Breakfast Around Las Vegas

There isn’t much between Arizona and Elko Nevada except for Vegas. However, I really really don’t like Vegas. Too loud, too noisy, too much artificiality and distraction. Can’t handle it, even for breakfast. So, if, like me, you find yourself on a road trip through the infinite empty roadways of Nevada and you need eggs and bacon, here’s where you should go instead of Sin City.

Omelet House in Henderson

The Omelet House in Henderson Nevada isn’t much to look at outside. Or even inside, for that matter. It’s got a local Denny’s kinda feel to it with big booths, round tables and industrial carpeting. But the food is really surprisingly great

Omelet House in Henderson

And there’s so much of it you won’t know what to do with yourself. That omelet, hilariously, is called the “health nut” and I’m guessing it had 8 eggs with zucchini, mushrooms and swiss cheese. There were a lot more eggs than filling but since I could only eat half of it, I was ok with that. The potatoes were light and crispy crunchy like potato chips and the pumpkin bread was homemade and spectacular. Plus the whole shebang cost about $11, which in Nevada is about 20 seconds with a slot machine. I’d recommend the Omelet House if you have a big love for breakfast or a big family with big appetites.

World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe

Slightly further from Vegas, The Coffee Cup Cafe in Boulder City is World Famous. It says so on their T-shirts. And all those people you see in that picture are waiting for a table.  Some places are famous because of hype and TV coverage and some are famous because they serve really fantastic food and their service is top notch. Coffee Cup is both. It’s been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, their food is outstanding and their servers are cute-as-buttons college girls that handle incredibly busy shifts with smiles.

World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe

I had a basic breakfast and the bacon was thick cut and peppered, the browns were crispy and the toast was also thick cut homemade sourdough. Had I tried to get a table at 9am on a Sunday, I think I might have waited 45 minutes. But I slid in and sat at the breakfast bar and had eaten and gone in 45 minutes.

Coffee Cup deserves the hype. Go check it out. Either sit at the breakfast bar or try to get a table in the shade outside and maybe have a mimosa while you’re waiting.

So, clearly I lied because I had one more Nevada post in me. But this is it. Promise.

Tomorrow is Arizona and Route 66. See you then…

New Restaurants in Tucson

Tucson street art

Tucson has a somewhat conflicted food culture. The overall vibe of the city is casual and some of its best food can be found in open air taco stands. However, there’s a growing group of Tucsonians who want to dress up and go out for dinner and cocktails. Every time I come back to town I find new upscale, urban restaurants with long wait times and unusual food choices.

Here are the four new restaurants I tried this visit:

Nook Downtown

Far and away my favorite of the four, Nook is a downtown Tucson’s newest breakfast/lunch place. With wooden tables and flooring, brick walls, padded chairs and a light open airy feel, Nook follows the latest restaurant design trend of stylish comfort. Like you’re at home but it’s way better looking.

Godfather benedict

I had the Godfather Benedict, one of Nook’s signature dishes, with arugula, prosciutto and poached eggs topped with hollandaise sauce and a balsamic reduction. Everything about this dish was perfectly on point. The proscuitto was thinly shaved and slightly fatty, the arugula had a nice peppery bite and this hollandaise might have been the best I’ve ever had. I fear thick clunky hollandaise sauces and so I rarely order benedict but this sauce was thin and creamy with a lemony kick to it. I wanted to lick the plate. Nook is Matt and Nikki Thompson’s first restaurant and I think they’ve knocked it out of the park. I hope Nook gets lots of love and attention so it’s going strong the next time I’m in town.

Oink Cafe

The unfortunately named Oink Cafe is another new breakfast place in town. That picture above pretty much says it all: bacon. Lots and lots of bacon. Pig is the trendy animal of choice in the 2000s and while it’s hard to argue with crispy fatty luscious bacon strips, I don’t know that Oink is doing anything new with the pig. The flight of bacon, above, had 8 different preparations, largely indistinguishable from each other.  I think your average breakfast diner would rate them as “good, slightly spicy, good, maybe sweet?, good, good, smoky?, good.” The rest of the food we had was also good but nothing I’d return to eat. I’d rate this place as solidly average with lots of bacon.

Jackson Tavern

Given that I just spent a week in Maine, i was amused to hear that one of Tucson’s newest restaurants serves New England style seafood. Jackson Tavern is Brian Metzger’s newest restaurant (also Poppy Kitchen and Gio Taco). The polished wood tables and open design of the restaurant bring a casual neighborhood feel to the dining room and the U-shaped bar in the next room definitely looks like the northeast. Of course there are pictures of lighthouses, since I can’t get away from them even in the desert. Design aside, I think the seafood concept is such an unusual choice for the southwest. Who comes to the desert looking for clam strips? But I think this restaurant is a perfect example of the growing food culture in Tucson and underlines the desire to move beyond all the usual food options in town.

IMG_1747

I had the clam strips, which were surprisingly tender albeit with quite a lot of breading. We also had deviled eggs that were ok and my friend Chris had the mac and cheese, which he said was really delicious. I think Jackson Tavern is a unique offering for Tucson. It might be a hard sell in a place so far from water but for people who want good seafood in the desert, they won’t be disappointed here.

Reforma Cocina y Cantina

Reforma Cocina y Cantina is going to do really well in Tucson because the St Phillips Plaza area is known for good dining, these owners also run the very popular Union Public House next door and the restaurant itself is lovely. Designed like a Spanish style adobe hacienda with white lights outside and a dazzling full wall display of agave spirits inside, this is exactly the kind of location the Tucson dinner crowd wants.

I wish the food were better. The best things we had were side dishes: the arroz oaxaqueno with poblano chilies and queso fresco was flavorful, spicy and delicious and the esquites, charred corn with chipotle lime crema, tasted exactly like the grilled street corn slathered with crema and cotija sold in Mexico. However, my shrimp tacos had overcooked shrimp and a lack of flavor – though the hand made tortillas were good – and the chili en nogada with poblano chili and vegetarian chorizo had way too much dried fruit and the strangest mealy consistency. Even the tortilla chips in the picture above were slightly tough and the salsa lacked salt and heat. Given Tucson’s well deserved reputation for excellent authentic Mexican food, Reforma’s food was disappointing.

However, like I said, the food isn’t the point here. We had a hard time getting a reservation on a Saturday night so it’s certainly popular and the restaurant has a nice vibe and it’s beautiful.

I’m happy to see another excellent breakfast restaurant in Tucson just as I’m happy to see Tucson’s food culture grow.  I hope that the burgeoning interest in dining out will actually develop Tucson’s food scene into a place where the beautiful restaurant spaces have food equal to the surroundings.

Lake George in Summer

I’m in transit this weekend. But before we leave the northeast I’m going to post about two road trips I took last summer while I was in upstate new york. Since it won’t stop snowing in the northeast, the least I can do is show pictures of what it looks like when the sun is out.

Ambition Cafe

Ambition Bistro is my favorite little place in Schenectady. Super quirky, full of old signs, theatre memorabilia, signed pictures, statuary, decorations and really good food.

Ambition Cafe in Rochester

That’s the Greek omelette with spinach and feta cheese and fresh baked bread. The strawberry garnish was a like a mini dessert (although the picture makes it look gigantic!). Ambition’s owner, Marc, has written a book about being a coffee house owner called Is the Coffee Fresh? He’s a fascinating person to talk to. Ask him about Blackboots, Ambition’s patron ghost.

Driving to Lake George

Lake George is only an hour away from Schenectady, nestled at the foot of the Adirondack Mountain Range. The winding two lane road that takes you up to the lake is heavily wooded and twisty so take your time.

Stop in the little town of Lake George for an ice cream

ice cream

Walk down main street before taking the one-ish lane road to the lake

Road by Lake George

Which is incredibly clear

Lake George

Don’t you just want to take your shoes off and wade right in? I did too and found out it was COLD, even in June.

lake George docks

Better to sit on the dock and read a book

Lake George and Mountains

Hang out for awhile. Look at the mountains. The weather’s perfect.

