Little Italy, Big Yum

Joe's Italian
Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama
When people think of Alabama, they think of barbecue, grits, okra, and maybe even collard greens.  None of which I would touch with a ten-foot pole.  Most people, when they travel through this state wouldn’t think they’d find this little gem of a restaurant, family owned, and operated, very Italian restaurant.  Authentic Italian.  Yes…here in Alabaster, Alabama.

I came to know about Joe’s Italian thanks to a good friend of mine who suggested it when I was home for the holidays one year.  He and his family went there for dinner with friends as they were passing through and they fell in love with the food.  I know why.  Family recipes, family operated, family oriented, good, old-fashioned authentic Italian food.  This isn’t Olive Garden or those chain Italian places.  No…this is the real deal.  This is the food that Giuseppe and Elvira Bertolone (Joe & Mamma) served when they opened up their first restaurant in California.  It’s a family tradition…and so is their food.

The menu is authentic Italian.  Pastas of every walk and flavor, paninis, soups, sandwiches, and yes…pizza!  And because it’s Italian, plenty of options for a vegetarian.  Always a plus!

Mamma's Cannoli
Mamma's Cannoli at Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama

Every other time I visited, I have gotten the eggplant parmesan.  But I went for something different this time.  The Spaghetti Aglio, Olio and Peperonicino (which I ordered with mushrooms and broccoli) sounded like spicy Italian goodness.  I opted for the salad, rather than the soup, but my roommate ordered their tomato basil soup with her Tortellini al Pomodoro and I sampled it…delicious!  Their salad, crisp and fresh!

Portions are big so come with a big, hearty Italian appetite.  Savor the flavors, the atmosphere, the way the staff really wants to get to know you.  And when you fill up on their delicious food, find a little more room for one of Mamma’s famous desserts.  Keeping with tradition, we tried the cannoli…and it was different.  Not as good as the one I had back home, but it was good.  The prize however came on Mamma’s Sampler, a plate full of pieces of her homemade cakes.  The Strawberry Cake is her most famous and the most popular for a reason.  It was the most amazing cake I have ever had, and since I’m not big on cakes, that’s saying something.  I even had a second sampling of that one.

Mamma's Cake Sampler
Mamma's Cake Sampler at Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama

Come hungry, leave full.  That’s a good Italian motto.  Even better…it’s a good Italian restaurant run by good people who really want to give you a good time and serve you a little bit of their history through their delicious food.

It doesn’t get any better than that.  And I’ll be hard-pressed to find a better Italian restaurant anywhere where the food and desserts can leave you as full and satisfied as the story and the people who operate, run, and serve you there.

A little bite of Italy with big taste in an unexpected location – Alabaster, Alabama.  It’s worth the trip.

Spaghetti Aglio, Olio and Peperonicino
Spaghetti Aglio, Olio and Peperonicino (with mushrooms & broccoli) at Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama

Dough-Nuts!

Donut Joe's
Donut Joe's, Pelham, Alabama

In a world full of Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme’s…it’s a donut eat doughnut world out there.  Everyone having their own claim to fame.  Everyone having their own gimmick.

So, what makes Donut Joe’s, located in Pelham, Alabama, so special?  I knew it had to be something when moments after pulling into the lot, it was filled and people were already streaming in.  It’s a crazy, fast-paced, donut world inside and you gotta be quick to get in on the sugary treats that await.

The best way to sample anything at Donut Joe’s is to make your own dozen.  It’s simple.  You just look through there selection and choose what looks good, sounds good, or just looks interesting.  I even treated myself to an entire order of their yeast donut holes.  Yes…an entire serving.  They melted the instant they hit my tongue.  That’s some good donuts!  My roommate tried one of their cinnamon twists, which I took a sample from and, hit-the-mark delicious.

I’m not the biggest donut eater.  While I love them, they tend to be overly sweet.  While these donuts, yes, do come frosted, glazed, and packed with sugar…they really are good.  In fact, on top of my order of a dozen donut holes, I also found one of the most delicious donuts I have ever had the chance to eat.  The blueberry donut – which was like eating a blueberry muffin…but taken to the next delicious level.  I wish we had more of them waiting downstairs with what remained of the leftovers.

If you are needing a delicious breakfast treat, and just happen to be passing through the Birmingham, Alabama area, take the time to sing by Donut Joe’s.  Treat yourself.  Indulge a little.  You only live once…might as well enjoy every cream-filled, glazed, frosted, cakey, delicious bite.

If you’re going for donuts…do it right.  Eat at Joe’s.  You won’t be disappointed.  Just on a bit of a sugar rush.  But every bite is worth it.  Every sugary bite.

