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Supporting Small Makers

Small batch may have become a cliche way to describe smaller, more niche, specialty food producers, but I don’t care. Small batch is my jam (literally. … sometimes I buy small batch jam!). I am always someone who is apt to spend a little more to help entrepreneurs sell high-quality products and turn their visions into reality. Given the times, I’m being bit more selective, and may be buying in less quantities, but I’m still trying to support my favorites!

The great thing about small food producers is that their products don’t just serve for personal consumption, but they also make for great gifts. Know a friend who could use pick-me-up? A family member’s birthday coming up? …still haven’t gotten your mom a Mother’s Day gift? You may not be able to be there for them physically this year, but you can still send a small something that shows you’re thinking of them.

I’ve included a list below of products I particularly enjoy. I would love to hear who you’re supporting and adding them to the list, too!

Bee Raw Honey: this is a New York producer that’s great and could use support during the pandemic. If you couldn’t guess from the pun-ny name, Bee Raw primarily produces honey with a focus on supporting American farms and saving the bees. They also produce teas — a natural complement! I’m on their mailing list and they’ve sent great content and recipes throughout the pandemic. They are even doing virtual Zoom tastings! I admire the creativity. They have quite the variety from different regions of the U.S. to try and you can get it all shipped right to your door.

Bee’s Wrap: OK, Bee’s Wrap doesn’t offer food products, but this might be the single best addition to my kitchen “tool kit” last year. If you enjoy fresh-baked bread, but you hate that it gets stale after two days, the bread wraps are for you. Sustainable, too! Bee’s Wrap is a great replacement for plastic wrap and is reusable.

Brightland Olive Oil: I love the ceramic bottles almost as much as I love this olive oil. Brightland is a California brand, creating olive oil from hand-sourced products. The olive oil industry has a history of corruption (just read this book if you don’t believe me), so it’s no wonder this brand prides itself on being clean, bright and traceable. Their duo is $74 and a perfect way to start, especially since free shipping starts at $60. If you get hooked, they have a subscription!

Bushwick Kitchen: honey, maple syrup and sriracha. Three things you might not typically mix together, but those are the flagship products from Bushwick Kitchen. We tend to keep the sriracha in our house, but I’m sure the other products are just as good.

Bushwick Tea: Bushwick Tea is a maker out of Brooklyn that produces organic, whole leaf artisan teas with slick packaging and names like “K-Town” and “Carroll Gardens” that make it known that these are made in NYC. The top six gift box runs ~$45 and you get a good selection of both caffeinated and decaffeinated varietals.

Heatonist: if you like things hot, you’ll enjoy the Heatonist. As they proclaim, they are purveyors of fine hot sauces, and they have quite the collection. Hot sauces from >35 creators — mix and match, bulk up on your favorites. Go wild!

Hudson Standard: it seems like a lot of people are trying to be their own mixologists these days. Hudson Standard’s shrub and bitters can help. Produced in Hudson, New York, this company makes these small batch mixers from ingredients found in upstate New York. The website provides recipes and how-to videos so you can really up your cocktail game.

Model Bakery: Model Bakery is an acclaimed bakery in Napa Valley that carries, hands down, the best English Muffins I’ve ever tasted. Best of all, they deliver! The bakery carries other tasty treats as well, but, I’m telling you, don’t hit check out until you’ve added those English Muffins to the cart.

Vafels: the wafels from this Boulder-based company have become a staple in my house. Vafel makes authentic Belgian Liege Wafels that are dense and have just the right sweetness. Don’t worry, there’s a gluten-free version, too. The wafels are handmade, organic and made from plant-based ingredients. All the things people want in 2020! If you live in Boulder, you get free delivery. Otherwise, there’s free Nationwide shipping for orders over $50.

Which small producers are your go-tos? I’m always looking for new things to try!

For the Greater Good – How One Brooklyn Restaurateur Made Lemonade out of Lemons

I’ve been a fan of Greg Baxtrom and his food since I moved back to Brooklyn a couple of years ago. First was Olmsted and then came Maison Yaki (Happy 1-Year Anniversary!). Completely different concepts. Both inventive. Fun. And right across the street from one another in Prospect Heights.

