Boulevardier

Dallas, Texas

Boula5

I will readily admit that I am a big fan of Chef Nathan Tate’s restaurants. I enjoyed Ava, love Rapscallion, and had high hopes for Boulevardier. I was not disappointed!

Boulevardier is located a little off the beaten path in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas. It is a very stylish, but casual, upscale French bistro and bar. The restaurant has a cozy, exposed brick interior with a wrap-around bar in the front. There are wine racks lining the walls, modern artwork, gold-framed mirrors, sleek tables, colorful booths, and an outside dining area.

The dinner menu is varied with French-inspired dishes as well as more typical American foods. Choose from French bistro fare such as onion soup, steak frites, crawfish beignets, duck wings, and bouillabaisse. If those items don’t appeal to your taste buds – try the oysters, pork chops, burgers, or steaks selections. Bouldevardier seems to have something for everyone, including  a long list of classy craft cocktails and an extensive wine list. 

 

IMG_20180623_182730522

My husband and I dined here for the first time last month and had an outstanding meal. We each ordered wines by the glass from their impressive wine list and enjoyed both of our choices. We choose the Cheese Board to share as our appetizer and it was outstanding. It contained four types of cheese, bread, crackers, nuts, fruit and honey. I don’t think I have met many cheese boards that I didn’t like but this one was exceptional! These selections rotate periodically at the chef’s choosing.

Next up were our entrees. My husband ordered the Wild Boar Ragout Pappardelle and it was delicious. Luckily he is a kind man and shares his food, so I graciously sampled a bite or two (or more!). This dish had house-made pasta, tender meat, local greens, parmesan cheese, and was topped with house-made ricotta. It was very tasty. I decided on the Crisp Chicken Paillard for my entree  and it was amazing as well. This dish consisted of a thin, breaded chicken breast cutlet topped with greens, haricot verts, heirloom tomatoes, olives, capers, cucumber slices, parmesan, and a peppadew vinaigrette. The chicken was tender, cooked perfectly, and the overall combination of flavors was spot on. I enjoyed every bite! We has also ordered a side of Mac & Cheese (our waiter’s suggestion) and it was also amazing. This was a large portion of  pasta, creamy mornay, gruyere, parmesan, garlic and fresh thyme sprinkles – think comfort food 2.0.  This made great leftovers the following day!

IMG_20180623_192156899

Never ones to refuse desserts (even when full and satisfied), we decided to order and split Nancy’s Bread Pudding (one of my favorite desserts). It came beautifully plated with a large portion of sweet bread pudding, huckleberry jam, bourbon butter sauce, and was topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. It was a perfect end to a perfect meal. 

 

We really had a most enjoyable meal this particular evening. From the convenient valet parking – to the lively ambiance – to the service and food, it was a dining experience we look forward to repeating very soon.  I would love to try their brunch next – the menu looks quite appetizing.

I hope you will be inspired to dine at Boulevardier in the near future for brunch or dinner. We may see you there. Cheers!

 

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Colorado Springs, CO

073

My family and I just returned from a trip to Colorado and a visit to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The zoo was absolutely spectacular!

This zoo is located 6,800 ft. above sea level and is built on the side of a forested mountain with breathtaking views. It was founded in 1926 and is the highest zoo in the nation. It has recently been voted the 4th best zoo in the United States.  There are 15 main exhibits that cover over 140 acres and house over 170 different species of animals.  Each exhibit “mirrors” natural habitats in the wild and makes you feel like you are transported around the globe. 

IMG_20180708_142323897

One of the first areas after you enter the gates will be Encounter Africa. This award-winning exhibit puts you face-to-face with a dozen or so reticulated giraffes. These gentle, long-necked animals are eye-level and you can hand-feed them zoo-provided lettuce ($2-$5 purchase). Beware the long, slimy tongues but try to enjoy all the surprised looks when lettuce-feeders are freaked out! The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has the largest giraffe herd of any zoo in the country (16 of them!) due in part to their prolific breeding program (200 births in 6 years). This was an unforgettable experience for everyone in my family.

There are a number of other animal feedings that are offered throughout the park. We happened upon the elephant feeding ($15 for an apple and carrot).  This a once-in-a-lifetime experience and great photo op! We also fed seed-encrusted, peanut butter sticks to rooms full of parakeets in the Budgie Buddies exhibit. There was another feeding exhibition we happened upon in the Rocky Mountain Wild area. A zoo attendant was illustrating what one specific grizzly bear preferred to eat (she liked meat, watermelon, and peanut butter but did not like cucumber!). These bears were HUGE and frightening! We watched as this one female bear swatted away undesirable food offered by the attendant while the other grizzly swam, ran around, and scratched itself on a dead tree.  They were pretty entertaining….but still scary as hell! 

The one experience that my family will not soon forget was our animal encounter at the Australian Walkabout. This habitat houses emus and a tree kangaroo and is located on the uppermost part of the zoo. This is a fairly steep, though gradual, walk (beware calf muscles!). The main section is a grassy, gated-off area where adult and baby wallabies hop all around you. They recline, bask in the sun, dig in the grass, take baths, sit next to you, and jump all around with no fear whatsoever. Being up close and personal with wallabies is not something I get to do everyday in Texas! We loved this!!

I was also quite impressed with the Reptile House. I have never seen such artistic and beautiful reptile enclosures – backdrops, shiny tiles, glass sculptures, etc. It was most unusual and very interesting. A few of my other highlights included seeing a baby meerkat and wallaby, taking a selfie with a giraffe, getting up close to a moose and grizzly, and stopping every now and then to catch the gorgeous views of Colorado Springs below us. It was prefect weather and made for a great day!

There is so much more to write about this zoo, but I was just impressed by how extensive the park was and how well it is constructed. I honestly do not like even calling this a “zoo” since it doesn’t have that feel to it. It is rather compact, easy to navigate, and feels more like a wildlife sanctuary.  All the animals appear to be healthy and happy – though I certainly can’t speak for them. There are none of the small, concrete enclosures with distressed, pacing animals that have always bothered me and given many zoos a bad name. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo seems to give people a real sense of a natural habitat and doesn’t simply enclose the animals in cages for viewing. My family was impressed.

I hope that you get to visit Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in the future. If you get the opportunity, I suggest you wear comfy shoes, take water and apply plenty of sunscreen. You will be glad you did!

091

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a non-profit and does not receive any local or public tax support. They participate in more than 30 Cooperative Species Survival Programs. The zoo is open 365 days a year.

Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille

Dallas, Texas

If you are looking for that perfect fine-dining meal, I would like to suggest Perry’s in uptown Dallas. This is a great restaurant for a date night, a celebration or a business meeting. 

Perry’s Steakhouse has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a meat market and butcher shop that began in 1979. Today Perry’s remains true to its roots and serves only the finest cuts of hand-selected, USDA-aged prime beef and pork. If you are a meat lover – this is definitely your kind of place.

My husband and I just recently dined at Perry’s for the third time and had another wonderful dining experience. The valet parking is very convenient and affordable ($5). The upscale interior is warm and inviting, refined and elegant. I immediately noticed the beautiful light fixtures that set the tone and give the dining rooms a romantic ambiance. There is a modern bar area, a 5,000-bottle “wine wall”, several large open dining areas, an outdoor patio and a sunken wine cellar where we were seated. It was very cozy, private, and comfortable. The award-winning menu offers an impressive list of wine and cocktails. Appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts are all upscale and every dish is high quality.  Service has always been very attentive, personable and prompt.

During the month of July,  Perry’s is offering two special anniversary menus. On Sunday evenings they offer a 3-course Pork Chop Dinner (salad, pork chop and dessert) for $34.95. They are also offering an evening special “4 for $44” (appetizer, salad, entree and dessert). These are both great deals since the 32 oz. pork chop usually runs $40 alone!

Now let’s talk about their incredible Signature Pork Chop. Perry’s famous pork chop is a “7 finger high” pork chop (think three, very thick pork chops stacked on top of each other). The pork is cured, roasted, slow-smoked and then caramelized. It is brought out to your table whole and is then carved table-side for your viewing pleasure. It is cut and separated on your plate with one huge chunk of pork loin (fork tender), the eyelash (the tastiest and most tender part) and the three individual, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops (very flavorful). It is absolutely delicious and enough meat for at least two people. This is served with a side of tasty applesauce. Perfection.

We chose to have the “4 for $44” special this particular evening. We began with house-made Polish Sausage and Fried Asparagus appetizers. Both were good but my favorite was the battered asparagus spears with a garlic/lemon/butter sauce and the crab topping. Yum! The Caesar Salad and Kale Salad were both fresh and delicious. My favorite here was the Kale Salad with its tangy jalapeno vinaigrette dressing, shaved parmesan, and tiny, crunchy croutons. Next came our entrees – the signature Pork Chop for my husband and the Chicken Oscar with Roasted Aparagus for me. The two chicken cutlets were well-seasoned and the lump crab meat was very tasty but nothing really compares to that hunka-hunka pork chop! Our dessert choices were the Dessert Trio (vanilla bean crème brulée, chocolate crunch and praline cheesecake bites) and the Nutty D’Angelo – which we shared. This “nutty” dessert was quite the spectacle. The wait staff came to our table and flambéed crushed pecans, brown sugar and brandy and poured it over a huge ball of vanilla ice cream that was topped with white chocolate and almonds plated on a chocolate drizzled dessert plate. Need I say more?

Overall, we had a great dining experience. It is rare when we hit the trifecta these days with service, food, and atmosphere. Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille is well worth checking out and I hope you go visit during the month of July for these great money-saving specials. Perry’s is not inexpensive… but the quality and quantity of food easily justifies the cost. Bon appetit!

 

Prayer Lavender Garden

Rockwall, TX

I just found another one of Rockwall’s little hidden jewels – Prayer Lavender Garden near Terrell, Texas. This small lavender and herb farm is owned by a young husband and wife team. The couple started the farm after being awarded the Young Farmer’s Grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture. They just opened a few weeks ago on June 8th.

Prayer Lavender Garden encompasses 3 acres of beautifully maintained farm land. There are over 2000 lavender plants (3 varieties), 200 blueberry bushes and a variety of herbs. There is also a greenhouse, a bee hive, a playground, and several garden areas. If you prefer to be reflective, there are various benches on the property where you can sit and relax while enjoying the scenery.

The Barn is the onsite store and is filled with all types of natural, handcrafted lavender and herb products for purchase. There is a nice selection of fresh lavender, dried lavender, lavender wreaths, and sachets. Check out the great selection of lip balms, lotions, candles, bath bombs, soap, wax melts, coffees, teas, scone mixes, and spices. They also have fresh coffees and lemonades for sale. The homemade blueberry lemonade was delicious.

Step outside The Barn and you can grab a bite to eat at the outdoor cafe – the Daily Bread Cafe. They offer lemonades, limeades, coffee, tea and soft drinks. Foods include hummus, spinach artichoke dip, salads, sandwiches and chips. Don’t miss out on the delicious pie slices (apple cinnamon, lavender honey blueberry, cherry pear, and blueberry!) or a homemade scone. There are nice outdoor tables and seating available  at the cafe where you can eat your meal and enjoy the scents of the lavender plants all around you.

I just visited here with a group of lady friends and we really enjoyed it. The owners were extremely friendly and helpful and the entire farm is clean, neat and well laid out. We wandered through the gardens, then visited the shop to purchase a few items to take home. It is well worth a short visit and to grab a bite to eat. Don’t forget to take a slice of pie home – it was fabulous!! Check their website from time to time as well because they offer some wreath-making classes. What fun!

The Prayer Lavender Garden is open Friday and Saturday from 9:00 – 6:00 and Sunday 9:00 – 5:00. I hope you take the time to go visit and check it out for yourself. Enjoy!

IMG_20180622_102702008

Magnolia Table

Waco, Texas

On a visit down to the Magnolia Market and Silos in Waco with a friend a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t think a “Chip & Joanna Gaines / Fixer Upper” excursion would be complete without a visit to their newest endeavor – the Magnolia Table.

Waco’s old Elite Cafe is now the Magnolia Table and the latest money-maker in the Fixer Upper empire. Built in 1919, the Elite Cafe was a very popular stop for people driving to and from Dallas and Austin for many decades. It was famous for being the first air-conditioned building in Waco and was rumored to be where Elvis dined with friends on his way to Fort Hood. Elite closed its doors in 2016. Many Waco residents, including Chip and Joanna, hated to see this designated historic landmark fall into disrepair and ruin.

IMG_20180531_102918887

Chip Gaines had always dreamed of owning a “breakfast joint” and the timing seemed to be right. This location, only 10 minutes from the Magnolia Silos, became the couple’s next big investment. They were beginning to film the last season of their show and were figuring out their next move.  They purchased the Elite and began renovations. Magnolia Table ended up being a two-year, two-million dollar project when all was said and done. They opened the doors on February 26, 2018.

All renovations had to comply with Texas Historical Commission guidelines due to the building’s historic landmark status. Joanna needed to design a plan that preserved the building’s history while giving it a fresh start – I think she did a great job!  The restaurant’s new interior has clean lines, stunning natural light, black & white tile floors, shiny subway tiles, stylish lighting fixtures, beautifully vaulted ceilings, and redwood beams. Joanna Gaines did not try to reinvent anything – she just came up with a great, open design and put thought into every small detail (I particularly liked the hooks for your purse and leather pockets to stash your phone in that are at each table). Old black & white Elite Cafe photos, mirrors, decorative water carafes, vases with greenery, and fresh flowers add to the ambiance and the farmhouse charm. Metal signage reminds you “the good ole days are still to come” and “everyone has a seat at the table.” 

 

Magnolia Table is only open for breakfast and lunch. They do not take reservations so be prepared to come and chill for a while. Fortunately, there is a nice outdoor waiting area with a covered patio, an open patio, a coffee and pastry bar, a kid’s play area, and a takeaway market and gift shop on site. When you check in, you are given a phone app that updates your place in line and is very handy. It is all very efficient and the staff is super friendly.

Once you get into the restaurant, the menu is simple. Magnolia Table serves old-fashioned, down-home cooking – think diner food. They advertise that they try to use only fresh, homegrown ingredients and state that most of the produce comes from Joanna’s farm or from local vendors. My friend and I dined here for brunch/early lunch and wanted to split some choices. We ordered the Silos Baking Co. Bread Basket (butter croissant, chocolate croissant, zucchini bread, blueberry muffin and lemon poppyseed bread) for starters. This fresh pastry basket was well worth the $10 cost and we had leftovers!  I then had the Avocado Toast for my meal and it was delicious. The creamy avocado was spread on multi-grain toast, served with microgreens and a side of sea salt and red pepper flakes ($8). My friend ordered the French Toast Breakfast that came with two slices of toast, strawberry butter, two eggs, peppered bacon and tater tots for $12. The Alabama Sweet Tea was the perfect addition to our meal and everything tasted fresh and delicious. It was most enjoyable and inexpensive for the quantity of food served. Other menu items include burgers, sandwiches, salads, desserts, etc.

Now for the honest part of this dining and travel blog.    Did I enjoy my visit here?  I did, very much so.   Am I a fan of Fixer Upper and Chip & Joanna?  Most definitely.   Did I mind an hour wait for a decent meal?  Not really, since it was my first visit. I enjoyed exploring the TakeAway Market and the grounds.  Would I want to rush back anytime soon for the same experience?  Probably not.  Would it be worth the 2-3 hour wait that we heard was normal on the weekends?  No way. Not ever.  Would I suggest that you visit the Magnolia Table?   You bet! Especially if you are a fan of Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines. It is a must see. A visit to Waco and the Magnolia Market and Silos wouldn’t be complete without a stop here for a meal.

Will I go back anytime soon? Maybe when friends or family come to visit and want to make a trek down to Waco in the far-off future. I learned a long time ago – never say never!  After all, if the Elite Cafe/Magnolia Table was good enough for Elvis…..it is good enough for me…..again!

13886

 

Magnolia Market at the Silos

Waco, Texas

 

I want to give a big heartfelt thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines for putting Waco in the national limelight! If you are a fan of HGTV, home renovations, or interior decorating – you are most likely familiar with the very popular dynamic duo, Chip and Joanna, from the show Fixer Upper. If you haven’t heard of them, you may be living under a rock.

IMG_20180531_135256298

Let’s start with their backstory. In 2003 the Gaineses opened their first Magnolia Market in a small storefront on Bosque Street in Waco. They also started Magnolia Homes Construction and worked both of these businesses as they started their family. Chip headed up the construction side – Joanna ran the design part of the business. Their creativity, work ethic, popularity, and down-home Southern charm soon landed them starring roles in the Fixer Upper show in 2014. The rest, they say, “is history.”

 

 

After a couple of years of running their businesses and filming their cable show, Joanna’s home decor business had physically outgrown the original Magnolia Market shop. They now had their eyes on a sprawling downtown Waco property that included 2 huge rusty grain silos, a 20,000 sq. ft. abandoned barn, and 2.5 acres of property. This site had housed the historic Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company (built in the 1950′s) and had sat in ruin for decades. With their vision, capital, and hard work – the Gaineses opened the Magnolia Market at the Silos in October 2015. They did an impressive job of re-purposing this decayed agricultural property and have now turned it into a goldmine.

IMG_20180531_131430253

The Magnolia Market at the Silos now welcomes more visitors (200,000 more) than the Alamo each year! There are several parts that make up this compound today. The Magnolia Market is now a nationally- recognized store offering boutique decor, stylish home design accents, books, and gift items. There are two separate areas that make up the huge warehouse. Magnolia Seed & Supply is a little corner garden with a wooden teepee, produce beds, fresh flowers, and a garden shop. Silos Baking Company is a free-standing on-site bakery that sells cupcakes & cookies. These delicious sweet treats are Joanna’s personal recipes and the Gaines family’s handpicked favorites. 

 

 

If you have the opportunity to visit, make the time to wander around a bit and take in all the various moving parts of the property and fully appreciate all that it offers. It is not “just a store.” Besides the main warehouse building, iconic silos, and garden area – there is a large central green field (with artificial turf) for lawn games, picnic tables, benches, food trucks and gorgeous landscaping and design elements throughout.

 

 

While visiting the Magnolia Market last week, my mind kept flashing back to certain elements of Disney World. There were quite a few similarities between the two places. Both offered a nice, family-friendly in a “homey” environment. Everything was neat as a pin. Every employee was in uniform and was friendly and helpful. All displays were inviting and well-stocked. Every section was streamlined to get you in and out as efficiently as possible. There was not one piece of trash to be found anywhere and every single area we visited was clean, neat and pristine. And unfortunately, very much like Disney, there were lines everywhere!! It WAS crowded but most enjoyable, even after all was said and done!

 

 

Despite the crowds of people and the Texas summer heat I encountered last week, I still say that Magnolia Market is well worth a visit. It is such a great concept and lets you experience the work of Chip & Joanna Gaines first-hand. The show really doesn’t give this place the justice it deserves. I am so glad that they were able to see their hard work pay off and their dreams come to fruition. I also give “kudos” to the Gaines family for their tireless work in the revitalization of Waco (they employ over 600 people to help run their various businesses).  You make Texas proud.

 

La Jolla

California

IMG_20180316_161728833

If you are looking for a beautiful seaside resort for a vacation getaway, look no further than La Jolla, California. This little town north of San Diego is located on seven miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline.

 

The name La Jolla actually comes from the Spanish words “La Joya” which means “the jewel”. Once you see this area – you will understand how it earned this name. There are gorgeous ocean views at every turn. Luxury shops, waterfront restaurants, boutique hotels, art galleries, and parks are located steps away from beautiful blue waters and breathtaking sea cliffs.

IMG_20180315_175709355

My husband and I recently visited La Jolla after a vacation that included Palm Springs and Temecula. San Diego and La Jolla were the last stops on this California trip and all are within easy driving distances. We stayed at a little boutique hotel in La Jolla (Pantai Inn) just steps away from the coastline and in walking distance of shopping and restaurants. It was a perfect location!

 

The La Jolla Walking Trail was located right in front of our hotel property. This paved walkway runs from the La Jolla Shores Beach to the La Jolla Cove. It is favored by locals and tourists alike and is enjoyed by joggers, dog walkers, families, bikers and casual walkers – like us! We walked this trail several times and enjoyed the grassy parks, the spectacular ocean views, the hidden beaches, the rocky shores, and the sandstone cliffs.  We encountered numerous sea birds and sea lions along the way. One of the most popular spots along the trail is the La Jolla Cove. This is a very scenic, ecologically protected beach for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.  If you keep following the trail past La Jolla Cove, you end up at the La Jolla Sea Cave. This is a very unique, natural formation with heavy surf, crashing waves, and clear ocean water. This is also a popular area for divers and kayakers.  

 

One of our La Jolla excursions was to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This park is located north of San Diego between La Jolla and Del Mar, along the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline. There are miles of hiking trails, odd-shaped pine trees, sandstone canyons, sea cliffs, ocean views, wide beaches, and championship golf courses. The park’s namesake, the Torrey pine, is the rarest native pine tree and is an endangered species that grows only in this park. You may recognize its familiar, wind-blown, asymmetrical shape.

690

If you like outdoor adventure, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is definitely the place to visit near La Jolla. Just lace up your shoes, pack your sunscreen and water, and bring your camera! The hiking trails are all well-maintained and are well-marked. Some are easy, some are more difficult. There is plenty of parking and a ranger station to visit for info before heading out on the trailheads. All of the trails provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean from high vantage points. A couple of trails have beach access and will lead you to the cliff-lined, sandy beaches. Other trails are lined with huge sandstone structures, pine trees, succulents, and beautiful wild-flowers. I will never forget the picturesque views we encountered on the trails here.

 

At the end of these busy days of exploring, we were always extremely hungry and ready for a great meal. We found restaurants very close to our hotel – most in walking distance. The first night we dined at 910 Restaurant and had a most exceptional meal! We sat on the patio and had cocktails and one of the best culinary dishes I have ever had. The next night, we ate at the Crab Catcher and had a great ocean-view table that looked over the Sea Cave. We drank local California wine and dined on fresh seafood – delicious!

 

Great views, great adventures, and great food – what is not to like? La Jolla, you were truly a “jewel” to me! I enjoyed every moment – even the extremely smelly sea lions.

 

Food for thought – Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, lived in La Jolla. I wonder if the strangely shaped, wind-blown Torrey pine trees were an inspiration for some of his crazy, whimsical, cartoon trees? There are reports that his Lorax tree was actually inspired by this tree we walked by in Scripps Park at La Jolla Cove. Who knew?!

 

 

Rapscallion

Dallas, TX

IMG_20180408_145332045

I tend to get asked about brunch recommendations more than anything else that I blog about. Here is one of my recent favorites to pass along to you – Rapscallion.

This little neighborhood bistro is located on Lowest Greenville Avenue in the same strip center as Trader Joe’s. Rapscallion is the brain-child of three local chefs, one being Nathan Tate (Chef Tate is a Rockwall native and may be familiar to you from his co-ownership of Ava in downtown Rockwall). They have developed a very creative menu that I would describe as “modern Southern comfort with a Texas flair.”

Rapscallion’s decor is modern and rustic with both indoor and outdoor seating. Indoor seating is bright and open with a well-decorated bar area and open kitchen. Choose from cozy booths, high-top tables, regular tables or bar seats. One of my favorite things about this restaurant is the absence of televisions. Imagine that!! People can actually talk and visit with each other for a change. This makes for a very friendly, lively and enjoyable atmosphere.

Rapscallion’s latest brunch menu has a nice selection of drinks and cocktails. Pick your poison – I suggest a Mimosa, Peach Bellini, or Bloody Mary.  Next on the agenda…what to order? This is the most difficult part for me! Start with an order of Grammy’s Monkey Bread (cinnamon pecan sweet rolls baked in a cast iron skillet) or a Biscuit and Gravy. These are both great dishes for sharing. Let me stop here and say – Rapscallion KNOWS how to make biscuits, real Southern-style biscuits. Their square-cut biscuits are big, fluffy, and light – just the way they are supposed to be. And the gravy is thick, creamy and salty and exactly like my grandmother used to make. 

There are so many great entree choices on the brunch menu that it makes choosing ‘just one” very tough. Breakfast? Burger? Noodle Bowl? This is a tough decision! One of my favorite menu items is the Hot Brown, made famous at the Kentucky Derby.  This dish comes with thick slices of peppered turkey breast, crispy bacon, and sliced tomato served over toasted bread that is topped with a pimento cheese mornay sauce. Delicious! My other favorite brunch item is the Pulled Pork Benedict. This dish has an open-faced biscuit, mounds of lean pulled pork, poached eggs and a smoked peppadew hollandaise sauce. Both of the sauces on these two dishes are unique and dee-licious. I could eat the sauces, by themselves, with a spoon!

I haven’t made it back to Rapscallion for dinner but plan to in the very near future. Their Nashville Hot Chicken, Collard Greens, Macaroni & Cheese, Cornbread, Pickled Shrimp, Pimento Cheese and Shrimp & Grits are now on my radar and all sound quite intriguing. I also hear the Spicy Chicken & Biscuit and Sweet Potato Hash calling my name for another brunch!

I hope you will take the time to give Rapscallion a try for brunch or dinner sooner rather than later. When you get in the mood for inventive Southern food and cocktails in a casual, laid-back setting with friendly service – this is the place to go. Rapscallion certainly checked all the boxes for me! I hope to see you there.  🙂

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, CO

362

Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to head to one of Mother Nature’s brightest stars – Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only is this one of my favorite places on earth, National Geographic agrees and named it “one of the best trip destinations in the world.”

The park entrances are located 75 miles west of Denver and on the edge of the scenic town of Estes Park, Colorado. The drive to Estes Park has some stunning views and once inside the park, the scenery is even more breathtakingly beautiful. This vast mountain wilderness is a natural masterpiece with views of jagged peaks, high mountain lakes, waterfalls, wooded forests, grassy tundras, and 130-million-year-old glaciers. The Continental Divide runs right through the center of the park and the headwaters of the Colorado River begin here. It is a very impressive place, to say the least.

Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 and covers 415 square miles. It is one of those places that can be enjoyed by all ages and activity levels. You may choose to see the entire park while riding in the comfort of your vehicle. Drive along the Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved highway in North America, to the Alpine Visitor Center (elevation 11,800 ft.) and you will feel like you are on top of the world! If you are a more active person, you can take advantage of all the hiking, rock climbing, camping, fishing and winter skiing that the park allows. There are almost 400 miles of maintained hiking trails throughout the park that go through the grassy valleys, aspen and pine forests, and around mountain lakes. Some of the more challenging trails run along rock slides, waterfalls and on up to several mountain peaks. How about a hike up to the 14,260 ft. summit of Long’s Peak? Yep, me neither!

I have had the opportunity to visit this park in spring, summer and fall and I must admit that each season was very unique in its own way. Early spring had many of the park roads closed due to snow and ice – but it was wonderful hiking around frozen lakes in the snow and watching locals suit up for cross county skiing and snowshoeing. It was truly a winter wonderland with pristine snow, bright blue skies and few people. Summer brought out the green grasses, new forest growth, and fields of beautiful wildflowers. The temperature was great and the streams and lakes were crystal clear and very cold from the icy snow melt. Fall was a burst of colors. The trees turned every shade of yellow, orange and red and stood out from all the green pines, spruces, and firs. Animals were more visible as they were “chowing down” and storing fat before the winter came. Each season brings something new and different to the park and I was lucky to witness the various stages.

I have many favorite memories from my visits here. I loved hiking at a couple of the lakes with my husband last April. We trudged through deep powdery snow and followed trails through the forest along the water’s edge. The weather was mild and the sky was bright blue. John Denver’s music played in my head, “the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake” could not have been more appropriate. We sat and drank it all in. On another visit the following year, we hiked over a field of granite boulders and enjoyed a picnic at the Alluvial Fan. The waterfall here was amazing! One of the best experiences I had at Rocky Mountain National Park was a late summer morning when my friend Britten Echols and I arrived early to spend the day there exploring. Our first stop was at Sprague Lake. We were immediately shocked at the sight of a nearby momma moose, a baby moose (hidden in the grass close to us) and a young male moose  – both calmly standing in the lake eating moss. It was a “pinch me” moment and certainly not something we were used to seeing everyday in Texas! We walked around this entire lake and had a great picnic lunch before heading off for an afternoon hike around Bear Lake. By the end of this magical day, we had encountered several chipmunks, mule deer, a huge rutting elk, and a whole herd of bighorn sheep. It was an unbelievable day.

If you enjoy wildlife, adventure and nature – add Rocky Mountain National Park to the top of your bucket list! This whole park encompasses a breathtaking collection of mountains (most with elevations over 12,000 ft.), high tundras, gorgeous vistas, dense forests, 7 glaciers, 2 waterfalls, 147 lakes, and a treasure trove of animals. You can camp, rent a cabin, book a hotel in nearby Estes Park, or drive from the Denver area for a day trip. The park is open 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Cost can range from $20-$70 per day, depending on the season, and I can promise the trip will be priceless!

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Me too, John….me too.

Please feel free to leave comments regarding this blog. I love to hear about your experiences and insights pertaining to the places I write about. I would also appreciate you subscribing to my Southern Savvy Blog so that you can continue reading about my travel and dining adventures. Thank you!

Legacy Hall

Plano, Texas

If you have indecisive family and friends when it comes to choosing an eating place, Legacy Hall may be just what you need. Located just off the Tollway in Plano at Legacy West, Legacy Hall is a spacious food hall with 22 casual eateries and 8 bar areas. It is a sprawling, three-story, foodie’s dream!

Legacy Hall is this area’s first food hall and is currently the largest in the U.S.  The purpose behind Legacy Hall is to replicate the food halls that tend to be so popular in Europe. Most European food halls are public gathering places for all ages to enjoy a lively atmosphere, great drinks, and fresh foods from many local cultures – all under one roof.

Plano’s new Legacy Hall houses over 55,000 sq. ft. of food stalls, bars, breweries and seating areas.  Each food stall and bar has its own unique personality and specialties, and many are run by award-winning local chefs. There is also a Box Garden currently under construction, next to the main building, that will provide a stage and open area for outdoor entertainment. There will also be three shipping containers transformed into a BBQ restaurant, a margarita bar and a tiki bar for the outdoor patrons. 

Legacy2

When I first stepped into this huge building with so many dining options, I was instantly overwhelmed! I highly suggest wandering around, taking a lap or two, and checking out all three floors and the food choices before deciding what to order. It is so easy to want that first yummy thing you set your eyes on, but just around the corner may be something much better!

The next suggestion I would like to pass along is to not bring cash. Legacy Hall only takes debit or credit cards. It makes it much easier for the cashiers at each food stall and does seem to help speed up the ordering and checking out processes. After ordering your food and drink, grab your cup (if not drinking alcohol) for your self-serve beverage. Head to one of the two huge drink stations on the first and the second floors to fill your cup with water, soft drinks, and some rather unusual specialty sodas. Finally, while waiting for your food order, go find a seat. The crowds can be pretty thick on the first floor during peak times so head upstairs to the second and third floors where tables and chairs seem to be more plentiful. The second floor has some really nice outdoor patio tables that give you great views over the Box Garden and areas below. On a day with nice Texas weather, the patio option is hard to beat!

The food choices here at Legacy Hall are too numerous to name. Let’s just say, there is something for everyone! Each food stall, the signage, and employees’ dress fits the culture or food-type being served. It is a sensory overload for your eyes, ears and nose. Here are a few of the ones that caught our attention:

Shawarma Bar (Mediterranean street food) – Sea Breeze Lobsta’ & Chowda’ (lobster and shrimp rolls) – Freshfin Poke (poke bowls) – FAQ’s (flautas and quesadillas) – Enter the Bao (dim sum and bao) – Detour (charcuterie and wine) – Bar Main (alcohol) – Berrynaked (frozen fruit popsicles) – Blist’r Naan Wraps (Indian) – Bravazo Rotisserie (Latin) – Carlton Provisions (BBQ) – Degenhardt’s Brat Haus (German) – Knife Burger (specialty burgers) – Red Stix Yakitori & Banh Mi (Vietnamese) – Press Waffle Co. (sweet & savory) – Whisk & Eggs (sweet & savory crepes) – Stillhouse (cocktails)…to name a few.

While walking around checking out food vendors, be sure to notice all the cute signs throughout the building. “Count memories, not calories” (I agree!) and “East, Slay, Love” were two of my favorites.  The restroom doors actually made me pause for a few seconds. I had to do a double-take to make certain this was the restroom and not service entrances for meat and produce. I stood there perplexed, deciding between “Bananas and Sausages” or “Eggs and Peaches” when it finally hit me! Kudos to whoever had a sense of humor when designing this area. You did well.  🙂

Legacy Hall is open 7 days per week. I do hope you get a chance to visit in the near future. My last words of advice – go hungry – and save room for dessert!

Please subscribe to my blog if you have enjoyed what you have seen or heard! I really enjoy getting feedback and comments, so please take the time to leave those as well.

 

 

Temecula

California

I have heard rumblings regarding Temecula for the past couple of years from friends who have visited the Southern California wine country. My husband and I had a tennis trip planned to Palm Springs and decided to add this excursion and La Jolla to the end of our California vacation. I must say – it was a great decision and we thoroughly enjoyed our day spent in Temecula. I just wish we had planned to stay longer, though it does gives me a reason to return in the future!

318

The Temecula Valley Wine Country is located a short distance from Palm Springs (90 minutes), San Diego (90 minutes) and Los Angeles (2 hours). The name is actually a Native American word meaning “the sun that shines through the mist.”  This Mediterranean micro-climate with morning mist, warm midday sun, and cool evening ocean breezes makes this area perfect for growing all varieties of grapes.

For those of you who have visited Napa and Sonoma further north in California, the major difference is the landscape. Temecula has mostly hillside vineyards and more picturesque views with mountain backdrops. The wineries seem more casual, less commercial, less crowded, and are not spaced as far apart. This area reminded me more of Tuscany than the northern California wine country.

Though we did not have the time to experience all that Temecula had to offer, I would still like to share what we learned from friends. The Old Town area has historic 1800s buildings, antique shops and restaurants “fit for foodies.” There are over forty wineries in the area. Some are small & boutique, some are full-service wine and food resorts. There are spas, clothing shops, a casino, gourmet restaurants, golf courses, bike trails, horseback riding and hot air balloon rides. With three million visitors per year, there are a wide variety of places to stay. Choose from brand-name hotels, quaint inns, motels, vacation rentals or Bed & Breakfasts. Several of the wineries we saw also had their own lodging on-site.

Fazelli5

With only one day in Temecula we had to choose just a few wineries to explore. We began at Wilson Creek Winery and enjoyed their beautiful outdoor patio and sampled their high quality sparkling wines. This winery had come highly recommended from friends due to their Almond Sparkling Wine – delicious!  I also give two thumbs up for their Sparkling Sangria,  Sparkling Peach Bellini and Sparkling Rose’. This is one of the larger wineries with gardens, private tours, tasting rooms, and a restaurant.

Our next stop was Maurice Car’rie Vineyard (another friend’s suggestion) which was housed in a large Victorian-style farmhouse. We sat at a table on the front lawn overlooking the rolling hills and sampled their Chardonnays (oak and non-oak) and ate lunch. They serve up a huge crusty round of sourdough bread with fresh-baked brie inside. It paired perfectly with their crisp white wine.  This little winery was friendly, relaxed and unpretentious.

Next on our agenda, and only a couple of minutes away, was Bel Vino Winery. This was a little boutique winery sitting high on a hillside with great views from their back patio. I enjoyed their sense of humor with liitle signs leading up the walkway with sayings such as,”Wine not?” and “Get Merloaded This Way!” It was here that I enjoyed a most delicious port served in an edible chocolate cup. Perfection! This was a a very casual winery with picturesque views.

Our final stop of the day was chosen strictly because of location and the beautiful scenery surrounding the winery. Callaway Vineyard and Winery sat high on a hill surrounded by twenty acres of vines in the heart of Temecula.  This was a very modern, multi-storied building with lots of glass and clean lines. The outdoor seating areas were gorgeous with spectacular views below. I enjoyed something new here, a white wine called Roussanne. It was cool, dry, and tasted like a full-bodied chardonnay. My husband and I sat outside, drank our wine, snacked on mixed nuts, and hated that we had to leave this beautiful wine country so soon.

Though we didn’t have time to visit all the wineries and vineyards that we would have liked to, we enjoyed seeing many on our drive (this area is not too spread out). Architecture ranged from authentic farm settings, to Victorian style, to Spanish influences, to Tuscan inspired buildings.  All were unique and most were inviting. Besides the four wineries I mentioned in this blog that we experienced – other popular wineries in this area include Vindemia Vineyard, Avensole, Carter Estate, Gershon Brothers, Hart Winery, Foot Path, Lumiere, Miramonte, Falkner, and Fazeli Cellars. 

619

I hope if you are a lover of travel and wine that this blog inspires you to take a trip to this little hidden gem in Southern California. I would recommend at least a two or three day stay here in Temecula. It is the perfect trip to add on to if you find yourself in the Palm Springs, San Diego, La Jolla, Orange County, or Los Angeles area. You will be glad you did!

Cheers!

 

 

Parigi Restaurant

Dallas, Texas

I first discovered Parigi several years ago and  remember thinking “how have I not heard of this place sooner?” I think foodies and the neighborhood locals have purposely kept this small restaurant one of their best-kept secrets!

This quaint little gem is tucked away on Oak Lawn (between Lemmon Avenue and Cedar Springs) and has been in this same location for more than thirty years. Their menu can best be described as creative New American cuisine with strong French and Italian accents (“Parigi” is the Italian word for “Paris”).

Chef/Owner Janice Provost wanted Parigi to be like “a bistro in Paris with a New York feel”  and she succeeded. The cozy interior setting is chic, intimate and comfortable. There is a lovely little outdoor patio in front complete with cafe tables and beautifully lit trees. The ambiance can be perfect for a brunch with friends, a date night dinner, cocktails with girlfriends, or a casual business meeting.

I have had Parigi as one of my “go-to” restaurants for years now because they always seem to be at the top of their game. I have dined here for special occasions with family. I have had some romantic evenings with my husband and have also grabbed a casual meal before a play or sporting event. I have also invited and dined with friends wanting to introduce them to Parigi’s wonderful fare. 

I have always found the staff and service to consistently be friendly and attentive. The restaurant has a very chic, but casual, dining atmosphere without any “snooty” pressure. Drinks are always refilled and dirty utensils and plates are whisked away. Quite frankly, the main reason I keep returning to Parigi is because the food steals my heart every time. The creative menu changes twice a month and I love that! It gives me something to look forward to each visit. I never know what new dish I might fall in love each time, so each visit is a new and exciting experience.

IMG_20171209_184822995

Lobster BLT Trio with guacamole sidecar and a balsamic Eiffel Tower

Chef Provost sources their produce from local farmers, their cheese from small-batch cheese makers, and their seafood from sustainable fisherman. This is the main reason the menu changes frequently. They prepare their delicious entrees with whatever is fresh and in season at the time. Menu staples such as the Pappardelle, Gnocchi, Risotto and Fish are always featured – just with different ingredients and flavors depending on the growing season. 

Some of the standout dishes that I have enjoyed over the years include their award-winning Caesar Salad, a Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Watermelon Radishes, a Lobster BLT Trio, Beef Tenderloin Risotto, Crab Beignets, Grilled John Dory Fillet, Peppermint Red Velvet Cake, and a Chocolate Glob for dessert. Every item I have ordered has been beautifully plated, perfectly seasoned, and very tasty. That is why I keep going back!

If you are a true foodie or would just enjoy a great meal out – I highly suggest dining at Parigi. The restaurant has been voted one of the “Most Romantic Restaurants”  in Dallas and Chef Provost has been voted a “Dallas Chef Favorite.”  You will most likely see her working in the open kitchen or meet her when she frequently steps out to personally greet patrons at the tables.

I hope to see you at Parigi soon. Look for me! I’ll be the one dining on the patio, under the lights, with a martini and a nice grilled fish  🙂

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading my travel and food blog. If you would like to read more of my dining and travel experiences, feel free to subscribe. Please leave comments and suggestions as well. Thanks so much for your input – it is most appreciated!

Orange Beach

Alabama

IMG_20180204_140034473_HDR

When was the last time you went on a relaxing beach vacation? Maybe it is about time to plan that next excursion! How about a visit to Orange Beach where the Southern hospitality is as warm as the sun?

David (my husband) and I recently visited Orange Beach – my third visit and his first. I was born and raised in Mississippi and love returning to my roots in the deep South. You gotta love a place where several times a day you are addressed as “honey,” “sweetie,”  “sugar,” and told  “bless your heart”  in a friendly Southern drawl. Doors are held open for you, strangers strike up conversations, grits are a staple, and butter is served at every meal (whether you request it or not).

Orange Beach is located on the Alabama coast between Mobile and Pensacola, just down the highway from Gulf Shores. These beautiful beaches were a well-kept secret for many years but now more and more people, developers, and businesses have discovered this great little vacation spot. I guess it was just too difficult to keep Orange Beach’s 32 miles of  pristine white-sand beaches and turquoise waters hidden for too long. The soft white sand that makes up the beaches here looks and feels like powdered sugar. (It is made up of quartz grains that washed down from the Appalachian Mountains hundreds of thousands of years ago.)  These beaches are absolutely gorgeous and are now considered some of the best in the United States.

 On our most recent visit this February, David and I spent one morning at the Alabama Point East State Park. This park was located at the Perdido Pass Bridge and had plenty of free parking, picnic areas, restrooms, etc. What attracted us was the 6,000 feet of wide, white beaches and four boardwalks that led you over the sand dunes and sea oats and out onto the beaches. The sand, clear water, and unspoiled natural beauty of this area was breathtaking. One could spend hours or days here – loved it!

Another big perk about visiting Orange Beach is the wide variety of delicious food at your door step. Every season, there is some fresh catch-of-the-day being served! Choose from shrimp, crabs, oysters, grouper, flounder, or snapper just to name a few. Here are some of the places I have dined at in the past and enjoyed:  Cotton’s Restaurant is well-known for steaks and fresh seafood. It is located on the main drag in an old 1950’s wood-paneled, former beach house and has water views. Cobalt is located under the Perdido Bay Bridge with great views of the bay. They have tasty seafood dishes and are well-known for their creative happy hour drinks. Enjoy a meal or cocktail on their expansive patio located near boat slips for those coming by sea. There are some great sunset views here in the evening.  Cosmos is one of my favorite restaurants in this area. It is located a little off the beaten path and not near the beach, but is well worth the drive. Cosmos is an art-filled restaurant with outside bar, gift shop, live music and serves fancy Southern fare in a casual setting.  Lambert’s, just a short drive to Foley, is another area restaurant popular with locals and tourists alike. I can best describe it as “Cracker Barrel on steroids”. Lambert’s serves down-home Southern vittles with a flair. Fresh, hot baked rolls are thrown to your table from passing carts (or in Southern speak – rolls are “throwed” at ya!). Fried okra is spooned onto your paper towel and servers pass by your table serving up black-eyed peas, fried potatoes & onions, macaroni & tomatoes, and boiled cabbage as your side dishes. Other servers pass by with buckets of sorghum molasses and apple butter for your rolls. It is a meal and entertainment all in one! Another Broken Egg  and Brick and Spoon are both local, casual chains and are a “must do” for breakfast or brunch. They have wonderful service and top notch egg dishes, biscuits and gravy, French toast, beignets,  and many other dishes with a Southern or Cajun-Creole fare. Both had delicious brunch drinks including Mimosas, Bellinis and Bloody Marys….yum!

Orange Beach can appeal to old and young, couples or families. There seems to be something here for everyone to enjoy. There are several hiking trails, bird-watching areas and state parks in the area for those who want to get close to Mother Nature. There are dolphin tours, deep sea fishing charters, golf courses, biking trails and boat rentals.  Families with children can spend time at the water parks, miniature golf courses, and adventure parks. You can’t throw a shoe and not hit a T-shirt shop, beachwear boutique or souvenir shop for those who love shopping!

Orange Beach 2012 044

sunset view at Cobalt

My favorite memories from here are the days just spent on the beach with no plans other than reading a good book. My “happy place” has always been sitting in a beach chair with an umbrella over my head and my toes buried in the sand. I can sit for hours listening to the sea breezes and the crashing waves on the shoreline.  I love walking up and down the beach searching for the perfect shell and laughing when a rogue wave tries to knock me down.  I always enjoy seeing the pelicans flying low over the waves and watching the speedy little shore birds looking for their next meal in the surf. In my opinion, days just don’t get much better than this. 🙂

Hope to see you on the beach soon. The “Redneck Riviera” awaits!

 

The Grape

Dallas, TX

One of my favorite all time “go-to” restaurants is The Grape. Located on lower Greenville in Dallas, this restaurant was opened in 1972 and my husband and I have been patrons since the early 1980s. We have seen several chefs come and go  – but the service and food has remained impeccable throughout these past thirty years.

The Grape is a little difficult for me to describe. It is a great place to take the family for a weekend brunch. It can be the perfect spot for a romantic dinner and a couple’s night out. It also fits the bill when dining with friends before a play or event in downtown Dallas. The cozy interior dining area is very charming and can take on a romantic vibe without feeling stodgy. The covered patio is perfect for brunch or a more casual happy hour visit.

The menu changes monthly, though some of the long-time featured items remain. Food selections range from European bistro, to New American innovative, to down-home style. A couple of their signature specialties are the Mushroom Soup (the best ever!) and the Brunch Burger (voted one of the best in Dallas).  The Cheese & Charcuterie boards are always unique and tasty. Their featured fish dishes have been some of the best I have ever had. The various steaks, Shrimp & Grits, Portabella Wellington, and Coal Miner’s Pasta are just a few of the “stand-out” dishes that I can remember. For those with smaller appetites, you may order small (or half) portions of many salads and entrees on the dinner menu. The wine selections and cocktail lists are always impressive.

On our last visit to The Grape with friends, I had a Pear Prosecco cocktail – which was a great start to a wonderful meal. I then had a small cup of Mushroom soup, because it is just too hard to resist! Next came the Courtney Salad which is another one of my favorites – with fresh butter lettuce, sunflower seeds, carrots, cherry tomatoes and blue cheese vinaigrette dressing (served with a warm bread basket and fresh butter). My entree choice was the Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Lemon Parmesan Risotto and Broccoli Rabe. I then chose the Banana Fosters Bread Pudding for dessert.  Other members in my party had the Bacon Cheeseburgers, the Mustard-Crusted Salmon entree, and a Brandied Cherry & Dark Chocolate Terrine for dessert. Everything was flavorful and delicious! The wonderful ambiance, the great service, and the exceptional food and drink made for another perfect evening meal at The Grape.

The Grape’s Saturday and Sunday brunches are highly rated and offer more wonderful food options. I hope you get the opportunity to dine here in the near future for either brunch or dinner. Both menus are hard to beat. A final selling point – there is complimentary valet parking at the front door! 

All of this reminiscing about 30+ years of great meals at The Grape now has me ready for an encore. I hope to see you there!

Bon appetit!!

Please feel free to leave comments about this dining blog. I love to hear from my readers! If you enjoyed reading this article about The Grape and would like to read other restaurant or travel reviews, please subscribe to my Southern Savvy blog. Thank you!

Sedona, Arizona

022

Hopefully many of you are starting to plan trips and adventures for this next year. Check out Sedona  – it may be just the place for you!

My husband and I visited Arizona this past year and flew into Phoenix, rented a car, and drove through the scenic Verde Valley into Sedona. Nestled among striking red sandstone formations and surrounded by pine forests, steep canyon walls, and red rock buttes – the first views of Sedona will take your breath away. This area is well-known for majestic crimson and orange rock formations, a mild climate, lots of natural beauty, and strong energy forces (vortexes). Sedona had lots to offer and you can easily fill each day of your stay with a variety of activities.

The town itself is filled with restaurants, art galleries, New Age shops, spas, and shopping areas. It was mostly the variety of outdoor activities that attracted us to this area. Visitors to the Sedona area can run, hike, mountain bike, camp, rock climb, and off-road all around this vibrant, stunning landscape. We enjoyed a jeep tour, hiking trails, a psychic reading, and visited a popular energy vortex. We also used Sedona as a base for visiting The Grand Canyon one day.

Some of the places we enjoyed on our trip included:

Chapel of the Holy Cross – a small chapel built in a remarkable, surprising location.  It juts out of the mountain, on top of a red rock butte, with gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding area.  Be forewarned! This was quite an uphill hike from the parking lot to the chapel….gasp….but well worth the views.

Cathedral Rock – a famous, huge red rock formation and one of the most photographed sights in Sedona. This place is very popular with experienced climbers and hikers. We enjoyed a scenic hike along the base of the rock and crossed dry creek beds, walked amid boulders, and saw all types of wild animal tracks.

Bell Rock – an upside-down, bowl-shaped rock that is very popular with the outdoor crowd. Trails run around and up into the sandstone formation. This location is frequented by the more advanced hikers and can be quite dangerous.

Honanki Ruins– We took a Pink Jeep Tour to view the cliff-dwelling remains of this ancient Pueblo sight. The ruin dates back to the 12th-14th centuries and has some stunning rock art and pictographs. Our tour was most enjoyable and our guide made the trip even better. He was very knowledgeable about the sights, the land, and the history – it made the visit much more interesting. 

Airport Mesa – this is a hiking loop around Table Top Mountain that gives you spectacular panoramic views of Sedona below. Hiking trails meander through basalt boulders and red rocks and end at a point where the strongest vortex in the United States is thought to be. This was one of my favorite hikes of our trip! Not only were the views fantastic, we met some really friendly locals and learned a little more about these mystical vortexes (which we never felt!).

McDonald’s – Sedona has the ONLY McDonald’s that does not have golden arches! What? I know!! The city government decided that the yellow arches clashed with the red rocks, so McDonald’s caved and allowed them to have the only restaurant with turquoise arches. You gotta love a color-conscious, artsy city who stands their ground.

IMG_20171008_091853349_HDR

We thoroughly enjoyed getting red dirt on our hiking shoes every day and exploring a few of the trails around this area. There are countless trails all over Sedona and the rock formations that range from leisurely jaunts to long, challenging, backpack treks. Most of these areas have ample parking, restrooms, and well-marked trails. It truly is an outdoorsman’s and nature lover’s paradise.

One final word of advice if you plan a trip to Sedona – do not wear white shoes.

069

 

Lavendou Bistro

Plano, Texas

IMG_20171104_180458287_HDR

When you write dining and travel blogs, your friends start giving you all kinds of great advice and suggestions on places to try. I am so glad that they do! Two different people had mentioned Lavendou Bistro for me to try. After a little research, I was intrigued with this little French restaurant. It was time for me to check it out on my own. Date night!

IMG_20171104_182534731_LL

Let me first alert you to Lavendou Bistro’s “unusual” location. It is located in a strip center just a few doors down from a condom shop, a massage parlor and a vape shop (I guess this would make a great date night for some people!). This was not at all what I expected from this highly-rated French restaurant, but I was keeping an open mind. Thankfully, this questionable locale did not deter us and we walked in to a quaint little European-style restaurant with inviting decor and French charm. The interior, with exposed brick walls, was very warm and welcoming. The blue, yellow and white color theme was authentic French country-style. The ambiance, decor and lighting were romantic and unpretentious. 

 

The service we experienced was friendly and attentive. Our French-speaking server was very helpful with both wine and meal choices. She suggested a French red wine for us that turned out to be an excellent choice. A bread basket was quickly brought to our table  – complete with fresh butter and an olive tapenade dipping oil that was most enjoyable.  We both enjoyed our salads. My salad was the Croquant de Chevre Chaud sur son Lit de Jeennes Pousses, otherwise known as mixed greens with goat cheese balls, parma ham and pine nuts. The breaded goat cheese was delicious! My husband had the Crevettes en Feuille de Brique salad which had the mixed greens with shrimp (stuffed with spinach and pine nuts) then wrapped in phyllo pastry. The house-made vinaigrette salad dressings were full-bodied and flavorful. 

So far….so good. Now we were on to the main course!  I ordered the Dover Sole with Lemon Sauce which turned out to be one of the best fish dishes that I have ever been served in a restaurant. The sole was lightly browned on the outside and literally “melted” in my mouth. The lemon, butter & wine sauce elevated it even more. The fish was served with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables and was beautifully plated. My husband ordered the Blackened Grouper (an evening special) and it was cooked to perfection with with just the right amount of seasoning.  The grouper was served with micro greens, poached pears and mixed vegetables. The portions were quite large and I actually had leftovers to take home and enjoy the following day. 

The highlight of our evening was the dessert portion of the meal. I ordered the Chocolate Souffle and my husband ordered the raspberry version. These souffles were perfection! They were light, airy, and perfectly cooked. The accompanying sauces were thick and full of flavor. We both commented that these souffles were some of the best we have ever eaten. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

If you find yourself in the mood for casual, country-style French cuisine, look no further than Lavendou Bistro. There is no trendy “fusion” food here – just excellent wine, gracious service, exquisite food and perfect ambiance. I hope to be returning soon, so maybe I will see you there. There is a chocolate souffle just waiting with my name on it!

 

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please subscribe to get my latest postings. I also love getting feedback and comments! Thanks. 🙂

 

 

Grand Canyon

Arizona – South Rim

IMG_20171010_114324638_HDR

My first view of the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list. It wasn’t until some close friends went a few months ago that the urge hit me again. Their photos were spectacular and I wanted to see it up close and personal for myself.

My husband and I planned a trip to Sedona, Arizona for a few days and decided this would be a great opportunity to drive on up to the Grand Canyon for a day. I had knee replacement surgery a few months ago and realized that days of hiking, riding burros, or camping overnight in the bottom of the canyon would not be for me. A day trip seemed to be the perfect option and it really was the right choice for us.

We had taken a Pink Jeep Tour to some ancient ruins on our first full day in Sedona and we had a wonderful tour guide named Stephen. He often drives tour groups into the Grand Canyon for the day and gave us some great pointers and advice. His suggestion was to drive into the park’s east entrance and return to Sedona through the south entrance, which is extremely busy and crowded. In other words, we would go against the traffic and crowds. It turned out to be great advice. 

The drive north from Sedona was quite scenic and enjoyable. It was a two hour drive with hardly any traffic. We drove through pine forests, curvy mountain roads, sparse desert mesas, and the flat red lands of the Navajo Nation. As we entered the Grand Canyon National Park’s east entrance, there were only two cars ahead of us. What great luck – thank you for the advice, Stephen!

121

Our first stop was at the Desert View Visitor Center. This was a great spot with few visitors, ample parking, restrooms, restaurant, and a gift shop. There is a tall stone tower (modeled after ancient Puebloan towers) and an overlook with fantastic views of the Grand Canyon. This is where I walked up and got my first look at the majestic canyon. I will never forget that moment and readily admit that photos do not even come close to doing it justice. We stood for several minutes taking in all the colors, the expanse, the depth, and the silence. This was most certainly a true “pinch me” moment. There were some great views of the Colorado River from this overlook (over one full mile below us!).

We took our time here and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out towards the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the south entrance. We stopped at several of the overlooks and pull-outs that our tour guide had suggested for us. Each stop gave us different views and a different perspective of the canyon. Mather Point, Navajo Point, and Grandview Point were a few of the stand-outs. The scenery was spectacular and there were only a few people at each of these stops. It was a most enjoyable day with almost perfect weather. 

 Later in the day we arrived at the South Rim Visitor Center. It was packed with tourists, tour buses, shuttle buses, and cars. Luckily we found a parking spot relatively close to the center and we found our way to the overlook area. Once again, the views were spectacular but there were so many people that it was difficult at times to get to the railing to take good photos. We then explored the area and it was expansive: restrooms, snack bars, gift shops, movie theater, information & education centers, bike rentals, shuttle stops, etc.  The most exciting thing about this stop was getting to see two elk that had wandered up to drink from the water fountains! 

Everyone has a different agenda when visiting the Grand Canyon and for us – one full day was enough. It was glorious, spectacular, breath-taking and immense.  David and I lucked up and had perfect weather this particular day. We enjoyed every minute of it and the images will be embedded in my mind for years to come. If you have never made this trip, I hope you will make plans. It was well worth the effort.

Check this one off my bucket list. It is done. Now on to my next adventure!! 

 

85°C Bakery Cafe

Richardson, TX

IMG_20170927_122646247_HDR

I am lucky enough to have a very diverse group of  “foodie” friends who love trying new foods and eating at new places. One of my friends recently introduced us to a Taiwanese chain of coffee shops and self-serve bakeries that she was familiar with in California. A new location of 85°C Bakery Cafe just opened three months ago in Richardson and it was our choice for a ladies’ lunch – and what a GREAT choice it was!

This location in Richardson is part of a new strip mall dedicated to Asian stores and eateries. The huge statues of warriors, poets and philosophers that line the entrance are pretty good indicators that you are in the right place! If you can locate parking near the statue of Confucius, you will be close to the bakery. 

IMG_20170927_141253982_HDR

Confucius say…….

As we stepped through the doors of 85°C Bakery Cafe, I noticed this place was approximately twice the size of a Starbucks, but with the same relaxed coffee house vibe. The left side of the bakery was dominated by numerous self-serve cases of baked goods.  The right rear area housed the counters where you order drinks and check-out.  Various sizes of tables and chairs were scattered throughout. The entire place was casual, bright, modern, and extremely clean. The staff was extremely helpful and friendly.

IMG_20170927_123748689

This location serves tasty breads, cakes, pastries, teas, slushes, smoothies, and coffees. The “bakery & cafe” combination is certainly not a new idea, but at 85°Bakery Cafe, this seems like a very new and fresh concept – and they do it quite well! I really loved the self-serve aspect. (The name is a nod to the ideal temperature of brewed coffee.) 

After I walked through the door, everything was very visual. I grabbed a tray, a sheet of waxed paper and a pair of tongs and let my eyes dictate my choices. Each item was well-marked with signage indicating name, price, and what ingredients were used. Nothing was over $3 (most were $1 to $2 each) and the portions were not small! There were savory breads & rolls and sweet pastries. I actually picked out three savory rolls – a cheese dog, a potato & cheese croissant, and a ham & cheese roll and I could not finish all three. Other savory choices included: Hawaiian chicken rolls, Teriyaki chicken rolls, egg tarts, cheese tarts, salty butter rolls, red bean bread, squid ink rolls, taro rolls, and calamari sticks (for those more adventurous that I am!). Sweet pastries included: cinnamon rolls, fruit turnovers, chocolate croissants, cookies, brioche bread, coconut twists, mango tarts, sweet snow bread, cream puffs, fruit panna cotta, mocha rolls, etc. There were also prepackaged displays of cookies, macaroons, sliced egg bread and moon breads. As we were making our selections and placing them on our trays, staff members were periodically restocking items shouting “Fresh bread! Fresh bread!” as they brought out warm trays or more baked goods. Decisions, decisions……

Located near the checkout counter were refrigerated cases (not self-serve) that contained full-sized cakes, individual custards & tarts, mousse, and all types of single cake slices. I saw a range of flavors including: black forest, cheese cake, red velvet, creme brulee, chocolate, taro, lemon, almond, mango, vanilla, etc. They were all decorated beautifully and were well-packaged for eating in-house or taking out. (check out all the photos for more details)

We made our choices, paid, then sat and ate our savory selections. They were all light, flaky and delicious! We then wrapped up what we couldn’t finish (in clear cellophane bags that are provided) and took the leftovers home. Dessert came next! Once more, we grabbed a clean tray and pair of tongs to choose our “sweet” selections – some to eat while there, others to take home. Needless to say, every sweet pastry was fresh and tasty. This may be a Taiwanese bakery, but you will swear you at eating dessert in a very fancy French patisserie. (Note: the staff does a great job of wrapping bakery items for carry out and placing in small individual boxes, bags, or cardboard boxes.)

