Travel Tuesday: The Best Pizza in Naples, Italy

DSC_1091

(Also known as: The pizza that ruined my life.)

Since 2/3 of my family is in Italy right now (they left me and my littlest sister at home — don’t bring it up), I thought it was fitting to do a Travel Tuesday post on Italy since it’s been on my brain lately. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled through Italy quite extensively, north to south, coast to coast and I could write an individual blog post on each of the 12 cities/towns I’ve visited since each has its own unique characteristics. But today I decided to take a foodie spin on things.

Italy is a place very close to my heart. My family hails from Italy, and I’m a second generation American. On my last trip to Italy, I even got to visit my relatives over there and see the town my grandma and relatives were raised in. And boy, is that a hysterical story. But we’ll save that one for another day. Today, we’re talking about pizza!

Prior to visiting my relatives on my most recent trip, my travel buddy and I stopped in Naples for a couple of days as we made our way south. I had heard mixed reviews of Naples – can be a little bit of a rough city, but worth it for the pizza. And I am not one to pass up on a foodie experience, so we added it to our itinerary and I’m so glad we did. They say the best pizza comes from Naples and I have to say, I agree.

Have you ever had something so good that it ruined you for that type of food from anywhere else? Well I have, and it was this pizza from the famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. It’s been around since 1870 and hasn’t changed a thing about the pizza recipe throughout the years — Grandfather Michele’s tradition of leavening the dough and using only natural ingredients still stands.

IMG_0687

L’Antica is a no-frills place. The walls are white, the floor is white, and the tables are formica. If you go at lunchtime or dinnertime, you’ll probably have to wait forever in line (but it will be worth it). We went around 3pm, and waited maybe 20 minutes. There are only two types of pizza at L’Antica – Margherita and Marinara (sans cheese). These are the two traditional Neapolitan pizza styles; no added veggies, no added meat, no funky toppings.

IMG_0696

I ordered the Margherita because I can’t fathom eating pizza without cheese, but one of our local friends ordered the Marinara style. You get an individual pizza, which is common in most Italian pizza joints, and you are expected to eat the entire thing. Don’t ever insult an Italian cook by not eating all of their food! The pizzas are huge and definitely more than enough for one person, but I ate every single bite because after the first bite, there was no way I was letting this go to waste.

(Thanks to my travel bud Danielle Brown for this photo)

(Thanks to my travel bud Danielle Brown for this photo)

Remember in Eat Pray Love where Elizabeth Gilbert says she’s having a relationship with her pizza? Yep, this is the place she goes to. And I can say, without a doubt, I understand what she means when she says that. It was so perfectly simple but so perfectly cooked and so perfectly tasty and just so perfectly everything. Neapolitan pizza is characteristically known for having a thin, chewy crust. This is not typical of our pizzas here in America. We normally have thick and chewy or thin and crispy. But a thin, chewy, and doughy crust is quite possibly my favorite. The crust is slathered with a thin layer of sweet and tangy tomato sauce and then topped with melted pearls of fresh mozzarella, garnished with a single basil leaf.

photo (6)

I ate every. single. bite. And I’ll always remember my friends cheering me on as I took that final bite of that final piece. This pizza has both made my life and also ruined my life, because now I can never be fully satisfied with pizza that is not from L’Antica. Also did I mention these pizzas only cost €4-5??

DSC_1097

If you are visiting Naples, or considering planning a trip to southern Italy, you have got to factor L’Antica into your trip. Trust me, it’s worth it for the life changing pizza. And Naples is also going through a bit of resurgence. The city gets a bad rap for being a little dangerous, and while there are rough parts of town, there are also beautiful areas of the city, such as the trendy dining district along the waterfront. You just have to know the parts to avoid and you’ll be fine (and most locals can tell you this). Also the gorgeous views of Mount Vesuvius over the harbor don’t hurt either!

DSC_0006

Other foodie delights in Naples:

Pizza isn’t the only thing Naples is known for. They also make some fabulous pastries. There are a number of varieties typical to Naples, but my favorite were Sfogliatelle and Baba au Rhum. Sfogliatelle is kind of like an extravagant croissant made from flaky layers similar to puff pastry. It is crispy, intricate, and filled with a custard ricotta mixture. Baba au Rhum are little cakes soaked in rum syrup. These pastries are the perfect sweet treat on an Italian morning (or afternoon, or night).