Baxtrom is the person behind both of these acclaimed and popular Brooklyn restaurants (Check out the latest from GQ’s Best Restaurants in America list). The COVID-19 situation forced him, like so many others, to lay off staff and stop regular operations. His pandemic story goes well beyond him and his two restaurants though. He’s taken impressive steps to reach out to and help the community as a whole.

Photo from Greg Baxtrom’s Instagram

Olmsted has been operating as a free food bank in collaboration with The LEEInitiative since March 26 to support The Restaurant Workers Relief Program. Any restaurant worker who has been laid off, seen a significant shortage of hours and/or pay can come to the location for meals seven days a week. Baxtrom stepped up for New York City, but there are 18 other great restaurant owners across the country that have converted their businesses into food banks and have served over 100,000 meals at this point. That’s pretty amazing! Props to Chef Ed Lee for getting this started. Donations keep the food banks going, so if this is a cause you believe in, look into it further.

Screenshot from the Lee Initiative website

This kind of selflessness and love for the close-knit restaurant community is the kind of stuff that’s been touching to see the past couple of months. Baxtrom made lemonade out of lemons, thought fast, pivoted and created something really meaningful. I’m rooting for him and his Olmstead and Maison Yaki teams to come back stronger than ever when all of this is over.

This quote from Baxtrom from one of the articles I read sums it up well:

“Now is the time to use our voice to help others,” owner Greg Baxtrom said. “I have the ability to help others, and shame on you if you do and you’re not doing that.”

Like many restaurants, they have created a GoFundMe page to support the staff AND another one to support the local farmers, butchers, fisherman and other suppliers that kept food on the restaurants’ tables.

As I wrote in my last post, there are many in the industry doing admirable things in this tumultuous time. I will keep sharing what I see, and you should too!

DISCLAIMER: While I provide information about charitable organizations and fundraising pages, I am not endorsing, providing recommendations or making a comment on the platforms’ efficacy. All readers should do their own due diligence should they choose to participate.

Even in an uncertain and troublesome time, restaurants and small businesses are doing great things

I haven’t written on this blog in quite some time, but I recently got to thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic and how much I miss one of my favorite activities…dining out. The restaurant experience has always been an important part of my social life — it’s where I’ve had first dates, life celebrations, tried new things, joined groups of friends together, met new friends, gotten business done, and more. I miss those connections. I miss the ambiance. I miss the flavors. Most of all, I feel for all the restaurateurs, chefs, wait staff, dishwashers, suppliers, and more whose lives have been completely upended by something they have no control over.

I got to thinking even more about the future of restaurants last weekend when I read the moving piece by Gabrielle Hamilton in the The New York Times about her experience temporarily closing her renowned restaurant, Prune, and the uncertainty she faces for the business, the restaurant industry and her personal life.

“Forced to shutter Prune, I’ve been revisiting my original dreams for it — and wondering if there will still be a place for it in the New York of the future.”

-Gabrielle Hamilton, New York Times Magazine, April 23, 2020

While we’re all feeling a little down and miss our daily interactions, I’ve also observed great resilience and resolve from a lot of these businesses that will do whatever it take to survive and to continue serving their loyal friends. That’s truly impressive and a strength that I’m not sure I would have if put in a similar situation.

So, as I’ve been inspired by the creativity of restaurants, local grocers, wine and spirits stores, bakeries, coffee shops, and more, I’ve decided to use this forum as a way to share what people are doing to band together.

I live in New York, so my scope may be limited. I would love to hear what others are observing in their local communities and hear those powerful stories, too. Share what you see or what your business is doing!

I know it’s tough times and we’re all trying to get by day-by-day. If we have the extra dollars to support your favorite local spot(s), I encourage us to do so. We probably have no idea how much just one dinner, one coffee, one bag of groceries, one bottle of mine or one small donation will mean to them.

A Place I Actually Enjoyed in Las Vegas – Giada

Name: Giada

NGM Rating: B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: https://www.caesars.com/cromwell/giada#.VVzYUtNViko

Location: The Cromwell Hotel, 3595 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Cuisine: Italian

Owner/Chef: Giada De Laurentiis

When did it open: June 2014

Ambiance: I had pretty much reached my fill of smoky casinos and Vegas tackiness by the time I went to Giada – the first restaurant by Giada De Laurentiis. If you’ve been to Vegas, you’ll probably sympathize with my sentiment. Walking into Giada, however, I felt somewhat transported back into civilization as the clientele was more reminiscent of an upscale city crowd and the restaurant was actually well lit and breezy (everything is so dark in Vegas). Situated on the second floor of the sleek Cromwell Hotel, Giada is contained within a spacious dining room and adorned by eclectic lighting, huge open windows, great views of the strip and brightly colored decor that set the mood for a good time. My two favorite decorating details are the Warhol-esque portraits that hang along the walls, as well as the inscription that encircles each of the main light beam fixtures, “I eat a little bit of Everything and not a lot of Anything.” I wish I could live by that Giada mantra.

Menu highlights: The Giada menu is expansive and maneuvering through it is difficult, both because of the options and general price tag. We called upon our waitress for suggestions. … still felt overwhelmed. As I’ve mentioned in the past, a bread basket is a great way to give a good first impression, and Giada tries to win you over right away in just this way. The bread “display” consists of a warm serving of homemade rosemary bread, cheese crisps, herbed breadsticks and multiple fixings for dipping and smearing. Whether you’re a group of two or a party of eight, the meat and cheese selection is great. The Pecorino Toscano served with fig preserves was divine. They get you though. … everything is individually priced, and the select option for a cheese and charcuterie plate is limited and draws you right back to the main menu options. … well done making me spend more money. The grilled artichokes were also tasty, but could have been a bit meatier. We ordered two pastas – Giada’s signature spaghetti with shrimp, lemon and basil, and the papardelle with pork ragout. Even though the spaghetti was the “dish to try,” the papardelle was far more impressive with a succulent ragout of shredded pork in a tomato base topped with arugula that gave the dish just the right bite.

What I didn’t get to try: Cocktails, artichoke arancini, imported burrata, crostinis, pizzettes, the signature chicken cacciatore and the dessert cart.

Constructive criticisms: I am not a fan of iPad wine lists in general, so I am going to make a plea with Giada to get rid of those. Please don’t make me stare at one more screen during a meal. The service also left room for improvement. Once a server actually came to our table, there were few glitches and she was very sweet, but that was 20 minutes after being seated. We had to ask for water refills multiple times as well, which in the dry heat of Las Vegas can make anyone supremely uncomfortable.

Best for: Night on the town, escaping the typical Vegas crowd, expense account, personal splurge, groups, girls night

Dress Code: Vegas chic – bring out your best and dress to impress

Average Pricing: Appetizers: $15, Pasta: $30  Entree: $50 , Dessert $8:

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable. Tables are tough to come by at prime times, so try to book in advance. I could only secure a 9:15 p.m. on a TUESDAY.

Traditional Mexican Comes to NYC @ Rosie’s

Name: Rosie’s

NGM Rating: B

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://rosiesnyc.com/

Location: 29 E. 2nd Street, NY, NY 10003

Cuisine: Mexican

Owner/Chef: Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman

When did it open: April 2015

Ambiance: I’ve been to this particular restaurant location multiple times during the past five years, and every time it’s been a new restaurant. For some reason, this spot on the corner or 2nd and 2nd has serious turnover issues, but hopefully Rosie’s will reverse this streak. The restaurant occupies a large, open space and its floor-to-ceiling glass windows are great when the weather heats up and you can eat (semi) al fresco. You are immediately immersed in the traditional vibes the owners clearly tried to create with Rosie’s when you walk in the door and get a strong waft of corn tortillas being prepared at the comal bar. I ate very early on Tuesday evening, so the restaurant was relatively quiet but by the time I left around 7:30 p.m., the dining room was heating up and lively conversation could be heard throughout the space. Rosie’s is a pretty casual spot – come how you are, enjoy a cocktail and share some tasty food with friends.

