Toronto: Fun, Games and Food

Upon entering Snakes & Lattes, billed as North America’s premiere board game cafe, I was immediately struck by the extensive library of games lining the walls waiting to be played. There were certainly familiar ones, like Agricola pictured in the window below, however, most were new to me.

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As we headed to our table, we passed game playing customers enjoying a variety of games chosen from the cafe’s extensive selection. I couldn’t help but smile seeing a group playing Mysterium employing their best seance skills to investigate clues to unlock a mystery.

Once seated, we were greeted by a staff member who explained that our $5.00 per person admission enabled us to stay as long as we wanted playing games from their library. In addition, we could order food and drinks…but that was not required. Game gurus were also available to recommend and/or teach games.

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We let Jonathan, our family game guru, do the honors of choosing and teaching us a game. His selection of Cinque Terre was a good one. It had us competing to sell the most valuable produce to the five villages of Cinque Terre.

Ready for dinner, we only stayed to play one game. We ordered some drinks at Snakes & Lattes, but we aren’t accustomed to mixing food and games.

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Our second night, we took in a show at The Second City, Toronto’s famous comedy club. Tickets to the show were a Mother’s Day gift from Meghan and Jonathan, and our “VIP” seats on the rail were close enough for a good view of all of the action on stage while insuring we wouldn’t be included in any of the skits…a good move! The Best of Second City show provided nearly two hours of fun watching the casts’ comedy sketches and unscripted improvisations. What a fun night of laughs!

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This trip was not one of fancy meals. Instead we concentrated on good, standard fare, but with stops at a couple of famous eateries. That means breakfast at Tim Horton’s. How can you go to Canada without eating a donut at one of the country’s 4,413 locations?  So how was the donut? Good, but not something I have to have again. Of course, I’m not really a big donut fan.

Fresh baked goods at St. Lawrence Market was our other breakfast choice. Much more to my taste, and the bagels were terrific.

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Pizza at Pizzaiolo Gourmet Pizza, hamburgers, fries, and delicious milk shakes at The Works, fish, salads, and appetizers at Firkin on Bloor satisfied our taste buds in Toronto. But buffalo wings from Anchor Bar in Buffalo was another must. Credited with inventing buffalo wings, a favorite; and with a restaurant located in the Buffalo Airport, how could we resist? We didn’t. Ate wings before boarding our flight home.

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While our dining experiences won’t be all that memorable, we highly recommend Snake & Lattes and The Second City for fun and games in Toronto.

Tips: More Fun and Games

Hockey Hall of Fame

Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)

Toronto Raptors (NBA)

Toronto Blue Jays (MBL)

Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall – two of Canada’s most renowned concert halls

 

Eating Dutch Style: Herring, Fries and Pancakes

As we began planning for an adventure in the Netherlands, we wondered what we’d be eating. This is an easy question to answer when traveling to Italy or France, but we weren’t sure what types of food to expect.

I found articles with the following titles:

  • Top Ten Dutch Foods
  • 15 Foods to Try in Amsterdam
  • 10 Dutch Foods You Have to Try Once
  • Amsterdam Local Food and Travel Guide

And while we didn’t try everything on these lists, we tasted many of the foods called Dutch classics.

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I wasn’t brave enough to gulp down a pickled herring. I thought it looked much more like bait than lunch. However, I’m pleased to say that John gave it a try. Fins, tail and bones intact, he was not deterred. He said it would have been much easier to stomach if he wasn’t waiting for me to take pictures, but there’s no chance he’ll eat it again.

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‘Friet’, ‘Frites’, ‘Patat’ or ‘Vlaamse frieten’…whatever you call them, these Dutch fries were easy to eat. Served in a paper cone, these fries are thick cut and served with a variety of sauces with mayonnaise the most common sauce. Curry ketchup and peanut sauce are other popular sauces. We waited in line at VleminckX, known for serving the best fries in Amsterdam.image

Another food that appears on every list of must eats: Dutch pancakes. Yes, those are pizza sized pancakes. The thin pancakes are cooked with fruits, meats or cheese. We tried the ham and cheese pancake and the apple pancake. And then we couldn’t pass up the poffertjes. They look like mini pancakes but are much lighter and are served with butter and powdered sugar…yummy!image

Of course, we also ate Dutch apple pie, chocolates and lots of cheese (kaas). We ate stroopwafles, which were delicious cookies and drop, a Dutch licorice, but there are so many candies I like better than drop. We tried the hagelslag, basically sprinkles, but we didn’t realize they were supposed to be a sandwich filling so we just tried a few sprinkled on bread at breakfast. And one of our favorite meals: Indonesian Rijstaffel. A rijsttafel  or rice table gives diners a true Indish-Dutch experience. The Dutch colonization of the Spice Islands resulted in this Indonesian culinary influence.

I’m disappointed that we never ate at a restaurant that sold kibbeling, battered and fried fish from the North Sea or snert, a thick split pea soup served in the winter. I know April is not a winter month, but when the temperature is in the 40s and there’s sleet, I think it’s time to make an exception and prepare some snert.

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise was drinking the BEST orange juice ever served at our hotel in Delph. Truly, fresh squeezed orange juice…we need to do much better in Florida, a state known for oranges!

Say Yes to the Conch Fritters

Alabama Jacks, located in “Downtown Card Sound”, or more precisely on Card Sound Road between Homestead and Key Largo is one of those seafood dives that receives a lot of attention due to its unique location. This isn’t a place you just stumble upon since Card Sound Road is a toll road which can easily be avoided by taking US 1, the preferred route to the Florida Keys.

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Emeril’s Florida, Food Paradise’s Manliest Restaurants, the Food Network’s Bobbie Flay, Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and even Kathie Lee Gifford have all sung the praises of Alabama Jacks, touting it as one of the state’s best beach shacks (although not on the beach), seafood dives or biker bars.

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This rustic, open-air bar and restaurant claims to serve the world’s best conch fritters, and on that front I whole heartedly agree. Unlike the bite-sized fritters usually served, Alabama Jacks’ fritters look like fritters. Two large fried pieces of batter filled with conch and other yummy ingredients.

On a Monday afternoon, the crowds were light so there was no waiting and we were served quickly at our table overlooking the mangrove lined waterway behind the restaurant.

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While we thoroughly enjoyed our conch fritters at this highly recommended eatery, I would not encourage anyone to wait two or more hours to be seated as is sometimes necessary on weekends. Stop in for a fritter and a cold drink on your way to or from the Keys, but go elsewhere for dinner. There are so many places to get really good seafood in south Florida, but I can’t say that Alabama Jacks is one of them.

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If you do go, avoid the weekend crowds and make sure you’re there early since they close at dusk before the influx of mosquitoes.

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A Taste of Heaven at Blue Heaven?

We’re on a roll when it comes to eating at the 15 Restaurants You Have to Visit in Florida Before You Die. Last week we managed to not only visit but eat at the southernmost restaurant on the list, Blue Heaven, in Key West.

Known for their Key Lime Pie, that’s what we ordered at Blue Heaven Thursday afternoon following six hours on the water sailing, snorkeling and kayaking. When the pie arrived at the table, it didn’t look like any key lime pie I’d eaten before.

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Standing a good eight inches tall, the  meringue topping nearly hid the filling for which the pie’s named, but it certainly was an impressive looking dessert. We dove right in and found the lime filling tasty but not quite as tart as we prefer, and while the meringue was delicious, it overwhelmed the tangy lime we love.

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Most of all, at $9.50, for a single slice , Blue Heaven’s key lime pie was overpriced. Of course, it’s in Key West so that’s not a big surprise.

The food served to the diners around us looked and smelled wonderful and the atmosphere of Blue Heaven was all about fun. However, for a REALLY good piece of key lime pie, I’d suggest you try Shorty’s, a BBQ place in Miami. No fancy decor. No meringue. No Key West prices. Just a good, tangy slice of key lime pie with delicious graham cracker crust (that’s not tinted green for tourists) served to diners seated at picnic tables for $4.00.

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Blue Heaven’s a fun, quirky place to eat in South Florida, but you can do better when it comes to key lime pie.

Satchel’s

Last Friday when looking at the list of “15 Restaurants You Have to Visit in Florida Before You Die,” I realized we’d eaten at one of these restaurants last summer. After a trip to a Repurpose, a junk store full of items looking for a second life, we stopped in Satchel’s.

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Satchel’s really was the perfect place to eat that day since it continued the repurposed junk theme. Where else do you find a plane in the parking lot? In fact, a water wheel made of recycled items and a variety of signs also make for a unique parking area which encourages guests to take photos among the stuff.

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Old vans have been repurposed as dining areas, although we chose more traditional inside seating. We ordered pizza, their specialty, for lunch.

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We also tried a flight of Satchel’s homemade sodas: Lola Cola, Ruby Root Beer, Lennie Lemon Lime, Ginnie Ginger Ale, Emma Lemma Lemonade and Stevie Z Zero Calorie Cola. John and I agreed the root beer received the top score.

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Although we passed on dessert, we enjoyed clicking through the photos of sweets on the view finder. I can’t believe I didn’t try a piece of chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting! I don’t usually exercise that much restraint.

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Satchel’s certainly fits the bill as a fun and unique dining experience. The pizza is tasty, but there are many places to eat pizza as good or better than Sachel’s. It’s the atmosphere and the quirky homemade sodas that earns a place on the Florida restaurant list.

Oh, and don’t forget to bring cash! Satchel’s doesn’t accept plastic (although they do have an ATM tucked away by the restrooms for those dependent on cards).

 

 

Eating Our Way Through Florida

As we travel, we’re always looking for new dining experiences. We seem to be especially attracted to dives, places with outside seating, burger joints and seafood shacks. So when John sent me a message titled “15 Restaurants You Have To Visit In Florida Before You Die”, I knew we’d use this list as a reference as we travel throughout the state.

When I looked at the list by Victoria Winkler from a site called Only in Your State, I was surprised to see that we had already eaten (not just visited as the title of the article states) at six of the restaurants, and we added a seventh, Taco Lu’s, a couple of weeks ago.

  1. Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach
  2. Blue Heaven, Key West
  3. Bern’s Steak House, Tampa – We went here last June for a retirement celebration dinner. Delicious food. We’ll be back for another celebratory event. Don’t miss the dessert room!
  4. The Le Tub Saloon, Hollywood
  5. McGuire’s Irish Pub, Pensacola
  6. Satchel’s Pizza, Gainesville – The most unique pizza place I’ve ever eaten. Good pizza, homemade soda and funky decor. (I’ll have to write about this food adventure.)
  7. Frenchy’s Cafe, Clearwater
  8. Versailles, Miami – Cuban food, extraordinaire, a fixture in Miami for over 40 years in Little Havana. Delicious food, inexpensive, a strolling Mariachi band, all on Calle Ocho. What more could you ask for?
  9. T-Ray’s Burger Station, Fernandina Beach
  10. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill, De Leon Springs – The Grill and Griddlehouse at DeLeon Springs State Park is a fun place to eat since diners cook their own pancakes at the table. Beautiful park and a one of a kind dining experience.
  11. Columbia Restaurant, Ybor City – The Columbia is where we celebrated our 35th anniversary, but to be honest this is a great excuse to go to Ybor City. We’ve even offered to pick up items at IKEA just so we can eat lunch here.
  12. Yoder’s Restaurant & Amish Village, Sarasota
  13. Teak Neighborhood Grill, Orlando
  14. 4 Rivers Smokehouse – We were at 4 Rivers Smokehouse with our daughters and their husbands several years ago before the name 4 Rivers could be seen throughout the state. Good BBQ and delicious offerings at the Sweet Shop, but with over a dozen locations, I’m not sure it should be on this list. (We recently tried their new endeavor, The Coop, which I’ll be writing about soon.)
  15. Taco Lu, Jacksonville Beach – Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, we ate lunch here after a visit to Fort Caroline National Monument a couple of weeks ago.

Located on Atlantic Boulevard heading toward Jacksonville Beach, Taco Lu makes a statement with its brightly painted building, old VW bus and sign featuring cleaveras de azucar (that green skull looking thing which symbolizes death…but in a positive manner).

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Any restaurant that brings chips and salsa before taking our order is already a hit, and to be honest, I could have just made a meal on this and the queso we ordered. But since tacos are their specialty, we opened the menu.

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The list of $2.99 tacos: Bangin’ Shrimp, Deb’s Verde, Baja Fish, Spicy Bird, Brisket, Carnitas, and Cheeseburger??? John went with the Bangin’ Shrimp and the Brisket (top photo) while I ordered Deb’s Verde (chicken with Deb’s salsa) and a Carnitas. Can’t think of a time I’ve had better tacos.

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I hear the wait time at Taco Lu’s can be lengthy, but we solved that problem by eating lunch on a Friday afternoon at 2:30. I can honestly say, I’d be willing to wait for these tacos!

That makes seven restaurants on the must visit list. Since I haven’t been disappointed yet, I keep the others in mind as we eat our way through Florida.