version of Coke. The bottle label design was cool and the notion of trying something new, even cooler.


We didn’t have to wait long after placing our order for our pies to arrive. First the plain cheese came out and I was impressed at how the pizza was cut into so many small slices. Realistically, this medium pie for $14.50 would have been enough for us both to have a full dinner. As we dug in, we both burned the roof of our mouths so badly on the hot oil, that I am writing this blog review 3 days later and it’s still hurting. The website explains that these pizzas are cooked one at a time to ensure that they reach the high heat quickly without compromising it at a lower temperature as one would if they placed too many pies in the oven at once.


The pizza was interesting. It should be mentioned that my boyfriend thought it was really good; perhaps not the best pie or worth all of the hassle but on the notably superior side. Full disclaimer, their sauce hit the same flavor note in my memory of a time I had pizza at a Disney World food court and spent 2 days puking my brains out, missing out on the parks. Try as I might, I couldn’t really get far past that to enjoy it extensively.

I truly enjoyed how much cheese they put on the pizza and the crust did taste like coal, which is also good. We live right outside of a Fortina and their pizza is so much more accessible and tastier that I wasn’t in anyway blown away by this pizza. That said, the experience of sitting in a place with that much history and demand was very cool. Also, it was astounding how much takeout business they were doing during our time inside. If there isn’t already, business school students should do case studies on Frank Pepe’s success.


After having a few plain slices, our white clam pizza came out and it was a welcome break from the original pie. What first surprised me was that there wasn’t really any cream sauce and it was more like a garlic bread with large hunks of clams. I was really encouraged by seeing a sign that explained that if they’re out of fresh clams, you can’t get the pie. A lot of places use canned clams and that’s about as disgusting as it sounds. The pie was lighter than I expected and it helped a lot to take a bite of one pie and then the other. Without the pungent tomato sauce, you could taste the grated cheese covered crust of this pie much more clearly.

Overall, this won’t replace my go-to pizza spot but it was super cool to see a place so notably a part of Connecticut’s Foodie history. Frank Pepe’s has several other locations and if I ever walked by one without a line, I might go in and try pepperoni pizza or something of a similar nature.

For now, when everyone asks me if I live in Connecticut and then if I’ve been to Frank Pepe’s, I can finally feel like a resident around here.

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
157 Wooster St, New Haven, CT 06511
https://pepespizzeria.com/new-haven/

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

On the Road: Iggy’s Doughboys - Narragansett, Rhode Island


I have an acute obsession with exploring shore towns during their off season. With my aversion to crowded spaces, loud noises and humans – being at the beach in the swing months is really something I enjoy beyond measure. Last weekend, to celebrate our third year of dating – the boyfriend and I traveled up to Narragansett, Rhode Island to see what it was all about. We’re habitual about this April trip and often find ourselves in popular summer destinations before the bulk of businesses have re-opened. This visit was little exception.

Before we even hit the open road, I am planning what we are going to eat. Key words such as “brewery”, “ice cream” and “seafood” hit my browser before the hotel reservation is booked. And my travel partner in crime? HUGE donut guy. Lucky for him, it’s hard to search too far into Narragansett without reading reviews of Iggy’s. Described as a Doughboy & Chowder House, their website touts celebrating 30 years of existence, being featured on several news/media outlets, as well as actually selling their doughboy mix to make your very own versions of their specialties at home.

Normally a website with so many accolades and marketing banners would turn us off as a “tourist” trap, but head to a town where 70% of stores are closed and you’ll reconsider. On a morning walk, we walked right past one of their locations and while as you can see – it looked gorgeous in its new architecture, it also looked completely closed for the season still.


I loved Narragansett. The weather was crazy and we had an adventure getting to and from Block Island, but this place was really up there for me. I’m still mystified how one town can have so much shoreline and water views everywhere you turn. I’m not sure that I’ll ever get back there, but I hope that I do. After surviving a puke-filled ferry (not us), questionable lobster, and miles of walking in the whipping wind, we got back to the mainland, called Iggy’s and rejoiced in the delight of hearing that they were in fact opened for the afternoon.


Rolling up, we were in awe at the setup for the massive operation. It was pretty empty for our visit, but there was clear infrastructure there to handle the masses with ample seats and places for the line to form. Being April, the only way to order was at the takeout window, although the restaurant allowed you to snag a seat inside after pickup. The interior was well appointed, with a rolling fire in their fireplace. Hours and hours of being in the cold wind and fried dough near a fireplace was just what the doctor ordered.

As a note, the doughboys can be ordered as a ½ dozen or full dozen. Toppings are either plain, granulated sugar, sugar & cinnamon or powdered sugar. A ½ dozen with powdered sugar were $5.49 and not being sure if we’d have another dessert later in the day, we went with that. It probably took about 10 minutes after the order to get them, so it was very encouraging that they were being freshly fried.


What shocked me the most was how large each doughboy was and how heavy in weight. We were initially apprehensive that 6 wouldn’t be enough but I had to actually force feed myself to get the majority of a second one down. This place is great because they give you the powdered sugar in a container to allow you to decide how much additional sugar you prefer.

Taking a bite when they first arrived, they were hot, fresh and delicious, but without the powdered sugar they weren’t too remarkable. Dumping powdered sugar into a paper bag and shaking these things was not for the faint of heart, so be prepared to get messy. Once you add the topping, you’re in for a good time. The hot oil soaks that sugar right up and the flavor is amazing.


The edges are crispy, but the middle is doughy and the only improvement I could even dream to suggest would be an option to add a scoop of ice cream. I’m guessing it’s not cost effective for them, but it would have been great to be able to order a variety of the toppings, or even just one doughboy by piece, since they didn’t seem like they’d save well and we only were able to eat less than 4 without having to toss the rest regrettably.


Reading Yelp before we went, I am surprised how many critical reviews there were for this place. The building was gorgeous, the doughboys were freshly fried and the value was excellent. That said, I didn’t have to wait more than the time it took them to prepare my order so I can only guess what kind of hell that might be if I waited in a long line prior. The only regret that I have from the occasion is not trying their famous chowder, but there’s always the off season of 2020 for that.

Iggy's Doughboys & Chowder House
1151 Point Judith Rd.
Narraganett, RI 02882

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Stamford Restaurant Chronicles: Lorca Coffee Bar


So it seems that I have had the pleasure of surviving another winter here in Connecticut. It’s been a mild one, but still filled with all of the things that keep you on your couch ordering dinner delivery from GrubHub rather than exploring downtown.

To save money, calories and forced coworker socialization, I go to the gym during my lunch break nearly religiously. There’s really nothing about my routine that I vary, but I love just zoning out, blasting music and getting my body moving prior to the final 4-hour push in the cubicle. On this particular day in April, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping in a way you’d only notice at the end of winter. By May, it would already be something you would take for granted – the past winter a terrorist who had faded in your mind.

On a whim, my coworker – an artisanal coffee enthusiast asked me if I wanted to go for a walk and I figured “routine be damned”. I’m hoping for at least a good 80 years on this planet and I can’t imagine that I will get too many like this one. He’d mentioned to me the coffee at Lorca a few times, so it made sense to make that the destination to finally see what it was all about.

Truth be told, four years of culinary classes as a part of my undergrad degree yet somehow, I am a K-Cup, Keurig girl. Unless it’s a latte, I prefer the mildness of Dunkin’ rather than Starbucks and I equate it to a cigar smoking virgin lighting up their first one, a Cuban. Caffeine is continually flowing through my veins, but it’s always that mild and cheap shit. My mind was open and over to Lorca we went.


Walking into the place, I was blown away by how small it was. There are a few tables inside and just two outside but there was a tremendous amount of staff behind the counter. I am on a huge Matcha Latte kick lately and for those of you who don’t know, it’s matcha powder mixed with hot water to create a green tea, combined with steamed (almond – for me) milk.


Lorca only serves up one size drinks and as a fan of a XXL if I can get it, I was a little bit bummed. The staff was the cool hipster types that met my expectations and the latte art was as good looking as a girl can hope for. The real entertainment was watching the baristas make the pour over coffee, which people were ordering up faster than they could make. I’ve never had this, but it was explained to me that there are many ways in the process to change the strength and taste of the coffee so someday when I am hungover maybe. As a note, they have a second location in Cos Cob and a small menu of lunch selections, which I did not try.

I really wanted to love this place, but the latte was the sweetest matcha latte that I have ever had. My first sip was at the point of being unpleasant, as somebody who doesn’t drink any sweetened drinks when it can be avoided. If I wanted a hot and drinkable dessert and I couldn’t find a hot chocolate, I would order this. That said, I suspect they just use a really sweet almond milk and that other orders may be better. My accomplice in this Lorca mission got an alfajor cookie and even though he really likes Lorca, he said “Probably not worth the sugar”.


I love being outside, trying somewhere new and caffeine so I enjoyed all of this. That being said, I am going to go and make myself a K-Cup.

Lorca Coffee Bar
125 Bedford St, Stamford, CT 06901
http://www.lorcacoffeebar.com/