Capitol Hill Coffee and Pastry Foraging at Crumble & Flake and Victrola Coffee

Made-to-order Crumble & Flake Cream Puffs

Sometimes it’s fun to hit up more than one of your favorite places in order to create that perfect, comfy combo. I’m a big fan of double whammy-ing, although preferably when such places lie in at least somewhat the same vicinity (lazy foraging). Fortunately, for what I conceive to be one of the most delicious Seattle snack or breakfast bundles, this is a relatively easy feat. First, however, I must attest to the fact that Crumble & Flake deserves every bit of hype it has received since opening. It is not a coincidence that they have been running out of pastries before 11am almost every day; every pastry I tasted evoked a sense of joy that could be rivaled only by winning the lottery while on the beach in Hawaii surrounded by kittens.

True to my Seattle heritage, I firmly believe in the power of an excellent cup of coffee to warm one’s belly/spirit/day. In this city of endless coffee excellence, I have a few token favorites. At the top of my list lies Victrola (followed closely by Vivace and Zoka); I just plain love Victrola coffee. Love that you can see their entire roasting room in their cozy Pike Street location on Cap Hill, love their latte art, love that every cup is bold and rich but never over-the-top. Consistent, original and perfect—just the way I like it! Victrola lattes are not the cheapest lattes in the land, but if you’re getting a latte anywhere other than from a can at 7/11, you’re going to have to shell out a few bucks. So you might as well get the best value for what you’re inevitably going to pay anyway. I am a sucker for a good vanilla latte (clearly I’m not a big snob, I’m not ashamed to admit), and at Victrola I am happy to dish out $3.91 for a cup of warm perfection.

Lattes and French Macarons

Oh hey, when did we get to Paris?!

Meanwhile, across town, Crumble & Flake is nestled ever-so-adorably in its tiny Olive Way storefront, beckoning patrons with its sensory masterpiece of sights, smells and tastes. I got chills when I ran into the shop, mostly induced by my sense of victory at having waken up early enough on a Sunday to actually get my paws on some pastries. But it really is glorious; of the myriad pastries that I have tasted from here, I solidly endorse the smoked paprika and cheddar croissant, the perfect French macarons, and those heavenly cream puffs. Frankly, I’m all for a little dessert-for-breakfast. A cream puff or two and a latte sound pretty grand to me on a Sunday morning. Regardless of your sweet/savory preferences for brekkie or snacktime, you’ll find what you’re looking for at a very reasonable price at Crumble & Flake.

Those made-to-order cream puffs—which feature four daily rotating seasonal homemade pastry cream flavors (ex: coconut cream, chocolate, peach, etc.), shot directly into the puffs upon ordering—are texturally and flavorfully perfect in every possible way. Light and crispy on the outside and delightfully fluffy on the inside, oozing with the freshest not-too-sweet pastry cream. And they are big, too. $3.50 per cream puff is a fair price for these puppies. For savory seekers, those flakey, cheesy cheddar and smoked paprika croissants are also reasonable breakfast choices at $3.75 apiece, and for a more dessert/snacky option, those famous macarons will teleport your taste buds to Paris for just $2.50. The macaron flavors are also ever-changing, and ever-delicious. I was head over heels for the lemon-raspberry.

Please note that Crumble & Flake has excellent coffee from True North Roasters in Ballard, and you will be far from disappointed with a cup of their local joe; I simply like to mix things up a bit (and I would travel to the moon for a Victrola vanilla latte). Alternately, you can also find an array of great local pastries from Victrola (including Mighty-O Donuts and Macrina Bakery goodies) if you’re looking to limit your trip. Either way, this latte-pastry pair is the ideal morning or early afternoon under-$10 pairing to invoke the ultimate sense of Seattle pride and general bliss.

Crumble & Flake Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Victrola Coffee on Urbanspoon

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Sharing is Caring at Skillet Diner in Capitol Hill

Skillet Diner Burger

Poutine: either the cruelest or most genius thing that has ever come out of Canada. Possibly both.

On many occasions I have sung my praises for going splitsies as a means of saving $$ without having to settle for lesser foods. At Skillet Diner, that is the best route to go. By no means is the signature Skillet Diner burger the cheapest burger in the city (or even cheap at all, for that matter—although there are certainly pricier yuppie burgers); however, the sheer magnitude of this burger pretty much necessitates sharing. Unless of course, you have a hyper intensive burger capacity, in which case this may not be the deal for you. But if you are like me, i.e. ravenous and want to eat a nice assortment of yummy things, then Skillet Diner is the perfect place to bring your like-palated pals for some burgers ‘n thingz.

The signature burger at Skillet Diner costs a whopping $14, but before you get in a huff about the price, allow me to explain why. Firstly, I wasn’t exaggerating about the size. You can expect a thick, juicy Painted Hills patty, smothered with creamy bleu cheese, a generous heap of the ethereal Skillet Diner bacon jam and a sprinkling of peppery arugula, all sandwiched between a toasted, buttery brioche bun. The burger comes with fries or salad (or you can substitute either for the famous poutine for $3—the poutine is literally and figuratively killer!!), and whether or not you opt for poutine substitution, or go for the full shebang and get fries and a salad, if you go solo on the burger, you can definitely anticipate at least one full meal of leftovers later on. Mammoth portions!! But that brings me to part 2 of burger priciness: the quality of ingredients. Sure, you could head over to Dick’s and get a pretty yummy burger for only $1.25+. However, I have profound respect and appreciation for places that are committed to serving up only the best quality menu items with the freshest, most delicious local ingredients. Skillet definitely falls under that umbrella. Local meaty superstar Painted Hills beef (swoon) can be found in some of the trendiest, priciest steakhouses in town, and for a damn good reason. That stuff is the bomb diggity.

Kale Caesar Salad

The only way to negate the poutine.

Deserving equal recognition for its contribution to burger superstardom is the bacon jam, which is a Skillet Diner staple. The bacon jam has rightfully earned a fabulous reputation in the foodie world. So much so, in fact, that it is regularly featured and available for purchase nationwide on adorable artisan food sites such as Foodzie. The bacon jam is the genius product of Chef John Henderson. The rich jam is a chunky, flavorful puree of bacon (what else?), caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar, and it is indeed as wonderful as it sounds.

Since the burger is so protein-packed, what with all of that beefy, cheesy, bacony goodness, the best sharing option is to split the burger and the kale salad (comes free with burger if you don’t want fries), and add fries or poutine for a few extra bucks if you’re über hungry. The kale Caesar is another Skillet Diner classic, and it makes for a lovely green counterpart to the heavy burger. I’m a kale addict, and this is one of my favorite kale salads in existence (second only to Northern Spy Food Co.’s in NYC). It’s refreshing, light, crunchy, and packed with creamy Caesar flavor. You may never want to go back to regular Caesar salads again after this one, guys.

A burger and salad split is a great way to go at Skillet. This is a great way to enjoy what I guarantee is one of the greatest burgers in existence, notably due to that delicious bacon jam. If you are supremely hungry, substitute poutine for $3 extra, and get a regular size kale salad for splitting. If you do just the burger and salad/fries, your total is $14—or $7 each—or if you want to go to town with the triple whammy, your total is $24—or $12 each. Just know that if you go with the latter you will be disturbingly full and most likely unable to finish everything. The poutine is shockingly heavy, albeit luscious and delectable. Either way, this Seattle food truck-turned-restaurant is well worth every penny and calorie.

Skillet Diner on Urbanspoon

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Salmon Chowder Perfection at Pike Place Chowder

 The Best Chowder on Earth

Salmon in a cup has never tasted so yummy!

Pike Place: my personal culinary Disneyland.  Among the sea of booths, stands and storefronts beckoning hungry market-goers with smorgasbords of northwest delicacies, there are a few tokens to which I am extremely loyal.  I have already professed my love for Beecher’s, but there is another Pike Place contender that rivals the deliciousness and supreme value of Beecher’s mac and cheese: Pike Place Chowder.  Appropriately, Sea-town is a city of world-class seafood.  If there is a particular seafood item that we Seattleites are the most passionate about, it is for suresies salmon.  My favorite salmon meal on this planet is not the most conventional, but rather the unexpectedly perfect salmon chowder from Pike Place Chowder.

Tucked away adorably in Post Alley at Pike Place, Pike Place Chowder has become a staple at the market.  A touristy day will yield long lines of travelers and locals alike, anxiously waiting for their world to be rocked vis-à-vis the local chowder champ.  Waiting isn’t all that bad, however, given that the odds tend to favor an endearingly idiosyncratic (and utterly “Seattle-y”) street performer gracing the line with some glorious tunes, life lessons, etc.  But what really makes the entire experience worthwhile is the smooth, delicious comfort of the salmon chowder.  Not only is it just incredibly unique and crafted flawlessly, but it is so fresh and wonderfully priced.  Make no mistake, all the chowders—and really every food item on this menu—are classic and unbelievably tasty.  But the salmon chowder is precious to me because it is so surprising and majestic.

Salmon chowder generally might invoke suspicions of overly-fishy flavor, but in the case of Pike Place Chowder, it is quite the opposite.  It is a subtle, creamy, herby and hearty homage to the most classic, cozy and delectable preparation of salmon: nova smoked salmon, capers, and cream cheese—all that’s missing is the bagel.  But don’t worry, because there is freshly-baked sourdough bread accompanying each cup of chowder.  The salmon chowder is everything chowder should be.  Don’t hate me, but I usually don’t even love clam chowder, however this stuff drives me cray cray.  Chowder naysayers, there is hope for you!  And at just $4.95 for an 8 oz cup (or $6.25 for a 12 oz bowl), with a fun atmosphere and a lovely Seattle setting, this is perhaps one of the most satisfying meals in existence.  Trust me pals, once you go salmon chowder, you never go back.

Pike Place Chowder on Urbanspoon

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DIY Pancake Brunch at Slappy Cakes in Portland, OR

ultimate deliciousness

Right before our neighbor tried to take a handful of butterscotch chips. I don’t think so, buddy!

Here I am back on the West Coast for the summer, and my Manhattan-yearning is slowly-but-surely disintegrating as I peruse the fabulous Pacific Northwest food scene.  Last weekend, I did a little road trip down to Portland to visit old friends.  Whereas my childhood Portland trips used to consist of a lot of “Ratatouille”-watching and Pizzicato-eating, after hearing of the increasing hype around Portland as an extraordinary food city, I figured I owed it to Portland and my peace of mind to explore some of its infinite culinary opportunities.  And indeed, what a wonderful decision that was!

My friend Hallie is an exquisite photographer and foodie, and she assured me that a delightful and reasonable brunch awaited us at Slappy Cakes.  She also warned me, however, that dreadful brunch lines circa Portlandia awaited us as well.  The minute she explained to me the concept of Slappy Cakes, I thought, “I would wait a thousand years in line to customize and make my own pancakes at a restaurant.”  I was also tired and hungry so the irony of that statement took a while to hit me.  But real time, can we discuss this DIY in-restaurant fetish?  I’ll be the first to admit that the Melting Pot is like a vacation home to me; something about going to a restaurant and cooking your own food is intoxicating and alluring.  One might ask why we don’t just cook at home instead.  The word “lazy” floats around my head, but that’s really all I’ve got.  Let’s not read too much into it, because it is truly a lovely phenomenon.  Anyways, onto the breakfast of champions.

The pancake customization is seriously something to write home about (or at least write in your blog about).  This is not Denny’s, and Slappy Cakes  is wasting no time with shenanigans.  Pick your batter, pick your fixins, and pick your toppings.  Batter starts at $6 for a portion that will easily feed two hungry mouths.  With tempting contenders like sweet potato and peanut butter, this is not an easy decision (also note there are vegan and gluten-free options!).  In the end, I had no choice but to peanut butter-ify my pancakes.  Having jumped into the sweet and salty abyss of peanut butter-dom, we chose our toppings accordingly.  We complemented the saltiness of the peanut butter with the smooth sweetness of butterscotch chips ($1), and the subtle crispiness of toasted coconut ($1.5).  This was my vacation (judge-free zone), so it was also topped off with fresh vanilla whipped cream ($1).  Free toppings at the table include house-made syrups—one was an adventurous rhubarb vinegar—and whipped local butter.  Needless to say these pancakes were like biting into the essence of friendship.  And the combinations are endless; while hungrily waiting in line and looking at the menu for TWO HOURS (that Portlandia episode was no joke, friends), I wondered if any hungry mathematicians have completed that calculation.  Potential prize for whoever completes that formula.

Hallie and I also split Huevos Rancheros ($9.5), which were some of the best I have ever had—though the pancakes still take the [pan]cake for reigning meal champion.  We were comatose when we left, and there was even still some batter left over, I am ashamed to admit.  Each dish was $9.50, so between us, we enjoyed a massive and unbelievably yummy brunch for under ten dollars.  And this is still Portland, so the menu is created with an emphasis on local and seasonal produce.  But aside from the unreal grub, a big reason to go to Slappy Jack’s is the ambiance.  Griddling exotic pancakes at your table makes you feel like Paula Dean for an incredibly fun atmosphere, an adorable only-in-Portland sense of brunch community (brunchunity?), and the illusion that you might be a good cook, even if you are not.  And if none of that tickles your fancy, then it’s just a stupendously-valued under-$10 brunch option.  It is a win-win situation.

Slappy Cakes on Urbanspoon

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Falafel Loving at Taïm Falafel and Smoothie Bar

Falafel Sandwich from Taim Falafel on Waverly in NYC

Falafelly Delicious!

After living in Israel for a few months four years ago, I nearly swore off falafel upon my return to the US. Not because I was sick of it (impossible), but because I lost hope of finding any falafel that could even remotely compare to the quality that I had gotten used to in Israel. Words can’t describe the extent of my eternal joy when I finally tried Taïm falafel this year. Hummus Place may be a worthy competitor in terms of hummus, but for falafel, this stuff is the reigning champion. Located in an adorable tiny storefront on tree-lined Waverly place, Taïm Falafel and Smoothie Bar is the project of an Israeli couple who felt homesick for the phenomenal falafel street food that adorns virtually every street in Israel. In a city brimming with cheap, yummy falafel and Mediterranean food, I can say with great certainty that this is the most authentic, delicious and best value falafel in Manhattan.

Taïm Falafel just nails the whole experience; there are three different types of falafel to choose from (or you can sample them all), and my personal favorite is the harissa—slightly spicy and oh-so-flavorful. I am a sucker for the falafel sandwich. You customize your pita and handpick your embellishments. The sandwich ($6.25) comes with hummus, Israeli salad, pickled cabbage and tahini sauce, but you would be wise to add in boiled egg and feta ($1 each). The sandwich is like biting into heaven. If you close your eyes, you are practically transported to a beautiful beach in Tel Aviv. For me, it’s definitely a nostalgia food. But it’s also filling, fresh, and always exciting.

Sure, you can get cheaper falafel elsewhere in the city, but nothing compares to Taïm. NYU students have a penchant for the incredibly cheap Mamoun’s, but I can guarantee you that Taïm is a billion times better. It’s very reasonably priced and you are getting the most bang for your buck. Be warned, however, that it is easy to rack up your bill at Taïm, only because everything is so yummy. I, for example, am a slave to their pistachio baklava (and occasionally to their smoothies as well—there is one that is strawberry, raspberry and Thai basil! AAH!). I simply have no self restraint and usually cave into the 2 pieces for $3; not the cheapest, but man is that stuff yummylicious.

Bottom line: if you haven’t been and are a lover of all things falafel, get your tuchis to the West Village and eat up! But penny-pinchers and gluttons, remember to be weary of your spending because that place is Temptation Island. Also, make sure you bring cash, because it is cash only!! And be prepared to take your food elsewhere if there is no room, which there probably will not be. Ready yourself to become thoroughly addicted; I now schlep 30 minutes across town every time I want falafel (which is a lot), so get pumped.  Other good news?  They’ve also got a food truck, so maybe you can catch them in your hood!

Taïm on Urbanspoon

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Ballin’ It Up on a Budget at Meatball Shop

A few delicious dishes from Meatball Shop

"So much beige!" Well patience, Iago, there's also a salad coming!

You may or may not have heard about one of the newest darlings of the Manhattan food scene, Meatball Shop.  If you haven’t, it’s about time that you do!!  And if you have, but you have yet to go, I urge you to stop what you are doing and go immediately. Actually I recommend doing that either way.  There is something so majestic and endearing about single food item-themed restaurants; for the same reason that I am utterly obsessed with Peanut Butter & Co and Macbar, I am enamored with Meatball Shop.  Perhaps it is a combination of the assurance that you will be getting quality food (hey, if they are literally running an exclusively meatball biz, we can pretty much assume those are some rockin’ balls, right?), and just the sheer excitement of eating in a place that offers a variety of one perfect food staple.  Whatever it is, I am all for it.  Best thing about Meatball Shop?  Co-owner Michael Chernow is the most attractive man alive.  It is astonishingly cheap!

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Salad with Chicken Meatballs

Nothing like a salad to negate anything unhealthy in the meal, right?

I went to Meatball Shop with a friend, and we decided to go splitsies on everything.  We also were too hungry to be rational and got way too much food.  What we had, however, was very reasonably priced and very delicious.  The concept of Meatball Shop is genius—you get to customize everything from the meatballs to the sauce to the cheese and the bed upon which the meatballs lie.  Vegetarians fear not, for there are veggie balls (I didn’t try them but have heard wonderful things)!  My friend Jordan and I split four items in total: “Naked Balls,” featuring four Spicy Pork Meatballs in a velvety bowl of their parmesan cream sauce ($7), two beef and chicken specialty Sliders ($6), an “Everything But the Kitchen Sink” specialty salad topped with three chicken meatballs and pesto sauce ($9), and some breathtaking freshly-milled creamy polenta ($4).  For those counting, that is nine meatballs between two people.  Don’t get nine meatballs between two people.  These things are large and in charge and drenched in hearty, flavorful sauces.  Anyways, between the two of us, all of that food came out to just $13.  Bear in mind that this is a nice, trendy Manhattan restaurant that uses the freshest ingredients and makes the highest-quality dishes.  To say $13 was a steal for that food is a gross understatement.

I would definitely recommend getting the waiter/waitress’s input before ordering.  That is what Jordan and I did, and we couldn’t have been happier.  In addition to their mouthwatering selection of classic balls and sauces, they cook up a chef special every day.  We had the honor of tasting a Moroccan-inspired chicken meatball in an exotic, tangy sauce.  It was mindblowing.  We also opted for the market-fresh salad of the day, which was a Middle Eastern ensemble of Israeli couscous, luscious hummus, a cucumber salad, and roasted sweet potatoes complementing the bed of arugula and pesto-drenched chicken meatballs.  Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong.  The only issue is, there is simply too much to try, and unless you are an endless meatball abyss, you won’t get to try everything in just one trip.  Thankfully, however, it looks like Meatball Shop is here to stay!

The Meatball Shop on Urbanspoon

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The Best Macaroni and Cheese in New York

Beecher's other-worldly mac and cheese

Creamy, bold, sumptuous and cheesy

Best macaroni and cheese in New York?!  “Bold statement,” you may be thinking.  Bold statement, indeed.  Bold, but accurate.  I happen to be shamelessly obsessed with cheese.  One might say that cheese is the axis upon which my world spins.  Bottom line, I believe that a solid macaroni and cheese is one of the most comforting and beautiful gifts of life.  That said, one of my absolute favorites is the classic “World FamousBeecher’s Mac & Cheese.  Part of my anxiety in relocating to New York from Seattle several years ago was due to the fact that I had to part with my beloved Beecher’s Flagship cheese.  And then the unthinkable happened—they opened a Beecher’s in Flatiron.  Aside from consequently making me wonder if I ever need to leave New York now, the new shop opened a window of opportunity for delicious cheesy eats, new and classic.

The Cellar, which is the chic downstairs 21+ foodie lair of Beecher’s NY, is home to gourmet spin-offs of the classic mac ‘n’ cheese, while the upstairs café offers quicker, more affordable bites.  While such offerings as the Fig and Beecher’s Flagship grilled cheese ($7) and those delectable cheese twists-or breadzels ($3.50) are tantalizing, I find it nearly impossible to pass up the macaroni and cheese.  At $5.50 for an 8-ounce cup (note to all: don’t taste test and then think you need a 16-ounce… We’ve all been there), this is a delightfully cheap, fresh and sultry lunch option.  Beecher’s Flagship is an oaky, nutty, sharp and bold homage to cheddar that contributes to the creamiest, tangiest and most transcendental macaroni and cheese imaginable.  Take home a bigger cup for dinner, or just buy one of the frozen pre-made Beecher’s mac ‘n’ cheeses if you find yourself smitten.  I can’t even do Beecher’s “World Famous Mac & Cheese” justice with an explanation.  You need to taste it yourself—even Oprah considered it one of her “Ultimate Favorite Things” in her final season.  That’s how ya know this stuff is the real deal. 

Beecher's New York Cafe on Urbanspoon

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