Category Archives: Review

Restaurant Review: The Little Dipper

In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Tucked inside the North Building of Brightleaf Square on the outskirts of downtown Durham NC is a hidden gem. Called “The Little Dipper: Fondue on Main”, Durham is its second location. The owner is from Durham, and followed a girl to Wilmington. Their first date was at the Wilmington location, and it must have made quite the impression. When they eventually married and moved back to Durham, they decided to take a leap and open their own here.

The Durham location opened in April of 2013 as a full service fondue restaurant. Each table has at least one burner built into the center for the table to share. The owners also designed, built, and painted the entire interior from booths to eclectic decor to crazy sand wall art. They are known for our specialty sauces, all homemade and delicious for dipping cooked meats and seafood.

The Durham location also offers a “LOCAL ‘919’ MENU,” which includes options for each course made with locally sourced farm ingredients.  The Durham Dipper is proud to be part of such a strong community who supports local farmers by offering seasonal features and sustainable menu items changing on a regular basis.

The Menu is insanely huge and can feel a bit overwhelming at first glance. It is set up to be a three-course experience, so make sure you have plenty of time set aside to fully enjoy this meal! You get to choose your cheese dipper appetizer, a soup or salad, and you main entrees and cooking style.

The desserts are priced separately, but honestly it is the best part of the experience! Make sure you also have a lot of room, and very stretchy pants 😉

review the little dipper durham

The servers are extremely helpful and friendly as well, and can answer all your questions and provide suggestions based on what you like and are looking for. We decided on a premium fontina and basil starter. They light your burner, and bring over a massive cast iron pot full of molten cheese and a sampler tray, and then the fun begins!

They supply long fondue forks which you use to spear your fruit or veg, and then dip into the lava like bowl of cheese. I was a little leery of the fruits, but it turns out cheese covered grapes are delicious. We ate and ate and then realized we had 3 more courses to go!

review the little dipper durham

Once you throw in the towel on the cheese, they whisk it away and bring your salads. It is not the star of the show to be sure, but it felt nice to have a light lettuce moment between the heavy cheese and the goodies to come. And the salad itself is large enough to be a meal, so I ended up packing up half to take home.

Then your main course arrives. We went with the traditional peanut oil, which is again brought out in a huge iron pot. You can choose a pre-selected variety of meats, or like we did, the “undecided” where you get 3 different protein options.

I went with tuna, dumplings, and filet while my dining companion chose scallops, shrimp and filet. It comes with your choice of 3 of their homemade daily dipping sauces, as well as a plate of mushrooms which you stuff with their aphrodite herbed cream cheese, dip in breading and fry.

There is a handy tip sheet on suggested cooking times for each item, in case you don’t know how many seconds in boiling peanut oil it takes for a scallop to be considered done. They also supply a long “rescue spoon” for anything that happens to jump off the fondue fork for a swim.

It was great fun dipping and dropping different cuts into the pot while chatting about life and stuffing our faces. The wasabi lime sauce on the filet was my personal favorite of the night.

review the little dipper durham

Drumroll please……

Then they cleared the table, and brought out the steaming bowl of molten chocolate laced with caramel and topped with pecans that I’d been waiting for! Oh yeah, you better believe we went with the Turtle dipper. And a ‘classic dippers’ plate, because we’re indecisive like that.

You can also go with just fruit dippers, or upgrade to the “supreme dippers” or “Swanky Fondue” options for things like rice crispies, oreos, or liquor-laced dipping sauces.

review the little dipper durham

The Turtle fondue was so amazing, I wanted to just eat it with a spoon. Thankfully I was in so much pain from being too full so I couldn’t do it! 😉

The whole meal took about 2 hours total, and was a very relaxing experience. I loved the funky atmosphere, and the energy of the place. I cannot wait to go back!

 

Overall I’d rate The Little Dipper:

  • Taste: 10
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 9

Weekly Eating – 3/26/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Happy Easter, if you celebrate!

 

Well, to balance out last week’s super frugal food spending, I way over spent this week! I cannot be trusted in grocery stores, even with super detailed lists, it seems.

grocery shopping haul

Also, the boy was out of state on a work trip all week, which means I got to go out and party with friends on a work night, twice! Woo hoo, the crazy life of a 30 year old. 🙂 I did basically 2/3 of my eating-out for the year in one week. I don’t ‘go out’ a whole lot since I like cooking so much.

But, it was really nice to finally get a lot of one on one friend time with several different people, and try out a few new food spots. I’m always on the hunt for new stand outs, and good places to take people who visit from out of town. I’d say there are a few new names on the list now.

Monday:

Breakfast – Last of the sweet potato biscuits with honey. Hoping to make a new batch of these over the weekend, they are seriously the perfect breakfast.

sweet potato biscuit with honey

Lunch – Leftover split pea soup & whole grain bread.

split pea soup and bread

Snack – Chocolate peanut butter granola bar.

granola bar

Dinner –Last of the tortilla soup.

tortilla soup

So I thought I had already finished this, but I tricked myself! I put some away in regular containers, but then also one mason jar full. I found it when trying to rearrange the fridge, and had that for dinner. Just as satisfying as I remember.

jar of tortilla soup

Tuesday:

Breakfast – The last slice of my banana bread loaf. Found it in the bottom of the cheese drawer for some reason… and, I have 2 bananas turning a darker brown every day on the counter, so it might be time to replenish the supply.

end of banana bread

Lunch – The rest of the Spring Green Creamy Gnocchi

Spring green gnocchi

Snack – Cut up pineapple and honeydew

pineapple and honeydew

Dinner – Out with a friend! We went to a place in Durham called Juju, which is a pan-Asian tapas bar. The menu is all fancy small plates meant for sharing, and they have half off wine on Tuesdays! Of course, I’m totally frugal, and not their target audience at all. When I see $45 for a bottle of wine, my first thought is I could get like 9 liters of boxed wine for that price!

juju brussels sprouts

We ended up with the house special red in a carafe, and the waiter actually made a dig about it (because it is the cheapest wine on the menu). But I don’t care, it still was enough for us both to have 2 glasses and that was actually quite enough, thank you very much. I gotta drive my butt home, sir.

juju chicken biscuits

We each chose 2 things, and split everything. The plates looked smallish, but the presentation was on point, and everything was tasty. It was actually really filling, we were struggling to finish it all by the last course. The duck fried rice (below) was excellent, and the fried chicken buns (above) were definitely the star of the show.

juju duck fried rice

I was surprised by the vegan spring rolls, since they were fried. I thought spring roll meant the cold rice paper wrapped kind, but oh well. It was a lovely night, and even though it was pushing $40 for one meal, it was worth the time spent chatting and enjoying myself.

juju spring rolls

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Cranberry Great Grains & Almond milk. I guess it’s time for a cold cereal breakfast phase now that I’m out of sweet potato biscuits… 🙁

great grains with cranberry

Lunch – A big mixed greens salad, and a slice of leftover pizza from the weekend.

pizza and salad

Snack – More pineapple and honeydew! A honeydew is a large fruit, turns out… and I had 2 pineapples cut up. So.

pineapple and honeydew

Dinner – I did not have a plan here, but there was a lot of cabbage, and pinto beans that had to be used ASAP. So I was like, hybrid stir fry slash beans and rice? Why not!

crazy stir fry with beans

Thursday:

Breakfast – I love Hummusapien’s blog (if I lived in OH still I’d want to live in Columbus and be her friend) and got inspiration from her green smoothie. It included: “pineapple, banana, hemp seeds, kale, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, orange juice, and almond milk.”

crazy green smoothie

So I actually had all those things, and blended them up (minus the black pepper because yuck), and boy. What an… interesting texture. Hemp seeds will no longer go in my smoothies. Now I know.