A dozen donuts of yum
Donut Joe's dozen donuts

Sweet Home Alabama

The Depot
The Depot, Helena, Alabama

Nothing says “home” like a trip to The Depot, a little diner in between two railroad tracks in Helena, Alabama.  When I go home to visit my family, this is the place to eat.  The locals swear by it.  And there is a reason people come back over and over again.  Good, old-fashioned diner food in a really cool setting.

Bo Bice and my sister at The Depot
Bo Bice and my sister at The Depot, Helena, Alabama

Is The Depot a vegetarian-friendly place to eat?  No.  I’m pretty certain the grilled cheese is grilled on the same grill as the meat.  But…I’m a big fan of the BLT, no bacon, extra tomato, with the tater tots on the side.  Good, old-fashioned, Southern comfort diner food.  And my roommate, well, she goes there for the onion rings…hand battered, hot, big, and sweet.  They are fabulous.  The best around.  Their food is what you would expect of a “greasy spoon” kind of diner, but it’s what I love.  It’s the food I only wish small places where I lived served.

The atmosphere only lends to the food experience.   The people who work there get to know you…especially if you go there often.  They know your order before you place it.  For example, my brother-in-law LOVES the buffalo chicken tender meal.  It’s spicy.  It makes him cry, but he loves it.  And they know he wants it with extra ranch…because he also uses the dressing for his fries.  This is what I’m talking about.  Small town, big love, awesome food.

So…while very little on the menu could be served to me, a vegetarian…there is always something that can be made and just the onion rings or tater tots alone would be enough of a reason to stop in.  Oh yeah…home town restaurants outside of Birmingham, Alabama.  Good food, good service, good people…and most of all…more good times.

When I come in town…this is always my first stop and it always will be.  Vegetarian friendly or not…it’s my go-to hometown, favorite place to go when I’m with the family.  It’s like being at home…eating awesome comfort food…with good conversation over hot, hot onion rings and tater tots…and a sandwich of choice.

If you find yourself traveling through Birmingham…head to Helena, Alabama…go to The Depot…and taste the reason so many people continue to make this one of their traditions.

Including me.

Rovin’ Through Louisville…

The Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky
The Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky

So…here’s the deal.

My roommate loves fish and chips.  LOVES them.  If we go to an Irish pub, I already know what she’s going to order.  And we do love our Irish pubs.  Oh yes…yes we do.

Interesting thing with Irish pubs when it comes to this my eating habits at these establishments…as a vegetarian pub grub isn’t always the easiest thing to navigate around.  Honestly.  It’s greasy, it’s fried, and not every pub offers much in the line of foods for vegetarians.

But almost every pub has something, be it a burger, a sandwich, a pasta, or a wrap, that incorporates portabella mushrooms.  And that will do for this veggie-lovin’ girl!

We ventured off our normal pub routine in Louisville, deciding to give the others in the area a try.  After all, while we are quite happy with our ‘home’ pub, it’s always good to branch out and see what else the Louisville area has to offer in the line of Irish pubs and the food they serve.

The Irish Rover came recommended to me ages ago by a co-worker at a law firm I used to work at, so I finally made my way down there.  The building itself is just how I would picture a pub.  On the inside, upon entering, you have the definite pub atmosphere, greeted by a large, fully-stocked bar.  The tables are scored and scratched.  The floor is wooden and showing signs of wear.  Yes…this is a pub.

But the expanded rooms are not as dimly lit, and while the atmosphere is still pub-like, it’s a more family-friendly feel.  Not that it’s a bad thing…just not how I picture a pub.  But this blog isn’t a critique on architecture and interior design, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:  their food.

The Irish Rover offers up a good selection, better than most pubs, for vegetarians.  I had it down to a possible four choices: the Cashel Salad, consisting of lettuce, walnuts, Cashel blue cheese, cheddar cheese made near the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, Ireland, and dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette; the Veggie Gratin,  a mix of eggplant, portabella mushrooms and other in-season vegetables, baked in a curried tomato chutney and topped off with parmesan, all served with toasted foccacia;  the Veggie Sandwich, two thickly sliced pieces of homemade bread, filled with diced sautéed vegetables and melted cheddar cheese, served with a side of Irish chips; or the Portabella Sandwich, a large mushroom cap, topped with marinated, roasted red peppers and melted swiss cheese, served on a toasted bun with Dijon aioli and a side of Irish chips.

Homemade Bread at the Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky
Homemade white bread and Irish soda bread at the Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky

I love a good portabella sandwich, so I went with this option.  However, since my body tends to despise being filled with fried foods, I substituted a side of fresh fruit for the Irish chips.  And I got the Barry’s hot tea for my beverage.

While we waited for food, we were brought a basket of their homemade bread, a combination of white and soda bread.  I’m an Irish soda bread fiend, so I dove right in.  And it was good.  It was VERY good.  The white bread, while I only sampled a bite, was a bit sweet and still tasted of the yeast.  I wasn’t a fan of it.  And since I do bake my own breads, I can be a bit of a bread connoisseur and snob at times.  It just wasn’t to my taste.  But yes…more of that Irish soda bread, please!

The drinks and food arrived in good time.  The portion sizes actually weren’t overwhelming, as I find to be the case at a lot of pubs.  Everything was cooked to perfection, including my roommate’s fish, which fell apart when her fork would slice through it.

The portabella sandwich was good.  The Dijon aioli spread was quite tasty, and a nice touch to the sandwich as a whole.  The peppers grilled peppers and cheese worked well with the sweetness of the perfectly cooked portabella mushroom cap.  It was just releasing its juices, which made for a dripping mess.  But I eat these sandwiches with a fork and knife…always!  The fruit I was given was fresh, ripe, and so good.  I almost wanted to order another serving.  Everything tasted really, really good and I was quite happy with the service, as I was given refills on my hot tea whenever needed.

Barry's Tea at The Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky
A hot cup of Barry's Tea at the Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky
I do admit though, a lot of amusement was taken at watching my roommate tackle a pint of Guinness.  We had just watched an episode of No Reservations, where Anthony Bourdain went to Ireland.  He had Guinness everywhere…so she figured…maybe it tasted better with food.  She learned – it doesn’t.  But seeing the faces she made while trying to knock it back with her fish and chips did offer up a nice bit of entertainment that afternoon.

The Irish Rover in Louisville, Kentucky does offer up a great menu of great pub grub and a nice selection for those who go meatless.  That’s refreshing.  However, don’t go in there expecting a classic pub atmosphere.  What you find is more of a restaurant than pub.

And that’s okay…because their food comes with an Irish brogue and packed with flavor.  It’s authentic Irish…without the run-down appeal of a pub.  Great for a lunch out, but if you want to watch the rugby match choose your pub more wisely.

Come for the food and service…and you won’t be disappointed.

Portabella Sandwich at the Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky
Portabella Sandwich with a side of fresh fruit at the Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky

Warm and Toast-y!

Toast on Market, New Albany, Indiana
Toast on Market, New Albany, Indiana

While I’ve already reviewed Toast on Market for their breakfast…I actually went there and enjoyed one of their lunches.

When I raved about their breakfast, the three egg omelet that I get every time I go there, I didn’t realize what a delicious treat I was missing out on by only limiting myself to fluffy stuffed eggs.

I returned to Toast on Market for lunch, and while breakfast is served throughout the day while they are open, I had a craving for some soup and a sandwich.  I ended up ordering the caprese grilled cheese, which included sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and provolone cheeses, a light basil pesto all sandwiched between two slices of bread and pressed Panini stile.  The grilled cheese comes with a bowl of their roasted tomato soup. 

The soup is ornately given a touch of class with a swirl of oil and basil.  The sandwich was oozing cheese and piping hot.  Once the soup was stirred to incorporate the basil oil, I took my first taste of it.  And while the texture was purely soup, the taste of it reminded me of a good pasta sauce.  It had that bit of smoky flavor, just begging to be poured over el dente pasta noodles.  It was good.  It was damn good!

I took my time, savoring each bite of the sandwich.  The cheese was mild, the tomatoes adding a bit of tang, and the basil pesto a touch of flavor.  I’d break off pieces of the gooey sandwich, dip it in the soup and savor the flavors together.  With the choice of cheese in the sandwich and the Italian flair to the tomato soup, it was a little slice of Italian heaven.

And it was gone far too soon.

With a name like Toast on Market, you expect and find great breakfast food there.  But this restaurant also delivers on flavor and on quality with their lunch menu.  The sandwiches aren’t just limited to grilled cheese.  They offer up a hearty selection of meat-filled options, and for the vegetarian…a veggie sandwich as well.  While those usually come with a potato salad, a pasta salad, or chips, one can substitute for either their tomato soup (I recommend this!) or their black bean soup (how very vegetarian friendly of them!) for only an extra $1.50.  The lunch menu also boasts a large selection of salads to choose from, which can also be substituted as a side with the sandwiches for an extra $2.50.

It’s this type of service, this type of food, and this type of atmosphere that keep people coming back.  And this is one of the reasons I continue to go there, and take people who come in from out of town with me.

