Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 1

Even though I missed submitting a food review in the end of April and now May, I did accomplish one very important task – getting my family and friends trained to not take a bite of food before I take photos of their delectable plated food whenever we head out to taste test a new restaurant. I do get a few curious looks from other patrons or wait-staff wondering why I am taking pics of every course of food – I’ll have to get better about dropping my business card on the table so restaurants can check out my reviews.

Because it’s been such a long time between food review posts and my daughter and I have eaten at several great restaurants in that time period, I am just going to get down to business and get right into the reviews and tantalizing pictures!

First off is my daughter’s review of several of her favorite sandwich haunts in NYC:

Despite the cultural cachet the deli sandwich has in New York, I’ve always had a hard time justifying $10 for two pieces of bread and various toppings when I could buy a whole loaf, a packet of prosciutto, and a block of cheese for not much more and eat for a week at home. Last week, Cheeky Sandwiches (35 Orchard St, between Canal and Hester) forever changed my mind on the matter of the sandwich. First off, their menu items are not $9 to $11–all too pervasively the norm–but $6.50 to $8.50, no tax added. Chicken, beef, pork, grass, veggie, sea (that last one a choice of po boy done with shrimp, oyster, or half and half). That’s all you get, and that’s all you need. I started from the top: an idyllic proportion of fried chicken breast, crunchy coleslaw, and thick gravy on a homemade flaky biscuit. The place has a thrown-together look: a narrow wooden bar painted the kind of white that’s dirty before it dries, one low communal table, and a few bright blue accents. But the service is casual-friendly, and that sandwich so good I dragged my finger across the paper wrapping to capture every last drop of rich-but-not-too-rich gravy. Though Cheeky is out of my way both from work and home, by the end of the summer I imagine I’ll have worked my way pretty far down that menu list.

Mouth-watering, finger licking chicken sandwich from Cheeky Sandwiches.

For all my slavering, Cheeky isn’t the only sandwich shop in New York that’s convinced me to return for round two. My college favorite was a classic, if more upscale, Italian deli in Morningside Heights called Milano Market (2892 Braodway, between 112th and 113th streets), which, horrifyingly, garnered a small amount of internet fame after an employee followed Forest Whitaker around the store [LINK:TK]. The real draw here is the variety of gourmet bread: rosemary and sea salt focaccia, caramelized onion, a crackling ciabatta. In terms of unusual fillings, I steer towards Num Pang’s (various locations, including Chelsea Market and 28 East 12th Street) Cambodian take on the bánh mi. With an orange chalk-drawn rooster for a logo, this lunch spot serves up coconut tiger shrimp, ginger barbecue brisket, or five-spice glazed pork belly with cucumber, pickled carrots, and sheaves of fresh cilantro on a fat baguette. It’s messy desk eating, almost always worth it.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang's in lower Manhattan.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang’s in lower Manhattan.

If you are visiting any of the locations listed in the title, you won’t go wrong checking out any of the following restaurants:

Phoenix:

The Herb Box – simple. fresh. unique. is how they market themselves – and I’d say that is right on. Their lunches are great, but my favorite dishes are served for brunch/breakfast. Sit outside and take in the ambience and people watching at DC Ranch Marketplace. Scottsdale.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box in DC Ranch.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box.

Que Bueno – authentic Mexican food in a casual setting. Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two-fisted margaritas are tasty and their award-winning salsa is bursting with flavor. Fountain Hills.

Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two fisted margaritas are tasty and their award winning salsa is bursting with flavor.

Tilapia tacos in soft shells served with rice and beans.

The Vu – light of day or dark of night, the Vu Bistro offers one of the valley’s most spectacular views of the Phoenix valley. Sip a glass of wine from their minimal but strong wine list, while nibbling on their loaded cheese plate and watch the sun go down over Eagle Mountain, in this casual setting. Fountain Hills.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Kansas City:

Fritz’s Meat Market – they have ‘smoking’ meat perfected. How often have you bought pork chops that become dry before you get them from the oven or grill to the table? Fritz’s double thick cut smoked pork chop only needs to be warmed through – all that’s left to do is savor the flavor and texture.