Menu highlights: The comal is really the differentiator here. You’re not going to see the typical over-sized burritos, fajitas and quesadillas that fill up the menus of many other Americanized Mexican restaurants throughout New York. …and beyond for that matter. All of the tortillas are made in-house, and the the aromatic scent permeates the restaurant. I definitely recommend sharing plates to get a little taste of everything. I primarily stuck with the “Antojitos,” or little whims, section of the menu. We enjoyed the tasty quesadillas and inventive Tlacoyos to start. These quesadillas are not, however, what you’d expect. You get two small, warm homemade masas delicately stuffed with chicken and cheese. They are bite-sized, but try to eat slowly and savor every morsel. As with many Mexican restaurants, chips, guac and salsa are a must at Rosie’s. The salty tortilla chips are addicting, and the sweet and spicy salsas coupled with chunky avocado goodness are perfect for topping on that crunchy goodness.

What I didn’t get to try: Tacos, margaritas and everything else from the comal.

Constructive criticisms: I was disappointed when the hostess informed me that the tables by the window were reserved for larger parties (i.e. my table for two didn’t make the cut). It was a beautiful evening, and I really wanted the fresh air after a full day sitting at a desk. We were, however, seated around the comal bar, which was a good alternative because I felt like I was right in the action. I will warn, however, the comal bar get get quite steamy, so I would recommend trying to get seated away from the cooking as summer continues to heat up.

Best for: Date night, girls night out, group sharing, a traditional meal, checking out an NYC newbie

Dress Code: Casual

Average Pricing: Appetizers: $8,  Entree: $20 , Dessert $8:

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable.

What’s the hype about @ egg Brooklyn?

Name: egg

NGM Rating: B

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.eggrestaurant.com/

Location: 109 N. 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249

Cuisine: Southern

Owner/Chef: Evan Hanczor and George Weld

When did it open: 2005

Ambiance: Power brunch spot for Brooklynites in Williamsburg. Show up at 11 a.m. on a Sunday and you’re already behind the curve. You walk in, add your party to the list, join the groups waiting on the sidewalk before you and wait as the hostess periodically comes out to call names. You’re hoping each time that your name will be the next called as your stomach grumbles and head aches from the night before. Parties of two probably have it the easiest in case you’re trying to be strategic about it. The interior reminds me of the very common farmhouse feel many restaurants try to emulate these days – white-washed exposed brick walls, minimalist decor and simple wood tables adorned with fresh flower vases. Of course the place is buzzing with as lively a brunch crowd as can be, with plates full of. … you guessed it. … EGGS!

Menu highlights: The biscuits were my favorite part of the meal, particularly with the homemade fig jam on the side. Bacon was pretty solid too. The organic pancakes would have been a nice treat if they came out warm. … as would the oatmeal. I was pretty excited to finally get to egg after many months of having it on my “hit list,” but unfortunately ended up underwhelmed by the preparations. Maybe I caught the restaurant on an off Sunday.

What I didn’t get to try: Eggs Rothko and Biscuits & Gravy

Constructive criticisms: The service could definitely be improved. We waited outside for a table for an hour and the hostess was less than inviting. One of those power situations where she knew she was the gatekeeper to a brunch power spot and didn’t think it was necessary to to extend an ounce of kindness or sympathy for the patrons patiently waiting to be seated. I get it –  you’re at the hip, hot spot. … but a smile here and there could go a long way. Beyond that, our food came out lukewarm and was hastily prepared. Cold eggs and oatmeal doesn’t make for a very enjoyable meal.

Best for: Weekend brunch and a hangover cure

Dress Code: Casual

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $12, Appetizers: $15 , Entrees: $28, Dessert: $9 . There is also a 5-course tasting menu offered Monday-Thursday for $65.

Reservations: Walk-ins only for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Be prepared for a long wait at prime brunch hours on the weekends.

