June 4, 2011

Long Island, not just for Jay Gatsby Anymore

Fieeeeld Triiiip kiddies! We’re leaving Denton, Texas and going home to my old stomping grounds in New York.

NY – It’s immortalized in countless songs, movies, plays, pop culture, and the general consciousness. But, when you think of NY, you think of New York City (NYC), right? And why not? Take a trip to NYC, and it’s impossible not to have fun. If all you do is grab a double-decker bus tour (I know!) and make it to TKTS so you can see a show for half price, you’ll have a good time. I guarantee it. Throw a museum or a couple good meals on top, and you’ll never want to leave. But NYC is not all of NY. In fact, it’s the smallest part. Have you seen the signs around DFW that tell you our airport is bigger than Manhattan? It’s true. That’s how small ‘the city’ is. And the city is just one of 5 boroughs, as you know.

Despite the fact that both Queens and Brooklyn are actually on Long Island (LI) (and if you fly into La Guardia or JFK, you’re flying into Queens) most folks head northwest into Manhattan and never, ever head east to see the ridiculous beauty that is on LI, much less venture ‘upstate’. Long Island is so beautiful in fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald located Jay Gatsby's house there. For photos of that mansion, called Land's End, in real life, and links to other sites about it, see Jenn Ross's blog. It's also rumored that Captain Kidd hid some treasure here.

I recently had to make a quick trip back to the island, to my old home on the east end, north fork, and even I was caught flat-footed by the beauty of this place. I haven’t been back in like 5 years, and that was early autumn, I believe. This time I was fortunate enough to be there in early May, the latter part of spring. Holy Moly. The lilacs were blooming, the last of the forsythia was out, the cherry trees were in bloom, the sun was shining, but the breeze was cool, the water at the beaches was clear – though waaay too cold to swim in, and the architecture is… ridiculously diverse. Naturally, I didn’t take any pictures, ‘cause I suck like that. I really am sorry about that, kids. The nature of my visit sort of precluded photos. Next time I’ll go snap happy. In the meantime, I’ve tried to give you a bunch of links.

Since my stay was so brief and my historical knowledge and experience so deep, I don’t know if I can make fresh recommendations for what would be an awesome trip for everyone; I’m too close to it. What I can do is tell you about the fun things I did on this last visit, the places I saw, and what that all reminded me of, from my life there. I will say, I do think you’d enjoy the trip I had, but again, I’m biased.

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed the drive down the Long Island Expressway (LIE) (and back up the Sunrise Highway). No joke. It’s a pleasant, beautiful jaunt, and 1.5 hours will take you from Queens to the far east end of the island. The drivers in NY are competent, maintain braking distance, and didn't seem to feel like they had anything to prove. And, because no one tailgates, people can get on & off the highway with no problem – a nice break from our local driving conditions, right? (Sadly, it confirms something I've suspected for a long time - that N. Texas has the nastiest, most insecure, worst drivers in the US. What’s up with us?) For real, I didn't experience or receive road rage the entire time I was there and finally conquered my fear of driving to or from the airports. Kind of freeing.

Anyway, as I headed east, I turned north at Riverhead, and it’s in Riverhead that I can recommend the Best Market. I've heard it described as an import grocery store that has good prices, fresh produce, jellies from Poland, and the best cheeses you’ll find. I can personally attest to those cheeses – delightful. Plus they’re near a liquor store. Why do I mention this? Because you might just be loading up for a picnic at one of the parks or beaches or stocking a vacation rental.

Best is also across the street from a Dunkin Donuts (which isn't as rare and noteworthy to my NT readers, as it once was) and the Tanger Outlet. I didn't visit this time, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s a swanky outlet center, and I heard two ladies in the JFK departure lounge talking about the excellent deals they got on Coach purses.

So now you know.

If you end up detoured onto the main road in Riverhead, you’ll see a bit of a rundown street (although the surrounding buildings were more architecturally interesting than I realized, as a kid), and if you’re there, you might want to swing into the Salvation Army Family Store, if you like thrifting. This place yielded some magnificent results, when I was a teenager – including a 60’s vintage men’s jacket – thin lapels, pale mustard, printed with slightly darker mustard kanji characters and a Lord & Taylor label.

If you've worked up an appetite, step into the Star Confectionary. The only thing that’s changed in this place in 25 years is the name. When I was there regularly, it was known as Papa Nick’s. Go early though, it’s only open for breakfast & lunch. I think they close at 3pm? Even if diner food doesn't excite you, leave room for their ice cream - homemade on the premises. And, there’s a Greek place right across the street you could try your luck with. This part of the island has no shortage of Greek food.

