Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Boston Restaurant: UFood Grill

What: UFood Grill 
Where: 201 Brookline Ave in Landmark Center, Fenway
Honeys Heart: Unfries, turkey burger and froyo

Last night I had the pleasure of attending my first Boston Food Bloggers dinner at UFood Grill. (Look, Ma. I'm a real blogger now!)

UFood is a fast food chain that focuses on providing customers with "great taste you can feel good about." Essentially, they're serving your favorite fast food items like burgers, fries and pizza, but making them as healthy and flavorful as possible. They'll also get those items out to you in 3.5 minutes or less. Nice.

Now, you all know how I feel about chains. I'd much rather cook my own food (bleh!) then be dragged to Applebee's, Red Robin or, god forbid, McDonald's. But sometimes you really do just need a quick, cheap meal, and in that case, I'd definitely choose UFood over the other fast food spots here in Boston. (Sorry Ufood, if you ever make it out to CA, I'm still going with In-N-Out.)

Over the course of our evening with UFood, we were given the opportunity to sample several dishes from their rather extensive menu. I'll start with my most favorite, and work my way down.

#1 Unfries 

UFood bakes their fries ("unfries"-get it?) so you don't have to feel bad when you're stuffing them in your mouth one after another like I was. They were nice and crispy (not soggy like the baked fries I've tried to make at home) and not at all greasy. Definitely my favorite food of the night.

#2 Turkey Burger

UFood's Chipotle Turkey Burger is served on a multigrain bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, lite jalapeno jack and spicy chipotle mayo. I'm not usually a fan of chipotle, but I loved this burger. It was juicy and flavorful and I actually really liked the chipotle mayo. This burger with fries would be my meal of choice.

#3 Chocolate-Vanilla Swirl Froyo

Mmm... froyo. Can't go wrong with that. This fat-free chocolate and vanilla swirl was creamy and delicious. Lots of flavor going on there so you don't feel like you're eating something fat free. Already planning on popping over to the Downtown Crossing location for some of this when I need a break from doing hw at Emerson. Ufood also serves original tart and wildberry tart froyo.

#4 Smoothies aka "Smuuthies"

Oops, didn't take a picture of these but they were also a favorite. I think we tried Berrylicious, Stawbanilla, and Passionate Peach. All were very refreshing.

#5 Falafel Wrap

UFood's Fresh Falafel Wrap is made with baked falafel, roasted red pepper hummus, pickled beets, lettuce, tomatoes and spicy tahini sauce. I'm not a big wrap person but I did think the falafel was tasty and the tahini sauce had a nice hint of spice to it.

#6 Tofusion 

The Tofusion UBowl comes with organic tofu, veggies and a ginger-soy glaze. The glaze had a touch of sweetness and I really liked it with the tofu, veggies and rice. According to the vegetarians at my table, the tofu was very nicely grilled compared to what other restaurants often serve.

#7 Pesto Pizza 

The pesto pizza had just the right amount of garlic, but it's also simple enough that I could make something like this at home. 

#8 Bistro Salad

I also enjoyed the Bistro Salad with organic mixed greens, tomatoes, feta, walnuts, dried cranberries and blueberry-pomegranate vinaigrette, but like the pesto pizza, this is something that I could recreate on my own- and I rather spend my money on dishes that I can't make myself.

So, obviously lots of yummy options. However, there were some dishes that I can't recommend. Those include the Chicken Tinga UBowl (somehow the sauce tasted watered-down and extremely spicy at the same time), the Turkey Sausage Pizza (way over-seasoned), and the Better Bacon Cheeseburger (cardboard-y turkey bacon ruined that one for me). Can't win 'em all...

Overall though, I was impressed with the quality of food UFood produces and I really enjoyed sampling their menu items.

It was also great to share a table with the ladies of Foodies at Work, The Apron Archives and Frugal Foodista. Hope I can make another one of these blogger events soon!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Austin, TX- Part III: Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill

Sunday brunch was always one of Nick's and my favorite weekly traditions when we actually lived in the same city, so on our last morning in Austin, we decided brunch was definitely in order.

(Catching up? Read Austin-Part I here and Austin-Part II here.)

What: Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill
Where: 303 Red River, Downtown
When: Brunch served Sunday 10am-2:30pm
Honey's Heart: Pigs in blanket, sweet potato casserole, cornflake fried chicken tenders

Moonshine serves its Southern comfort food for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and hosts brunch and "Sunday dinner" on Sundays.

Brunch at Moonshine is served buffet style and costs $15.95 per person. Nick and I thought that was a darn good deal considering the variety and quality of the food offered.

There was green chile cheese grits, sweet potato casserole with molasses, cornflake fried chicken tenders, chicken fried steak tenders with chipotle cream gravy, biscuits, corned beef hash with peppers and onions...

... waffles, pancakes, french toast, bagels, muffins, cinnamon pinwheels, apple and peach turnovers, cappuccino bundt cake, and bread pudding...

... omelets and scrambles, roasted new potatoes, sausages, toads in a hole, pigs in a blanket, garden salads, pasta salads, fresh fruit and more.

Now, I know there are several different buffet strategies out there (check out The Sporkful's podcast on the matter), but Nick and I are of the multiple-plate persuasion. We prefer to fill up our plates moderately, then return to the buffet with fresh plates after we've finished each "course." That way we can try new items as well as return to our favorites from the course before. The couple next to us preferred the load-your-plate-with-as-much-food-as-possible-so-you-don't-have-to-stand-up-again strategy. Definitely not for us.

Here are Nick's first round picks:

He went back for more cornflake fried chicken tenders and pigs in a blanket. Good choice.

And mine:

I too had another pig in a blanket (or three?) during my subsequent rounds and more sweet potato casserole as well. Jealous of that waffle, sister?

To help wash it all down, we each had a mimosa ($3.50), which are also available by the carafe ($18).

By the time Nick and I left the buffet, we had each had three plates of food (actually, Nick might have had four) and were stuffed to the brim. Everything was so tasty and there were so many options that we just couldn't help but keep eating. But that's the sign of a great buffet, right? (Or maybe just a sign that Nick and I are fat kids. Hmm.)

One final note on Moonshine: be prepared for a long wait if you don't get there right when they open their doors at 9:30am- this place is definitely not what you'd call a well-kept secret.

After brunch, Nick and I booked it back to the hotel so we could check out and catch our Greyhound bus to San Antonio. I wasn't really ready to leave Austin, there seemed like so much more left to explore, but it did feel good to sit down for awhile following that enourmous meal...

Next up: San Antonio. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Austin, TX- Part II: Franklin BBQ, Home Slice Pizza, and Amy's Ice Creams

One of the things that Nick was most excited about when we started planning our trip Austin was the promise of great BBQ. After much research on his part (and none on mine), we decided that Franklin BBQ was a must-try and reserved Saturday morning for camping out in the Franklin line. 

(Wanna catch up? Read Part I here.)

What: Franklin BBQ 
Where: 900 E. 11th Street, Downtown
Honey's Heart: Brisket

Here's how it works at Franklin BBQ: Wednesday through Sunday, Franklin starts serving food at 11am and keeps on serving until they run out of BBQ.

Nick and I wandered up to the parking lot that houses the Franklin trailers at about 10:15am on Saturday to find a line waiting for us. (Note: Franklin has since moved locations; the address above is the new one.)

By the time they started serving around 11, the line had tripled.

Now, it goes without saying that waiting in line at Franklin requires a certain amount of patience. Here's the thing though. Those people that show up early, the people who were the first to get there at god-knows-what hour, they got there good and early because they are there to buy a lot of BBQ. Pounds of it. And it takes a long time to cut up all those pounds of brisket, ribs, pulled pork and sausage.

By the time Nick and I made it to the order window, it was already 11:30. Needless to say, we were really ready for some BBQ. And the people at Franklin understand that.

Before he did anything, the guy at the window pulled out a fresh slab o' brisket and cut of a thick chunk of the end bit for Nick and I to nibble on while we ordered.

The moment we popped it in our mouths, we knew the wait was worth it.

I'm not a big meat eater, but this brisket was amazing. So tender and flavorful from the thick dry rub that coats each piece. My mouth is watering remembering it.

Nick decided to go with the 2 Meat Plate ($8.75) and ordered brisket and ribs with potato salad and coleslaw. Each plate is topped with 2 pieces of white bread.

The ribs literally fell off the bone and the brisket was so tender you could separate it with a fork. 

These photos don't really accurately show how much food you're given either. Nick got two huge slabs of ribs and a good amount of brisket too. Even with my help, he couldn't finish it all. Thank god our hotel had a mini fridge.

I went with the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($4.75) with a side of baked beans. Does this sandwich look good to you? Because it looks kind of weird to me. Definitely more appetizing after I added some of Franklin's homemade vinegar-based BBQ sauce! The pork itself was juicy and flavorful and the BBQ sauce added just the right bite. So good.

By the time Nick and I had finished our lunch, it was 12:30pm and this sign was already sitting out in front of the Franklin driveway:

Yep, a mere hour and a half after they opened, Franklin had already run out of BBQ. It's that good. Really.

Full of tasty BBQ, Nick and I made a quick stop at the L.B.J. Library before venturing across the river to the SoCo (South Congress) district.

South Congress reminded me a lot of Mississippi St. or Alberta in Portland, but a lot wider and busier. So many cute, quirky shops and lots of little restaurants and bars.

Definitely don't miss Uncommon Objects if you're ever in SoCo. It's an awesome vintage/antique shop where everything is way overpriced but still really cool. (Sapphire and crystal dress clips, you know I wanted to buy you. But you were just too damn expensive.)

SoCo also has a little strip of food trailers.

They all looked pretty good, but Nick and I were distracted by this:

Home Slice... and More Home Slice.

You know if there's a cause for "More Home Slice", that pizza's gotta be good.

What: Home Slice Pizza/More Home Slice
Where: 1415 South Congress and 1421 South Congress.
Honey Heart: The Sauce

Home Slice and More Home Slice both sell New York-style pizza by the slice and by the pie. Home Slice is a sit down restaurant while More Home Slice takes care of the take-out business.

Nick and I just wanted a little snack so we headed over to More Home Slice.

You can order pizza at the window or inside. We took the inside route.

At More Home Slice, your choices of slices are margarita, pepperoni, sausage and then whatever their special of the day is. We went with a Slice of Pepperoni ($3.75).

This is some of the best New York-style pizza I've ever had and that's owed mostly to the amazing tomato sauce at Home Slice. Nick and I are both toppings people but we both agreed that we would have enjoyed plain old cheese just as much as the pepperoni because the sauce is really what makes this pizza. It was a pure, fresh tomato sauce- no other spices mucking up it up or trying to steal the show. Delicious.

Also, this was happening:

That's some authentic New York pizza for you!

Being the little piggies we are, Nick and I decided that immediately after finishing our pizza, we needed ice cream.

What: Amy's Ice Creams
Where: 1301 South Congress Avenue
Honeys Heart: Hunny Vanilla

Amy's has locations in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Each location has seven "standard" flavors accompanied by other daily specials.

Maybe Nick and I were on a no toppings needed kick after our experience at More Home Slice, but for some reason we both decided to get vanilla ice cream with no mix-ins.

I got Hunny Vanilla and he went with Mexican Vanilla. I really liked the natural sweetness the honey added to my vanilla and Nick liked his Mexican Vanilla even though it tasted a little too much like what other ice cream places might call cake batter ice cream for my taste.

After a bit more wandering, we decided it was time to find somewhere to sit down for a bit. Snack Bar had a nice lounge and some happy hour offerings, so we decided that was the place.

The drinks and food weren't all that spectacular, it did have a nice atmosphere.

Feeling more refreshed, Nick and I continued our night by walking back over to the E. 6th St. neighborhood in search of something to do.

As luck would have it, we were able to nab sold-out tickets for a showing at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, a movie theater that also serves food and drinks.

Great way to end our second night in Austin!

Stay tuned for Part III...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Orleans, LA, Part 1: The Gumbo Shop, Pat O'Briens, GW Fins

I know this is a little late seeing as Mardi Gras has passed, but recently Adam and I got to take a trip down South to New Orleans and I have to share our food and, of course, drink experiences! Adam had to go for work, so I happily decided to tag along. And I am so glad I did. New Orleans is quite possibly my new favorite city and I'm already planning to return!

The city has incredible history, architecture, people, bars, tradition, and...food. Our first experience with a semi-New Orleans native was on our flight from Denver to New Orleans on Thursday (February 24th). Our co-passenger gave us 2 hours of tips. Yep, he just didn't stop. He told us restaurants to go to, bars to check out, bars not to check out, the reputable strip clubs and suggested we call him to use his limo service (we didn't though.)

