Category Archives: eats

Urban Greens Co-op

Providence has a co-op in its future! Urban Greens, who has been running a buying club for eight years, is going to be opening a cooperative market at 1577 Westminster Street. I’m excited – it’ll be a convenient way to eat local and fresh even if I miss the farmer’s market.

I bought a founding share today. If you’ve been hoping for a market like this, you should too!

Urban Greens Food Co-Op

Lunch at the Genesis Center

Sometimes being a food blogger is a tough job – like when you have to leave work for a 6-course lunch paired with wine.

Which is just what I did earlier this month, when I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the final presentation of the Genesis Center‘s culinary program. The students in the program were divided into two teams and each chose their own theme for the meal. The lunch I attended was themed “French Infused Pan Asian” and consisted of six courses and a mid-meal sherbert. For a glimpse into the first of the two lunches, take a look at this Providence Journal article.

Some of the Savory Selections
Some of the savory dishes: onion & garlic soup, crab-stuffed scallops, stone grilled duckling

The Genesis Center provides job training and adult education alongside a child care facility which enables parents to take advantage of the classes. They have classes such as English as a Second Language and Citizenship for immigrants and refugees. Their culinary arts program is an intense 13-week training geared to place students in the culinary field. It’s led by Chef Branden Lewis, who has a contagious enthusiasm that seems to be very effective in inspiring his students to create unique and artful food.

The other judges and I were impressed with both the presentation and the flavor of the dishes. All were memorable enough that I find it hard to pick a favorite! But if I absolutely had to single one out, my favorite flavors were found in the stone grilled duckling, served on top of spinach ravioli and sweet potato fritters, with a refreshing cucumber salad on top. The meal was paired with wines from Newport Vineyards, which were well-chosen and eagerly consumed.

Some of the Sweet Selections
And some sweet: pina colada sherbert, half of an apple duo, jalapeno lollipop

Here’s what the team presented:

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Southern Breakfasts

One of the highlights of my trip to New Orleans was breakfast. We discovered a restaurant called Mother’s up the street from our hotel – it was a cute place with counter service and maybe 25 seats. They had a great early bird breakfast special of eggs, grits, sausage, a biscuit and coffee or OJ. In general, the breakfasts we ate were very different than those up north – hearty and not afraid of meaty components like gravy and ‘debris‘.

When I got back and showed Jeremy all the delicious meals we’d eaten, we were both starving and in the mood for a hearty breakfast. So we headed to the Classic Cafe, where we found the biscuits and gravy even better than before – they’re now making the gravy in house and it’s delicious.

Southern Breakfasts
(Part of) the early bird special at Mother’s, Biscuits and Gravy at the Classic Cafe

A few weeks later and I’m back to my usual breakfasts of homemade yogurt or muffins. But I still get hungry when I see these photos.

Mother’s Restaurant
Map Marker 401 Poydras St., New Orleans LA

Classic Cafe
Map Marker 865 Westminster St., Providence RI

Cheap Groceries

Just a quick note about two new cheap grocery options in Rhode Island.

First, a Price Rite moved to Eagle Square on the west side of Providence, filling the gap left by Shaws’ closing. It’s brighter and airier than the old location, and even has a little Cafe Bustelo serving up coffee and baked goods. The seafood counter was also quite impressive. If you haven’t been to Price Rite, the produce is really cheap and there’s a wealth of interesting international foods.

Second, I dragged my boyfriend all the way down to Warwick to go to the new Aldi last weekend. Aldi is a German discount grocery store which has opened a number of locations in the US. Having spent a lot of time in Germany, I think it’s an amusing import (much like if they put an Ocean State Job Lot in Berlin). It’s not absolutely remarkable, but we made a few good finds – a giant rack of ribs, cheap sauerkraut and bratwurst, and a frozen apple strudel which is the perfect coffee accompaniment. Luckily, they’re planning more convenient locations on Smith Hill, in Cranston and in East Providence.

Along the same lines, I have a post in the works about one of my favorite places to stock up on discount food in RI…stay tuned!

NOLA – Acme Oyster House

Last week, I traveled to New Orleans for work. We were at a convention, working hard all day, so when night came we were hungry and ready for a beer!

