Tag Archives: dining out

Grocery List: November 9, 2014


Whether or not I write a full-on review of last night’s dinner at Laci’s Tapas Bar (I’ve written about it in the past), it’s worth noting that restaurant’s importance within the dining fabric of Syracuse.

The vast majority of restaurants fail, regardless of how good the food is. A restaurant built into a Victorian home in a gentrifying city neighborhood seems like a dicey venture. Yet, there is Laci’s, packed to the gills on a Saturday night in November.

The phrase “labor of love” seems trite, but I’m not sure what else one would use to describe Laci’s. We went with some friends that had never been before, and found ourselves discussing the importance of a restaurant like Laci’s while waiting for dessert. Each serving hits its mark, but is distinctly different from the other delivery to the table. Very little of the flavors are repeated from dish to dish. Things you wouldn’t expect to like envelope you when you try them. You push yourself to try them, and then find yourself wanting another order. For instance, The Wife ate bacon-wrapped jalepeños last night. Jalepeños. Most days, I can’t get her to eat anything hotter than cayenne pepper, but there she was chowing down. The kitchen is first-rate and that should be noted.

But, it’s not just the back of house that carries a restaurant. Everyone there has a personality. Jordan, our waiter, spent the evening joking with us, and periodically one of the owners (Laura, the La of Laci’s) stopped by to give us a hard time. And, as is so difficult to find in restaurants, there is a very apparent symbiosis between the front and back of house.

As we drove away, The Wife said to me, “We spent $100 on dinner tonight, but I don’t mind that. I feel like I got something for my money. We can’t do that all of the time, but I felt okay signing the slip because, I don’t care if I spent $20 or $60 or $100, I want to feel like I got what I paid for.”

It has me thinking about what is important in our communities as far as food goes. I think the local food thinkers and writers (myself included) talk about about the importance of using local ingredients and supporting local agriculture, but maybe we need to look at things from a more macro level. What is important to Syracuse and Central New York’s food palate? Who are the people shaping that palate? Why is what they are doing important? I would argue that Laura Serway and Cindy Seymour have done more in these areas since Laci’s opened its doors — as entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and community leaders — than some have in their lifetime.

I think it goes beyond a list of what foods or places make Syracuse a good food town, and making people feel good about living and eating here. It’s about the Syracuse’s food legacy and future, and those that hold the key to what’s next.

That is the discussion that we should focus on in this community. People, not actions, dictate the future of any subject or area. Let’s draw the spotlights their way so we can better understand our community, its needs and those that are fulfilling them.

Texas de Brazil, Syracuse, N.Y.

2014-09-12 at 18-11-57

On his 2008 album Chewed Up, all-world comedian Louis C.K. discussed his eating habits, leading to an oft-quouted line: “I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself.”

I’m not sure that there is a better characterization of our Friday evening visit to Texas de Brazil at DestinyUSA. I’m certain that one could go to this all-you-can-eat steakhouse, show some restraint, and experience it in a manner that doesn’t result in paralysis and food coma. It would require willpower and knowing your limits, two things that I do not possess.

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Texas de Brazil sits at the back of the Canyon entrance to DestinyUSA, in a court of other higher-end chain restaurants like Cantina Laredo, P.F. Chang’s, The Melting Pot and Gordon Biersch. The concept is Brazilian churrascaria, where passadores, or servers, come to your table with swords of meat, called rodizios. Typically, one flips a painted rock to indicate whether they would like more food or to signal that they need some time to eat. At Texas de Brazil, one receives a laminated card that is typically ignored by the sword-bearing staff. The Turning Stone Resort had a Brazilian steakhouse that The Wife and I had been to prior to its closing. Continue reading Texas de Brazil, Syracuse, N.Y.

Top 10 CNY Restaurants (2014 Edition)

Photo May 02, 6 22 55 PMAbout 18 months ago, I wrote a list of my top 10 CNY restaurants. These were not necessarily the restaurants that I thought were the best, but the one’s that I would go to if I had to build a permanent rotation of places to dine.

Since I posted that list, much has changed in the CNY food scene. One of the restaurants, Circa, has closed. Last week Gentile’s, loved my many in this area, shut its doors. A new version of The Krebs is open in Skaneateles at the end of August.

