The Best Things I Ate in 2019: A Culinary Diary of My Travels
Each year I look forward to reflecting on the best dishes I had of the entire year. What a great job I have getting to try so many amazing foods and drinks, not only around the country, but around the world! Life as a travel and food blogger comes with a price though. The calories, fat, and pounds add up quickly. While I made a healthier lifestyle change in the fall, I am still finding incredibly delicious foods to eat on my travels.
Here is a look at the best things I ate in 2019.
I had this delicious savory Greek Chicken Crêpe at Red Bud Cafe in Daytona Beach, Florida. The crêpe was toothsome and very enjoyable, stuffed with ingredients that married well together. A side of orzo pasta accompanied the dish. Give me a savory crepe any day of the week and I’m a happy camper, especially when they look and taste like this one!
A day visiting Bar Harbor, Maine on a New England/Canada cruise brought my friend, Angie, and I to Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, a few minutes outside of town. It was recommended by locals and boy are we glad we stopped. Eating a Lobster Roll is a traditional Maine experience and this one was exceptionally good. The roll was buttered and toasted and the amount of lobster to roll was nearly two to one. I cannot imagine anything that could have made the delicate sandwich taste better.
My first trip to the Mississippi Delta brought me to Delta Meat Market in the Cotton House Hotel in Cleveland. James Beard Award nominated Chef Cole Ellis shares his creative talents on McCarty Pottery plates filled with gorgeous meats, locally-sourced vegetables, and classic Southern sides. From the three meals I had, my favorite was the Hanger Steak Frites, topped with Maytag blue cheese, green onions, and Mississippi-famous Hoover sauce to kick the dish up a notch. Mmm, mmm, good.
Hattiesburg, Mississippi was my most shocking delicious foodie find of the year. Two of my favorite 2019 dishes come from Hattiesburg. The first, is Bru’s Breakfast Bowl from Depot Kitchen and Market. This dish is a cheddar biscuit topped with sausage gravy, bacon, scrambled eggs, and cheddar cheese. The biscuit is unbelievably fluffy and tasty, while the eggs are creamy and rich. A perfect recipe for sausage gravy and tiny green onions take this dish from great to oh-my-freaking goodness!
The second Hattiesburg dish on my list is Curry Chicken Salad from Birdhouse Cafe. Masterchef finalist and Food Network Star Katie Dixon puts her skills to work at this quaint and welcoming cafe inside of a furniture store. You’ll be shocked at the menu, filled with healthy choices and quality ingredients. Katie’s Curry Chicken Salad is unlike any I’ve ever tried before, and may be my most memorable dish of 2019. I loved every crunchy, zesty bite of it.
Toasted Ravioli and Deviled Eggs
Salt + Smoke, in St. Louis, Missouri gave me two of the best appetizers of the year; Deviled Eggs (with bacon) and Burnt End Toasted Raviolis, a St. Louis staple. Oh dear goodness, they were both so perfect, in looks and taste. I ended up telling everyone I met in St. Louis about the toasted raviolis and they couldn’t wait to try them, too. While many places have deviled eggs on the menu, few make them as perfectly as Salt + Smoke. My hats off to you for both of these tasty little nibbles.
The Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colorado, has a fantastic onsite restaurant–Cascades Restaurant. I sat at the bar since the dining room was full, which has a beautiful light-up surface. There, I had a lovely appetizer dish of Chicken Liver Pâté (crème fraiche, minced chives, Maldon salt) with grilled breads and baby greens. The pate was served in an adorable mini-jar with fresh micro-greens that just looked as good as it tasted.
Greek Steak and Spaghetti
Northwestern Steakhouse has been a Mason City, Iowa icon since opening in 1920. Steaks are the big draw at Northwestern Steakhouse and I enjoyed the Filet Mignon with a side of Greek spaghetti on my visit. The steaks are broiled at a high temperature, resulting in a super juicy and tender piece of meat, swimming in finger-licking broth. That broth is added to butter, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and pasta for the Greek spaghetti side dish. The combination is odd for me, but remarkably delicious. This is truly one of the best steak dinners you’ll have in the whole country.