Kansas City's oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Strouds’s – the name is synonymous with ‘pan-fried chicken’ – the ultimate flavor in down home comfort food. Come hungry! All portions are large and to be shared. Start with a half order of fried liver and gizzards. Dinners come with a mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a basket of cinnamon rolls.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud's in KC.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud’s in KC.

Gram & Dun – sophisticated. soulful. unique – is how they market themselves. In a prime Plaza location, with a large outdoor patio area, be prepared to sip on fun libation concoctions and dine on flavors ranging from uniquely paired salads to savory southern comfort plates.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Naples:

Edgewater Beach Resort – if staying at one of the few oceanside hotels, you won’t go hungry or thirsty. Fresh seafood is an obvious choice – whether it’s a thick cut of grouper or blackened fish taco’s, be sure to check out their unique beverage menus – refreshing fruity poolside choices or bourbon based bar choices.

It doesn't get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort, Naples, FL

It doesn’t get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort.

Cafe Lurcat – ‘…old world style with a nouveau twist.’ A hip, expansive restaurant with patio seating and more upstairs seating, the focus is on high-end American comfort food. The Fifth Avenue location is a great pairing to enjoy a before or after dinner stroll and take in all the high-end shopping found in Naples.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the 'Voyage' part of the menu.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the ‘Voyage’ part of the menu.

Campiello – this is place to be seen in Naples. The large square bar – half inside/half outside – is always packed, and is flanked on each side by indoor dining and patio dining. Italian fare featuring a traditional Tuscan flavor using dry and fresh pastas paired with great sauces, meats and seafood and specialty items.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Next week I will finish off with food reviews from NYC and Martha’s Vineyards! I know it’s hard to overload on good food, but didn’t want you to overload on good food reviews! I will also create a food review gallery to see more pics of the yummy dishes we’ve been indulging in!

Naples – Florida that is!

Generally speaking if you live in the northern states and west of the Mississippi you head to the southwest for a winter getaway – if you live east of the Mississippi you head to the southeast for a winter getaway. Growing up in Minnesota I was geographically on the fence. Being from a big golfing family, we were drawn to the golf mecca of the Phoenix valley. We were drawn to multiple sunny days and dry warm heat. When I was 13 years old, we began making this trek to the southwest on a fairly regular basis, and continued that trend for the next 30 years until my husband and I bought our first place in Arizona.

Minnesota’s geographic location in comparison to Florida in the southeast and Arizona in the southwest.

Florida had never been a strong pull for my family and I, but it does have Disney World and lots of great beaches and ocean views. Most of my trips to Florida have been either around the Orlando area or along the warm waters of the Gulf side: Long Boat Key, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Tampa, and Naples.

The bridge and groom saying enough of this sunset watching - let's party!

Captiva Island – a beautiful setting for a beautiful couple. Congrats Audra and Shawn on the birth of your new son!

I’ve never felt especially drawn back to really any area of Florida, but from the places I have visited, Naples holds the most appeal. Beautiful white sandy beaches overflowing with seashells; lush well maintained grounds in every direction; a quaint downtown area split into its own version of 5th Avenue with great shops and restaurants and an area about 7 blocks south of there with more great shops and restaurants. Even though there are plenty of places for the ‘beautiful people’ to be seen and want to be seen, there are plenty of places to settle into for a romantic quiet dinner, a stroll along the beaches that are so long there is plenty of room for everyone, or relaxing moonlit walk. (Restaurant reviews coming end of May post.)

Naples is an idyllic picturesque town. Mega mansions line a portion of the beaches, but at the end of each street splitting these ongoing blocks of mansions are public access points to the beaches. So unlike other high-end beach front properties the beaches of Naples are not broken up by private beaches. Live Oak trees create an over hanging canopy so thick on the inland streets they create a natural tunnel. Roads going north and south have gulf views on the west and inland marina on the east. There are very few lodging choices along the beach, instead being lined with high-rise condos which must afford amazing views, or low-rise complexes giving you more direct access to the beach.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

P1060106

The heavily treed inland streets of naples create a canopy so thick is produces natures version of a tunnel.

