A Travellerspoint blog

Sunday Brunch & Bottomless Champagne at Angelina Ristorante

3561 North Broadway, Chicago, Illinois

sunny 51 °F
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Welcomed by a boisterous dining room reminiscent of a rustic love-nest with crimson drapes, chandeliers, and a rich gold and maroon color scheme, I walked in with high expectations for the cozy Italian-style neighborhood ristorante having heard so much about it. The neatly aligned empty wine bottles, nostalgic brass-framed pictures, and the archway that serves as an entrance to the hidden bar tucked away towards the back of the trattoria only added to the charm. As I noticed the rows of stemless champagne flutes filled with bubbly being lightly topped off with a Bellini mixture (mimosas and Kir Royals are also available), I was reminded of how Sunday brunch was always the perfect ending to any weekend.

Located just northeast of Lakeview in Chicago, an area that some may refer to as Boystown, Angelina Ristorante is famous for their popular bottomless champagne brunch. Don’t fret about taking full advantage of the bottomless aspect because our champagne flutes were never empty for more than a few short seconds and throughout brunch it appeared as though I was usually two deep. In addition to their authentic Italian cuisine, it is also rumored that this is a trademark of their Sunday brunch.

Eggs Benedict is a classic brunch dish and a favorite of mine which made the decision for brunch quite easy that Sunday. Angelina offers a choice of ham, smoked salmon, or Florentine with spinach (I went with the Florentine), all topped with a rich, creamy hollandaise sauce and served with a side of their delicious home fries. Although there are merely a handful of brunch items to choose from, I am certain Angelina will not disappoint you regardless of your selection—the Fritatta Toscano, French Toast, and Breakfast Croissant all looked equally appetizing as I noticed nearby guests as they also indulged.

Posted by ReneeL 15:24 Archived in USA Tagged chicago brunch champagne_brunch sunday_brunch italian_restaurant Comments (0)

Baja-Style Fish Tacos and Truffle Fries

BIG & little’s 939 N. Orleans, Chicago, Illinois

snow 20 °F
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Just over a year ago, my good friend Gary and his buddy Tony opened up a humble little, fast food-ish joint named BIG & little’s (representative of Gary-BIG and Tony-little) just west of the once infamous Cabrini Green. As a former resident of Chicago and frequent visitor, I had heard a rumor that they served the closest thing to Baja-style fish tacos—in my book, the Baja varietal is the only true fish taco—this side of the Mississippi.

Along with enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, guacamole, chips and salsa, and nearly every other Mexican staple known to man, fish tacos uphold a very special place on my incredibly lengthy list of favorites. (Speaking of Mexican, I just had La Pasadita last night, another modest but local spot in Chicago.)

Offering a choice of grilled tilapia or mahi-mahi—both served lightly seasoned in a corn tortilla before being topped off with crisp red cabbage and a chipotle aioli—I have to agree with the rumors. One word describes them, D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! Pair them up with an addictive, hearty basket of truffle fries and an old fashioned bottled root beer and you have lunch.


Posted by ReneeL 02:26 Archived in USA Tagged chicago fast_food fish_tacos mexican_food big_&_little's Comments (1)

Pecan Pancakes at The Pancake Pantry

Pancake Pantry Nashville, Tennessee

sunny 40 °F
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Woken up by an unbearable stomachache, I doubted that the extra half a bottle of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka I consumed the previous night was even remotely necessary. With no guarantee that the horrendous hangover would ward off any lingering hesitations I had regarding my tolerance of alcoholic beverages—for which I seem to occasionally misjudge—I rolled over to check the time.

After having suffered the worst of the repercussions, I hoped, I managed to recall the last item on my agenda before bidding Nashville farewell: to eat pancakes at The Pancake Pantry.

The Pancake Pantry had been mentioned at the top of the list of Most Viewed Restaurants this Month on 10Best.com under Nashville restaurants. Needless to mention, some fluffy, home-style pancakes may be just what my stomach needed to soak up any leftover sweet tea vodka. Determined, I struggled to get myself out of bed.

Modestly reminiscent of a cafe your grandparents would frequent with the old-fashioned, mismatched wooden chairs and cafeteria style layout, The Pancake Pantry was just as I had expected. Excited by the thought of pancakes, I noticed the unique menu selection: Georgia Peach, Apricot-Lemon Delight, Sugar and Spice, Parisienne, and various others. Torn between something with chocolate or whipped cream I opted for the less original, yet safer selection this morning, pecan. I placed an order for a short stack (3 versus 5 pancakes) as suggested by my server Beth in addition to a half order of hash browns and a scrambled egg. As if the pancakes alone wouldn't cure the hangover.


Within minutes the food was served. Being one who prefers to eat one item in its entirety at a time, I chose to go the hash browns, egg, pancake route. Without hesitation I finished off the first two items. The moment of truth had arrived. I reached for the neatly layered plate of powdered sugar covered pecan pancakes. The ramekin of maple-pecan syrup topped with Southern pecans beckoning for me to dip something, anything into it. I slowly made the first incision out of the two that would be required before I could work my way over to the ramekin. Light, fluffy, and soaked in maple-pecan goodness I slowly placed the first bite into my mouth. Savoring the two small triangular pieces, I smiled to myself happy that I had chosen the route that I had.

