traveling

Revolution Brewing Launch Party in Chicago

By some happy coincidence, our trip to Chicago just so happened to land during Chicago Craft Beer Week. I’m a moderator for the beer app Untappd, so decided to check in with the other moderators who were from the Chicago area to see if they had any suggestions on places and beers to try. I heard back right away from Sean, a fellow moderator, who had all sorts of advice and connections. He was amazing and totally got us hooked up to attend a really incredible event, the launch party for Revolution Brewing’s new brewhouse. The event sold out weeks before we even knew we’d be in Chicago during their Craft Beer Week and Sean was nice enough to search around to find us four tickets.

The event was absolutely packed with Revolution Brewing fans. There was live music, food trucks, a photo booth, a DJ, and tons of samples of different Revolution brews. We picked up our official Chicago Craft Beer Week lanyards earlier on in the trip and felt very official heading into the party.

We got right to business and started trying some of the beer. First up for me was the Anti-Hero IPA, which I loved. Jason and Dane tried the Eugene Porter and Sam went for the Bottom Up Wit. We were all very happy with our choices.

The lines did get pretty long, so after getting our first beer we hopped in line to try some of the barrel aged choices. While we were waiting in line I finally got to hang out with Sean in person who I had been talking to through email, Twitter, and text during our trip and only met up with quickly before then to get our tickets from him.

Just have to love good beer people. We got introduced to a whole bunch more people, including Jessica who has worked on Chicago Girls’ Pint Out. That was super exciting since I’m so involved with MA Girls’ Pint Out. And Ted, who was just awesome and told me all about Revolution Brewing and the beer scene in Chicago.

As the drinks kept flowing we decided we all needed a little bit more in our stomach. We headed back outside to try out a food truck and went with The Slide Ride, a gourmet food truck serving sliders. We were all pretty happy with the choice.

We got to head back into the brewhouse afterwards and finish out the night trying a few more styles, listening to the DJ, and talking to our new friends. Overall, amazing night that we are so lucky we got to attend. Super huge thanks to Sean again for making it happen!

Chicago Cupcakes

No trip is complete with cupcakes. We tried two cupcake bakeries on our trip to Chicago and I only wish we had had time to try more.

First up was Sprinkles. The location in Chicago is one of ten now around the country (including one cupcake ATM, seriously!). Sprinkles was definitely at the forefront of the cupcake bakery craze. I had made Sprinkles cupcakes before from the mix you can buy at Williams-Sonoma, which I bought almost purely because I loved the adorable packaging. Well, that and I just had a good feeling about a cupcake company named Sprinkles.

The store was modern and sleek. Flavor upon flavor of cupcake were beautiful to look at behind the big glass case. I didn’t even have to think about what my selection would be. Red velvet is a total no brainer for me. Dane went with the carrot cake. And the little take out box was cute too! A great presentation gets me every time.

We didn’t make it far with these cupcakes. The four of us walked outside the store, realized there was a bench right in front, and sat down to enjoy our mid-afternoon treats.

Yes, my shirt has a cupcake on it and says “love”. No, I actually didn’t plan that, but it worked out well. The cupcakes were moist and fluffy and the icing was perfect. Easy to see why Sprinkles is doing so well!

The last day in Chicago we visited More. Their tagline is “Forever More Cupcakes”, which is a philosophy I can fully support. Again, the shop was stylish and we were greeted by a huge glass display of all our options.

They had some really fun flavors and it took us a while to decide. Actually, it took three of us a little bit, but Dane decided immediately the second he saw a cupcake called Bacon Bacon Bacon. Then his mind was made up. Super cute packaging on these take out cupcakes too.

We found a little seating area right outside the shop so decided to sit at a table and eat our More selections in the sun. We tried totally different flavors than we had at Sprinkles and enjoyed them just as much.

What’s not to love about these? So yummy.

I love the popularity of cupcakes. Perfect portion size and cute presentation. Maybe the cupcake craze will wind down eventually, but I’m going to take advantage of it as long as I can and in whatever city I can!

Do you have a favorite cupcake bakery? How about a favorite cupcake flavor? Always looking for suggestions!

Experiencing Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago

I’m a self proclaimed pizza snob from NY. To me, the perfect crust is thin and crispy. The ratio of cheese to sauce needs to be just right. To eat a slice of pizza right you should be able to fold it in half and hold it in your hand. So you can imagine my hesitation at accepting deep dish pizza when Dane and I went on our recent trip to Chicago with our friends Sam and Jason. Dane was really excited to try two legendary deep dish places and so I went along with it, still emphasizing my belief that NY is the best when it comes to pizza.

First up was Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati opened his first location back in 1971 and is probably one of the best known names in deep dish pizza. There are now 34 locations in and around Chicago and the business is still family owned and operated. This was our first stop after getting to Chicago. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our things, and headed right back out to one of the locations that was only a few blocks from our hotel (which Dane had mapped out ahead of time).

We decided to go with one pizza to share between the four of us. We got some appetizers too, which we realized were really not needed once we saw our pizza come out. We ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic which had sausage, extra cheese, and sauce on their Buttercrust.

This was the densest, cheesiest, sausagiest (I had to make up a word to describe it) pizza I had ever tried. The waitress had an art to serving the pizza to get the cheese from oozing out too much.

Safe to say Jason liked it.

The sauce was a little chunky so you got bigger pieces of tomato like a hearty marinara. Fork and knife were very necessary but the crust was surprisingly crisp. I couldn’t do more than one slice, but it was very good. Thumbs up Lou Malnati’s!

On our third day in Chicago our stomachs had recovered from our first foray into deep dish and decided to try Giordano’s. Dane had this one mapped out too, so he knew just where to go and we headed there for lunch. Giordano’s was started by two brothers in 1974. Now they have 43 locations in and around Chicago and also in Florida.

Look at that cheese action! Again our waitress was obviously practiced in cutting and serving the pizza with all of it’s gooey cheesiness.

This time we went with just a regular cheese deep dish pizza. Giordano’s pizza has a double crust so they layers go (from bottom to top): crust, cheese (A LOT OF CHEESE), more crust, sauce.

I absolutely loved this pizza. I liked the sauce more and the ratio of cheese to sauce was better for me here than at Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati’s did win for me in the crust category though. I thought it was more flavorful and crispier there. Overall, the votes for our favorite were:

Me: Giordano’s
Dane: Giordano’s
Sam: Giordano’s
Jason: Giordano’s

Giordano’s unanimously wins with this group! We really enjoyed both places, but when you get the chance to try two very well-known deep dish pizza restaurants you just can’t help but pick a favorite. And for the record, even as a thin crust loving New Yorker at heart, I liked real Chicago style deep dish pizza. It’s a totally different food experience, but one that was worth having!

Vermont Winter Trip Highlights

Right before the holidays Dane and I took our annual trip up to Vermont to visit with our friends Sam and Jason (who we met in Boston, are both actually from Vermont, but live in Minnesota – we don’t get to see them nearly enough). As usual we had an amazing time with them and their welcoming families.

We started off with a trip to get a Christmas tree for Sam’s family. It was brutally cold and finding the right tree took a little more time than we thought. Luckily after the perfect one was found we got to warm up with some hot cocoa.

Absolutely beautiful views everywhere. Might have been cold, but it was lovely to see.

There’s a small building on the property at the Christmas tree farm (I guess that’s the best thing to call it?) where the owner always has free hot cocoa, snacks and candy canes. We went right inside the second the perfect tree was found and cut down, thankful for the warmth from the fire and the warm drinks.

Also I wondered what a Christmas tree felt like when it goes through this netting machine thing. So I wanted to try. Dane stopped me while Sam took pictures – that’s why she’s my best friend.

Of course the food highlight of any trip to VT is maple syrup. Sam’s parents started making their own syrup last year and we went up in March to see how sugaring works. This is the sign at the end of their driveway for Ledgeview Maple.

With all of this homemade, ready for consumption, delicious maple syrup we decided there was one thing we had to try.

Syrup on spaghetti.

Like in the movie Elf. Except we opted for plain spaghetti. No Poptarts and spaghetti sauce.

And the verdict? Pretty good actually! Not something I’d eat more than a bite of, but a food experience that we just had to have.

I also met a polar bear.

Dane decided he really wanted to try elk so Sam and Jason took us to the Cow Palace – the premiere elk burger spot around. That’s where the polar bear lives, along with a variety of other taxidermy animals. Dane enjoyed the burger but I opted out of trying the elk.

Another great trip to Vermont to see our great friends and their great families. And as always, some interesting new food experiences! Thanks for letting us visit!

 

Jim’s Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia

When Dane and I were in Philly at the end of September we (finally!) made it to Jim’s Cheesesteaks. Since Dane is from Philly, I was surprised he hadn’t tried all of the best known cheesesteak places in town. Somehow, Jim’s slipped past him. At least I got the bonus of being there for our first try together.

Jim’s has been around for over 70 years at it’s original South Street location in Center City. Now it’s expanded to four locations in and around Philly. All have the original signature cheesesteaks. While we stayed with Dane’s sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, they were kind enough to make sure we got the experience. We went to the newest location, in Springfield (actually it’s over 10 years old now, but still it’s the newest of the four locations).

Jim’s has this art deco thing going on (which I read is similar for all their locations). Just a grab your food, sit, and enjoy kind of place. Which is exactly what we did.

The sandwiches were huge. There was a lot to love about it. Everything about it was perfect. I went with provolone on mine, but there was a choice of cheeses. It was a juicy, cheesy mess of goodness.

Adults love it. And kids do too! Best to get them started on a love of cheesesteaks early in life.

It’s such a nice treat to have an actual cheesesteak from Philly. Up in Boston there are a ton of places that claim to have the best steak and cheese subs, but it’s never quite the same as a cheesesteak.  You have to go straight to the source for the real thing.

If you’re visiting Philly, head down to Jim’s! And while you’re at it, you should probably hit up three of four cheesesteak places. For research purposes, you know? Enjoy!

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minnesota

Yes, I know. Tired of my Minneapolis trip yet? I feel like it sometimes takes me forever to get around to doing posts, so I’m still writing about my trip. But it was so awesome that I can’t just leave anything out!

My second night in visiting with Sam and Jason (right after leaving the MN State Fair for the second day in a row) we headed to the Town Hall Brewery, a brewpub in downtown Minneapolis. Sam found the place and loved their website so much that she decided we had to go. That and they have great beer. I was sold. Doesn’t take much.

Our main goals was to try a bunch of different beers. We had eaten so much at the fair that we didn’t need much in the way of food. Just some beer samples. The Town Hall Brewery made it really easy to try different styles with their different beer flights.

Sam went with a flight of their signature brews: Dortmunder Local, Masala Mama IPA, Hope and King, Black H2o Oatmeal, and West Bank Pub Ale. I decided to go with the seasonal flight: Smoked Hefe, Broken Paddle ESB, Tank Monkey Double IPA, Honey Storm, and a special infused beer.

There were some really interesting flavors between these 10 different beers. Some that stood out most to me were in the seasonal flight. The Smoked Hefe had some really intense smokey flavor, along the lines of a smokey bourbon or a whiskey. The Honey Storm was interesting too, with a sweet start and really oakey (is that a wordy? it is now.) finish.

All the signature brews were good, solid varieties. I especially liked the Hope and King Scotch Ale and the West Bank Pub Ale. To me, both were really drinkable and I could totally see them becoming a favorite for me with some growlers at home if I didn’t live so far away.