A food tour with Greenville History Tours around Greenville, South Carolina took me to Pomegranate on Main, where I sampled a plate full of Persian goodness; flavorful rice, succulent meat, cool and creamy sauce. While the lamb was juicy, tender, and full of flavor, the rice was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. The owner explained the many step process for making it, and I assure you it was a lot of work. If you get the chance to try this restaurant, please tell them I sent you. I love spreading the word about unique cuisines in what I find to be unlikely places.
Again, my cruise to Canada and New England brought me to Sydney, Nova Scotia for the day. There, not far from the cruise ship, I found Selkie’s Neighbourhood Diner, offering warm cinnamon rolls that were so Instagram-worthy I had to have one. The roll was rich and tasty, but I could only eat a few bites because it was so sweet (and I’m typically a savory girl), but still, the icing alone was worth the walk from the cruise port.
I feel so strange living in Florida and saying that I found the best empanadas of my life in the Midwest, but that is what happened at The Livery in South Bend. My sampling of three different empanadas included Queso (Havarti, gouda, black bean purée), Chicken (bean, tomato, avocado salsa), and Corn (yellow cheddar, truffle, jalapeño-cilantro crema). The Livery’s empanada dough is the right consistency, fried to perfection, and the filings are flavorful and delicious.
My husband, Eddie, and I had a meal at Capa at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando Walt Disney World and were treated our the best meal of 2019. While every bite of it was sensational, the Miyazaki Wagyu (Japanese black) beef at Capa was the real stand-out. The melt-in-your-mouth meat was served on a salt block. I cooked it myself table side searing each side for 20 to 25 seconds each. If you haven’t indulged in something as upscale as Miyazaki Wagyu, try it at least once. It’s intense marbling gives the unique flavor and tenderness. I swear it is every bit as smooth as butter!
Brookville Hotel, in Abilene, Kansas, offers a family-style fried chicken meal for $16.95. You get a portion of about eight things, but the star of the meal is the famous Brookville Hotel Fried Chicken. This is the first time in five years of blogging that fried chicken has ever made my list. Usually, its not even something I eat, but since this is the only meal they offer, I decided to try it. The whole meal was fantastic! The chicken was light and crispy, plus plenty moist, and the sweet & sour Cole slaw, mashed potatoes and cream gravy, and baking powder biscuits paired wonderfully with it. You’re in for a real treat when you travel Kansas I-70!
Athens, Georgia is one of the best Southern foodie towns I’ve found. At an adorable restaurant called home.made, I tried Chef Mimi’s pickled deviled eggs (bread & butter pickles and red mustard) and Swanee Bites (pimento cheese straws rolled in pecans) before sinking my teeth into a whole lunch plate of comfort food favorites. Even the pickles that topped the deviled eggs were homemade, as the restaurant’s name implies. The dish of pickled vegetables added an extra boost of deliciousness to the already tasty starters.
Oren’s in San Francisco gets my vote for the best hummus in the United States. I even traveled there with 26 international journalists who were blown away by how delicious our entire meal was. Oren’s has hummus bowls with eggplant, lamb, cauliflower, mushrooms, beets—you name it, they’ve got it. I tried the Hummus Beets, with Hummus with marinated beets, feta cheese, chopped walnuts, orange zest, cilantro and balsamic reduction. It was perfection on a plate!
Fried Green Tomatoes
Most Southern restaurants can do a decent job on fried green tomatoes, but the Goat Cheese Stuffed Fried Green Tomatoes from Montpelier Restaurant and Bar in the Hotel Madison (Harrisonburg, Virginia) really knocked my socks off. Crispy brown tomatoes are topped with cilantro, roasted corn, and spiced aioli, and the flavor is super comforting.
My Paris to the Swiss Alps cruise with Viking River Cruises (Kvasir) was full of tasty meals, but the Chateaubriand was off the charts! I even made a video because I wanted everyone to see the excitement on my face from this amazing steak dinner. Oh-so tender beef has just the right amount of au jus to compliment it, then is drizzled with a perfect Béarnaise sauce. You could cut the steak with a fork and I actually ordered a second round of the Chateaubriand because it was so good.
The Caramelized Onion Dip at Hop River Brewing Company, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is the simplest dish on my list. Not only does Hop River have incredible beer selections (I’m a stout and porter girl and they have a bunch!), but the Dip Trio was a sinfully delicious. It was served with a beautiful bounty of veggies, including colored carrots, celery, and watermelon radishes. I certainly wasn’t expecting that at a brewing company.
Cornbread and Fixins
A special meal I was lucky to be invited to at The Kennedy in Spartanburg, South Carolina was a culinary experience in itself. Colonial Milling Cornbread with essentials (from Pauline, South Carolina) is how the menu labeled this part of the meal. I do remember that there were peach preserves, sorghum syrup and butter, and jalapeño jam to go with the cornbread. I also tried my first pickled watermelon rind to accompany it. Not only was the presentation lovely, but the taste of the cornbread was moist and flavorful, with a crusty outside and soft center.
Redneck BBQ Lab, in Benson, North Carolina, prepared a feast for my husband, Eddie, and I. With barbecue favorites ranging from smoked turkey to pork loin, burnt ends to sausages, every bite of this whopping comfort food tray was divine! It makes my mouth water just seeing the picture again! My favorites in order were pork loin, burnt ends, ribs, sausage, pulled pork, collards, Mac & cheese, cornbread. Loved the choice of homemade sauces, too.
Crepes, Take 2
Montréal, Canada is definitely a place to indulge in crepes. I found one of the best ones of my life at Crêperie Chez Suzette. My Crepe Mornay with mushrooms and asparagus was to die for! You can imagine how perfect the crepe was from a restaurant that specializes in them. Then the rich and creamy filling, bursting with mushrooms and cheese was oozing out in overflow. Fresh herbs accented the dish nicely. This is a must in Montréal!
There are only two sweets to make my list as that food group is not my weakness. However, going to the Indiana Marketplace introduced me to the world of Cream Pie, the Hoosier State pie. Not only did I eat one piece of that luscious creamy from Wick’s Pies, but I ate two pieces! I was on a sugar high for a day or two at least, but it was freaking fantastic. I’m waiting for my 2020 Indiana Marketplace invite so I can buy some stretch pants.
Leave it to Virginia to have the best slice of cake of the year, or the decade. My honkin’ big and beautiful slice of Brown Sugar Peach Cake, made onsite at Gathering Grounds in Luray, had me nearly licking the to-go container I ate it from. This adorable small-town restaurant has big flavors and fantastic dishes for breakfast and lunch, but the desserts are truly amazing. My cake was incredibly moist and had just the right amount of sweetness and spice to the icing/cake ratio.
My visit to Pensacola, Florida was a culinary delight. This city is swarming with great foodie options. My favorite dish of the trip was a trio of my favorite breakfast food, Eggs Benedict. The Ruby Slipper Cafe offers many varieties of this amazing creation. Order the Trifecta like I did to sample one each of three of Ruby Slipper’s most popular Benedicts including Chicken St. Charles (fried chicken over buttermilk biscuit with pork Tasso cream sauce), Shrimp Boogaloo (shrimp creole style with fried-green tomato and pork Tasso), and Eggs Cochon (apple-braised pulled pork over buttermilk biscuit). I invite all breakfast lover to pay them a visit and share a plate since they are so huge.
Eggs Benedict Take 2
As I said above, Eggs Benedict is my favorite breakfast food. Why should that surprise me since it is laden with calories, rich and creamy hollandaise, a billowy English muffin, and often, something other than a traditional ingredient. I found a sage sausage Virginia Benedict at Market on Main in Lynchburg, Virginia that was a comfort food foodie’s dream dish. Paired with perfectly cooked (and salted) cheese grits, this plate was fabulous!
2019 in a Nutshell
As you can see, my year was filled with incredible, delicious dishes from around the country, and then some. From killer steaks to outrageous Eggs Benedicts, perfect crepes to mouth-watering Southern dishes, my culinary adventures were off the charts in 2019! It is always fun seeing where I will have meals that make my “the best things I ate” list, and sometimes they come as a big surprise. Which dish looks the most desirable to you?
Note: Some of these meals were comped during my travels. As always, opinions and review are 100% mine and unbiased.
Read my previous years “Best Eats” posts: