Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yanni – Target Center – Minneapolis, MN

Go ahead and mock (you know you will), but I’m a Yanni fan. When he announced he was coming to Minneapolis, I was pretty excited. My dad is also a big fan, so I figured he’d be coming up from Illinois to go to this with me. We’ve gone to see Yanni three other times (yes, continue the mocking). We ARE that lame, but we’re a combo team. My dad is also a card carrying member of the Yanni fan club, so he’s got access to crazy deals. Which is why I got a phone call from my father telling me we got front row seats to the Minneapolis show. I asked, “front row balcony?” and he assured me, “front row front row.” W.U.R.D.

It would have ruled had we been able to eat at Fogo do Chao like I had hoped, but we didn’t want to miss anything, so we got to the show early. We walked right past the merch booths which were selling t-shirts for $40 and hoodies fo $65. Wow. Pricey. So we just headed to our seats. We even got ushered down to our seats in the front row. Class act, the Target Center.

I could go into tons of detail about the show, but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum and not critique each song. This tour Yanni wanted to bring in lots of vocals, so he found four really awesome singers to write lyrics for some of his songs and some to perform some stuff that Yanni had written. There was blonde guy that looked like me (according to dad and a couple of people sitting near me) who was an amazing singer and was Mr. Sex Guy. The other guy is more clean cut and white bread, but apparently is a janitor in his real life, but he got picked up by Yanni because he’s incredible. There was a smoking hot brunette who could sing the crap out of some Italian songs and could dance and just look smoking hot in slinky dresses. Did I mention she was smoking hot? Then there was the token Hollywood-beautiful blonde girl with the very mainstream-popular voice – she could only sing in English and could really dance all that well, but she was pretty-ish.

The songs that Yanni had written before vocals were brilliant as usual. I don’t even know what the names of all the songs were, but Yanni played for three hours with an intermission. The newer songs written with vocals were a little more watered down and less focused on musical talent, which was a let down. And the songs which the blonde girl sang in English were my least favorite. I’ll concede she can sing, but when the songs are in English, there was a hokey quality to them.

Not only were we sitting 10 feet from Yanni, but the sound quality was perfect, and the lights were perfect, and the music was perfect. Yanni prances around like he’s flamboyantly gay, but clearly he’s not (since he was sticking it to Linda Evans for years).

The solos for each of the instruments were phenomenal. An Armenian violinist who was incredible – he could make the violin sound like it wasn’t a violin and had a folksy style. There was an Asian violinist who was technically superior to any violinist I’ve ever seen, but didn’t have as much feeling as the Armenian guy. The cellist was brilliant and looked like he was having fun, threw in a couple of things that he didn’t put in on the DVD, so you can tell he was milking the crowd, but not in a tacky way. The trumpet player was simply phenomenal – no other comments needed. The harpist seriously brought some flair to the harp that I’m guessing most of the crowd had never seen – amazingly talented and creative and even rocked the harp on his shoulder metal-style. The drummer is a robot and has never messed up in his entire life – just a perfect performance and looks effortless. A classical guitarist from Brazil threw down some serious licks and sang backups on a couple songs with some serious skills. But the guy that stole the show for me was the bass player (not filler in this case – ha ha ha). He did some incredible things the entire show but was overlooked because so many other people were soloing. The guy did a quick bass solo that blew people away. This guy needs a raise.

The only downside was sitting that close, we couldn’t see what they were showing on the screen that they lowered in front of the stage periodically. But I don’t think it was important anyway – just filler and ambience. There was a huge screen behind everything so you could see everything, not that we couldn’t already see everything from the FRONT ROW.

I’ll go see Yanni again (and again). It’s quality music (this coming from a musician) and it’s definitely a “show”. Now stop mocking, jerks.

Top 5 things about the Yanni concert
1. Font row seats
2. Amazing soloists
3. Smokin hot brunette
4. My dad cheering and screaming for more songs at a concert is HI-LARIOUS! I thought I was at a Hannah Montana concert for a second there...
5. I didn’t get hit with Yanni sweat

Bottom 5 things
1. Couldn’t see the screen they put in front of the band
2. Yanni cut his hair and shaved his signature mustache
3. There was a Vegas-style dance-on-the-piano number that could have been left out
4. Blonde girl songs in English didn’t thrill me
5. All my friends will make fun of me for months about this show (just like the other three)…

D. Brian’s – Edina, MN

I got a random message from DawgMan about sneaking off to lunch today. We were both starving and hoping someone would mention lunch. Thankfully, one of us caved. He’s a big fan of D. Brian’s, so we decided to go there.

It’s kind of a sandwich shop like Erbert’s and Gerbert’s or Potbelly’s, but they have a ton of different stuff. Grilled sandwiches, cold sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, breakfast, and other stuff. Nice décor on the inside with lots of wood and menu boards in various spots. A little confusing on the ordering process for noobs, but they’re nice there and will get you headed the right direction.

I ordered the Chicken Bacon and Gouda sandwich, which came with pesto aioli and tomatoes on flatbread. It was a pretty good sandwich. The sandwich has two sliced chicken breasts on it, so it’s more filling than I thought it would be. Upon looking at it, I thought I might end up hungry, but then about half-way through, I thought better. I was just fine and I didn’t even get fries.

The breakfast menu looks pretty good as well, so this might be an option if I ever got up more than 15 minutes before I needed to be at work. Ha ha The soup menu looks excellent as well if you’re in the mood for something less sandwich-y. This may not be my favorite sandwich in the Twin Cities, but it’s pretty darn good.

Top 5 things about D. Brian’s
1. Chicken BACON gouda sandwich
2. The fries taste like Arby’s curly fries (I snuck a couple of DawgMan’s)
3. Close to work (multiple locations are, in fact)
4. Really fast – in and out of there in under half an hour easy
5. Outside seating

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s pricier than I thought some sammich places are
2. Now I’m hungry for breakfast
3. A bit confusing on the layout for new people
4. It’s quite packed when you fill it with people – the people behind me kept banging into my chair
5. Makes me wonder how Gerd would have ranked this next to Cosi and Roly Poly

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Masa – Minneapolis, MN

My parents were in town, so I decided to take them someplace nice to eat. Now this isn’t as easy as it sounds. My mother likes lots of different things, however my father is…uh… not adventurous, doesn’t eat Asian/seafood/anything not American, Mexican, or Italian, and can’t handle anything spicier than ketchup. I’m sooo glad I inherited my mother’s palette.

Gerd and I have a huge list of restaurants we have wanted to go to or heard about from friends. On this list were a few places I thought about taking my folks to. I finally decided we needed to go to Masa in downtown Minneapolis - one of the places near the top of our list. Masa is touted as being “Contemporary Mexican Cuisine” (not “temporary Mexican” like my mother thought I said… ha ha ha) I checked out the menu and thought there were enough things that were bland enough for my father to eat. This would prove to be false. However, I deluded myself long enough to get him into the restaurant.

We had a super helpful waiter – Michael. He helped my father decipher the menu (written in plain English and with a glossary in the back of the menu - seriously). He also pointed to the specials they had, which I took full advantage of: ½ price margaritas (all of them) and 3 for $30 (appetizer, entrée, and dessert for $30). Michael the waiter helped my dad decide on the blandest plain tacos on the menu (three different ones for some variety), and my mother and I had no trouble deciding. After a few minutes, Michael came back and told my dad he talked to the chef and he thought there might be too much spice for my dad and he should just get the bland one (the carnitas), but three of them. Hilarious. And like I said, he was really helpful.

I started with a cucumber margarita. It sounded weird enough to be good. And it was! It is a cucumber and mint infused tequila with triple sec and fresh lime juice, garnished with a cucumber. Really good and not too minty, which was a concern at first. (My mom the non-drinker even had a sip to see what she thought – she didn’t think it was cucumber-y enough.) I thought it was excellent.

For my 3 for $30, I started with Ensalada de Jicama y Mango con Vinegreta de Cilantro – a mango and jicama salad with cilantro, lime vinaigrette and cotija cheese. It was fantastic. The jicama of course doesn’t have much flavor, but added a non-offensive crunch to the whole thing and the cheese added some sweetness to the whole thing. It’s one of the better salads I’ve gotten at a restaurant anywhere.

I got the Puerco Veracruzana for my entrée – a roasted pork shoulder marinated with lime, garlic, and chile ancho. It’s served with pineapple broiled in adobo and also some black bean puree. This was an awesome meal. The meat was super flavorful without being spicy and there was a decent amount of it. I got plenty full. The pineapple was really spicy, which was quite weird, but delicious. And the black beans were fine. Nothing special. I’m really glad I got this.

My mother loved her food. She got a couple sea bass tacos (made with Admiral Ackbar) and a carnitas taco. She raved about them all. The bean side dish she got was awesome as well. Spicy pinto beans of some sort. Excellent.

And the bonus for the night – my father loved his carnitas tacos. He was hesitant at first, but he powered through the first bite and loved them. He even tried to squeeze a lime on a bite to see if he liked that more. He said, “that lime just brings out the lime taste.” Classic, but not as classic as this line he used later in the meal – “I didn’t open my taco. That’s living adventurously.” Totally TWSS.

For dessert, I got the Coconut Flan. I hate coconut, but I was willing to take a gamble that the coconut wouldn’t be too over powering. And I was right (again). It was really quite good. I’m even a texture person, but it was really good. So good in fact, I forgot to take a photo BEFORE my father and I started. He also hates coconut, so this just verifies you can’t taste the coconut in it at all. I think it was my father’s first flan – and it was a good one.

Overall, one fantastic meal, actually three fantastic meals (mine, mom’s, and dad’s). I want to try a couple of things on this menu (including drinks), so I will be back for sure.

Top 5 things about Masa
1. Puerco Veracruzana
2. Carnitas (based on the raving across the table from me)
3. Jicama and Mango salad
4. Coconut Flan
5. Cucumber Margarita

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd would have made us eat here every night for a month. This was one of her additions to the list
2. If you don’t like spice (aka flavor), this might not be your restaurant
3. No parking nearby
4. I should have had another three margaritas, but I was with my folks
5. I wish the Barbacoa was on the $30 menu deal – it looks awesome

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Muscatine Municipal Golf Course – Muscatine, IA

I was back with the family over the holiday weekend and my nephew, StealthBuffalo, booked a tee time for his brother The DeliveryBoy and I. He talked about this course he had gone to with some of his friends and said it was a good course, so we were game. The DeliveryBoy brought his clubs (and his wife) up from San Antonio where he’s been doing a LOT of golfing.

We had a slumber party at StealthBuffalo’s house the night before and stayed up late, so our morning tee time came earlier than expected. That part was helped by my mom sending Alabama biscuits and sausage gravy home with StealthBuffalo for us to warm up before we golfed. StealthBuffalo can warm up food like it’s nobody’s business. Ha ha ha

We got to the course exactly at our tee time. They said we were next on the tee, so we ran out there, got everything ready and headed off. I won’t go into detail about every hole on the course, but I’ll tell you this: this course is really good. REALLY good. Probably the most difficult greens I’ve ever putted on. Not unfair at all, just really challenging greens. There were multiple elevation changes no some of the greens and the pin placements were really tough. LOTS of three and four putts to finish some holes (not that I don’t usually do that ha ha ha).

There were a few water holes as well (all of which I found without problem). The grass was in good shape, and there was definition between rough and fairway. Decent elevation and a couple of dog legs. Trees, but not any forest activity by any stretch.

We also played our fun side game called SPF, which the DeliveryBoy won without challenge (StealthBuffalo and I felt bad for him so we went easy on him). SPF is a two-part side game. Part 1: one stroke deduction for every tree you hit (the tree has to actually change the flight of the ball). Part 2: one hole is picked at random for each player to hit two balls – one ball is played normal. The other ball must be played using only one club, for driving, approaching, and putting. The person who gets the lowest score with the single club gets that number of strokes deducted from his score. The Delivery Boy ended up in the 80’s with the “adjusted” score (I won’t tell you whether that by playing good golf or bad golf).

Aside from StealthBuffalo hitting trees 5 feet from our cart (which sent his ball 25 yards behind him, and THEN nearly hitting the DeliveryBoy and I as we drove away laughing, he had the best line of the day. He questioned DeliveryBoy’s club choice on a particular approach. DeliveryBoy said he’d just planned to hit it forward and take his next shot. StealthBuffalo replied, “This sprinkler head say you’re 310 yards from the hole!” DeliveryBoy replied with “Really? It’s that far?” To which StealthBuffalo shut down the conversation with “I’m not the smart math-guy in the family, but I think that’s what three-one-zero means.” We laughed for 10 minutes about this. There was other hilarity, but I couldn’t capture it all here.

StealthBuffalo had trouble with the “Keep your eye on the ball” thing when the camera was out.

So the course is really worth playing. It’s kind of off of I-80, so it’s findable with some driving and a GPS system. And it’s very underrated. Consider playing this course – I was very impressed.

Top 5 things about the Muscatine Municipal Golf Course
1. Golfing with my nephews is ALWAYS fun – no matter what
2. Really challenging greens
3. I didn’t get sunburned
4. I came home with all of my clubs intact (unlike Coach the other week)
5. Nephew slumber party!!!

Bottom 5 things
1. Anything above 65 degrees is too hot for me
2. Lots of gnats
3. DeliveryBoy beat me (I totally let him though – he’s sensitive)
4. I came home with fewer golf balls than I started with… cough cough…
5. Coach had to work, so he couldn’t join us (also he doesn’t have clubs anymore)

Lucky Dragon – Charles City, IA

This is a small hometown Chinese food place in the middle of Iowa. Gerd and I used to stop here on the long drive from Illinois to Minneapolis since it’s about halfway. I needed dinner this trip, so I stopped and wiped my tears away and got me some Chinese food.

The inside is like a lot of small-town Chinese food places. Clean, with a little wear and tear, and a LOT of red paint and vinyl. I didn’t even need to see a menu. I had a hankering for some combination fried rice since I had hit the Iowa border, so I just ordered it right up, and throw in some spice. And also some egg drop soup, since I’m always on a mission to find good egg drop soup.

I needed to use the restroom anyway and since I was waiting for my food, I capitalized on their facilities. Hilarious bathroom. In the stall my feet stuck out the bottom of the door without a lock. I guess if you walk into the bathroom and see someone’s legs sticking out the bottom of the stall door, you know it’s occupied. My knees were against the door. Hilarious and I probably shouldn’t have been chuckling in case someone came in and thought something weird was going on. Thankfully no one did.

I waited in the lobby and they brought my food. I grabbed a Dew and headed to the car. It’s difficult to eat soup while driving, so I started on that in the parking lot. The soup was the kind that I don’t generally like – the kind with the consistency of snot with too much egg and really thick broth. I like the chicken super liquid broth with lots of cabbage (which I can’t find in the Twin Cities (so if you know of any, please tell me). One thing that redeemed this soup was the fried crispy things they supplied. Seemingly boring, when you throw these into the soup, it becomes delicious and much more appealing texturally. Much less snot-like! Plus it made it look like some sort of freak show Chinese Cinnamon Toast Crunch (see photo). This made it REALLY good!

The fried rice isn’t stellar, but it’s pretty good for average white-bread town in Iowa. And it was exactly what I needed. Plenty of beef and pork, and enough shrimp that I knew it was there, but not enough to weird me out about eating seafood (I just chewed fast, so I couldn’t tell which meat I was actually eating – ha ha ha). It came in the standard size Chinese takeout container, which I always think looks smaller than what is actually contained. I think the design incorporates some sort of hidden Mary Poppins compartment for an additional serving that you can’t see from the outside, but is just enough to make you eat more than you should have.

Seriously, this Chinese food won’t blow you away or make you crave it again, but if you’re driving though the middle of Iowa, it’s a good place to stop and take a break.

Top 5 things about the Lucky Dragon
1. Combination fried rice is decent
2. Putting the fried strips into the soup
3. Cheap
4. On the way home
5. Really big menu

Bottom 5 things
1. I can’t eat at this place without thinking of Gerd – we looked forward to eating here on trips home
2. Egg drop soup texture is snot-like
3. In the middle of nowhere
4. Not stellar, unless you get a craving for it
5. Lots of red inside. LOTS of red

The Hyland Ski Hill (Morty’s) – Bloomington, MN

A group of our work people decided to go out for lunch. DawgMan has been talking about this hidden lunch spot for a few months now and we thought we’d let him take us there (even after we found out he wasn’t paying for the whole lot of us). This place is in the ski lodge of the Hyland ski slope and ski jump in Bloomington. It’s basically the snack bar, but the guy is rumored to be a fantastic chef – or so says DawgMan.

We roll in and find about two tables full and a lot of tables empty. This could be good or bad. Bad if the food sucks and no one goes here. Good if the food is good and no one knows about it. It’s a bit confusing how to order and I’m glad DawgMan had been here before. You go into the “inner circle” of what looks like a cafeteria area and read off the menu board as to what the specials for the day are. Then you tell a lady what you want, she hand you a copy of the slip she just filled out and gives the other half to the cooks. Then you go get your drinks and then finally pay. A bit confusing, but I’ll be fine when I go next time.

The menu board had a bunch of really interesting sandwiches and burgers on it. I mean REALLY interesting. There’s one called the Johnny Tall Boy which sounds awesome, but DawgMan and I both went with the Thai Burger. It looked just interesting enough that I had to try it. A couple of other people got taco salads, which I thought was boring until they came out. We grabbed a big table outside so we could heckle people on the driving range and disc golf course.

The salads came out first and were the most colorful and delicious-looking salads I’ve ever seen. I mean my mouth actually started watering like a dog. It looked incredible (and the people that were eating them in front of DawgMan and I rubbed it in how delicious they were – jerks). The burgers took a tad longer, but it was 100% worth the wait. The thai burgers were a beef patty with pepperjack cheese on it and for the toppings, it was basically a thai peanut noodle mixture with cabbage and carrots and peanuts. I would put this in the top 10 burgers I’ve ever eaten – and Gerd and I have eaten a LOT of burgers that have been on people’s “lists.” The meat was good and the cheese had some zip to it, but the combination of the peanuts and cabbage and carrots was incredible. Now that I’ve had peanuts on a burger, I’m beginning to see why the Jiffy Burger at the Blue Door Pub (the one with a layer of peanut butter on it) would be good. The fries were also seasoned and pretty good. I’m not a fry person, but they were better than most places.

Seriously, I’m glad DawgMan showed us this lunch place. DawgMan is still batting a thousand. He’s only brought me and suggested great places. This is a must visit, especially because it’s the lodge for a driving range as well as a challenging disc golf course as well. Anybody up for a round of disc golf? I’ll be happy to show up early and grab a delicious burger…

Top 5 things about Morty’s
1. Thai Burger
2. Seasoned fries were decent
3. Taco salad and I didn’t even have a bite – just visually amazing
4. Super close to work
5. Disc golf course attached

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd loved a good burger, especially if it was unique
2. Confusing layout for first timers
3. Need more signage to get into the place externally then navigationally once inside
4. No time for a round of disc golf (since I was with my boss)
5. Plenty of khaki pant golf d-bags

Friday, May 22, 2009

Santorini – Eden Prairie, MN

A few months back, some friends of Gerd and I’s tried to schedule a lunch date during the week to get us away from work. It might have been the after-roller-derby drinks talking, but it sounded like a great plan to everyone. We just never followed through. Finally, DeltaForceCommander rallied the troops and set up said lunch date at Santorini. I’m a fan of Greek food and I had heard good things about this place, so I was clearly on board.

First off, when we walked in, I noticed a significant percentage of female workers there were pregnant. I immediately told DeltaForceCommander not to drink the water, just to be on the safe side. (And for the record, she DID have water… I’m not Nostradamus or anything, I’m just saying…) The waitress told us about the lunch specials and then tried to get us to buy into the “carver station” lunch idea. It’s one plate of hand cut meat for under $10. None of us were game, which was good because on our way out we went over to the carver station and were glad we ordered off the menu. I’m not saying it’s bad… I’m just saying it’s not Fogo de Chao

We got bread and olive oil and cheese, so that’s always a good way to start out a meal. I ordered the Lamb and Beef Moussaka – which is like a greek lasagna with eggplant, potatoes, ground beef and lamb, and covered with a cheesy creamy tomato sauce and cheese. And yes, I got a salad with my meal, even though DeltaForceCommander’s husband, FireRetarded, was the only other one in our group who also did (and his salad didn’t even have lettuce – which rules).

The salad was fine. It’s hard to make a really standout Caesar salad, honestly. But the Moussaka was outstanding. One of the best Moussakas I’ve ever had.

If this place ever decides to do an all-you-can-eat Moussaka night, I’ll be the first in line. The perfect amount of each ingredient. Nothing needed to be picked out or tasted funny. It wasn’t too meaty and it wasn’t too vegetable-y. Mine came with a really nice rice pilaf and grilled vegetables for a side, which had much more flavor than some side dishes of rice I’ve had. The grilled veggies were really nice as well.

I think Santorini might be one of my new favorite Greek places, although FireRetarded told me I needed to try It’s Greek to Me on Lake Street. I’ll put it on the list.

Top 5 things about Santorini
1. Lamb and Beef Moussaka
2. Lunch with friends is always on the top 5 list
3. Super close to work
4. They have “club cards” to save you money after 6 lunch visits
5. Rice pilaf and veggies side dish

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd would have LOVED this place, despite her aversion to pita bread
2. Can’t drink alcohol at lunch at my current company
3. I should have gone with the Horiatiki Salad like FireRetarded – he wins
4. Don’t think you can do this place in under an hour for lunch – it’s close though
5. Carving station had zero meats displayed on swords

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scott Ja-Mama’s – Minneapolis, MN

If you recall, the last time HotGirlsBrother and I tried to get ribs, it didn’t go well. So we made sure we left at a decent time to get there before anything weird happened. As we’re sitting at the intersection in front of Scott Ja-Mama’s, we see a couple of people walk out, and then… we see the guy putting a sign in the window of the door… seriously, like they were closing. Lo-Vee hopped out of the car and ran to the door – they were closing for some graduation party!!! HotGirlsBrother ran after her and pleaded with the guy to feed us. He said he only had like three slabs of ribs left, which just so happened to be what we needed.

We ordered three half slabs of ribs (the dinners) and gabbed a couple cans of soda out of the fridge (they had SuperChill in the fridge – wurd). I asked for mine hot as did HotGirlsBrother though Lo-Vee got the Medium. I just had a feeling about it and went with it. The guy came out and apologized but he only had two coleslaws left – assured him it was fine since I don’t even eat coleslaw. He felt bad so he went in back and grabbed three Twinkies and threw them in the bag with our food. The guy was all about customer service. Awesome. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had Twinkies. Billiant.

Then HotGirlsBrother and I both realized neither of us had cash. And upon asking, we found out he only takes cash or checks. Fortunately, Lo-Vee had brought her checkbook with her in the car. Lo-Vee, you are the best.

We grabbed our food and headed back to HotGirlsBrother’s apartment to watch… the season finale of American Idol. I won’t go into any sort of review of American Idol… this time. Let’s talk ribs. The ribs were white guy ribs. They were good – not great, but good. The sauce was not as spicy as I expected, but it had some zip that grew on you. The meat was just a tad overcooked for my taste. But they were pre-cut into individual ribs which was nice that I didn’t have to cut them. The meat didn’t fall off the bones, but it was still good quality meat without gristle and stuff. I would get ribs from here again, for sure. The meal came with a dinner roll and a baked potato which was actually pretty good (although it had a weird texture).

I am glad we finally got to eat here. It’s not at the top of the Twin Cities rib list, but it’s not at the bottom either. It’s just middle of the road good. However, since the guy was so freaking nice, I’ll be back just to get real human service. The guy is awesome.

Top 5 things about Scott Ja-Mama’s
1. The guy that runs the place is awesome
2. The rib meat is really good
3. The sauce had my lips tingling for 15 minutes after I finished eating
4. We seriously got Twinkies for dessert
5. The weird potato was really good

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd should be eating ribs at Scott Ja-Mama’s
2. Meat was a touch overcooked
3. This place closes at random times – especially when I’m on my way… ha ha ha
4. For “hot” bbq sauce, it definitely could have been hotter
5. Had to watch American Idol finale

The Blue Door Pub – St. Paul, MN

Some of Gerd’s co-workers and I decided we needed to get together and meet and tell funny stories about Gerd and look at photos and such. I let them decide since they were on the St. Paul side of the Twin Cities. They chose the Blue Door Pub and I’m glad they did. I looked at the menu online all day at work trying to narrow down what I was going to order. They have about 15 things on the menu I need to try, so it wasn’t easy.

We met on a Tuesday night at 8pm – late enough on a weeknight where we wouldn’t have to wait. Or so we thought. This place does really good business even on weeknights after normal dinner hour. We waited about 20-25 minutes for a table and I know there were people waiting after us. The place was packed with people (including an ultra-loud table of ladies right next to us we had to yell over). The inside is very modern and clean and appropriately lit with dim lighting, but not dark.

I got a Strongbow and ordered an appetizer that would make my father proud – Spam Bites. Deep fried breaded balls of cream cheese, spam chunks, and pickles (I picked the pickles out – Gerd would have eaten them if she were there). They were served with a spicy pepper Asian sweet dipping sauce – really hard to describe. The balls were REALLY good, although the things were 90% cream cheese. They totally could have had more spam in them (and less pickles).

I finally decided to order the Breakfast Blucy for dinner and a side of deep-fried battered green beans. For those of you unfamiliar with Minnesota bar fare, culinary scientists invented a cheeseburger with cheese packed into the INSIDE of the patty. Ingenious bastards – that’s the kind of stuff you invent when you’re holed up under 10 feet of snow all winter. It’s called a Jucy Lucy (yes, spelled wrong). Since the place was the Blue Door Pub, they called it a Blucy Lucy. The Breakfast Blucy is a hamburger patty stuffed with cheddar cheese and covered with more cheddar, thick-cut bacon, and a fried egg. This thing was awesome. I would eat breakfast 3 times a day if it meant a Breakfast Blucy.

Gerd’s coworker got the specialty of the house called a Jiffy Burger. It’s a regular burger, but it’s covered with pepperjack cheese and bacon. Oh yeah, and PEANUT BUTTER!

It sounds horrific, but everyone that has tried it has really liked it. It looks like a poo burger to me, but she really really liked it. She said she’d order it again if she went back there – however, she would not be forcing her family to eat peanut butter burgers when they grilled out that weekend. I will eventually try one of these things, I assure you.

This place was really nice and had awesome food and a diverse menu. I would highly recommend this place. They’ve got WiFi there as well, so you can show people your photos from a recent trip to Italy for example. Ha ha ha. Just go here – they have normal-ish food too, but you really do need to try something outside your comfort zone.

Top 5 things about the Blue Door Pub
1. Got to hang with Gerd’s favorite co-workers, one of whom I hadn’t met
2. Breakfast Blucy, especially the thick-cut bacon
3. Witnessed someone eating a burger with peanut butter on it
4. Deep-Fried green beans
5. Spam Bites were still tasty

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd would have loved this place, especially since I was with her favorite co-workers
2. Got a little loud with the boisterous people at the next table
3. You’ll likely have to wait – but it’s totally worth it
4. I would have liked to order 5 more things but was too full
5. Spam bites needed more spam, less cheese

Davanni’s – Eden Prairie, MN

A coworker and I decided to do lunch so we could really focus on crap-talking EnyaFace! (my former coworker). Neither of us had been to Davanni’s before – yeah we’re way behind. M.Giant had said they were decent, but I know he’s a fan of Melio’s (which is decent).

When I got to Davanni’s and looked at the menu, there were more things on there than I had anticipated. Many of them pizza or calzone related – but that would take too much time for lunch. Next time I will though. I ordered a Turkey, Bacon, Cheddar sammich with Chipotle sauce on whole wheat bread. It took longer than I thought to make, but it was worth it. The sammich was quite good. Not as good as Arthur’s Garden Deli in Illinois, but still really good.

There was plenty of toppings on the thing and the sauce scared me at first (it’s kind of a freakish orange/pink), but ended up being really good. No complaints at all. Next time I’ll order ahead and get a calzone though. I still haven’t found one to my liking in the Twin Cities, so if you’ve got calzone suggestions, fire away.

Top 5 things about Davanni’s
1. Turkey, bacon, cheddar with chipotle sauce
2. Crap-talking EnyaFace!
3. Quick lunch place and close to work
4. Affordable for lunch
5. Decent-sized menu

Bottom 5 things
1. Took longer than I thought it should have
2. EnyaFace should have been there to defend herself
3. Davanni’s in Eden Prairie is oddly attached to a gas station
4. I should have looked at the menu online so it didn’t take me so long to decide while holding other people up
5. I forgot to take a photo – I was starving

Monday, May 18, 2009

Italy Vacation (Day 6) – May 12, 2009

Today I woke up at a much more respectable time (won’t divulge what that actually was…), showered and headed downstairs to see what the plan for the day was. I had to catch a plane from Catania to Milan this afternoon, but other than that, we had no plans. When I got downstairs, MO was having a conversation with her friend DNA on the phone. When MO hung up, she informed me that we had agreed to drive DNA to Catania to go to her breast augmentation appointment with the Italian plastic surgeon. DNA needed (moral) support as well as a ride, since she kept talking herself out of it. I assured her I’d be ok with it and I would behave. Besides we had to go to Catania anyway to take me to the airport. And I thought today would be boring…

First we had to go wine shopping so I could replenish some of the wine I drank. I know she bad-mouthed some of her previous houseguests about freeloading and I will do whatever it takes to get a return invitation to vacation at MO and KO’s place. We had to hurry because of the 1pm reposo. We started at a grocery store called Famila and didn’t find anything to our liking before they shut down at 1. We hit up another store and found a few things for MO to drink. We bought some San Pellegrino orange soda as well for me to try at lunch. We drove past a super cool castle on the way home also.

We came back and had leftovers for lunch, some from the dinner MO cooked the first night and some from the Agriturismo (they usually don’t wrap things up to go in Italy, so this was a rare treat). I tried the San Pellegrino, but I still like Orangina better. I packed my stuff the return flight home and when DNA got to our house, we left for Catania. We only passed 5 or 6 umbrella girls this time – must have been a slow day for whorin’.

As we were driving into Catania, we hit major traffic. It’s a big city and our luck had run out. Then we saw the weirdest thing I think I’ve seen in a long time – three kids were riding a two-wheeled horse-drawn cart down the street at full tilt. They were whipping this horse for all it was worth, and it was flying – they literally were driving it like they stole it. On top of that, one of the wheels on the cart was really badly bent and looked ready to fall off. Weirdest thing ever. We dropped off DNA near the clinic and MO and I began our search for Aranchina (translates roughly as orange ball) – which MO explained was a deep-fried rice ball with stuff inside. You had me at “deep-fried,” MO.

MO’s foot was still recovering, although my legs were aching sooooo much less than the previous days. Even stairs didn’t bring me to tears this day. So we walked slowly from shop to shop near the water and MO asked if they had Aranchina. Each store would send us next door. They finally sent us next door and that happened to be a half mile walk. But we finally were able to score one!!!

And gelato as well – my favorite. Ananas (which is pineapple). We got it to go and went over by the water to do some snacking.

The orange ball is basically what MO described. Deep-fried rice ball with bits of cheese holding the rice together and then stuffed with things. In this case, it was marinara sauce and chunks of meat. It was delicious. One of the best snack foods I had the whole trip. Even MO told me it was the best one she ever had. Apparently, some of them are filled with gross things (which she suspiciously forgot to mention before we got it) or just not a lot of filling. This one had tons of filling and was packed with meat (twss).

MO had also never tried pineapple gelato and judging from the photos of her holding the cup, you’ll know how much she liked it (and how much I didn’t get to eat). Pineapple is the way to go, if you can find it.

Catania is kind of run-down in a lot of ways. Things aren’t very well kept-up. Notice the bench MO is sitting on and how many slats are missing and how low it is riding. It’s just got a lot of weathered features.

We walked along the water, which is a beautiful blue color (if you can look past the garbage that collects on the rocks above the water. We noticed there were an inordinate number of males sunning themselves and there was an inordinate amount of ball-playing. Yes, that IS what I mean. Weird area. No girls anywhere.

We walked back to our car to wait for DNA to return. While sitting there, we watched joggers, walkers, additional ball-handling skills, and cats making sweet cat love. I could have sat on this bench for hours. But it was only five minutes before DNA called and said she was on her way back and hopefully, we hadn’t left without her. Certainly not, with all the action we saw on that bench, we weren’t going anywhere. When DNA got back, we chatted about the clinic visit, and yes, I was tactful. I’m not a complete barbarian (despite my shaggy appearance). We flushed about 17 cats out from underneath MO’s car and headed to the airport. I was super bummed to call this leg of the trip short. I had a great time with MO. She’s a super gracious host and I look forward to the next time we can hang out. Hugs all around. I don’t even care that I only met DNA that day, she was really cool. And I wasn’t even creepy and ask for before and after shots. I’m so mature.

I grabbed a cannoli in the airport and a fanta to kill time until I could check in. I had also forgotten to grab a blood orange juice while I was in Siciliy – home of blood oranges. Oh well, next time. The cannoli tasted just like the one I got at the airport though – which was good, but MO thought they might be different. Still too much dessert for me.