OK, and I know I said we weren’t really hungry, but somehow sampling 10 different types of beer makes you feel like you suddenly have an appetite again. So we ended up with the Spinach and Artichoke Dip and the Mashed Potato Pizza (!).

The dip was delish with the pita chips for dipping and the “pizza” was basically like potato skins on a pita. Carbs anyone? Perfect pub snacks for imbibing some delicious beer.

I would love to go back for an actual meal in the dining room. We sat near the bar since we weren’t planning on ordering much food, mostly just drinks. I loved that they had different flight options. The most appealing part of the Town Hall Brewery to me was their selection of in-house beer, so I was really happy that it was easy to try so many different kinds.

Thanks Town Hall Brewery for a lovely evening filled with 10 different styles of beer!

Surly Brewery, Minnesota

While in Minneapolis, Sam and Jason took me to an awesome brewery – Surly Brewing Co. Tours are only offered Friday and Saturdays, and they fill up really quickly. Sam signed up a month before I went to visit and had to wait a while for confirmation, so I was really excited when Sam told me we got a spot. I love visiting breweries and hearing their story. And trying the beer, obviously.

Just the name of the brewery should tell you it’s different. The founder, Omar, started homebrewing after getting a homebrew kit as a gift. After brewing some batches and getting great feedback from friends he started to get more serious. Omar enrolled in America’s Brewers Guild and completed his apprenticeship at New Holland brewing in Michigan. A brewery was purchased, head brewer recruited (Todd, who had actually gone to junior high with Omar and ran into him at a conference), renovations made, and by the end 2005 Surly Brewing Co. was up and running. (read the full story of how the brewery was founded on the Surly website)

Tours are free, but the brewery asks participants to bring a food donation which supports a local charity, the Emergency Foodshelf Network. We got there, gave our donations, and got some drink tokens in exchange. As if drinking beer could be better, we got to support a worthy cause as well.

There were obviously plenty of tokens to go around and try quite a few different brews. On tap that night was Furious, CynicAle, Bender, and Hell. Best beer names ever. We each started off with a beer (I went with Hell for my first, their summer seasonal) and went into the brewery.

This is our tour guide, Clint. And he started off the tour with “Hey guys, my name is Clint, but you can all call me Ginger Bear.” And I loved him.

Clint gave us the story of Surly, showed us this contraption…

… which is what Omar first used to start doing test batches, and told us about some of the things that make Surly different. Unlike many craft breweries, Surly cans all their beer. But when they started, they wanted to be able to serve a proper pint to their customers, which lead them to create a new can to hold more. Surly Brewing and Surly fans also had a huge hand in getting a bill passed into law MN, which has become known as the Surly Bill. More about that here if you’re interested.

Surly cans make a nice backdrop for photos too. So many uses.

Throughout all of this we were free to go get more beer from the tasting room. Which we did. Frequently. And got through all the beers available on tap.

Then we switched over to the brewing process.

We got the full run through of how Surly brews their different varieties, asked questions, and heard about “5″ – a limited release brewed in honor of the brewery’s 5 year anniversary. We mentally noted to stop by a store on the way home to try and find some.

Visiting the brewery was a really fun experience. I love seeing different breweries and hearing how they came to be. Each has an interesting story to tell with some passionate people behind the beer. Surly was no exception.

The beers were really good. CynicAle was my favorite of all that I tried that day. It was light, perfect for late summer, and slightly fruity. I had a few of those… and all of them were delicious.

If you’re in the MN area, check out Surly!

 

Minnesota State Fair Part II: Fair Food and Fun

With all the foods on sticks we ate, it’s kind of hard to believe we had enough room in our stomachs to have anything else. But somehow we did. I think we had a pretty good strategy with choosing those foods we would share, thereby saving stomach room for those things we just couldn’t pass up to eat on our own.

Since my birthday was the first day of the fair, I jokingly said to Sam at one point that I want to eat the fried pickles with birthday candles in them. She didn’t forget this and actually brought birthday candles and matches, put them in my fried pickles, and together Sam and Jason wished me a happy birthday.

I think people passing by were slightly confused by this, but it was probably the best birthday treat I ever had. These were the regular fried pickles, but I also had some of Sam’s which had cream cheese sandwiched in between two pickles, then each little sandwich is battered and deep fried. SO GOOD.

In the Agriculture building there was a section devoted to Minnesota wineries. I had no idea there were any wineries in MN, but we had to try some, so we ended up with this sampler of 6 kinds of wine. Obviously in a MN shaped holder.

Wines were:
1 - Potter John’s White from Falconer Vineyards
2 - Sippin from a Slipper from Glacier Ridge Vineyards
3 - The Wine-ing Farmer’s Wife from Fieldstone Vineyards
4 - Frontenac Gris from Parley Lake Winery
5 - Prairie Smoke from Northern Vineyards
12 - Raspberry Wine from WineHave Vineyards

You were able to pick the 6 wines you wanted to try with this sampler out of 13 different varieties. I just picked all the whites – there were five – and then a fun one for the sixth choice. It was really hot, so we went with the lighter varieties. The Frontenac Gris and The Wine-ing Farmer’s Wife were my favorites. I don’t like really sweet wines, so they were a little drier. The Raspberry Wine was super sweet, but fun to try because it was different than all the others.

It wouldn’t be a State Fair without giant vegetables. Here’s the 1st place pumpkin from this past year.

Then in the Dairy Building there was butter bust sculpting. Artist Linda Christensen sculpted 12 busts, one for each of the 11 Minnesota Dairy Princess of that year and 1 for Princess Kay of the Milky Way (title awarded to the winner of the MN Dairy Princess competition). Each bust starts with a 90 pound block of butter that takes hours to carve. One bust is created each day for the duration of the 12 day fair.

I had my first experience with fried cheese curds at the fair. Definitely a once in a while kind of food. So yummy. And so not good for you.

Then there was the MN State Fair legend, Sweet Martha’s. This booth has been at the fair for 25 years, and operates only out of the fair. Pretty impressive. They now have cookie dough you can purchase at the grocery store as well, but it’s amazing the business they do during this 12 day period each year. We got a bucket that was overflowing with 4 dozen chocolate chip cookies. After we just could not eat any more, we saved some and had them for breakfast the next morning.

My favorite picture, taken by Jason.

The fair overall was so much fun, so here are some highlights:

Pictures above clockwise from top left: Ducklings, just a few days old, in the birthing barn. Me with a cow that was walking down the street. Princess Kay of the Milky Way finished butter bust. Me and a giant pickle on the side of the fried pickle stand. Cheese curds sign in the food building. Jason and I supporting MN turkey by being some. Giant Sing Along that played every day, it was surrounded by groupings of microphones so you could just jump on and sing with everyone. Jason playing Wheel of Fortune in one of the arcades – he got a tootsie roll and a green crayoned shaped eraser with his ticket winnings.

Thanks to my awesome friends for taking me to the fair two days in a row when I visited! That about covers the fair, but more posts from my Minnesota trip are coming up!

Minnesota State Fair Part I: Food on a Stick

For my birthday a few weeks ago I went out to Minneapolis to visit my amazing friends, Sam and Jason, and their awesome pup Everett. One of my goals for this year was to get to the Minnesota State Fair, and it just so happened that the first day of the 12 day fair was on my birthday. Right after they picked me up from the airport, we were off to the fair.

I ate way too much delicious food to write about in just one post, so first up is foods on a stick. A major theme of the fair food was just about anything “on a stick”. You name it. Pickles, fruit, nuts, desserts, fried things, and even mashed potatoes. I feel pretty confident most foods taste better when they’re on a stick.

Pronto Pups were up first, hot dogs which are battered and fried. Similar to corn dogs, but the batter is totally different. I’m not a huge fan of corn dogs, so I wasn’t sure if I’d love these, but Pronto Pups definitely made me happy. There were 8 different Pronto Pup stands throughout the fair because it’s so big. No matter what section of the fair you were in, you were bound to be pretty close to a Pronto Pup stand.

Fudge Puppies are another fair favorite. Belgian waffles on a stick, coated in chocolate and topped with whipped cream and sprinkles. Granny’s Kitchen Fudge Puppies has been around for 21 years. We hit the stand at just the right time, when the line wasn’t bad at all. This was definitely a popular one and the line was crazy a few times when we passed by.

Big Fat Bacon, 1/4 pound of maple glazed bacon that’s seasoned and served on a stick. Probably the most unexpected thing I found on a stick at the fair. But one of the most delicious, if you could just put out of your mind that you’re eating a hunk of bacon that’s probably close to a billion calories. The things I do for my tastebuds.

Then we lightened it up a bit with chocolate covered fruit on a stick. It was smothered in chocolate, so not really healthy, but after Big Fat Bacon it did make me feel slightly better.

Totally milking the “on a stick” thing in the Agriculture building. No joke. Things on sticks were everywhere.

Jason just had to get a Nut Roll on a stick. Peanuts + Chocolate + Stick. He obviously enjoyed it.

And why not a pickle on a stick while we’re at it? It was actually kind of refreshing after all the fried food we had been eating. My stomach was beyond confused at this point.

And last, but certainly not least, beer on a stick! Summit Brewery, a local brewery near Minneapolis, had a sampler served on a stick. Had some Extra Pale Ale, Horizon Red Ale, and Oktoberfest and loved that I could just carry it around as I wanted on a stick. Best idea ever Summit.

Crazy enough, this was not even close to everything we ate and experienced at the fair so Part II will be coming in the next few days to highlight some more fair food. Two days at the fair definitely meant some major eating and drinking! More to come!

Sugar on Snow in Vermont

Right before Christmas, Dane and I went up to Vermont to visit with Sam and Jason and their families. There’s always something to do or a new Vermonty thing to try (yes, Vermonty – it’s a word now). We’re always open to trying things, even though we’re the “city friends”.

When we first met Sam and Jason a few years ago, they told us about sugar on snow, and we’ve wanted to try it ever since. We finally got our chance! After heating maple syrup, you pour it over packed snow, which cools it and creates a soft candy consistency. There was plenty of snow up in VT, and obviously plenty of maple syrup.

Sam started with heating the maple syrup.

You should heat it slowly, because I learned that once it boils the maple syrup begins to bubble up really fast and can boil over. Learned that the hard way. Scared me when it started growing uncontrollably and I had to yank it off the burner.

Then she went outside and got some snow and packed it into a pan.

I was told you could use a candy thermometer for the syrup to watch when it gets to the right temperature. But, that’s not what Sam’s family does. Instead she takes a cold cup of water, and drops a little bit of the syrup into it. When the syrup blob hardens and sinks to the bottom, you’re ready to pour it over the snow. If you’re wondering about the temperature, I looked it up and you have to heat the syrup to 255 Fahrenheit.

Then pour it over the snow!

The maple syrup starts to harden as soon as it hits the cold snow, turning it into a soft candy texture.

Now take a fork to pull up the syrup and twirl it around like so. Jason will demonstrate.

The snow and cold was really fun to eat with the warm and gooey maple syrup. It gave it a really fun texture and the temperature difference was fun to eat together.

I learned that some places also call this Maple Taffy, and it seems pretty obvious why. The syrup becomes a taffy-like texture, complete with the stretch of taffy.

We are so happy we finally got to try this Vermonty treat! Thanks to Sam’s mom for making this for us and having us as guests again. We are pretty easy to make happy, and this was definitely a great way to do just that!

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