Tag Archives: Michigan

i8tonite with Traverse City’s amical Chef Dave Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie RecipeTraverse City, Michigan is a special place. Globally known as an incredibly beautiful location, there’s so much more to Traverse City than Sleeping Bear Dunes, named the most beautiful place in America. It seems that everyone here loves food, as you can tell from the array of incredible restaurants, second homes of well-known chefs, and a farm to table movement that has been going on for over a hundred years.

Two of the things I love most about TC are the friendliness and sense community. Whenever I head north from our cottage an hour south, I ask my friend Mike Norton, of Traverse City Tourism, for a recommendation. He’s got the goods, and knows the best in town (including his contributions for my 50 best Midwest Coffee Roasters, but I digress). Mike recommended amical restaurant to me a while back, and I couldn’t wait to share this favorite restaurant with our readers.

Owner and Chef Dave Denison is one of those people you immediately love. He’s funny, creative, and extremely interesting. You’d pick him, if you were going to be stuck on a desert island (hopefully, his chef knife would come with him, because I would be carrying sunscreen). He started by cooking at a young age, and has always worked in restaurants. When he moved out west to California, he thought about getting out of this line of work. Luckily for us, his plan backfired, as he got a job at a growing chain restaurant, and moved up through the ranks and opened up restaurants all over the country for them.

Denison grew up in Southeast Michigan, as well as in Alamaba and Georgia. When he and his family decided to leave California and find a place to start a new restaurant, Traverse City fit the bill. He’s one of Traverse City’s top chefs, with his restaurant amical, which opened in 1994. amical started as a quick service gourmet cafeteria, and has evolved into a European-style bistro.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Denison remarked that they were fortunate in that through all these changes, their customers supported them and kept coming back.  He noted that “how amical started, to where we are now, is very, very different. We’ve always treated our guests and visitors with respect and knowing that they are the reason we are here.”

I was intrigued by his description of the local food scene. Denison said that “TC has obviously enjoyed national and international recognition over the last 10 years, and it’s well-deserved. It might look like it’s an overnight sensation, but people have worked a long time at their craft here, and many established chefs have been here for a while – in fact, moved to the area with the intention of practicing their craft, using local ingredients. Generations of families have been raising these local ingredients for 100+ years! The farm to table movement was always here, but we were able to utilize it well in our restaurants, and then people ‘discovered’ it. However, it’s always been going on in this area – now just on a bigger scale. This is an agricultural community that has lived for centuries with such natural beauty. We’re surrounded by farmers and people that create a bounty from the land, and we’re happy to be able to be a part of that legacy, and know that this will continue for quite some time.”

amical’s food is local, fresh, creative, and delicious. The staff are incredible – supportive, supported, and intent on creating an excellent dining experience in the community.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Cookbook School!

There’s one more thing you’ll love about amical – the annual Cookbook school, held during the winter months. Denison shared, “for those new to the series, this is what we do: once a month, our kitchen staff will create a week-long dinner menu that consists of recipes from a cookbook. You will find a nice blend of cookbooks from the past, previously featured chefs with new publications, and first time cookbooks. Over the past 19 years, the kitchen team has developed menus from over 100 different cookbooks…while preparing almost one thousand recipes. We credit our loyal patrons for their support and our staff for their passionate drive in making this series an incredible success.”

A community treasure, indeed. 

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
The winner of the big game gets milk and cookies! Go (your team here)!

Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
“Professionally” since I was 15. My mom was, admittedly, a lousy cook, but for some reason I had an interest at an earlier age. She says it was due to my survival instincts.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Amish chicken with ancho chile cream and tomatillo salsa

What is your favorite food to cook?
I like to prepare hearty soups, especially during the winter months. Can you tell I’m from the Midwest?

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Tortillas (corn & flour)… and cheese – usually a St. Andre or a local chevre or Raclette. P’tit Basque, too.

What do you cook at home?
For a quick bite, it would be tacos. Or a stir fry.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Cardamom-Nutmeg Custard

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
The fact that they continue to return!

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Paranoia. A few people think “we’re out to get them” or treat them differently because they were late, not from around here, etc… and for the record, we are not, unless you are late or from another town. JK on that.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex, then it’s on to ziplocks.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Cocktail. Right now its tequila, ginger beer, and lime.

Your favorite cookbook author?
I plagiarize cookbook authors on a frequent basis. Everyone from Mario to Jamie Oliver are represented somewhere on our menus. Right now we are using Pickles, Pigs and Whisky recipes from John Currence. But Yotam Ottolenghi is quickly becoming a new favorite.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
A 10” French knife but I like having a good quality mandolin around. A garlic slicer is a neat little gadget to have around, too.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Garlic Shrimp, Potato Shells, Lamb Meatballs, and Mussels in Coconut-Chile Sauce

Your favorite ingredient?
Onions, onions of all kinds. Caramelized onions, grilled onions, roasted onions, onion soubise, fried onions, don’t forget the chives, red onion, Vidalia onion, green onions…

Your least favorite ingredient?
Eggplant. My mom would pan-fry it and pour maple syrup on it. Yikes! Did I mention she was not a very good cook? But I love you, mom!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Re-make a dish because we made a mistake.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Asian preparations for their versatility, quickness, and healthy attributes. Mexican is a close second.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
C’mon. Pork.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Heritage appetizers

Favorite vegetable?
Local asparagus. It’s only around up here for a few weeks in the Spring.

Chef you most admire?
One you would recognize would be Eric Ripert. Locally, it would be Harlan “Pete” Peterson of Tapawingo fame in Ellsworth, Michigan. He is so talented but incredibly humble. He just opened Alliance here in town. Already a favorite of many!

Food you like the most to eat?
Fresh seafood and shellfish. Walleye is a favorite. But put a fried egg on something and I’ll order it.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Rice Centennial Farm Ribeye ready for the Carnivore menu.

Food you dislike the most?
I never really acquired a taste for calf’s liver. I’ll get my iron somewhere else, thank you. (<<Look left)

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None so far, but my wife has one. Does that count?

 

Recipe: amical’s Chicken Pot Pie

 

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Servings: 6
Size: 1.5 Cup(s)
Prep. Time: 0:35

Ingredients:
2 c chicken breast, cooked and diced
1/2 c carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 c celery, diced
half a medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 c frozen peas
1 pound potatoes, peeled, cooked, diced
1 c mushrooms, sliced
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 c whole milk
1 T chervil
1/2 T dried basil
1/4 T salt
1/4 T pepper
2 c chicken stock
4 oz butter
1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 T grated parmesan
2 pieces puff pastry dough
1 egg, beaten

Directions
1. Saute vegetables in butter in a small stock pot.
2. When onions are translucent, add flour and mix. Simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add milk, cream, potatoes, stock, spices, and parmesan. Heat until sauce has thickened. Check for seasoning and proper thickness. Add more roux if needed.
4. Place filling in individual oven-proof dishes. Cut out a puff pastry dough lid to fit the top of the dish. Brush with eggwash and bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until pastry is golden brown, and the filling bubbles.

– The End. Go Eat. – 

 

 

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo

You may have heard of Kalamazoo from one of the many popular songs about the city – from Glenn Miller to Ben Folds Five to my favorite, Walt Kelly’s Deck Us All with Boston Charlie – or poems, including one by Carl Sandberg. Kalamazoo has many nicknames, including Windmill City, Celery City, Mall City, and Paper City; it is the home of the Kalamazoo Promise, which offers college tuition to Kalamazoo Public School students. It is a city of entrepreneurship and hard work, including Upjohn Pharmaceuticals, The Peppermint King, Checker Cabs, Gibson Guitars (this is a very musical city), paper mills, and medical innovations, like those of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stryker, who invented the cast-cutting saw and a turning bed frame.

