Thursday, September 27, 2012

Niagara Falls, Canada

We had some free time after the roller derby tournament finished for the day, so we thought we’d go check out Canada. We needed some poutine, after all. D.Rough, Scar, A-Wow, DorkyBarb, Shug, Rita, and I ran for the border.

Getting to the border wasn’t a problem at all. Intimidating, but not a problem. In fact, the walk across the Rainbow Bridge is pretty lovely (and much quicker than driving). And you can get pretty awesome photos of the falls from the bridge, as well. However, once you got to the Canadian border patrol, the officer working the counter yelled at us for being too loud and then refused to stamp our passports to prove we went there. The guy went way past being “not friendly” and I’m glad none of us ran our mouths to the guy – it’s been known to happen.

Our first stop was at Pizza Pizza. You’d think it was a Little Caesar’s pizza place, but it isn’t. It’s more of a pizza and snack shop. We heard the poutine was pretty good, so we grabbed a couple of orders for all of us to split. It honestly was really good. Everything was good – gravy, fries, and curds. There were a few mumblings that it was better than the stuff we got at the Minnesota State Fair, but I won’t mention which people said that. If you get a chance, it’s probably worth grabbing some poutine there. And maybe singing some metric karaoke outdoors while being video’d.

Since Niagara Falls (both sides of the river) has wax museums every block – I’m not kidding – we thought we’d better hit one. We went to the Criminals Hall of Fame. Pretty amusing, but nothing to write home about. A couple of interesting facts, as well as a sign that says something about these people NOT being heroes – they’re criminals. Yes, I know. And thank you for the photo I needed to do my derby face paint tomorrow!

We walked across the street to grab some food at Casablanca – it’s sort of a middle eastern place with a pizza parlor at one end of the building. You can get kebobs and gyros and hummus, but if you want pizza, it’s totally another counter. Of course I wanted pizza. But I got shwarma pizza, so it was totally worth it.

The restaurant also provides hookas for the table if you want. Obviously, it’s just plain tobacco and not opium, so don’t freak out, mom. We got some double apple stuff and had an awesome dinner and an absolutely fabulous time just hanging out.

Due to some time constraints we were unable to go to the awesome-looking dinosaur mini-golf course. I was crushed, but I’m sure I’ll live. Instead, we hit the duty free shop at the border. There are weird restrictions on how much liquor you can bring back across the border to the US, which was fine, since we only bought pure maple syrup. (Oddly enough, it was in a bottle that looked like a fifth of whiskey – honestly, it WAS syrup!!!) And then once you make your purchases, you go to a pick-up window and the store clerk walks your bag to the other side of the border. I’m not sure what good that does, but red tape is red tape. On top of this, it will cost you $.50 to get back through the Canadian side. Really? 50 cents? Bet they’re making a killing. Weird.

Once through the border crossing and headed back to the US across the Rainbow Bridge, DorkyBarb noticed the border patrol officer was different than the mean original one we had. Through a series of hilarious gestures and international signs (I’m pretty sure those Canadian border patrol guys speak English, but I could be wrong), she got the guy to stamp all of our passports!!!! She’s a Real American Hero.

Once back across the bridge, we had to go through American customs and the people there were much nicer and helpful and chatty. You get asked the regular questions about how long you were there, what you bought, and such. And then they usher you down this long hallway with a door at the end. You have to touch the door and then wait about 30 seconds for a light to go on and then push on the door again to open it. I’m sure it’s just some elaborate hoax to videotape people either crashing into the door (like I did) or thinking they’re now trapped because they didn’t push on the door a second time. Thanks for the well-explained directions, America!

A super fun trip to Canada, and I may or may not have been quoted as saying, “Niagara Falls, Canada looks like Wisconsin Dells threw up… in metric!” Fact!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Michael’s Italian Restaurant – Niagara Falls, NY

When my friend MO, who now lives in Niagara Falls, discovered she was going to be out of town the weekend I was in Niagara Falls, she redeemed herself by sending me a list of 15-20 restaurants I should eat at. MO has never steered me wrong when it comes to food, so I truest her judgment - we ate some mind-blowing food in Sicily when I went to visit her in 2009. THIS recommendation was a little weird, I must confess.

She told me to go to Michael’s (an Italian restaurant) and order the Greek Wings. Really, MO? Is this is a trick?

A talked DorkyBarb into going with me and we drove to Little Italy. It’s true. There is a Little Italy in Niagara Falls, NY. We found the place pretty easily, as it’s on a main thoroughfare.

When we got inside, we realized we were the youngest people there, by about 40 years. It’s got a family diner sort of feel to it that had my suspicions on edge. But I owed it to MO to follow through with it. I was suspicious this was even the right Michael’s since nothing about it looked Greek NOR Italian.

They did, however, have Greek wings on the menu. We ordered those while we determined what to order for lunch. I’m a major fan of calzones, so I opted for a sausage calzone. DorkyBarb went traditional Italian and got a pepperoni pizza. They brought out some nice Italian bread for us, which was pretty tasty. Can’t complain about that.

We had stalled long enough for the Greek wings to arrive. They looked pretty unsuspecting upon first look. It looked like they had put some crumbly cheese on some regular wings and put a bowl of tzatziki sauce with it. We were only partially right. …and VERY wrong about how good they were. They were absolutely delicious. I’m not sure what sauce was on the chicken itself, but it was fantastic. The feta cheese they had crumbled on it had a great flavor to it and was just at the edge of being melty. Then the dip was a sort of special blue cheese sauce that tasted like it was made with greek yogurt. Just the right amount of awesome sour to complement the tang of the blue cheese. DorkBarb and I had to control ourselves from fighting over these wings. It wasn’t easy. We polished these suckers off REALLY quickly and almost ordered more. Thank you for the recommendation, MO. I will never doubt you again (at least for a month or two).

The pizza and calzone came out as we finished up our wings. The pizza was pretty standard size (large standard size). It was also standard tasting. Just a little bit greasier than I usually like, and surprisingly thicker than I’m used to for NY-style pizza. I’m a big fan of floppy NY pizza that you can fold up and wolf down. This was a little more thick and bready than I expected it to be. It was a decent pizza, though. No complaints on it. Just average, sadly.
The calzone, on the other hand, was serious. Dead serious. In the photo, it’s a platter it’s sitting on, not a plate. It covers the whole thing. Thankfully, it was also delicious. The crust was better than most calzones I’ve had (I’ve had a LOT of calzones) and didn’t taste like a Pizza Hut P’Zone, thankfully. There was a LOT of mozzarella and ricotta inside and a generous helping of crumbled Italian sausage on the inside. They didn’t skimp on the ingredients. The thing was massive and about 2 inches thick. In fact, I could only eat half of the thing before I was stuffed. I’m usually a contender when it comes to eating, but I had to take the other half home and eat it the next morning for breakfast. It even re-heated well, which was nice.

I’m a fan of Michael’s. I’d highly recommend the Greek wings and the calzone. They appear to be known for many “famous” items on their menu, but they’re weird things like chef salads and pasta and spaghetti sauce. Not sure what makes them famous, but I’ve never heard anyone else talk about them. Now, those Greek wings could put you on the map, Michael. Stick with those!

Top 5 things about Michael’s Italian Restaurant
1. Greek Wings
2. Sausage Calzone
3. Portions are enormous
4. Friendly staff
5. It isn’t expensive

Bottom 5 things
1. Felt REALLY young
2. The American diner-feel was a little odd
3. DorkyBarb was unable to get anything with white sauce aside from chicken alfredo – an adamant NO
4. Wish the pepperoni pizza were better
5. They have weird “famous” things on the menu

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shirtless - Niagara Falls, NY

For the record, the Niagara Falls State Park patrols will NOT yell at you if you take your shirt off at Niagara Falls in the middle of the night. File that for future reference, people...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Foxy Falafel Foodtruck – St. Paul, MN

I met Garrison for our regularly scheduled Wednesday food truck lunch in downtown St. Paul. There were only a few trucks to choose from, however, there were delicious-sounding things at all of them. We decided on the Foxy Falafel truck, since I hadn’t been there before. I’ve eaten a lot of falafel in my day, so I for sure needed to try Foxy’s.

I opted for the Curry Falafel combo, which came with a side of quinoa salad. The food doesn’t take long to get prepared, so we were eating within a few minutes of ordering.
I was really pleased with this falafel. It was moist without being oily from the fryer. And I’ve had a ton of dried out falafel – thankfully this wasn’t one of them. The curry flavor could have been a little stronger, but I say that because it was delicious and I wanted more of it. It was really good and the other ingredient (cucumber and tomato) were very flavorful and fresh. The pita was fresh and didn’t crumble apart.

The quinoa salad was quite tasty as well. I’m a big fan of both hot and cold quinoa salads, and this one I could have had 5 more containers of an not gotten sick of. Again, it had the fresh tomatoes and cilantro and was the perfect accompaniment to the falafel.

I’m a fan of Foxy’s and would recommend it highly. You won’t get dried out falafel balls here – they’re just about perfect. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012 Minnesota State Fair – St. Paul, MN

My sister PalmMapper and brother-in-law UncleDumDum were in town celebrating their 10 year anniversary. The trip was a surprise for my brother-in-law, who has never been to a State Fair before. He’s always wanted to check it out and who better to go with than someone who can also eat their weight in fried food! ME!!! PalmMapper had printed out a couple of new fair items (which coincided nicely with my own list that I always write up) and we headed out to the fair.

We got there early to ensure we could see D.Rough on TV at the KARE-11 building. In fact, we got there too early, so we started eating without her. There’s no better time for breakfast than… uh… breakfast time. We headed into the food building and started the day right.

Ham, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Stromboli from American Stromboli. It’s hardboiled eggs chopped up with ham and shredded cheese baked in a pizza dough - delicious and comes with a side of salsa. While you’re waiting in line, you get to look through the window and watch them make cinnamon rolls… which of course means we had to get a cinnamon roll, as well. Really good dough perfectly baked and with TONS of cinnamon. And of course we got it iced with sugary frosting – which melts immediately on the hot roll. Perfect way to start the morning.

We headed into the other wing of the food building to find Rajin’ Cajun. The entire building was empty and we didn’t think it was open. Thankfully, there were workers behind the counter who were willing to make our breakfast sliders (right before the power went out in the entire building). The breakfast sliders were a trio of small buns filled with steak, Cajun sausage, and ham (each slider has its own meat). They also had scrambled eggs and cheese on them, and each was complimented with an incredible homemade garlic mayo. We actually ate this in order of our favorites, accidentally: ham first, just ok; sausage second, pretty good; steak last, really beefy and tender. I had heard the steak might not be the best, but we must have gotten a good piece because we were thrilled with it. AND it’s really cheap for three sandwiches.

We headed back to the KARE-11 building and watched the Minnesota RollerGirls get interviewed by Eric Perkins. He’s a hilarious guy that just got a promotion to Sports Director – which he’ll be fantastic at. Congrats, Perk! Now it was time to find the 1919 root beer booth – I’ll never get enough of this stuff. It’s my favorite root beer.

We walked around a bit and found the animal barn. I claim I like to go here to watch animal surgery – which they have set up in a sterile booth with cameras and then bleachers outside it to watch the action. But the real reason I like it there is I get to pet the cute dogs. Sure it isn’t cool and it isn’t tough-guy, but I don’t care. The dogs are awesome. This year, the Great Pyrenees stole the show. Beautiful dogs.

After a quick swing through the fine arts building, we eventually found our way to the International Bazaar. One of the new items they had this year at the Midtown Global Market booth was Camel Burgers. UncleDumDum wanted to try one, since he had already ridden a camel at the Minnesota Zoo a few days earlier (I’ll see if I can score a photo). He grabbed one and had it cut in half so we could split it. The sandwich could use some sauce or something, since the meat itself is a little bit dry. It’s got a decent flavor, so it isn’t bad, and I will say it’s way better than the camel on a stick I had last year at the fair.

We headed to the Holy Land Deli (one of our favorite places in the Twin Cities anyway). D.Rough got a gyro on a stick, which ended up looking like a gyro steak on a stick. I’ve never had gyro meat cut this thick and I was worried it wouldn’t be crispy like I like it. But it honestly was a good piece of gyro meat (did I mention it is on a stick?), especially paired with the tzatziki sauce dip that comes with it.

We had to get the lamb fries, since they were the talk of the fair. Lamb testicles! The sign says they’re grilled, but they aren’t. They’re clearly fried. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with these things, but we absolutely went for it. The balls themselves don’t taste like much, to be honest. They just taste like “fried”. Not fried meat. Not fried anything. Just fried. The Holy Land dip that comes with them gives them some flavor, but it just didn’t taste like much. So for $5, you get some bragging rights, but not much else. Meh.

Next on the docket, poutine from Duke’s Poutine. As you know I’m participating in a Twin Cities Poutine Crawl trying out all the poutine in the Twin Cities. This was basically a requirement at the fair. The fries were pretty good. I like when there are bits of potato skin on the fries for texture and flavor. The gravy was a little lack luster and bland (still salty, but not much meat or even gravy flavor). But the real winner was the curds. We all ended up fighting over them. Very tangy and held their shape in the heat of the gravy and fries, but had the squeak that lets you know they’re serious. This was a pretty solid dish of poutine, especially for a fair truck.

Right across the street from the Poutine truck was the Icee truck. I had to get one – blue and red mixed. Nothing fancy, especially considering we walked by an Icee truck earlier that had like 10 different flavors. But I would have gotten these two flavors anyway – I’m old school - so what was the point? Delicious. And now, Coach is jealous.

We needed to rest our feet from walking, so we popped into the air-conditioned coliseum to watch the bull judging. Sure it isn’t action packed, but it’s just the thing you need after a morning of walking and eating.

We had to get Scotch Eggs – a hardboiled egg encased in deep fried sausage. I really like these monstrosities and get them whenever I see them. This year, the one we got was a bit dried out, even though I drenched the thing in maple syrup (they have other more normal sauces to put on them, but I like syrup). Just ok, this year.

PalmMapper was finally worn down by the cheese curds signs. You can only walk by cheese curd booths so many times without stopping to buy some and she had reached her limit. I’m not even sure which booth she got these at. They were delicious, as always. They could have been fried a bit longer in my opinion, but a deep fried cheese curd is a good thing, no matter how you look at it.

Deep Fried Pickles from The Perfect Pickle were next. I love these things. We get the sampler pack – regular, Cajun, and cream cheese-stuffed. These things are always delicious – today was no different. And they have Dew at their booth, which is a bonus for me.

We headed into Heritage Village so Rita could try this new beer from Schell’s Brewery – it’s a Shocked Radler, which means it’s beer with Grapefruit in it. UncleDumDum was unsure about trying it, but he tried it and liked it. …And then we spend much of the remainder of their trip going to Twin Cities liquor stores trying to find it (it isn’t in bottles until next year). Good stuff, according to everyone who tried it. I was still drinking my dew. But we did get photos of D.Rough and Rita hanging with the raccoons and hyenas.

I was feeling desserty – which doesn’t happen often. I needed a cannoli from Ole’s Cannoli (pronounced like Oleee, not Olé like in a bullfight – though it still cracks me up when I hear it pronounced that way). I’m man enough to get sprinkles on my dessert – and I’m glad I did. The fried shell of this cannoli was a little thicker than most I’ve had, so it was difficult to break into pieces, but the flavor of it was just right, so I’m not complaining. Also, the mascarpone cheese filling was spot on to the hundreds I’ve had in Italy and Sicily, so kudos to Ole for nailing it!