The Happy Cappuccino

Then head back to the city for a late afternoon coffee and biscotti at The Happy Cappuccino. They make their own biscotti and it’s delicious. I don’t usually like biscotti because it’s so dry and crunchy but this one had a really nice tenderness to it.

A long slow drive to the lake and a really good biscotti afterwards. That’s summer.

Hot Yoga and Brunch in Albany

The Hot Spot Yoga

I had some good looking plans this morning. My friend Ryan McAlpine called me last week and after confused schedule swapping we discovered we were going to be an hour an a half away from each other while I was stopping over in Albany. He offered to drive up for brunch and I told him to come up around 11ish so I could do yoga before he got there.

I wanted to do Bikram, since I’m on a roll this week, but Albany doesn’t have a Bikram studio. However, they do have a few hot yoga places and I found one called Yoga for All Seasons that offered the Bikram method but then I got in my car and programmed the wrong yoga place in my GPS and ended up at the The Hot Yoga Spot. I spent a frustrating 15 minutes realizing that I wouldn’t make it to Yoga for All Seasons in time and I would have to wait an extra hour for a hot yoga flow class at Hot Spot, which meant changing brunch times on Ryan plus I had already checked out of my hotel so I had nowhere to go. It wasn’t even 9am and my whole morning had gone sideways.

It wasn’t the best way to anticipate a yoga class. But I waited an hour and then did the 10am Hot Yoga flow class and it was pretty hideous because I don’t do yoga, I do Bikram. Bikram is 26 yogic poses, always the same ones, whereas real yoga classes can be any one of a trillion poses in any combination. When I do real yoga I want a class where the poses are held and corrections are made and I can periodically look around at what everyone else is doing and then do something that approximates it. That is not how a flow class works. Flow classes are constant movement, changing poses with the breath more or less continuously for an hour. There’s no real time to look at the other kids papers and figure out how to cheat. This means that for a solid sweaty hour I attempted to use my peripheral vision to figure myself out and again remembered how stiff and inflexible I am right now.  Plus the only spot in the room was right next to the heater – HOTHOTHOTHOT – and the class was full of lithe young college students who clearly do yoga flow every day like it’s no biggie after which they wipe the light sheen of sweat off their foreheads and then go drink their skinny vanilla half caf lattes on the way to psych 101 classes. Not that I hate them but I’m pretty sure I’m smarter.

This is where my head goes in the heat when I’m trying to perch on a yoga block, balance my knees on my triceps and figure out crow pose.

Sigh.

Other than my incompetence it was a great yoga studio with two different work spaces, beautiful hard wood floors and those icy cold wet lavender towels as a reward for surviving class. And seriously, I’m complaining about a yoga class? I have no real problems. Let’s move on.

Cafe Madison

Brunch at Cafe Madison was good. Actually, the company  – Mr. McAlpine and Lady Allie Lin – was fantastic and the food was good. My broccoli fritatta – lower right corner – was light on broccoli and heavy on cheese but there were lots of different homemade breads and Allie’s bacon looked scrumptious. It’s a cute place with a patio. I bet in the summer time it’s gorgeous. I love Ryan and Allie for making the drive to see me. They’re good people and I’m lucky to know them.

I do have to give a shoutout to the Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine, a place from which I ordered takeout and expected very little and had my expectations blown to bits by the incredible food. I should have known from the menu, which looked very much like menus I encountered in China, offering things like “sea cucumber” and “lions head” and something called “yan-du-xian casserole.” I ordered the chicken and baby bok choy and it was delectable and perfectly cooked in a buttery white sauce. I wanted to go back with a bunch of people and order all the things I didn’t recognize so I could try everything.

If you’re in Albany, try the Chinese food at Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine and if you’re up for it, do a little yoga flow. I bet you’re super smart as well.

