Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Manny's Steak House - burgers

Even though our last experience at Manny’s wasn’t all that great, we decided to go back for lunch and give it another try. I’d been wanting to try their burgers for awhile anyway. We were seated right away, no reservations necessary for lunch apparently.

John had the steak sandwich with fries. It was topped with sautéed mushrooms and bacon as well. It was cooked medium rare as ordered.

I had the prime burger with cheese and bacon. It had a pile of onions strings on top too. The burger was cooked medium as ordered and was very thick and juicy. The bacon on this burger was amazing. I think it was Nueske’s bacon too. Very thick with lots of smoky flavor. The fries were very good as well. They looked and tasted like fresh, hand cut fries. I really liked that they came with a side of béarnaise sauce.

The service was much better on this visit than the previous visit. It did not seem very busy, but we were in the front section and the booths are tall, as it is hard to tell if other booths were occupied or not. The server checked back often and kept our beverages filled.

Here is a link to the recent Manny's post I mentioned at the top of the post:

Manny’s Steak House
825 South Marquette Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55402
(612) 339-9900

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Black Sheep Pizza

I thought I had done a post on Black Sheep pizza long ago. The original location on Washing ton Avenue is very small and there is usually a long wait, so we only went there once or twice. They recently opened a second location in St Paul and a third on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. The new location on Nicollet Avenue is quite large with a bar toward the back on one side and lots of tables in the front and on the other side. We arrived around 6pm on a Friday night and were seated right away.

The menu at this location is quite a bit larger than the other location as they also have a grill. We decided to stick to the pizza options though.

John had the fennel sausage and oyster mushroom pizza with red sauce and cheese. John really liked the sausage on this pizza as it was smoky and spicy with lots of fennel flavor.

I had the hot salami and green olive pizza with red sauce and cheese. The red sauce is pretty mild, but the hot salami was generously applied and quite spicy. I ended up taking some of it off as it was too much for me. The crust was very good with just a bit of char on the edges and I love how the salami get a little crisp too. It was a large pizza (ordered the 12”) and I had some left over for the next day.

The service was great and there was a wide variety of bottle and tap beers with some interesting local choices. Ample parking is available with lots of on street spaces and a dedicated parking lot located about a block south.

Black Sheep Pizza
2550 Nicollet Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pub 819

The old Tavern on Main in Hopkins has been totally remodeled and added a full kitchen for a welcome revamp of the space. Pub 819 also has trivia on Monday nights at 8pm, so we are planning on visiting often. On our first visit for trivia we tried the food as well.

The room has been totally redone and is open and warm looking. I look forward to warmer weather when the garage door style doors in the front can be opened up. Right now, they are quite drafty to sit by unfortunately.

classic cheeseburger with Swiss and bacon

John had the cheeseburger with Swiss cheese and bacon. The burgers were very flavorful and coked medium as ordered. The buns were lightly toasted and sturdy enough to stand up to the juices of the burger. The fries have a light breading on them and give them an odd flavor. I'd prefer a plain french fry instead.

The ketchup offered is called 78 Red and has an odd flavor; sort of too sweet and not salty enough. I'd appreciate the option of Heinz ketchup personally.

red wine burger

The red wine burger is port wine reduction cooked into a beef patty, sautéed mushrooms, onions, and melted camembert cheese. It had a very rich, delicious flavor and a bit of tartness as well.

The service was very good and we hope they keep the trivia nights going for some time to come. It will certainly keep us coming back as often as we can.

Deals & Discounts: Happy hour is held Sunday-Friday 3pm to 6pm and drinks only from Daily 10p-Midnight. Check the website for more details. They currently have half off all burgers on Mondays as well, which is a great deal.

Pub 819
819 Main Street
Hopkins, MN 55343
(952) 933-1230

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lake & Irving revisit

I went back to Lake & Irving recently with a couple of friends and we tried a few more items on the menu. We had a great meal with a wonderful server. I don't have a lot to add to my previous review, other than all of our food was perfect and I'd like to try more items on the menu.

 brussels sprouts - white soy, EVOO, togorashi
 mushroom fries - tempura portobello, black garlic aioli
 buttermilk chicken sandwich
 crab crusted snapper - large order with soy mustard beurre blanc, stir fried vegetables
crab crusted snapper - small order

Lake & Irving
1513 W Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 354-2453

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Aruba: Trip Report 2.11.15 to 2.18.15

Yes, it is true, we went somewhere new this year for the winter vacation and we did things a bit differently this year as well.

The fun started last year when I saw an Airfare Watchdog deal on Twitter for Aruba flights on US Air for $300. We decided to go for it and book right away. that was such a great price, we knew we could not pass it up. Plus, we had been hearing about Aruba for the past several years from Kristin and Chris as they had gone for a relative's wedding and really enjoyed it. So, we made sure to alert them to this deal and they booked the same flights we did.

Once we started looking at lodging options, it became clear that nothing is cheap in Aruba. We decided to look at condo options and we decided on a condo called Oceania Residences. We booked Boca Catalina condo #254 called Absolute Luxury and felt we got a pretty good deal. I was a bit nervous as we had never booked a condo before, but the rental agency was very responsive and I did not find anything negative about them online. And, in reality, I had nothing at all to worry about. Everything was exactly as represented online and we were very happy with the accommodations.

Kristin's sisters Amanda and Melissa also joined us, as they needed a vacation and the condo could sleep up to 6 people and they ended up finding a great airfare deal on United Airlines for $400 per person.

Our flights out of MSP were a bit delayed as it took us a long time to have the plane deiced. We made up the time in the air and made it to Charlotte, NC with not much time to spare. We grabbed some food, got on the plane and the doors shut. The flight to Aruba was uneventful and we met Melissa and Amanda by the baggage claim area in customs. We split up and took two taxis to the condo, it was a short ride, maybe 15 minutes and cost $22 and then waited around a bit for someone to come and check us in from the rental agency.

Champagne toast on arrival compliments of the rental agency.

We all moved in, freshened up, checked the place out and bit and decided we were all starving. We walked a couple resorts over and had dinner at the restaurant at La Cabana Resort called Islander Grill. It was not our first choice, but there were not a lot of options close by.

my first Balashi Chill; kind of like Corona

After dinner we decided to try walking over to the Super Food grocery store to get some supplies. The waiter said it was open until later, but it was closed when we arrived. And we had lost John and Chris in the process. They ended up going to one convenience store and walking back to the condo. Me and the girls ended up getting a taxi at Super Food (it was the same taxi driver that we had from the airport!) and stopping at another convenience store and going back to the condo. They had returned to the restaurant to find us and then walked back, so we were there first and had to wait for them as they both had the room keys. After all that, we had a few more Balashi Chills and went to bed. It had been a very long day of traveling with lots of excitement.

Thursday morning we were all up rather bright and early. John and I and Kristin and Chris decided to try walking to Super Food again and this time they were open. We stocked up on lots of food and beverages as we planned to eat in for breakfast and lunch at the condo most days.

inside Super Food
condo from beach, our building was on the left
beach looking North
beach looking South

We spent the rest of the day on the beach, learned not to apply sunscreen in the wind outdoors and we grilled our lunch at the condo.

Thursday night, we did the Kuku Kunuku dinner and bar hopping tour. It was a fun tour that took us up by the lighthouse for a champagne toast and then to a bar for a beer and then to a restaurant for dinner with a few more bars after that.

casibari cafe for BBQ dinner
climb stairs to top of rocks
view from the top

neat beer bottle lights

carnival headdresses

We all had a lot of fun on the tour and I would highly recommend it. It was very fun and we went to some places we never would have thought to stop at on our own. Although, I had booked a reduced price on their website and they charged me full price and I am still waiting for the difference to be refunded.

Friday we had the rental car dropped off and we decided to try to tour Balashi Brewery. We found it, but the tours are only at 10:30am on weekdays.