It was time for beer flights back at the Ag building. The ag building (pronounced “AYG building” in Minnesota)(I got told I wasn’t allowed to make fun of Minnesota accents while AT the MN State Fair – it’s apparently an unwritten law, enforceable by punching) had a huge exhibit on hops since home brewing is so popular now. This also created an absolute madhouse for trying to get tickets and get in line for the beer flights. They had four different sets/flights of beers from Minnesota: Dark, Light, Belgian, and something else I can’t remember. You can’t mix and match, so I went with the Belgians. All were delicious, however, you have no idea what you’re drinking. The cups aren’t labeled at all, so it’s almost pointless, unless you’re only hoping for four small cups of beer for $8. Next year will be better… right guys? Better system? Just a hint…

Teriyaki Ostrich on a stick at Chinatown in the food building. Looked like a meat lollipop, actually. And surprisingly, this was pretty delicious. The meat itself was much better than other ostrich I’ve had (sounds weird to say, but yes, I’ve had other ostrich), but it was better without the teriyaki dipping sauce. We almost went back for more of the ostrich.

D.Rough swears by the cheese curds at the Mouth Trap in the food building. So we scored some. They were better than the curds we had earlier, if only because they were fried a bit longer to get crispy. Delicious.

UncleDumDum had never had lefse before (it’s a potato pancake – a Swedish thing), so he popped in to Lynn’s Potato Lefse and got one filled with lingonberries. I like these things but only enough to eat some if someone offers. I don’t think I’d order one for myself. It’s a little bit dry and could always use more filling in my opinion. But if you’re Swedish, I’ve heard these are the holy grail of lefse. I could take it or leave it.

You’ll notice, up to this point, I haven’t done anything with bacon. I’m not an addict. I can stop anytime I want. I don’t need bacon all the time. That being said, I DOOOO love the bacon on a stick at Big Fat Bacon. So we grabbed one. The bacon is super thick and deep fried. You can also put this delicious chipotle orange glaze on it, which I highly recommend. I really like these, even though they’re nothing fancy. They’re just fantastic.

D.Rough and I tried the sweet corn ice cream last year at Blue Moon. It’s really good, and really weird. But we liked it enough to try it again, since we were near it. This year, we got cayenne peanuts on it, instead of the honey bacon glaze. I like this much better. The ice cream actually has pieces of sweet corn in it, as well as some corn nuts – which is a brilliant touch, I might add. The dish is about the perfect size to split with someone. UncleDumDum wasn’t a big fan, but the rest of us ate it ALLLLLLL.

We passed by Luigi’s and I mentioned they have the best Hot Dago on a Stick ever. UncleDumDum had never had one, so I said it might be worth it (although he should also have a real hot dago sandwich from a restaurant). It was. These things are sooo good here. Garlic breadstick, meatball, garlic breadstick, meatball, garlic breadstick, meatball, garlic breadstick – then cover it all with mozzarella cheese and bake it. Then serve it with marinara sauce. Man, these things are awesome.

Back for more 1919!!! This time, a large.

And another repeat from last year – the Yankee Apple Pie Chocolate Sandwich. The whole things sounds horrific, but it honestly is one of my favorite things to get here. It’s apple pie filling and some chocolate sauce cooked between two slices of bread until toasted. Then cover the thing with powdered sugar (which apparently gets all over your black shirt while eating, especially if it’s windy). I’m glad we got this on the way out of the fair, or I might have gotten two. They’re fantastic.

I think I can safely say we did some damage at the 2012 Minnesota State Fair. I’m not sure if it was amazeballs enough for UncleDumDum to come back and do it again, but I had a blast hanging out with my awesome family. We like to eat, and I’m sure we eased into the five-digit calorie zone for the day. Thankfully, I only let myself do that once a year. Then I start training for next year!!!!!!