Lunch – Leftover split pea soup! This was thick and hearty and I could only eat like 2/3 of it and was totally full. Also I ran out of flax seed bread so I used a whole grain bun.

split pea soup and buns

Snack – Crunchy oats & honey granola bar. I know, I know, this one is basically a candy bar because of how much sugar is in there, but desperate times, people.

granola bar

Dinner – I had a multi-course dinner, because I marinated some veggies and put them in the oven to roast, but got hungry before they were done. So I started with an appetizer of cucumbers and turmeric hummus.

hummus and cucumber

And then I had a salad with some hemp hearts and the rest of the marinade, which became salad dressing. In case you’re wondering:
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar + 1 tsp ginger paste + 1 tbsp honey + 1/2 tbsp olive oil.

salad

And finally once they were done I enjoyed my roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots over rice.

roast veggies and rice

And then I went out with some friends to Clouds Brewery in Durham! Clouds is amazing, if you’ve never been and enjoy trying different types of beer you need to go. They have a wall of taps, and you get a bracelet that you swipe on the screen to pour. Yes, you pour your own beers! And it charges you by the type and by the ounce, so you just turn your bracelet back in and it adds up your tab. Gotta love modern technology.

Friday:

Friday is a holiday, woo hoo!

Breakfast – I knew I was going to lunch with friends, so I just had a small fruit and nut energy bar.

cherry almond bar

Lunch – We went to a place called Na’Mean, which is a Korean sandwich place in Durham. It is indeed slang for “know what I mean”.

namean

I got the Pork Belly Banh, which is a slice of crispy/soft pork belly on a banh roll with house pickled veggies, jalapenos, special sauce, pickles, and fresh cilantro. It was awesome! And the seaweed salad on the side made me swoon. I adore seaweed salad.

belly banh

The place was right near an Asian grocery too… I know I promised no more groceries but… c’mon guys! I’m the Budget Epicurean! I had to go at least look around. And then buy some brown rice because we are out. And also the ingredients to make seaweed salad at home!

Dinner – Seaweed salad noodle bowl and steamed bok choi. I hadn’t had bok choi in a long time, so I picked up a small bag for $1, and the noodles were on sale: $1.99 for 3 pounds of rice noodles!

asian market groceries

I have never cooked with seaweed until now. It’s really easy! Just soak to rehydrate, and then eat it. I added some edamame, and made a sauce from this recipe to pour over it all. Nomnomnom.

seaweed salad and bok choi

The Weekend

This weekend will be chill because the boy just had a stressful week flying for work and dealing with the cold in CT. We are considering hitting up a new brewery we heard about called Carolina Brewing Company. Rumor has it you get free beer on the tour… and/or maybe having a spontaneous game night with friends.

If we get really motivated perhaps I will even get the raised bed  garden set up, and some berry bushes. I’ve got it all planned out, we just need to go get the actual supplies: dirt, vermiculite, seeds, & plants. We shall see how we are feeling. I also need to meal plan, and prep some things for next week.

Food Total: $114.44

Remember how I said I wanted a low grocery bill this week?… yeah…

I had this whole game plan mapped out, and set up a calculator to count down from $75 so I knew how much was left of what I wanted to buy. I diligently compared ads and sales, and checked my cabinets and freezer before making any plans.

grocery shopping lists and plan

I thought I totally crushed it at Kroger, even with a few things I picked up here and there. My calculator told me even with all the planned purchases I had $17 left over for “splurges”. There was a great sale on coffee, and I had a $3 off coupon! Well… what I didn’t realize is I accidentally grabbed 4 cans of the wrong size… and the sale and coupon didn’t apply to them 🙁

I also picked up some organic chicken breasts and a small brisket roast to treat the boy. He was gone out of town all week on a work trip to CT. And let me tell you, Connecticut in March is not the most fun. IT WAS SO GOOD. I forgot how mind-blowing brisket is… But, I remain committed to the 80% vegetarian thing, going to keep trying.

brisket

And then dried chickpeas were on sale for 0.99/lb! I cannot pass that up, since I use them so much in my homemade hummus and various salads. It is (almost) always cheaper per pound to buy dried, and I don’t mind the prep of soaking them overnight. I usually just toss some sort of bean in water overnight on a Friday or Saturday, then use my slow cooker all day Saturday or Sunday. Easy peasy, I have cheap protein ready for all week.

soaked chickpeas in the crock pot

To be fair, the Moscato was a hostess gift for the person who planned the baby shower I went to, and the diapers and wipes were a gift for the couple, obvs. Also in good news, the cake pops were a HUGE hit! Who knew.

second batch of cake pops

Lessons Learned

When I have a very specific list, it might be better to send in the boy. He hates grocery shopping, and will whip in and out of the store in the time it takes me to just look around the produce section.

That’s not a bad idea actually…grocery shopping to me is like a game, an adventure to find the best deals. I almost always wind up with some purchases I didn’t plan on. Of course, they are also almost always justifiable (crazy mark downs, actually the best sale price I’ve seen all year, etc.) but still… unplanned for $ spent.

Anywho, the point is, I definitely went over my desired goal of $75, and my stretch goal of $100. Again. Meaning March was wayyyy over the $400 total I’m supposed to spend. Sigh. No more food shopping until April, that’s for sure. I’m determined to do better next month. Maybe the boy really will become the default shopper.

I definitely learned the importance of cleaning out the refrigerator now and then! There were tons of little odds and ends and leftovers that I ate this week. Good thing the boy left for a while, it was mostly the soups and veggie options! 🙂 But clearing out your refrigerator and rearranging every week or every other week is a great habit to start. It reminds you of what leftovers are around and what other ingredients you have to work with for the next coming week.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Restaurant Review: Magone Italian Grill

 

We were out and about, exploring our local neighborhoods, when the craving for pizza hit. As per usual, Google Maps came to our rescue. Tucked away in a plaza in Chapel Hill called the Timberlyne Shopping Center, we stumbled upon a delightful little bistro.

It’s easy to almost miss it if you don’t know where to look, even with the huge black lettering. The plaza is filled with storefronts and the trees block the front from the entrance. But as we circled the lot, “Magone’s Italian Grill” came into view.

As soon as we walked in, I loved its charming atmosphere. It was a little sparse, but the wooden floors are beautiful, and if you looked closely the photos on the wall are all vintage photographs of Italian immigrant life in America. I was a little disappointed in how tiny the space was, but I guess real estate in Chapel Hill is quite costly.

Magone Italian Grill front

Aa for the menu, their pasta dishes average $11.50 for such Italian classics as Pasta Aglio e Oilio (garlic & olive oil) to Fettuccine to dishes they’ve made their own with fresh vegetables and spices. Almost all of the “Italian Classics” dishes are $15.50, which include things like Chicken Cacciatore, Chicken Piccata, Shrimp Alfredo, and Linguini with Clam Sauce. They also have a “create your own pasta” option where you can pick the pasta type, sauce, and any add-ins.

The “From the Oven” section would tempt me should we return, this is where you find the drool-worthy dishes like Manicotti, Baked Ziti, Eggplant Parmesan, and of course, Lasagna. These will run you $10 – $14.50 for the Chicken Parm. There is also a whole page of apps and soups and salads, but since we were there for lunch and weren’t crazy hungry, we didn’t even look at those too closely.

Magone Italian Grill kitchen area

And then you get to the pizza page, now we’re talking! To create your own masterpiece, you start with a $6 (personal), $10 (10 inch) or $12 (16 inch) base, and each additional topping is $0.75, with no upper limit. They also offer gluten free crust for an additional dollar.

They have 8 specialty pizzas, with a well rounded list of choices ranging from the Meat Lovers and Magone Special, to the Pizza Caprese and Vegetarian Special. I love when there are at least options for everyone. These cost between $8 and $18, depending on topping and pizza size from personal to large.

And to top it all off, there is also a calzone and stromboli section, if you prefer your pizza rolled up and baked like a hot pocket. (You know we love calzones!)

Magone Italian Grill Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza

For some reason, the Chicken Bacon Ranch caught my eye that day, it just sounded awesome. I didn’t think I could handle the biggest one, so I decided on a “Small”. Well. They have a different idea of what small means than I do! When the waitress brought the pizza over I was speechless, this thing was GIANT.

Then she set down the large Hawaiian the boy ordered.

Magone Italian Grill Hawaiian Pizza

This pizza was easily bigger than my tires on my car. You certainly get your money’s worth of food here! (And for those haters who don’t like pineapple on pizza, consider yourself permanently un-invited to all my future dinner parties).

Both pizzas were aMAzing. The chicken bacon ranch was creamy and cheesy and salty, just the way I like it. The chicken and bacon pieces were small but abundant, which I prefer. I like getting a little of all the flavors in every bite. And I don’t want chunks of things falling off as I pick the slice up off the tray.

The Hawaiian was also delightful, though I prefer ham steaks to sliced deli meat style ham. The pineapple also tasted pretty fresh, so even if it was from a can they did a great job baking it. The crust was thin, but not too thin. And it was baked perfectly through, no spots of utter mush, and no black burnt spots, which I appreciate.

Magone Italian Grill to go boxes

We definitely couldn’t finish all of it (I personally knew I’d have at least 3 more days of meals from this!) so we got boxes to go. And they have such a “team” attitude, the cook himself came out of the kitchen to go get something from the back room, saw our check ready to be paid (you know how you stick the card out the top?) and he took it, telling us he would let the server know we were ready. How sweet is that?

I enjoyed my experience, even with the small space, and would be quite happy to return. Especially as it warms up, I’d like to enjoy their outdoor seating. Maybe I can take an extra-long lunch someday and enjoy their lunch special menu? 😉

Magone Italian Grill outdoor seating

The prices were a touch higher than I liked, but honestly you get SO MUCH pizza for your money, I wasn’t even mad after they brought out the trays. And the lunch menu, which runs only M-F from 11am – 3pm, has many of the same dishes at a discount price, so if you can make it at that time I’d recommend it!

 

Overall, I’d rate Magone Italian Grill:

  • Taste: 9
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Value: 8

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Restaurant Review: Straightaway Cafe

When you think of the state of North Carolina, there are generally a few cities and areas that come to mind. There is of course the Research Triangle, an industrial and tech hotspot ringed by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Smack in the center of the state is the Piedmont Triad, consisting of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. And of course the Charlotte area and surrounding suburbs.

But aside from all the man-made areas, NC also offers two of our most loved natural features: ocean, and mountains.

The coast, with over 300 miles of barrier islands and beautiful beaches, offers tons of vacation options and watersports galore. From the charming Knott’s Island to Ocean Isle Beach just minutes north of Myrtle, there is plenty of beach to explore and enjoy. Of the mountainous side of the state, where the state line tracks the Appalachian Mountains, the most well-known area is Asheville.

The crown of the NC cities along the Blue Ridge mountain range, Asheville and its surrounding towns have an unmistakable mountain town charm. Life has a slower pace, in a place where they believe “Life isn’t just about the climb. There’s also the view.”

The view from the Straightaway Cafe

Highways soon give way to steep, craggy, and winding roads, which eventually turn into gravel and dirt. Only the most adventurous or well-vehicularly-equipped travelers should attempt the back roads in weather or after dark. But the climb is worth the view. Thick lush trees surround you on each side, with more shades of green than you can count in a Crayola box.

On the way to Asheville, there is a small town called Black Mountain right on Highway 9. We happened to be on Highway 9, actively on the lookout for dinner. It was late and getting dark, and we were at a cabin not too far away. However, in these remote mountainous areas, food options are rather limited. When you can drive for over 20 miles and see no sign of civilization beyond some fences and an occasional driveway, you know you’re pretty remote.

So imagine our surprise and delight when we saw the sign for the Straightaway Cafe!

Straightaway Cafe Black Mountain NC

We did not know that had we continued on Route 9 for a few more miles we would have hit downtown, but we weren’t looking for chains like Taco Bell, Denny’s, or Subway. We wanted somewhere local and cute and dive-y. And that is exactly what we got!

For this review, let me remind you of the BE Review rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

After turning in at the sign, the first impression is admittedly not a great one. We both looked at the dilapidated, boarded up structures and were like “lord I hope that’s not where we eat!”. I don’t know why they wouldn’t demo these buildings after buying the land and putting up the nicer newer restaurant, but rest assured, this is not where the food is prepared!

Parking is ample, and all along a dirt & gravel road/lot. We got there around sunset, and there was a good-sized crowd.

The weather in May is quite mild, so the outdoor seating was prime real estate. Luckily we had several things going for us: there weren’t many people there, local or not, because it was a Sunday. We got there right around 7pm, the kitchen closes at 9pm. And there wasn’t live music until after dark, when several more tables full of people began showing up.

I totally loved this glass, and also really enjoyed drinking a beer from my old home state (Colorado’s Coors) out of a mug offering such a lovely tribute to my new home state.

cheers to a great lunch at the Straightaway Cafe

Cheers!

Now, about the food…

Slammin Salmon Sandwich $12

I was a little leery about trying seafood in a mountain town, figuring it must certainly be frozen, but for some reason I was craving salmon. And a salmon sandwich for $12 was something I couldn’t pass up. Boy, am I glad I didn’t!

They were very generous with the fish, there had to have been at least 6 ounces of salmon on the bun! And it was cooked perfectly for me, just slightly charred on the outside with a sticky sweet sauce. It was flaky and tender and awesome. I didn’t love the tartar sauce, but then I don’t like most creamy dressing like sauces. The tomato and lettuce and onion added a nice touch though.

Fried Buffalo Chicken Wrap $10

Hubs got the Buffalo Chicken Wrap, as boys will do. At least they included some spinach in there, to make you feel like you ate some vegetables! The chicken definitely tasted like frozen store-bought chicken tenders, but man, can we talk about how awesome this buffalo sauce was?! It was awesome. I don’t know if it came from a bottle or not, and I don’t care, it was good.

Speaking of good, the fries were also pretty fantastic. They were the thick cut kind, where they are nice and soft and chewy on the inside. We both inhaled them, and then were sad when they were all gone. They were just slightly not salty enough for me, which means most normal humans would enjoy them or find them slightly too salty 🙂

Right after our food was delivered, a local guitarist hopped on stage for a set. The lights came on, the amp was turned up, and we all sat back to enjoy dinner and a show. He played some covers of classic rock and country songs, as well as a few originals. The music overall was not too loud to drown out normal conversation, and added to the laid back atmosphere.

Unfortunately we didn’t realize there was a whole giant field behind the stage as well! I took a walk after the first set, to use the bathroom and check out the inside of the place. There is a large field just behind the stage, where there were people sitting at picnic benches, tossing frisbees, kids on swings, and what seemed to be a volleyball court!

The inside was darkened for ‘mood lighting’ I assume, and there are two large rooms with an adjoining door and a bar in each one. The bartenders were chatting, as the inside was considerably emptier, and they all smiled and waved. They pointed out the restroom door before I could even ask where it was. The walls were covered in typical bar memorabilia of license plates, neon signs, jerseys, etc. Everything appeared clean and well maintained.

Straightaway Cafe Rocks
From the rock garden with each staff’s name painted on one, it is clear that they all think “Straightaway Cafe Rocks”!

The waitress was adorable, and clearly a local girl paying her way through school or some such. She was very friendly and sweet, and gave us recommendations of things we could do in the area. Hiking seem to be a very popular attraction! Go figure.

We also started up a conversation with a few tables around us. One was a table of 3 older women who were all living in the area, one of them originally from Asheville. They all wore tie-dye clothing and seemed like a blast to hang out with. Another young couple near us was doing a cross-country road trip, and this was their 13th state in 2 months! They were planning to go to some organic farm in Utah to work for a few weeks next. It was quite the story.

 

Overall, I’d give the Straightaway Cafe:

  • Taste: 8 – not a very extensive or creative menu, but all the food tasted quite fresh and was way better than going to bed hungry!
  • Atmosphere: 9 – the view alone was worthwhile, and I’d be happy to sit there all day and night. The music was a bonus.
  • Value: 7 – obviously, you need to already be in the area, otherwise this is a bit of a road trip for diner food. Most items were typically priced of restaurant fare, $8-13, and was more reasonable than comparable places we later dined at in Asheville proper.

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Weekly Eating – 1/29/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

February 2nd was #WearRedDay for heart health. Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer, ahead of car wrecks, diabetes, cancer, and many other seemingly more deadly diseases. More than 600,000  people every year are being killed by their own heart.

And the honest truth that the food and drug industry doesn’t want you to know?

#WearRedDay for heart health

Want in on what many call “the best kept secret in medicine”?

Given the right conditions and fuel, the body can heal itself of almost anything. Seriously.

Don’t believe me? The Cleveland Clinic has an actual “Heart Disease Reversal Program“, which has been proven to take some heart patients from death’s door to healthy and fit in mere months. You can literally reverse heart disease and prevent it from worsening based on what you put in your mouth three times per day.

 

On a less serious note, here was the popcorn situation last weekend:

popcorn kernels in a glass jar

Now, if that seems like plenty to you, YOU DON’T KNOW ME. This is a shortage. This is near-panic-level popcorn status.

fifty pound bag of popcorn kernels

And then this showed up on our doorstep on Monday. And all was well in the world again.

Monday:

Breakfast – tropical smoothie. I’d gotten a frozen bag of mixed tropical fruit, and it has chunks of coconut in it. I’m weirded out by coconut, and do not like the chewy-ness. But I will soldier through until it’s gone in the name of not wasting food…

tropical fruit with coconut

Lunch – I meal-prepped a 3-day batch of my famous salmon and couscous salad to have for lunch at work this week. I also repurposed the old “Green Goddess” container to hold my healthier and more delicious recipe 😉

salmon and couscous salad prep

Dinner – Bitter melon & potato curry. Have you heard of bitter melon? Unless you’re Asian or a foodie, probably not. It is a tropical vine fruit, grown throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. And it totally lives up to the name; raw it tastes horrid.

cut up bitter melon

However, despite it’s off-putting taste, it has many redeeming health qualities. “The fruit contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic properties, including charantin, which has been confirmed to have a blood glucose-lowering effect, vicine and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p.” (source) It also has been shown to have beneficial or reversal effects on obesity and metabolic syndrome. (source)

bitter melon and potato curry

By generously salting it prior to cooking with it, and then rinsing the salt off, you can remove much of the bitter taste. And it blends right into strongly-flavored dishes like curries. The boy said that in this dish, the bitter melon was actually great and the green beans were the worst part!

Snack – Grapes & 2 cuties

grapes and cuties

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Over the weekend we went to the thrift store, where I snagged a sweet a$s deal: $0.99 for a waffle maker!! It was pretty dirty, but still worked. It didn’t have a tag, so I took it to the counter and asked the lady what it would cost.

dirty waffle maker

When she quoted me that price, I couldn’t hand over a dollar fast enough! So with it all nice and cleaned up, I made some yummy fresh waffles with a quick (from frozen) blueberry sauce.

waffles with blueberry sauce

Lunch – Salmon & Couscous Salad with Green Goddess

salmon and couscous salad monday

Snack – I’m glad I packed an “extra” lunch today, because I was starving yesterday afternoon. I brought the tiny bit of leftover red lentil dal and rice from last week and nommed it around 2pm.

dal and rice

Dinner – I tried a new recipe for vegan tempeh ‘meatballs’, and they were dang tasty! I absolutely love them.

tempeh meatballs

The boy even said it was good, and I’m allowed to add it to the list of “vegan meals that don’t suck” so that’s a huge win.

spaghetti and vegan tempeh "meat"balls

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Wheat Sandwich Thin with pears and peanut butter

sandwich thins with peanut butter and pear

Lunch – Salmon & Couscous salad, and a bowl of leftover pork & rice soup with collard greens

salmon and couscous salad and pork and rice soup

Dinner – I went out and met a new friend from the Bull City Food Swap at a local Indian restaurant called Sitar. She’s vegetarian, so I was super excited to split the “vegetarian for 2” dinner. It came with 2 appetizers, 3 main courses, and 2 desserts!

leftover indian food from Sitar

It was so much food, and it was all SO GOOD! We both ate our fill, and had enough left over for us both to take home 2 more meals’ worth. I’d say that’s a pretty great value.