Summer in Maine

I didn’t do many blog worthy things today so instead I’ll show you what Maine looked like last summer when I drove from Boston to Maine with my friend Hailei.

We stopped in Portsmouth NH for breakfast at Colby’s Breakfast and Lunch

Colby's Breakfast and Lunch

Very low key tiny place with handwritten blackboard menus and no real website but a hollandaise sauce to rave about.  Colby’s is the kind of small town joint that was localorganicfarmtotable long before that was a thing and they don’t need to advertise because they’re on a main road and everyone knows who they are and when they’re open. Breakfast and lunch. Obviously!  I had the corned beef hash benedict, two things that I’ve never seen combined before but that go together shockingly well. I think it was a daily special.

We got back on the road and drove slowly up Historic Route 1, the long 2 lane highway that runs from Florida to Canada. You can rarely drive faster than 40 miles an hour and you’ll hear GPS directions such as “stay on Main Street for the next 37 miles” as you drive through the interconnected main streets of 5 small towns.

It runs right along the coast

Coast of Maine

Past public beaches

Maine public beach

And gussied up houses because lots of people on the shore like to decorate with colorful old buoys

Buoy house in Maine

We drove up to Kittery and stopped at the Nubble Lighthouse I mentioned yesterday

Nubble Lighthouse

Very pretty but not open to the public, although there’s a big gift shop and several markers to tell you all about the history of the area.

We stopped for a sparkly beverage at Sun and Surf

Sun and Surf

Right on the water’s edge

hailei and her margarita

And then went to Fisherman’s Dock in York for a lobster roll

Lobster roll at Fisherman's Dock

As cold lobster rolls go it was a good one but I have discovered that I prefer hot lobster rolls, tossed in drawn butter. That’s where the money is! But if cold lobster rolls are your thing, Fisherman’s Dock has a wicked good menu with lobster by the pound, checkered tablecloths and outdoor seating and bottles of Moxie to wash it down. Super atmospheric and very Maine.

After our lobstah rolls, we rushed back to Boston to get to work. But if you don’t have to rush back, I’d recommend two different restaurants on your route back to Boston:

Lil’s Cafe in Kittery for lunch

Lil's Cafe

For  butternut squash bisque that’s like a bowl of creamy sunshine. They also have sandwiches, coffee, breakfast and a big spread of baked goodies. Lil’s is a right smack in the middle of town and connected to an art gallery so eat and browse and then do a little wandering around Kittery while you’re there.

For dinner, try the Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire

Portsmouth Brewery

I had the mussels, which were really fresh although I didn’t love the curry sauce. It was only ok. But the fries were spectacular as was the Chocolate Rye Stout I drank with it. Not quite the beer pairing a brewmaster would recommend, I’m sure, but I like mussels and I like stout so there you have it. This brewery is also taking a lot of steps to implement composting and recycling and reduce their carbon footprint so i respect them for that.

And there it is, Maine in the summer. Very similar pictures but with about 200% less freezing cold reality. I’ve loved cold wintery Maine too but I think I’m ready for Spring to really arrive.

Buffalo to Kennebunkport

Spring is the time of plans and projects – Leo Tolstoy

Truer words…

I just left my job with Phantom of the Opera in Buffalo and took off on a road trip to Maine for a few days.  Weirdly, this trip is eerily similar to that time 3 years ago that I closed South Pacific and took a long epic road trip  at this same time of year and also from Buffalo.

It’s trying to be spring here in upstate New York. The snow is melting and the sun is out but it’s still in the 30s.

Upstate New York

Highlights from the last two days include breakfast with my friend Corey Polish on the last day of our third show together.

Spot coffee in Buffalo

SPoT coffee is an upstate New York chain ( I also like their Rochester location, which is in a converted auto show room). They do breakfast all day including excellent omelets and really spectacular coffee. If every local coffee chain was this good and this consistent, Starbucks would be out of business.

Super fresh spring rolls at a Thai food truck parked at a gas station in Brattleboro Vermont

Thai food truck in Vermont

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it’s 30 degrees outside and people are braving the weather to order from a food truck parked at a highway intersection, you’re best off stopping and getting something to eat. It’ll be worth it.

And it totally was. That sauce was garlicy and a little bit sweet with ginger and chili. Almost anyone can make a decent spring roll but great sauce is a different story. If you happen to be driving through Vermont on Route 9, make a stop at Taste of Thai.

And then finally an arrival to Kennebunkport Maine. Happy hour with a great book and a Cormac McCarthy loving bartender (and a photo of Kennebunkport natives…)

Ramp's bar & grill

Followed by a quintessential Maine dinner of mini lobster roll and lobster bisque at Alisson’s Restaurant
Alisson's RestaurantThe lobster roll was only ok. That’s been my reaction to most lobster rolls I’ve eaten this year so maybe I’m just not a fan? I don’t get it because I love lobster and will put mayonnaise on anything but they always seem soggy and flavorless. By contrast, the lobster bisque was phenomenal, rich, lush, creamy, lobstery… Perhaps I’ll give up the roll and stick with the soup.

I’ve spent the last two driving days taking two lane roads and trying to shake off the weight of the show. I think in many ways I’m trying to capture the sense of freedom and completion that I felt on my last road trip and trying to realign myself to the rest of the world. Fortunately, the seasons are with me in my transitional space

Budding trees in Vermont

I love spring in the north where winter is giving it up but it’s not quite warm and there’s still snow everywhere. When I got out of the car to take pictures I could hear water rushing under the ice and snow. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow but there are fresh buds on the trees. It’s winter’s last gasp.

I saw a dear friend of mine, the Celt, in Saratoga Springs last night. We had drinks, gossiped about our friends and told stories and I was again most thankful for the friend choices I made in my 20s. When we parted ways he texted me and said “Normally this is a curse, but I don’t think it is for you… may your life be interesting.”

May he be right.

Eat Breakfast in Minneapolis

It’s a beautiful day in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis morning

My favorite breakfast place in Minneapolis is the Wise Acre Eatery

Wise Acre Eatery

This restaurant’s food comes directly from Tangletown Gardens, a 100+ acre farm right outside of Minneapolis; and even in fall and winter the freshness of their produce is impressive. The restaurant space is cozy with big windows, wooden tables and a glorious outdoor patio for warm weather. However, the best part of my Wise Acre Eatery experience was the CSA hash above, a delectable blend of bright yellow scrambled eggs over seasonal vegetables with whole grain toast. Farm to table is a popular restaurant concept these days and these Wise Acre chefs do it perfectly by serving fresh food prepared with a minimum of fuss. Their flavors really shine as does their restaurant.

A great breakfast option in northeast Minneapolis is the Wilde Roast Cafe

Wild Roast Cafe

Named after Oscar Wilde and with a penchant for peacocks, this little Victorian cafe serves up a mean huevos rancheros with smoked gouda hash browns. Mexican food with an Irish Victorian twist? I’m totally down. I loved the atmosphere at Wilde Roast with the stuffed armchairs and fireplace and their spicy bloody mary was perfection. They’re situated in a little strip called St. Anthony Main with a river walk across the street and the St. Anthony Main Theatre next door; so, have breakfast, catch a flick, take a walk and enjoy this little historic district while you’re in the neighborhood.

On Saturdays from May thru October, check out the Farmer’s Market

Farmer's Market

I’m partial to a saturday morning farmer’s market so I really loved the Mill City Market by the Guthrie Theater downtown. Along with those delicious donuts from Chef Shack, I got some goat cheese and a breakfast burrito, listened to some live music, considered buying a painting from a local artist and watched a cooking demo. That’s not very different from many farmer’s markets around the nation, which is what makes them all so great, but I liked this market particularly for the abundance of seating on the big wide steps by the Guthrie. Sometimes it’s great to just have a seat, eat a burrito and watch the human play unfold around you. And I highly recommend those donuts!