One of my favorite restaurants we visited was Acme Oyster House. I read about it on when looking for boiled crawfish, something I’d eaten last time I was in southern Louisiana. We almost left when we saw the long line for a table, but changed our minds when we realized we’d be able to have a beer while waiting in line. Soon, we were sitting inside and ready to order just about everything on the menu.

First, fried catfish. I usually don’t gravitate towards fish choices on menus, but this was amazing. It tasted like it was breaded in cornmeal, and the texture was perfect. So were the accompanying hush puppies.

Catfish and Crawfish at Acme Oyster House
Catfish and Crawfish at Acme Oyster House

Then, some oysters. I usually go for raw, but the chargrilled variety they serve, plump from the heat and spicy with garlic and cheese, were enough to convince me that raw’s not the only way to go.

Next, the reason I came – crawfish. We ordered two plates and they were so good we instantly ordered two more. If you haven’t eaten crawfish, they’re somewhere between a shrimp and a lobster, and the boiled crawfish they serve in Louisiana are soaked through with a spicyness that render them completely addictive. As with any other shelled creature, there’s a trick to eating crawfish. Check out the instructions halfway down this page.

Acme is conveniently located and has reasonable prices compared to most restaurants in the French Quarter. It’s informal and has a vibrant atmosphere. Next time I’m in New Orleans, I’ll be ready for a return visit.

Acme Oyster House
Map Marker 724 Iberville St., New Orleans, LA

London on the Cheap

Budgeting for a vacation in Europe is tough. The plane tickets are enough of an investment, and once you’re there, the weak dollar means even a “bargain” is comically expensive.

Here are a few ways we managed to get out of London without going broke:

1. Museums, museums, museums! Most of the museums in London are free, and there are enough to provide days of sightseeing. We saw the Wallace Collection, the Victoria and Albert, the Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern, and the National Gallery. And we only had time to see a small part of their enormous collections.

2. Cheap transport. Most of the time, we walked – probably at least 5 miles a day. But we also bought Oystercards, which are a LOT less expensive than cash tickets- a ride costs £1.50 instead of £4!

Belgo Centraal Beat the Clock special
Beat the Clock specials at Belgo Centraal

3. Food specials. My favorite was at Belgo Centraal, a large underground Belgian beerhall featuring robed waiters and co-ed bathrooms. Between 5 and 6:30 on weekdays, you “pay the clock” for an entree and a beer. (In other words, come at 5 and pay £5.) The dishes were great – we had wild mushroom puff pastry and roasted vegetables in a pastry shell topped by a delectable slab of goat cheese.

Another good low-priced option is The Stockpot, with affordable fixed-price and a la carte options, and the kind of food you’d imagine eating on a Sunday night at home growing up in England. The restaurant has several locations.

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A London institution since 1849, Harrods is a must-see for anyone who loves food. A good starting point is their food hall, filled with everything from tea to fresh fish and exotic fruits. The variety is astounding and the goods are laid out artfully. It’s more like a food museum than a grocery store – especially if you’re not ready to spend your entire vacation budget in one day.

After the food hall, don’t miss the chocolate bar on the second floor. We stopped by, eager to recharge after hours of walking, and I had one of my best food experiences of the vacation – a cup of traditional Italian hot chocolate. It was sweet, dark and as thick as mousse. And with the horrible exchange rate, it was over $10. But I do not regret a sip.

Harrods: A luxurious cup of Italian hot chocolate, Macarons from Laudree

Right around the corner from the chocolate bar, you can ogle kitchenware and fancy appliances.

On a later day of our trip we returned for the Laduree store which opened in Harrods a couple of years ago. Laduree is a fancy French pastry store best known for inventing the sandwiched macaron, worshipped for its perfect texture and variety of flavors. Put off by the long line for a table, we bought a box to go. An exciting part of the Laduree macaron experience is picking out a box to house the delicate pastries. I found the perfect black box and chose a variety of flavors including rose, pistachio and cassis.

London: Borough Market

One of the highlights of our trip to London was visiting Borough Market. It’s a food market on the South Bank offering a wide variety of delights, from cooking ingredients to prepared food. We went by ourselves on Friday and again on Saturday with a foodie walking tour.

I’m a cheese lover, so I was delighted to see a number of cheese vendors with plenty of samples. Among other cheeses, we tried some Caerphilly and the raw-milk version of Stilton, Stichelton.

Cheese at Borough Market in London
Stichelton, Our “foodie walking tour guide” Anna offers us Caerphilly, the legendary cheese sandwich makers at work

Hungry, we devoured a couple of sausages – first, a bratwurst from the German Deli booth and then a wild boar sausage with spicy sauce around the corner. A giant brownie was the perfect dessert, though it was hard to choose between several vendors proclaiming their brownie the best.

Sausage at Borough Market in London
A bratwurst at the German Deli stand, Wild Boar sausage with spicy sauce

Not only can you visit the vendors, but a food community has grown around the market, with stores such as Neal’s Yard Dairy and Konditor & Cook (where we had luscious hot chocolate and a fruit tart).

I already want to return to London because we failed to try the “Platonic Ideal of a Cheese Sandwich“. It seems inexcusable, but after plenty of samples, two sausages and a brownie, it was hard to convince ourselves to stand in the long line. I’d also love to stay somewhere with a kitchen so I can experience the market’s amazing vegetables and meats.

Borough Market is London’s oldest food market, dating back to at least the 13th century (it’s been in its current location for “only” 250 years). It experienced a rough patch in the 1990s, but was revisioned and revived by local food lovers and is now a great success.

Back from London

Last week, my blog was silent for a good reason – I was in London! It had been a couple of years since I’d been to Europe and it was definitely time for a trip.

I have so much to tell you about my adventures in London, but I’m really busy catching up on everything. So I’ll just leave you with a little bite – my first meal in London, eaten at a pub called The Swan. We had been wandering around for hours waiting for our hotel’s 3pm check-in, and I was feeling dizzy after a sleepless night of being sick on the plane (possibly food poisoning from an airport fruit cup – eek). This tasty beef and ale pie was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was the perfect hot, restorative meal to get me back on my feet!

Beef and Ale Pie at the Swan
Beef and ale pie (the ‘pie of the day’) at The Swan in London

Did you know that the first pies were savory and meat-filled? I guess Chicken Pot Pie is still popular in America, but for the most part, we tend to think of pies as being sweet. Check out this page on the history of the pie for more pie trivia.

5 Questions: Susan VandenBerg

Susan VandenBerg is the new pastry chef at Gracie’s in Providence. I came across her husband Steve’s blog Eating Out in America, which chronicles their restaurant experiences and occasionally their lives (like in this great video of Susan’s New Year’s Eve preparations at the restaurant). I was curious about Susan and the magic she works in Gracie’s kitchen so I decided to ask her a few questions.

Susan VanderBerg at Gracie’s, from Eating Out in America
Susan at Gracie’s, from a video on Eating Out in America

Is there a certain country or region whose pastries and desserts especially inspire you?
I have to say that France, and particularly Paris, are the areas that inspire me as far as desserts and pastries go. I love the various doughs i.e. croissant, puff pastry, brioche, and my favorite thing is the tart – so many variations and wonderful flavors! Of course I’m swayed by the fact that I went to school and did an internship in Paris. What can I say?

Where, besides Gracie’s or home, is your favorite place to eat dessert in Providence?
I have to admit that I haven’t been out and about much in Providence, since work takes up most of my time, but, so far, Pastiche has my vote for desserts. The place reminds me a lot of a European shop, and their product is delicious to boot.

What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve ever used in one of your creations?
Unusual ingredient you ask – hmmmmmm, that’s a tough one. I think using various spices in chocolates would be the most unusual – paprika, five spice powder and pepper to name a few.

When did your interest in cooking start?
My interest in baking started many years ago, probably with the standard Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie. I’ve loved baking for a long time and find it very relaxing and comforting.

If you weren’t a pastry chef, what would you be doing?
I would be making handcrafted folk santas, teddy bears, Nantucket baskets and anything else I can do with my hands.

Thanks to Susan for answering my questions and being the first interviewee on this blog. I haven’t been to Gracie’s in a couple of months and definitely have to return to try her desserts!