Saturday, November 8, 2014

Once Constantinople

Fun fact about Boyfriend's family: his youngest sibling is an amazingly talented belly dancer.  She performs not only throughout our city of Pittsburgh, but also travels across the country and in some cases, across seas, to practice. 

This weekend, Joanna was set to perform Friday night at Istanbul Sofra, a restaurant nestled along Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh's Regent Square neighborhood.  This performance happened to coincide with Boyfriend's mother's husband's birthday, so a celebratory dinner of delicious Mediterranean fare was obvious. 

This was both my and Boyfriend's first times visiting Istanbul Sofra and I was unsure of what to expect.  While I have been better with expanding my tastebuds, I am still not very adventurous when it comes to cuisine.  My disdain for vegetables is a huge road block in finding ethnic food that I'll enjoy, but I approached our visit to Istanbul Sofra with curiosity.  

The restaurant is decently sized and had a moderate crowd for a Friday night.  The hostess was extremely friendly and quickly seated Boyfriend and I at our reserved table while we waited for the rest of the family to arrive.  The space is nicely decorated with Turkish influence and gorgeous light fixtures dangled from the ceiling.

We later found out that the lanterns are imported from Turkey through a company called Leyla's Lanterns and are available for sale online and through Etsy. They can be shipped directly to Istanbul Sofra for pick up.  The pretty fixtures added to the overall ambiance of the restaurant and made me even more eager to try some of the menu items.

Upon the arrival of Boyfriend's mom and her husband, we poured some wine (Istanbul Sofra is BYOB) and ordered a large mixed platter, which is a combination of cold appetizers.  We were soon presented with a pretty presentation of hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and spicy ezme salad (chopped tomatoes and peppers with Turkish spices) with a basket of soft, warm pita.  We dominated the plate before anyone thought to take a photo, so you'll just have to take my word for it that the appetizer platter looked and tasted deliciously.  

For our entrees, Boyfriend's family opted for the chicken mixed grill platter, which featured chicken kebab, chicken Adana, and chicken kofte kebab.  This was served with rice and grilled vegetables.  Both Boyfriend and I ordered Iskender kebab, sliced lamb in Turkish spices served on pita with a tomato and yogurt sauce.  I felt that I could easily handle lamb on pita and prepared for a gyro-esque meal. 

While we waited, the night's entertainment began her belly dancing performance.  Boyfriend's sister weaved in-and-out of the tables to impress the diners, stopping occasionally to give personal attention to her admirers.  She always impresses me and I encourage anyone in the city to seek out her solo performances or those with her company, Third Street Belly Dance.  

    Joanna the Fierce

Well into Joanna's set, our dinners arrived to the table and I was surprised to see that Iskender kebab was not served as a gyro, as I was anticipating.  Instead, what we got was, for lack of a better word, a deconstructed gyro. 

The lamb and tomato sauce was laid on a bed of pita bread pieces and bordered with the yogurt.  I took a forkful of meat and pita, then swirled it through the sauces before taking a bite. Deliciousness. Pure deliciousness.  The lamb was juicy and tender, while the two sauces combined for an unexpected blend of flavors.  The soaked pita was chewy and soft.  Everything about this meal blended so nicely and so interestingly; I devoured almost all of it while Boyfriend the champ left nothing behind but a few smears of sauces. 

Boyfriend's mom and the Birthday Boy shared their large platter of various chicken dishes, each spiced with Middle Eastern flare.  I tried some of their chicken Adana, ground chicken marinated in Turkish spices, and it was very tasty.  

After we stuffed ourselves and declared our bellies full, we quickly changed our tunes as our exceedingly sweet server brought a dessert tray.  Each couple ordered a dessert to share.  Revani for Boyfriend's family and Kazandibi for us.  

Revani is a semolina cake with orange syrup glaze and walnuts.  I did not sample this treat, but it looked good.  My and Boyfriend's dessert was a milk pudding with a carmelised sugar coating.  It was so incredibly sweet, but I honestly think that I could have devoured the whole thing myself.  It would have been in poor form to lick the plate, so I refrained. 

The performance ended and Joanna sat down to enjoy her meal of soup and Mediterranean salad while the rest of us sunk into food comas.  Despite my "what will I find to eat" attitude going into Istanbul Sofra, I left with a happy belly and a new spot to visit if ever I find myself in Regent Square.  

The pretty decor, the attentive and genuinely kind staff, along with the palet pleasing menu makes Istanbul Sofra a must-visit for anyone seeking Mediterranean cuisine and a great atmosphere.

... And I may be a bit biased, but the entertainment was also fabulous. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Spooky Supper

Throughout the month of October, Boyfriend and I like to partake in all things spooky, including ghost tours, scary movies, and dog walks through Carnegie Park's Trail of Terror (really not that terrifying, but it amuses me nonetheless). 

    Marley, Zombaby and me at the Trail of Terror

During a Mount Washington ghost tour last year courtesy of Haunted Pittsburgh, we learned about the ghost of a woman named Mrs. Soffel who haunts the Shiloh Grill.  Kate Soffel was the wife of the Allegheny County Jail's warden in the early 1900s, but as we were told during our ghost tour, she aided two prisoners in escaping the jail and was ultimately persecuted herself upon their capture.  The ghost of Kate Soffel is said to haunt not only the jail, but also her post-prison home, which now houses the Shiloh Grill. 

Since first hearing the tale of Mrs. Soffel, Boyfriend and I have twice enjoyed haunted beverages at the restaurant, but we opted to have a full dinner last night with a side of ghost hunting.  After circling the block a few times in search of a parking space, we arrived to find a pretty full house, but readily available seating at the bar.  The ambiance of the Shiloh Grill is relaxed, but eclectic with wart hog head mounts on the walls and portraits of Mrs. Soffel in the hallway.  It definitely seems like the type of restaurant that would have a ghost host.

We found bar stools and perused the drink menu, which features seasonal options such as the pumpkin pie martini and pumpkin sangria.  The bartender immediately approached and asked me what I would like to drink. After mentioning that I was still pondering, he remarked upon my iPhone case and picked it up to get a better look at the design, then offered me a sample of the pumpkin sangria, plus two more samples of Southern Tier's Warlock and a pumpkin beer.  

Just as I was thinking about what an attentive and amiable bartender he was, I noticed a distinctly disgruntled-looking Boyfriend.  I then realized that while I was being given several drink samples, Boyfriend had not even been greeted.  A similar, albeit reversed, situation had occurred to us at Hough's months prior, but as I was the one being ignored, Boyfriend had merely shrugged it off with an "I thought the server was nice!" Now, however, he was the one pouting and grumbling about being ostrasized (much to my amusement). 

We each selected a Southern Tier beer (Pumking for Boyfriend and Warlock for me), then relocated to a bar table, where Boyfriend continued to lament treatment by the bro of a bartender who described hockey as "not a real sport," which may have been more upsetting to Boyfriend than the lack of service.  You can give his girlfriend too much attention while offering none for him, but don't you dare insult the great Sidney Crosby in front of Boyfriend, evil bartender. 

To make up for the bartender, our friendly server, Janine, then came over and took our order of the goat in a boat, a cold feta and red pepper dip served with pita. As a huge feta fan, I enjoyed the salty, briney dip a lot, but did feel that we could have benefited from a bit more pita.  I'm sure that we could've requested more, but I wanted to save room for the main course.

After questioning Janine about any of her personal Mrs. Soffel sightings (she had none), Boyfriend and I ordered our dinners: Imagine the Rastabilities Macaroni and Cheese for me and, with guidance from Janine, fish tacos for Boyfriend. 