Now, if you keep on coming east, you’ll pass through Mattituck. Even if you JUST had ice cream in Riverhead, you’ll have to save room or get a pint to go at Magic Fountain. Can I tell you, as kid, I was fascinated by the idea that this used to be a Dairy Queen? I’d heard of DQ, but I’d never actually seen one. I know! Now that I have both seen and eaten at several, I can tell you – without hesitation – Dairy Queen can’t hold a scepter to Magic Fountain. I mean, look at the flavors list. Heavens! Even Beth Marie’s can’t keep up, and you know how good that is!

If you want to eat something more substantial, you might check out The Old Mill Inn, which had very good clam chowder and the best burgers, when I was a kid. And a view - of the water. Did I mention that? Yeah. A nice change from our usual vistas of parking lots, amirite NT? If all you do is grab a snack and a drink, you'll love relaxing by the water.

Or, you might prefer Love Lane Kitchen. True story, when I lived there, this was a card and gift store. Now, it’s a cozy restaurant, with a slightly fancy schmancy menu, which can also feed you gluten free! Nice. Note: Every Tuesday they offer a different three course, prefix Italian menu. It looks delightful, but it is the only thing on offer, so do check before you go. If you're there in the summer, don't miss the lobster roll (which can be severed bunless). In fact, if you're anywhere on the island, in the summer, check out the lobster roll.

And you know, that’s something I noticed – all the time – how much nicer, cooler, more entertaining all of the North Fork was than I remember thinking as a bored teenager. I’ll bet just about everyone who goes back to where they grew up has this experience. Did you?

Now, you might take your ice cream or full belly down to the Mattiuck public beach, to swim or walk, or you might keep heading east towards Cutchogue. I mentioned previously that you’d be seeing bunches of farm stands. Well you’ll also start to see a lot of vineyards. No lie. There are even vineyard tours offered – in trolleys, limos and more limos. Surely there’s a more pedestrian small bus tour? Call in to any of the vineyards and ask – they’ll know. You definitely want to stop in and try some of the wine tasting menus or buy a bottle or two. I can recommend Peconic Bay Winery’s Steel Fermented Chardonnay. Now, if you’re thinking, “Oh God, not another chardonnay! I am all chardonnay-ed out.” Have no fear! I’m right with you in being exhausted from chardonnay, but steel fermented (or un-oaked) chardonnay is different – lighter, crisper. Just try it. Or not, they've got a bunch of other wines on offer. And, if you’re there in the warmer months, you’ll find they also have events, which you can enjoy with a glass of their finest. Of course, they are neither the only good wine producing vineyard, nor the only vineyard with events.

Continue on east (I swear, you’re almost to the end of the island) and you’ll hit Greenport. Park and walk around. There’s food, docks, beaches, galleries, the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and The Opportunity Shop Thrift store, where my grandmother used to volunteer, and where a high school friend picked up a complete sharkskin suit – for like a $1.50. I scored among many other things, a mandarin collared, geisha printed, cheongsam-style dress and a cream brocade Nehru jacket, both of which my sister K inherited and wore too. I’m sure I paid a buck or less for each. Bear in mind, this was years ago, but why wouldn't you check it out?

You can also pick up the ferry here to Shelter Island, if you like. From Shelter Island you can take another ferry to Montauk, and from there on to Mystic Connecticut – where Mystic Pizza is. Thought that was just a movie? Nope. It’s real. Mystic Seaport is also there. If you've never seen an actual whaling boat (tiny) or a tall ship (enormous), you'll love it.

Progress another mile or so into East Marion and you’ll eventually pass the Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant. I’ll be honest, I almost didn't mention this place, because I don’t really want to increase traffic here – I always want to be able to get a table, fast. However, I really do value my readers, and you will want to eat here if you're visiting. If nothing else, you’ll want to drink the fresh lemonade. Sweet Jesus, that’s good, gooood stuff. If you do not have to be gluten free, you also want to order the skordalia. Now skordalia is just a creamy garlic sauce, but here it’s served over fried eggplant and zucchini, and it’s just not the same with say, carrot sticks. Additionally, if you’re not gluten free, you’ll be happy to eat just about everything on this menu. If you ARE gluten free, like me, just ask the wait staff – or call ahead – to discern the GF offerings. I’ll bet there’s some delightful lamb special. Oh, and while we were there on a Tuesday (?) night, there was a wine special: buy two entrées and get a bottle for $9! Can’t beat that.

You say you want to go further east? Why not, you've made it this far! If you want to go all the way to the end of the island, keep on to Orient Point, where my grandfather kept his dock and boathouse.