Snack – rice cakes & an orange

rice cakes and an orange

Thursday:

Breakfast – tropical smoothie

tropical smoothie

Lunch – leftover Sitar part 1 – naan, basmati rice, vegetable vindaloo and chickpea saag

leftover Sitar 1

Snack 1 – trail mix still leftover from our Texas trip (I paid the ridiculous airport prices of 2/$20 because I was dying of starvation and the mix actually was pretty nutritionally sound)

goji berry trail mix

Dinner – After a brutal HIIT workout, I was ravenous and grabbed the first thing I saw in the fridge: leftover bitter melon curry

bitter melon curry

Snack 2 – later that night after dinner, I was still hungry and desperately needed a post-workout snack, and nommed a few handfuls of Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

protein puppy chow and popcorn

Annnndddd then I made stovetop popcorn, which I sprinkled with nutritional yeast 🙂

Friday:

Breakfast – another smoothie! I’m bad at remembering to take pictures of smoothies… maybe breakfast is too early, or smoothies just don’t feel like ‘real’ food?

Lunch – the last of the leftover Sitar. Not gonna lie, I was sad that it was all gone now…

leftover Sitar 2

Snack – my coworker had been at a conference all week, and brought back some strange chocolates. They were good though.

weird candy

Dinner – The boy had to fend for himself in the wilderness of the fridge, because Erin from ReachingForFI was in town! And when she’s here, we go ALL IN on AYCE sushi.

all you can eat sushi: before

This was the appetizer round. In case you haven’t read it yet, here is my review of Rock’n’Rolls sushi in Durham for your enjoyment.

Unfortunately, it seems too many people HAVE read it, because there was a line out the door! Good thing there was only 2 of us and we were more than happy to sit at the bar. After a little less than an hour, this was the aftermath.

all you can eat sushi: after

They now have a bunch of fried options, including spring rolls, crab rangoon (mostly cream cheese, let’s be real), and gyoza dumplings, as well as a few more specialty rolls.

 

The Weekend

This weekend is the “Big Game”, I guess, but we couldn’t care less. If you want ideas, though, I’ve written plenty about it:

Our plans include reading, writing, and video games. With a chance of brunch on Sunday 🙂

Food Total: $140.54

Ugh, I broke two of my own cardinal rules: never shop while hungry, and never shop without a list!

I did great at the Spice Bazaar, picking up only some fresh produce staples and a few things I wanted to try (looking at you, bitter melon) and the only impulse was a 10lb bag of basmati rice that was on sale.

Staples $10.48 Fruit/Veg $10.36
10lb basmati rice 7.99 Frozen bitter melon 2.99
tamarind paste 2.49 cauliflower head 2.99
ginger root 0.5
turmeric root 0.6
fresh bitter melon 1 0.79
3lb red onions 2.49

But, I went to ALDI right after, and it was past lunch time for me by then. I’m a sucker for ALDI on my best day, and I hadn’t been since the store had evidently been remodeled! It was huge, and bright, and packed with great deals. Y’all, I lost my mind a little bit. I admit it.

Dairy $5.57 Staples $38.00 Fruit/Veg $40.52 Extras $35.19
organic soymilk 2.19 olive oil mayonnaise 3.45 tomato juice 1.39 seltzer 1L x2 1.18
cage free eggs 12 2.29 coconut water 2.89 frozen berries/mango 4.18 frozen pizzas 2 3.98
1/2 gal whole milk 1.09 plum cherry juice 2.69 frozen edamame 2 3.38
org blue corn tortilla chips 1.89 1lb green beans 0.99 Winking owl syrah 2.89
org wheat spaghetti 2.18 bix box org spring mix 3.79 Winking owl red 3L 10.89
olive oil cooking spray 2.98 celery 0.95 German lager 5.99
green enchilada sauce 1.89 cara cara oranges 6 3.95 Amber ale 6pk 6.49
Coffee 4.79 Avocado 4 1.96
spinach wraps 8 1.99 Org Pears 8 3.49 tax 3.77
shelled pistachios 7oz 4.49 Pineapple 1.29
fresh pico de gallo 4.79 Sweet potatoes 1.29
Pasta sauce 1.98 Bananas 11 1.95
2lb dry northern beans 1.99 Broccoli crowns 3 1.49
green grapes 2lb 2.61
greens trio 1.99
cranberries 0.99
Artichoke hearts 2.49
Cucumber 0.45
mission figs 1.89

I also let myself restock on wine & beer, which I had been trying to go all of January without buying more alcohol. But COME ON, their 3L box of “house red” for under eleven bucks?!? And the specials this month were a German lager and an amber ale, my two favorite beer types. Sigh…

Lessons Learned

My only defense is that at least I bought a sh&t-ton of produce, and we should be able to make it through at least 2 weeks in a row of not buying groceries now. The majority of the spending was on super healthy stuff, which we should be eating anyhow (please ignore the frozen pizzas. The boy needs ’emergency foods’ for when he has no leftovers left).

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Restaurant Review: Rock’n’Roll Sushi

Since it’s been a while since I’ve done a food review, I figured it was about time! I’ve been to several wonderful places now throughout the Triangle, including Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. Even a few far-flung places like Asheville and Sunset Beach. In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

 

Today’s review is for a new sushi restaurant in Durham: Rockin’Roll Sushi Express! Located in a shopping plaza at 3405 Hillsborough Rd, Suite E, Durham, NC 27705, they are convenient to downtown Durham as well as the rest of the triangle via highway 85 & 147.

Y’all know I love my sushi, whether homemade or with a burger inside, and was a regular at my old favorite sushi place in Connecticut. Hubs and I have been known to take down plates of nearly 100 nigiri before. So now that I’m a Carolina girl, I had to find an AYCE place to satisfy my insatiable sushi cravings, without breaking the bank.

For only $10.99 each, this place fits the bill!

Not only is it quite affordable, and all you can eat, it is also free entertainment! The restaurant operates with 2 large conveyor belts on each side of the room, which rotate around several tables and chairs. There are little doors in the glass that the customer opens to pull out the dish they want as it rolls by.

According to the adorably named Get-Offline.com, “The conveyor belt sushi (Kaiten-sushi) is a Japanese fast-food style sushi concept. Initially invented so that sushi chefs could quickly serve customers with fewer servers, the “Kaiten-sushi” has since taken off as a fun and fresh way to dine out.”

