travels

ACC Travels: NYC Food Halls

Patrick and I recently spent a weekend in Manhattan.  He had some work to do, so I was free to do what I like to do best – explore the rich and always changing food scene in NYC.  DC is lucky enough to have its own Union Market, a terrific food hall with pop up vendors, established restaurants and stalls to shop at.  NYC of course has like 20 new food halls so I decided to hit as many as I could over the weekend.  I will admit that the pictures in this post aren’t the best quality but you try and get some good unblurry pictures while standing in the middle of Chelsea Market on a Friday afternoon.  I nearly got run over but I do it all for you dear readers!  Here are the spots I visited – all definitely worth a look.

Chelsea Market – 75 9th Avenue

This market has a little something for everyone as indicated by the sign at the top of the post.  It was definitely the biggest and most diverse of those I visited.  I got a black and white cookie from Amy’s Bread and walked around to try and get my bearings.  It’s a little claustrophobic, as all the shops line a long hall in the middle of this industrial building but luckily there are a lot of great spots to peel off and check out like Artists and Fleas, a small flea market featuring local artists.  Corkbuzz is a terrific little wine bar where you can escape the crowds and grab a glass of bubbly.

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Fat Witch Bakery is a cute little shop that sells amazing brownies in a million delicious flavors.  There are a ton of food stalls where you can grab anything from a lobster roll to sushi and stand at communal tables but since I was flying solo I had a sit down lunch at the bar at The Green Table, where they serve delicious farm to table fare.  Chelsea Market Basket is a great shop that has artisan products from all over – I definitely got some great stocking stuffers there.  The building itself is pretty cool and was decked out for the holidays.

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Urbanspace Vanderbuilt – 230 Park Avenue

Urbanspace, located right next to Gran Central Station, is a bit different than Chelsea Market.  This is where you go to eat and drink, period, no real shopping to be done.  A terrific happy hour spot, this subterranean hall has maybe 25 vendors that sell fried chicken, tacos and everything in between.  You can grab a pitcher of beer from Red Hook Lobster Pound and wash down your phad thai tofu from Bangkok B.A.R. at the picnic tables in the middle while your friends share an order of salted caramel donuts from Dough.  Definitely a great place to grab food to go before hopping on a train.

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Gansevoort Market – 52 Gansevoort Street

Located right by the end of the Highline park, this market has a see and be seen type vibe.  The large space is ringed with all sorts of food vendors, all selling vaugely hipster type meals like ramen or asian empanadas.

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They were even shooting a movie right outside when I went so I was just waiting to see some fabulous star grabbing a macaroon at Dana’s Bakery but alas no luck.  This market had a few more interesting purveyors like Yiaourti, that sells artisanal greek yogurt, or Cappone’s who makes their own salumi in house.  Definitely a great place to graze for the day.

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Le District – 225 Brookfield Place

If you find all these markets overwhelming then you may want to try one that is more focused.  Le District is all French all the time, no fusion food found here.  Down by the World Trade Memorial, this place has everything a Francophile would want.  A central wine bar, fish and meat vendors, high end imported French products and even a stand-alone resturant with views of the Hudson.

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Unfortunately we got there too early, so not much was open yet but it was the perfect place to get a cafe au lait and a pain au chocolat before heading to Brooklyn.  Little things like the chic black and white coffee cup makes this place a real treat.

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Eataly – 200 5th Avenue 

Don’t like France?  Well head over to Eataly to get your fill of Italy.  Probably the most famous of all the food halls in NYC, run by Mario Balati, Eataly is a love letter to Italy.  I found it curious when I was in Italy earlier this year that there are several of them to be found there, since the thing that makes Eataly so special is the wonderful products that they import from all over Italy.  I digress – pasta, salami, wine, olive oil, pretty much anything they make in Italy they will be selling here.  Not in the mood to shop?  Well you are going to have to because the waits at all the restaurants inside are pretty long.  However, they are all worth the wait – the pizza place is fantastic and I love the beer garden located on the top floor with a glass ceiling.  I had been here once before so was bracing myself for the crowds.  I don’t know if it’s increased competition, or if 8pm is the sweet spot, but either way I was able to walk around and have a beautiful flight of Barolos pretty undisturbed.