History of Kalamazoo at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
History of Kalamazoo at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum

The name Kalamazoo is a Potawatomi Indian expression, meaning boils like a pot (one look at the surface of the Kalamazoo River and you will nod your head in agreement). This is a vibrant small town with more diversity than you’d expect, thanks to the large corporations in town, as well as Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. That means good food! There’s a fantastic farmer’s market, and plenty of great food trucks (both at the farmer’s market, and downtown at Bronson Park during lunch and events).

Kalamazoo Public Library. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Inside the Kalamazoo Public Library

Speaking of Bronson Park, so much surrounds this public space – my favorite library, the Institute of Arts, the Civic Theatre – and it was the center of a deadly tornado, in 1980. Town founder Titus Bronson slept here in 1831, on his first night before settling in and founding the town; President Lincoln spoke here, as did Stephen A. Douglas, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, and both John and Robert Kennedy. Today, you’ll hear bands in the bandshell and see kids splashing in the fountains in summer, and in winter, you can walk among the holiday lights.

Be alert when driving around town – you might catch a glimpse of the famous Banana Car! Kalamazoo is about 140 miles from Detroit and Chicago, and less than 35 miles from South Haven, if you’d like to see Lake Michigan on Michigan’s Sunset Coast.

It was extremely difficult to narrow these categories down. Kalamazoo is a food town, I’m lucky to say. I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear this from me.

Breakfast at Nina's cafe. i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Breakfast at Nina’s cafe.

Breakfast: Nina’s Café
Since 1998, locals have been flocking to Nina’s café for their excellent, home-cooked breakfasts and friendly atmosphere. You’ll find people of all kinds here, but there’s one thing they have in common: they love a good breakfast. It’s a small diner-type restaurant, with under a dozen tables and some stools at the counter. Most of the bread is homemade, so ask when you order. They also serve lunch, but I’ve never tried that – WHO CAN RESIST a breakfast menu?

My Suggestion: Anything with hash browns. They are crispy, crunchy, and oh, so delicious. Eggs of any form are delicious, and be sure to try the biscuits and sausage gravy if you love them (ahem, me). Or the corned beef hash (ahem, me). And the homemade toast? Yes…

Price $5- $10
Hours 6:30am- 2:30pm every day except Sunday, 8am-2:30pm
Address 1710 W Main St
Phone (269) 373-6462
Website http://www.ninas-cafe.com/

Second Breakfast (Bakery)
There’s only one place to send you, and I hope that you’ve worked off breakfast, because Sarkozy’s Bakery is extraordinary. I’ve eaten their oatmeal bread my entire life, and their pastries are the epitome of deliciousness. On weekends, you’ll find live music from local musicians, and definitely pop in during Art Hop. If you’re coming to the area, sign up for Judy Sarkozy’s email list – it’s not only interesting, and a behind-the-scenes look at running a bakery, but you’ll also learn about local ingredients and and special offerings (paw paws this fall, paczkis for Fat Tuesday). You can get meals, too – quiche, soups, etc. – but save room for lunch!

Sarkozy Bakery's apple pies. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Sarkozy Bakery’s apple pies

My Suggestion:  I can’t decide. So I will give you several. The Chocolate Croissant is luscious. The Almond pastry – divine. The Cookies. The Apple pies, crisp flaky, with a tender Michigan apple filling with just the right amount of cinnamon and crunchy turbinado sugar. Hold on, I’ll be right back…

Price pastries are $2-4.
Hours Monday-Friday7:30am –5pm, Saturday7:30am–4pm, Sunday 8am–2 pm
Address 350 E Michigan Ave
Phone (269) 342-1952
Website under construction, try http://www.yelp.com/biz/sarkozy-bakery-kalamazoo-2

Lunch: Saffron
Let’s just pause a minute for the joy that is freshly baked naan. Now, pause another minute for this gorgeous salad with pomegranates. Do you want to eat anything else? The answer, at Saffron, is a resounding yes.

Composed salad at Saffron's lunch buffet. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Composed salad at Saffron’s lunch buffet – look at those pomegranates!

My Suggestion: When you walk into Saffron and view the wonder that is the lunch buffet, you know you won’t need a menu. EVERYTHING on the buffet is delicious. Highlights for me are the composed salad that we definitely need a recipe for, tandoori chicken, chicken curry, and many other delicious dishes, but best of all, finishing up with a creamy rice pudding studded with my favorite spice, cardamom.

Price buffet $11, entrees around $15 at lunch
Hours M-Th, 11:30am-2pm, 5-9:15pm; F 11:30am-2pm, 5-10pm; Sat 12-2:30pm, 5-10pm. Closed Sundays
Address 1710 W Main St (yes, just a few doors down from Nina’s)
Phone (269) 381-9898
Website http://saffronkzoo.com/

Coffeeshop: Something’s Brewing
There are several contenders for this spot (Black Owl,  my favorite coffee in town, but closes at 3pm ; Water Street, crowded at times but open late; Chocolatea, but far down in Portage). The one that rose to the top like foam atop steamed milk is Something’s Brewing. Located just across the street from the main library, this is a small coffeeshop with a big heart. Kalamazoo’s original coffeeshop (opening in 1994), the shop has new owners in the last few years, and they know how to bake. I tell EVERY SINGLE PERSON about their homemade cinnamon pop-tarts. They have luscious chai latte ice cream smoothies in summer (!), and delicious drinks year round. The barista is so friendly that you feel welcome every time. Plus, she can turn a great espresso.

Something's Brewing, Kalamazoo. Fromi8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Something’s Brewing menu board. I know, so hard to choose…

My Suggestion: Frankly? Anything on the menu; I especially love the mochas. Our daughter gets the peanut butter peppermint mocha and swoons. I like their atmosphere (it’s small!) and the comfy chairs at the back, or the outside seating in the summer. If you like iced coffee, they use coffee ice cubes – a genius trick for not watered down iced coffee. Check their facebook page (their only web presence) for the baked goodies of the day. If you see the cinnamon pop-tarts, RUN. They sell out fast.

Price under $5
Hours M-F, 6am-5pm, Saturday 8am-1pm, closed Sundays
Address 120 W South St
Phone (269) 349-1295
Website https://www.facebook.com/SBCoffeeKzoo/

Happy Hour
Kalamazoo is the center of Michigan’s craft brewing scene, so if you love beer, you can’t go wrong in this town, annually named as a top beer town in the US (here’s a beer map to all 14 breweries). Perhaps the most recognized craft brewery is Bell’s (try their Oberon Ale, in the summer). But with a slew of breweries, where to go?

Arcadia Ales. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Arcadia Ales

My Suggestion: Head to Arcadia Ales. Located a few blocks east of downtown, and on the Kalamazoo River, Arcadia Ales offers more than a few beers. I took a Yelp Elite tour of the brewery, and came away amazed. Started in 1996, Arcadia Brewing offers year-round, seasonal, specialty, and draft only beers. Here’s the thing that will make you happy (besides the outdoor patio) – the smokehouse. HOLY SMOKES, this is good stuff (ha! see what I did there?). While I love the brisket the most, I also enjoy the house made sausage, dry-rubbed spare ribs, and mac and cheese. All meat is locally-sourced. The smokehouse offerings make the beer even easier to drink – it’s a complete package. Try a flight of beers if you can’t decide!

Price Beer flights $10-15
Hours Tues-Saturday, 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-9pm, Closed Mondays.
Address 701 E Michigan Ave
Phone (269) 276-0458
Website http://arcadiaales.com/

Dinner: Food Dance
I recommend Food Dance for more than their delicious food. They embody a farm to table ethos that goes a bit further: “We support artisans who practice craft food processes that have been around for generations—growing, raising, preserving, curing, aging, pickling, butchering and more.” Not only can you get that at the restaurant, but also at the small shop outside of the restaurant, where you can purchase artisanal meat/bread/etc. The restaurant annually wins awards, and it’s easy to see why – elegant atmosphere, attentive waitstaff, and extraordinary food.

