My fall travel schedule was a little slower than usual. I’ll soon post separately about trips to Vancouver and New Orleans (and you’ve hopefully seen my posts about Cleveland and Portland), but for now here are some miscellaneous restaurants I tried during my travels. This report will include:
- Tampa, FL: Arco Isis
- New York, NY: Big Gay Ice Cream
- Harrison, NJ: Tops Diner and La Roja y Blanca
- Burlington, VT: Misery Loves Company and The Tavern at The Essex (Essex Junction)
- Houston, TX: Urban Crave
- Shreveport, LA: Brothers Seafood and Bergeron’s Boudin and Cajun Meats of Shreveport
- Tacoma, WA: Wendy’s Vietnamese
Starting in Tampa, how could I resist Arco Iris, with its sign advertising “Spanish and Chinese Food”? Tampa has a large Cuban population, so the Cuban sandwiches were tempting, but looking to go cross-cultural, I chose the “Arroz Frito Especial con Puerco Asado y Platanos Maduros.” Two plates came to the table. One had a mound of fried rice, with some sweet plantains to the side. The other had shreds of roast pork with onions. There was also a basket of bread, about as dry as the pork. Fortunately, the fried rice was okay, and the workers were nice–extremely welcoming to the regulars as they arrived for lunch.
I made my annual August trip to New Jersey, but unfortunately was extremely sick during my overnight stay. Hopes to go to Ippudo in New York City were dashed when family members and I decided that a two-hour wait wasn’t worth it, especially in my condition. We enjoyed some familiar (to me) plates at Xi’an Famous Foods, and then stumbled upon Big Gay Ice Cream. Again, lots of friendly workers, and lots of interesting options on the menu. I ultimately chose the signature Salty Pimp, with vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt, and chocolate dip. The cone reminded me of my “Magic Shell” college days, though this took this ice cream to a higher level based on its quality and the spark of flavor that the sea salt provided.
Still sick the next morning, I decided to stay close to my hotel in Harrison to rest. Within walking distance of the hotel was Tops Diner, which many consider tops in NJ. Here I hoped to recover with a starter of soup and then chicken pot pie that’s bigger than my head. Unfortunately, my head cold clouded my thinking, and I forgot to take a photo of the pot pie once pierced open. Fortunately, I still had my taste buds intact and could enjoy, surprisingly, about half of the pot pie. Decent flavors, making it better than I expected for a diner. But, really, way too big–though I did see big portions on just about every plate in the restaurant.
That evening, wanting just a quick bite before going to sleep and then flying out the next morning, I went to La Roja y Blanca. There’s a lot of rotisserie chicken near Newark, though La Roja is also known for its Peruvian Seafood. I was tempted by the Saturday and Sunday specials (like beef tripe cau cau), but decided to try the signature roasted chicken for my first time there. My quarter chicken was plenty. The meat was really moist, and there was plenty of rice to soak up any juices.
I lived in Burlington, Vermont for 11 years, leaving in 1999 for Seattle, and always feel lucky to get back there. Each time I return, I find that the food scene continues to improve. I’ve already reported about my visit to Hen of the Wood, but immediately preceding that, I went to Misery Loves Company–the food truck turned brick-and-mortar. Knowing that Hen of the Wood was to follow, I didn’t order as much as I would have liked, especially with a menu as attractive as Misery offer.
As is my preference, it was fun to sit at the counter (so close to the kitchen that it’s one of the hottest counter seats I’ve ever experienced) and see the plates coming out of the kitchen. Gorgeous food with interesting ingredients! From the small plates menu, I decided to start with fluke crudo with spaghetti squash, yogurt, and pumpkin seed brittle. This dish was fresh-tasting with a fun variety of textures and flavors. The next small plate: sunchokes with roasted mushrooms, grilled little gem (small lettuce that’s crisp like romaine, but a little sweeter), and soft egg. I enjoyed the earthy flavors of this dish. The egg was nicely cooked, with the yolk oozing into everything else. Finally, I was eager to try the whole-fried loup de mer (sea bass) with “various garnishes.” This whole fish, strangely on the small plates menu, was perfectly fried, and came with a variety of pickles as well as four dipping sauces. Another winner. Misery will get my company in future visits to Vermont.
The next day there was time for a very quick meal with friends, so we met at The Tavern at The Essex (a “culinary resort and spa”). Here I got the LaPlatte farm burger, with eight ounces of local beef. It’s a little more dressed up than I normally like, but the patty had good flavor. As friends ordered a shareable serving of truffle fries, I opted for a salad instead of more potatoes.
It wouldn’t be long before it was time for another burger, this time during an airport layover in Houston. I’d heard good things about Urban Crave and was eager to give them a try. Urban Crave is about “authentic street cuisine,” though that seems to amount mostly to burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and tacos. Wanting to try one of their “inside-out-burgers” (with the toppings mixed inside), I went with the blue cheese and mushroom. Those toppings are indeed inside, though the other toppings sit on top of the patty, as you can see. Still, a decent large (10-ounce) burger and edible hand-cut fries, making this a place I’d try again given a long layover in the Houston airport.
A connecting flight in Houston took me next to Shreveport, LA, where I had one day before heading on to New Orleans. As a warm-up for what was ahead, I had lunch at Brothers Seafood, near the airport. The service was a bit sketchy, though my waitress was quick with “honey” and “dear” when talking with me. As for the food, my gumbo was just so-so, and I felt that the crab-stuffed shrimp was terribly overrated.
Better, based on the small amount of food I quickly inhaled, was Bergeron’s Boudin and Cajun Meats of Shreveport. This home of “Boudin, Cracklins, Crawfish, Seafood” made me wish I had a kitchen nearby. All I could manage, hitting the place at the end of the day, was a crawfish pie and a BBQ sandwich. Both were delicious.
Much closer to home, I had a business trip to Tacoma, taking the Sounder train for a change of pace. This deposited me right at Freighthouse Square, which was once the home of a cozy and delicious Thai restaurant called 52 Silvers (if I’m remembering the name correctly). With no real time to eat, I embraced the food court feeling and grabbed the daily special at Wendy’s Vietnamese. 5 minutes to eat a $5 plate of pineapple chicken; at a price like that, it’s hard to complain, especially when the service is so friendly.