Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Birdtown Cafe

We decided to branch out a bit from our frequent visits to Fat Nat's and try anew place for breakfast, Birdtown Cafe over in Robbinsdale. It is a little cafe on the main street in downtown Robbinsdale.

We seated ourselves as the sign directed. The server was fast and efficient and came to our table right away and gave us menus. She stopped by as needed and kept our drinks refilled throughout our meal.

John had the scrambled eggs, hash browns, toast and hamburger patty. It was a good basic breakfast and everything tasted fresh and hot.

I had a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and toast. The omelet was pretty good, the eggs were light and there was a lot of ham inside. The portions were definitely generous.

The table was dirty, sticky and never wiped down and I encountered dirty silverware as well. There was lipstick on my soda glass that was there when it was brought out to me. The floors looked like they needed to be swept as well. So, I thought the food was pretty good, but due to the cleanliness issues, I'm not sure if we should go back or not.

Deals & Discounts: Birdtown Cafe is in the Twin Cities Dining Club and offers a discount of $7 off once a month.

Birdtown Cafe
4135 W Broadway Ave
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
(763) 537-1196

Friday, May 16, 2014

Five Guys

I’m shocked I have not done a post on Five Guys Burgers and Fries. They have been in the Twin Cities for a few years now and have opened many locations throughout the Metro area. I think there is even a location in Mankato and St Cloud now.  John and I have found it is a solid choice for a quick burger and amazing French fries at reasonable prices.

I usually get the Little Bacon Cheese Burger with fried onions since you get so many fries. Five guys does offer a huge list of free toppings and few they charge extra for.  The hamburger is flavorful and I love the wide variety of toppings. The bun is also lightly toasted, which adds a little something to the burger for me.
 John also had the Little Bacon Cheeseburger, but with different toppings. 
The French fries have to be my favorite thing at 5 Guys. They remind me of Minnesota State fair fries. Freshly cut fries, never frozen and always freshly cooked with the perfect amount of salt. A regular size order is more than enough for two people to share.

There are a couple of Five Guys locations close to us; we usually visit the locations in Plymouth or Hopkins. Quality and service are great at both. The service is counter service and they call your number when your food is ready. Five Guys is a great choice for a quick meal and way better quality than fast food options such as McDonald’s or Burger King.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
14 Minnesota locations
525 Blake Road N
Hopkins, MN 55343
Phone: 952-479-7849

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Firelake food truck

Food truck season has been off to a slow start this year due to the endless cold weather and lingering rain. There have been a few nice days and some trucks have been out regardless of the weather. 

A new truck out this season is from the restaurant Firelake and it is a winner so far.

I had the waffle battered fried chicken sandwich with spicy ranch, pickles and bibb lettuce. The chicken was very good with a thick, crispy breading, not at all greasy. I did not taste a lot of the spicy ranch, just a little bit. I might have to ask for some extra on the side next time. The chicken was cooked perfectly, very juicy. I ordered chips but was given sweet potato fries by accident, I love them, so when they told me to keep them if I wanted I was very happy. The sweet potato fries were wonderful too. Very thinly cut and very crisp with a nice smoky ketchup for dipping. It added a nice bite of acidic flavor to counter the sweetness of the fries.

The prices are very affordable too. The sandwich was $5 and fries are $3 extra, but the sandwiches come with potato chips if you don’t want to pay extra for fries. I’m looking forward to trying the Blue ox burgers and the turkey burgers next time. Walleye cake sliders sound interesting as well.

Too bad this truck is only out for a limited time. I’ve been reading they are only out for one month to promote the newly remodeled downtown restaurant, so we do not have much longer to enjoy this truck unfortunately. This is good food and affordable too. I wish it would stay out indefinitely!

Firelake truck
Twitter: @FireLake

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Smack Shack brunch

We were feeling like we needed more lobster in our lives, so we went to the Smack Shack, the house that lobster rolls built for brunch the other day. We had a reservation, but I'm not sure that it was needed. It was not that busy at noon on a Sunday.

We started with some beignets.
John had the Connecticut style lobster roll
I had the lobster scrambled eggs and a side of applewood bacon. The lobster scrambled eggs have a bit of cream cheese in with the lobster to make everything extra rich and creamy. The service was excellent and we had a great visit.

I'm hoping they bring the food truck out again this summer. I greatly missed it last summer as it was rarely out and about for downtown lunches. Lord knows we could all use a bit more lobster in our lives!

Here is a link to our last visit to Smack Shack if you want to know more:

Smack Shack603 Washington Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Las Vegas Trip Report 4.4-4.8.14 - The one with the High Roller

Time for another Las Vegas trip report. This trip was a long time in the planning stage as we bought the airfares on black Friday and also booked hotel with a black Friday deal. We did get pretty good deals on both counts as a result.

We left for the airport Friday afternoon and encountered a pretty long security line, but it moved quickly and we had enough time to get something to eat at Shoyu at the airport. Some friends from our trip last April were even on our flight, but they were staying at Mandalay Bay, so we did not run into them again.

pork potstickers
Korean wings
dynamite roll
Our flight was delayed slightly leaving MSP as we had received a large amount of snow the day before. We knew about the delays as we had gotten notifications from Delta. The departure time changed again while we were at the airport, but we ended up leaving only 30 minutes later than originally scheduled and we arrived is Las Vegas just a bit later than planned. Our bags were a bit slow to come out and we went outside to find the longest taxi line I've seen in a long time. The line did move briskly and we were headed downtown to the Golden Nugget. There was no line at check in, so that was nice, but the hotel was very busy due to a couple events that weekend; wine fest and a craps tournament, so no free upgrades from the Landry card. And our room was in the farthest reaches of the Carson Tower on the third floor at the very end of the hallway. We got a lot of exercise at least.
After freshening up and unpacking a bit we headed down to the Rush Lounge for a couple of beers and to catch our breath for a bit. After that we headed over to the Golden gate to see if they had any low limit tables on a Friday night. We were in luck and found lots of open tables and ended up spending the rest of the night playing blackjack.
Saturday morning we headed over to DuPar's for breakfast. It is basically a requirement for us. It was great as always.
two eggs, hash browns with  ground beef patty for John
DuPar's pancakes
I had two eggs with bacon
After breakfast, we tried to sit by the Golden Nugget pool for awhile, but it was a bit cool outside, so we did not last very long. Plus, we had a lot of things to see and do downtown! Since we stayed on the strip during our last trip we felt like we missed some things downtown and had a lot of catching up to do.
First, we stopped at the Vegas Club and used a free slot play coupon from the American Casino Guide (ACG). No major wins that I recall. Next, we did the same thing at the Plaza. Again, the free pay went very fast. We walked over to Main Street Station to enjoy a nice long round of video poker. John had one four of a kind and got a scratch card ($2 win, whoopee). No royals to be found though.
John's big video poker win.

I think I had a smaller win, enough so I ended pretty much even at least.Up next, the Downtown grand to use some free play John received in a mailer from them. (Wish I had one as well, we've been getting matching mailers until this one, I never got anything!) We played off the free play and played some other new slots. No big wins that I can think of though.

We decided we were getting hungry so we headed to Pizza Rock for an early dinner. We've been hearing everyone rave about Pizza Rock for awhile now and we enjoyed it a lot as well. I think it is the best pizza place downtown. The sauce had great flavor and I loved how the pepperoni was thinly cut so it was very crisp. The crust was good, not too think and not too thin. we will certainly be returning to Pizza Rock again. Tip: if you check in on Four Square your first check in will get you 15% off your bill.

New Yorker pizza
semi inside Pizza Rock

After eating, we walked past the Container Park and the El Cortez down to Atomic Liquors to use a Groupon we'd found online. This was probably one of the best Groupon finds ever. I think we got $20 of drinks for $10. And the drinks were wonderful; I was not expecting craft cocktails at Atomic I guess. Nice surprise!

I had a Dark and Stormy and John had the Hunter S. Thompson drink from the menu. We liked Atomic a lot and plan to go back; very cool place. It was fine to walk down there during the day, I'm not sure I would at night, though it is just a black past the El Cortez, so it might be OK now.

mural on the side of the old Western Casino

We walked through the Container Park on our way to the El Cortez. It looks neat and it was pretty hopping for an early Saturday evening. We did not stop and get any drinks. Maybe should have. None of the store really caught my eye. It certainly makes the area seem a lot busier and everything seems less creepy when more people are around.

Container Park

Our next stop was the El Cortez and we started off using some ACG coupons for free play and then we ended up playing blackjack for a long time with some people from Colorado. They ended up coming with us to the D for a quick stop at Sigma Derby and then to the Golden Gate, where we spent the rest of the night and they disappeared after awhile. I think we stayed up until around 2am and called it a night. Overall, I had an OK day gambling wise. I was pretty much even.

Sunday morning I peeled myself out a bed and ran down to the pool to partake in the ever annoying pool chair game and find some chairs. I hate doing that, but it is the only way to get chairs at the Nugget in the general seating area.

