A Taste of NOLA in Denver | Sassafras Restaurant Review

Who doesn’t love a little Cajun food with a dessert of beignets? Something about the New Orleans-style cuisine is homey and comforting, exactly what you need while visiting Denver in February. Before heading up to the mountains, my friends and I had a day in Denver to explore with each other which means brunch was on the itinerary. After research, and arguments of course, we settled on Sassafras American Eatery in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. A few blocks away from the Molly Brown House Museum, Sassafras serves up Southern-style comfort food with beignets that, according to my friend, rival that of Cafe du Monde in NOLA. They had great reviews, something on the menu for each of us and, most important, a ton of different drink options…

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San Antonio Dining: Supper at Emma

San Antonio has plenty of spots to grab a bite. My favorite part of traveling is all the research and preparation before a trip. There were an endless number of restaurants that I wanted to visit while in the Southwestern city but there’s only so much a stomach can handle. Once the list has narrowed a bit, it’s easier to decide which restaurants fit best into your plans. Supper at Emma in the Pearl District just so happened to be the perfect spot for breakfast the day of my cousin’s wedding. Towards the end of the riverwalk where the river taxi turns back around is the Pearl District, one of my favorite parts of San Antonio. This is where the gorgeous and unparalleled Hotel Emma is located and likewise, Supper.

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Supper at Emma is an “American Eatery” by Chef John Brand featuring a “straightforward and creative approach guided by flavor, what’s in season and what feels good in the center of a table shared by friends.” The restaurant offers an experience that is part farm-to-table, part bistro. The flavors of south Texas are at the forefront of the menu as well as local, seasonal ingredients. Quite honestly, it was one of my favorite San Antonio dining experiences and very unexpected as well. Supper is an American Eatery but the food is so unique and original, it doesn’t deserve to be in a classic American category. I would fly back to San Antonio for the chance to have breakfast at Supper one more time.

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Breakfast was the meal of choice for us at Supper and what a great one it came to be! With an affordable menu and versatile options, it was difficult making a decision on what to eat. My Noni decided to go with the Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon and Blueberries (now listed with raspberries on their website). I decided to go outside of my usual comfort zone and ordered the Green Chorizo Scotch Egg with Cornbread, Creme Fraiche, and Salad. To finish, we split the famous Beignets that called to me while doing restaurant research. While neither of us had a traditional breakfast compared to our usual standards, we were both blown away by the experience.

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The Ricotta Pancakes are made with chickpea flour making them much lighter than the typical heavy pancake. It was the first time I ever saw my Noni clean her plate for breakfast. The Scotch Egg was something I’ve never had before and an interesting, complex dish. For starters, I’d love to know how Scotch Eggs are made because they seem like witchcraft to me. The green chorizo was inside the scotch egg, acting sort of like a barrier between the actual egg and the crisp breading. It was so flavorful and satisfying. The combination of textures from the smooth egg and crunchy breading worked in sync with the spiciness of the chorizo, creaminess of the egg and savory notes from the crust. The cornbread could win an award too. Moist and sweet yet still savory...I can’t say one bad thing about this dish. Finally, the beignets were exactly as you’d want them. Crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth fluffy on the inside. Dusted with powdered sugar and served with preserves, nothing will complete your morning better.

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Supper is located within Hotel Emma in the Pearl District of San Antonio. The restaurant features both indoor seating and an outdoor patio. Reservations are available and encouraged. After dining at Supper, walk around the property for gorgeous views of the riverwalk. I also encourage you to take a personal tour through Hotel Emma. It’s like walking back in time. The decor is rustic and sophisticated and makes for fantastic photos. Most notably, the hotel has a 3,700-volume library any bookworm would drool over. Visit their gift shop, grocery store or club room for a cocktail and enjoy all the intricate details that make this hotel something truly special.

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Summer Nights at Three Embers at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort

There are some meals that are so good they stick with you for a long time. Every single dish is memorable and your mouth salivates thinking about it. Unfortunately for me, the meal on my mind lately is almost a two hour drive away but worth every minute there and back. It’s the new summer menu from Three Embers at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort and if it’s not on your summer bucket list, it should be. Located in Chicago’s North Shore area, Three Embers, the resort’s signature restaurant, celebrates Midwest cuisine with simple, locally grown and sourced, farm-fresh ingredients, while integrating influential flavors from various regions throughout southern Europe. My cousin and I had the pleasure to dine with other influencers at a special event to preview the new summer menu at Three Embers. It was a gorgeous night that was miraculously not suffocating given our current summer record and the company was fantastic.