Being a golfer, Florida obviously holds great appeal and interest in the many courses that dot the plush landscape. I have not had an opportunity to play many Florida courses, but from what I have played they certainly stand in stark contrast to the desert courses of Arizona. Thick green juicy rough vs gnarly fluffy rough quickly giving way to desert. Towering palm trees vs towering saguaros. Alligators vs rattlesnakes. The ball doesn’t fly as far in this heavy air and the softer lush fairways, but the heat and humidity keep my body warm and loose so I can grip it and rip it and get us much out of my shots as possible.

While in Naples, my husband and I played a private course called Calusa Pines. They play golf there the way golf should be played, with caddies. The luxury of having your clubs carried frees you up to enjoy the leisurely walk of the beauty every golf course holds vs zipping through each hole in a cart. It helps me to stay focused on my game by keeping the round flowing at a steady pace and giving me time to assess my next shot as I walk up to my ball. With a cart I race to the ball, hit and race to the next shot. Plus it’s a nice benefit to have someone along who knows the greens and aiming points off the tee.

Calusa Pines Golf Club - showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

Calusa Pines Golf Club – showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

The few days we spent in Naples were extremely windy, but that didn’t stop us from getting set-up ocean side on double wide lounger outside out hotel, the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Umbrellas were anchored deeply in the sand by big muscled beach attendants to keep the beating sun off us. The wind made for big curling crashing waves and helped to keep us cool in the high humidity and temps in the mid-80’s in mid-April. We could walk 75 feet out into the salty warm waters of the Gulf before the water began to go up over our chest. One day we saw a couple of porpoises swim by about 50 feet offshore, just cruising and playing along that line all the way down the shoreline.

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

Even though we experience some amazing sunsets in Arizona, I have to give a nod to the amazing sunsets in Naples. We had a top floor room that allowed us a vantage point to see up and over the buildings. There is nothing more picturesque and photographed more often than the sun setting over the ocean, or in this case the Gulf. The colors are vibrant, and the reflection glistening on the waters is hard to replicate in any other setting.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

Naples residents are proud of their area and it shows. A lot of Florida looks old, run down, tired. Naples looks fresh, cared-for, vibrant and has earned the tag line ‘destination spot.’

For more pictures of Naples, check out the Global Gallery.

Destination weddings: Captiva Island vs. Cancun

The days of a traditional church wedding may not be over, but couples are certainly searching out other options more than I have ever seen. Last year I attended two wintertime family destination weddings within a month of each other – one in Captiva Island, Florida and one in Cancun, Mexico.

I know it was a struggle for both sets of couples to make the choice of having a destination wedding. It meant not having as many close relatives and friends able to attend compared to having had one closer to home. But in truth both families are so spread out that many of the VIP guests would have had to travel to the wedding no matter where it was held.

For those who were able to attend, the trips became a wedding/vacation trip, and the outcome for both were impressive. Unfortunately a warm weather destination does not guarantee a good weather destination. Both weddings went off without a hitch, and were beyond beautiful, but overcast skies and windy conditions prevailed over both beach weddings.

Captiva Island:

A small island off the east coast of Florida with a look and feel that make you want to listen to Jimmy Buffet songs and drink margaritas. Many of the shops and restaurants sport a bright pastel color mix. And laid back is the language spoken. There are equally as many bikes being ridden up and down the one main island road as there are cars being driven.

About an hour drive from the Fort Meyers airport takes you to the taupe sandy beaches that line the Gulf side of the island. Beautiful homes line the landward side of the main road giving way to spectacular ocean views and some of the best sea shell hunting anywhere.

The wedding took place on the public beach located directly across from one of the main resorts on the island – “Tween Waters Inn”, where the reception and dinner was held afterwards. A structure made of wood poles and silk drapings on a slatted wood platform served as the altar, while the guests sat in chairs lined up along the sandy beach, with the Gulf providing a stunning backdrop. People walking up and down the beach, stopped to ooh and ahh at the beautiful couple. The bridesmaids dressed in turquoise ocean blue and the groom and his attendants in sand color, and everyone in bare feet.

Wedding altar surrounded by guests on the beaches of Captiva Island

Wedding altar surrounded by guests on the beaches of Captiva Island

Bridesmaids in their turquoise water blue dresses and groomsmen in their beach colored ware cheer on the bride and groom

Bridesmaids in their turquoise water blue dresses and groomsmen in their beach colored ware cheer on the bride and groom

Back across the street, we enjoyed an evening of feasting on local fare. The wedding reception was a blissful mixing of families and cultures – while the groom’s family taught the bride’s family how to dance to the rhythm of hip-hop, the bride’s family taught the groom’s family the footwork of a polka . It was quite a sight to see and kept everyone entertained for hours. The most lasting memory was of the bride dancing with her father, the love and pride so evident.Learning a little hip-hop dancing

Learning a little hip-hop dancing
Learning to polka

Learning to polka

A father holds his daughter and bride tight with love and pride

A father holds his daughter and bride tight with love and pride

 

Cancun:

Cancun, Mexico

Cancun, Mexico

A hot spot for winter getaways and spring break, but also a great place for a destination wedding. The white sandy beaches and turquoise waters provided a picture perfect backdrop. Sadly the sun didn’t shine until the last day of the wedding week, blurring the usually vibrant colors, but not blurring the fun times and colorful drinks.

The gals sharing an exotic foo-foo drink at the bachelorette party in Playa del Carmen

The gals sharing an exotic foo-foo drink at the bachelorette party in Playa del Carmen

Smartly my niece booked all 42 of us into the adults only, all-inclusive Secrets resort just south of Cancun. Once at the resort we never left, except for the bachelor and bachelorette parties held separately but together in Playa del Carmen. The resort has 6 restaurants covering enough ethnic flavors to please every palette. An outdoor dance floor that we closed down more than once only to head to the indoors dance floor that didn’t even open until 11 pm and we closed that down more than once.

Bridal party jumping for joy on the beaches of Cancun, Mexico

Bridal party jumping for joy on the beaches of Cancun, Mexico – they’d take those moves to the dance floor later

The wedding was supposed to be staged on the beach, with all of the bridesmaids in beach toned dresses and the guys in reddish button down shirts with sand colored pants – and everyone in bare feet. On the day of the wedding, the rain that had been falling for 5 days did not let up, so the wedding was moved to a large thatch-roofed gazebo jutting out over the water. It was just big enough to hold the wedding party and all the guests, and it was one of the most beautiful, emotionally charged weddings I’ve ever witnessed.

This gazebo services as backdrop for the wedding to this lovely couple

This gazebo services as backdrop for the wedding to this lovely couple

Each member of the wedding party gave a personal gesture to the couple – a song, a poem or a personal salute to the couple and the couple wrote their own vows. Only to be outdone by the bride’s father reciting a song to his daughter that left not a dry eye in the house, or in this case the gazebo.

Bridesmaids sharing their words of love, wisdom and encouragement for the new couple

Bridesmaids sharing their words of love, wisdom and encouragement for the new couple

A father looks into his daughter's eyes with love and pride, Cancun, Mexico

A father looks into his daughter’s eyes with love and pride, Cancun, Mexico

After witnessing the special outcome of both of these destination weddings I told my two kids, ages 22 and 21, to take note and that their father and I would be in full support if they chose to follow in their cousins foot prints, in the sand, for their future nuptials.

Foot prints in the sand

Foot prints in the sand

The wedding gazebo jutting out over the water on a rainy day in Cancun

 

This post is dedicated to the father of the bride who was married on Captiva Island. He sadly passed away two days after the wedding. But we all know he left with a smile on his face being able to see his daughter marry the love of her life, have his other daughters by his side and to have had all seven of his siblings there to share in that special occasion.

Bride and groom sharing their first sunset as man and wife, Captiva Island

Bride and groom sharing their first sunset as man and wife, Captiva Island

Bride and groom look off into their new future together, Cancun, Mexico

Bride and groom look off into their new future together, Cancun, Mexico