The conveyor belt rolls by at a pretty decent clip, not so fast that you can’t grab the things that catch your eye but fast enough that by the time you polish off your third roll the thing you wanted seconds of is coming back around.

They have a good assortment of your standard expected rolls like California, Philly, Tuna and Spicy Tuna. They also have some pretty creative specialty rolls, like the Crazy Monkey Roll with fried bananas, or my favorites, the Naughty Crab and Volcano Roll.

Seriously, the Volcano Roll is deep fried goodness. I’d recommend you eat your fill first, because this bad boy takes up a lot of stomach space. They also have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, including a cucumber roll, avocado roll, and seaweed salad roll.

Obviously, as an all you can eat place, you cannot expect the most amazing delicacies of all time. You get what you pay for, folks, and this is pretty typical American style sushi. Though I must say, the nigiri slices are generous for the fact that you can have as many as you can handle.

If you’re like me and enjoy a light bowl of miso soup before digging in or in between courses, you’re in luck! There is a miso soup dispenser. Yup, you just put your styrofoam bowl underneath and press the button, and a stream of piping hot miso comes pouring out.

The down side is you cannot choose your volume, every pour is the same amount. But they do offer traditional toppings of tofu pieces and chopped green onion. Not to mention literal gallons of soy sauce, yum yum sauce, and teriyaki sauce.

There is also a salad and toppings bar that is included. This has goodies like seafood salad (which is apparently some of the best my grandma has ever tasted, and she is a bit of a seafood salad connoisseur so that’s quite a compliment!) regular green salad, edamame, pickled ginger, and seaweed salad.

I personally had at least 2 big helpings of the seaweed salad. Something about that slimy stuff, I just can’t get enough of the salty umami flavor. There are few dessert options, but they do have oranges and a strange cheesecake like thing. It isn’t very powerful, but it is somehow perfect after a belly full of fish, rice, and soy sauce.

I see this as a personal challenge now, every time I go I need to have more plates! The rolls come with 4 or 6 pieces, and the nigiri come as a set of 2. The plate colors don’t matter, because it is all included in the admission price. This makes me more willing to try things I’ve not had before, and I appreciate not losing out because I like the typically pricier raw fish pieces the best.

There is some soft rock and pop mix playing as you eat, and generally all the diners keep to their own tables. The decor is really fun, with bright photos and definitions of common words like unagi and kani salad on the walls. The bathrooms were quite clean, as was the entire restaurant. There is a self-serve trash area to clear the plates and put them in bins for washing. And you can see the sushi chefs behind the bar at the back, making rolls as fast as you can eat them.

Overall, I’d rate Rock’nRolls:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Value: 10

Restaurant Review: The Cowfish, Raleigh NC

 

How often do you have the “what do you want for dinner?” conversation? Whether with friends or a significant other, it can be fraught with peril. Someone wants pizza, someone else is in the mood for burgers, I desperately want sushi, meanwhile this other guy is gluten-free and she’s vegetarian.

What to do?!

The Cowfish in Raleigh has struck a whimsical compromise: they offer not only both burgers and sushi, but also a menu full of confusing, creative fusion they call “burgooshi”. Now the fish eaters and the cow eaters can all be happy and fed together.

Obviously, as a sushi-aholic married to a die-hard beef lover, I knew as soon as I heard of this magical place that we must go there. I could literally eat sushi every other day and be happy about it, but my Mr tolerates it just often enough so that I don’t die from sushi deprivation. This seemed like a perfect compromise.

And The Cowfish did not disappoint! We went to the Raleigh location, one of four current locations (Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, and Orlando, FL are the other two, with plans for future expansion. If you’re lucky enough to be near one do stop by and let me know what you think!). They had a nice outdoor seating space decorated with lights that I’m sure add a nice touch at night, as well as cornhole boards to occupy yourself while waiting to be seated.

We were smart, and showed up around 4pm, missing the lunch crowd and long before the Saturday dinner rush. Though as soon as we walked in, we noticed it was still pretty full with couples and groups sitting about, enjoying the wide array of music and goofy decor.

Impossible to miss, a gigantic fish tank shaped like a cocktail glass dominates the center of the spacious open dining room. All manner of brightly colored fish swim around, oblivious to their cousins being devoured nearby. And the walls are lined with cartoony paintings that riff off of many well-known pop culture icons & symbols.

You have your choice of seating, an outdoor covered patio, inside in the open floor, at the bar, or at the sushi bar. The sushi bar comes equipped with mounted in-table touch screens, which I can only assume are for ordering another round of Cheeseburgooshi. We sat elsewhere, but maybe next time.

The menu spans a wide range of tastes. They have typical Asian appetizers like gyoza and edamame, as well as classic American options like onion rings & nachos. They also have salads and sandwiches if someone in your party is not feeling very adventurous yet. There is definitely a seafood emphasis throughout.

The burgers range from lamb and bison, to mushroom and swiss, to an Elvis inspired peanut butter/banana/bacon concoction. Sushi rolls include classics like the California and Spicy Tuna roll, as well as some specialty rolls you won’t find anywhere else. And then the crowning achievement, the “Burgushi” menu, which is a unique fusion that involves bison sushi, southern style BBQshi,  the Turfin Surfer roll, and several types of sushi sandwiches.

Possibly their most famous fusion is the “All-American Bacon Double Cheeseburgooshi”. This little gem is like a bacon double cheeseburger, but with a twist: “Seasoned Certified Angus Beef, yellow cheddar cheese, white cheddar cheese, applewood bacon, and red onion, wrapped in soy paper and potato strings then flash fried. Topped with ketchup, mustard, dill pickle and Roma tomato. Served atop Cowfish sauce. Served with house seasoned fries”

But for your first culinary journey in this magical place, the staff recommends the “Fusion specialty bento box”, because it includes a little taste of it all. You get a mini slider, your choice of a 4-piece Fusion specialty roll, and sides: spicy cucumber, edamame, and the world’s most amazing sweet potato fries.

Yeah, I said it. In a place known for burgers and sushi, the sweet potato fries were the surprise sweep, both of us absolutely inhaled them. I loved the edamame, and the cucumber, though hubby pushed both my way. I wasn’t complaining one bit.

We chose the blackened tuna roll in our bento box, which was an awesome decision if I do say so myself. Crabcake and cream cheese inside, coated in tempura and topped with seared tuna, avocado salsa, and jalapeño slices, this was probably my second favorite part of the box. I could eat a dozen of these rolls!

We also got one Fusion specialty roll to split, the Doug’s Filet Roll. It boasts avocado, kani, and cream cheese filling, but the topping is what sold it. Thin slices of seared filet mignon, with spicy mayo, scallions, and masago (fish eggs).

The steak was delicious, and a very strange taste juxtaposed with the sushi to be sure. But very satisfying.

And of course, let’s not forget the restaurant’s namesake: the Cowfish. Yep, that’s an actual thing: an adorably weird fish of which each restaurant location boasts one.