As we approach fall and begin our CNY hibernation (coming out only for food and SU basketball), I thought I would update the list. These are not necessarily the best restaurants in town or really even my 10 favorites. This list represents the permanent rotation of the area’s 10 best restaurants that I would go to exclusively (in no particular order):

  • Moro’s Table, Auburn [website]. The alpha and the omega. If money were no object…
  • Asti Caffe, Syracuse [website]. The best red sauce restaurant* in Syracuse.
  • Pastabilities, Syracuse [website]. Great for lunch. Good for dinner. The second best red sauce in town*.
  • Dinosaur Barbque, Syracuse [website]. Their bad days are a lot better than my good days. Remember, it’s not the 10 best, but the 10 that I would go to exclusively if forced to pick.
  • The Mission, Syracuse [website]
  • Otro Cinco, Syracuse [website]
  • Zabroso, Oneida [website]. The past three restaurants are distinctly different takes on Latin-American/Spanish food. The Mission is Mexican/Pan-American; Otro is a Spanish/Mexican hybrid; and Zabroso is Spanish. All three are wonderful.
  • Laci’s Tapas Bar, Syracuse [website]. Eclectic and fun. One of the area’s best dining experiences.
  • Ironwood, Manlius [website]. Good pizza. Good beer. Really, I’m easy to please.
  • The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Auburn [website]. An impossible car ride to get there, but farm-to-table begins and ends there.

*Angotti’s is not the best restaurant in town, nor is it the best red sauce restaurant in Syracuse. But it has long been a gathering spot for my family. It’s like my kitchen away from home. It doesn’t make this list because it transcends this list. And because I can almost always get a table.

The Hops Spot, Sackets Harbor, N.Y.

Source: TripAdvisor.com

One’s dining choices are few when you are wrapping up midday stop at Old McDonald’s Farm in Sackets Harbor. Yes, we could have had lunch at the farm, but I was looking for more than just snack bar fare. Frankly, we needed to move to a place that didn’t have  a gift shop full of toys within eyeshot.

Sackets Harbor itself is a quaint little village on the shore of Lake Ontario that grows in population each summer when vacationers settle in. We had intended to visit the Anchor, but found it closed (contrary to its website’s listing of a Noon opening. We went to Sackets Harbor Brewing Company last year. While the food was good, I was less than impressed with the beer. And, after a morning with The Father, one needs adult refreshment.

There on Main Street, to the left of the brewpub, was The Hops Spot. A streetside menu advertised an interesting array of burgers and 24 beers on tap and won a consensus from the crowd.

An outdoor patio of about a dozen tables precedes your entry to the bar and restaurant. A small dining room with a built-in cushioned bench surrounds the front of the establishment, as do windows with sills full of cookbooks. A large board on the side of the dining room listed the name, strength and price of each beer available. Depending on the time of your visit, 2 to 3 beers from Skewed Brewery — its sister establishment in Salmon Run Mall — are available.

Continue reading The Hops Spot, Sackets Harbor, N.Y.

Cull & Pistol, New York, N.Y.

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When we decided not to go to New Orleans, I was bummed. Not because I wanted to go to Bourbon Street, though I did (except that this whole shooting thing may have put a damper on things). Not that I didn’t want to make a pilgrimage to the Abita Brewing Company, because I really wanted to. And not because I wanted to show The Wife the city I discovered earlier this year, because I really did.

No, I was sad because I wouldn’t get to dive headfirst into oysters and the rest of the great seafood found on the Gulf Coast. But then I realized that we would be New York City-bound and that great seafood came into the local fish markets each day, right? Right?


The Lobster Place is a wholesale, retail and grab-and-go outfit located near the center of Chelsea Market. Looking for live lobster or wild-caught Chilean Sea Bass to cook at home? They have it. Looking for a lobster roll or some bisque to nibble on while walking around or for lunch? They have that too.

Photo Jun 28, 6 21 07 PMThey also have an oyster bar next door called Cull & Pistol (“cull” is the term for a lobster missing one claw; “pistol” means a lobster missing both due to predators), where we sidled up for dinner on our Saturday evening in the city. Reservations were an easy grab on OpenTable and the tables were mostly filled when we arrived. Seating at the raw bar is first-come, first-served. Continue reading Cull & Pistol, New York, N.Y.

Colicchio & Sons, New York, N.Y.



It is a rare thing when I ride my sister’s coat tails. The first time it happened was earlier this year, when I went to a work-related fundraiser in Washington, D.C. to meet her former boss, a Long Island Congressman of note in the Democratic Party. We spent a couple of minutes talking about her. The only reason I was at this really cool event was because I had a tangential connection to this individual. So, score one for The Sister there.

Score two and thensome for her on Friday evening. Back in her Congressional staffer days, she worked with Tom Colicchio’s team on a presentation of his documentary on hunger in America, A Place at the Table. She met and became friendly with someone on his personal staff, they remain in contact to this day, blah blah blah, and we were able to get a reservation with ease for the dining room at the Top Chef judge’s restaurant on 10th Avenue, across the street from Chelsea Market.
Continue reading Colicchio & Sons, New York, N.Y.

317 at Montgomery, Syracuse, N.Y.

