New Orleans: Home of the Indie Supermarket

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Langenstein's in the early days

When New Orleanians “make groceries” in the Big Easy, chances are they’ll be patronizing one of many locally owned, independent grocery stores.  Langenstein’s, Robert Fresh Market,  Dorignacs and Rouses are four great options, each with its own signature style and claim to fame.

Marc and Darlene Robért are newcomers to the party, opening their first Robert Fresh Market in the suburb of Metaire in 1994, now with multiple locations around town, each with an emphasis on local and organic  product.  Rouses is the go-to spot in the Quarter, with a fancy new location in the burgeoning Central Business District. The store has its roots as the City Produce Company, founded by J.P. Rouse in Thibodaux, Louisiana, in 1923. Dorignac’s, opened in 1947 in Metairie, is known for its terrific wine selection and outstanding customer service.

When Michael Langenstein and his sons George and Richard opened Langenstein’s supermarket in the early 1920’s, their goal was to carry the best meat and seafood in New Orleans. Locals love this place for its amazing quality meats and gourmet prepared Louisiana specialties.

Making groceries N’Awlins style means it stays in the family.

Two Langenstein's specialties, The Original Better Cheddar and The Original Le Popeye Dip

 

Overnight Pirate Style

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Up the stairs if you dare....

Conrad Matt is having an off day.  Matt, owner/operator of the Pirate Haus Inn in downtown St. Augustine, usually dresses the part.  “Sometimes I’m just not up to it,” said the former defense contractor turned innkeeper.

Never mind. There’s enough pirate-mania in this hostel hybrid to go around. Named one of the nation’s 10 quirky hotels by National Geographic, the Pirate Haus is painted with Technicolor murals and offers a range of in suite and bath-down-the-hall options. Stay hostel-style for $20 a night, or in one of the comfy private rooms, a few with bunk beds, for $75-$85 on weekends.

Room art at the Pirate Haus Inn

All that and just four miles to the beach.  Matt bought this place seven years ago because it reminded him of social stays he’d had while backpacking in Europe. “There’s always somebody who wants to have a beer at a place like this,” he said.  A common kitchen, outside deck and TV/computer room comes with the stay. For families on a budget and kids who like to say “Arrr.”

Great stay in combo with the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.

Find more info about St. Augustine, quirky or otherwise.

 

Off the Beaten Path Oahu

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Waikiki is to O’ahu’s beaches what the waltz is to the tango. Where Waikiki is a beautiful slice of sandy civilization, the wild and wooly surfing beaches on the Northern Coast are completely untamed. Just an hour or so from Honolulu, spots like Waimea Bay, the Bonzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach along Kamehameha Highway offer nonstop action, as surfers battle waves as high as 40 feet. If watching all that exercise makes you hungry, belly up to one of the many shrimp trucks along the beach. Two of the most popular are Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp and Romy’s– both serve sweet, spicy and garlicky shrimp caught fresh, every day. For dessert, stop by Ted’s Bakery, home of the famous Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie, or share a shave ice, the local answer to mainlander’s snow cones.  To learn more about the history of surfing, visit the North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum with its collection of antique surfboards and artifacts.

Enjoying a shave ice off the beaten path

Aw Shucks! Mayberry Still Alive and Well in Mt. Airy, N.C.

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Cruising Mayberry-style in the Galaxy

Gloria Joyner Johnson had one wish for her birthday. She wanted to go to Mayberry.

So Johnson and her friend Addie Lisby traveled 100 miles north of Charlotte, NC to Mt. Airy, Andy Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for The Andy Griffith Show. “I have every DVD, but I still watch the reruns,” said Johnson. “The show captures a more peaceful time. Mayberry was a real neighborly place, a place where funny things happened, but there wasn’t ever any cussin’ or real problems. Andy practiced ‘Do Unto Others,’ which is something I believe in.”

The show, which first aired in 1960, inspires a cult following, with a regular stream of pilgrims fueling Mt. Airy tourism. Visitors can take a Mayberry squad car tour in a black and white Galaxy police car, stopping at landmarks like Wally’s Fillin’ Station, Floyds Barber shop, Snappy Lunch and the Griffith’s homestead.