What else? Well, we went to Hampton Bays and ate some amazing pan-Asian food at Matsulin. I couldn't believe it, but they had a soft-shelled crab special that was fried, but coated in corn starch! What's that? NOT wheat flour is what that is, and was gluten free for me. After, we walked on one of the beaches.

And just about now, something might be clicking for you, even if you thought you’d never heard of Long Island before. You might be thinking, “Hampton Bays? Hampton Bays? Oh wait! Is that The Hamptons?” Well sort of. Or not really. Hampton Bays is the unHampton and was actually kind of sketchy, when I was a kid. However, it, like everywhere else, seems much nicer now. I saw plenty of places I’d be perfectly happy to live in, in this nice little town. But, that does bring up “The Hamptons”, doesn't it?

OK. I didn't go any further up the south shore than Hampton Bays, and the Hampton you’re probably thinking of is Southampton. When I was a kid, it was loads of fun to come here in the summer and shop the stores that only really bloomed in the summer. I mean, there was a Saks Fifth Avenue that only opened for the summer season, and the sucking up at all shops was epic. (True story, my great aunt came to visit once, from Abilene, TX. Now, with her hair [enormous], makeup [lots] and accent [honeyed], there is NO WAY you could mistake her for anything other than the southern belle she is. And on this shopping/site-seeing trip, in the mid-80’s she was received and treated like the oil heiress they assumed she was. It was a hoot.) I haven’t been back in years, and I don’t know how I’d feel. In that time Southampton has gone from being a mostly working-class winter town, with a large, elegant (mostly) summer crowd to an exploded circus of celebrities, celebutantes and just flashy nouveau riche. Does that sound stuffy? I suppose I am, a bit, there. So sue me. However, you might very well enjoy seeing the show and shopping the excellent little stores and galleries. When we would go there as teenagers, we always ate at The Driver’s Seat. The burger with potato salad was excellent, and they had a bar/patio in the back. Looks like they have a patio in the front now, too.

I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? Really, the east end of Long Island is an easy place to get around, with tons of natural beauty, good food and diverse entertainment. Even if you don’t follow any of my recommendations, you’ll still enjoy yourself.

Oh, but one last thing. It’s not pronounced Lawn Guyland. I've never said that; I've never heard a native say that, and we don’t think it’s funny when other people say it that way. Now, you guys feel free to visit, and learn to love New York like I love New York!

October 15, 2010

I'll Have Another - 100 Cups of Coffee continued

This is going to round out my tour of Denton's coffee houses, though I'm sure new ones have sprung up, even as I was making my circuit. If I missed a particular favorite of yours, or you spotted a new one, please let us know. Additionally, I'm happy to report my friend my friend M was available to accompany me on this final tour.
We visited:
Cafe Du Luxe
If you've been reading my tweets, you may have guessed I've recently been diagnosed as gluten intolerant. That's almost as fun as it sounds. On the upside, however, I'm much less tired then I have been; in fact, I feel remarkably better, so I'm inclined to complain much less than I thought I might. On the downside, of course, eating is a bit less casual. In fact, after mentioning that I drink decaf, a friend who knows I have to eat gluten free (GF) told me recently, "You don't eat anything real!" I reminded him that I only eat real food, I just don't eat anything easy. So, I knew going into Cafe du Luxe, I'd have to pass on their sandwiches and pastries (damnit!), but I figured, even though no one had responded to the e-mail I sent a few days previously, that I'd be able to get a salad.
What I didn't expect was that no one at the counter or in the kitchen would know which of their salad dressings was gluten free. I mean, about 1 in 200 (or 1 in 133) people has some sort of gluten sensitivity, and we eat out!

Important lesson there, call ahead.

Anyway, after being pretty casually brushed aside by that day's cook, "We don't make any of our dressings or the black bean soup," I got a cup of decaf and a glass of water; M got a tomato & spinach quiche ("...not crispy, microwaved...") and a caramel, marked vanilla latte (pictured), and we sat down to compare notes. After I whipped out my laptop and started blogging, that same cook came out to tell me that the vinaigrettes and Caesar dressings were gluten free, but the bean soup was not. I hope my laptop didn't have anything to do with his improved customer service, but I wonder. Weirdly enough, a couple days after my visit, someone from the restaurant did answer my original e-mail. The very nice response I got was, in part:
We do not offer a gluten-free bread so we are unable to accommodate you on any of our sandwiches (unless you choose to order the sandwich without bread.) All of our salads can be modified to gluten-free when you request to leave off the croutons and baguette. All of our dressings are gluten-free as well. As for appetizers, our corn tortilla chips contain no gluten so we can offer our guacamole with chips and salsa, hummus with tortilla chips substituted for pita, and our freshly prepared shrimp ceviche. Our black bean soup is gluten-free and as far as our soup of the day any of our cooks would be happy to let you know whether or not it is a gluten-free soup. At this time we do not have any gluten-free desserts, unfortunately.

