Tag: Dining

The Ten Best Things I Ate During 2014 (Plus Some Very Honorable Mentions)

At Jeni Eats, I proceed into 2015 without a list of New Years Resolutions, except for these three goals: To spend 2015 “doing strange things with weird people,” to keep food blogging fun, and remain delightfully imperfect. From our household to yours, we wish you good things in 2015 and thank you for joining us here.

family photo

We tried to take a family photo

I had a difficult time summarizing my eleven favorite recipes from 2014, but found choosing my favorite foods was even more challenging. Here’s my best attempt at selecting just ten, plus a handful of very honorable mentions.

Top 10 Favorite Foods:

Dining at a table set for 2,000 was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Chef James Baker’s menu of honey-ginger-soy chicken, beans and rice, and spicy Ethiopian vegetables was one of the freshest and most flavorful meals I ate all year. You can try recreating the chicken and vegetables yourself with these recipes published in the Star Tribune. I did, but Bakers’ was still better.

Meal Serving Collage

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When I work in Mitchell County, I like to check out the daily hot lunch specials served at the Mennonite-owned and operated Kountry Kupboard. Half of the store sells groceries like baking supplies, homemade nut butters, cheeses and other bulk-food items while the other half functions as a cafe. I was most excited about a Friday fried fish special. The coating was flavorful and super crispy while the fish was moist and flaky. Fried fish is one of my favorite treats and this was the best (or eat least tied with Ward 6).

Each meal comes with the softest and fluffiest butterhorn rolls. The meatloaf is also fantastic. It’s better than my meatloaf and I make really good meatloaf.

Peppermint Ice Cream Bar

Cristen chose the Bauder Pharmacy Peppermint Ice Cream Bar as her favorite Iowan food in Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Hometown Restaurants. We finally got to try the peppermint bar and meet Cristen at our first visit to the Iowa State Fair. The bar is layered with the creamiest ice cream imaginable and somehow, the combination of ice cream, peppermint, and Oreos didn’t strike us as too sweet.

  • Pastry Chef Diane Yang’s Lemon Curd Mousse Dessert at Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lemon Dessert wm

You may recognize this dessert because I just wrote about visiting Spoon and Stable over Christmas week. We liked the tart lemon flavor and fresh pineapple. Each bite brought a different texture and temperature. Basically, it was like magic.

Shrimp

My cousin Brian and his family live near Calumet Fisheries, a small seafood smokehouse at the edge of the 95th Street Bridge. The bridge was featured in The Blues Brothers movie, while the restaurant was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We tried two varieties of smoked fish and smoked shrimp, enjoying everything immensely. However, the shrimp stood out. They weren’t overly smoked and had a firm texture like lobster. They tasted especially good dunked in the mild hot sauce.

More Chicago posts: Part I (includes Calumet) and Part II

  • Whole Fried Fish With Three-Flavors Sauce from Bangkok Thai Deli, Saint Paul, Minnesota 

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Thai restaurants have come and gone in the Twin Cities since we moved to Fargo in 2010, but our favorite is still Bangkok Thai Deli. We visited them when they were located in the back of that small grocery store with a shiny, mosaic chimney and we continue to stop by now that they’ve relocated to the old Burger King. On Valentine’s Day, we shared this whole, fried fish served in three-flavor sauce.

The fish skin is crispy and the sauce tastes sweet, sour, savory, and spicy. Bangkok Thai Deli also makes Jake’s favorite version of Pad Thai.

pork signatures supper club

Signatures Supper Club catered a work event where they served grilled butterfly pork chops. They tasted so much more moist and flavorful than this phone picture depicts. Of all of the pork tenderloins I tried during 2014, this was my favorite.

Fried Pickles WM

As part of the Webster City Bloggers Tour, we ate lunch at Grid Iron Grill. Owner Burk Risetter treated us to fried pickle chips with [good] ranch, of course:) I kept going back for more. Risetter takes pride in the care his cooks take in hand-breading most of their appetizers instead of purchasing frozen, pre-made products. We tried a variety of appetizers and dishes and could tell the difference.

More Webster City posts: Part I & Part II. Part III coming soon. 