The Old Five Points Gets a Fresh New Look (and Taste) With Vic’s

Name: Vic’s

NGM Rating: B/B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.vicsnewyork.com/

Location: 31 Great Jones Street, NY, NY 10012 (formerly Five Points)

Cuisine: Italian

Owner/Chef: Victoria Freeman, Marc Meyer and Chris Paraskevaides (same people that bring us Hundred Acres and Cookshop). Chef: Hillary Sterling.

When did it open: October 2014

Ambiance: I have now been to Vic’s twice in the past two weeks and it was hoppin’ on both occasions. The bar area full of guests enjoying a drink before being seated while other couples just there to enjoy their meal bar side. The downtown chic, trendy and beautiful fill the dining room. … which, by the way, you barely recognize as the old Five Points. Vic’s is a step above in terms of its sophistication and I applaud the designer who reinvigorated the space Another difference between Vic’s and it’s predecessor: the focus away from brunch and toward dinner. New Yorkers far and wide knew Five Points for it’s vibrant brunch scene and hearty egg dishes (and churros), but Vic’s, while it serves a weekend brunch, is definitely more for the dinner crowd. Creative pastas, pizzas and meat dishes make up the majority of the menu. … and there’s a great cocktail list to go along with it.

Menu highlights: The garlic bread is a WOW here. I’ve never had such a thick slice of bread drenched in such a sinfully delicious garlic goat butter. Don’t come here if you’re trying to diet. Once you try that garlic bread, you’ll be coming back for more. As far as pasta goes, the Cacio e Pepe, “Card Driver,” and “Little Purse” are all great. All pastas can be ordered as half or full portions. The “Little Purse” is very rich, so either share a full portion or exercise some self-restraint and order the half. The pork shoulder, roasted squash and squid were also hits.

What I didn’t get to try: The pizzas (which look amazing), burrata appetizer, Rye Rigatoni and heirloom carrots. I didn’t really go for dessert either time either. Too full by the time I got through the pasta.

Constructive criticisms: So, I hate to have to talk about this because I enjoyed the ambiance, staff and food both times I was here, BUT the restaurant is clearly still trying to work out some of the kinks in terms of dining room operation. Either the service has been a little slow (friendly nonetheless) or, like my second time, the reservations get backed up and multiple tables are not seated on time. Luckily, the management at Vic’s is no team of first-timers. They definitely know how to make the best of a not-so-great situation. Two examples. Last week when I ate at the bar, the bartenders were jammed and slow on taking our orders. No big deal as I was enjoying my conversation, but instead of ignoring the problem the bartender instead took our drinks off the tab at the end of the night (without a single complaint from either of us). The second example comes from my most recent experience. As my friend and I walked in it was very clear there was a back up with the tables. Parties were paying, deciding they wanted another drink. … or two, and then lingering. The host staff was clearly concerned. After 40 minutes, we were greeted with sincere apologies and had drinks taken care of at the bar. We were seated an hour after our reservation time – which should really never happen – but the service was more than attentive and amicable during our meal. They took care of us more than even necessary. … and most of the bill basically evaporated into thin air as a further apology. I couldn’t even be annoyed or mad at that point, and left Vic’s (almost) forgetting about the slip up earlier in the night.

Best for: Date night, girls night out, celebratory occasion, groups, checking out NYC’s new hot spots, carb loading, dine & drink at the bar

Dress Code: City chic

Average Pricing: Appetizers: $10, Pizza: $15, Pasta: $12 (half)/ $18 (full), Entree: $26, Wine/Cocktails: $13, Dessert: $9

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable. Vic’s is a hot spot right now, so I suggest booking a reservation in advance.

 

Getting into the Holiday Spirit @ Gramery Tavern

Name: Gramercy Tavern

NGM Rating: A/A-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.gramercytavern.com/

Location: 42 East 20th St., NY, NY 10003

Cuisine: Seasonal Contemporary American

Owner/Chef: Danny Meyer and Michael Anthony

When did it open: 1994

Ambiance: There are two rooms at Gramercy Tavern – the Tavern and the Main Dining Room. The Tavern is bustling with walk-in patrons trying to get the more casual, relaxed experience in the bar room, but what’s nice about Gramercy Tavern is that you almost don’t notice a difference between the atmosphere there and the dining room.  The dining room is slightly more formal, with its white table cloths and elegant decor but pretension and snobbery are left at the door. The other major difference between the two is that the menu is completely different in one from the other other. You will experience fine dining at Gramercy Tavern but even in the dining room you feel more at ease in this warming environment than you might at some establishments where a coat-and-tie dress code is strictly enforced. I went for lunch but I am assuming even at dinner the restaurant tries to keep the pomp and circumstance to a minimum. Also, being that I was at Gramercy Tavern right smack in the middle of the holidays I got to see the restaurant in its most festive form. There were awesome planters hanging from the ceiling like over-sized green and red ornaments, and a giant tree lit atop the far side of the bar that surely caught everyone’s eye. The hospitality is what you would expect from Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group – friendly, attentive, insightful and the people there seem like they genuinely enjoy being part of the restaurant. Some at my table clamored that the lunch dragged a little, but it was fine with me since I enjoyed not being rushed for once and extending my stay. … I didn’t really want to leave when it was over.

Menu highlights: Let’s start with the cocktails. … since that’s where this particular lunch began. The seasonal cocktails were Mm Mm good, and I would highly recommend the Fall Classic before it gets rotated off the menu. There’s also a great wine list and the sommelier was very happy to assist in pairing our meals with the appropriate red. Now the food. At lunch, you get the good fortune of choosing either a tasting menu or a la carte. For this reason, I think lunch is the best way to get good bang for your buck at Gramercy Tavern. The pricing is actually pretty reasonable on the a la carte menu considering the quality of food that’s presented on your plate. The beet salad and squid ink spaghetti were fantastic. The lamb and snapper were the other table favorites. For dessert, the chocolate option won my favor (I am biased towards chocolate in general though).

What I didn’t get to try: When I was deciding on dessert I implored my server for a suggestion. She exclaimed that the pecan was her favorite, so I was anxious to try it. Unfortunately, she quickly came back to me with the bad news that the restaurant had just run out. Womp womp! I also would have liked to try the ruby red shrimp, chicken noodle soup and pork loin.

Constructive criticisms: As mentioned above, there was some murmuring at the table about the pace of our meal. It didn’t bother me so much, but I could see how the drawn out lunch in the middle of a workday would cause angst for New Yorkers.

Best for: Festive occasion, special occasion, business dining, splurge, date, dining on someone else’s dime and celebrations.

Dress Code: Business casual. Jacket and tie are optional.

Average Pricing: Lunch tasting: $58 for 5 courses, Dinner Tasting: $92-120, Tavern appetizers: $13, Tavern entrees: $22, Tavern dessert: $11, Dining room appetizers: $15, Dining room entrees: $24 , Dining room desserts: $12 , Cocktails: $14 , Wine by the glass: $17 . Keep in mind Gramercy Tavern only offers a tasting menu for dinner seatings.

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable. This is a tough table to get so I strongly suggest logging on 30 days in advance to snag a spot.

 

Chinatown’s Little Brunch Gem: Dimes

Name: Dimes

NGM Rating: B+/A-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: Grade Pending

Website: http://dimesnyc.com/

Location: 143 Division Street, NY, NY 10002

Cuisine: Eclectic and Health-conscious

Owner/Chef: Alissa Wagner and Sabrina DeSousa

When did it open: September 2013

Ambiance:  This tiny restaurant gem on the edge of Chinatown attracts the ‘cool’ hipster crowd of the LES. You have to pay attention as you turn the corner on Division Street or you’re likely to miss it. … I pretty much did. The signage is discreet and you wouldn’t think to see a popular restaurant among the other storefronts lining the street. When you walk into Dimes, you’re immediately immersed in the close-knit community of this restaurant. … whether you want to be or not. The dining room is very small and the tables are cramped together to accommodate a modest crowd. It’s difficult to ignore other table’s conversations or notice the plates being passed around – acai bowls, chia pudding and eggs in a variety of eclectic preparations. Each table I noticed was either filled with laughter, people entrenched in some deeply intellectual conversation or a twosome simply enjoying afternoon brunch with a friend they hadn’t seen in a while. Very pleasant vibe even given the lack of elbow room.

