Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Anchor Fish and Chips

I have wanted to write a post on Anchor Fish and Chips for awhile now. It is not a new restaurant and we have been many, many times. However, starvation always gets in my way. I have a tendency to forget to take photos when I am extremely hungry and by the time we get a table and order at Anchor I dive right into my fish as soon as it arrives. The problem is the fact that Anchor is so very popular and so very delicious and in rather small quarters. This is not their fault. Anchor would probably not be as wonderful and charming if it was a huge restaurant that I could go to anytime.

The first thing you need to know about Anchor is that the fish and chips are amazing. The breading on the fish is so light and crisp. The fish always tastes fresh. The chips are just the right amount of crisp, with great potato flavor. The prices are quite affordable too.

The second thing you should know about Anchor is that the food is deep fried in beef tallow. I think this contributes to the deliciousness of the food somehow. Apparently, the beef tallow is a bad thing if you are vegetarian. I don't think I will become a vegetarian anytime soon. Mostly due to this place.

If you have never been to Anchor Fish and Chips I very much encourage you to check it out. Just don't go when I want to go, so the wait is shorter for me! And Anchor, please don't go changing. I love you just the way you are!

Anchor Fish and Chips
302 13th Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 676-1300

Monday, March 25, 2013

Oak Grill at Macy's

I've been working downtown for almost two years now and surprisingly I rarely go out to eat at a full service restaurant. I guess I try not to spend too much money on lunches, even though I eat out almost every day. I have often walked by the Oak Grill on my way to the Skyroom on the 12th floor, but never stopped to look at the menu. However, awhile back I saw a post from the Minnesota Monthly food critic regarding the Macy's Oak Grill and a great burger on their menu. It sounded so good, I finally decided to check it out.

The Oak Grill is pretty formal and old school with white tablecloths, chandeliers and lots of wood paneling. I figured the food was along the same lines, but actually the menu had a nice variety to choose from. Good luck finding the menu posted online though. I am still looking for it. I don't think it is posted or it is hiding on the Macy's website in an undisclosed location.
You get one of their famous popovers to start. So light and fluffy!
I had the BLT jam burger and this was a very delicious burger. The meat was juicy without being greasy on a huge super-soft pretzel bun. The bacon was cooked perfectly and I loved the bibb lettuce instead of the standard iceberg lettuce, it gave it a better texture. Other toppings include cheese, fried onion straws and a tomato jam topping that tasted like concentrated ketchup, only a bit sweeter. The tomato jam really added to the overall flavor of this burger and makes it unique. The fries were good as well and they came with a mustard sauce for sipping in addition to ketchup.

The service was efficient and friendly, even when they got rather busy toward the end of my visit. A manager or another server stopped by to process my payment, since my server was busy with a larger group.

Macy's Oak Grill
700 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55402
(612) 375-2938

Monday, March 18, 2013


We finally made it over to St Paul the other day to check out the new and improved Cossetta's. The place is huge since they finished the new addition! The grocery store has a lot more space, as does the eatery and pizza lines. Everything is setup pretty much the same as it was before, but the room is a lot more spacious. There is even some outdoor seating for the eatery patrons on a second floor terrace.  We were there over lunch time, so the new full service sit down restaurant Louis was not open yet. The menu looks interesting and more options in St Paul are always good.

We just had pizza on this visit. Cossetta's. Best. Pizza. Ever. I think a lot of people would agree with me as well. The crust is hand tossed and just the right thickness. I love their pizza sauce as well. It is just a little bit zippy. The cheese and peperoni are good quality and plentiful. And I need to go back very, very soon!

211 7th St W
St Paul, MN 55102
(651) 222-3476

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eli's Food and Cocktails

I think we have hit the point in which we have decided there must be better chicken wings around town than those served at Buffalo Wild Wings. Don't get me wrong, BWW hits the spot now and then and their sauces are great, but sometimes the wings are positively anorexic or naked (i.e. there is no sauce on them). The misses are memorable more often than not. So, we are in search of a better wing. I had recently come across a list of top wing spots in a City Pages blog post, so we decided to try one the other day.

We decided on Eli's as it is not too far away and we had been there a few years ago and the food was great then, but we had not made it back. We visited on a Sunday night, so it was pretty quiet when we arrived.
We started with an order of wings from the specials list, the Sirracha wings with a lime sour cream dipping sauce. The wings were large and very crispy on the outside with a flavorful wing sauce that was pretty spicy, but not overly so. I thought the wing sauce was a bit more interesting than your standard buffalo sauce.
I had the tuna steak sandwich, which was wonderful. The tuna was in pieces and not really a true tuna steak, though the pieces of tuna tasted very fresh and I loved the pickled vegetables on top.
John had the BLT with avocado. It was on toasted sourdough bread and had very good quality bacon on it as well. The tomatoes were very thick and juicy and not sad winter tomatoes you sometimes see this time of the year in Minnesota. The fries were pretty good; quite crisp.

Overall, we had a great visit. The food and service were both excellent. We need to try and stop in more often and try some of the other items on the menu.

Eli's Food and Cocktails
Downtown location:
1225 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN

NE Minneapolis location:
815 East Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Trip report: Miami and our first cruise to Key West and Cozumel

I'm not sure exactly what pushed us into the idea of finally taking a cruise. I think it was maybe because a few friends have taken them recently and enjoyed them a lot. I have always been rather hesitant to cruise due to the fear of seasickness, claustrophobia and other irrational fears. But once I started researching, I was intrigued due to the variety of places you can visit in a short amount of time and the prices seemed pretty affordable. The logistics of booking a cruise seemed very overwhelming to me and I am not usually bothered by things like that. In this case, we used a AAA travel agent to book the cruise itself, but we booked the rest on our own as we wanted to use airfare companion tickets and credit card points for the hotel stays. We decided to add a day at the beginning and the end of the cruise as well, so we could check out Miami a bit.

Our flight out of MSP was on time and uneventful, though we had to leave at the crack of down for the 7am flight, it was nice to arrive in Miami by noon. We took a taxi to the hotel, the JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami. We used credit card points for this hotel and I think we received a good value for the points, especially since we were upgraded to a suite! We were lucky as we were able to check in early too.

I knew as soon as we walked into this room it was going to be hard to go from this huge, amazing hotel room, with a super comfortable bed, to a tiny little cruise ship cabin! The service at this hotel was amazing too. Everyone we encountered was polite and helpful. I think this is the nicest hotel we have ever stayed at so far.

living room
giant bathroom with a TV in the mirror!
shower and bathtub
Other side of living room. The desk had a computer with Internet access. 
view from living room of cruise ship port
Here are the small bottles of alcohol we smuggled on board the ship using Rum Runners bought on Amazon.We were successful! It was nice to have some drinks in the room here and there, though we still bought plenty of beverages on board.

It was well after noon at this point and we were starving. We had decided ahead of time to go to the River Cafe for lunch as it was just a few blocks away. Though they were long blocks and it was kind of hot outside. Especially compared to Minnesota!
John had oysters as they had his favorite kind- kumamotos.
John had the crab cake po'boy sandwich
I went with the crab cake entree, which was quite good. I liked the mustard sauce served with them. I had a really good margarita here too.

After lunch, we rode the downtown Miami people mover/monorail thing around a bit (it is free) and did a bit of shopping and gathering of supplies. The downtown area is quite compact so we just walked everywhere. I think we stopped back at the hotel to relax, take a nap and freshen up a bit and just enjoy that amazing hotel room.

For dinner we decided to go to Pubbelly in South Beach. They did not take reservations so we just hoped they were not too busy. They had a lot of open tables when we arrived, though it filled up by the time we left. We loved the restaurant. It was nice, but had a casual atmosphere. The service was very good too.
We started with the duck and pumpkin dumplings. These were my favorite. The dumplings were cooked perfectly, with just a bit of crispness and the pumpkin added a touch of sweetness to the dish.
The bay scallops bourguignon were a bit salty, but I think you were supposed to put them on the bread served on the side, which helped tone the salt down a bit.
The pork belly was delicious. So tender and rich. I don't think I've ever had good pork belly before I tried this dish! The menu said the meat was form Duroc farms in Minnesota. How funny is that?
This is the fried chicken. The server said to put the chicken in the bibb lettuce pieces. The chicken was so tender and juicy with a wonderful, light breading. Not greasy at all!

Pubbelly was amazing and I can't recommend it enough.

After dinner we walked a few blocks and then grabbed a taxi. We went to The Clevelander for a couple drinks and to check out South Beach. It was pretty touristy and sort of like a fancy dance club, but outside by the pool, but there was no cover and it was nice to be outside in warm weather. We did not stay out too terribly late as we wanted to go back to the hotel to pack up a bit and transfer our alcohol into the smuggling containers.

For breakfast the next morning, we walked over to LaProvence for breakfast a couple blocks from the hotel. It is a casual spot where you order at the counter and they bring the food out when it was ready.
John had the egg and ham and cheddar sandwich.
I had the quiche with bacon and cheese.
And I got a chocolate croissant. I had no idea the quiche came with the side salad as well. 
I over ordered.

After breakfast we picked up a few more items we had forgotten and wasted time until it was time to board the ship. Oh, we also stopped in at a Ross store. I found some shoes for a great price I could not resist! I would compare Ross to TJ Maxx or Marshalls in selection and atmosphere. Interesting find!

Once we left the hotel around 1:30pm, it was just a short taxi ride to the Miami cruise ship port to board the Carnival Victory. When we arrived we put the tags on our bags, gave them to the porter and went through security inside. All of the lines inside went very quickly and we were on board before we knew it. We were able to go right to our cabin as we had been told it was ready when we got our Sign and Sail cards. So we checked out our room, dropped off our carry-ons and explored the ship a bit. After our first on board drink to celebrate our departure we went inside to the Lido buffet to grab some lunch.  In no time at all it was 4pm and time for departure.

Miami Beach
I think this is downtown Miami.
It was interesting to sit on the deck and watch as we left port. While enjoying a couple frosty beverages, of course. We found a bit of peace and quiet and some deck chairs in the Serenity adults-only area. Unfortunately, at this point the weather started to get a bit chilly. Then it was time for the safety muster drill, which took forever and was well attended due to the Carnival Triumph being in the news the same week as our cruise. (That ship's engines failed and it had to be towed back to port.)

Our porthole stateroom
lots of pink.
porthole view
tiny bathroom
tiny shower

By the way, our stateroom steward was named Rudolfo and he was great. The first day we asked for some ice and he consistently kept it refilled throughout our cruise.

Before dinner we went to play a round of music trivia and we took first place in a close round that required a tie breaker question. Here is our lovely ship on a stick. We though we'd be able to get a bunch of them, but winning was more difficult than we anticipated!

We had requested anytime dining as I was not sure we would be punctual enough to make dinner at the same time each night. Plus, we did not have to make small talk with a bunch of strangers every night. It worked out quite well, there was usually a short line each night, but it moved quickly. We were seated more or less in the same section each night anyway and had the same great servers the first and last nights. The servers we had the second night were just OK.
My shrimp cocktail. They were ok, but they tasted frozen.
The Caesar salad was decent.
We both had steak the first night.
Some sort of chocolate mousse type dessert. Oh yeah, we departed on 2/14 so it was Valentine's Day.
Towel critter #1.

After dinner we walked around the ship a bit and went back to the room. We didn't stay up late as we wanted to get up early for arrival in Key West the next morning. 

After arrival in Key West

We arrived  in Key West at 7:30am, which was pretty early. We set our alarms and stopped by the buffet before getting off the ship. The meal was nothing great and we were served some sad bacon that was a crime to humanity. Time of get off the boat. Not a lot of shops were open yet, so we opted to take the Trolley Tour. It was a good overview of the island and we saw a few spots we would not have found on our own. A good example is the nondescript white building in the marina that is Jimmy Buffett's recording studio. We got a bit of a history lesson, saw the Southernmost point, some President's house and the Hemingway house and probably more stuff I have forgotten about. After the trolley tour we wandered Duvall Street a bit and decided it was time to find some drinks and lunch.

chickens wandering around Key West
Fancy Walgreens in an old theater.
Loaded Landshark at Margaritaville in Key West.
We had lunch at the Rooftop Cafe, which ended up being a very good choice. We tried to go to Blue Heaven, but there was a two hour wait there. No wait at the Rooftop Cafe and the food and service were both excellent.
We tried conch fritters, which were quite good. Rather like a hush puppy with some fish inside.
John had a cheeseburger.
I had the fish tacos. Very good. Very fresh tasting. 

After lunch we had some time yet so we stopped by Captain Tony's and Sloppy Joe's for a drink. We had to leave Key West at 2pm and by this time it was starting to rain. We enjoyed a nice long wait in the rain to get back on the boat. We, along with everyone else on the boat, waited until the last minute to re-board. Once back on board we decided to head to the casino for awhile and ended up playing blackjack with a bunch of girls on a bachelorette party trip. They were rather drunk and quite fun. Apparently gambling at sea is not for me, because I lost in short order. We went back to the room for a nap and John decided to go check out the Sports Trivia. We did not get another ship on a stick, so I don't think he did all that well.