I stayed at Country Heritage as part of the Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour in the fall. Our hosts prepared a lovely soup supper complete with three different choices. Jake and I loved Lacey’s scratch-made beef and vegetable soup with garden green beans and tender beef. We were surprised to learn this was the first time she ever prepared it. We also enjoyed a memorably good beef soup at City Limits Eatery in St. Ansgar. Beef soups often bore me or taste like tinned stock, but City Limit’s one was also scratch-made and perfectly balanced. Their salad bar was also my favorite of the year.

Papa's

This sandwich surprised me by being so compelling. Normally I hate boneless skinless chicken breast, but my friend Amy was right-on with her recommendation. I liked the flavor of the Greek seasoning blend that coating the chicken and the Greek salad topping. The fries are crispy and the ranch is good, too. what can I say? Ranch like North Iowa’s second ketchup.

  • Jake’s Pick: Poc-Chuc Taco from the Taco Joint, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

Amazing Taco

When we visited Chicago in April 2014, the Poc-Chuc taco was the Taco Joint’s special Monday taco. The griddled, marinated pork loin, habanero salsa and crunchy radish made for an addicting combination. Jake liked it so much, he returned for more during a business trip. I no longer see the Poc-Chuc tacos listed on the Taco Shop’s current menu, so you’ll have to ask if it’s still available.

Honorable Mentions
Let’s be real. It’s impossible to stick with only ten favorite tastes. Plus, I already cheated by giving Jake a pick. Here are seven more very honorable mentions.

Red Pepper Hummus

The 1910 Grille is a restaurant we visit for special occasions or bring our families. It’s unique to dine in the only operating Frank Lloyd Wright hotel. When Jake’s family spent the day in Mason City, ordered their red pepper hummus as an appetizer. I was expecting it to taste like the typical versions I’ve eaten before, but their hummus was so much better. We liked the fried pita triangles and the dip’s garlicky and slightly spicy punch.

Hashbrowns, LD’s Filling Station, Mason City, Iowa 

LD's Collage.jpg

LD’s is the first Mason City restaurant where I found hashbrowns listed as side potato option. I’ve since found that hashbrowns are a common side in North Iowa. They’re served with any meal of the day and I’ve yet to find ones that aren’t served crispy. LD’s makes my favorite, crispiest version.

More reasons why I like LD’s.

Beth Snack mix

I’m going to make the bold claim that Beth’s snack mix is the best snack mix ever. Travel With Sara and I nibbled on it all the way to Springfield, Illinois, and, when she gave me a tin for Christmas, I squirreled it away so I could enjoy it without Jake’s interference. This occurred during the week he wanted to eliminate gluten from his diet, so I feel less bad about not offering him a taste. This snack mix is so addicting because it’s seasoned with dill and contains a big variety of snacks.

Butchers

Jake and I enjoyed our first pork tenderloin sandwiches at Butcher’s Steakhouse. What I enjoyed the most were their thin, hand-battered onion rings. These types of onion rings are all too rare and so very special. Of course, they were served with ranch.

  • Pasta Salad from Cafe Moxo, Springfield, Illinois

Cafe Moxo

Sara and I enjoyed a lot of memorable food in Springfield, Illinois, but one of our favorites was this pasta salad from Cafe Moxo. I ordered too many fried foods on this road trip, so this vegetarian sandwich tasted especially refreshing. This pasta salad was tossed in a light dressing and contained fresh slivers of cucumber and feta.

More Springfield posts: Springfield Ghost Walk, Road Food, Attractions

bbq

Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids is one of the first Iowa bloggers I met. She’s also a talented cook who introduced me to my first ham ball. Her baked potato dip is silly good and her baked beans are the best I’ve ever tasted. I don’t state this lightly, as they really, truly are. We enjoyed them during the Harvest Bloggers Tour and hear they’re legendary in Franklin County. You can find the recipe on her blog. They contain a secret and surprising ingredient.

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I returned to The Burnsville Center, my childhood mall, for this taste of nostalgia. While I’m unsure if the ownership has changed since our last visit with my mom, the Philly Bomb tasted exactly the same. I had more fun writing this post reminiscing about the 90’s mall experience than any other. Sometimes the most satisfying posts are the ones we write for ourselves.

My Most Read Posts Written During 2014

1. Thoughts On Our First Naturebox Snacks

2. My Knoephla Soup Recipe: A Taste of North Dakota In Iowa

3. Ipsy Glam Bag Review, April 2014 (followed by March, February & January)

4. My First Membox: A Korean Tries Korean Beauty Products

5. Introducing The Every Bar In Mason City Quest

6. How To Make The Perfect Frozen Pizza

7. Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Hometown Restaurants

What was one of the best things you ate during 2014? 

What Details Make A Dining Experience Extra Special Or Extra Annoying?

Des Moines author, columnist and blogger Wini Moranville recently wrote about “What to Look for Before You Splurge in a Restaurant,” which gave me some food for thought.

After I read her piece, I’ve pondered the little things that make a dining experience extra special or extra annoying. Of course, I notice different details depending on the restaurant’s price range, but here’s what’s generally on my list:

Annoyances

  • Serving asparagus with the tough, woody stalks. This especially bothers me if I’m at a more expensive restaurant. If Rachel Ray can remember to snap off the tough ends of her asparagus each time she prepares them on 30-Minute Meals, you can too.

asparagus woody ends.jpg

  • Serving wilted or rusting lettuce: This is just so lazy. Especially if the lettuce is part of a salad or hamburger garnish, where I know someone actually placed the blemished produce on my plate by hand.

bad salad 1.jpg

  • Not providing salt on the tables: I maintain my viewpoint that withholding salt is arrogant, no matter the chef’s talent. I wrote a whole post on this topic earlier this year.
  • Telling not-technically lies: Phrases like “freshly-baked,” and “hand-rolled,” lead customers to assume a product is house-made, but can often mean that the restaurant receives frozen dough or pastries that they thaw and bake or form in the store. It’s not that I won’t eat these foods, I just think restaurants should call it like it is.

Thrills

  • Offering prices on specials: I appreciate when a restaurant lists the prices of their daily specials and/or encourages servers to automatically state the price of the specials. That being said, the burden is still on the customer. ALWAYS ask for the price of a daily special and never make assumptions. I’ve gotten burned by assuming that a special would be affordable or feeling too embarrassed to ask for the price in fear that I’d be considered “cheap.” I’ll never forget how I felt upon discovering that my waterlogged, baked catfish fillet special cost $30. Don’t be bashful.
  • Making customers genuinely feel like family: The restaurants that truly make you feel like you are apart of their family are special, whether lowbrow or highbrow. Sincere hospitality fosters loyalty and regulars. For example, Jake and I visit a Mexican restaurant in town where the bartender always remembers who we are and what we typically order. For all we know, there’s a different Mexican restaurant in town with better food, but we’ll be darned if we cheat on our favorite staff.
  • Offering creative-non alcoholic drinks: I realize alcohol is a huge revenue generator at restaurants, but I appreciate the places that offer creative, non-alcoholic options. Not everyone can drink or wants to drink for a thousand different reasons. People who choose not to drink alcohol deserve to have nice things to drink beyond soda, coffee, O’Douls, Shirley Temples, and Roy Rogers. There are evenings that I might pay a premium price for a high quality, non-alcoholic beverage. Mezzaluna in Fargo, ND comes to mind because the bartenders are happy to whip up the most beautiful non-alcoholic drink if you’d like one.
  • Honoring requests for extra spicy: This is just a personal preference, but since Jake and I like spicy food, we are thrilled when a restaurant will actually make food extra spicy. This is especially challenging to find in the Midwest, outside of a larger metropolitan area. We’ve begged for our orders to be extra extra spicy to no avail. Our theory is that restaurants might be hesitant to add heat, because enough people who requested extra-spicy had ended up sending back the dish for being too spicy. I’ve finally seemed to crack the code by adding the phrase, “You can’t hurt me. I promise.” Two for two, ya’ll!
  • Automatically providing tap water: I’m always appreciative when a server automatically provides tap water when we first arrive at a restaurant. Oftentimes, customers need to ask for a glass of water, while others seem to assume that a customer doesn’t want a glass of water if he or she orders a drink. I’m not sure about the reasoning behind how a restaurant decides whether or not to automatically offer guests water, but it feels welcoming to receive water without asking.

What irks you about a dining experience or makes it extra special? Do you think I’m completely off base with any of these points? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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