Red Rooster: A Taste of Home

One of the highlights of my first trip to New York City was my visit to Red Rooster in Harlem.  It was a comfortable Saturday afternoon. Just walking up the street approaching Red Rooster was an experience in itself.  There were artists, photographers, painters, and musicians lining the sidewalk in front of Red Rooster. Music from live instruments matched the vibrant colors of the artwork, which also matched the jubilant nature of everyone in the vicinity of Red Rooster.  My excitement grew, the closer I got to the front door. This is Harlem. This is it. This must be the reason everyone LOVES Harlem. As soon as my cousins and I arrive, we were greeted with laughter, smiles, and good wishes from those people who decorate the scene with their presence.   I knew I was experiencing history. There was an old man sitting in front of the door. He seemed to have many stories to tell. I am already having a good time, and I haven’t even walked inside.

Upon entering, there was even more energy on the inside.  Red Rooster was full of people. Everyone was dressed for an occasion.  I loved seeing everyone’s styles. From hats to sundresses, to suits, bow ties.  Everyone was here. Everyone was having a good time. Well, we arrived just as brunch ended, so we made reservations for dinner.

Red Rooster is the creation of America’s most well known Black Chef, Marcus Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia, reared in Sweden, and apprenticed in Europe.  Chef Samuelsson’s story is so unique.  His life began when food was scarce, yet his life’s work is intrically woven around food.  He shares his passion for food through his many restaurants.  He opened Red Rooster in Harlem in 2010.

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I was so excited to experience dinner at Red Rooster.   While waiting for our table, a live second line band played through the restaurant.  Everyone clapped, danced or bobbed their heads as the band made its way through the restaurant.  Some people (probably tourists like me) tried to follow the band. There was just so much energy in the building.  We sat near the bar, which was filled with people sitting and standing. They were talking, drinking, laughing.

Now to the menu.   I didn’t know what to order, because everything looked good.  I finally decided to order the famous Yardbird, the Mac & Greens, and Marcus’ Cornbread.  All of the food lives up to the hype. After tasting the food, I understood another reason why everyone loves Red Rooster.  One bite of your meal will remind you of home. For me, home is Mississippi. This is the closest you will get to Grandma’s cooking in the big city.

Overall, I enjoyed both of my visits to Red Rooster.  I will certainly return whenever I am in Harlem. It’s at the top of my list of favorite places in Harlem, New York City.

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The Red Rooster experience with my cousin!

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My cousin lives in Harlem and took me on a walking tour.  This was one of my most memorable stops.  We returned later that evening for dinner.

 

Duck, Duck, Donut?

There has been a lot of buzz around Duck Donuts.  I have heard a lot of good things it. To begin. Duck Donuts was founded in Duck, North Carolina by Russ RiGilio and his family.  The RiGilio family also cares about the community. So, each Duck Donuts location has the opportunity to partner with local non-profit organizations to aid them in fundraising efforts.

The custom donut concept is simple.  Start with a freshly made donut, select a coating, select a topping, then select a drizzle.

I tried three of the featured flavors.  My first bite was of the Maple flavored icing topped with chopped bacon.   The donut was very sweet. The donut itself is a cake doughnut. The maple icing is thick and opaque.  I could taste the sugar as I bit into the icing. The icing thoroughly covers the donut. I would prefer a thinner maple glaze, instead of icing. For this reason, I can only eat one of these donuts at a time.  The chopped bacon was actual bacon It was thick cut bacon. The sweet and salty contrast meshed well with the cake donut. It was an all in one breakfast experience.

The second donut I had was another featured donut, the S’Mores donut.  This is a classic s’more. Chocolate icing, topped with graham cracker crumbles and a marshmallow drizzle.  Very sweet, very good!

My third Duck Donut was the featured Blueberry Icing with Lemon drizzle.  This is an upgrade to the regular blueberry cake donut. The blueberry icing was thick and sweet.  The tart of the lemon drizzle is a perfect match to the sweetness of the blueberry icing.

Overall,  Duck Donuts is really good.  It’s the perfect dessert. It may be a bit too sweet for breakfast, but I could eat one every evening.  Next time, I will experience the creative joy of making my own duck donut creation.

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Hot & Juicy

Hot & Juicy Crawfish is a wildly popular restaurant.  It is located in Washington, D.C., near the Omni Shoreham Hotel and Woodley Park Metro Station.  The owners started this restaurant in Las Vegas, after noticing an absence of their favorite food, Crawfish.  The owners themselves describe Hot & Juicy Crawfish as a restaurant that does not need pretense, special occasion, or utensils.

The food is really tasty, hot, and juicy.   There are what seems to be a million flavors inside of the plastic bag of seafood wonderment.  The food is reasonably priced. You will get a lot of food for your money. I must warn you, however, if you go to Hot & Juicy Crawfish, you should be aware of a few things.  First, you will work for each bite of food. The shrimp and crawfish are served with their heads and shells on. It is truly peel and eat.

Since Hot & Juicy is so popular, I must list a few rules.

Rule #1: Do not dress up. Hot & Juicy is very messy.  The juice gets everywhere. To eat without staining your clothing,a bib and gloves are required.  To be safe, see rule #1,

Rule #2: Don’t try to be cute.  Cuteness is impossible here.  You must just dig into the food to enjoy it.  That means there may be sauce on your face, your arms your clothing, etc.  It is impossible to be a “cute” eater here…unless of course your order the fried seafood.  Then, and only then, can you eat without being messy. However, please keep in mind that your dinner companions may order the “hot & juicy”, and your clothing is still at risk of being stained.

Rule #3: Go for the food and only the food.   There is no atmosphere. This is not a good location for a first date.  Date #55 yes. Date #1. No.

Rule #4: If you want to taste multiple items, order the fried seafood first.   The fried shrimp tastes like it is fried in Louisiana catfish batter. It is really good, but also a bit salty.  If you taste the fried seafood after the boiled seafood, it will seem extremely salty.

Rule #5: Order more than you think you will eat.  You must order everything up front. Your hands will be too messy to pick up a menu to order more items.

Rule #6: Tear off a stack of paper towels before your food arrives.  Then tear off 2 more paper towels and wrap them around your beverage.  You will thank me later.

Rule #7: If you want pictures of your food, take pictures of your food before you put on the gloves and definitely before you start eating.  I do not have pictures to accompany this post, because I did not follow this rule on my visit. This rule is a MUST for all of my photographers.  This rule is easy to skip, because the food smells so good and looks so interesting when it is served. The smell makes everyone want to just dive in and eat.

Rule #8: Skip the sweet tea, because it is not sweet.

Rule #9: Go with your close family, friends, and people you are very comfortable being around.  The seating is tight. Your elbows will touch.

Rule #10: Enjoy!  Some dining experiences are not fancy or visually stunning.  Some dining experiences are designed so that you feast. Hot & Juicy Crawfish is one feast-ful experience.

 

A Factory Just for Cheesecake

The Cheesecake Factory is one of those restaurants that has a wonderful atmosphere, good food, and amazing desserts, yet it is never at the top of anyone’s “Let’s Eat Here” restaurant list.  Why is that? I recently visited my local Cheesecake Factory and was pleasantly surprised. The menu is extensive. The drinks are good. The food is good, and the cheesecakes are amazing!  I am even surprised that I enjoyed the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake. It was so light and refreshing.   It was also Sweet, Tart, Tangy, and Delicious. I don’t know what I liked more, the cheesecake, or the company.   But I will return.

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Lemon Meringue Cheesecake

I usually love Chocolate more than anything else.  But on this day, that was untrue.  The Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch cheesecake was good.  It was very good.  The chocolate was rich.  The Hazelnut spread was thick and plentiful.  There was a lot of “Crunch” in the cookie crust of the cheesecake. This cheesecake was wonderful, however, on a hot May day, the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake won.  It was my favorite.  At that moment, on that day, I loved the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake more than I loved Chocolate.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Cheesecake

 

Brunch at Blackwall Hitch

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Let’s discuss the Sunday Brunch at Blackwall Hitch.   Those who know me, know that Blackwall Hitch is my favorite place for Crab Cakes in the DMV area.    Well, now, Blackwall Hitch is on my list of top 10 Brunch locations in the DMV.

I was skeptical at first, since Crab Cakes are not on the Sunday Brunch menu.  I must say, the brunch really is excellent. The brunch is set up buffet style and is complete with bread,

There is an omelet station sent from heaven.   I created my own omelet of lump crab meat, shrimp, Applewood-smoked bacon, spinach and cheese.   It. Was. Delicious. Egg White Omelets are also available. There is a Chicken and Waffles station, complete with Glazed Cherries, Fresh Strawberries, Fresh Whipped Cream, Walnuts in a Maple Glaze, Chocolate Chips, and of course, Butter.  The Waffles are Belgium and the Chicken is seasoned and fried.

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First Plate…Waffles with fresh fruit, Seafood Omelet, Homestyle Potatoes, & Cheese Grits

Also included in the brunch are the typical breakfast foods, Scrambled Eggs, Applewood-Smoke Bacon, Sausage, and Homestyle Breakfast Potatoes.  Then, there is a Penne Pasta dish, followed by Creamy Cheese Grits. For those wanting even more, there are two carving stations, both Top Round Roast with Rosemary Au Jus and Deep Fried Turkey Breast with Cranberry Fig Jam.

Pastries line the wall ready to meet your sweet tooth.  There is an assortment of donuts, macaroons, and parfaits.   The Sunch Brunch Buffet is simply delightful. To top it all off, Mimosas are $5.

This brunch is extremely popular.  Reserve your table early.  An 18% gratuity is automatically charged for parties of 8 or more people.

The atmosphere is buzzing throughout the brunch.  While dining, I spotted someone familiar….. however, I was too busy enjoying brunch to ask questions.  Go, enjoy yourself next Sunday.

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Cherry Blossom Fresh! Can you guess who this is?

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Hearty Hen Quarter

Hen Quarter Prides itself on its Southern Fare.  The logo even states “Southern Fare, Free Range Cocktails”  I must say, their food is really tasty.  On my most recent visit to the Silver Spring location, I met the lovely staff, led by Jacqueline, who helped set a warm atmosphere at the front of the house.  Walking into Hen Quarter, I felt comfortable and welcomed.  The background music made me dance on my way to my table.

The Silver Spring location is perfect for a date night or a night out with friends in any season of the year.  There is free garage parking, plus shopping and a movie theater all in the same complex.

Now to the food.  Let’s start with the biscuits.  The biscuits are thick & hearty homemade biscuits, honey!  THey are served with fresh churned honey pearl butter and fig jam.  Delicious!

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For dinner, I ordered the Hen Quarter Special which is two pieces of Southern Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Smashed Yukon Potatoes, and a Biscuit.  The Fried Chicken was good, although, I prefer my chicken with a bit more seasoning salt.  (Although, I understand the need to limit the amount of salt for all patrons).  The collard greens were cooked perfectly.  They had the right amount of spice.  I was surprised by the amount of flavor in the potatoes.  The potatoes were mashed with skin on, and were so moist and tasty, they almost outshined the rest of the meal!  The Hen Quarter Special portion size was just right!

Overall, I enjoyed the food.  I will return.  I look forward to trying out more menu items.

Best Chocolate in the World

Last Sunday, I went on a tour of a real life Chocolate Factory!  No, Willie Wonka is not the only chocolate maker. This Chocolate Factory was quite impressive.  As a chocolate lover, I really appreciate the methods SPAGnVOLA go through to preserve the integrity of the chocolate.IMG-4275

 

SPAGnVOLA is a real life Chocolate Factory, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland.   Upon arrival I opened the door to sights and smells of a lovely chocolate shop. There was lots of sweet treats to choose from behind the glass.  I saw many types of truffles, bonbons, and chocolate bars!

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When it was time for the chocolate tour, I was led down a stairway to the space underneath the chocolate shop.   Eleanor was my tour guide. She was really knowledgeable about the chocolate making process, explaining it from start to finish while also displaying the machinery used to cultivate chocolate.

The owner/onsite Chocolatier, Crisoire Reid owns a farm on the mountain slopes of the Eastern part of the her home country, the Dominican Republic.  The cacao beans used to make the chocolate at SPAGnVOLA are flown in directly from this farm. Mrs. Reid’s goal is to preserve the integrity of the cacao bean and produce the purest, best chocolate possible.  Crisoire calls her creation “ultra premium” chocolate, the best chocolate in the world.

Once in the factory, I witnessed the entire process.  I was able to touch the raw cacao bean in all of its stages until I tasted the final product, a delicious piece of chocolate.

In 2008, Crisoire Reid and her husband Eric Reid started on a journey of chocolate.  In 2011, they realized their dream of opening an artisan Chocolate factory, selling the finest chocolate in the world.  The Reids hand pick, ferment, dry, and grade cacao beans themselves. The cacao beans are then roasted and refined in small batches in their Gaithersburg, Maryland chocolate factory.

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After completing the tour, I had to taste the chocolates!  I got a 12 piece selection of Crisoire & Signature bonbons collection, and truffles collection.  I definitely prefer the truffles over the bonbons.

Here are some of my suggestions:

Truffles:

Mocha: 54% milk chocolate ganache infused with coffee grounds and 70% dark chocolate.

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Jasmine Rose Truffle: 62% Semi Sweet Chocolate Ganache infused with Jasmine Rose Tea, coated with 70% Dark Chocolate

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Honey Truffle: 62% semi sweet chocolate ganache infused with Dominican Honey and coated in 70% dark chocolate.

Bonbons:

Cafe Caramel Bonbon: 54% Milk Chocolate Ganache with Coffee flavor, caramel and covered in 70% Dark Chocolate

Passion Fruit Bonbon: White Chocolate Ganache with natural passion fruit puree and 70% Dark Chocolate.

I highly recommend SPAGnVOLA.  You will love every moment of you visit.  Take some chocolates home, give chocolates as gifts.  Remember, money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy hand crafted chocolates….and that’s pretty much the same thing!

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Learn more about SPAGnVOLA and their chocolate making process by visiting www.spagnvola.com

Deep Dish District of Pi

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District of Pi is a pizza oasis. I am a pizza person. I love love love pizza.  My favorite type of pizza is Chicago Style, Deep Dish Pizza.  Prior to today, Giordano’s in Chicago was the only restaurant I trusted to make my favorite pizza. I have tried many, many restaurants who claim to make Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza. I have been disappointed over and over again. All of that ended today, when I waltzed into District of Pi for lunch.

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I am so pleasantly surprised by District of Pi. The restaurant looks like a pizzeria complete with Red and White checkered napkins and wooden tables, but with a touch of class displayed with the presence of chandeliers.

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Now to the food. I ordered District of Pi’s signature Cornmeal Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza. When my waitress Sherry brought the pizza to my table, my eyes lit up in joy and disbelief. My first thought was, “Could it Be?” This pizza looks like an authentic Chicago Style Deep Dish pizza.

The crust is solid & crispy. I bit into the pizza. The crust was crispy and crunchy. The marriage of cheese, pepperoni, and sauce made me dance in my seat. The sauce is flavorful. I can see and taste the Italian seasonings in the sauce through every bite. There are chunks of tomatoes in every bite of pizza. I enjoyed this pizza so much.

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I am so happy to discover District of Pi. I can now have Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza in Washington D.C. I look forward to my next visit.

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Journey to the Land of Milk & Honey

This Saturday morning, I got up at 7:30 am in order to have breakfast/brunch at this quaint restaurant that my sister recommended.  It was worth the early rise.  This is not just any restaurant, it is literally the land of milk and honey……seriously, the restaurant’s name is Milk & Honey Cafe.

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Just as you can imagine, the land of Milk & Honey is hard to find, and can only be experienced by the most determined seekers.   It is sandwiched between other businesses in a strip mall area.  There is no signage over the door of the restaurant.  You just have to “know” where it is, and how to reach it.   Once inside, I got the feeling of being in someone’s home.   The seating is a comfortable mix of chairs and sofas surrounding various dining tables.  Pictures of the owner mingling with satisfied customers adorn the walls.

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I must say, Milk and Honey lives up to its name.  It is a wonderful blend of savory and sweet.  The air inside actually smells like honey.  Milk & Honey Cafe is owned by Chopped Champion, Sammy Davis.  I was excited to taste Chef Sammy’s Award Winning 1/2lb Shrimp & Grits.   But, I had to start with something sweet.  Strawberry Shortcake Deep Fried Biscuits hit the spot.  The presentation was marvelous.  The portion size was large with three big biscuits, strawberries, cream cheese glaze, and powdered sugar.  The biscuits were hot & crispy on the outside, yet buttery and moist on the inside.

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For the main dish, I had Chef Sammy’s Award winning 1/2lb Shrimp & Grits.  According to sis, I danced in my seat when the food arrived.   (I believe it, I dance when I have good satisfying food).  The dish was colorful and appetizing, and even included turkey sausage!  Just one bite let me know why Chef Sammy is The Food Network’s Chopped Champion.   The grits are amazing.  They genuinely taste like southern homemade cheese grits.  They are creamy, seasoned, and have just the right “grits” consistency.  They are not grainy at all, and form a nice accompaniment to the cajun cream sauce.  I am so happy to have discovered this dish.  I had almost given up on finding good southern grits in the Washington D.C. area.

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We washed it all down with orange and cranberry mimosas.  At $4 each, the mimosas are a refreshing enhancement to an already delicious breakfast.

I will absolutely return to the land of Milk and Honey.  I would recommend this restaurant to all of my friends.   Milk and Honey is one of the first restaurant’s I have visited where I want to taste EVERYTHING on the menu.  Until my next visit, I’ll stay sweet.

 

Busboys, Poets, and Me

Last weekend, I went to Busboys and Poets for the first time.  I already understand why everyone loves it so much.  Just take a look at what Busboys and Poets says about itself

Busboys and Poets is a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted…a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul…a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide…we believe that by creating such a space we can inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world.

Upon entering the restaurant, I notice the organic feeling of community.   Is it a bookstore?  Is it a restaurant?  Is it a coffee shop?  It is all of these in one.  The building is filled with eclectic decor, artwork, and paint.  There is a constant chatter from the diverse crowd.  Time seems suspended in this place.  What year is it?  It does not matter.  Just enjoy the relaxing vibe while you are there.

I ordered the Bacon and Cheddar Burger.  My burger tasted so fresh!  The fresh, not frozen, taste comes from beef burgers made with free-range, 100% grass-fed, local beef.  My side dish was the Sweet Potato fries.  The fries were really good.  They were naturally sweet and served solo, no dipping sauce.   If you would like sauce, I suggest drizzling honey over the fries.  The honey adds just the right boost of sweetness.  At the price point of $14, it was a good meal.

The beverage menu has something for everyone.  I ordered the Langston Cooler, which is a Busboy Classic made with Spiced Rum, Dark Rum, Peach Schnapps, and Fresh Orange Juice, with a splash of Cranberry.

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I really like Busboys and Poets, I can see myself going there often, having drinks, reading a good book, listening to music, or just having brunch with friends.

I will be back.  I see why they have so many regular customers.