This was also our formal night, which I forgot to take pictures of and we did not get accosted by the ship photographer either. We did not dress up very much anyway.
spring rolls
stuffed mushrooms
lobster and shrimp
I had the prime rib and it was way overdone and very chewy. Should have gone with the lobster.
We both tried the melting chocolate cake that everyone raves about online. I thought it was like chocolate soup and very, very over-sweet. And I never say stuff like that. You needed the ice cream to tone it down a bit. We called it diabetes cake. It could give you diabetes!
Towel critter #2

We were pretty tired from getting up early and running around Key West all day so we retired fairly early. 

The next day we had a bunch of time before arriving in Cozumel, so we decided to try breakfast in the dining room, instead of the buffet. We were seated with a family from Canada and a couple from Atlanta. The Canada guy kept trying to make conversation. It made me glad we did Your Time dining in the main dining room. And of course a major topic of discussion was the Carnival Triumph plight. I think everyone was nervous because of that, including myself!

It was nice to be able to order an egg to order. Can't do that in the buffet, at least not that I saw. The potato rounds reminded me of school cafeteria food though.
John had some lovely powdered eggs. I mean scrambled eggs. At least the bacon was not in tiny pieces like it was at the buffet. 
Our ship, the Carnival Victory is on the left. The sun was out and it was toasty and warm when we arrived in Cozumel. Though it got very windy as the day went on.
We had to stop in at Margaritaville in Cozumel, of course. And the Mega. We did not do any tours or beach clubs. It was not that warm and we wanted to check out the town.

I was ready for an afternoon snack so I had some guacamole stop at Pancho's backyard. The seating was in a very pretty garden away from the street and out of the wind. The guacamole and salsa were ok. We did a bit of shopping and walked all over the downtown area. We made a couple pit stops for hydration, one at Wet Wendy's and another that was some sort of tiki bar theme.

When we left Minneapolis I realized some friends from Mankato were at the airport as well and going to Cozumel for the weekend. We messaged each other and decided to meet up for dinner in Cozumel at LaCocay.
John had steak, 8 oz filet
I had a selection of tapas items
Dessert that came with coconut ice cream. Maybe mango empanada. We can't recall. 
towel critter #3

After dinner it was getting late so we said goodbye to Jenna and Bridget and grabbed a taxi back to the marina. The re-boarding process went a lot faster this time around. Maybe a lot of people stayed on the boat or had already boarded. 

It was super windy and raining as we left Cozumel and I was starting to not feel well due to the wavy seas, so we went back to the room. I think we watched the Hunger Games on TV. For some funny reason our favorite TV channel was the one that told you the ship's location along with the time, temperature, wave height and such. We both ended up taking some motion sickness medicine in order to sleep that night. At least it knocked me out so I could sleep. 

The last day of the cruise was our day at sea. I was hoping for a nice day by the pool. Unfortunately, it was still windy, cloudy and chilly. And it only got worse as the day went on. I found it somewhat funny that they taped a bag of sickness bags up by the elevators. It was so rough that people were having trouble walking around. I seriously thought we were going to fall out of bed it was so wavy and rough!

We went to the buffet for breakfast and later on for lunch. meh. I tried to sit by the pool  and read for awhile and I think John played in a blackjack tournament. We ended up staying in the room in the late afternoon and early evening as the waves did not bother me there as much as some other areas of the ship. We both went to a general trivia tournament before dinner, but we came in second place. boo.

The sushi plate. This was actually quite good, but the serving was tiny.
crab cake
french onion soup
mushroom soup
seafood pasta dish
chicken dish
baked Alaska
chocolate cake

We had the same serving team the last night and the first night and they were the best. She even remembered our names somehow. I thought that was a nice touch. 

towel critter #4

This was another rough night at sea. I think were were both ready to get off the boat once we arrived in Miami. We decided to do the self-debarkation and it was very quick and easy. The lines for Customs went very quickly and it was a rather informal process. No passport scanning or stamping or anything.

Overall, we enjoyed most aspects of the cruise. I don't think we would book Carnival again. And I am just not sure I am a seafaring person. I think I would like to do an Alaskan cruise someday, but I am not sure otherwise. I hated the fact that we were not in port for very long, especially in Key West. Some areas of the ship seemed very crowded to me too, especially the buffet at lunchtime. I mean I enjoy getting run over by munchkins, but I also enjoy a peaceful meal. It made me want to find a quiet corner to hide. We did not go to many of the entertainment options or shows. Maybe we should have. I'm not sure. Sitting in a dark room after dinner would have just made me sleepy. Also, I found the food to be mediocre overall. I'd compare most of it to Old Country Buffet, especially at breakfast and lunch. There was a lot of food, but nothing was very good. It was all just OK. At night the food was a bit better, but you could tell the quality was not the greatest. And sadly, I will forever remember the sad bacon we were served at our the breakfast buffet the first morning. It was tiny shards of super thin bacon. I was so sad for the pig that had to become that sad, overcooked bacon.