Next, we drove to San Nicholas to go to Charlie's Bar for lunch. The place was interesting with lots of stuff on the walls, but the food was average at best. I'd just have a drink and eat elsewhere.

Charlie's bar
Charlie's bar interior
street in San Nicholas
street in San Nicholas
conch fritters
shrimp were very mushy, not good

After leaving San Nicholas, we went to Baby Beach to relax for the afternoon. The water was very calm and we saw a few fish in the water too. If you want beach chairs, you have to pay to rent them. I think it was $8 per chair.

baby beach

We stopped at a restaurant called B55 for a drink and a snack on our way back from Baby Beach. 

super heavy duty menus with wood covers and metal hinges
view out the back of B55

calamari was pretty good
The service at B55 was super slow, but we enjoyed a break on the drive back.
Our not so awesome rental car. It had every warning light on, bald tires, bad shocks, no middle seat cushion, sharp springs in the seat cushion and a possible exhaust system leak. It did not break down though! I don't think the gas gauge was accurate either.

After B55, we made a stop at Super Food for some supplies and we all got ready for dinner out at Barefoot in downtown Oranjestad.

sunset from the patio

fresh fish
on the beach, listening to planes land! so cool!

Barefoot was very good. The service was decent and the food was quite good, though certainly on the expensive side. I suppose you have to pay a premium to dine with your toes in the sand.

Saturday morning we all got up early to climb Mt. Hooiberg. It is all stairs and quite steep in some spots. We met a local couple and their kids and they were fun to talk to and so nice. I guess to get your physical education teaching certification in Aruba, men have to make it to the top in 9 minutes and 30 seconds and women have one minute more. Yikes! They even led us to the entrance of the national park so we could go to the Natural Pool. It would have taken us forever to find it on our own.

you can see the stairs in this picture going up the middle of the mountain
before the climb!
view from the top- hotel zone is off in the distance
642 steps. ouchie! We all made it though!
entrance to national park; a few chickens and cats wandering around.
Mt Hooiberg in the distance

We had to use the four wheel drive on the way to the Natural Pool. It was an adventure of a drive with some terrible roads, or paths in the dirt and rocks. I was afraid we'd get a flat tire, but we did not. The other Melissa was afraid we'd tip over and she got out to walk for a bit. We did not tip and we made it just fine!

this is the road- the good part of the road too!
pretty views
more stairs to get down to the pools though!

After the 4 x 4 adventure we went to the other entrance to the National Park, stopped at the visitor center and stopped at the gold mine site. I skipped that hike, but everyone else went. There were more darn stairs there too.

We finally made it to the restaurant Boca Prins Bar and Restaurant in the park and it was the best meal any of us had ever had. I think we were hangry. (So hungry you get cranky and angry.)

you can kind of see the ocean behind the jeep
It was super windy, so you needed the cement holder to keep things from tipping over.
restaurant exterior
lizard friends cruising around

fresh grilled barracuda, really good! Not strong or fishy.

grilled chicken skewers
cave exterior
before spelunking
road was better in this part of the park
This cave supposedly had bats, I did not go in, but no one saw any bats. Regardless, the sign said sssst! don't wake the bats. What does ssst mean?! We found some sea glass at the overlook across from the restaurant too!
Aruba Aloe plant. I stocked up on their wonderful products!
aloe fields
new natural bridge
old, collapsed natural bridge
gold mill ruins
people stack the rocks for some reason

After our driving adventures for the day we went back to the condo and spent some time in the pool to try and cool off. We were all dusty and dirty from being on dirt roads all day.

Since it was also Valentine's Day John and I went out to dinner together at a restaurant called Gasparito. We took a short taxi ride there and back.
coconut shrimp
combo plate
shrimp and fish
restaurant was in the front of their house basically

Kristin, Chris, Melissa and Amanda took the rental car to the hotel zone to a place called Touchdown's for a drink and had a strange encounter with a crazy waitress that said they did not pay their bill, which they certainly did. Then they got pizza for dinner and brought it back to the condo.

Sunday we enjoyed a day on the beach in front of our condo under a palapa. That morning John and I took the bus to Ling and Sons to get a few more supplies. We grilled burgers for dinner and John and I and Kristin, Chris and Amanda walked over to Glitz casino to play a bit of blackjack. The clientle was certainly very colorful. I don't think anyone won very much either, but we had fun. Melissa was not feeling well so she stayed at the condo and went to sleep early.

Monday we sat by the pool for most of the day and chatted with some people from the neighboring condo. They gave us some great dining recommendations. We had a reservation for dinner at Yemaja, but we arrived very early, so we stopped in at Que Pasa for a drink first.

I'm excited while I wait forever for my drink.
My espresso martini arrived after a very long wait.
fake grass on the ceiling of the bathroom at Que Pasa
Everything at Yemanja is grilled and it smelled wonderful!
excellent drinks
I had fish
four sides came with each entrée
mixed grill on skewers with lots of dipping sauces

All of the food was very, very good and this was probably our best meal and the best service we had on the whole trip.  The portions were generous and with the sides everyone certainly had more food than they could eat.

Tuesday, John and I went to Linda's Pancakes for breakfast. We took a taxi there and then walked back to the main road in the hotel zone and took the bus back to the condo. It was very easy to take the bus to get around, but the schedule was erratic sometimes.

apple and bacon Dutch pancake
bacon and cheese Dutch pancake

Kristin, Chris, Melissa and Amanda had breakfast at the condo and took the bus into town to go shopping. We found them pretty easily in downtown Orenjestad outside of The Paddock restaurant. They had lunch, John and I had a drink, and we all enjoyed watching the cruise ships in port. It was quite busy in town with three large ships in port. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town and doing some shopping.

downtown Oranjestad
downtown Oranjestad
great sign!

After shopping, we went back to the condo and relaxed in the pool for awhile. I think everyone was pretty overheated from the shopping excursion.

For dinner we took the bus down to the hotel zone for dinner. We decided to try Iguana Cantina for some Mexican fare. The food was OK. The service was OK too.

Cadillac margarita
chicken fajitas
steak and chicken fajitas
iguanas rule!
We stopped at Moomba bar for a nightcap, neat location right on the beach.

Wednesday morning we all tried to sleep in, sat by the pool for a bit, relaxed around the condo, packed up our bags and generally dreaded having to go home to the cold weather.

Here are a few pictures of the condo. I should have taken these when we arrived, rather than when we were leaving! You get the idea though. The condo was very well stocked with dishes, a cooler and other supplies. We had everything we needed, though it would have been nice to have one more beach chair.

nice to have a grill!
great view! The pool was never totally full, very easy to find chairs.

living room 
bathroom 1, we had 3
end of hallway
second bedroom, its in the back, not the side as we had thought
master bedroom
neighbors seemed to be trapping iguanas
airport iguana
airport bar- should be called I'm not happy because I have to go home bar.

Overall, we had a great trip. The weather was perfect, the island is beautiful, the condo was nice and the beaches were great. I'm not sure I'd stay in the low rise area again. You really need a car to get around for the entire trip if you stay in the low rise area. The beach was very nice, and not very crowded, but it was far away from everything. But it was nice to not have to fight for chairs at the beach or at the pool.

I was not overly impressed by the food or service anywhere we went. The service seemed very slow at most places and the food was average at best. You'd think for the prices charged the quality might be better. Also, we found that reservations are required for most of the more popular restaurants on the island. We never got into a few places as they were full or did not answer the phone. I would definitely recommend making all of your reservations for the week on the first day, especially if you want to eat at specific places.

Everyone made their flights home and the connections. Amanda and Melissa ended up on a different flight home through Miami as their flight was oversold, but they got home at about the same time as originally planned. It was good that they got to the airport early because of this issue. John and I and Kristin and Chris probably did not need the full three hours to get through airport security as the lines were not bad on a Wednesday afternoon.