My Suggestion: While the entirety of the menu is delicious (or so my

Ultimate Mac & Cheese, Food Dance. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Ultimate Mac & Cheese, Food Dance. Photo: MLive

family says), I would drive 24 hours straight to get their ultimate macaroni and cheese. This, too, wins awards for best Macaroni and Cheese in Michigan – take a look at the ingredients: rustichella d’abruzzo rigatoni, grafton aged cheddar, cream, caramelized onions, house made bacon, fresh spinach, toasted bread crumbs, field greens salad. You’ll thank me. I get it EVERY SINGLE TIME. Note: try the ginger mint lemonade – it’s scrumptious.

Price Ultimate Mac & Cheese, $19. Entrees range from $20-30
Hours Monday-Thursday 7am-10pm, Friday and Saturday 7am-11pm, Sunday 8am-3pm
Address 401 E Michigan Ave #100
Phone (269) 382-1888
Website http://fooddance.net/

Pin for later:

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Downtown, in Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park

 

 

 

 

The End. Go Eat.

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Jessie Voigts, except where noted.

From Ohio To Newfoundland: My Best Eats, 2015 Edition

What a year this has been! It started last December, when I was one of the top travel bloggers in the world to visit the White House for a special summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. There was plenty of great food in DC (food trucks!  and on the way, Cleveland’s Westside Market!) – a fantastic prelude to this year.

2015 heralded many trips, including a trip to Turkey in May, with Turkish Airlines, weekends at our cottage in northern Michigan (with grilled meats and fresh tomatoes), an epic Canadian road trip – driving from Kalamazoo, Michigan all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland!, forays into Ohio and over to Stratford, Ontario, and circling back to a cozy Thanksgiving with family that live close by. Here are the highlights. I think you’ll notice that the underlying theme is friends and family – because who else do we want to share meals with?

that popcorn mango creme brulee... one of my favorite meals this year, in Istanbul
that popcorn mango creme brulee…

Whilst in Turkey, I had many memorable meals (because, after all, Turkey is known for its delicious cuisine!). From the huge, dripping

Honeycomb at breakfast in Istanbul - one of my favorite meals this year
Honeycomb at breakfast in Istanbul

honeycomb on our breakfast buffet to freshly baked simits slathered with nutella to roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob to Turkish tea and coffee and freshly squeezed strawberry juice, we did not go hungry. I loved the meals of fresh fish, yogurts, and grilled meats, but the highlight for me was at 360 Istanbul, a rooftop restaurant that served traditional Turkish cuisine with modern twists. I had the kebabs, and a gorgeous salad, but the highlight was the dessert – a creme brulee with mango sauce, salted caramel popcorn, and a nutty caramel ice cream. It was a melange of every taste you can imagine – sweet, salty, umami, smooth, crunchy, syrupy, icy, warm. The view was pure Istanbul, wide-ranging and gorgeous; the company was delightful.

the view from the terrace at 360 Istanbul - site of one of my favorite meals this year
the view from the terrace at 360 Istanbul

 

Toronto hit my 2015 best food list because of our lunch at America Restaurant, by Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants, located on the 31st floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Our daughter enjoyed a cauliflower macaroni and cheese that she said was the best she’d ever had; Ed had a delicious Wellington beef burger with brisket, slaw, and artisanal bun. I had the speckled trout tartine – this genius dish consisted of grilled piece of house made sourdough bread, with French remoulade sauce, daisy capers and elderberries and leafy greens, finished with pieces of sous vide smoked speckled trout, served rare. This dish? It is one of the best things I have ever eaten – the crunch of the bread combined with the creaminess of the trout and remoulade, and the fresh and pickled accoutrements – it was perfect. We enjoyed a great view, lovely art, and excellent company, including a new friend that felt like family.