Once we left the ship, we took a taxi to the Hilton Bentley South Beach in Miami Beach. Our room was not ready yet (it was 8am after all) so we went for a walk and to get some breakfast. I forgot to take photos but we had breakfast at a Cuban cafe called Puerto Segua. I think we were both starving by the time we got there and once our food arrived it slipped my mind. I think this was a real Cuban cafe. John had Cuban coffee and it was a super strong tiny cup of coffee. I think we just had bacon, eggs, hash browns and Cuban toast. There was not much touristy about it and that was fine with us.

Our hotel is the one on the near left, with yellow on top. Though our room was in the back tower, with a partial ocean view.
Miami beach

We sat by the pool after breakfast, reading and waiting for our room to be ready. It was not quite warm enough for the pool as the sun would not stay out. Around 11am we decided to go have a long lunch at Yardbird. I think we took a taxi since it was not close to the hotel.

It was busy when we arrived, but we did not have to wait for a table. The server mentioned it was busier than normal since it was President's day. The service was a bit slow, but acceptable.

John's french fries with bacon salt and buttermilk dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was like crack it was so good and so addicting. The fries were cooked perfectly too.
I had the shrimp with cheese grits and it was an amazing dish. The grits were perfect and the shrimp was as well. I love Southern food.
John had the crunchy Yardbird sandwich- fried chicken with sweet Tabasco breading, house made bacon, lettuce tomato and buttermilk dressing. The bun was so soft and fluffy. This was a great sandwich. This is what bacon is supposed to be when it grows up. Not like the sad cruise ship bacon shards.

As were were leaving Yardbird the hotel called and said our room was ready, so we found a taxi to take us back to the hotel. Once we got checked in and settled in we enjoyed happy hour in the room with our leftover alcohol from the boat. I had been hoping to go to the pool or beach, but it was cool and windy.

That evening we decided to go to Joe's Stone Crab for dinner. I was a bit torn as I think there might be better choices in the area, but it is such an institution we felt like we had to try it, especially since it was stone crab season. Plus it was only a few blocks from our hotel, so we could just walk over there. They told us the wait would be an hour to an hour and a half. We found a place to sit in the lounge and ordered the conch fritters. In reality, we only waited 30 minutes for a table, so by the time the conch fritters arrived, they were calling our name to be seated in the dining room. We had a great table overlooking the inside garden area. Also, the conch fritters were rather overcooked. The ones we had in Key West were much better.

large stone crab claws
The hash browns were overcooked and a little burnt. 
The key lime pie was very tasty. 

I'm not sure Joe's Stone Crab lived up to the hype or the myth or whatever. The service was definitely very good. I remember thinking our waiter was very, very tall. It was very old school and formal, but I am not sure sure we would go back. The stone crab is served cold and while it had a light, sweet flavor I am not sure I loved it. I think I prefer crab legs. I did like the mustard sauce though. 

Our last day. Time to head home to really cold weather. We had breakfast at another Cuban cafe called Havana 1957. They had a nice patio so we sat outside since it was finally getting warmer outside. Of course. On the day we leave.
Havana 1957
I had the plantain omelet . Quite tasty. 
John had the eggs and bacon
Cuban toast and fresh orange juice. I liked the toast at the other Cuban place better though. 
Hilton Bentley South Beach room kitchenette. The room was very nice and had a large patio with an ocean view. We were a bit too far away to hear the surf though. The room was nice, but I think the JW Marriott Marquis was nicer. Though we did get a coupon for a couple free mojitos at check in. We went down before dinner to have the drinks and they were very good, especially considering they were free. 
Yup, the bathroom had a bidet. Interesting I guess.
View from our balcony. There goes the Carnival Victory back out to sea!

Overall, we had a great trip. All went well, the boat did not get stranded at sea and we really enjoyed Miami. It was just too bad the weather was not as warm as we had hoped for.

I think I would like to go back to Key West to spend more time there. A few hours was not enough time. Miami was really nice too. So many great restaurants to choose from in the area. I'm glad we added on the extra time there or the trip would not have been nearly as memorable.