**I was invited out to Three Embers for a special event with all food and drink provided complimentary. All opinions expressed belong to Lattes, Life & Luggage.***

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We started with cocktails and appetizers on the brand new Lakeside Plaza at Three Embers overlooking the resort lake. The Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort recently went through a $25 million transformation which includes the Lakeside Plaza featuring a dramatic wood-burning grill, plenty of outdoor seating and gorgeous views all around. The fountain in the center of the lake provides a peaceful ambiance and a great backdrop for photos! We were greeted with a Blueberry Coconut Lemonade (malibu, blueberry-coconut lemoncello, fresh squeezed lemonade), a drink that was made for me. It went down way too easy and I’m a picky cocktail sipper so that says a lot. Passed appetizers included the Lamb Croquettes with mint pesto, black mission figs and a goat cheese mousse and the Burrata with heirloom tomato, balsamic, basil and EVOO. Everything was tasty which should have prepared us for the five-course meal that came later but believe me when I say we were all blown away.

The Lamb Croquettes

The Lamb Croquettes

The Blueberry Coconut Lemonade

The Blueberry Coconut Lemonade

The pre-fixe menu began with the Honey Badger Glazed Pork Belly with miso sabayon, pickled blueberries, and bitter greens. It’s probably not a great idea to lead with the best dish but since we’re going in order of courses, that’s how it works today! The glazed pork belly was by far my favorite dish of the night. And that is not to say I hated the others. I loved everything but if I picked favorites, and I am, the pork belly wins. The meat was so tender it melted in your mouth. The flavors were out of this world. Sweet met savory in the best possible way. The meat had this beautiful caramelized crust that I will forever be trying to replicate at home. I should also take this time to mention the bread and butter. Three Embers has a pastry chef that makes all of their baked goods and pastries in house. The bread was so good, I should write a paragraph dedicated to it but I'll control myself. The butter was also a delight because it had honey and a little salt. Two things I will never complain about.

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The pork belly was followed by the light and delicate Grilled Farm Vegetables with tomato jus, shrimp, and basil. The presentation was stunning - summer on a plate! This a perfect dish for dining on the patio during a warm summer night. Next we dug our forks into the Alaskan Halibut with risotto, charred leek, and preserved lemon. Risotto is a fickle friend and if you think about it, so is fish. If you cook it too little, you’re in trouble. If you cook it too much, you’re in more trouble. Both the halibut and the risotto were cooked to perfection. The halibut was flaky and light, not a morsel was dried out. The risotto was creamy and comforting, just how I like it. The charred leek and preserved lemon add a nice balance of flavors to an otherwise light dish. Don’t let risotto fool you. Even though it’s comforting doesn’t mean it will overwhelm the stomach in the heat of summer. Cooked well and with the right flavors, it’s an all-season side dish.

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The last main course was the Veal Tenderloin with milk poached, ricotta dumpling and mushroom. This might have been the most tender piece of meat (other than the pork belly) that I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. I’m trying to think of words to describe this dish but all I can think about is my stomach growling even though I just had a very satisfying smoothie. Where do I even begin?! The veal tenderloin was cooked perfect. It had a crisp, caramelized crust and tender, juicy inside. The dumplings were gummy and delightful but 10x more irresistible dipped in the jus that covered the veal which was so flavorful every single taste bud was tantalized. This is about as hearty as you should get for a summer dish and Three Embers did not disappoint for a second.

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Finally, we were treated to the Dessert Duo of Chocolate Pave with raspberry sorbet, rhubarb, and chocolate crumble and a Honey Creme Brulee with blood orange, pistachios, and white chocolate. It was interesting to go around the table and see which was everyone’s favorite. Not having a crazy sweet tooth myself, I was satisfied within a few bites but I still had the opportunity to appreciate the delicate quality of each dish. The Chocolate Pave was my personal favorite. The rich chocolate balanced beautiful with the tart raspberry sorbet. The Honey Creme Brulee was the kind of dessert that got better with each bite. It was very sweet but the blood orange and pistachios helped with the balance.

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It was an incredible night with great company and outstanding service and food. The staff at Three Embers and the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort were very welcoming and it was a treat to be able to get away mid-week. Another reason I love Three Embers is because of their passion for locally sourced and farm-fresh ingredients. The resort has an on-site farm, greenhouse and apiary where they source much of their fresh fruits and vegetables as well as their very own honey! They’re making a wonderful contribution to the environment and anything they cannot source themselves, they try to source local from produce, livestock and dairy farms. It’s one thing to enjoy a great meal but another altogether to enjoy a great meal from a restaurant doing its part to impact the environment and support local businesses.

Dining on the Riverwalk | San Antonio, TX

There are dozens of restaurants to dine along the riverwalk in San Antonio. Almost all of them have outdoor patios to take advantage of the gorgeous south Texas weather and views of the river. The riverwalk in general is colorful, it’s lively and it’s bustling. People walk through the dining patios getting to their destinations. Birds are fluttering around everywhere you look. The riverwalk is full of life and energy making it a perfect spot to take a seat and enjoy a meal. My Noni and I ate at three different restaurants, two of which I’m spotlighting today!

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Rita’s on the River is a must-visit restaurant in San Antonio according to plenty of food round-ups. They serve up Tex-Mex and Mexican food including margaritas and fajitas featuring homemade tortillas. They have gluten free and vegetarian options so even those with dietary restrictions can enjoy a local favorite. Rita’s is also fur-friendly! They welcome friendly pups in case you’re traveling with a four-legged friend or visiting friends or family with one. Overall, Rita’s on the River has a fun, welcoming environment for a great experience and the food is fantastic as well.

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My Noni order the Taco Salad: a large taco shell filled with your choice of chicken or beef, fresh lettuce, topped with diced tomatoes, cheese, guacamole and sour cream. Her eyes were way bigger than her stomach and she took half of it home but she loved it. I actually haven’t seen her eat as much as she ate while we were in San Antonio. It was hilarious. Not usually one for Mexican or Tex Mex either, she was really impressed with Rita’s. We loved being able to sit on the patio and people watch. She also tried guacamole for the first time! I was so proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone during our first dinner in Texas.

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I had the Chicken Flautas: three crispy rolled tortillas, stuffed with shredded chicken and a hint of cheese, fried to perfection and served with sour cream. They came with refried beans and fiesta rice. There’s nothing mind blowing about flautas, they’re pretty standard when it comes to Tex Mex but it doesn’t mean they weren’t delicious. It was exactly what I wanted and that Fiesta Rice was amazing! I love rice but am not the best at making it myself so it’s a treat when I have it at restaurants.

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One of the last restaurants we ate at while in San Antonio was the Hard Rock Cafe. Just a tad farther down the river than Rita’s the Hard Rock Cafe is like any you’d find anywhere else in the world. We weren’t looking for much, just a snack and dessert. We were under the impression that there would be a river parade that night which was the whole reason we chose this particular spot. Spoiler alert: there was no river parade. We still had a great time though! We had a visit from a friendly family of ducks that my Noni just loved.

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For our “snack,” we ordered the Margherita Flatbread: crispy flatbread with sliced Roma tomatoes, basil and herb sauce, roasted garlic, romano and mozzarella cheeses, fresh basil and a drizzle of garlic aioli. It was enough for the two of us and quite tasty I might say. But let’s be honest. We really came for the dessert. We split the Homemade Apple Cobbler: thick, juicy apples are mixed with the finest spices and baked until golden brown. Served warm with vanilla ice cream, topped with walnuts and Ghirardelli caramel sauce. And we also split a Molten Fudge Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream that doesn’t look to be on their menu anymore. They do have a Brownie a la Mode type of treat though which is similar. Both were AMAZING. I don’t prefer caramel sauce so I went for the cake more but it was a nice balance of fruitiness and decadent chocolate. It’s a great thing both desserts come with vanilla ice cream because it helps with the sweetness. Let’s just say, we both left with a very satisfied sweet tooth.

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With the amount of options there are to dine on the riverwalk, it can be a bit intimidating to choose where to eat. I would suggest going with your taste buds and your budget. Some restaurants are much more affordable than others like every other city in the world. Some are more casual, some are more adventurous. It just depends on your persona taste. There’s one more riverwalk restaurant I’ll be sharing and a fourth restaurant not on the riverwalk but by far my favorite from this particular visit to San Antonio. Stay tuned!

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The Ranch: A Review | Dining In Irving, TX

The Ranch at Las Colinas is one of the many phenomenal spots to grab a bite to eat in Irving, Texas. A Texas-style steakhouse, the Ranch is a farm to fork restaurant using locally sourced ingredients and providing a seasonal menu. This restaurant visit was part of a press tour I participated in with the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. The meal was complementary and let me tell you, they pulled out all the stops including ordering every single dessert on the menu! While everyone had the chance to order their main course, we did have several shared appetizers and sweets. There’s a lot of food to get through so I’m just going to dive right in.

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My visit to the ranch was provided complimentary as part of a press tour with the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. All opinions remain my own.

We started with appetizers for the table including the Chef’s “Favorite 4” which consists of Queso Blanco, Branding Iron Rings, Mini Elk Tacos and Fried Green Tomatoes. The Queso Blanco is exactly what it sounds like, traditional Texas-style queso cheese with crispy tortilla chips. Delicious and creamy, I am not surprised this one is a favorite. The Branding Iron Rings come with adobo ketchup and chipotle ranch, both of which I couldn’t get enough of. I love my sauces and these gigantic onion rings were the perfect opportunity to keep dipping. The Mini Elk Tacos had spicy elk picadillo, caciotta cheese, grilled corn pico, cilantro crema and micro greens. They were a unique twist on a traditional appetizer. Finally, who can ignore Fried Green Tomatoes. I’ve only had these once before and it was when I made them myself. Their FGT are local beer battered and served with avocado green goddess and gremolata. TASTY!

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After one too many recommendations, I ordered the Smoked Fried Chicken, a specialty at The Ranch. It’s served with warm roasted marble potato salad, cornbread and coleslaw. Not a potato salad fan, I asked to sub mine for the Buttermilk Chive Whipped Potatoes which they were out of at the moment and so I had the Cadi-Mac’N Chz instead. Much to my satisfaction, they were able to whip up a batch of those potatoes to deliver within moments that I received my meal! Talk about a carb overload.

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Here’s what I have to say about the Smoked Fried Chicken. It’s definitely a unique dish and I don’t recommend taking it home because it’s not the same left over. The chicken is smoked and then fried for the best of both worlds. The flavors are super intense so if you’re not already a fan of smoky flavor, this might not be for you. I personally LOVE smokiness so this was right up my alley. Add the super crunch from the fried skin and you’ve got an almost perfect dish. They give you a ton so I wouldn’t be beneath splitting this with someone if the opportunity arose again. As for the sides, no words. Texas knows how to whip up bomb mac n’cheese. Creamy noodles were topped with buttery, crispy breadcrumbs. It was absolutely divine. And I’m really glad I lucked out on the mashed potatoes because they were probably the creamiest I’ve ever had.

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Dessert was memorable for sure. When you have a wonderful hostess who insists on ordering the entire dessert menu, it’s obvious you’re in good hands. We all tried small bites of each treat for a well-rounded dessert course. And when I say that I tried a bite, I really mean a bite. I was about to burst by the time dessert came. For chocolate lovers, the Old Fashioned Chipotle Chocolate Layer Cake with Sweet House ice cream was decadent and rich with an interesting subtle spice to it but balanced thanks to the vanilla. Country Style Fried Pies gave a true taste of the south. The filling changes to use seasonal ingredients. Ours were apple which was fine with me. You know? I didn’t know what a fried pie was until this particular Texas visit. I hadn’t even heard of them before.

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Next up, another southern favorite...the Route 66 Pecan Pie with praline caramel and a cinnamon crust, served with Sweet House ice cream. Pecan Pie will always be one of those desserts that I will only eat one bite of. It’s so sweet that I feel like I need to dive into a bag of potato chips immediately afterwards. That’s not to say it’s not tasty though! My fellow tour guests who grew up with pecan pie even loved it. The Haywire Homestead Cake is The Ranch’s take on carrot cake from local harvest made with molasses buttercream and spiced pecans. It’s a very rich version of carrot cake with several layers but it’s surprisingly balanced well. Carrot cake is one of those desserts that I’m warming up to the older I get and this particular number is at the top of my list.

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Finally, last but very not least, my personal favorite: the Berry Bundt. It would make sense considering it’s the lightest dessert that we had, fruity and not overly sweet or rich. A classic bundt cake with mixed berries is topped with a lavender cream cheese glaze that is out of this world. The lavender gives the cake an interesting twist with a subtle floral flavor. It’s really quite tasty and this is most definitely the dessert I’d order when I return. Unless of course their seasonal dessert happened to be a cobbler or something else of interest.

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Other than their bountiful lunch, dinner and dessert menus, The Ranch additionally has an impressive craft cocktail, wine, beer, and spirits menu. I had a Riesling with my meal along with several tall glasses of water and a delightful coffee with dessert. The service was friendly and accommodating. The atmosphere is casual yet sophisticated and welcoming. It’s the perfect spot to come with a group of friends, for an intimate date, or even with family. I’m very fortunate I had the opportunity to take part in the Irving press tour to enjoy this restaurant because I may not have found it myself!

Denver Dining | Linger: A Review

Would you dine in a restaurant that used to be a mortuary? Well, I did and I can say that the experience was far from gruesome. Before heading into the mountains, my friends and I used the one night we were all together in Denver to go out to a restaurant the locals love for dinner. Located in the Highland neighborhood, Linger is a swanky, hip restaurant with a multi-level space and tables to fit parties of two all the way to large groups. Linger doesn’t believe in the traditional single entree. Their entire menu is comprised of “small plates” meant to be shared among friends. Representing cuisine from around the world, Linger has made it its job to not be pigeon-holed as one type of restaurant. They have a versatile and unique food menu complemented by an equally original cocktail and drinks menu.

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Since there were quite a few of us, we had the opportunity to try many different dishes. A few of my favorites included the Lemongrass Pork Potstickers, Wagyu Sliders and Italian “Coffee” & Doughnuts. Sometimes when restaurants take you around the world through their menu, things can seem out of place or scattered but Linger makes it work. For starters, the menu is organized by region. There is a section just for Bao Buns (which are my newest obsession, in case you’re interested), Europe & Eurasia, Americas & Caribbean, Asia, Africa & Middle East, and India. I think it’s safe to say that we went almost all the way around the world.

Colorado Lamb Kabobs with cucumber, tzatziki, cilantro, chapati bread, and Turkish chimichurri. I’ve found that people either love lamb or hate it. I’m one of those people who love it. It has a gamey flavor that pairs really well with heartier dishes. On the contrary, this dish is super light but bursting in flavor showing you just how versatile lamb can be. The cucumber and tzatziki vs. chimichurri are almost opposite when it comes to flavor profile which provides a nice balance for the kabobs. It's an overall well-balanced dish.

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Chicken B’Stilla with crispy pastry, almonds, apricots, raisins, cinnamon, harissa, cumin labneh, fennel salad, and preserved lemon. African and Middle Eastern cuisine is something that is new to me. I’ve only started to taste their dishes in the last few years and even tried my hand at a few for a series earlier this year. Most likely because of their climate, a lot of the flavors are warmer: cinnamon, harissa, sumac, etc. It’s a different flavor profile than I’m used to but so delicious. The Chicken B’Stilla is one of those dishes that when they arrive you think, what is this? It’s interesting and almost looks like baked brie until you cut into it and see all the yummy goodness inside (that’s not brie of course).

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Organic Sweet Potato Waffle Fries with chipotle ketchup. I do not have a photo of these but they were definitely worth mentioning. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, these are some of the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever had. And let’s not forget that chipotle ketchup made in house! It adds sweetness mixed with a kick of spice. To. Die. For!

Wagyu Sliders with peppered bacon, aged cheddar, curried sour cream, pickled onion, sweet potato waffle fries, and chipotle ketchup. I never thought sliders could outdo a full-sized burger btu there’s so much flavor packed into these little guys that you don’t need a full-size. Peppery bacon meets the sharpness of cheddar cheese and is balanced with sour cream. These might not be outside my comfort zone but man were they delicious. Not to mention they come with the killer sweet potato fries and chipotle ketchup. That’s a big win if you ask me!

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Lemongrass Pork Potstickers with sambal, crispy shallots, garlic, ginger, and sweet soy. If you haven’t tried sambal yet, you need to. I have a whole jar of it in my cabinet and love dumping a few spoonfuls on any Asian-inspired dinners that I make. A potsticker is a potsticker. There’s not a huge difference no matter where they’re made but the quality is definitely something worth noticing. For example, these potstickers were not greasy, they were almost fresh in a way. They balanced sweet and savory perfectly and the sauces on the side made each bite even better. Someone pass the sambal please!

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Masala Dosa - crispy lentil crepe, winter squash, long beans, brussels sprouts, apricots, potatoes, sambar curry, tamarind date sauce, coconut mint chutney. Of all the plates we ordered, this one was probably the most out of the box one for our regular eating habits. I don’t even know how to explain this dish. A large, crispy crepe is filled with all these not-so-random ingredients. Not sure how to eat it, we broke off pieces of the crepe and treated it kind of like chips and salsa. Whatever the proper way to eat this dish is, it’s still delicious. Definitely on the sweeter side so if you’re more of a savory person, take a bite and keep moving.

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Italian “Coffee” & Doughnuts - caramelized white chocolate mousse, whipped espresso ganache and dark chocolate pearls. I could have dove into this cup of heaven. I’m not a sweets person but bring me Italian doughnuts with dark chocolate and I’m like a kid in a candy shop. This was rich and decadent, exactly how a dessert of this caliber should be. And I want more! Those dark chocolate pearls with the espresso ganache and white chocolate were almost too much to bear. Almost, I said almost.

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Taiwanese Snow Ice. For $9, you get three different choices to dress your Taiwanese Snow Ice, otherwise known as super delicate shaved ice. It looks like a bowl of snow and it’s super fluffy like snow as well. There are three different flavor options although I don’t remember which one we got. This is not my cup of tea so I had one bite and moved back to my Italian doughnuts. My friends went crazy for it though so it had to be delicious.

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Linger has a huge wine menu and lots of weekly specials including Happy Hour Monday through Friday with $6 wine by the glass and $5 shared plates. Indulge in a pre-fixe menu on Tuesdays, grab lunch Tuesdays through Fridays, or Brunch on weekends! If you have dietary restrictions, there is no restricting at Linger. They have Vegan and Gluten-Free options throughout their menu and the option to substitute many of the dishes that are not. They make sure to accommodate every single diner from carnivore to plant-based.

Irving Restaurant Round-Up | 5 Spots To Grab A Bite

On my first trip to the DFW area to visit family almost 8 years ago, I would have never labeled Irving a foodie’s destination. Almost a decade later (with more money to spend), I’ve changed my mind. Irving is for sure a foodie’s dream. From Tex Mex staples to old school diners, Irving is sporting restaurants featuring cuisine from Texas to India. It’s a smorgasbord of deliciousness you can’t help but return to. I mentioned in the recent Five Things To Do post that I had the opportunity to join an Irving press trip during my most recent visit to Texas. A few of the destinations I’m about to share with you were included in that press trip and boy am I glad they were. Lori, the amazing woman who organized this press trip pulled out every single stop and made sure there was no question that we enjoyed our weekend discovering Irving. So check out the five joints below and tell me in the comments what you look forward to when visiting Texas when it comes to food. I’m all ears!

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Big State Fountain Grill
Big State Fountain Grill is one of those places you’d expect to see on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. It’s an old school, corner restaurant with a little shop when you walk in and classic diner seating in the restaurant part. The menu consists of anything you can think of but one of the things they’re known for is ice cream. Get a scoop as big as your head and just try and eat that on cone. The Floats and Ice Cream Sodas are for sure a favorite and I was the poor soul who ended up trying both (what dairy intolerance?). Being someone who has always detested the taste of Root Beer, I got all Dr. Pepper and my taste buds were tantalized. Big State uses Bluebell Ice Cream, a brand that is apparently HUGE in the South. Please excuse my northern ignorance. We’re all about that Oberweis.

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Big State is more than ice cream though. The chili cheese fries, for one, are a local favorite and let’s not forget their “Dang Good Burgers.” I’ll tell you what, on my next visit I will for sure be ordering the Big State Cheeseburger with a side of Stroker’s Fries...or maybe onion rings (what the heck, how about both). While the food is dang delicious, the service is even better. Big State is a family-owned business (my favorite) and everyone is crazy friendly. It’s owned by Rick Fairless who owns a few other businesses in the area but his daughter is the one who really handles Big State and she’s one of the sweetest, coolest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. She’s also the one who insisted that I get the Float on top of the Ice Cream Soda (because you can’t leave Big State never having tasted a Float in your entire life). I swear there are good things about being a northerner...we have the best pasta and pizza and we have four seasons!

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Empa Mundo Empanadas
If there is an empanada joint in a city I’m visiting, you bet I will find it. Empanadas are my weakness. Sweet, savory, spicy, a combo of both...I love them all! And since they’re so small, you can try several without feeling guilty (or several halves). It’s a food lover’s dream come true. There’s nothing worse than being committed to only one dish! Empa Mundo was a spot that came recommended through the Visit DFW website and as soon as I found out about it, I needed to try it out. My cousin Catherine and I ventured over on a rainy day for a late lunch treat. Let’s start with the lady who owns it. Her and her husband are both from Argentina and they’ve brought their Argentinian roots to Irving. She’s super friendly, talkative and will walk you through the empanadas if you like. While we were chatting, she told us how how people come to her with suggestions and they figure out a way to add them to the menu. That’s actually how the Pulled Pork empanadas came to be. Someone suggested them, her husband spent a day perfecting a recipe and voila! Now you can order pulled pork empanadas.

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I ordered four empanadas during our visit and we took them to go with this AMAZING red sauce that I have no idea what it is but I want to go back to order a giant jug of it. Anyway, I chose three savory: Chorizo, Spinach and Ricotta, and Cheesesteak, and one sweet: Banana and Nutella. They were all fantastic. The chorizo is made with potatoes and peppers. It wasn’t too spicy and even had a sweet note to it. The spinach and ricotta also had parmesan and eggs. When the description said “eggs,” I thought it meant the egg was worked in like any other ricotta pasta filling. No. It’s actually cut up hard-boiled eggs so be prepared. I still enjoyed it but I definitely wasn’t expecting it. The cheesesteak has onions and peppers and was mind blowing. I wasn’t expecting to love this one so much but I think it was my favorite. Finally the banana and nutella is exactly as it sounds but with marshmallows. Everything is all melty when you bite into it and it’s a nutella dream. This is a great quick-stop if you don’t have lots of time.

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La Margarita
La Margarita was another one of the restaurants we stopped at on our Irving press trip. It’s a classic Mexican/Tex-Mex restaurant. We sampled a lot of different dishes so I’ll be doing a full restaurant review in the future but I still wanted to touch on it a bit for the round-up. La Margarita serves up a combo of traditional Mexican dishes and classic Tex-Mex. For example, they make tableside guacamole with all the fixings...including bacon which my Mexican best friend says is a big no-no. Munch on tacos, nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, bocadillos...anything you can think of. The food is incredible. This is another spot where I have zero complaints.

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The Ranch
Another stop from our tour of Irving, The Ranch is located in Las Colinas, a community of residential buildings, hotels and lots of entertainment. It’s kind of like its own town inside of the city of Irving if that makes sense. The Ranch is a Texas Steakhouse serving up all the meats, classic sides, and dishes with innovation and creativity you wouldn’t find at any random steakhouse. They’re farm-to-table cuisine which means they source local for their meat and produce, something I am a HUGE fan of. The Ranch has locations all over Texas (mostly south and east) so if you can’t get to the Irving location, check out one of their others for a bite.

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We had a ton to eat here including a tour of their dessert menu (again, dairy overload) so I’ll be sharing a full restaurant review in the future but for now, I’ll highlight my personal dinner and one of the starters we enjoyed. The Chef’s “Favorite 4” (pictured above) is a platter of queso blanco, onion rings, mini elk tacos and fried green tomatoes. Holy fried food is all I have to say. But is anything really as good as when it’s fried? I mean come on, those onion rings were massive and to die for. I ordered the Smoked Fried Chicken after one too many recommendations. It was great and I loved the sides (especially the cornbread and mac n’ cheese) but after the amount of food I ate that day, I still wish I went with a flatbread I had my eye on. This girl has one too many food intolerances and when they’re all put to the test at the same time, death is an outcome I’d like to have the option to choose. Let’s just say the next three days were spent sipping ice cold coke and eating saltines. I love the job of food blogger and I love working with food in my day job as well but man, does my body hate it when I overindulge. I blame bad genes…thanks ancestors.

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The Final Spot I’m Too Embarrassed to Give A Title
So, the final “restaurant” I want to share is a little unconventional compared to what I typically lean towards when it comes to food. You know those places that everyone raves about, the ones that have a large hype around them and you feel like you’re missing out if you haven’t tried them? Let me forward by saying I am not a fast food diner...ever. I have my “quick” places when I need a bite to eat but on the traditional fast food scale, it’s not my thing. It makes me feel sick, I always regret my decision and it often feels like a waste of money. Whataburger would be my one exception. I’ll have a cheeseburger on occasion while visiting family in Texas. This last time, I felt like I needed to try In-N-Out for the first time. I blame Selena Gomez. I’ve seen so many Instagram posts from her eating In-N-Out and raving about it. It seemed like I couldn’t go anywhere online without seeing how life changing In-N-Out burgers were. So I put the hype to the test and ordered my very first In-N-Out burger (disclaimer: I’m not sure if it was actually in Irving but we’ll include it regardless).

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The verdict...it’s a burger. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I am still flummoxed on all the hype. It was just a burger. They have this special sauce on it that is pretty good but I wasn’t blown away by any means. I know a lot of you are probably reading this thinking, “how has she never had In-N-Out before?” I grew up in the south Chicago suburbs and have lived in the Chicago area my whole life. Until the last couple of years, we’ve only had the larger chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.). Whataburger, In-N-Out, Sonic, Wing Stop...all those don't exist. We only got a Chick-Fil-A like five years ago. I didn’t see a Wing Stop until after I graduated college. And don’t even talk to me about Sonic because those commercials look damn good and you can’t find one within a 100-mile radius.

So tell me, have you dined in Irving? Have you had an In-N-Out Burger? Chat away in the comments below!

5 Things To Do Along Magnolia Avenue | Fort Worth, TX

I’ve never considered myself a hipster. I don’t have the confident, carefree attitude they seem to emit and I love The Gap way too much. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not ashamed by any means. Not everyone can be hipster otherwise by definition, no one would be. I’m perfectly content in my gap tees and LC by Lauren Conrad jeans sipping Starbucks coffees more often than not. I embrace basic life. However, I am all about those hipster neighborhoods. They seem to have the best boutiques, the best coffee and the best brunch. I would have never guessed it but the South Side or as I like to call it, Magnolia neighborhood, in Fort Worth is a hipster haven.

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Magnolia Avenue is a street in the Southside neighborhood in Fort Worth lined with restaurants, boutiques, nightlife and more. It’s near the Fort Worth Medical District and “behind it” is the “Fairmont” neighborhood which is full of old homes (more on those further down). It’s a casual avenue that you could explore for days. The restaurants alone will keep you occupied for weeks not to mention the ones that host live music and entertainment. From wine tastings to homemade ice cream and specialty shops to cafes, there is so much to do and as if that’s not enough, the entire area is charming on top of it all. It almost reminds me of those small towns you see in Hallmark movies (don’t judge, we’ve all seen one or two). This isn’t the first time Magnolia has appeared on the site and it won’t be the last. Until next time, here are five of my top recommendations on what to do along Magnolia.

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Brunch at Brewed
Brewed is my one of my favorite spots in Fort Worth. The eclectic inside has tons of seating from traditional tables and chairs to comfy sofas. The patio in back has a gorgeous layout with even more seating. It doesn’t end there though. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Brewed has a crazy good brunch menu featuring everything from pancakes to chicken and biscuits. And if you worried about the coffee falling short, don’t. Their coffee is always on point and I have had a few cappuccinos and lattes to prove it. Coffee not your thing? I’m sure you’ll find a wine, beer or cocktail to your satisfaction instead!

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Lunch at Heim
A local favorite for good reason, Heim recently made Texas Monthly’s list of top 25 barbecue joints. Heim was recommended to me by a DFW local. It’s still on my list, meaning I haven’t actually made it here yet, but believe me when I say it’s at the top. The trick about Heim is that you need to go with a little patience. Heim is so popular that it’s known for a lunch line. Yes, you read that right! A line at lunch! Who has time, right? Well, from what I’ve been told and everything that I’ve read, the line moves quick. I’ve also been told that the bacon burnt ends are to die for. I don’t see them on the menu so I don’t know exactly how you get your hands on these but if you have a chance, do not turn them down!

Grab a Pastry at Great Harvest Bread Co...or a Sandwich
New to the block, Great Harvest Bread Co. is serving up breakfast, lunch, and plenty of sweets including pooch-friendly options. The service is friendly and the space a bit small but cozy. Bread and baked goods are made in house every morning. Great Harvest features a seasonal menu on top of regular baked goods including treats to take home to your furbaby. During my visit, I had the Sophisticated Grilled Cheese Sandwich with sharp cheddar, provolone, sliced apples, bacon, and pepper jelly. It was DIVINE! I also went home with a cinnamon roll and let me tell you, Great Harvest has become one of my new favorite Fort Worth spots.

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Get Your Dairy Fix at Melt Ice Cream
For the best vegan ice cream in the south, Melt is the spot. For those who love the classic ingredients, there’s plenty of that as well. Classic flavors always available include “Beans” - Vanilla, Chocolate Chocolate, “Salt Lick” - Salted Caramel, “Cup of Texas” - coffee, and Velvet Vegan. They also serve seasonal flavors throughout the year including Black Forest, dark chocolate cake and almond meringue swirled into cherry ice cream, and Sunbrittle, vegan sunbutter ice cream sprinkled with pieces of vegan peanut and pretzel brittle. They also do seasonal cone pairings and “Taco Tuesdays” featuring two ice cream scoops topped with vanilla whipped cream, homemade salted caramel sauce and chocolate sauce. As if Melt wasn’t good enough already, they also partner with fellow local businesses for some of their ingredients. The owners of Melt saw that Fort Worth was missing an ice cream spot and boy did they make a name for themselves.

Walk/Drive around the Fairmont District
Just south of Magnolia Avenue is the Fairmont District. Once you step off of Magnolia, you’re in the district. It’s full of historical and old homes, many of which were built or used to be owned by rather famous people at least by Texan standards. Some of the homes are a bit broken down and need some love, others are just as beautiful as they must have been the day they were built. The homes are in the bungalow style which means they’re simple, smaller in size and functional - typically meant as single family homes. Even if you’re not on the market for a new home, it’s great to walk or drive down the streets and look at the houses. The contrast of some of the more broken down ones versus the ones in tip-top shape is eerily beautiful. They’re also very colorful - many are painted different colors, even vibrant hues! If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to grab some photos

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