I am sorry for the limited menu options - the owner and I are working together at this time to expand our menu to accommodate our guests with special needs.

Well this is good news, if too late for my post, and that menu is not as limited as the writer seems to think. I can get by on soup, salad, corn chips and hummus easily. However, it was also a bit confusing, since the cook on duty had told me the soup was NOT GF, and so far, my two requests for clarification have gone unanswered.
So I repeat, call ahead, my GF dears, if you're on your way there.
Have you started thinking, "Enough already! They'll have to pry the pastries and flour tortillas out of my cold, dead hands, how-was-the-coffee"? Well, read on Mcduff.

Where?3101 Unicorn Lake Boulevard
Open 24 hrs?No. Mon - Thurs 5:30a - 10p;
Friday 5:30a - 11p; Sat. 6a - 11p;
Sun. 7a - 9p
What did you drink? What do you think? A small (12 oz.) cup of the decaf
Kinds of cupsMugs for in-house. Paper for to go.
Sugar/honey/raw?Yes/Yes/Yes/Yellow Stuff
Milk/cream/half&half? Yes, and in some really snazzy dispensers
Yeah, yeah, but how does it taste?!Not great. It was weak
What did M get? 12 oz Caramel 'marked' Vanilla latte
Was it good? Good, like dessert, and beautiful.
How much? $2.98
Bring Your Own Cup Discount?"Ahhhh, you'd have to talk to David about that."
Loyalty Card?No
Food or Pastries?Yes
WiFi?Yes - you have to buy something and get a code to use it
Atmosphere?New, mod-ish, generic.
A few upholstered seating areas, bar tables and barstools and small, round cafe tables
Crowd/Scene?Retirees and post-movie theatre crowd. I'll bet they get a ton of 'on the way to work'ers too
Study or Socialize?Socialize
Tea too?Yes. Numi
Sidewalk seating?Yes
Art?Yes. Changes monthly
Live Music?Occasionally
Anything else?Wine! $5 for a glass of the house Concha Y Toro Frontera Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Reasonable prices on the featured and specialty wines too

Cafe Du Luxe on Urbanspoon

Art Six
When we walked in and smelled the warm, delicious perfume of their coffee and saw the rich brown walls and stripped floors, I said to M, "I think we've found our spiritual home."
Then I gave her a sip of my decaf Americano, and we knew we'd found our level.

Located in an old house in a residential neighborhood (you know I like that) on Bryan St, Art Six has been serving joe since 2004, and I was so very pleased to see how well they're doing. What else can I say about this place? It was just really comfortable with good coffee; what more do you need? I will mention I loved their bathroom. I know that sounds random, but if you've ever lived in (and redone) an old house, you appreciate other people's work, and seeing groovy old details like you might still have (for instance, a cast iron, in-wall gas heater). See it.

M kept going on about how much she missed this place, and how we should just spend hours here, or re-do our circuit. So, that's another enthusiastic thumbs up.

Where?424 Bryan Street
Open 24 hrs?No. Their posted summer hours were:
M-F 11a -11p;
Sat 11a-12m;
Sun 2p -10p
What did you drink? A small decaf Americano
"It's stronger than the decaf."
Organic?Yes. House coffee and house espresso
Kinds of cupsChina mugs for in. Creepy styrofoam to go
Milk/cream/half&half? Half and Half and that creepy powdered creamer. Come on folks, really?
Price$2.50 for a ‘small’
Yeah, yeah, but how does it taste?!Really good
What M get? The daily staff pick - a vanilla latte frappe!
Was it good? So good I helped her finish it, but I'm a good friend like that
How much? $4.75 for a 20oz.
Bring Your Own Cup Discount?Don't know; don't think so
Loyalty Card?No
Food or Pastries?Bagels, soups, sandwiches, muffins, biscotti, smoothies, milkshakes and both root beer and Dr. Pepper floats
WiFi?Yes - Get the code from the barista
Atmosphere?Converted old house at the corner of Bryan and Scripture, one block from Fry Street.
3 rooms of tables, couches, and barstools.
Hipster Top 20 soundtrack, which, weirdly, cut in and out - like bad radio, and was nowhere near as annoying as it might have been, maybe because of the general awesomeness of the whole place
Crowd/Scene?Oh students all the way
Study or Socialize?I saw lots of both
Tea too?Yes. By the cup, the pot, or iced
Sidewalk seating?Backyard patio, and how nice is that? There's also a small front porch swing
Live Music?No
Anything else?Italian cream sodas and lemonade. You have no reason to go thirsty here

Art Six Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Cups and Crepes
You know I'm a big fan of mixed use and reuse, so there's no way I couldn't stop by Cups and Crepes. Located in a grandish, old pile on Fry St, this interesting venture has been in around since 2007, I believe. And, unlike all the other coffee houses on my tour, they're not concentrating onthe late-night crowd - thery're only open for breakfast and lunch.