It really is that good.

Caprese Grilled Cheese and Roasted Tomato Soup from Toast on Market
Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Roasted Tomato Soup from Toast on Market

I Did It All For The Gnocchi…

Adrienne & Co.
Adrienne & Co., Jeffersonville, Indiana

Behold! I bring you the epicenter of mouthwatering treats. Not just a bakery, but a café as well. Ladies and gentlemen…I offer up Adrienne & Co.

Located in Jeffersonville, Indiana, I probably never would have even contemplated stopping in at this little bakery. Except they are the ones who bake up the scones for the HobbKnobb Roasting Company, and on a whim one Saturday, I went down there to order half a dozen of them. While there, I spotted their menus for their café…and their prices are unbeatable.

Only adding to my surprise was the quality of the food.

My roommate and I went into Adrienne & Co. on Valentine’s Day for lunch, to escape the onslaught of mushy-mushy, lovey-dovey going around our office. It was the greatest escape ever. We opted for an Italian meal. She decided to give the spaghetti a try. Me? I went for the gnocchi.

The portion sizes were perfect. The service was awesome. The bread was huge…but cooked just right. The crust had just a little crunch, the center was soft. The pasta was cooked to perfection. And their signature red sauce was beyond incredible. We had a short wait for our food, but, damn…was it ever worth it!

My first bite of gnocchi melted in my mouth. I couldn’t believe how tender the potato-y bits of pasta were. I couldn’t wait to stab another piece with my fork, mop up some of the red sauce and have another go at it. This was food porn on a plate. None of that sauce went to waste either. While I’m normally not one who takes bread and mops up sauce, I did here. Every bit of it. Nothing went to waste.

And despite having a pleasantly full stomach, keeping with the Italian theme, my roommate and I each indulged in a cannoli. She had never had a cannoli before and now I think she’s hooked. The mix of mascarpone and ricotta cheese in the middle…the sweetness of the fried pastry around it…and the chocolate chips…just blended and only wetted my appetite for more.

It was a good thing I was full.

Cannoli
Cannoli from Adrienne & Co.
I’m looking forward to venturing back to Adrienne & Co. in the near future. Every Thursday they offer 9¢ spaghetti. Yes…you read that right…9¢ spaghetti from 5-8 p.m. Refills, by the way, are only $0.99 for more spaghetti if that doesn’t fill you up! The prices are reasonable. And I think the next time I’m there for lunch, I’m giving one of their grilled sandwiches and some soup a try. With a delicious pastry for dessert, of course. Go hungry…leave full.

The food is worth the journey. The atmosphere is worth staying for. And you will savor every bite and leave no crumb behind.

GNOCCHI
Gnocchi from Adrienne & Co.

A Toast to Good Food!

Toast on Market
Toast on Market, New Albany, Indiana

There is this little café in downtown New Albany, Indiana that I love to take people when they come into town.  Their hours are ideal for breakfast, brunch, or lunch only so it’s usually an early stop.  But the food has always been super good.

I’m taking about Toast on Market.  And the New Albany location is the satellite restaurant of the one that is located on Market Street in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

And this is one of my favorite places to go…and to take people.

I have yet to see any of my friends, who admit to being picky eaters, walk away without falling in love with this place.  The atmosphere is awesome.  The servers are all very friendly.  And the food…well, for me, the food beyond fantastic.

I have yet to find a place that makes a fluffier omelet.  And you can build your own if you don’t feel adventurous enough to try the South of the Border, Mediterranean, or Atlantic.  If you don’t want the garlic aioli sauce on your BLT scramble…no problem.  If you don’t want “all that stuff” in your French toast…hey…they’ll be more than happy to serve it to you with only what you want.  No request is too big, too small, or too weird.  You get your food how you want it and that is a wonderful thing.

The fact that everything I’ve had there has been delicious speaks very highly of their products.  One of my friends tried the lemon soufflé pancake, one of their signature flapjacks, and now she’s hooked.  For the first time, I had their sugar-free caramel soy latte with my breakfast and it was one of the smoothest lattes I’ve ever enjoyed.

Toast on Market Latte
Sugar-Free Caramel Soy Latte from Toast on Market

If you don’t like your American standards for breakfast/brunch/lunch…well, maybe this place isn’t for you.  But don’t discredit it without trying it.  I mean, the menu has four different types of grilled cheese to accompany a bowl of tomato soup.  There are hot and cold sandwich offerings.  French toast, eggs, pancakes…served up with different flavors, different toppings, different…from anything you would get at Waffle House, IHOP, or Cracker Barrel.

Why go to a chain when there is a local business that serves up far superior food of better quality for a better price in a far better atmosphere?

Never again for me, my friends.  I’d prefer to eat at a local place.  Thankfully, we have Toast on Market.  And thankfully, they have the perfect ambiance and the perfect blend of food that blows those big pancake houses off my foodie map.

So…who wants to come into town to visit?  I know this great breakfast place…

Breakfast at Toast on Market
Wheat toast with apple butter, fresh fruit cup, and a 3 egg omelet with red pepers, tomatoes & spinach from Toast on Market

Curried Goodness

Dakshin, Louisville, Kentucky
Dakshin in Louisville, Kentucky

Indian food reminds me a lot of growing up in my neighborhood of Upstate New York.  Seems odd, I know, but when the best friends of your siblings have parents who hail from India, you get invited over for dinner and eat the curry and the other foods cooked up in those delicious Indian spices.

So, when I started craving Indian food, Dakshin was the restaurant that was recommended to me.

You can’t base your opinion on looks alone.  Dakshin is located in a run-down strip mall on the far reaches of Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky.  It’s probably the type of place I normally would scoff at.  Good food in a strip mall?  HA!  Right. 

But I was told that those in the area from India or of that heritage will take their friends to this particular restaurant when they want Indian food.  That, to me, speaks volumes.

What also stood out, upon entering the restaurant, was the number of Indian people who were seated at the tables, feasting on the various foods from the lunch buffet.

Catering to those who like meat (my roommate even tried the goat!) and vegetarians (a lot of Indian food is vegetarian based, after all!), Dakshin offered up a good variety of foods to sample.  I piled my first plate up with naan, basmati rice, mushroom curry and palak paneer (soft cheese in a pureed spinach curry).  And this only wet my appetite for more.  Once I had a taste, my first plate of food was gone and I was ready to go back for more.

I tried a couple of other vegetarian dishes.  My roommate found a sizzling chicken dish and added that to the reasons she could never become a vegetarian (Hard Rock Café cheeseburgers and PF Chang’s stupidly good Orange Peel Chicken are on that list as well).  We, and our friend who was in town and a connoisseur of Indian food, tried whatever caught our attention.  And, despite being full, had a go for some dessert.  The bread pudding was raved about, but was gone when my roommate and I got up there.  I did sample the rice pudding.  And our friend, who had spoken highly of a delicious mango ice cream was THRILLED when some of it magically appeared on the buffet.

We filled our bellies with this delicious food, some spicy, some mild, some just amazing.  I had, perhaps, a few too many pieces of the light, fluffy naan.  But I would go back in a heartbeat and do it all over again, at risk of gaining 10 pounds in one sitting.

Yes…it is that good.

Dakshin is definitely Louisville, Kentucky’s little secret for good, delicious, authentic Indian food.  And yes…I will be going back.

The sooner…the better.

Vegetarian buffet food from Dakshin
Naan, palak paneer, and basmati rice with mushroom curry from Dakshin in Louisville, Kentucky

Mmmmm…Scones!

HobbKnobb Roasting Company
HobKnobb Roasting Company, New Albany, Indiana

What everyone says is true. When you find someplace you like going…you’ll go back.

I know I just blogged about the HobKnobb Roasting Company two days ago. But this warranted another blog because I went in yesterday and treated myself to one of their baked goods.

You see, ever since returning from Ireland over the New Year, I’ve been craving a scone. And no one does a scone better than the UK, right? I mean, isn’t that their national food? Serve it up with some tea, a little butter and some preserves…a little slice of heaven, right?

I love scones. I have an unhealthy obsession with these treats. But try finding a good one State-side.

I managed that yesterday.

The HobKnobb Roasting Company, with their fine line of delicious treats in their bake case…served me up a delicious cranberry-walnut scone. I took it back to the office, heated it up in the microwave and sat down with my big, big, latte (yesterday was a large sugar-free chocolate soy latte kind of day!) at my desk and savored.

And it was worth savoring. Divine doesn’t even begin to describe this scone. It was better than the one I had at Malahide Castle in Ireland. So…it topped a scone from a country that basically invented the scone, right? In fact, I enjoyed it so much, it wasn’t until I was a few bites in that I realized I forgot to snap a picture.  Then, I was craving another one all day. I resigned myself to not running back down there for more…but today is another day…and I might just cave and do it all over again!

And if you get down there, have a little treat with your coffee. Support a local business…and treat yourself. How can you go wrong?

It’s simple…really. You can’t!

Bon Appétit!

scone
HobKnobb Roasting Company's Cranberry-Walnut Scone