We headed off to breakfast. We tried to go to Magnolia's but the line was a mile long, so we headed over to the D and got right in at the D Grill. We were seated right away and the service was great.

two eggs, hash browns and bacon
yes, they have sourdough toast
two eggs, hash browns and bacon

After breakfast we went to the Tickets 4 Tonight booth at the Four Queens to see if they had any Absinthe tickets for Sunday night. Sure enough they did and they were only $80 each, which was much  cheaper than any deals I found online in advance. We headed back to the Golden Nugget and spent the afternoon at the pool.

After the pool we went back to the room to get ready and we decided to head over to the Commissary at the Downtown Grand to get some lunch. The menu offerings looked pretty good. There are three different windows each with different types of food. You just order at the counter and they bring the food out to you when it is ready. The food was ready pretty quickly and it seems like a great option if you want a quick meal. We had a food comp from the Downtown Grand we were able to apply to our meal.

fish torta with chips and salsa
pork burrito with chips and salsa

Next, we decided to finish where we left off the day before on our downtown tour and check our Banger Brewing. We each ordered a flight of beers so we could sample almost all of their offerings.

The jalapeno beer is definitely interesting. Enjoyed chatting with the bartenders a bit too.

Next, we decided we had better head to the strip. We wanted to visit the Stratosphere for the Level 107 happy hour. (Side note: mall at Stratosphere is very empty and sad.)

cosmic cucumber
chocolate martini. Great deal at buy one get one free too.
Nice view, probably should go back at night though.
Making progress on the Cromwell.

We went to Caesar's to pick up our Absinthe tickets and after a slight detour into Margaritaville for a drink, we decided to head over to the High Roller and see how long the line was.
new entrance to Flamingo
Surprise, there was NO line at all. So we got tickets and followed the maze to the boarding area. the whole thing is pretty slick.Plenty of space in case there is a line. We got held up for a minute as they said we could not go into a pod by ourselves. We had to wait until some other people arrived. In case of monkey business I guess? We ended up being in a pod with 2 other couples. Plenty of space to move around and take photos. The video that plays is somewhat interesting too.
I'm trying to not have 100 scenery photos, but I can't help myself.
It stopped and started twice while we were on board and I did not even notice it had stopped. The only reason we knew was because a recording came on telling us it was restarting. Not a thrill ride I guess.
High Roller from underneath the loading area
toward the airport
Flamingo pool and Hilton Grand Vacations at Flamingo
Bellagio and Cosmopolitan
The High Roller took about 30 minutes. You could barely feel it moving.

After our ride on the High Roller we wandered through the new O'Shea's and the Quad. We realized it was getting late so we walked over to Paris as we had dinner reservations for Gordon Ramsay Steak at 8pm. We were seated on the second level at a table overlooking the first floor. The atmosphere is loud and energetic. I did not think it was so loud we had to yell at each other or anything like that. Our servers were great and everything went well throughout the meal, except that we ordered steak sauce, and it did not arrive with our entrees, but it was brought out quickly. The lead server, Jonel was very formal at first, but I was chatting with her a bit and she was really friendly after that.

Exterior of Gordon Ramsay Steak
light fixture and ipad drink menu
wheel of meat
strawberry martini and English garden martini
bread plate. The bacon bread is the best!
Hamachi crudo with smoked salmon roe, pickled radish and black garlic puree. This was amazing. The fish was so light and fresh tasting and the garlic puree added just the perfect amount of garlic flavor to the hamachi.
Haricot vert (tempura fried green beans) with citrus aioli. The sauce had just a touch of garlic and was delicious! The green beans were very light and not at all greasy.
The prime beef bone-in rib eye was good and cooked medium rare as requested. It seemed overly fatty though. We shared the steak because with the drinks, appetizer and the sides we had more than enough food. If I would have had my own steak I would have fallen asleep and been done for the night, so we have found sharing is a good way to try more menu items and not get overly full.
the Drifter
We wanted to get dessert, but did not think we had time as it was getting close to show time for Absinthe. We will have to try the sticky toffee pudding next time. Also, we got the discounted menu prices for being Total Rewards members and we also got $120 off our bill due to Total Rewards points we had on our cards. We acquired all of the points for watching videos, tweeting and Facebooking messages about Total Rewards via the Social Rewards application. I feel bad for spamming everyone, and I lost some Twitter followers, but I really enjoyed our almost free steak dinner.
I kept comparing the experience to our visit to Heritage Steak on our last trip. I thought the service was better at Gordon Ramsay Steak, but I think the steak was better at Heritage Steak. I liked that the steak at Heritage had a slight smoky flavor.
Absinthe tent
inside Absinthe tent

They said you could take photos during the performance, but I was so engrossed in the show I totally forgot. I loved the show and would highly recommend it. We were in the fourth row, at the 10pm show, which seemed really close. I think the fact that you are so close to the performers is one of the coolest things about this show. In all of the Cirque shows you are in a huge theater and so far away from the action.

We ended up walking over to the Flamingo and getting a taxi back to downtown there. Actually there was some aimless wandering going on. It happens. We we so tired from the long day of activities, we went right to bed. (Yes, it is true, no stop at the Golden Gate!) I think we were only out until midnight.

Monday. We had pool lounger reservations for the Hideout pool, so there was no need to rush down to the pool to get chairs. We would have made chair reservations for other days, but Sunday was booked solid when we started checking. I do recommend making your reservations in advance, especially in the spring and summer months.

We went to breakfast at Magnolia's and there was no line at all on Monday, so we were seated right away. I like how the restaurant overlooks the casino. You can people watch. Watching people gamble is interesting sometimes. We also used an ACG coupon for buy one entree, get one free. Great deal as always.
eggs, toast, hash browns and sausage
French toast with bacon and eggs

We spent most of the day at the Hideout pool. We had a couple drinks and enjoyed the nice weather. Luckily Monday ended up being the warmest day of our trip. I think it was 80 degrees or so.

By late afternoon we were getting hungry so we decided to head back to the room, get ready and go to the happy hour at Chart House. We made a quick stop to play the Walking Dead slot machine for awhile, I think we had a small win there. The happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4-6pm and they have food and drink specials. It is a really great deal and the food is always very good.  Plus we received $25 off with the credit we had on our Landry's card.

prime rib sliders $6
ahi nachos $6
firecracker shrimp $7
We needed to go and pick up our tickets for tonight's show, Zumanity at New York New York, so we took a taxi down there. So much for saving money and taking the bus. I never have the patience for the bus when it comes down to the wire.  We wandered around NYNY a bit and nothing jumped out at us, so we decided to walk down to the Cosmopolitan to play video poker at Bond bar.

Video poker and drinks at Cosmopolitan at Bond bar.
Few nice wins too! John had a huge win, but I did not get a picture of it.
We maybe should have played blackjack, but we were doing well on video poker and also chatting with the bartender a bit, so the time flew by quickly.
Next, we headed over to Double Barrel Roadhouse, a new bar and restaurant at the Monte Carlo. The UConn - Kentucky national championship game was on and they had it on every TV. Plus, we were able to use the $50 Monte Carlo food credit at Double Barrel.
brisket dinner with corn and biscuit
grilled shrimp with sweet potato fries
exterior facing the strip

The food was OK and the service was good. The prices seemed average for a strip hotel in Las Vegas; a bit on the high side compared to home though. The food was not amazing enough to make me want to go back. I think it might be a good place to watch sporting events or have drinks though. We ended up getting a deal on our MyVegas redemption as they comped the whole food bill on my card, and said the bill was paid, so we still had another $50 to use after our dinner (we left a nice tip in cash as well). So, we grabbed more drinks at the bar and went inside the casino to play a few slots.

I had a drink that had something to do with blueberry Red Bull. It was tasty, but it made me feel like crap the next day. Red Bull is evil, I should know this by now!

Zumanity Cirque du Soleil show at New York New York

Zumanity was OK, but since we had seen Absinthe the night before, I kept thinking this was a lame and tame version of Absinthe, with fewer funny parts. I was glad it was a free show, courtesy of MyVegas.

After Zumanity, we took a taxi to the Golden Gate and played blackjack for awhile before going to bed. Had to get one last session in!

Tuesday. Have to go home and back to reality today. Rats. We packed up the room and checked our bags with the bellhops. We took a taxi to the Aria to go to the Aria Buffet for breakfast. The buffet was OK, but I think I prefer the Bellagio Buffet by a mile. The quality just seems a lot better.

Aria buffet
view from the wing of Las Vegas
I feel like between the American Casino Guide, MyVegas comps, Social Rewards comps, Golden Nugget coupons, Groupon deals and Downtown Grand comps we received a lot of deal and freebies on this trip. I'm not sure we paid full price for any of our meals!

My gambling went ok. I was only down a little bit. I lost a bit on slots and a little at blackjack, but video poker wins really kept me close to even for most of the weekend. I think John lost more than I did at blackjack, but won more than I did on slots and video poker.

Goodbye Las Vegas! Can't wait until we can return! Hopefully soon! Is it just me, or do you start mentally planning the next trip even before the current one is over? There is always so much to do and not enough time!