No problems with security or check-in. I read on the plane until we arrived in Milan. I called my hotel when I arrived and they came and picked me up. I waited like 2 minutes for them. Hotel Cervo is the place to shack up if you fly into or out of Milan Malpensa. Really nice people and really close to the airport (which is like an hour outside of Milan). Super tiny room with just enough room for a single bed, a desk, and an armoire. I didn’t unpack anything, I just cashed out.

I’ll just throw in the final day here since it was all travel. I grabbed a quick shower and checked out. They even let me use the rest of my cash up and put the rest on my credit card. Some places won’t let you do that, but I didn’t want a bunch of Euros I couldn’t use hanging around. The room included a breakfast, so I capitalized on that. Low and behold, they had blood orange juice – SCORE!!! It was actually pretty good. Very smooth and not very acidic. I like it. And the breakfast was really large for an Italian breakfast. Normally, it’s just rolls and bread. This place had all kinds of meat and fruit and such. Really, you should stay here if you go to Milan.

And this was the first unusable restroom stall I found in Italy this trip – at the airport of all places. The last time I was in Italy, these were everywhere. I still don’t know how to use these restroom. I’m assuming the thingy in the corner is to flush it, but I don’t know where to aim, which way to face, where to put certain things, so I just held it. I’ll figure it out later.

The flights home were wretched, even though I had the window seat. I got delayed in NYC because Chicago was having weather. Then, got delayed in Chicago once we got there due to weather. I ended up getting back to Minneapolis about 2am – then got up for work at 6:30am. Not a good way to return back home.

All in all, a wonderful trip that I hope to repeat in the future. Nothing terrible happened, even though I couldn’t walk for some days. Great food, great friends, and great wine. What else could there have been to make it better.

Top 5 things about day 6
1. Aranchina
2. Children horse-racing in rush hour traffic
3. I could finally walk
4. Pineapple gelato
5. Breast augmentation support jokes (kept to myself because I have TACT)

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd would have loved Aranchina
2. Last day of the trip and I already miss MO
3. Awful flight connections on the way home
4. Roving bands of cats
5. Ball-play is contagious

Italy Vacation (Day 5) – May 11, 2009

I woke up MUCH later this time. In fact by the time I had gotten out of the shower, MO was already up and moving around, eating breakfast, playing with dogs, and waiting patiently for my lazy ass. She made some reference to a list of chores she had made expecting me to be up at 7am again – I conveniently slept right through those chores.

We hopped in the car to go find this super old castle – Castello Eurialo – just north of Syracusa (Syracuse). On the way there, MO drove me past various “umbrella girls.” This was seriously one of the highlights of my trip. I’ll tell you why in a second. Umbrella Girls are prostitutes which line the highway between cities. So they tend to be out in the country side underneath giant beach umbrellas waiting for Johns to drive by, slam on their brakes, and reverse… on the highway. On top of this, when the girls are really working their stuff, they step out in front of your car, or they show you their goods (or not so goods), so it’s quite an adventure driving down these roads. And it’s not in isolated spots – these girls line the highway for MILES. MO especially likes it when we came to “whitey corners” which is where the more expensive lighter-skinned prostitutes work and ask for more money (we’re assuming here). And no, I didn’t take advantage of any umbrella opportunities, before you ask.

(Blanket apology to Gerd’s family for this next paragraph…) This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because Gerd and I used to drive our friends into downtown Minneapolis to look at whores when our friends came up from Illinois. It was generally a highlight of our tour, ask Coach and the Delivery Boy. We would drive down by the clubs and watch the trampy girls show their goods or watch party busses filled with club sluts show their hoo-has to the spectators. It was great fun. So you can imagine how bummed I was that Gerd didn’t get to see international whores with MO and I. She would have loved it. I video-taped part of the drive, so you can hear MO and I talking about it. The file is too large to post anywhere, so you'll have to ask if you really want to hear it. ha ha ha

Back to the castle - We eventually found the castle after multiple missed turns and U-turns. It's not labeled very well, to say the least. The castle was built in 402 B.C., so it is by far the oldest thing I have ever touched. The castle is in ruins, but some of the caverns and passageways underneath are still accessible. It was really cool. Also, lots of lizards and bees. I took far too many photos, but you’ll have to deal with it. I love stuff like this. MO’s injured foot was acting up, so she told me to go explore underground and she would sit up on top and work on her tan. Since we were the only people at the ruins, I felt it was safe to abandon her and go take some photos with both of our cameras (double fisting cameras).

We left the ruins and headed into Syracusa proper. MO was telling about this national historical campus where there’s an ancient roman amphitheater, a huge quarry, a greek theater, and something called the “Ear of Dionysius.” The big park is called Neapolis (which apparently is the bigger version of the Mini-version that I live in – ha ha ha). MO’s foot was still in pain, so she sent me in to take some photos. She said she would be back here in a few weeks to catch a greek tragedy put on at the theater, so I could take some photos and then we’d head back home. We decided to score her some lunch first so she could eat in the car while I was running madly through the ruins. I scored some gelato for her as well, cause I’m good like that.

I had to walk like 2 miles to the ticket booth since none of the satellite ticket booths were open this day. So I walked through the middle of the park, grabbed my ticket and started back through the park to take some photos. There’s a pretty sweet roman amphitheater, very similar in design to the coliseum in Rome, with seating for like 15,000, passageways for moving equipment, people, and animals, and it’s in really good shape.

Next was the “Ara Di Ierone II” or the Altar to Ierone the second. This is a seriously giant altar where they could sacrifice up for 450 bulls at once. It’s in bad shape now, but you can see how immense the things is.

Next was the greek theater. This is a ancient theater set into the hillside, complete with box seats, and pumped in water from the aqueduct and overlooking the sea. It’s actually quite beautiful. And they were doing a dress rehearsal for the greek tragedy that MO would be seeing the following week. I’m glad she didn’t see it or she would have known Darth Maul dies at the end.

Then I went to do a quick check of the quarry where they cut most of the stones for Syracusa. It’s a huge quarry where they’ve simply cut large stones out of the walls for building blocks and pillars. Very cool to see how large these things are right out of the tapper. Ha ha.

Finally, I got to see the Ear of Dionysius. This is basically a huge echo chamber cut into the rock wall. It’s designed to return an echo only once. When I went in, it was pitch black, but my eyes adjusted. There were large tour groups in there when I went in. At one point, every single person left the ear canal except for me. So I fire up my best “ka-kawwwwww”, and end up cracking myself up at the echo… right as two young kids walked in and looked at me funny. Sorry boys, bird noises are a universal language. MO has a fear of birds and one of the guidebooks mentioned pigeons living in the cave, so she said she wouldn’t be going in there. I assured her I only saw like 2 pigeons hundreds of feet above me, so not to worry. If you’ve got the same fear, don’t be scared. It’s fine.

Right next to the Ear is another cave entrance for the cave of the ropemakers. It was closed off and looked kind of boring, so I took a quick photo and left. I guess they made ropes in here. Oooohhhh, scary... ha ha ha.

We bailed out of Syracusa and headed back for home. I took the wheel from MO, so she could rest her foot a bit. It was the first time I’ve driven in Europe – which is sad considering I’ve been to Europe so many times. We all thought it was an excellent idea as I sped down the highway dodging hookers like I was playing PaperBoy. Then we remembered I had surrendered my driver’s license to the Navy back at the base and maybe I shouldn’t be driving. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. We took a quick drive through Mineo (the closest town to the Navy base) and I hit the ATM so I could buy dinner that evening. MO told me Mineo is the home of nativity scenes. I’m not even sure what that means, but it cracked me up.

For dinner, MO had gotten us reservations at the Agriturismo, Borgo Antico. An agriturismo is a family farm which houses a really nice dining room and everything they serve to you is produced on the farm, from meat and cheese, to wine and desserts. It’s a brilliant concept which is growing in popularity around Europe, but I know it’s been around a while. This place was awesome. There were other couples that had canceled their reservations that night, so it was literally just MO and I in the dining room that night. The couple that run the place were super nice and friendly. MO is a semi-regular there, so they know here and gave us the silver platter service. Here’s the best part – you pay one price and they just keep bringing you food and wine.

I took a ton of photos, but still couldn’t get everything in a picture that we ate. We counted about 13 appetizers/small plates, pasta disc, soup, salad, two meats, dessert, after dinner drinks, and a really unique but tasty wine. Did you catch all that? We kept getting up to walk around the dining room to make sure it would all fit. The wine was almost fizzy or carbonated. It was really unique for a red, but it was really good. I would definitely drink this again.

Here’s some of what we got (just what I can remember):
  • olive plate
  • sundried tomatoes
  • old pecorino cheese
  • zucchini and parmesan
  • eggplant pomodoro
  • this egg soufflé/ouovo frittata thing
  • awesome sausage
  • tuma vecchia (old tuma) and some cheese with an “L” in it
  • prosciutto and melon (which I had been dying for for days
  • baby onions with parmesan on top
  • artichoke hearts
  • fried ricotta
  • bell pepper slices rolled with breadcrumbs
  • Casa Recci (pasta)
  • a kind of fideo soup with potatoes and artichokes
  • meatballs and some sort of meat franks (insert inappropriate joke here)
  • breaded veal chops with prosciutto and cheese inside
  • chocolate cake with candied orange peel (which I now know I love)

After dinner the guy asked us what kind of drinks we wanted and we couldn’t decide, so he brought us all of them. Limoncello, which you’ve heard me talk about. Chocolatecello, which is like rich chocolate and lighterfluid – freaking amazing. And then citronella, which comes from the citronella plant. Yes, the same plant that kills mosquitoes. And despite the fact that it tasted just a TAD like bug spray, I really liked this. Of course, it might have been the carafes of wine I drank since MO was driving back to the base and couldn’t get hit with the breathalyzer.

I’m super bummed that Gerd didn’t get to share this meal with me. Up until this point, the best meal I’ve ever had has been with her, and I feel guilty eating the meal that beat that one without her. This meal was truly a food lover’s dream-come-true. She would have annoyed all of her friends and family by talking about this meal for years.
MO and I headed home after talking to the husband and wife team for a half hour. They were both really cool people. He wants to visit Canada and she wants to visit Turkey. I’m not sure who’s going to win that battle – they both seemed pretty strong in their stance on vacations. When we got home, MO began speculating about the umbrella girls. She apparently has lots of questions she’d like answered.

  • Are they expected to serve a certain number of years? Or until they’re used up?
  • What happens when they’re done? Are they killed or retired with pension? (MO asked this question by using the term “glue factory” which absolutely slayed me) Are they ground up for perfume? Are they sent to sweat shops?
  • What happens to their chairs and milk crates after hours?
  • Why are they always on their cell phones?
  • Why aren’t they reading books, filling out job/school applications, playing suduko or brain teasers?
  • Do they get female customers or just men?

Considering the whole operation is run by the mafia, I’d suggest NOT asking those questions to too many people around town. I think the mafia’s new rule is “If it’s not on Wikipedia, you don’t need to know.”

Top 5 things about day 5
1. The whores (sorry mom, it’s true)
2. Borgo Antico Agriturismo
3. Castello Eurialo
4. Syracusa’s Neapolis
5. MO’s list of questions about umbrella girls

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd should have been eating that amazing meal with us
2. Gerd would have loved the umbrella girls more than appropriate
3. MO’s bum foot. I wasn’t completely recovered yet, but I was better. She missed cool stuff
4. Ropemaker’s cave. Lame
5. So many unanswered questions about whores