Top 5 things at the 2012 Minnesota State Fair
1. Hanging with my sister and brother-in-law
2. Yankee Apple Pie Chocolate Sandwich
3. Hot Dago on a Stick
4. 1919 Root Beer
5. Poutine (especially the cheese curds)

Bottom 5 things
1. Beer flight debacle
2. Lamb Fries – still, I now have bragging rights
3. Camel Burger
4. Scotch Egg
5. Severe lack of cute puppies in the animal barn

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Seatac Disc Golf Course – Seatac, WA

I had to drop Coach off for an earlier flight, so I had some time to kill while waiting for my own flight that afternoon. I had asked WCL for a recommendation where to play some disc golf near the airport. She’s got some friends who play and I knew they’d know where to send me.

They got me directions to Seatac Disc Golf Course – extremely close to the airport. In fact, it’s directly under the flight path for the main runway at the SeaTac Airport. So every 30-60 seconds, you have a huge eclipse and roar of engines a hundred feet over your head. Very amusing, and probably distracting to people who care about such things. I’m used to it, having played a few rounds at Fort Snelling Disc Golf Course in Minneapolis.

I took a photo of the course map at hole 1, just in case. I had heard it can be tricky to follow the flow of the course. It actually wasn't that bad once you're out there. there are well defined walking paths and some of the tee signs tell you where to walk for the next hole.

The course is fairly wooded with a lot of tunnel/finesse shots. It doesn’t play to my strengths, but I really enjoyed playing here. Well maintained fairways with defined flight paths and, if you know where your shots are likely to go, a very manageable course. The difficulty is increased by some longer holes, which I really enjoyed, and the rough isn’t so rough you’ll lose a disc – you just don’t want to be in it because there are some holly plants and sticker bushes that will shred your legs.

It seemed pretty right-hander friendly, but still pretty balanced overall. Not a lot of elevation changes, but they did make use of what they were provided with a couple of well-placed baskets and some fun tee areas. In fact, there is a wall (maybe hole 14-ish?) that has a graffiti-style mural on it along side the tee. I saw a few people playing, but not a ton. It probably helped that it was a Tuesday morning and normal people are at work.
Be forewarned, the parking lot has six parking places – literally. So you’ll have to park up the road at the community center and walk down to the tee. It’s worth the walk though. It's a solid course without a lot of frills. I’m glad I got to play here and I’ll make sure I bring my discs again to Seattle so I can hit it up again and get good and sweaty before hopping on a four hour flight back home. Hahahaha. Sorry, old man next to me on the plane!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Luna Park Café – Seattle, WA

It was our last day in Seattle and ChickenLittle and WCL wanted to take Coach and I someplace fun. They know of this greasy spoon diner filled with all kinds of fun memorabilia on the walls and ceilings. It’s a pretty fun place to hang out and look at both the clientele and the collection of awesome toys and gadgets from my youth. I’m talking about Popples, Knight Rider, and The Dark Crystal lunch boxes, Batman kiddie rides for a quarter, and other awesome things. Loved it. For those of you from Illinois, it’s like the Maid-Rite for the 70’s/80’s generation. Super fun.

The menu has a bunch of things to choose between, and ChickenLittle explained you can get a pile, a hobo, or an omelet. A Pile is your toppings on top of a pile of hasbrowns. A Hobo is like a hash, combined with your eggs and hasbrowns. And an omelet is pretty self explanatory. I went with the Carnivore Hobo.

The food comes out pretty quickly, so you don’t get to look at the memorabilia as much as you’d like, but that’s alright because the food is quite distracting. It’s a serious portion of food and I knew I wasn’t going to be in for a tough fight to finish the whole thing. It’s basically a huge hashed up mixture of delicious sausage, ham, and bacon covered in cheddar cheese and mixed with scrambled eggs and hashbrowns. Super good! Despite the fact that it’s filled with meat, it wasn’t like an overdose of meat. There was an appropriate amount of meat in each bite and I got good and full trying to finish it. Worth every penny.

I loved it and think I’ll find a way to get back to the Luna Park Café the next trip I make to Seattle… which hopefully will be soon!

Not enough to do a top 5 on this one. I will be back here, though!