Advertisements

Travel Tuesday: Tulum, Mexico

DSC_1006

In keeping with the spring break theme, this Travel Tuesday’s feature is Tulum, Mexico and its surrounding areas. If you’ve picked up any travel magazine or read any travel website lately, you’ve probably noticed that Tulum is getting a lot of attention recently as a food, nature, and luxury resort destination.

Tulum is located in Riviera Maya in the Quintana Roo territory of Mexico. Situated about an hour and a half south of Cancun, Tulum is perfect for those looking for a more “adult” (aka calm) spring break getaway. There is plenty to see in and around Tulum (within 30 minutes), including sparkling white sand beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, and natural swimming holes. Unlike Cancun, the beaches aren’t stacked with high-rise flashy resorts. You’ll find more secluded, boutique hotels.

I visited Tulum in March 2012 and had a phenomenal trip. The natural beauty of the area is breathtaking and we enjoyed the serenity of the beaches.

DSC_1011

What to Do

Tulum Ruins:
This is one of the main tourist destinations in Tulum, but it’s an absolute must-do. It’s the archeological site of a Mayan city, and it’s built on a cliff overlooking the ocean so the views will take your breath away. You can also see the Voladores de Papantla, which are men who perform a traditional Mayan routine where they spin down from the top of a high pole (kind of like a may pole).

DSC_0056.JPG

DSC_0024

Gran Cenote (natural swimming hole):
Gran Cenote is about 10 minutes from the Tulum ruins and it was one of my favorite things we did. A cenote is basically a natural hole in the ground that caved in to expose natural underground water. Cenotes are known for having the purest, cleanest water, so they make you shower before going in if you’re wearing sunscreen, lotion, etc. The water is fresh water and it’s crystal clear. You can swim, snorkel, or scuba in the pool. There are caves you can swim through and there are little fish and turtles but nothing that will bite ya. It was the most peaceful, serene thing I’ve ever experienced.

DSC_0102

DSC_0109

Coba Ruins:
These are a little further (about 45 mins from Tulum), but another neat sight to see. It’s another Mayan archeological site but it’s in a huge national park. You can rent bikes for $2 (which is what we did) and bike around the park and through the ruins. There is also a large pyramid that you can climb to the top of. (You can’t climb any ruins at Tulum or the famous Chichen Itza ruins).

DSC_0089

Snorkel with sea turtles at Playa Akumal:
This beach about 20 minutes from Tulum is known as Turtle Beach. We went snorkeling here because I wanted to see sea turtles and it was the best snorkeling experience of my life. You can rent snorkeling equipment and snorkel close to shore, but we went out with a guide ($10 per person) who supplied equipment and took us on a boat ride farther out. We got to swim beside huge sea turtles and it was amazing. We saw about 6 total, and 3 of them were bigger than me. It’s amazing to watch them swim underwater because they’re so graceful and it looks like they’re flying. We also saw schools of tropical fish and even a few stingrays.

DSCN0759.JPG

Where to Stay

We stayed at Al Cielo, a boutique hotel with 4 suites and 4 villas, about 20 minutes from Tulum in Xpu-Há. All of the buildings have thatched roofs and dark wood beams, giving it a natural feel. The resort is beachfront, so all we had to do was step out our door to enjoy pristine white sand and bright turquoise water. Guests can take advantage of the cabanas and lounge chairs set up on the beach.

DSC_1025

DSC_0152

The hotel has also gotten high regards for their culinary program, headed up by renowned chef Francisco Morales Tress. Each morning, we had fresh fruit and breakfast pastries in the open air cafe, and each night we dined on the beach on dishes such as paella, piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, fresh shrimp, and marinated crab salad. My absolute favorite thing we ate was the ceviche of white fish, shrimp, and octopus. We literally ordered it every day on the beach as an afternoon snack served to us in our cabana. It was so fresh and flavorful, and served with homemade tortilla chips.

DSCN0715

DSCN0764

I would highly recommend Al Cielo to anyone looking for a quiet place to stay with great service and even better food, and Tulum for a beautiful beach vacation that can be as relaxing or as activity-filled as you want it to be.