I would highly suggest checking this place out if you are in the mood for something different! We had a great experience and truly enjoyed all the food here – nice quantities, top quality, and good value. What’s not to like?!

Note: This is a chain restaurant and other nearby locations are in Carrollton and Plano.  85°C Bakery Cafe was started in Irvine, California in 2003.

After dining here, be sure to walk a few doors down and check out the Good Fortune Market, a Chinese supermarket. There are produce items, seafood, and boxed goods that are well worth viewing. I saw things that I have never seen before!

 

Yountville

Napa County, California

 

The town of Yountville, California will always hold a special place in this girl’s memory. This little intimate community is home to my very favorite hotel and one of my favorite restaurants.

Yountville is located in the very heart of Napa Valley wine country. This quaint, manicured town was named for early pioneer George Calvery Yount who was responsible for establishing the first vineyard in Napa Valley in 1867. I wonder if he ever knew what he was setting in motion? Great foresight there, George!

 

Today Yountville is known as the “Culinary Capital of Napa Valley.” Bouchon Bistro and The French Laundry are both Michelin-starred restaurants. Redd, Ad Hoc, Lucy and Bouchon Bakery are all first-class eateries with world-renowned chefs. One of my favorite restaurants was Bottega, where my husband and I had a delicious four-course meal and first fell in love with the Napa Valley “buttery” chardonnays. My memory of our dinner here was of impeccable service, elevated Italian cuisine, a stunning wine list, and a delectable parmesan-garlic spread to enjoy on their fresh-baked ciabatta bread. My dining experience at Bottega was a love affair from the first bite! 

 

Not only is Yountville full of world-class restaurants, there are gourmet shops, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, top-notch accommodations, and incredible natural surroundings – all in the immediate area. You can casually stroll down the main drag of oak-lined Washington Street and find almost every kind of shop, restaurant, bakery, and spa within walking distance. Be sure to keep your eye out for the over 40 works of art and outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the beautifully landscaped scenic downtown area. 

 

For some day excursions, how about golf, a wine tour, a hot air balloon ride or a bike tour? David and I took off on our own and toured some of the local wineries. Domaine Chandon (owned by French Champagne Moet and Chandon), Frog’s Leap and Goosecross Cellars are all located in close proximity. It is not a far drive to most of the Napa Valley wineries or vineyards from Yountville. Most Napa wineries close at 5:00 p.m. so enjoy your winery visits, have a nice lunch, and come back to Yountville. You can then park your car and walk to one of the 15 tasting rooms. No need to drive any more – just stroll and sip!  

 

If you are wondering where to stay, there are plenty of up-scale hotels, quaint country inns and a few bed & breakfasts. My favorite hotel “of all time” was the Bardessono, located in the heart of Yountville. This was an excellent hotel for location, service, and amenities. With automatic blinds and toilets, a jacuzzi tub, a steam shower, and an outdoor shower on our private patio – I did not want to leave this hotel! The entire place was very “Zen-like” with beautiful flora, fruit trees, fountains, gardens and art work at every turn. The entire Bardessono property was very peaceful and quiet – with the exception of the lively bar, outdoor fire pits and the Lucy Restaurant in the evenings. We also enjoyed the lovely pool and private cabanas a couple of afternoons after returning from our winery expeditions. There may have even been a nap or two in those relaxing roof-top cabanas – just sayin’.

 

This stay in Yountville was one of those trips that we keep saying we want to repeat – and that doesn’t happen for us too often. We visited in October and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Combine the wine, the weather, the hotel, and the meals we enjoyed – and it makes perfect sense why we want to return.

 

My suggestion – set a date, plan ahead, book a couple of restaurants on Open Table and mosey over to Yountville for a great Napa Valley getaway! We may see you there. Cheers!!

For you foodies, here is the recipe for the Bottega Parmesan Garlic Spread: 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, 1/2 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well chopped and combined. Spread on fresh ciabatta bread and enjoy!

Abacus

Dallas, Texas

I look forward to August every year because that means Dallas Restaurant Week is here! For a certain week(s) during August, many prime Dallas restaurants will offer a price-fix menu and give proceeds to the North Texas Food Bank. It is a great way to try new places and sample their menus (at a considerably lower cost) and it helps benefit a very worthy cause .

One of my restaurant choices this year was Abacus. I have heard about this high-end restaurant for years but never had the opportunity to dine there. Luckily I got reservations on a weekend evening and anxiously looked forward to our visit.

From the moment we stepped into the foyer, I was impressed. Two friendly hostesses greeted us and we were seated at a romantic table for two with a white tablecloth and napkin, candle, fresh flowers and a beautiful place setting. The noise level was energetic, but not too loud, as most of the sounds were coming from the open kitchen and bar area. Our waiter was very professional, friendly, and provided just the right amount of attention. I was very impressed with his knowledge of the menu and the wine list.

The restaurant’s ambiance is sophisticated and romantic. The upscale decor, music, lighting, and art all spell out “fine dining.”  There were many couples dining out this particular evening as well as large groups and a few families. It was perfect for a date night but not too stuffy for a business dinner or a nice dinner with friends or family. 

We began with a couple of the Abacus signature cocktails. The Lucy in the Sky was a fruity, champagne drink and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Gin Basil Gimlet was very tasty and refreshingly good. We were brought a nice bread basket with 3 choices of freshly baked breads and seasoned butter. All were delicious, especially the raisin & nut bread!

Our menu for Dallas Restaurant Week offered a choice of a small plate or appetizer, an entree and then a shared dessert. We opted for the Crispy Coconut Rock Shrimp and Texas Melon plate for our starters and both were great choices. The rock shrimp had a crispy tempura batter and was served with sliced jalapenos, toasted cashews and a mango and red curry sauce. The Texas Melon appetizer was a tasty as it was colorful. Chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon were arranged in a circle around shaved hearts of palm. It was topped with queso fresco, red onions and a cilantro and lime vinaigrette dressing. This was my favorite dish and the combination of colors, textures and tastes was sheer perfection. Delicious!

Next, our server brought over a complimentary Watermelon Mojito Mint Shooter to clean our palates between courses. It was served in a shot glass and tasted like watermelon juice with minty tapioca balls. Loved it!

We both ordered the Blackened Sockeye Salmon for our entree and it was cooked to perfection. The portion was quite large (2 fillets per plate) and the salmon was well-seasoned, but not overly seasoned, as I prefer for blackened dishes. Each entree was beautifully plated with the fish being served over blue corn grits and a red pepper butter sauce. Once again, the dish was visually appealing as well as being satisfying to our taste buds. Our server had suggested a perfect Merlot wine-pairing for this dish and it was spot-on. 

Dessert consisted of a shared plate with small servings of a chocolate and caramel torte, a scoop of chocolate chip mint ice cream and a fruit tartlett. Each one was enjoyable and ended up being a perfect end to a perfect meal.

We had a most pleasant dining experience this particular evening. I am always impressed when you get high quality food, top shelf spirits, innovative dishes, unique flair, and stellar customer service all at one time and in one place. Dining here is certainly not cheap but when all expectations are met, the cost seems justified. 

If you are interested in dining at Abacus, check out their diverse menu on-line. They have a wide variety of menu choices including fresh sushi, lobster shooters, buffalo tenderloin, and black truffle risotto. Monday through Thursday evenings they offer a 5 or 8 course Chef’s Tasting Menu with or without wine pairings. I hope you get to check it out!

Abacus is located in the Knox-Henderson area on McKinney Avenue. Complimentary valet parking is conveniently located out in front of the the restaurant.

Mount Roberts

Juneau, Alaska

 

 

I was so glad that I finally got to check Alaska off my bucket list. We went on an Un-Cruise adventure a few summers ago and it was one of my most favorite travel experiences…ever. We arrived in Juneau a couple of days prior to our cruise and had lots of fun touring the downtown area, riding up Mount Roberts and exploring the Mendenhall Glacier (see earlier blog posts).

 

 

The Mount Roberts Tram near downtown Juneau was built in 1996 and travels 1,800 feet up through the tall trees of the mountainous rain forest. The ride is very smooth and only lasts a few minutes. Each car carries up to 60 passengers but we were the only passengers onboard the afternoon that we booked our trip. The expansive views as you ascend up the mountainside are spectacular!  The main streets of Juneau, the cruise ship docks, Gastineau Channel, the thick evergreens, and eagles sitting in the treetops are just a few of the sights we saw on this clear summer day.

 

 

The tram car docks at the Mountain House and Nature Center, about halfway up the mountain. You quickly disembark and have the opportunity to visit a gift shop, grab a snack, shop in the art gallery, or use the restrooms. We stopped by the Nature Center and saw a couple of live eagles – one named Lady Baltimore (pictured above) is in permanent rehab here due to an almost fatal gun shot wound. There is plenty of educational info detailing the geography, history, wildlife, plants, and the Native Americans of this area. We also found information about the hiking trails and located maps that helped us decide which route would be best for our ability and time allotment.

 

 

Most of the hiking trails were very well-marked and considered a “moderate” level due to slight inclines in certain areas.  The trail we explored took us by wild-life viewing platforms, colorful wildflowers, gorgeous views, and native tree carvings. We walked through mountain meadows, hiked up dirt paths into the forest, and walked single file along trails that hugged the side of the snow-topped mountains. One of our destinations was Father Brown’s Cross, a very scenic stop with amazing views of Juneau below. This cross is a replacement for one placed here in the early 1900’s by a Roman Catholic priest who made Juneau his home.

035

Photo op at Father Brown’s Cross overlooking the Gastineau Channel and Juneau docks

Mount Roberts Tram is the most popular tourist attraction in southeast Alaska with over 200,000 visitors each summer. It runs May through September and tickets are $33 per person. In my opinion, it was worth every penny! Don’t miss these spectacular views and gorgeous hiking trails if you have the opportunity to visit Juneau.

 

 

 

Crumbzz

Forney, Texas

This little European-style bistro is located in the heart of historic downtown Forney.  Open since 2011, my girlfriends and I have made several visits to Crumbzz for breakfast and lunch. I recently took my husband David there for brunch and decided it was time to let other foodies know about this little hidden gem.

The interior resembles a little chic, uptown Dallas cafe. There is seating along the Italian marble bar where you may sit and watch the live action in the open kitchen. The front area has several cozy round-topped aluminum tables and comfy leather chairs. The decorative ceiling, slate floors, succulents on the tables, and stage lighting add to the ambiance. The walls are usually lined with nature photographs or colorful paintings by local artists. 

I highly suggest that you not be in a “fast food” frame of mind when you dine at Crumbzz. All of the food is made to order and takes a little time. Order a cup of their delicious custom blend coffee or iced green tea and sit back, relax, and chill for a few minutes. Chef J Stephen Sadler will proudly tell you that every item is fresh, prepared on site and made from the finest natural ingredients. Most of his butter, eggs, dairy products and produce comes from local producers. Many of his spices and flavorings are imported from all over the world.

When David and I dined here for brunch a couple of weeks ago, we started our meal with a delicious, very smooth, vanilla latte (notice the cool asymmetrical coffee cups). Our first order was the Taylor Ham & Egg Sandwich which was delicious. Taylor Ham comes from New Jersey and is similar to the country ham I grew up eating in Mississippi, just not as salty.  The eggs were cooked to perfection and the fresh ciabatta roll and melted Gruyère cheese made this breakfast sandwich a hit.

0624171114-1

Gaufre Liege Waffle with Cinnamon Streusel Butter

Next up was one of my favorites – the Gaufre Liege Waffle. This is not your normal waffle-maker waffle! This is a dense and rich waffle that is made from caramelized brioche-based dough. It is chewy, tasty, and no topping is necessary – but  fortunately, it is served with a cinnamon streusel butter that melts as your spread it on the waffles and elevates this dish even more. Yum!

0624171113a-1

Gruyere Egg Souffle

The entree that keeps me and my gal pals coming back to Crumbzz is the Gruyère Egg Soufflé. It takes a little longer to cook, so order this first thing. This soufflé is a light and airy, golden-colored delight. The Gruyère cheese gives it a rich saltiness and parmigiano-reggiano enhances the flavor. The fluffy, cheesy bites literally melt in your mouth. 

Crumbzz 4

Tomato Basil  Soup & Sandwich

If you are not in the mood for breakfast foods, try one of Crumbzz’s house made soups. The Tomato Basil and the French Onion are standouts. I have also enjoyed their Tuna Salad and Fribourg Grilled Cheese. There are several lunch specials that include soup, half of a sandwich or salad. The menu seems to have something for everyone.

Chef J Stephen, owner and executive chef,  frequently comes out of the kitchen and visits with patrons. He seems to enjoy his customers and is a joy to talk to.  He has made a name for himself and gained notoriety for his crumb cakes. These tasty cakes are made to order and ship nationally and internationally. This crumb cake recipe is a 400-year-old Sadler family recipe! When dining at Crumbzz, there are usually five flavors available each day: cinnamon, raspberry, apricot, chocolate, and a “flavor-of-the-month.” The fresh crumb cakes come in several sizes, so save room for one of the small individual sizes for dessert before you leave. Or better yet, take home one of each flavor to sample!

158

Ladies enjoying lunch with Chef J Stephen Sadler

 

 

Chautauqua

Boulder, Colorado

021

Chautauqua National Historic Landmark sign at the park entrance

If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself near Boulder, Colorado with some free time, make your way to Chautauqua National Historic Landmark. Located in the shadows of the Flatirons on the southwest side of Boulder, you will find picturesque views, hiking trails, a dining hall, and over 60 lodges or accommodations for overnight stays.

This is a favorite place for locals and visitors alike. There is a Visitor’s Center at the park’s trail head where you can learn about the plants and animals in the area and also pick up a map showing the 151 miles of trails. There seems to be a trail for every level of hiker. Most of the trails start out on the large meadow in front of the Visitor’s Center and go up into the Flatirons. You can hike for 30 minutes or all day. Some trails meander along the base of the mountains through dense forests. Other trails have moderate to steep inclines and wind up well into the Flatirons for breathtaking views. Trail markers are visible all along the way. According to the season, you may see many types of flowers, flowering trees, tall pines, boulders, streams, cacti, birds, chipmunks, deer, and sometimes – black bears.

Chautauqua is where the locals go for their daily exercise. While many “flat-landers” like myself have to stop every few yards to catch their breath in the higher altitudes, locals come running by or hurriedly walk past with one baby strapped on their front and a toddler on their shoulders – moseying along like it takes no effort whatsoever. Really?! Embarrassment on the trail is when a couple, likely to be in their eighties, scamper by at a quick pace and smile at you as you sit on a boulder gasping for air. I do admit, as hard as some of the hikes have been – it has ALWAYS been worth it!

Another thing I love about Colorado and Chautauqua in particular – it is a dog’s paradise. All the trails are dog-friendly and you see all shapes and sizes of canines. All the dogs seem to be smiling, have pep in their steps, and are loving every minute of their life!  We actually parked by a “doggie van” last time we were there that picks up dogs at their homes and then takes the dogs for hikes or runs at Chautauqua. What a great idea for “doggie day out!” This could easily be my dream job….if I was in a little better shape.
Not only humans and canines enjoy hiking up Chautauqua. On one visit, I actually saw a guy coming down from the Flatirons with a big ole yellow tabby cat riding on his shoulders. Yep, it is the truth….only in Colorado.

We have been to Chautauqua during all seasons. In summer, you need to get an early start before the sun beats down on you. In the spring, the wildflowers are glorious and the trees and grass are all shades of green. In the fall, all the trees turn golden yellow, orange or red and the views of Boulder from the mountain are a burst of colors. In the winter, the snow turns the Flatirons into a silent, winter wonderland (and people are still hiking!).

Chautauqua actually became a place of refuge for me several years ago. My son, a CU college student, had spinal surgery and I lived with him in Boulder for several weeks following his surgery. When he was well enough to return to classes, I would drop him off at campus and head directly to Chautauqua. Most times I hiked short distances- other times I sat on rocks and reflected, prayed, read books, or just enjoyed the solace. It became my calming getaway and will always hold a special place in my heart.

I recently came across a travel magazine article on Chautauqua that explained in detail the history of this wonderful place. It seems there is a very strong Texas – Colorado connection. Who knew? In Austin, Texas in 1897 the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua Association began. Its purpose was to conduct a summer school for Texas school teachers. Boulder, Colorado was chosen for the location due to the cooler summer temperatures. A $75 fee covered the 6-week session for each teacher. The tuition included room and board, lectures, entertainment, and round-trip rail fare from anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Ft. Worth. The “continuing ed” for these early teachers included cello, guitar, mandolin, piano, vocals, math, chemistry, botany, physics, psychology, education, English, Latin, Greek, French, German and English Literature. When not in class, the participants enjoyed symphonies, motion pictures, burro rides, horseback rides, hikes, and stagecoach rides. This association was very active for over 30 years before the attendance began to decline. If you go on the property today, you see many of the original buildings from this era. The Dining Hall has many old photos depicting some of the summer sessions – very interesting for history buffs.

For those of you who are wondering, “Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with a few meanings— “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together,” and describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York. This area was the setting for the first educational assembly (Chautauqua Institution) and provided the name for the movement.

I hope you get the chance to visit Chautauqua one day and enjoy it as much as my family does. Go early, dress comfortably, and take plenty of water to drink along the way. Enjoy your hike and then afterwards, have a meal at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Ask to sit out on the veranda and have a great meal while overlooking the park.  Order the “Rachelette” and tell them Southern Savvy sent you!

Sixty Vines

Plano, Texas

I had the opportunity to dine here for a friend’s birthday brunch and we had an amazing time and a delicious meal. How had I not heard about this wonderful place? Sixty Vines is located in Plano off the tollway next to Whiskey Cake. I would describe it as a “casual American / Italian kitchen meets wine bar meets Farm-to-Market.” Now that I have you totally confused, I will try to describe it more accurately!

When I first walked in, I noticed how welcoming the interior was. There are high ceilings, many windows and lots of greenery. It is very spacious, clean and modern and I would describe it as “fun, vibrant and chic”. The entire place (and menu) remind me of  the Northern California wine country and that local cuisine. The decor works perfectly with the wines and style of food they serve. The kitchen, wood-fired oven, and charcuterie bar are all open-viewing.

The centerpiece of Sixty Vines for me was the entire back wall. There is a huge line drawing (made with one line!) depicting the farmers, the grapes, wine making, farm animals, etc. The more you look at it, the more items you see. Underneath the drawing are 60 spigots – each labeled with the 40 wines and 20 beers they serve on tap…hence the name “Sixty Vines.” The slogan on their wine menu is “C’mon, get tappy!” 🙂

0521171311

There is quite a variety of seating options. Choose from communal tables, high tops, secluded sectionals, greenhouse, patio, bar or the charcuterie bar to dine in or out. I can imagine dining here on a date, for a business dinner, for a family meal or with a group of ladies enjoying brunch – like we did. I would like to note here, the food is a little “adventurous” and maybe not for the picky eater (leave them home this time)!