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Food halls are perfect for all occasions – stopping for a bite to eat, for drinks with friends or just to buy something to take home to make for dinner.  Before I even left NYC I was reading about several others that are going to open shortly, guess we will just have to go back!

ACC Travels – Chicago, IL

When Patrick said he was going to take me to Chicago for my birthday I paused for about 3 seconds before I went online and started researching restaurants.  This city has always been a big eating (and drinking) town but recent years have seen a spate of nationally recognized spots opening and thriving.  The minute the plane landed we knew we were somewhere special – the people are incredibly friendly and the city was bursting with colorful flowers everywhere you look.  Perhaps that’s to make up for the 5 months a year its atrocious to live there but at least they have terrific food and drink options to stave off the cold.  The only disappointing meals we had were deep dish pizza and sausages – go figure!  Likely why I usually avoid these tourist dishes (I would never in good conscious recommend someone visiting Boston to get baked beans).  Here are just some of my favorite spots we visited.

Topolobampo – 445 N Clark Street

For me this was a must stop.  Rick Bayless is pretty much the father of Mexican cooking in America.  I have loved watching him talk about his passion for authentic Mexican cooking on TV and I have several of his cookbooks which are just outstanding.  Actually the ONLY jarred salsa I will even consider buying is his Chipolte Salsa (they carry it in most supermarkets so keep a look out).  We basically went directly from the airport to lunch at Topolobampo and what a way to start off the trip.  The list of mezcals and tequila were dizzying but don’t worry if you can’t decide, just get a flight!  They offer a 3 course lunch for only $25 which I am somewhat regretting not doing but we just weren’t hungry enough.  Patrick ordered the Soupa Azteca to start with, and man did he order well.  The broth, poured tableside was like nothing I had ever had before, so rich and layered with flavor.  I had a special appetizer where they cured tomatoes in habaneros.  How does one take a fresh tomato, infuse it with the heat and flavor of one of the hottest peppers around and not lose the flavor of the tomato?  I have no idea but I guess that’s why they pay Rick the big bucks.  Look how beautiful the plate was.

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We both got different quesadillas for our main entrees and they were a far cry from the greasy, overly stuffed and flavorless quesadillas that haunt most bar menus.  Patrick’s had tender braised short ribs, while I went the vegetarian route with squash blossoms and fresh corn.  The service from beginning to end was delightful.  With expectations set super high, this place definitely delivered.  Apologies that I don’t have more photos but I was so taken with the meal and the experience I didn’t really want to ruin it by being “that” person snapping away.  One confusing note – both Topolobampo and the original Frontera Grill also by Bayless share an entrance.  Don’t look like rookies as we did walking around looking for another door!

Berco’s Popcorn – 810 West Armitage Avenue

Owner Matt Bercovitz makes you feel right at home the minute you walk into his gourmet popcorn store.  While sparsely decorated, the focus here is rightly on popcorn which you can order in a variety of flavors.  Matt will let you sample to your heart’s content from flavors like Big Time Butter and Best Carmel Corn Ever.  I know there are more famous popcorn joints in town but we loved the popcorn here and it’s great to support an up and coming young entrepreneur.  They even have a customizable video wall where I got the blog’s first shout out!

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North Pond Restaurant – 2610 North Cannon Drive

This place is special.  Situated on a pond inside Lincoln Park in an arts and crafts building this gem turns out delicious seasonal food to tourists and Chicagoans alike.

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Many suggested it as a brunch spot so that’s what we did and were not disappointed.  It’s a pricey restaurant but the 3 course brunch goes for $34 on Sunday and is worth every penny.  Each plate had just the right amount of food to satisfy but not leave you feeling stuffed.  I also cannot say enough about the wait staff – perfectly trained to be there when you needed something and effortlessly disappear when you didn’t.  The  grilled lamb with squash, shell beans, red onion and grilled apricots was delicious and beautiful.