Menu highlights: Navigating the menu here was fun. I basically didn’t recognize three-quarters of the menu and used the advice of my server to guide me. I mean. … do you know what to expect from an acai bowl? Well now I do, and I urge others to try one of four options at Dimes. The eggs any style were simple – mine served over easy – but came with savory roasted tomatoes and greens that were pretty darn tasty as garnishes. I also added half of a sliced avocado for $2.50. … why not, right? The seven-grain toast here is also spot on – thick, grainy, healthful goodness. Love it when restaurants get bread right. I don’t really think you can go wrong with much of what Dimes has to offer in the Brunch department. It’s not your typical NYC brunch, but it’s darn tasty. … and apparently healthy too!

What I didn’t get to try: I ate at Dimes for Brunch so missed the opportunity to sample any of the dinner options. I didn’t hit most of the brunch menu too and at a place like this you kind of want to sample all the options. I am still curious about the chia pudding, quinoa porridge, egg sandwich, Sayanara Summer Tacos and the assorted chilled beverages (those looked particularly interesting.

Constructive criticisms: It would be nice to have a little more space when eating, but I don’t think that’s what Dimes is going for. The restaurant is meant to be cozy and collegial, with the humming of people’s conversations heard throughout the room.

Best for: Brunch for two. … or any meal for two (groups are tough), hipster hang out, going off-the-beaten path and a healthy food fix.

Dress Code: Vintage tees, over-size sweaters, leggings, jeans and booties

Average Pricing: Brunch items: $10, Juices: $4, Cocktails: $9, Appetizers: $11, Entrees: $18. Very reasonable!

Reservations: No reservations. Tables on a first-come-first-serve basis.

 

 

Modern Italian in a City of Southern Charm @ Indaco

Name: Indaco 

NGM Rating: A-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.indacocharleston.com/

Location: 526 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403

Cuisine: Rustic Italian

Owner/Chef: Steve Palmer and Michael Perez

When did it open: August 2013

Ambiance: Rustic feel all around. Wooden floors, wooden tables, wood-top bar and wooden bar stools. Notice a theme? The restaurant is very warm in ambiance, and it all starts the moment you walk in the door. The host greets you with an abundance of southern hospitality and every server you encounter does the same. … even the ones not assigned to your table. There’s no air of pretension and the vibe is generally casual. All it needs is a wood-burning fire for those cooler winter nights. When the weather suits there is a great outdoor seating area that overlooks the lively nightlife on Charleston’s King Street.

Menu highlights: The pizza is great. Awesome crust and inventive creations that lead you to consume every last bite (at least I did). I thoroughly enjoyed the brussels sprouts pizza, which was a white pizza topped with Fontina, brussels sprouts, honey crisp apples and Pecorino Romano. You may be like my little sister and think the combination sounds strange – particularly the apple bit – but the flavor truly impressed. You’re supposed to explore different flavors in food-centric cities like Charleston, so try this one out. The Cerignola Olives pizza was another table favorite in the pizza department. Our starters were great too. Definitely check out the burrata. The cheese gets two thumbs up and the dish is served with over-sized green olives and house-made flatbread. Really good. The simple Bibb lettuce salad didn’t disappoint as well. Fresh greens done right.

What I didn’t get to try: I was too full for dessert, so I missed the signature toasted almond budino. I could have probably tried each of the other pizzas as well. Pastas were enticing as well. I also missed out on the cocktails. They have quite the list and I probably should have sampled at least one of them.

Constructive criticisms: Not much to criticize here. Very pleasant experience, particularly considering the terrible Thanksgiving-holiday travel endured prior to our arrival at Indaco.

Best for: Date night, dinner with friends, casual occasion, thin-crust pizza fiends

Dress Code: Smart casual

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $10, Appetizers: $13 , Pizza: $15, Entrees: $25 , Dessert: $8 .

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable.