Nothing says coffee like a Crazy Goat!

Crazy Goat Coffee
Crazy Goat Coffee, Gahanna, Ohio

When you think of delicious coffee drinks, what sort of places usually cross your mind.  At the top of the list is probably the biggest coffee franchise in the world: Starbucks.  While Starbucks has its place in the coffee world (I can say this…I used to work for them!), they are a chain and, let’s face it, overpriced and over-roasted. (*GASP!*)

I discovered something recently.  Despite having been a barista years ago, I never really took the opportunity to really taste and find a liking for coffee.  Until I stumbled into a local place here in the area and was introduced to the perfect espresso pour with the perfect temperature of soy milk and a sugar-free chocolate flavor.  It wasn’t just a latte…it was a latté that changed my life and my feelings toward coffee in general.

So, on a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, my friends and I decided to forgo the usual stop at another (but even more delicious than Starbucks)  coffee shop chain, Caribou Coffee, and opted to try a local place out instead.  We drove into Gahanna, Ohio and stopped off at Crazy Goat Coffee.

I know what you’re thinking…coffee and goats should not work.  But, not to worry my friends…step into the warm interior of this local café and you immediately feel welcome.  The barista, a young gentleman, was on his own that Saturday morning and the coffee shop was booming with business.  That…is a great sign.  We placed our orders…one friend getting the Crazy Irishman (she wasn’t impressed) and the other getting the Crazy Goat Mocha, which means…extra espresso (and she loved it and was over-caffeinated the rest of the day!), and I got the dark chocolate, soy mocha.

Rich…delicious…smooth…and gone way too soon.  The dark chocolate syrup really, really complimented the rich soy milk and the delicious roast of espresso used in the mocha.  I gave each of my friends a sip and they immediately wished they had ordered that as well.  Speaks highly of the drink, I would say.

So, while Crazy Goat satisfied (and caffeinated!) one of us, left one of us wishing we ordered something else, and made my dreamy mocha something I crave almost every morning, it is a local coffee shop with an array of flavors, specialty drinks, bakery items, and even a lunch menu.  Stop in for a morning, afternoon, or even an evening pick-me-up.  Their signature drinks have fun names and an interesting blend of ingredients that may suit your palate.  Or, if nothing else, get the dark chocolate soy mocha.  I promise…you will wish you ordered the largest size available.

Dark Chocolate Soy Mocha
Crazy Goat Coffee's Dark Chocolate Soy Mocha

Mo’s leaves you wanting more!

Mo's Irish Pub
Mo's Irish Pub, Nobelsville, Indiana

There is a desparate need for Irish pubs in the United States that do not pride itself on displays of clovers and leprechauns.  It seems pubs in the States are all about Irish gimics instead of being, well, Irish.  Mo’s, however, is not one of those places.  In fact, Mo’s does Irish right and does it proud.

My first experience at a Mo’s was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a couple years back when I was in town with my roommate and her mom to see Billy Joel.  We chose the pub as a place to eat dinner…fell in love with the ambiance, the drinks, the food…and the famous Mo’s Cookie (but more on that later!).

Mo's Basket of Fries
Mo's Basket of Fries

So, when one opened up in Nobelsville, Indiana…it was close enough to warrant giving the place another shot since Wisconsin’s was so great.  What I found, and appreciated, at Mo’s was not only a couple of vegetarian options, but also a gluten-free menu.  Since I recently had to go gluten-free, this was a blessing!  Even the chips (aka: fries, for those of you who don’t know the lingo), are made gluten-free.  This made for one very happy pub connoisseur!

While my roommate opted for her usual pub fare…fish and chips, and our friend Julia went for the soup and grilled cheese, I got a little creative with my order.  I ended up with a mish-mash of various items on the menu.  I ordered the Caprese Salad, a delicious mix of grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.  It was SO good.  Along with that, I got a basket of fries, for the carbs (of course!), and their fresh fruit.  Every bit of it was delicious.  And I enjoyed the salad and fruit down to the last bite.  I left quite a few of the fries, but it was an entire basket of golden potato-y goodness that I enjoyed in moderation!

Mo's Cookie
Mo's Cookie (Trust me...you want one!)

But the most imporant part of the meal came at the end.  Ignoring my need to be gluten-free in honor of my roommate’s birthday, the three of us split the famous (and sinfully delicious) Mo’s Cookie…which consists of  a freshly baked (so it is hot and gooey) jumbo chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.  Oh yeah…it was worth every calorie and everything I had to deal with as a result of food allergies.  Yeah…it is thatgood, my friends!  Sometimes a splurge is worth it and this was one of those times!

So, if you find yourself near Indianapolis…venture to Nobelsville and check out Mo’s Irish Pub.  Feast on their versatile menu.  And, for God’s sake, go off your diet, forget calories, and get the damn cookie.  Because it’s worth it.  It is all worth it.
 
Mo's Caprese Salad with a side of fresh fruit
Mo's Caprese Salad with a side of fresh fruit

Basket Full of Goodies

Bread Basket Family Bakery
Bread Basket Family Bakery, Gahanna, Ohio

I absolutely love scones.  LOVE them.  So, when I went to visit a friend of mine in Columbus, Ohio, she mentioned a local bakery in Gahanna that had…scones.  So, it only seemed natural that I go and check them out.  I mean…scones for breakfast make any day better.  Mark my words.

So, we headed into Gahanna and dashed through the rain into Bread Basket Family Bakery.  Their mission: To make the best baked products possible. To serve our customers, our community, and our families to the best of our abilities.  Seems noble enough.  And, for a bakery that does everything…EVERYTHING…from scratch, well, it has to be good.

Myself and my two friends were set on scones, although contemplated a loaf of bread for a moment.  Realizing we had much to do before heading back home, we opted just for the breakfast.  Each of my friends got a chocolate chip scone.  I opted for the strawberry cream cheese scone.

The one thing I absolutely loved about this bakery was the glass walls.  Honestly, I could look back behind the counter and see the staff preparing the breads, the scones, the cakes…I could see it happening.  I could see how the food was prepared and the people who were making it.  No hidden kitchen in the back.  It was out there and it was fascinating.

With scones in hand, we headed out with great anticipation to dive into them.  I was informed the chocolate chip scones were awesome.  The chocolate chips just melted away as you popped bits into your mouth.  One of my friends got one with icing on it and she loved it.  My strawberry and cream cheese scone was good…but it didn’t wow me.  It might have been a texture thing.  That being said, it was good.  Delicious.  And, despite the very large size of the scone…I ate every last bite of it.  I kind of want to go back and try another kind…and maybe get some bread.

I’m very particular on scones.  When I travel overseas, it’s my go-to breakfast for the most part.  It’s filling, it’s delicious, it’s just…a warm piece of heaven that goes well with tea or coffee.  Yes…scones are amazing.  And the Bread Basket Family Bakery does a good job with their recipes.  Good enough that I really want to go back and have another one…

Strawberry Cream Cheese Scone
Strawberry Cream Cheese Scone from Bread Basket Family Bakery, Gahanna, Ohio

It was all about the cream puff…

Schmdit's Sausage Haus und Restaurant
Schmdit's Sausage Haus und Restaurant, Columbus, Ohio

I know what you’re thinking…

A sausage haus?  But…but…but you’re a vegetarian!

That’s right.  I am.  But this is Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.  After watching an episode of Man v. Food on Netflix one night, my roommate saw this place featured.  After Adam Richman’s suggestion that everyone try the Bahama Mama sausage, Schmidt’s signature one, she knew we had to go next time we were in town.  And, lucky us…we just happen to know people in Columbus.

Me?  I totally wanted one of their half-pound cream puffs.  Yes…you read that right…HALF A POUND OF CREAM PUFF!!  They are known for them and I can tell why.

We went early on a Friday night to Schmidt’s, knowing that it is a really busy place on weekends.  But, we got a table immediately and were given time to look over the menu before placing an order.  The waitress was informed of my vegetarianism and immediately began pointing out what on the menu could be done for a vegetarian, depending on how strict one is.  I am really strict when it comes to that, so anything with chicken broth was out, but there was still plenty out there.

Hot tea!
Hot tea at Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant. Love the science experiment look!

I opted on the appetizer of Pretzel Nuggets with a side of the Potato Pancakes und Apple Sauce.  To drink, I got the hot tea, which just happened to be served in what looked like a tube for a science experiment.  It was different…and I love different.

The food was amazing.  I absolutely fell iin love with the potato pancakes.  The pretzel nuggets were perfect…crispy and chewy.  The right texture.  And the apple sauce had so much fresh flavor…it was delicious.  I sampled a couple of sides from my roommate’s plate, as she opted for the big buffet, known as “The Autobahn.”  The macaroni and cheese was delicious!!  My roomate sampled a bit of everything…and the mild and hot versions of the signature Bahama Mama sausages, prefering the bite of the hot one to the mild.  It may have still had a bit too much spice as soon she was just mixing the sausage in with her macaroni and cheese, but I give major kudos to her for stepping out of her usual comfort zone and trying something different!

Pretzel Nuggets and Potato Pancakes und Apple Sauce
Schmdit's Pretzel Nuggets with a side of Potato Pancakes und Apple Sauce

And then came dessert.  The half pound cream puff.  As it wasn’t a Saturday or Sunday, we didn’t get the option for a specialty, but that was fine.  Our choices were vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter.  My roommate went for chocolate.  I wanted the original.  The Vanilla Cream Puff. And when it was delivered…I was in dessert heaven.  No, I didn’t eat it all then.  I had maybe 1/3 of it and saved the rest of it for another time.  Rich.  Delicious.  Creamy.  The pastry was the perfect compliment to the creamy topping.  Half a pound of deliciousness.  I already crave another one.

So…if you find yourself passing through Columbus, Ohio and want to try out an awesome place to feast…check out Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant.  It’s vegetarian friendly, despite it being meat-heavy and specializing in sausage.  And the food is far and away some of the best to be served up anywhere.

And…save room for that cream puff.  You know you want one!

Cream puff
Schmdit's Half Pound Vanilla Cream Puff. The original!

Oh, Mamacita!

Taco Mamacita
Taco Mamacita, Nashville, Tennessee

Sometimes, grabbing food on the road can be difficult when you are a vegetarian.  So many restaurants cater to the meat and potatoes crowd.  If you aren’t a carnivore, well, have a salad and, perhaps, some soup…if we’re featuring one without meat in it today.  Those soup of the day can be tricky as a lot of the cream-based one have cream of chicken soup in it anyway.  So…what is a vegetarian to do?

There are some cities in this world that offer up quite the offering for the meat-eaters and the vegetarians alike.  In Nashville, Tennessee, Taco Mamacita is one of those places.

Upon entering, it’s a friendly environment.  The staff is cheerful and helpful.  Drink orders are taken as you settle in, and when they are put on the table, you are asked if you’ve ever been there before.  Since neither my roommate or I had, our waiter was really quick to offer suggestions.  I love hearing what people who work there like to eat.  If it’s good enough for them, well…it’s gotta be good enough for the general public, and foodies like myself.

Of course, I threw the monkey wrench into the circuits with the declaration that, “I’m a vegetarian.”  Have no fear, my veggie-loving friends.  Taco Mamacita has its own vegan menu.  Not even kidding.  An entire menu with vegan selections, all of which made it very difficult to choose one thing to have.  In addition to that, they have gluten-free options as well.  Could this place get any better?

Chips & Salsa
Taco Mamacita's chips and salsa appetizer, Nashville, Tennessee

If the chips and salsa were any indication…yes.  Just enough spice to heat up the mouth without being uncomfortable, their salsa was the perfect consistency and the perfect heat.  And…was it ever delicious!

My roommate and I placed our orders.  She decided to start a Travel Channel war, and chose a pork taco, the Carnita, in honor of my chef hero, Anthony Bourdain, and a steak taco, the Royale, in honor of Adam Richman.  Her side?  The cilantro-spinach rice.  She really is branching out these days!

As for me, I ordered off the vegan menu, a delicious order of the vegan enchiladas.  These delicious treats are corn tortillas that were stuffed full of cilantro spinach rice, yellow corn, diced tomatoes, black beans and cilantro.  They were liberally doused in their homemade salsa verde.  They looked amazing when they came out.  They tasted even better.  I enjoyed every last bit…and splurged and got my favorite side with them – sweet potato fries.

Taco Mamacita is doing what more restaurants need to be doing.  They are catering to the average diner, but also have separate menus for vegetarians/vegans and those with a gluten intolerance.  What’s even better…they love it when these special cases come in.  They enthusiastically grab the alternate menu and begin to make suggestions for the new diner.  How awesome!

There are a lot of good restaurants in the Nashville area, but it’s going to be difficult to get me to go anywhere other than Taco Mamacita now.  They serve up delicious food on top of everything else.  It’s a place that needs to be on more people’s maps.  Especially if you are craving a taco…and not those fast-food Taco Bell ones either.  Real tacos.  Real food.  Really damn good.

Vegan Enchiladas
Vegan Enchiladas and Sweet Potato Fries at Taco Mamacita, Nashville, Tennessee

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.