(Keep in mind most of the prices on these linked sites are in pesos, so things aren’t expensive as you might think at first! For example, right now 100 Mexican pesos is about $6.50.)

Travel Tuesday: Best Restaurants in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Orange Beach, Alabama

Breaking news: Alabama has a coast with beaches. You would be surprised at how many people don’t know this and have actually said to me, “Wait, Alabama has a coast?” I knew Alabama had beaches, but never thought much about them growing up (I grew up in NC), but once I moved down here I realized we actually have some pretty beautiful beaches.

The 50 miles of Alabama shoreline butt up to Florida’s Emerald Coast, which as you know, has some of the most beautiful beaches (Destin, anyone?). But since we’re right next to it, we get those same beauty benefits. With white sand and blue-green water, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are definitely worth a visit. And with spring break coming up, it’s the perfect excuse to book a trip to the Gulf Coast.

I went to Orange Beach again just recently and decided it was about time I made a list of the best beach eats down there. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are right next to each other, so I’m including places at both.

Best Fried Seafood
Mikee’s in Gulf Shores has the best fried shrimp in the area. They are served to you steaming hot from the fryer (I know this because of the temperature, duh, but also because our waiter told us it would take a little longer since they fry them fresh). I appreciate this. I would much rather wait a few more minutes (and honestly it doesn’t take long at all) then eat soggy shrimp that has been sitting out for a while. The breading at Mikee’s is also perfect. It full coats the shrimp but isn’t overwhelmingly heavy. I hate when the breading is crumbly and falling off the shrimp or too heavy. Mikee’s is not like that. AND you can do all-you-can-eat fried shrimp, catfish, or whitefish and it’s only like $3 more than the regular platter.

Pro Tip: Ask for a side of the tartar sauce. It’s by request only since it’s homemade.

IMG_4892

Best Sushi and Best Happy Hour
Cosmo’s in Orange Beach is a fabulous restaurant for sushi and/or a nice dinner of steak or seafood. We went for sushi and ordered some appetizers as well. For appetizers, the Firecracker Shrimp is a must. The shrimp are fried and tossed in a spicy remoulade sauce. We also had the crab cakes with a roasted yellow pepper aoili and remoulade. Also delicious. For sushi, we got a Philly Roll, Shrimp Roll, and Volcano Roll. The Shrimp and Philly Rolls were extremely fresh tasting and also the perfect bite size (I hate huge sushi pieces). But the Volcano Roll is what steals the show. Topped with a spicy krab salad, the roll comes out looking unlike anything you’ve ever seen. But once you pull a piece off, you have a warm, flavorful roll filled with tuna, red pepper, and asparagus. The krab salad is what makes it though. It was so, so good. I literally crave it every day now.

Pro Tip: Go for happy hour. Certain appetizers and sushi rolls are $5, and it’s $1 off all other sushi rolls.

IMG_4975

Best Bushwacker and Royal Red Shrimp
One of the most popular places down on the Gulf coast is the Florabama, the bar that sits on the Florida-Alabama line. It’s a dive bar, but they have the best Bushwackers on the coast and some damn good Royal Red Shrimp. You’re probably wondering what both of these things are if you’re not from the area. A Bushwacker is basically an alcoholic milkshake commonly made with Kahlua, Creme de Cacao, rum, and cream of coconut. They are awesome, and Florabama makes them the way they should be – thick, cold, and strong.

IMG_5077

Royal Red Shrimp are a type of shrimp only found 100 miles off the coast of Orange Beach. They were originally considered bycatch, but then someone tasted them and realized they were delicious. Their skin has a bright red color and they have a texture and sweet taste similar to that of lobster. Florabama offers them steamed and tossed in Cajun seasoning with melted butter to dip them in. They are phenomenal, and are cheaper, better, and easier to eat than one of the more famous place to get Royal Reds — King Neptune’s (who serves them with the heads on for $8 more meaning you get less shrimp since it’s done by weight).

Pro Tip: Go during the day, especially if you’re with the family. Things can get a little rowdy at night, and they charge a cash-only cover on certain nights.

IMG_5104

Best Dessert
If you listen to one thing I tell you, make it to go get the Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pie from Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores. It. Is. Out. Of. This. World. We ate it more times than we should have in one weekend. It isn’t dense like some peanut butter pies; it has a light and airy texture with the perfect combination of sweet peanut buttery filling and an Oreo crust. Get it topped with whipped cream and thank me later.