Posted by ReneeL 18:17 Archived in USA Tagged food breakfast tennessee pancakes nashville pancake_pantry Comments (0)

An Eclectic Taste of Nashville

Virago Fusion Cuisine & Robata Nashville, Tennessee

snow 22 °F
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The words of my best friend echoed in my head as we pulled up to the Indigo Hotel in Nashville, "Oh, you won't need a jacket. It'll be way warmer there than in Chicago." The snowstorm that welcomed us into the country music-filled city, somehow, begged to differ. Just great, I thought. With my limited winter wardrobe--limited to a hand-me-down leather jacket, a Victoria's Secret hoodie, and leggings--my one opportunity to see a replica of the Parthenon what shot.

Determined not to allow the trip to be a complete failure, not that a last minute, all expense paid trip to Nashville could ever be mistaken for a complete failure, I resorted back to one of my favorite aspects of travel, food. Since the likelihood of sight-seeing in tights was out of the question, spending some quality time indoors at the local eateries was an appealing compromise.

The second day of the trip began with a late breakfast at 417 Union. By late I mean 1:30pm. A firm believer that breakfast should be available at any hour, I was delighted to hear that this small, local cafe was known for serving breakfast all day, every day. This, of course, instantly gave it two thumbs up in my book.

Not to discount 417 Union, but I have discovered that locating a decent breakfast or lunch joint is generally pretty easy. Most breakfast or lunch staples—eggs, bacon, pancakes, sandwiches, and so on—are seemingly difficult to botch up. The real challenge of dining out is dinner. Dinner's a complicated meal. It has a lot more variety which means there are a lot more opportunities for things to go awry. Therefore selecting a place for dinner is not a task to be taken lightheartedly.

Left to fulfill the task of finding suitable restaurants to spend the evenings, I stumbled upon a newly relocated, sushi and Asian fusion restaurant that had received almost a 4-star rating on Yelp.com. As an avid and trusting fan of Yelp, I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. For one, being from Los Angeles and having eaten at some of the best sushi restaurants in LA—Nobu, Katsuya, and Katana, to name a few—the sushi bar (no pun intended) was set extremely high. Nonetheless, the realist in me understands that LA grade sushi may only be limited to the likes of LA. That being said, we decided to give Virago a whirl.

Immediately impressed by the Asian inspired decor and sheer massiveness of Virago, we knew we were going to be in for a real treat. My only question was, Why would a restaurant like this be located in Nashville? In Las Vegas, maybe, but Nashville?

From the centrally located bar/lounge with red accent lighting and cleverly layered lanterns, to the bundles of neatly lined chop sticks that covered the ceiling like a rice field in a dining room near the patio, I was excited to have found such a gem.

Our server, Alyssa, a striving country music singer from Miami, kindly suggested that as newcomers we try one of their signature rolls named The Bomb. Without much contemplation we ordered the $19 roll along with a variety of sashimi, a shrimp robatayaki (the fancy Japanese name for grilling), miso soup, and a spicy tuna roll. From start to finish, we savored every ounce. And The Bomb was, well, the bomb.


As we approached the final decision for the evening, a dessert menu was brought to our table. Tempted to forgo even looking at the available options, the words "chocolate" and "Between the Sheets" caught my eye. That quickly resolved the question of dessert.

Virago wasn't exactly a Nobu or Katana, but on any account it does hold its own.

Posted by ReneeL 05:13 Archived in USA Tagged food sushi virago asian_fusion robata_grill nashville_tennessee Comments (1)

New York City Wine & Food Festival

Carts in the Parc with Andrew Zimmern

semi-overcast 75 °F
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I have to admit, I am loving this craze about food carts here in New York. The trend has definitely spread like wildfire with snazzy new carts popping up all over Manhattan. Ranging from the halal, great hangover type of options to your powder-pink frozen yogurt carts with gourmet toppings, the selection is literally endless. And what’s interesting about these food-carts-on-wheels is you don’t even know what you’re craving until you see one. Sort of like those impulse items placed by the checkout line, as soon as you hear the meat sizzling on the skillet it is all downhill from there.

A couple weeks ago I had an opportunity to attend the ultimate food cart event—The New York City Wine & Food Festival's Carts in the Parc—which was hosted by my favorite Travel Channel foodie, Andrew Zimmern. If there is a food cart heaven, this had to be it. It was unfortunate that I decided to axe meat completely this last April (due to a 14-month Argentinean lomo and Brazilian churrascarias binge) because the Saffron Layered Bombay Spicy Chicken Biryani & Kati Roll Selection by the Biryani cart was tempting. It was also disappointing to skip the Galbi Short Rib Taco with kimchee puree, onion-cilantro relish, sour cream, & roasted sesame seeds by The Krave being that I have heard so much about the Asian-Mexican fusion culinary movement.

However the carts didn't stop there. There was still a whole line of mouth-watering, sinfully amazing dessert carts to ravish through. Perhaps bypassing a few short rib tacos wasn't too bad. The giant cream puffs and rice crispy treats from Sweet Street Desserts were simply blissful. I think the camera crew may have even caught a glimpse of me stuffing one into my mouth as they filmed a brief interview with Andrew Zimmern. Ops!


What was the best thing about Carts in the Parc you wonder? The best thing was that 100% of the proceeds went to two great hunger relief nonprofit organizations: The Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength. Food, drinks, entertainment, and a great cause, what more could you ask for. Something that my favorite foodie said that day that really stuck with me was that "There is so much food in the world that no one should have to go to bed hungry at night." Unfortunately, the reality is that over a billion people in the world do.

Posted by ReneeL 03:10 Archived in USA Tagged food new_york_wine_and_food_festival food_carts hunger Comments (0)

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