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They also have a lovely bar with views of the pond so it would be a good place to stop for drinks or dessert if you didn’t want a 3 course brunch.  If you go for the sweets menu I highly recommend the blackberry and peach selection – how pretty is this??

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Parsons Chicken and Fish – 2952 West Armitage Avenue

Fried chicken and negroni slushies??  SOLD!  This charming place is tucked into a pretty residential neighborhood but my research paid off as we looked for a spot to eat after visiting Revolution Brewery (which I highly recommend).  A short walk found us at this retro diner that serves old school classics updated, like pasta salad and pimento toast.  They have a killer back patio and several cocktails served slushy style.

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Bub City – 435 North Clark Street

Who knew that some of the best BBQ in the country is found in Chicago?  I am sure many of my Southern friends are howling right now but seriously, this place is beyond delicious.  We stopped in for drinks (the delicious Back Porch Tea with Jack Daniels and sweet tea vodka) and had to return the next night for dinner, the smell was just that good.  Patrick had the fried pickles (no comment) and we shared the chopped brisket and mac and cheese.  I consider myself a mac and cheese snob – I am still creaming about this rich and creamy version.  The brisket was perfectly done and not as greasy as most versions you find.  There is also a pretty vibrant bar scene here and they own a tiki speakeasy around the corner called Three Dots and a Dash that we wanted to try but were honestly way too stuffed to keep going!  What says America more than our stars and stripes depicted in Budweiser cans??

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We had such a great weekend and didn’t even scratch the surface of what the city has to offer.  For non food entertainment I can recommend the Chicago’s First Lady architecture boat tour (how we got the perfect skyline shot featured above) and of course hit Wrigley Park (we caught a no hitter!).  Hard to go wrong in Chicago and I cannot wait to get back there.

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ACC Travels: Frederick, MD

A new feature for the blog – city guides!  I often get questions from friends on where to eat and shop when travelling so I figured I would share those tips with the masses.  For the first ACC Travels we are sticking close to home in Frederick, MD.  This quaint historic town is about a an hour and 15 minute drive from downtown DC, making it the perfect day trip.  I have been to Frederick probably a dozen or so times over the years but this most recent trip was definitely the most fun.  Tons of new restaurants and hip stores have opened up so even if you have been before it’s definitely worth a follow-up trip.  The impetus for this visit was a Frederick Keys game, the town’s minor league baseball team.  Usually a minor league game wouldn’t be that big a draw since we have the Nationals playing right in our hood but the after game entertainment was too hard to resist – monkeys riding dogs, herding goats.  Yea you heard that right.  So Patrick and I immediately bought tickets to the game (a cool $12 for the best seats available) and even booked a hotel room nearby so we could get the full experience.  Below are some of my favorite stops in Frederick and pictures from our trip – where is your favorite day trip stop??

VOLT restaurant – 228 North Market Street

wpid-20150620_131850.jpgIf you have heard of Frederick, MD and are not a civil war geek then odds are it’s because of VOLT.  This small town was put on the map when hip DC foodies began making the trek up 270 to eat Top Chef alum Bryan Voltaggio’s innovative food.  It had been a couple of years since I had eaten at VOLT but its food and impeccable service were just as good as remembered.  For day trippers there is an even bigger draw – a three course lunch menu for $35 that doesn’t disappoint.  The restaurant itself is housed in an incredible old building where Chef Votaggio was careful to keep its original charm while also incorporating really modern touches.  One thing that immediately sets VOLT apart from other high-end restaurants is the service.  Unfussy but still formal, these folks make you feel right at ease the minute you sit down.  Patrick and I started with 2 awesome drinks from their summer tiki drink menu.  We then tucked into a nice leisurely 2 hour lunch that ended with terrific french press coffee and two mini coffee cakes to take home with us.  Some highlights from the meal:

Softshell crab omlette

Softshell crab omelette

Hombolt Fog Cheese Plate with Kumquat

Hombolt Fog Cheese Plate with Kumquat

Chocolate and hazelnut bar with nitro stout ice cream

Chocolate and hazelnut bar with nitro stout ice cream

The Wine Kitchen on the Creek – 50 Carol Creek Way

This is a great spot to stop and grab a wine flight and/or some small plates.  A carefully curated wine list includes some really fun bottles.  They have preselected flights like “Pinot Envy” or “Whites of Fancy” or you can mix and match your own.

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All the bartenders are really knowledgeable and can also whip up some pretty mean craft cocktails.  Even better?  They have daily happy hour specials at the bar, even on the weekends.  Its right along the creek (hence the name) which is a beautiful place to stroll along and feed the ducks.  The Wine Kitchen takes advantage of its location with a small outdoor seating area.

Black Hog BBQ – 118 South Market Street

wpid-20150620_201814.jpgThis place is the real deal.  Honestly, they could have been serving tires covered in BBQ sauce and Patrick and I would have been happy as the baseball game got totally rained out and we had to walk a mile back to town.  By the time we arrived at Black Hog we were totally drenched and starving (pro tip – BBQ joints are the best place to go after a rainstorm as each table comes with its own paper towels!).  However, we got super lucky because it not only provided shelter from the storm but also some of the best BBQ I have ever had.  Yes do the ribs and please the mac and cheese.  We also had the chopped pork and chicken which were delicious.  It’s a pretty casual place and be ready to wait as its very popular with the locals.  Luckily they serve local brews and there is a nice patio space outside while you are waiting for your ribs.

relish DECOR – 38 East Patrick Street

This store is absolutely adorable.  They carry a nice mix of hispter type kitchen goods (mason jars abound) but also some really nice classic pieces.  They carry Laguiole, a really well crafted French cutlery company,  flatware and knives in every color possible.  I already have an everyday set in black but was tempted to buy other colors.  They have an online shop if you cannot make it out to Frederick but it’s definitely one of those stores that’s better in person so you can pick up and see everything first hand – also the staff is incredibly helpful and accommodating.  How cute is this wall display of tureen tops?

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Viniferous – 227 North Market Street

This wine shop has a little bit of everything so it’s a great place to browse.  Don’t have a heart attack when you pick up a seemingly innocuous bottle to discover that its $575 – they carry lots of great bottles in the $15-30 range.  In the back room they also have a small but decent selection of craft beer and a pretty extensive selection of magnum bottles.  They even had a magnum of my green wine!!!  Magnums are a great way to impress your guests and also means you don’t have to get up and grab another bottle in the middle of dinner.  They do free tastings on the weekends and have case discounts.

Emporium Antiques – 112 East Patrick Street

Give yourself plenty of time to cruise around this enormous shop.  Antique stores are pretty ubiquitous in these old towns but this place is one of the best in the region.  Clocking in at 55,000 square feet it has anything you might be looking for or just the right thing that you never knew you needed.  In particular there are great pieces of silver, medium size furniture and glassware for sale here.  It’s really fun to mix and match older antique pieces with new modern stuff on your table and this place is inexpensive enough that you can buy a set of glasses or plates for a minimum investment.  I came home with 2 small silver footed bowls to add to a set, a great silver shell bowl and darling anchor napkins.

Flying Dog Brewery – 4607 Wedgewood Boulevard 

Unfortunately the day we were in town the brewery was closed to tours for a special event so we didn’t get to visit.  However, this is some of the best beer made on the east coast so I am pretty confident that the tour and tasting is worth it.  They do tours Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and have the tasting room is open on the same days plus Sunday.  The tours are free and you can make your reservation online – if you go this summer definitely try Dead Rise make with Old Bay.  Doesn’t get more Maryland than that.  

You didnt think I was going to forget to post a picture of the monkey rodeo did you?  The quality isnt great as there was a rediculous rainstorm but they made sure to get in the rodeo before calling the game.  Enjoy.

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