Emmett Forrest, Griffith’s friend since grade school, curates the Andy Griffith Museum, an impressive collection of memorabilia that includes Sheriff Andy Taylor’s original office set, one of Barney Fife’s dandy suits, and the keys to the town jail. In front of the museum, a statue of Andy and his son Opie (played by the young Ron Howard), is a popular place for photo opps.

Lisby and Johnson got lucky and ran into Betty Lynn, the retired actress who played Thelma Lou, Barney Fife’s girlfriend from 1960-1965. Lynn, whose resume includes June Bride with Bette Davis and Cheaper by the Dozen with Myrna Loy, moved to Mt. Airy from Hollywood a few years ago. “I was tired of all the craziness. Here, I have a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I like small town life. Everybody still calls me Betty Lou, but I really don’t mind.”

The birthday girl is all smiles next to "Thelma Lou"

 

 

 

A Taste of Old Hanoi in Auckland

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An exciting scene at Cafe Hanoi

The action is nonstop inside Cafe Hanoi, an artsy new VIetnamese restaurant on the corners of Galway and Commerce in downtown Auckland. Situated in a grand old bank building, with bare concrete and brick walls and the glow of oversized paper lanterns, the interior reminds a traveler of the faded opulence of the Old Quarter in Hanoi.

Yet local chef Jason van Dorsten and his team are channeling something quite modern with dishes like cured pork skewers atop romaine leaves served with crunchy sliced of green banana and cucumber and a chili dipping sauce.  Each dish is made ala minute, with the open kitchen in a constant state of motion, garnishing plate after plate with handfuls of frsh mint, squeezes of lime juice and bunches of chopped cilantro.

The flavors are clean and layered with eye popping color and texture.  The pork spare ribs arrived fragrant with five spice and caramelized with a crust of ginger and sesame, just perfect.  A stir fry of morning glory with garlic and sesame seeds was wonderfully fresh, the flash in the pan just long enough to give the tender leaf some bite.

In a city with a vast Asian gastronomy, a reflection of the polyglot that is New Zealand’s cultural make up, Cafe Hanoi brings a luster of culinary sophistication to the table, an excitement and a “scene” that is irresistible. Expect to pay around $100 NZ for dinner for two, especially if you enjoy a fruity glass (or two) of the region’s wonderful Sauvignon blanc.

Cafe Hanoi's open kitchen never stops moving

Whole crispy snapper with lemon grass and chili

Spelunking in Maui

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Since you’ve already taken the thrilling Hana Highway, consider bisecting the island’s heart with a day trip north on Route 37. You’ll see local life up close, travel through fragrant pineapple fields and stop for a tasting at Tedeschi Vineyards, Maui’s only winery.  Loop around on the coast to the funky hippie town of Paia, home to a plethora of new age practitioners and one of the best seafood restaurants on the island. Relax a spell at Mama’s Fish House on the beach in Kuau Cove, an old plantation house that’s a throwback to a gentler age. Expect stellar sunsets and even better island fish, at prices that won’t break your budget.

Away from the crowds

Good Sleep at Hotel Monteleone

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Hotel Monteleone, a family tradition since 1886

In 1886, Antonio Monteleone–a shoemaker who came to New Orleans from Contessa, Italy, and prospered at his French Quarter boot factory–bought the 14-room Commercial Hotel and gave it his name. Four generations – and a $60+ million renovation later – the family-owned 600-room Hotel Monteleone, a six-time AAA Four Diamond award-winner, is secure in its reputation as a grand hotel. The vibe throughout is retro-European, from the guest rooms’ rich fabrics and marble bathrooms to the liveried doormen, and the 16-story building’s distinctive Baroque façade. With its central location in the French Quarter, a few blocks from Canal St., Jackson Square and the River Walk, the Monteleone is an ideal home base for exploring the Crescent City in style.

Rittenhouse Tavern Blooms in Philly’s Art Alliance

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Dining in the garden at Rittenhouse Tavern

Rittenhouse Tavern is the latest restaurant to claim the gracious dining space in the stunning Philadelphia Art Alliance, a mixed used art and event space built on Rittenhouse Square in 1906 as the historic Wetherill mansion.   Besides the chance to dine in the newly landscaped secret garden, reason enough to pay a visit, the Tavern dishes creative and gorgeously composed modern cuisine from chef Nicholas Elmi, formerly of Le Bec-Fin.  Chef Nick, working with consulting chef Ed Brown of Restaurant Associates, pays homage to his classical French roots while bringing seasonal sensibilities to every plate, starting with spring asparagus with wild ramps and preserved lemon and a paired rhubarb reduction with English peas and seared dayboat scallops.   Sassy bar snacks deconstruct a deviled egg over scrapple and hop to with frog legs crisped atop a watercress smear and a dab of Philly cream cheese.   The fried chicken Sunday supper is served family style for $18 per person, including sides and buttermilk biscuits.  For dessert, the brown butter cake with lavender crème fraiche sorbet is a must.  A tidy menu of craft beer, artisinal cocktails (love the Betsy Ross with gin and St. Germain) and a well balanced wine list offered by the glass, bottle and quartino, round out the menu.  While chef Nick was certainly adept at classic French cuisine, he’s having fun here, and the change is delicious.

Beet salad as art from chef Nicholas Elmi

Vegan Philly – Eat your Vegetables and Like It!

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A morsel from the vegan tasting menu at Meritage

Although vegetarian-friendly menus are common these days, vegans sometimes get a shorter shrift. Not at Meritage where meat free dining rules every Tuesday, with a $35, four course tasting of seasonal delights. Think roasted baby beets with rhubarb, mint, and citrus or a nutty chickpea cake served with olive tapenade, smoky tomato chutney.

In the Reading Terminal Market, Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar  bests the “just salad” option with housemade veggie burgers, tofu turkey sandwiches and a faux tuna fish salad that will knock your organic cotton socks off.

Fans of smoky barbecue should head directly to Khyber Pass Pub where the vegan pulled pork is just delish, topped with a zippy vinegar based sauce and a pile of cole slaw.

And for upscale vegan, can’t wait for Vedge to open later this month, a classy spot from Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, last of Horizon, in the old Deux Cheminees spot on Locust.

At Barbuzzo, the delectable modern-Medi in Midtown Village, chef/co-owner Marcie Turney doesn’t just proclaim a locavore bent. A chalkboard is updated daily with specific veg, fruit and dairy sourced from farms in Chester and Lancaster Counties, verdant spots including Green Meadow and Blue Moon Acres. Even carnivores will swoon over the daily farm-fresh vegetable board, which might hold thyme-scented coins of sweet carrot, fig and goat cheese crostini and green beans in a pistachio pesto.

Barbuzzo's Marcie Turney loves her veg

 

 

 

 

Truly By Hand at Nola’s a Mano

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Chef/owner Adolfo Garcia at a Mano

Standing out from the crowd in America’s best restaurant city is a feat.

Which is why a Mano, which means by hand, is such a New Orleans gem.  Owned by chef Adolfo Garcia (Rio Mar, La Boca), with chef de cuisine Josh Smith in the kitchen,  a Mano is, along with John Besh and Alon Shaya’s Domenica,  at the forefront of the Big Easy’s new Italian wave.

House cured salumi and bresaola, a seasonal salad of heirloom tomatoes and clouds of burrata, the fresh cheese made with mozzarella and heavy cream and lump crab meat in a squid ink cavatelli were highlights of a recent meal.

Burrata, the fresh cheese made with mozzarella and cream, and heirloom tomatoes at a Mano.

Then there was the amazing seafood salad, a bellwether of Southern Italian cuisine from the region of Campania. Chilled calamari and shrimp, along with paper-thin coins of octopus,  tender potatoes and bits of celery leaf elevated this appetizer to hall of fame status. Delicate, to the point of being ethereal, was what one diner swooned.

At a Mano, the wine service is stellar, the ambiance sparely elegant.  Although the chef is relocating come fall, here’s hoping that his replacement, sous chef Nick Martin, will be equally adept at letting seasonal ingredients tell the story, in a style that is both simple and sophisticated.

Definitely put a Mano on your must dine list the next time you visit New Orleans. It’s wonderful.