Smoked trout tartine at America Restaurant, Toronto - one of my favorite meals this year
Smoked trout tartine at America Restaurant, Toronto

 

Newfoundland
St. John’s gets a three-fer for the nod for favorites, with a plus. The plus is an event we went to on our very first night on the Rock – Food Day Canada. There were chefs from Newfoundland, as well as from all over Canada, each showcasing the best of their restaurants and regions. I can’t even begin to say how great the food here was, but I will say that I have built a healthy respect for the chefs, farmers, and producers that work within the island and the weather to create such imaginative, delicious food. (Interviews to come!) Also, please note that while I have many favorite restaurants in St. John’s, I’ve focused on fine dining for this 2015 roundup.

Tavola
Tavola, a small Mediterranean bistro, is located downtown. What the unassuming facade hides is a treasure within. The food, mostly small plates, is a mix of Mediterranean and local. Take, for instance, a dish I’d sampled at Food Day Canada and was delighted to find on the menu: BBQ Smoked pork shoulder with Newfoundland Molasses Baked Beans, a roll of crispy chicarron, and a swoosh of arugula puree.

BBQ Smoked pork shoulder with Newfoundland Molasses Baked Beans, a roll of crispy chicarron, and a swoosh of arugula puree. at Tavola, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my top meals in 2015
BBQ Smoked pork shoulder with Newfoundland Molasses Baked Beans, a roll of crispy chicarron, and a swoosh of arugula puree.

Now, let me tell you why this is so amazing. First, the Rock is known for its baked beans. And, as a midwesterner, I can attest to the nourishing properties of baked beans, especially in the cold winters, but also for fun in the summer. These baked beans? The absolute best I’ve ever eaten. A humble dish, elevated to the stars. Now, I must mention (because my brother is a firefighter, and you know how they love food and work hard on bbq dishes) the bbq smoked pork shoulder. There were crispy bits. The kind you long for, covet when someone else is pulling the pork, snitch when you’re pulling the pork, guard with a fork when there are poachers about. LOTS of crispy bits. Any restaurant that serves this? Immediately in my favorites list. Tavola on that list? CHECK.
The second reason why I love Tavola? It’s owned by Great Big Sea musician Bob Hallett. I was lucky enough to dine with him that day, and hear stories of growing up in Newfoundland, fish, halibut (did you know they are enormous?), community, and bringing the meals he loved while touring home. It isn’t often you dine with a famous musician – even less so, I’d imagine, one that is so down to earth, friendly, and welcoming.

Fresh oysters at Adelaide Oyster House, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my favorite meals this year!
Fresh oysters at Adelaide Oyster House, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Adelaide Oyster House
While this happening restaurant is somewhat loud and a bit hip for this mama, I have to say that not only was the service incredible, but the food was extraordinary. Adelaide Oyster House has won many awards – and in one visit, you can see why. I had the kale salad (don’t hate – it was sooooo good!); we also ordered oysters (of course), fancy cocktails, fish tacos, charcuterie with olives, and a birthday cake/dessert plate that needed to be tripled. By the end of the evening, we’d danced in our seats (and out of them) to the fantastically curated dance music, made new friends with our servers and chefs, and cemented friendships over food – the best way, isn’t it?

Kobe beef lettuce wrap with pickled vegetables, wild rice puffs, and special sauce at Adelaide Oyster House, St John's, Newfoundland - location of one of my favorite meals this year!
Kobe beef lettuce wrap with pickled vegetables, wild rice puffs, and special sauce at Adelaide Oyster House, St John’s, Newfoundland

 

Mallard Cottage
Chef Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage has not only restored an historic cottage in Quidi

Myself with Mallard Cottage chef Todd Perrin - site of one of my favorite meals this year! St. John's, Newfoundland
Myself with Mallard Cottage chef Todd Perrin

Vidi Village, but has brought back traditional Newfoundland cuisine – with a twist. There’s an herb garden outside, and across the alley, another garden. The fish is freshly caught, and on Sunday brunch, there’s a $10 CAKE TABLE.

Chilled lobster bisque at Mallard Cottage, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my favorite meals this year
Chilled lobster bisque at Mallard Cottage, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Now that alone should do it for you, but let me tempt you with other things we ordered at our table, including a fresh Caesar salad with cured pork cheek and piled high with thinly grated parmesan, a fresh scallop ceviche, a chilled lobster bisque that was the best soup I’ve EVER EATEN, fresh halibut, cod, fresh Newfoundland scallops, and a dessert assortment that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

 

Mallard Cottage, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my favorite places to eat this year!
Mallard Cottage Menu

 

New Brunswick
New Brunswick, Canada, was a complete surprise. I had no idea of the fresh seafood along the Acadian coast, the locally sourced food, the creative cuisine, the beauty of the landscapes, and the rich cultural heritage. My best meal here was in Miramichi, at 1809 Restaurant, along the Miramichi River. Yes, I loved it so much that I interviewed Chef Jesse MacDonald for i8tonite.

Divine stuffed haddock at Rodd 1809 in Miramichi, New Brunswick - one of the best meals I ate this year
My stuffed haddock – divine!

The seafood chowder was the best I’ve ever had – even with daily seafood chowder eating in Ireland – and my stuffed haddock
filet was divine. We dined out on the deck at sunset, enjoying the ambience, company, and delicious food. Our time in Miramichi was too short, but filled with great meals, excellent company, interesting conversations about place and food, and a warmth that the Rodd Miramichi so beautifully filled in our travels.

Montreal
Montreal gets two best food nominations – and I know that if we were there longer, it would have been many more. Another reason to go back…

Oh! Dumplings
Let me tell you how much we love dumplings. Wait, it can’t fit into this very small paragraph. Let’s just say top 3 foods our family loves. So when we were in Montreal, a visit to Chinatown was a must. We’d had great dumplings in Toronto, but not SUPER GREAT dumplings. Canada needed to step up to the plate and bat some excellent dumplings our way.

Dumplings and one of many scallion pancakes we ordered at Oh! Dumplings in Montreal - one of the best meals I ate this year
Dumplings and one of many scallion pancakes we ordered at Oh! Dumplings in Montreal

Meandering through Montreal’s Chinatown almost seemed sacrilegious – why weren’t we getting Montreal smoked meat? The lure of the dumpling, I answer. We found Oh! Dumplings, right next to a square where a hundred people or so were dancing. It was a sign. We ordered some of the 12 types of dumplings here, and then the scallion pancake, because the table next to us kept ordering more of them. Well, it’s a good thing the dumpling ladies were fast at making the fresh, juicy dumplings. Everyone left happy, including we three. Canada’s dumpling reputation was restored.

Making dumplings at Oh! Dumplings, in Montreal - one of my favorite meals this year
Making dumplings at Oh! Dumplings, in Montreal

 

Breakfast at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth
Often, hotel breakfasts are meh. Cold cereal, hard apples, gross coffee. The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth changed all that with their luxurious breakfast buffet. Now, the thing that enticed me most

Bread station at the Breakfast Buffet at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Montreal - one of my favorite meals this year.
Bread station at the Breakfast Buffet at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Montreal

was the bread station. LOOK AT THESE GEMS! But if you didn’t want to carb out, there were several kinds of yogurt, an array of cut fruit (11 bowls!), pitchers upon pitchers of fresh squeezed juices of all kinds, and the spacious hot bar. Here, you could get a made to order omelette – or 3 other kinds of eggs, several kinds of sausages, plenty of bacon, french toast, crepes with a brown sugar glaze, several kinds of breakfast potatoes, and, my favorite, a European-style array of many sliced meats and even more gourmet cheeses. The coffee was delicious, the environment was beautiful and elegant, and the service, well, these waiters know their stuff – and are funny, to boot. We fueled up here and were satisfied until dinner. It was the perfect start to every day in Montreal.

Guild House
Closer to home (in Columbus, Ohio), we enjoyed an incredible meal at Guild House. One of the Cameron Mitchell Group restaurants, this new restaurant is worth visiting. We loved it so much that we interviewed Chef Patrick Hofer for the Chef’s Questionnaire here at i8tonite.

the toast with burrata, avocado, pickled red onion, and salsa verde at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio - part of one of my favorite meals this year!
Toast with burrata, avocado, pickled red onion, and salsa verde at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio

The restaurant is beautiful, has outstanding talent in the kitchen, and sources locally and organically when possible. As the Guild House notes on the menu, “There’s a lot of love on every plate.” We had extraordinary appetizers (be sure to get the cheese plate with house made crackers and local sourdough toast), entrees (Lillie said that lasagna was a masterpiece, and the best lasagna she’d ever had – and she’s a lasagna connoisseur), non-alcoholic shrub beverages (swoon), and desserts. My favorite was the toast with burrata, avocado, pickled red onion, and salsa verde.

Prime rib cap, sweet onion relish, Pointe Reyes blue cheese, mustard vinaigrette at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio - one of my favorite meals this year
Prime rib cap, sweet onion relish, Pointe Reyes blue cheese, mustard vinaigrette at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio

OR the Prime rib cap, sweet onion relish, Pointe Reyes blue cheese, mustard vinaigrette. Let’s be honest – you can’t go wrong with anything on this menu. It also features in my mind as a top pick because it was here that our teen daughter announced that she was a gourmet cuisine aficionado. Now, while I’ve known this for years, it was this restaurant that sharpened her instincts for dissecting a menu, picking out the bits that attract you, and chatting with the waiters and chef to learn more.

 

Closer than Newfoundland, a visit to Stratford, Canada taught me a great deal about this well known theatre town. There is so much going on here with the food scene that I can’t wait to go back and eat. Every meal was a treat, and much of it is locally sourced. One of my favorite meals was our lunch at Mercer Hall Inn.

House smoked beef dip sandwich, seasonal slaw, fries & jus at Mercer Hall Inn, Stratford, Canada - one of my favorite meals this year
House smoked beef dip sandwich, seasonal slaw, fries & jus at Mercer Hall Inn, Stratford, Canada

The meal was outstanding – truly, some of the most clean and fresh tasting food I’ve had in a long time. We went back into the kitchen with Chef Ryan O’Donnell – and saw some of the ingredients he was working with, including freshly baked bread, wild rice crackers, and gorgeous, colorful vegetables straight from local growers. He’s an artist, with a full palette of organic, local food to create with – and an instructor at the Stratford Chef School. Mercer Hall also features tea from Tea Leaves – home of Canada’s first Tea Sommelier, Karen Hartwick – a genius at delicious, enriching teas.

 
Thanksgiving was special. I loved it for the family, for cooking

Thanksgiving Dinner - one of my best meals of 2015
Our Thanksgiving Dinner – delicious, familiar, and full of love

together with my mom and aunt and daughter, for the tablecloth and dishes and place cards we use every year, for the decorations that are familiar and the dishes that we tweak a bit each year (or not). It’s the perfect combination of tradition and deliciousness, and is always a highlight of my year.

 

 

 

 

And the coffee:
We moved to Kalamazoo this spring, although I’ve lived here before and grew up a half hour away. I am so happy that there are many great coffeeshops in town, including Black Owl (purveyors of Kalamazoo Coffee, roasted out back), and Something’s Brewing, home of delicious coffee and homemade cinnamon pop tarts. Yep.

Delicious coffee (and tea) at Black Owl Cafe, Kalamazoo, Michigan - one of my favorite places to eat this year!
Delicious coffee (and tea) at Black Owl Cafe, Kalamazoo, Michigan

 

 

When you think back to your favorite meals, what made them so great? For me, it’s a combination of company and delicious food. Luckily, I have had plenty of both this year.

 

The End. Go Eat.