So, one warm morning the SO and I ankled over there to get some breakfast and coffee. You know I stick to the plain jane coffee, and so does the SO, but there's a fancy-schmancy, cherry red, coffee machine, front and center when you enter, that looks like Ferrari might have designed it. If I wasn't on a mission, I absolutely would have fallen prey to its charms and ordered whatever it makes, just to see it in action. As it was, I got a cup of decaf, pancakes, bacon, and a scrambled egg. The SO got a cup of regular, scrambled eggs, toast, bacon. (Obviously, this visit was before I had to give up the gluten. And pancakes, ooooh pancakes.)

So let's talk about the coffee, shall we? I briefly tried to think of a synonym for excellent, but gave it up, because excellent perfectly characterizes this coffee. Strong, hot, smooth - even using honey instead of sugar - this was a cup of perfect. I don't know if it's their coffee or their brew method or if we just got lucky, but that's a cup of coffee I still remember. How many cups of Joe do you remember?
The wait for this food was looong. Really long. Grumpy-making long. I have no idea what the hold up was, but the food itself was really good, in that breakfast, comfort-food sort of way. There's no real reason that I can think of for it to have been so good, it wasn't special in any way, but it was good. Really good. I suggest trying it.

I also suggest trying the chocolate banana crepes. Do you know anything about crepes? If you’ve had any previous experience, you know that they can sometimes be... limp and slimy, for want of better descriptors, but these, though incredibly simple, were perfect. Really perfect. And writing about them now, makes me wonder if there's a gluten-free creperie out there anywhere. If you know of one, clue me in, please.

So, this was a kind of mixed or 50/50 proposition, right? Good food, great coffee, long wait. There was one deciding factor for me though, which insures I won't be back anytime soon - the heat. We were sitting in a little corner, near the thermostat, and though it was set on 68°, it registered 78°. That's right - degrees Fahrenheit. Y'all, I can't eat or relax indoors at that temperature.

When I asked the braless waitress (the SO thought that was a plus) if it was always so hot, she replied, "Pretty much." So, I won't be back for food in the spring or summer time, but if that truly excellent coffee calls to me, I'll get it to go.

Where? 309 Fry St.
Open 24 hrs? No. Th-Sun 8a-3p
What did you drink? A mug of decaf
Organic? Yes.
Kinds of cups Mugs for in-house. Paper for to go.
Sugar/honey/raw? Yes/Yes/No/Yellow Stuff
Milk/cream/half&half? Yes/No/Yes
Yeah, yeah, but how does it taste?! This was a noticeably good cup of coffee.
What did the SO get? A cup of regular.
Was it good? Just as good
Bring Your Own Cup Discount? Don't think so.
Loyalty Card? No
Food or Pastries? Yes.
WiFi? Yes.
Atmosphere? The bottom floor of an old house, with some of the original finishes still there.
Crowd/Scene? Totally mixed. Students, locals, local students
Study or Socialize? Study, socialize and eat.
Tea too? Yes.
Sidewalk seating? No. Seating in the front yard instead!
Art? Yes. Looks like school (college) projects
Live Music? No.
Anything else? The crepes! Well really, where else are you gonna get crepes in town? And who doens't like a crepe? If you can eat them, try these.

Cups & Crepes on Urbanspoon

When I thought about the close of this post, I thought back on the places I'd been and the coffees I enjoyed, and I realized I should have some sort of favorites list. So, without further ado, here it is, the coffees in Denton, Texas.
  • Best Coffee - I still have to say, Cups and Crepes. That was a seriously good cup of joe.
  • Best Place - This is really a tough one. I think I have a tie - The Hydrant and Art Six.
    I didn't review it, but you might also look in on the Jupiter House on Carroll Blvd. It's lovely.
  • Best Art - Hands down, Art Six. There were paintings you might actually want to buy on display.

May 20, 2010

100 Cups of Coffee - The Grand Tour of Denton's Coffee Houses

Any Fans of Futurama reading? If you are, rest assured I'm not going to drink them all in one day, but I am embarking on a multi-part series of reviews of the coffee houses of Denton, Texas.
Are you thinking, "So soon?" (Those of you unfamiliar with sarcasm can read that as, "What took you so long?!")

I know; I know; it's time. Coffee in Denton has come up several times in your comments and has brought feedback in Twitter. Plus, as anyone with eyes (or a nose) can tell, Dentonistas and Dentonistos must love them some coffee. We've gone from having oh, one coffee shop - anyone remember the Karma Cafe? - to having, at my count, six straight-up coffee houses (not counting the 2nd Jupiter House or any of the Starbucks). And, of course, there's any number of places you can get a latte or just a decent cup of coffee. In fact, we've had coffee houses around long enough to morph into other things, like sushi cafes - where you can still get a cappuccino.

So what was the hold up? I'll tell you. As a graduated student and current working commuter, I don't have a routine that includes time reading, writing, studying or socializing at coffee houses, and believe me, I'm sorry I don't. However, I can't continue to ignore this vital part of Denton culture and commerce. So aided and abetted by a friend, M, who is a long-time student, writer and author, we set out to hit all the coffee shops we could think of, and maybe talk to some regulars along the way.

I should tell you too that I'll try to stick to the same thing at each stop – A regular old cup of coffee. I mean, what’s the worst cappuccino you ever had? Add enough frothy milk to any random blend of coffee and you still come up with a ‘big cup of love’ as a friend and former boss is wont to say. So, I’ll be trying their ‘best, dark roast’, letting whoever’s behind the counter decide, in either decaf or half caf. That’s right. I figure if an establishment cares enough to make a good cup of decaf, they’re going to be able to deliver everything else. M? She can have anything her little heart desires.
Today we'll be covering/discussing/reviewing:
And, on my own:
Jupiter House
I'd give you a Web link, but their site is so outdated, it's just not worth it. (Update! They updated the site, and now it's useful: here.) Located on the Square (with a newer satellite on Carroll Blvd at University), Jupiter House is the Big Daddy (or silver back) of Denton Coffee houses. It was the first that opened big (I believe) and opened 24 hours, though not anymore.

Where?106 N. Locust St.
Open 24 hrs?No. 6a to Midnight
What did you drink? Small, Tocano Ultra Violet Vacuum water process decaf
Kinds of cupsIcky Styrofoam to take, but regular mugs for in house
Milk/cream/half&half? Skim/Soy/Almond/H&H - Where's the whole?
PriceHard to find, since they're not posted - $1.75
Yeah, yeah, but how does it taste?!Honestly? Kind of bitter
What did your friend M get? An Integrated Mocha (Decaf).
That's half white chocolate, half dark chocolate, all delicious
Was it good? OMG! Dessert in a cup
How much? $4.25
Bring Your Own Cup Discount?Yes
Loyalty Card?No
Food or Pastries?Muffins, Breads, Bagels (Breads baked at Ravelin!)
Atmosphere?Exposed brick, soft lighting, lots of tables
Crowd/Scene?Totally mixed. All ages. LOTS of laptops
Study or Socialize?I saw both on a Saturday a.m.
Tea too?Yep
Sidewalk seating?Yes
Live Music?Every Saturday Night
Anything else?Smoothies and Milkshakes!

Jupiter House on Urbanspoon

Hydrant Cafe
The Hydrant is a relative newcomer on the scene, and they already have loyal fans. Comments to the blog and Twitter have alerted me to their presence, and I was happy to step in here on a recent Saturday. I have to say, I'm a fan now. I think this was my favorite joint, on this review cycle.

Where?208 W. Oak St.
Open 24 hrs?No. M-Sat; 7a - 1a
What did you drink? Small, whatever decaf they were slinging
Kinds of cupsIcky Styrofoam to take, but regular mugs for in house
Sugar/honey/raw?Yes/Yes/Yes/ and the Pink/Blue/ Yellow stuff
Milk/cream/half&half? Cream. Asked for whole; they were out. Got 2% from Glen, the owner. Very nice guy
Hard to find, since they're not posted. Again. What's up with that?
Yeah, yeah, but how does it taste?!Good, not great
What did your friend M get? Hand squeezed lemonade
Was it good? Another winner. Oh man was that good!
How much? $ 2.39
Bring Your Own Cup Discount?Yes - 10%
Loyalty Card?No
Food or Pastries?Breakfast and Soup and Sandwiches. The grilled cheese they were cooking smelled so good, we had to have one. We're not sorry about it either
Atmosphere?Victorian, six-sided white tile, red walls and some really great fire fighter related photos. You have to see it.
Really comfy booths downstairs; couches, upholstered chairs upstairs
Crowd/Scene?Seemed like regulars.
Seems like it would be easy to become a regular too
Study or Socialize?Socialize more, I think. But you could totally study here too
Tea too?Yep
Sidewalk seating?A little
Live Music?Oh yes, and lots more. We came in at the end of a Coffee Lab! (Some sort of tasting clinic.) Check out their calendar. There're even plays going on here!
Anything else?Well Glen made my coffee fresh, with a ceramic over head drip cone. That's pretty cool

Update - I'm sorry to say they're closed. However, Denton Square Donuts has taken over their space, and you might like to try that.
Hydrant Cafe on Urbanspoon

Here's another business that doesn't seem to care about maintaining a Web site. What's up with that? I hope they get it fixed soon. Anyway, we walked right across the street from The Hydrant to Banter. Now, in fairness, I haven't really ever thought of Banter as a coffee house, but M has spent a fair amount of time here drinking coffee and studying, and it was close, so why not?

Where?219 W. Oak St.
Open 24 hrs?Nope. 10a - 12 Midnight
What did you drink? Small, regular house coffee. Why?
Cause they don't-have-decaf!
Kinds of cupsRegular mugs for in house
Sugar/honey/raw?Yes/ Yes/ No/ Pink stuff/ Yellow stuff
Milk/cream/half&half? Cream
Price$1.00 A dollar!
Yeah, yeah, but how does it taste?!Good, not great.
What did your friend M get? Iced Green Tea
Was it good? Very refreshing
How much? $1.75
Bring Your Own Cup Discount?No
Loyalty Card?No
Food or Pastries?Breakfast - all day, Lunch and Tapas - Thurs thru Sat.
We tried another grilled cheese, the Jilled Cheese, to be exact.
Cheddar, Bacon, and horse radish mayo panino. Fancy.
Honestly, not as satisfying as the plain Jane version at The Hydrant
Atmosphere?Exposed brick and stuccoed pine with school-house surplus chairs and lots of tables. Couches too.
Humid the day day we were there, with the doors open.
Crowd/Scene?Younger. Students and hipsters
Study or Socialize?It was quiet. Study and work
Tea too?Yep
Sidewalk seating?Yes
Live Music?Yes. Poetry readings too, M tells me. Oh M!
Anything else?You know what? I'd say they're less coffee and more Beer or Wine and food, and that's not a bad thing . Might be nice to grab an adult beverage and park it on one of the couches.
Happy hour 4-7 every day

Banter on Urbanspoon
Big Mike's

Well M had to motor, but I did want to add Big Mike's to the inaugural lineup. Big Mike's is the newest venture of Mike Sutton. Located in the space his Voyager's Dream shop used to occupy, this coffee shop seems to be a going venture. You know I love recycling. And you know I love local (and independent) businesses, so I'm really happy to tell you about Big Mike's coffee.

Where?1306 W. Hickory. Near Voertman's, at the edge of UNT campus
Open 24 hrs?Yes
What did you drink? A small half caf
Organic?Organic, fairly traded, locally roasted coffees!
Kinds of cupsStyrofoam, but paper is coming... Mugs for in-house
Sugar/honey/raw?Yes/Yes/ Yes/Yellow stuff/Pink stuff
Milk/cream/half&half? I had to ask for whole milk, but the nice employee passed me his gallon jug, over the counter with no trouble.
Price12 oz of coffee for $1.28
Yeah, yeah, but how does it taste?!Wow! This was a really good cup of coffee. I got a 12 oz., half caf coffee (which turned out to be, the regular brew and some decaf Espresso Americano, "Decaf's not really popular around here.") To which I added a bit of raw sugar and whole milk and passed on the plastic lid.
I finished that bad boy as I was browsing silly birthday cards from The Onion - at Voertman's. I have to say, my morning was much the better for it
Bring Your Own Cup Discount?Yes. And you definitely want to, so you can give the Styrofoam cups a pass! Regular mugs for in-house drinking
Loyalty Card?No
Food or Pastries?Organic bagels!
WiFi?Yes. And, it's secure. Ask a barista for the network key
Atmosphere?A little grotty, honestly.
Playing some interesting and dirty, lo-fi rock, when I was there. Like Hendrix joined Iron Butterfly.
Crowd/Scene?Mac-toting students and hippies!
Study or Socialize?Oh both, I'd say
Tea too?Yes, locally crafted no less
Sidewalk seating?No, but a bike rack!
Live Music?No, but you're very likely to hear local artists being played
Anything else?Smoothies, a free community meeting space, and twice-filtered water!

Big Mike's Coffee on Urbanspoon

March 15, 2010

Indians Push North. Pioneers, Eagles, Townies Welcome Them

I almost feel lazy starting this blog entry because I feel like I’ve already told you the good news about the Indian food at Kokila.