Friday morning Adam had a presentation then we were off to explore the French Quarter before meeting up with his boss and other conference attendees for dinner. First stop, lunch.

What: The Gumbo Shop
Where: 630 St. Peter St.
Honey's Heart: Alligator!

I was so hungry by the time we began walking around (11am) that I needed some food. Plus we were seeing people with drinks so I was feeling behind, but I knew it would be bad to start on an empty stomach. Of course, being in New Orleans, we needed to go somewhere known for their gumbo, jambalaya, and creole. This particular spot was recommended by the man on the plane and the websites I had checked out before our trip.

The waitress recommended we start with the alligator sausage, which was awesome!

For some reason (cause they live mostly in water?) I was expecting it to be fish-like, but it was more similar to a chicken sausage and I think I liked it more...Definitely worth trying. Even if just for the novelty of it.

For our main dishes I chose the Shrimp Creole ($12.99) and Adam went with the Chicken Andouille Gumbo ($7.99). These were pretty much what I expected and both very good.

I did find throughout our trip that these aren't the most complex dishes to make and it's such a traditional/common meal that there is no real need to spend a lot of money on them. They're pretty similar anywhere you go. As one man at dinner told us, "It's New Orleans, pretty much everywhere in this city can make a good etouffee, creole, jambalaya..."

Post lunch, we walked through St. Peter's Square, stopped in a voodoo shop, and wandered back to Bourbon Street where we decided it was time (1:30pm) to have a Hurricane to-go.

What: Pat O'Brien's
Where (Bar & Piano Lounge): 718 St. Peter
Where (Restaurant & Bar): 624 Bourbon St.
Honey's Heart: Their flaming fountain on the back patio!

There are many places to get drinks to go on Bourbon Street, but we chose Pat O'Brien's since it's famous for their Hurricane. In 1933 Pat O'Brien turned his speakeasy into a legitimate bar after prohibition. In the post-prohibition times, whiskey, scotch and bourbon were hard to come by, so in order to get even the smallest quantities of those, liquor salesmen required bar owners to purchase large quantities (50+ cases) of the more readily available liquor: rum. In order to deal with these large quantities of rum, bartenders created the ever so popular Hurricane.

4 oz Dark Rum
4 oz Pat O's Hurricane Mix (yep, top secret)
Crushed Ice
Garnish with Orange and Cherry

Also offering a dueling piano bar and a fountain that is lit on fire at night, this bar is not only a long time establishment for the regulars, but now a tourist hot spot. We definitely ended up here Saturday night also (it's where we found some foreign friends.)

Now I wouldn't say it was my favorite drink ever, I don't particularly like rum or sweet drinks, but I did like that it has 4 shots in it and one drink got me pretty tipsy!

Next on our agenda was a nap, then a work dinner.

What: GW Fins
Where: 808 Bienville St.
Honey's Heart: A bottle of wine to go at the end of dinner!

GW Fins is also located in the French Quarter and known for their seafood. This dinner is a little harder to review since it was a pre-selected menu with limited choices, no pricing, and I'm not even sure the items are on their regular menu, which changes regularly anyway so I suppose it doesn't matter!

We started with lobster dumplings, crab cakes and grilled prawns. Lobster dumplings lacked flavor, but the mini crab cakes and grilled prawn were fabulous. Adam and I were lucky enough to sit at a table of 8 where 3 people didn't eat seafood at all. This meant that I ate a lot of prawns.

Our appetizers were followed by a salad and then the choice of a steak, scallop or chicken main dish. Adam chose the steak and I chose the scallops, perfect selections so we could share. The steak was alright, but nothing compared to our dinner the next night (coming up in New Orleans, LA Part 2) and the scallops were good, but coming from the NW it's hard to beat some of the seafood I've had in Seattle and Portland.

Finally we were served a bread pudding-esque dessert which I wasn't a fan of and already too full for anyway! Of course this whole time wine glasses were being refilled regularly.

Bonus: There was an unfinished bottle of red at the end of dinner and the waiter stuck a cork in it, put it in a plastic bag, and sent it home with Adam and I. Thanks!

Stay tuned for New Orleans Part 2 and 3!!