Raven & Lily: Collierville, Tennessee

Just a half hour east of Memphis you’ll find the truly charming town of Collierville, Tennessee. A walk around its picturesque central square, and the myriad little shops and restaurants that surround it, will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to an innocent 1950s or 1960s sitcom back lot. Visiting earlier this month, with the square decked out in Christmas lights and decorations, I would have sworn I had been transported into a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie!

While visiting town, I met my dear friend, Daniel, for an amazing lunch at a small restaurant facing the square called Raven & Lily. Housed in a lovely brick building, the restaurant has a warm and inviting atmosphere, and as soon as I started to peruse the menu, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of items I wanted to try. One appetizer that caught my eye was roasted sweet potatoes with carrots, house bacon, onions & Danish blue cheese. But because this is the south and I love traditional southern dishes, I opted for the fried green tomatoes with a lemon caper remoulade, and a cup of a nicely spicy, hearty corn and shrimp chowder. It was a tough call, though because shrimp and grits and seafood mac ‘n’ cheese also called to me. My friend Daniel ordered an enormous fried chicken sandwich that was impossible to eat without the aid of a knife and fork given its enormous size. He said it was fantastic, as were my dishes.

I made sure to save room for dessert, which was yet another difficult decision. The menu included lemon curd and shortbread with berries, a brioche cinnamon roll with cinnamon ice cream, and a caramel-vanilla bread pudding. Oh the humanity! But I decided on the made-to-order dark chocolate souffle with vanilla anglais. I have had souffles in Paris itself, and this one held up against anything I’ve tasted there. It was a truly deep, dark chocolate, and knowing that Daniel is not really a “dessert person” (I love him despite this character flaw!), I thought it was safe to offer him a taste. His eyes sort of rolled back into his head in a way that made me think he was about to faint. I may make a dessert person out of him yet!

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So, if you find yourself anywhere close to the Metro Memphis area, I’d urge you to make the effort to head out to Collierville for a calm respite from the city and an absolutely gourmet-quality meal at Raven & Lily. I know I will be returning; there are a whole lot of dishes yet to be sampled!

 

Fogarty’s: Where It’s Always Thanksgiving If You Really Want It To Be!

During an overnight stay in Dover, New Hampshire I was looking online for a good place to eat dinner, and my google search led me across the border to the town of South Berwick, Maine where I discovered an unassuming little restaurant called Fogarty’s. Immediately I liked the atmosphere of this casual, cheery place, but the impressive array of homemade desserts and baked goods that greeted me as I entered the restaurant “had me at hello.” Is it wrong to long for dessert when you have yet to eat dinner? Fogarty’s will do that to you.

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One of my favorite meals at any time of the year is a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixin’s: stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, gravy. I spied a turkey dinner on the menu and ordered it. Little did I know it would be, to date, the only entrée I have ever ordered at Fogarty’s after at least a half dozen visits! When you find something this good, it’s hard to stray from it. I have eaten a lot of turkey dinners in my time, and I have visited countless restaurants, but never have I encountered a meal that is so beautifully well-prepared, generously portioned, and most importantly, so delicious. First off, the turkey itself is often my least favorite part of a turkey dinner, but not here. The turkey is tender, moist, and so satisfying that I often eat half of it before I even sample the side dishes. The turkey is accompanied by a huge portion of savory stuffing, the mashed potatoes are delicious and the butternut squash is seasoned perfectly… not too sweet, but just sweet enough. Everything tastes completely fresh and homemade. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go… judge for yourself!

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Now keep in mind that Fogarty’s has an enormous and eclectic menu! You can get a Maine lobster roll and fries or other local seafood, like fried clams, scallops or Atlantic salmon. There are pasta dishes, beef, chicken and pork entrees, burgers, sandwiches and someday I sincerely intend to try some of them. I have made a little progress in that direction, recently trying their shrimp and corn chowder, a butternut squash and cranberry bisque, and a clam chowder that could win an award; it was almost the consistency of a stew given the huge amount of finely minced clams that far outnumbered the chopped potatoes it contained. But as far as the entrees are concerned, my heart still belongs to the turkey!

Fogarty’s also has an impressive array of homemade pies, and again, I have become a creature of habit, ordering their chocolate cream pie every time I visit. The chocolate pudding filling seems to be a darker chocolate than is typical, and is not too sweet. It’s sandwiched between an excellent pie crust and real whipped cream. I have also tried the strawberry cream pie in the summer, but while it was different and very good, I am still firmly caught in the gravitational pull of the chocolate cream, though I typically have to take it to go after devouring such a big meal.

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If you are anywhere near Maine or New Hampshire’s popular seacoast areas, take a 15 minute detour north to Berwick and check out Fogarty’s. And if you try anything  other than the turkey dinner, please let me know how it is!

A Top 10 List: The Best Pancakes in the USA

Pancakes. Hotcakes. Griddle Cakes. Flapjacks.

No matter what they’re called, they happen to be one of my favorite ways to start the morning, and when I travel around the country I make it a point to seek out the very best local places to find these breakfast staples. I personally don’t like a lot of extra stuff on or in my pancakes:  whipped cream, chocolate chips, strawberry sauce, ice cream, hot fudge – in my opinion they are just ways to mask a boring pancake. A really top-notch pancake should be able to stand on its own, maybe with some simple blueberries in the batter, and always with a little help from butter and real maple syrup.

P1080595.JPG To find the best pancakes in the country, read on!

Not Croatian, It’s Cro-Asian: Dubrovnik’s Restaurant Azur

Dubrovnik is truly lovely, unique, and bustling walled city that can seem overwhelming when the hordes of cruise ship tourists come streaming through the old city’s impressive stone gates, huntung for snacks and souvenirs mostly along the main street, the Stradun. But for those in the know who want to escape the crowds, and who are willing to climb more than a few of the old city’s purported 4,343 stone stairs, a peaceful oasis can be found nestled close to the famous city walls at a charming little restaurant called Azur.

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Let’s see what’s on the menu at Azur…

Where Food is Art: Antica Torre, Carmignano

Last summer while staying in a rather remote area of Tuscany near the town of Vinci (of “Leonardo da” fame), I drove over the mountains in the direction of Prato and Florence and stopped for dinner at a restaurant called Antica Torre. I was one of only a few customers that weeknight, but I was blown away by not just the quality of the food, but the amazingly beautiful preparations that made each dish seem like a work of art.

Restaurant or art gallery? You decide…

Italy’s Cinque Terre: A Mediterranean Hideaway

Almost halfway between the famous Italian cities of Pisa and Genoa on Italy’s western coast you will find the Cinque Terre or “the Five Lands,” a collection of five small villages, some almost 1,000 years old, separated from one another and from the rest of Italy by a series of steep and rugged mountains. The only ways to get there or to go from one town to the next are to hike over the mountains, take a local train, or drive over dizzyingly curvy roads. The area is not that easy to get to, but once you’re there and have left the confines of the train or your rental car, you’ll be glad you made the journey.

Let’s explore the Cinque Terre. Read more!

Following in the Footsteps of The Walking Dead: A Visit to Senoia, Georgia

The horror genre has never been a favorite of mine, and I typically avoid these types of TV shows or movies like the plague. However, about two years ago I happened to be curled up in a warm hotel room on a chilly New Year’s Eve, avoiding the crowds and the drinking and the sub-freezing temperatures. Flipping through the TV channels I stumbled upon a marathon of The Walking Dead on AMC.

Next stop: Senoia, Georgia – dead ahead…

When Tiziana Says, “Mangia”, You Better Mangia! – Sora Margherita, Rome

One of the joys of travel is meeting strangers who become new friends, and on my most recent trip to Rome, I met a man named Scott, a humanities professor from a university in the American Midwest who was living in Rome for several weeks while working on a book. After some conversation it was apparent that we were kindred spirits and I invited him to join me at my favorite restauant in Rome for lunch. Thankfully he liked my restaurant choice, and as we were parting ways for the afternoon he said that the following day he  planned to go to a small restaurant called Sora Margherita he’d been to a couple of years prior. He asked if I wanted to join him and I accepted, though I was a little unnerved when he mentioned something about a waitress who’d simply seemed to despise the friend he’d dined with there the first time.

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The charming front entrance to Sora Margherita

Back in my apartment I google-searched the restaurant and because I have come to rely heavily on TripAdvisor reviews, I was a bit uneasy when I noted that many of the reviews there were negative. It seemed, however, that most of the bad comments concerned the service, not the food, and many reviews mentioned a surly, rude waitress who “abused” the customers. Some said that she would “force” people to finish the food on their plates, which sounded rather scary. I wondered whether this was the same person who had “despised” Scott’s poor friend.

With a little hesitation, I headed out into the blazing Roman sun the following day and headed for Rome’s “Jewish Ghetto” neighborhood. a part of the city that I was not terribly familiar with, in search of Sora Margherita. I met Scott out front as planned and we headed inside with a little trepidation. The restaurant is a long, naoow space with maybe 15 tables. We were seated quickly, and before I even got my bearings I noticed a waitress eyeing us suspiciously, and thought, “Uh-oh”, as she swaggered over to our table. In Italian she asked us what we wanted, and having not even seen a menu we were hesitant to reply. Before we could get a sentence out, she told us just to “trust her” and she would bring us what she thought we should eat. She had a look about her that told me not to argue, and for some reason seemed to like us, so we agreed to go with the flow and allow her to choose our dishes.

I was really glad that I’d been forewarned by the TripAdvisor reviews, because otherwise I would have been even more taken by surprise than I was. Our waitress came to the table bearing a dish of marinated vegetable and before I could even react, she spooned up a healthy portion from the plate and shoved it into my mouth, a strange and triumphant look on her face as she stared at the camera that Scott had whipped out to capture the moment. I was laughing hard, but also trying not to choke to death on my food as she proceeded to break off some bread and shove a slice of that into my mouth as well. Honestly, all I could think of was that I was in some lost episode of I Love Lucy, and had to fight the urge to call Ethel for help! She did also attempt to force-feed Scott, but the look he gave her back was enough for her to back off and focus her attentions solely on me.

Thoroughout our meal we chatted with her a bit more and learned that her name was Tiziana. She really was good humored, but with just enough of an edge to let me know that I did not want to get on her bad side, and I imagine that many of the poor TripAdvisor reviewers that spoke about her rudeness and abuse had not taken her behavior with as much of a sense of fun as I did.

Aside from these antics, I thought the food was quite good. The marinated vegetables were delcious and she brought us out a couple of different pasta dishes that were quite tasty. There were a couple of other dishes that were not so memoriable, but my favorite part of the meal was dessert. (Ok, that is not uncommon for me!) It was a warm ricotta cake with black cherries and was molta, molta buona!

All in all, I would not by any means say that this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Rome, but it was an entertaining and decent lunch and is a memory I will carry for quite some time. And I think by the time we left I had definitely made a new friend in Tiziana, who gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek that seemed to suggest that she does have a tender side despite all evidence to the contrary!  Grazie, Tiziana! Until the next time… arrivederci!

Le Tournebièvre: Traditional + Innovative = Perfect!

I discovered Le Tournebièvre (named evidently because it is located on Quai de la Tournelle at the corner of Rue de Bievre) on a trip to Paris in the summer of 2017. I was wandering along the quai across the river from Notre Dame, and as I got further from the crush of people and tourist-oriented cafes around Saint-Michel, I noticed a quiet, unassuming little restaurant with outdoor seating. There was one outside table available, and I took this as a sign, and settled in for a wonderful three course dinner that seemed traditionally French, but the food also had an exciting, innovative flair…

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Read more!