However, the fact that they did open a restaurant in Denton proper seems noteworthy-enough to write about – even if it’s just a short post.
In AP-style, I’ll open with (reiterate) the important part: Kokila-is-in-Denton-Now!
Located in Carriage Court (Avenue C and Eagle Dr) in the space formerly occupied by Siam House (which is now on Cedar St), Kokila re-designed, re-painted, re-tiled, and most importantly, brought in a steam table, to create their north-side restaurant. And, oh how happy I am.
This restaurant is smaller than their Lewisville location, and the buffet is similarly a bit smaller. However, it is also a bit cheaper and still offered every day for lunch.
The food, happily, is the same delicious and excellent quality. And, dosas are offered all week, albeit a la carte. Spend the extra buck and get this potato\onion\peas and carrots crepe. Almost every time I eat it – which is every time I’m there (which is about once a week) – I remark to the S.O. that, “I don’t know why I like these so much.”
I mean, you read that, right?  Potato.  Peas.  Carrot.  Onion.
Sounds like nothing, right?
I have to tell you, whatever spices they sprinkle in there push that mix to tasty, and adding any of the chutneys (the carrot pickle is my favorite) just amps up the toothsomeness. I’ve even been known  to slip bits of chicken, goat or paneer in there too. You know, sort of making up my own little burrito?
It may not be standard Indian eating practice, but it IS delicious.

Of course the buffet changes daily, but you can usually expect to see that delish tandoori chicken (you know, the red, grilled stuff) pretty much every day.
And on a perfect Sunday, I'll sleep  in late; drink coffee; read the paper, then head over to the buffet @ 11.
On a recent-ish Sunday, I even saw local musical talent and radio God, Paul Slavens! I loooove him.

Celeb sighting or not, I always leave ready to meet the end of my weekend with a full and happy belly.
And who doesn't love happy?

Check it out.

February 15, 2010

El Chico

I know, I know! A chain restaurant! In-the-mall!! But what can I say? They routinely kick out really tasty Tex-Mex; the chips are always crisp; the salsa is bright and hot (but not too hot), and the tea is good. Though, weirdly, offered as “Sweet or unsweet?”

    Side note – What’s up with that Texas? I’m hearing that more and more. WHEN did sweet tea become an option? I mean, I grew up drinking sweet tea – NESTEA®, as a matter of fact – only in the summer – and believe me, the error of my former ways was brought home to me quickly, once I landed in the Lone Star State. So, I don’t get it. Belles and Dandies from Atlanta and Mobile drink it sweet, I know, but I always think of Texans as guys and gals who get it plain and add their own sugar or sweet n low, if they’re not tough enough to drink it straight.
But, no matter how good the tea (or chips and salsa) is that is rarely what brings you into a Mexican restaurant.
So what does?
How about the enchiladas? A recent visit saw your friendly neighborhood Dentonista getting down on some avocado enchiladas. Avocado, mushrooms, and cheese rolled up in corn tortillas, topped with tomatillo sauce and served up over sautéed spinach. Ooooh, they were gooood, y’all.
BUT, they were nowhere near as good as the chicken and spinach enchiladas I had on the previous visit.
Those enchiladas were a revelation.

Fajita chicken, spinach and cheese in corn tortillas and topped with a ‘chipotle wine sauce’. Whatever it was, it was rich and smoky and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten off an enchilada. I practically had to sit on my hands to keep from stuffing my face, two fist style.
It was so good I was practically meowing.
Uh huh. At a chain.

Now, to be fair, this is a Texas-based chain. In fact the first El Chico, the proto or Ur El Chico was a tamale stand at the Kaufman County Fair, in 1926.

And, as an added bonus to all that authenticity, both these enchilada meals were off some ‘new’ menu and only $7.99.
Yeah. $7.99.
But wait, there’s still more.
Check those coupon booklets you get in the Sunday paper. I got to use a buy one get one coupon for this meal. That’s right.
Cheap, delicious, local-ish. What’s not to love?

Well, one thing really. There’s still a smoking section in this little restaurant.
It’s at the very back of the restaurant. In fact, it’s on the ‘outside’ or ‘patio’ area, which is in-the-mall.
Do you know where, exactly? Directly across from the kids’ play area!
The mall should be ashamed of itself.
El Chico corporate should be ashamed of themselves, and if you’re feeling particularly trashy, you can have a smoke while watching the kiddies play and be ashamed of yourself.

** 2011 Update! -  El Chico no longer has a smoking section! I should delete the above paragraphs, but I really enjoyed my rant. So I won't.**

Everyone else - Keep your eyes peeled for coupon circulars, your mind open to good food at the sketchy mall, and try to sit towards the front of the restaurant.