Pro Tip: One slice is big enough for two people to share. Trust me, it’s huge.

IMG_5101

Best Breakfast
If you love a good donut in the morning, you have to check out City Donut in Orange Beach. They have a huge selection of donut flavors and you can tell they are all made fresh. We ordered a half a dozen and tried a variety of cream filled, cake, and old-fashioned donuts. The Bavarian Cream and Red Velvet were my favorite. (Disclaimer: there are obviously places to get heartier breakfasts in the area, but I just love donuts.)

Pro Tip: Go early. They often sell out of the most popular donut flavors since they make them fresh each morning.

IMG_4993

Now take these recommendations and get a drink in your hand and your toes in the sand!

Travel Tuesday: Dublin, Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m going to start doing Travel Tuesday posts (it’s a thing on Twitter) that will be listicles or quick hits of info about places I’ve traveled. Since there are many travel destinations I’ve visited in the past but haven’t blogged about, I thought it would be fun to go back and incorporate some of those places, in addition to recent destinations.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, it seemed only appropriate that I feature Dublin as my first destination. I visited Dublin in November 2010 with my good friend, Clinton. We stayed with Clinton’s Irish relatives who cooked the most delicious Irish food for us each day. I ate everything from Corned Beef & Cabbage to Beef Stew to Black Pudding (aka blood sausage). Black Pudding is surprisingly delicious…

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

We walked around Dublin and saw all of the famous sites, such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College, and Christ Church Cathedral. But my favorite part about Dublin was the Guinness Storehouse. Of course, it is a super tourist attraction, and you have to buy a ticket to get in (it includes a free pint), but the exhibits are really fun and informative. We learned about everything from how Guinness is made to some of the company’s most famous advertising stunts. After you make your way through the multiple floors of exhibits, you can cash in on your free pint on the top-floor bar featuring 365-degree views of Dublin. It really is worth the ticket price.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

My perfectly poured pint of Guinness

Dublin doesn’t top my list of favorite cities, but I enjoyed my time there. What really makes Dublin (and Ireland in general) special is the people. Everyone we encountered was so friendly and welcoming and always down to have a good time. Maybe that’s why St. Paddy’s Day is such a fun holiday to celebrate! (And it is Paddy, not Patty, because it is derived from the Irish “Pádraig.”)

So go get yourself a pint of Guinness (ditch the green beer) and celebrate St. Paddy’s day the Irish way!

Fun facts about Guinness:

  • Guinness should be allowed to settle after pouring and before drinking. There should be a distinct line between the dark beer and the light foamy head. If the colors are still blending together and the beer looks light brown, wait a few minutes and it will settle.
  • Guinness is also great for cooking! I love to add a bottle of it to chocolate cake batter or into the ground beef mixture in a Shepherd’s Pie. It adds a nice richness and another level of flavor.
  • Irish Car Bombs (a shot of Jameson and Bailey’s dropped in half a pint of Guinness) were invented in America and are pretty offensive to those of Irish heritage (and others). Don’t try to order one in Ireland. And maybe just don’t order one at all…
  • If dark beers or beers in general aren’t your thing, give Bulmers Irish Cider (sold as Magners outside of the Republic of Ireland) a try. Hard ciders are popular in Ireland and the UK, and they have a crisp taste with hints of fruit. Before I really got into beer, cider was my “gateway beer.”

My Atlanta Restaurant Bucket List

Happy Thursday, and sorry it’s been a little while since posting! I spent this past weekend in Atlanta, visiting a good friend from college. Since Atlanta and Birmingham are only 2 hours apart, we take turns visiting each other in our respective cities. And since he is a foodie like me, the first thing we always plan is what restaurants we’re going to eat at. I would be lying if I said our trips aren’t almost completely based on getting to visit new restaurants…

photo (3)

Like any good foodie, I have restaurant bucket lists for most cities, and Atlanta is no exception. In fact, I think my list for Atlanta is probably one of the longest. There is so much going on in their food scene now. I need to spend a whole month just eating there! But alas, we only had a weekend, but we packed in as much food as possible!

Here’s what we checked off this time:

The Optimist:
I have been wanting to go to Ford Fry’s seafood restaurant for quite a while now. I had heard amazing things about it, and as a lover of good seafood, I couldn’t pass it up. And it lived up to expectations. I knew from the minute they brought out their homemade rolls, it was going to be a good dinner. The rolls were soft, pillowy, brushed with melted butter, and sprinkled with sea salt. I could have eaten 20 of them. Seriously, I am praising a restaurant’s dinner rolls. For an appetizer, I order the Frothy She-Crab Soup, which was served in an individual soup crock with shrimp toast on the side. It was thinner in consistency than most she-crab soups, but I liked this because it felt less heavy. However, it was a large portion for an appetizer and could have been split with someone.

photo 4 (3)

For my entree, I ordered the monkfish with tomato fumet, squid, octopus, and clams, on the recommendation of the waiter saying it was the chef’s favorite dish. Monkfish is a firm white fish, often compared to the texture of lobster. It was lightly battered and fried and the fumet provided flavor without overwhelming.

photo 5 (2)

But the real star of the show was the corn milk hushpuppies served “beignet style” (aka fried and topped with powdered sugar) and served with cane syrup butter. Y’all, these were so.good. I wanted all of them but had to be nice and share with the table. Also, the brussels sprouts with candied bacon and charred jalapeño vinaigrette were so delicious and filled with flavor. We ended dinner with the banana cake, which, while very tasty and enjoyable, wasn’t anything to write home about.

photo 1 (5)

The General Muir
I added The General Muir, a Jewish delicatessen, to my list the second my friend sent me a picture of their Pastrami Poutine. Yes, Pastrami Poutine. I thought I had died and gone to heaven, too. We decided to do General Muir for brunch on Saturday with another friend of mine. We immediately ordered the poutine and it was everything I knew it would be. It was covered in a rich gravy and topped with crisped pastrami and salty cheese curds. (Side note on cheese curds: people think they are weird and gross, but they just taste like a saltier version of whatever cheese they are made from. I fell in love with them in Wisconsin and now never pass up a chance to get them.)

photo 3 (4)

For my main dish, I had the Poached Eggs and Grits. The grits were made with gruyere and topped with roasted mushrooms in a madeira sauce. It was a wonderful dish with clean flavors. I could have eaten a whole bowl of just the grits alone. I also tried bites of my friends’ smoked sable on a bagel with cream cheese and Pecan Crusted French Toast (made from challah bread – yum). Everything was done very well and incorporated Jewish flavors into both authentic and Southern-influenced dishes. Another side note: I think this is what I like most about Atlanta’s food scene – that they are able to take these flavors from all over the world and put a Southern spin on things to represent the region and culture.

photo 2 (6)

Holeman and Finch
You may have heard about Holeman and Finch in regards to their famous burger, but I’m here to tell you there is more to H&F than just the burger (although it is seriously amazing). H&F is a great place to go and get some cocktails while trying a bunch of dishes from the menu. Nothing comes in huge portions and there are plenty of snacks and starters if you just want to do drinks and apps. Since there are so many intriguing options on the menu, my best advice is to share, share, share. Two of us ordered four snacks and two entrees (plates) and split everything. It was the best decision we made.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The snacks all condensed great flavors and innovation into small bites. We loved the Deviled Eggs Three Ways (pork, hot & spicy, and bread-and-butter pickle) and the Pimiento Cheese with sesame crackers. For our entrees, we got the Carbonara and the Burger. We considered not getting the burger since we had both already had it at Turner Field (they have a burger stand there), but it’s so good we couldn’t resist. We were also really impressed by the carbonara, which was full of garlicky, cheesy flavor and made even creamier by stirring in the farm-fresh egg yolk on top. Also, H&F has an incredible creative cocktail menu, so make sure you order one to sip on. Important to note: Holeman and Finch is a small place, and it fills up fast, so make sure to make a reservation before you go (you can easily do it online here).

photo 4 (2)

Krog Street Market
This food hall and market opened just recently in the Inman Park area and I had been dying to go. Located in a restored warehouse, the market is full of stalls serving specialty foods and selling crafts and locally-made goods. There are sit-down restaurants flanking the outside of the market and food stalls and community seating inside. I immediately gravitated to Yalla, a Middle Eastern food stall by Todd Ginsberg. I had gotten a couple of good recommendations about it, and I’m never one to pass up Middle Eastern food. I loved the ability to mix and match your dish that Yalla provided. You first choose weather you want a bowl, pita, or laffa (wrap), and then choose meat, falafel, or vegetables, and then all of the sauces, spreads, and dips you want to add. They also have a few special creations. I opted for the Layla’s Falafel in a bowl, which had falafel fritters, zhug (a Middle Eastern hot sauce), hummus, pickled cabbage, fennel, labne, greens, and tahini. I also opted to add baba ganoush because I love it. And I’m so glad I did – the baba was some of the best I’ve had. Everything mixed together in the bowl was such a delicious combo, and the falafel wasn’t dry (it’s my biggest pet peeve when it is). Oh and Yalla has housemade sodas, so I ordered a Strawberry, Lemon, Clove, and Vanilla one. So good!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

My friend got the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich (also from Todd Ginsberg) at Fred’s Meat & Bread. It was also quite tasty. We really loved the seasoned Southern BBQ fries with Alabama White BBQ Sauce (represent!) to dip them in. For a sweet treat, we got ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. They have some of the most unique flavors. I opted for the Buckeye (chocolate and peanut butter) with The Milkiest Chocolate, but I also sampled Goat Cheese & Cherry, Whiskey & Pecan, Dark Chocolate, and Brown Butter Almond Brittle. Jeni’s has several locations around the U.S. but they are always a solid choice for creamy, rich ice cream.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

After all this food indulging, we walked the completed section of the Beltline from Krog to Piedmont Park. It was a beautiful day outside and a great way to end another fun weekend in Atlanta! Can’t wait for my next trip to check even more restaurants off the list.

Want to know what else is on my Atlanta list? Here are some of my must-trys (those with strike-throughs have been visited since the time I first posted this list):

  • Miller Union
  • Empire State South
  • JCT Kitchen
  • Bacchanalia
  • Gun Show
  • King + Duke (read post here)
  • The Ladybird
  • South City Kitchen
  • Lusca
  • Cakes & Ale
  • One Eared Stag
  • BoccaLupo
  • Le Fat
  • St. Cecilia

The South Goes International

If you saw my previous post, you know I recently took a trip to London. And if you read that post, I talked about the blossoming food scene in the city. But in this post I wanted to share with you one food trend that I saw that definitely wasn’t around when I was there in 2010: Southern food! I almost didn’t believe it at first either, but the more places we went, the more Southern food I saw. I knew Southern food had become trendy across the United States (with BBQ restaurants opening in Brooklyn and fried green tomatoes on menus in LA), but I had no idea it had made it across the pond.

We obviously didn’t eat any of this Southern food (because why eat what we can get at home), but I couldn’t help but take pictures of a few of the menus because I just thought it was so funny. Whether it was just a few dishes infiltrating the menu, or the whole restaurant themed Southern, it was definitely a prominent food trend.

photo 1 (2)Pulled Pork from a stand at Borough Market
So funny story, this older (British) man walked by me at the market with this sandwich that smelled so delicious that I just had to ask what it was. He showed me his sandwich all excitedly and said “It’s pulled pork from a stand over there!” I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized the smell that was tempting me was a scent familiar of home. Leave off the kimchi and you’ve got yourself a good ol’ Southern speciality.

photo 2 (2)Burgers from All Bar One
These burgers from All Bar One definitely have some Southern flair to them. Pulled pork was definitely one of the most common themes I saw in London’s Southern food. And I love that they give a description for what bacon jam is. Honey, we’ve been making that in the South for years!

photo 3 (2)Southern Specialties from Stax Diner
This diner is an American-themed restaurant and the menu was definitely heavy with Southern dishes. Po’ Boys? Chicken and Waffles? And hey, you’ve gotta give them props for using buttermilk for their fried chicken. But the funniest thing on the menu was the Whistle Stop Sandwich. If you’re not familiar with the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, the Whistle Stop cafe is the cafe run by the main characters in the movie. What makes this even funnier is that the actual Whistle Stop Cafe, known as the Irondale Cafe, is just 5 miles down the road from my home here in Birmingham! It was funny to see the small little Irondale neighborhood represented so far away, and I couldn’t help but wonder if many Brits know where the Whistle Stop is.