Overall, I’d rate The Cowfish:

  • Taste: 10
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 9

 

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Restaurant Review: The Saucy Crab

 

The Budget Epicurean has a new home base, y’all! We have up and moved across the country from the lovely shores of New Haven Connecticut, to the woodsy Research Triangle mecca of middle North Carolina.

Why would you do this crazy, exhausting thing you ask?

Oh so many reasons… cost of living is way lower, taxes are incredibly cheaper, the people are super nice, the traffic is less terrible, the weather is a vast improvement, the Research Triangle is nearby with oodles of tech and scientific career opportunities…   need I go on?

So yeah, we did this crazy, expensive, exhausting thing and drove 12 hours the weekend before Thanksgiving to a new house with no furniture, heat, or hot water, and promptly hosted 9 people for the holiday. Because we are crazy people and have a reputation to protect as such!

While North Carolina does have a long stretch of seafront property, one does not normally think of the interior of the state as having good seafood. At least, when I think delicious seafood, I don’t think of Duke University… So when we were out and about exploring our new home, and saw a place called “The Saucy Crab” we just had to stop in and check it out.

saucy crab map

Nestled just off of 501 next to the Rooms to Go and across from the South Square shopping center, it sits on a hill looking over the highway almost exactly halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill. Google Maps refers to it as a “quirky hangout with shellfish & beer” and that is indeed what we found.

The Saucy Crab outside

With a tan stone exterior and a dimly lit, beach themed interior, it seems to have the quirky hangout part nailed.  Since we just came from the New England area of the East Coast, it was fun to see their beach theme, complete with upside down beer buckets as lamps over the beachy picnic tables.

The Saucy Crab inside

There was a large canoe hanging from the ceiling, beer bottle lanterns and chandeliers, and more beach decor scattered throughout. There were oars, and life preservers, and wooden crabs all over the place.  The crab is obviously their chosen mascot, and they have repeated the motif throughout.

Drawings on the walls

The tables are covered with butcher paper, and there are buckets of crayons on each table to encourage creativity.  We of course took advantage of these as we waited. And if your drawing is good enough or the wait staff takes a liking to it, you might end up on the wall! There are tacked up pictures all over, mostly of various renditions of the crab but also many other talented drawings.

I wonder if mine was good enough to make it on the wall? Guess we will have to go back and find out!

Budget Epicurean crab drawing

We got lucky, and early on a Saturday we had the place to ourselves. The waiter promptly took us over to a booth towards the back, and we knew what we wanted pretty quickly.

I ordered the sturgeon basket lunch special, and my hubby got the “surf and turf” as he put it; a burger with shrimp on top, also known as the “Saucy Burger”. Their lunch specials a great, under $10 for your fried main dish of choice and it comes with slaw, hush puppies, and potato wedges (which is really what their “fries” are, just FYI.)

spicy popcorn

And guys… they bring you spicy popcorn while you wait! Instead of chips and salsa or bread sticks, this place brings you a lovely bamboo bowl of endless spicy popcorn! Beware, it does have a bit of a kick. But it is addictive for sure, and healthier than most other pre-dinner snacky options. Plus it gives your hands something to do if you aren’t feeling your creative side and don’t want to color. 🙂

The fried sturgeon lunch basket

The food came out hot and fresh in about ten minutes, super fast. Of course, like I said we were literally the only people in the place. But it was clear that it had all just been cooked to order, not pulled out of a freezer and flash fried again. The slaw was slightly sweet and just the right amount of crunch, though the cup was super itty bitty. I would have like more of it, it was so good.

The hush puppies don’t look like much, but they were delicious! The corn bread was also a little sweet, and fried perfectly. The honey butter was amazing with them too. And the breading on the sturgeon and potatoes was light and crispy, fried just right. Of course, this is not the place to go if you’re trying to eat light and healthy! But once in a while, boy what a treat! And that sweet tea, mmmmm mmmm God Bless the South!

the Saucy burger

Hubby’s burger was slightly too cooked for my liking, but he said it was awesome. The burger meat plus big juicy shrimp was a strange combination for my brain to handle, but it was tasty. He even left the lettuce on, bless his heart! And the shrimp were cooked to perfection. A big melty slice of cheddar on top brought it all together.

Their special sauce was super tasty too, it was like a thousand island dressing, but with tartar sauce added; thick and creamy and tangy. It was great for dipping the fries in honestly! He didn’t use the mustard at all, though I have a suspicion it was just knockoff regular jarred mustard so I don’t mind.

20161203_115550

More shots of the interior decorations, and below is a larger room in the back which seems like it can be rented out for bigger parties. They also had a stage area set up with huge speakers, so it seems like maybe they do live music sometimes? While we were there a mix of country songs was playing, which I loved but hubby wasn’t too pleased. So hopefully you enjoy country music with your seafood! I thought it was a nice blend of ocean and southern feel.

20161203_115533

The bathroom was red and black and yellow, which was a little arresting when you first walked in. One sink had the faucet missing too. But it was large and clean, and there was plenty of toilet paper and paper towels, which is the truly important part.

 

Overall, I’d rate The Saucy Crab:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 8

 

The food was good, but I’m not a huge fan of fried things. The menu is a little limited too, but that’s to be expected from a place that specializes. I’d like to go again and try their crab, since that seems to be their pride and joy.  The atmosphere is very chill and fun, this would be a great place for a big family, a group of friends, or just a place to hang out and relax.

It felt very comfortable, I’d definitely bring a big group of people here for a fun night out. And the seafood is fairly priced, with great lunch specials. I think we nailed it by being there right around opening time on a Saturday. I’m not sure how crowded it gets in the evenings, but at least it is large enough to accommodate a pretty decent crowd.

 

Have you ever been to the Saucy Crab?  What did you think?

Restaurant Review: T’s Pizza & Kitchen

 

Do you love pizza?  I thought so.  Please, read on.

Along a quiet back street a half mile away from the Stamford Train Station, near Stamford Connecticut’s Antique Alley (what I’ve termed Dock St, due to its proximity to at least 7 antique stores and galleries), sits an unassuming painted brick building.

ts pizza kitchen google map

On a spur of the moment trip, the new hubster and I decided to explore some of the East Coast.  We figure since we live in a place where we can travel to five different states in one day and there is ample public transit, we should take advantage of these things.  So on a sunny Sunday, we hopped on the Metro North to Stamford, just one hour down the tracks.  We had gone by on our way to the Big Apple once or twice, and it seemed nice.

Downtown is tiny but quaint.  Several restaurants were open on this lovely Father’s Day, and one had a giant sign proclaiming “$5 Burgers Everyday”.  You can guess where we went for lunch… While sitting there, we witnessed some sky-writing of an advertisarial bent. The burgers were also tasty, but that’s another post. We then explored the nearby Stamford Town Center mall, which is deceptively huge. It goes up and up and up… ten floors I think. Pretty darn cool, to my exceedingly tall other half.

Then the true reason for coming all this way, we wandered down to the waterfront.  Harbor Point is the big development here, they have created many lovely living spaces that are very walkable. And there is a free public trolley that runs 7 days a week! This is a fantastic service. After a nice walk down the boardwalk and through the Kosciuszko park (dare you to say that three times fast) and some water-watching, we decided it was about time for some dinner and to wander back to the station to catch a train home.

T's Pizza Kitchen Exterior

Well, since we are in New England, we have made it our mission to find and eat pizza whenever and wherever possible, so as to do a fair comparison.  New Haven style is fiercely guarded and defended as the best pizza on Earth. Just as Pepe’s, Sallys, Modern, BAR, Ernies, or a host of other local hot spots.

Google maps informed us that “T’s Pizza & Kitchen” was super close to the train station, and basically along our way there. So we figured, that’s perfect! We can stop and pick up some dinner to eat on the train on the way home.

T's Pizza Kitchen Interior

The road on the way there, not gonna lie, it’s a little bit sketchy. But what do you expect from the industrial district? Though I must say, I was a little intrigued by the “Vertical Addiction” pole dancing studio next door… Anywho, as soon as we walked in the door, I thought “I love this place!” From the brick and wooden slat walls, to the muted black and rustic wooden decor, to the thoughtfully picked wall of wines and golden crusted baked goodies on display, this place oozed homey comfort with class.

We were welcomed by an elderly gentleman, who asked us some questions, and when we seemed hesitant, gave us a menu and let us sit down to figure out the game plan. We decided a whole pizza was too much, both to take on the train and because of the huge burgers we had eaten just a few hours earlier, so we would split a calzone. He recommended the Stromboli Roll, which comes with salami, ham, peppers, and mozzarella cheese. Si grazie!

Carlos of Ts Pizza Kitchen

While we waited, he offered us some waters, which we gratefully accepted (it was a high of 86 people!).  As I wandered to the back to watch our dinner be rolled out, filled, and baked all by hand, the kind chef chatted about what he did.  Turns out, the guy lovingly crafting our soon to be dinner was Carlos, the manager! He was filling in since Sundays are quiet.

He told me about his love of pizza and all Italian foods, and how hard they had worked since opening just 6 months earlier. It was mesmerizing to watch him roll out the dough into a thin, long oval. Dusting it with spices and layering the toppings carefully. Slices of meat, strips of peppers, chunks of fresh mozz. Then he rolled it up into one long log, and popped it in the giant oven. He was warm and funny, and genuinely interested in our story. It’s too bad we don’t live nearby, I would definitely become a regular!

Ts Pizza Kitchen Calzone

They were kind enough to give us two plates and wrap everything in tin foil, and added two cups of marinara dipping sauce plus a hefty stack of napkins.  We made it to the station! … just as our train pulled away. Ha. Oh well, the next one was set to arrive & depart in 25 minutes, so we could eat it while we waited. I’m sure everyone else on that platform was SO jealous!

Ts Pizza Kitchen Stromboli Roll

The calzone was still steaming hot, and the mozz was molten goo, which is totally a good thing.  The peppers had cooked up perfectly and were nice and soft, a perfect flavor to balance the salty ham and salami. The dough was nice and light, but crunchy and flavorful. The dipping sauce seemed a bit thin, but turned out to be perfect, not too heavy such as would overpower the flavors of the fillings.

While I’m not crazy about the small pool of grease left on the plate, sometimes that is just what you’re craving.  Based on just this calzone alone, they really know what they are doing in the kitchen! Hopefully we will return to Stamford someday, and we can try the pizza too. (If you’ve been there, please let me know what  you think in the comments!)

 

Overall, I’d rate Ts Pizza & Kitchen:

  • Taste: 8
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Value: 9

 

You can read other reviews here:

January Pantry Challenge

 

Wow, so February starts in just a few hours, 2016 is already 1/12th over!  How are you all doing with those new years resolutions?  Been to the gym every day, stuck to a calorie goal, finances in ship-shape, in fact taxes have already been filed?  Yeah, me too.

Just kidding!

I don’t really do the resolution thing, because it is far too easy to set yourself up to fail.  I am more a believer in long-term goals with short-term goals break down.  By taking a big life goal, solidifying your reason for desiring it, and then breaking it down into smaller, easily achievable goals, you set yourself up for continual personal improvement.  Plus you have the ability to look back and see what worked and what didn’t, and tweak or change your goals if your lifestyle and desires have changed.

This is the final post in a series of a challenge I set for myself Jan 1st, to cook out of my pantry/freezer and only spend $20 per week on fresh groceries.  Below are the first three week’s summaries:

Week 1 Recap
Week 2 Recap
Week 3 Recap

This final week, I was surprised at how quickly this month had flown by.  When I did my one grocery stop, it felt like more than enough.  I think I have adjusted to fewer grocery store trips, which is likely a very good thing.  Looking back at the past few weeks’ lists, I realized I still had 3 out of 4 kiwis in the refrigerator.  I also had to throw out half the cucumber because it went to mush before I could slice & eat it.  Other than that, I have done quite well with not buying too much or wasting produce.

Fruit/Veg $11.96 Meats $3.29
Celery 1lb $2.49 2/3 lb ham $3.29
Ginger root $0.30 Dairy $5.35
3lb oranges $3.77 White cheese $1.48
Bananas (8) $1.35 Organic yogurt $3.87
Avocados (2) $2.00
Collard greens $2.05 Total $20.60

 

This week I got brave and bought a head of collards, because I know they are chock full of chlorophyll and good stuff.  I chopped up a few leaves to toss into salads, some of the leaves got blended into a sauce for the gnocchi, leaves were added to soup, and one day for lunch I used the leaf as a wrap for tuna salad.  I also ended up getting a small pack of ham and some white cheese to make sandwiches for my fiancee for lunch.

White Bean, Sausage, & Collards Soup

Jan 23 – Pork ribs & baked potato soup
Jan 24 – Leftover stuffed shells for lunch, pork chops, Spanish rice & salad
Jan 25 – Buffalo chicken sandwiches
Jan 26 – Butternut squash gnocchi
Jan 27 – Sausage, white bean, & collard greens soup
Jan 28 – Lasagna with spinach
Jan 29 – Leftover lasagna
Jan 30 – Leftover pizza, buffalo chicken on salad

AS for the budgeting part of the challenge, not counting the couple of times we had meals outside the home, the total I went over is: $3.30 + $2.34 + $1.08 + $0.60 = $7.32

Which means a total of $87.32 for all the “fresh” groceries the entire month of January.  Not bad at all.  I don’t think realistically I can keep that up for many more months beyond this, but it is a good illustration of how much having a stocked pantry can help, especially in case of a natural or financial emergency.  Now I know that if something catastrophic were to happen, or the fiancee and/or I were to lose a job and we had to really tighten our belts, the pantry I normally keep can indeed see us through.

 

How about you, any resolutions or goals you are keeping, or struggling with?  Feel free to share!