The Shiloh Grill has an entire menu section devoted to "The Macaronis and the Cheeses," which I appreciate as a true mac and cheese addict.  There are some great options, including lobster macaroni and cheese and flat iron steak macaroni and cheese.  Tonight, spicy jerk chicken and macaroni just sounded right.  

    Imagine the Rastabilities Mac and Cheese

We didn't wait long for our meals to be delivered to the table by friendly staff members.  I didn't hesitate before diving into my delectable plate of steaming cheesy goodness.  The sauce was a cheddary (it was so good that I'm inventing adjectives) bechamel sauce that was creamy and delicious.  The jerk chicken was spicy, but not overly spicy to ruin the meal.  It did help clear up my sinuses, which is a plus. 

   Fish Tacos with Quinoa and Vegetables

After chortling at the idea of ordering fish tacos, Boyfriend began his meal.  The tacos were topped with kale slaw and pico de gallo, then served with corn quinoa and a vegetable mix. Boyfriend described his meal as "okay," with nothing standing out as a special feature.  He said that it was flavorful, but just was not a flavor that he particularly enjoyed.  

We finished our dinner, packed up leftovers, and made one last attempt at luring the evasive Mrs. Soffel. Rumor has it that she frequents the upstairs, which is where the restrooms are located, so we climbed the stairs to feign bathroom use and call out to the Shiloh spirit.  

We did not see our girl Kate, but we did awkwardly stare at other diners upstairs and looked at the Mrs. Soffel memorabilia on the walls.  Overall, I like the Shiloh Grill for its ambiance, cool story, friendly staff and profusion of macaroni and cheese options.  Dinner there was a good way to close October and welcome a new month.  I'm sure that Boyfriend and I will be back next year to enjoy some drinks and macaroni with Mrs. Soffel.  Until then, rest in peace, Kate.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Birthday Burgers

I love Labor Day.  It gives us a long weekend and it introduces September and all things Fall-oriented.  The most important thing about Labor Day, however, is the fact that it coincides with my birthday weekend.  

I'll be turning 27-years-old tomorrow and because my birthday falls on Wednesday this year, I used Labor Day weekend to celebrate with friends, family, and Boyfriend.  We did not have work on actual Labor Day and as the weather was poor, Boyfriend and I used the day for shopping and for a dinner in the South Side to celebrate my upcoming birthday.  

I dined with friends the day prior at La Casa Narcisi and exhausted myself attempting to be classy.  Dinner with Boyfriend was all about burgers, fries, and beer courtesy of Winghart's Whiskey and Burger Bar.  I've heard a lot of great things about Winghart's and was eager to dive into a juicy burger worthy of a birthday meal.  

There are five locations of Winghart's and each includes a menu boasting a large selection of gourmet burgers, fresh cut fries, and brick oven pizzas.  You can even wash down your burger and whiskey with a funnel cake.  We arrived at the Winghart's on East Carson to find empty (dirty) tables and alarmingly loud televisions playing a Simpsons marathon.

One of my and Boyfriend's major pet peeves when dining out is not knowing whether or not we are to seat ourselves; Winghart's has now joined that club of offending restaurants. After mild confusion, we chose our seats and a server quickly came over to offer food and drink menus.  We had to request that our dirty and oddly wet table be cleaned, but our server did so with a friendly demeanor.  It was difficult to thank her or to discuss menu options (or anything at all) due to the cranked volume of the bar televisions, but we eventually became accustomed to speaking over Bart and Lisa. 

To drink, Boyfriend and I each ordered water and Southern Tier's Pumking.  I love pumpkin beer, but I won't drink it until September, so this was perfect timing.  Winghart's has an extensive draft list (with multiple pumpkin options) and also has several whiskey options, but my brain was set strictly in a pumpkin beer direction.

For our meals, Boyfriend and I each ordered burgers and an order of fries with beer cheese to share.  Boyfriend ordered the Market Square Burger, topped with mushrooms, bacon, and gruyere.  I opted for the Nad-alie Burger, capped off with a three-cheese pierogi and a burgandy au jus.  My burger generally includes carmelised onions, but I declined.  

While we waited, Boyfriend and I enjoyed our Pumkings while shouting still over the Simpsons.  Food is prepared downstairs, which I appreciate, because I absolutely despise being able to see into a restaurant's kitchen.  We didn't wait long until our food was delivered to the table.

    (The Nad-alie)

I was very excited to dig into my burger and it did not disappoint.  The meat was cooked medium, as requested, and the bun was good, too.  The burgandy au jus created enough moisture without making the bun soggy and the pierogi on top was perfectly crisp, yet filled with creamy potato goodness.  I would order this again and had no trouble polishing off almost the entire thing. 

   (Market Square Burger and Fries with Beer Cheese)

Our shared plate of beer cheese fries was more than enough for us both and I was elated to see that the fries were smothered in cheese.  For my birthday dinner, i must insist upon an over abundance of cheese and this dish definitely required a fork.  Boyfriend and I both enjoyed the fries and welcomed the mess.  

In theory, the Market Square Burger should have been perfect for Boyfriend.  He loves mushrooms, cheese, and bacon on burgers; however, he had not anticipated Winghart's house-made honey mustard sauce.  He felt that the sauce took over and the other flavors which should have made an awesome burger were lost in a sea of mustard.  Boyfriend did appreciate that his burger was appropriately cooked, but less of a mouthful of mustard would have suited him better.  

Halfway through my burger, my Pumking was gone and I missed it.  Luckily, I could see the clearly labeled tap just behind the bar.  Unluckily, our server had better things to do than to refill my empty glass.  She was sitting at the bar on her laptop and after waiting a considerable period of time, Boyfriend finally got up and asked her to get me a refill.  Again, she acted with nothing but positivity, but I wish that her friendliness was coupled with attentiveness.  She did accept our City Dining Card discount, which should only be used on purchases $30 and more... Our total was closer to $26, so our server did redeem herself a bit.  

We polished off our meals and headed home before the new tableful of 21-year-olds got too rowdy.  All-in-all, I would visit Winghart's again and my belly was happy with the Nad-alie burger and delicious fries, but more attentive staff would have made this good birthday experience a great one.  

So, Winghart's, kudos to you for your beer selection and pierogi-topped burgers; shame on you for your extra loud environment and inattentive staff. On my birthday (weekend), I expect my birthday wishes to come true, so next time, I expect better service, cleaner tables, and less mustard.  

Winghart's Southside on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 2, 2014


For the past few weekends, Boyfriend has been attempting to get me to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with him and, until this evening, I had managed to avoid it.  Finally, we decided that tonight was Date Night and Boyfriend agreed to buy popcorn if I agreed to watch a movie about talking monkey men taking over San Fransisco.  I now realize that this was an incredibly unbalanced agreement, but I survived.

As a prelude to our impending movie date, Boyfriend and I wanted to eat out, but knew that a restaurant in close proximity to the theatre was vital.  We decided upon Sauce in Bridgeville, a bar-restaurant that had been previously recommended by one of Boyfriend's friends.  Boyfriend was eager to indulge in a delicious burger and I was ready to explore another new-to-me restaurant.

As we walked into Sauce, it was unclear if we were to seat ourselves or wait for a hostess.  Boyfriend and I awkwardly stood near the door until a server finally came up and seated us in an extra-long booth with another couple.  Shared tables are definitely not my favorite way to dine, but Sauce does not offer many other options.  

Our server (who never introduced herself) came to the table and gruffly asked "what do you want to drink?" She was an attractive dark-haired woman covered in tattoos and wearing denim shorts smaller than my underwear.  Had she greeted us with any semblance of kindness, I would have overlooked the minimal clothing, but her scowl just complimented her slutty grunge look so well.  

Our drinks were brought to the table and Boyfriend and I each received a grunted "yeah," when we thanked her.  For a moment, I felt badly for inconveniencing our server... But then I remember that this is her job.  She, however, seemed to feel that her time was better spent talking on her personal cell phone at the bar or having some laughs with fellow waitstaff, who appeared to be off-duty, but who also felt no qualms about going behind the bar to prepare his or her own drink.  Dinner was not off to a positive start. 

For dinner, Boyfriend ordered a burger with bacon and gorgonzola cheese cooked medium and a side of fries.  I opted for the Make Your Own Skillet Mac and had the option of choosing three add-ins from a sprawling list of choices to combine to a cheesy macaroni.  I selected chicken, cheddar and pepper jack cheeses; I felt pretty eager to devour my cheesy dinner and anticipated its arrival to the table with optimism. 

We ordered, then we waited... And waited... And waited. It seemed like our meals took a freakishly long time when considering the fairly empty restaurant.  As we waited and checked our watches so that we wouldn't be late to our movie, Boyfriend and I observed the waitstaff having a good old time together at the bar, one of them standing on top of the bar at one point, while a scowling older woman wiped tables and seated customers.  We weren't sure if she was management, proprietorship, or merely a server, but she really knew how to welcome guests by shaking a molded wash rag in the air and yelling "would you want your table wiped with this?!" to the other employees as Boyfriend and I looked on in horror.  

I kept glancing at the kitchen to see if and when our food was ready. I couldn't see our meals being prepared, but I could see a heap of filthy dishes teetering dangerously in the filled sink.  Perhaps Sauce's employees need not worry so much about socializing at the bar and offer some assistance to the one-man-band in the kitchen. 

Finally, our food arrived just as I was ready to eat the table.  My cast-iron skillet was huge and the proportion given of macaroni and cheese was out of control... But I wasn't complaining one bit.  The pasta was my favorite twisty cavatappi drenched in melted cheese and topped with grilled chicken breast.  How could we go wrong?

I took a large forkful of my dinner and found the cheesy mess good, but I am sad to report that the chicken was dry.  To avoid wasting stomach space, I dodged the chicken and focused solely on the cheesy pasta.  Upon further reflection, I don't think that I would choose pepper jack cheese again, as it seemed like the cook merely draped some Giant Eagle slices over the macaroni and melted it.  I expected more of a blend.  I ate only about 1/4 of my meal, but did have a heavy doggie bag to bring home.  

Boyfriend is forever on the hunt for a delicious burger and I think that he had high hopes for Sauce.  Unfortunately, Sauce's burger was served with a side of disappointment.  

I mentioned earlier that Boyfriend ordered his burger cooked medium.  What Sauce presented seemed to be a charcoal brickette slapped on a bun.  The outside of the burger was black and when questioned, our server responded with "well, that's just how the cook makes them.  They're always black." She asked if Boyfriend would rather have chicken or another meal, but unfortunately, with our lengthy wait, we were short on time before our movie began.  Boyfriend choked down the burnt hunk of meat, but the server did remove the burger from our bill.  Oddly, she seemed to become slightly more amiable as the meal went horridly downhill.  She must feed off of the disappointment of patrons.  

We paid our bill and ran to the car while dodging raindrops and looking forward to a large bucket of popcorn to make up for the sadness that was Sauce.  My meal was good, but the deplorable experience brought on by lack of customer service and questionable cleanliness negated any good qualities.  Boyfriend's burger was extremely disappointing, although we were pleased that our server had the price deducted from our bill.  

Date night turned into a night of disappointing food (for Boyfriend) and a disappointing movie (for me), but at least we now know to scratch Sauce off of our list of places to try, unless we're in the mood for charcoal-meat.  Been there, done that, won't do it again.  

Sauce on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rivertowne Northshore

This past weekend, Boyfriend and I swapped our usual lazy Sunday with a kayaking adventure courtesy of Kayak Pittsburgh.  We joined our friend K and the married Mr. and Mrs. P in the North Shore to serenely glide along the Allegheny River and enjoy the cityscape, while being sure to avoid the Gateway Clipper Fleet and on-coming Duckie Tours.  It was a great way to spend a bright Sunday and I look forward to future afternoons of kayaking.

   (Boyfriend, K and I floating triumphantly in front of PNC Park during a Pirates game)

After we returned our kayaks, we discussed lunch options that would offer delicious fare and plentiful drafts.  The answer seemed clear: Rivertowne Northshore.

I had never eaten at Rivertowne before, but I am a fan of their beer, especially the pineapple Hala Kahiki.  I assumed that a restaurant linked to such a reputable brewery would have equally as fantastic food.  I assumed incorrectly.

Our group was quickly seated at an outdoor table close to the river and our meal seemed to be heading in the right direction... Until our server arrived.  I have no idea what her name was, but her blank expression may be permanently etched in my brain.  We all ordered water and then Mr. P asked "do you have a drink menu?" She blinked at him, tilted her head to one side and said "yeah... I think so." After a few moments of uneasy silence, Mr. P asked "umm... May we have one?" I also asked her to check the status of my beloved Hala Kahiki on draft, which only seemed to confuse her more.

She vanished for several minutes and reappeared to let us know that no, Hala Kahiki was not available on draft, but was available in a can.  She did not come back with a drink menu.  At this point, we were annoyed and ready to place our food orders.  

Both K and I ordered individual buffalo chicken pizzas, while Boyfriend ordered a standard cheeseburger and fries. Mrs. P got an individual bacon pizza and Mr. P opted for chicken wings.  Our server was incredibly awkward while taking our orders and may have been half asleep during the process.  She skipped K completely and seemed distracted by sudden movements.  We weren't fans, but she did manage to bring our drink orders without disaster: two Hala Kahikis for Boyfriend and me, one Framboise for Mrs. P and a draft for Mr. P. 

Our food was brought to the table in staggering order, which always irritates me as a patron.  There is always one person sitting there empty handed while everyone else has his or her plates, but feels too awkward to eat.  Soon enough, we all had our food and were ready to dig in.

My pizza looked good and I really, really wanted to like it, but one bite told me that if there was menu-promoted "fire sauce" involved, it was a small amount.  Our server had provided a side cup of additional hot sauce,so I poured some directly on to a slice of my pizza, then took a bite.  I thought that the sauce tasted oddly sweet and not at all spicy.  K agreed and Mr. P took the initiative to taste the sauce before proclaiming "this is French dressing."  We laughed about it, then informed our server about the mix-up.  She did not seemed amused, but did bring us actual hot sauce quickly.  Once the correct sauce was brought, the pizza was decent.  It certainly wasn't the best buffalo chicken pizza that I'd ever had and I was annoyed that I had to have extra sauce to even make it the slightest bit spicy.  Fire sauce, indeed.

When Boyfriend's lunch was delivered, I knew that he was excited to have a cheeseburger after a grueling kayak session.  I also knew that after he had one bite, he was disappointed.

To say that his burger and fries were room temperature would be generous.  I tried one of his fries and they were hardly warm; however, Boyfriend sucked it up and did not complain for fear of having to confuse our lackluster server even more.  

Mr. and Mrs. P each enjoyed their respective meals, but did not care for the lacking service provided during our meal.  I have also been blessed with painfully sweet and kind friends, so they would probably highlight positive traits of a meal that included a side of botulism.  

We finished our meals and hightailed it out of there before the impending rainstorm began.  I have full confidence that I will not return to Rivertowne for food, but the shoddy service and food won't stop me from enjoying Rivertowne brews, especially the Hala Kahiki.  

There are some places that should focus solely on what they're best known for and Rivertowne Northshore seems to be one of those.  Come for the beer, stay for the beer, but whatever you do, don't trust the buffalo sauce.  

Rivertowne North Shore on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 7, 2014

I Got 99 Problems, but Beer Ain't One

Independence Day was this past week and in my house, it was celebrated with a day off of work and not much else.  Boyfriend and I hosted a cookout on Saturday, July 5th (you know our founding fathers were still partying it up the next day), but we did not have much to do on actual Independence Day; therefore, I took the opportunity to celebrate my freedom to drink beer at noon by lunching with Stemstar at 99 Bottles in Carnegie.

99 Bottles is a bar, restaurant and bottle shop housed in a former Pizza Hut along Washington Avenue.  While the outside of the restaurant seems like nothing special, the inside is full of 500 types of beer, including 30 on draft, growlers, and liquor options, as well.  

I had visited 99 Bottles once before with co-workers for a happy hour and could tell instantly that this was a great spot for a relaxed drink and above average bar food.  In addition to a dining room, 99 Bottles has a patio and outside bar.  As it is positioned along a busy Carnegie roadway, things can get a little loud on the patio, but music is filtered outside to take away some of that traffic noise.  

On the Fourth of July, Stemstar and I met up at 99 Bottles for lunch and a cold beer.  I arrived a few minutes early and asked the bartender what options on draft could be defined as "summery." She immediately recommended DuClaw Brewing Company's Morgazm, a citrusy blonde ale offering a crisp taste and a smooth finish, with hints of grape fruit.  Her recommendation was fantastic and Morgazm proved to be exactly what I was looking for in a beer.  All of the staff members at 99 Bottles are friendly and eager to assist customers.

99 Bottles is self-seating, so I found a spot on the patio and enjoyed the sunny weather.  Stemstar arrived soon after and we ventured back to the bar to order our meals, as is standard practice.  99 Bottles's menu is full of normal bar fare, including burgers, fried appetizers and wings; however, they also offer BBQ and a glorious little number called the Hibernator, a deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich filled with bacon and (wait for it) macaroni and cheese, instead of sliced cheese.  I had this sandwich on my first visit to 99 Bottles and recommended it highly to Stemstar. 

To start, we ordered fried provolone cheese wedges from the menu's munchies section.  They were deliciously crispy and gooey, served with a side of marinara dipping sauce.  I always think that fried cheese is the perfect way to begin any meal and this appetizer did not disappoint,  

For our meals, Stemstar ordered the famed Hibernator with a side of 99 Bottles's awesomely seasoned French (shall we say Freedom) fries.  Stemstar thoroughly enjoyed his carb coma sandwich, as I had a week prior, and had no issues polishing off his meal.  

While I strongly considered revisiting the Hibernator, I decided that some Independence Day BBQ was in order and I decided upon the Smokehouse Fries.  This dish consisted of 99 Bottles's deliciously seasoned fries covered in your choice of BBQ chicken, pork or brisket.  I opted for the chicken and requested the spicy BBQ sauce smothered with cheddar cheese. 

The basket of fries was more than enough and I took a large portion home with me for munching later. After our meals, Stemstar and I each purchased mix-and-match six packs from the expansive beer cooler inside the restaurant. I opted for several fruity and summery beers to enjoy the remainder of the holiday weekend.

Both Stemstar and I enjoyed our meals immensely and I know that I look forward to making 99 Bottles my go-to for a relaxed drink with friends or for random holiday meals, as with the Fourth of July.  It was a day to celebrate the many perks of being American, like our freedom, our brotherhood as a country, and our repeal of the 18th Amendment.  Go USA. Go beer.

99 Bottles on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

For the Love of Travel

This past week, Boyfriend and I took our show on the road and flew to Denver, Colorado to visit his sister and brother-in-law.  It was my first time in Colorado and my third trip involving airplanes, so I was an anxious mess of excited and hyperventilating as we took off, but after landing and immediately being greeted by mountains, I was feeling much more calm.

We were gone for six days and the time spent was a jumble of hiking, delicious restaurants, breweries, and popular Colorado landmarks, like the Garden of the Gods.

    View from our hike through Garden of the Gods

On our last full day in Colorado, Boyfriend and I ventured off sans sister and brother-in-law to visit Boulder, specifically the Pearl Street Mall.  Multiple people had recommended this spot to me, due to its many restaurants, shopping gems, and street performers.  As we meandered through the outdoor mall, our eyes were met with fire jugglers, unicyclists, and African drummers.  We enjoyed our day of dropping money into the hats of the most impressive performers and partaking in some of the best people-watching that I've experienced in ages.  Boulder is a definite must see when visiting Colorado.

During his trip to Colorado last summer, Boyfriend had visited Boulder and had what he described as the best burger that he had ever eaten.  He was determined to reacquaint himself with the meaty god of yesteryear and we walked around Pearl Street until he found his Burger Mecca, the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery. 

Mountain Sun offers a variety of common American food with creative flair, while being managed with a full team-initiative.  Employees of the Mountain Sun are not defined by titles.  The person serving you also buses tables, pours drinks, cleans, and cooks.  The restaurant operates on this system and even tips are split and divided among all employees.  

The team-based approach seems to have created not only a cool and relaxed atmosphere for dining, but also an exceedingly friendly staff.  From the moment that we walked into the restaurant, Boyfriend and I were greeted with smiles and friendly words.  The restaurant decor is funky with brightly colored statues hanging from the ceiling, while eliciting a relaxed vibe to match our experience in Boulder thus far.

We had a brief wait for a table, but not to fear, for we were quickly ushered to the back of the restaurant in front of the bar.  We were given a draft list and the server behind the bar poured us free sample after free sample of Mountain Sun's own brews while we waited.  Serve me free beer to take away the pain of waiting 15 minutes for a table? Oh, Mountain Sun, you know how to win my heart (while defeating my liver). 

We sampled a variety of summer ales, but both Boyfriend and I opted for a pint of Mountain Sun's raspberry brew.  It was crisp, fruity, refreshing, and incredibly smooth.  I wish that it was a beer that I could find locally at a distributor.  

It did not take Boyfriend more than a minute after opening his menu to slam it closed on the table and say "I know what I'm getting." The burger from last summer that been haunting his taste buds was once again about to be at his mercy.  Boyfriend's beloved Date Night Burger is a 1/3 lb. patty served with hickory smoked bacon, roasted poblano peppers, goat cheese, and date purée.  He also ordered fries rather than chips.  

His burger was just as Boyfriend had remembered.  The blend of seemingly abrasive flavors blended together harmoniously to create a sense of burger bliss in Boyfriend.  I didn't sample his Date Night Burger, but the look on Boyfriend's face said enough.

I ordered the Basil Bleu Burger, a delicious medium-cooked patty smothered in a dressing made of basil and bleu cheese, garnished with a basil leaf.  The dressing had a pesto-quality, but the tang of the bleu cheese really stood out.  

I devoured my burger and most of my fries, which I used to scrape up any of the basil-bleu cheese dressing that may have dripped onto the paper beneath the burger.  It was the kind of meal that requires no conversation because you're too busy chewing and savoring.  

The fries were freshly cut and appropriately salted.  Mountain Sun's menu proclaims that any imperfect fries will be taken away and replaced, but I couldn't even pretend to have a complaint about any part of my meal.  

After our bellies could fit no more, Boyfriend and I paid our bill and ventured back into Pearl Street for more performers... And when we had a tiny space in our stomachs, we filled it quickly with ice cream.

We are home now and reacquainted with our furry family, but memories of the trip are still fresh.  We experienced some amazing views, hip locales, and delicious food, but I can easily say that my Basil Bleu Cheeseburger from the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery was my favorite meal.  

I look forward to a return trip to Denver next year, but not for the sights, not for the legal marijuana, and not for the high altitudes.  I look forward to the Mountain Sun Pub and waiting for a table at the bar with some free samples. 

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