The Best Dishes I Ate in London

This past MLK Day, I took an extended long weekend and went to London! London is my favorite city in the world, and I hadn’t been back since I studied abroad there more than 4 years ago. Back in October, I’d found a US Airways flight for 30,000 miles roundtrip (normally it’s about 60,000-70,000 to go to Europe) and knew I had to book it immediately since I had a lot of frequent flyer miles anyway. I convinced one of my friends from Birmingham to come along with me and later a friend of mine in Florida decided to book her trip as well! It was a great reunion with friends and the city I love.

Now I could go on and on about everything we did but I wanted to share some of my favorite eats with you. The London food scene is booming, and it’s definitely evolved since I was there in 2010. Not to say there wasn’t good food there before, because there definitely was, but it’s taken on a trendier, more farm-to-table, artisan-cooking feel. They’re modernizing British cuisine and incorporating many of the flavors and cultures of the city into cool new restaurants that are popping up everywhere. It was fun to see (and taste)!

Here are some of the top dishes I had:

Bread Ahead DonutsDonuts from Bread Ahead at Borough Market These donuts. Oh my goodness. I have never had a better donut in my life. I got the Salted Caramel Honeycomb Donut and let me tell you, I could have eaten a dozen of them. The dough was so moist and bready, but not in a heavy way. It had the perfect combination of lightness and denseness (I promise you this makes sense if you could try them). And the cream. Oh my worddd the cream. You could tell it was homemade and the salted caramel flavor was not overly sweet and paired perfectly with the crispy honeycomb piece on top.

photo 1 (1)Vegetarian Curry from Gujurati Rasoi at Borough Market You can’t go to London and not get Indian food. It’s some of the best. So on that first day when we went to Borough Market (one of my favorite markets in London) and we passed a stand with some of the best looking vegetarian curry I’ve ever seen, I knew I had to try it. You could choose two or three curries, served over Basmati rice, and top them with cilantro, onions, tamarind sauce, and other toppings. I opted for the Cauliflower Curry and Lentil Curry. The flavors were so complex, not too spicy, and the perfect belly-warming meal on a chilly London day. (Sorry guys, curry does not photograph pretty)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetCauliflower Mac and Cheese and Hiver Honey Beer from Whyte and Brown Ok so apparently I ate a lot of cauliflower on this trip. But anyway, Whyte and Brown is in Kingly Court off Carnaby Street and is known for their free-range chicken dishes and craft beer. I actually did not get a chicken dish, but my friend did and loved it. I opted for the crab and avocado toast with a side of cauliflower mac and cheese. Both were delicious, but I especially loved the use of ditalini pasta for the mac and cheese. The real standout though was the recommended accompanient to the crab toast, a Hiver Honey Beer. It’s made from the honey of London’s urban beekeepers and is one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

photo 4Falafel from Kazan Let me start by saying everything we ate at this Turkish restaurant in Victoria was amazing. It was hard to choose just one dish. We ordered an appetizer sampler (vegetarian mezze platter) to share and then I had chicken shish kebabs with grilled vegetables for my entree. Everything was great, but what really stood out was the falafel on our mezze platter. It wasn’t dry like some falafels tend to be, and the ingredients inside weren’t as finely chopped and ground, so you got a lot of texture, crunch, and flavor. I couldn’t get enough of it. Also, we had amazing Turkish lemonade to drink, made with fresh mint, lime & lemon juice, rose water, and grenadine.

photo 5Beef Carbonnade from Belgo We went to a Belgian restaurant in Covent Garden one night on the recommendation of a friend since the day trip we were supposed to take to Brussels on Saturday didn’t happen (long story – but for the best, a fire in the channel tunnel caused train shutdowns for two days). I ordered the Beef Carbonnade, which is beef stew made with apples, plums, and Gueuze beer. It was served with stoemp mash, a traditional Belgian dish made of creamed potato with carrots, savoy cabbage, and leeks. The stew reminded me of my favorite German dish, Sauerbraten, due to it’s slight sweetness and heartiness. And of course, I ordered a Delirium Tremens beer to go with it (one of the most famous beers from Belgium)!

I hope you enjoyed reading about these dishes as much as I enjoyed eating them! Stay tuned for some more posts about London and make sure to check out these places if you make it across the pond.