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The allure of dining week is the opportunity to try places you would not ordinarily go for dinner. Two years ago, our trip to Pastabilities during dining week renewed my faith in their dinner service (I’ve long been a fan of their lunch). A Syracuse-area economic development group, the Downtown Committee, organizes the local version each year. With the exception of a couple of outposts, the concept is three courses for $25. Pretty simple.

We had childcare for Friday evening and planned to take part. When looking at the menus for this year’s event, I mentioned to The Wife that I thought the 317 at Montgomery, Pastabilities and Bistro Elephant/Lemongrass had the most attractive menus. Sometimes places will prepare special menus of smaller or lesser quality items to make it economical. These three looked as if they were just restricting portions of their menu for the event. I left it to The Wife to choose where.

The space occupied by 317 has seen a lot of traffic over the past five years. It’s longtime inhabitant, the Brick Alley Grill, closed a few years back following a flood. Something called Checkers Cafe followed it, then a Persian restaurant called Parisa. This past fall, The 317 opened with a local heavy-hitting chef named Chance Bear and a Japanese-American fusion menu. It didn’t last long; Bear flew the coop for the aforementioned Bistro Elephant/Lemongrass. The reboot is called 317 at Montgomery. Continue reading 317 at Montgomery, Syracuse, N.Y.

Al Dente Express: Central Grocery + Mother’s Restaurant, New Orleans, La. (UPDATED 2/20)

NOTE: Al Dente Express is my answer for what to do when I want to talk about a place or places I visited, but it doesn’t warrant a full-on, exhaustive review. Here is a wrap of two remarkable sandwiches from New Orleans.

Photo Feb 07, 1 22 34 PM

By definition, a muffaletta is a type of seeded Sicilian bread that resembles a foccacia. In 1906, it took on a new meaning when Central Grocery in New Orleans stuffed the bread with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, and olives steeped in oil. When you walk into the grocery on Decatur Street, you are immediately corralled into a line. Locals shopping for imported Italian products utilize the same line for checkout. You step to the counter, order your sandwich (or bowl of olive salad or stuffed artichoke), pay and move on. A small room with stools and countertops offer space to eat on site.

What separates the muffaletta from the sandwich that my grandmother or father might make is the prep time. Yes, slapping some meat and olives on a loaf of bread does not take up a lot of time. Letting it stand while tightly wrapped in wax paper and plastic wrap, so that the olives and oil permeate the crusty bread makes the sandwich special. My muffaletta half constituted one of the largest sandwiches I’ve ever consumed. And it was glorious.

It was so good that I bought a bottle of olive salad to bring home. It’s sold at the counter, wrapped and boxed for travel. I may share it with The Wife. I may grab a loaf of bread, hide in the basement and eat the jarful myself. It depends on how the day goes.

Digressing, every little sandwich shop on Decatur Street claims to have a muffaletta. That’s nice. But, when you go to New Orleans, you have the copycats and the originals. You go to Pat O’Brien’s for the hurricane, Cafe du Monde for beignets and Central Grocery for a muffaletta. Let the others do whatever it is that they do. You eat lunch the right way.


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Photo Feb 08, 1 20 41 PM (2)The text message from my friend Mike was simple: “If you make it to New Orleans, get to Mother’s for a roast beef poboy.” Mike doesn’t often implore me to do things, but I tend to listen when he does. As a former resident of The Big Easy, he carries some credibility here.

I was dismayed to find out that Mother’s Restaurant was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Guy Fieri sets back food much in the same way as The Olive Garden and Hamburger Helper. He’s a terrible television host, terrible restauranteur, and terrible person. But, (I was mistaken. Guy Fieri never visited Mother’s on his TV show. He’s still horrible though.)

Mike never steers me wrong. Mother’s Restaurant would be the last New Orleans food we consumed before getting out of town.

The line out front of Mother’s on Poydras Avenue was about 25 minutes long. We were punching a clock, having to meet an airport shuttle in 90 minutes, but decided to give it a go. Mother’s serves breakfast all day and brags that it roasts more than 175,000 lbs. of roast beef and ham each year. Judging by what the waitstaff delivers to the table, waffles, red beans and rice, and turtle soup are also popular choices. But, I was there with orders.

Po’ boys come dressed — shredded cabbage, pickles, mayo, and yellow and creole mustards — and in the whole or 2/3 varieties. Meat versions include the original Famous Ferdi with ham, roast beef, debris and gravy (debris is the pieces of beef that fall off the roast while cooking; gravy is an au jus), turkey, ham, roast beef, various combinations and a straight debris po’ boy. Seafood choices, which are dressed with mayo, cabbage and pickles, include shrimp, oyster, catfish and soft shell crab. While I’m partial to the soft shell, I and one of my dining companions had the roast beef, while The Boss ordered the Famous Ferdi.

Photo Feb 08, 1 58 55 PMMy whole version had close to a half-pound meat — more thin-sliced roast beef than debris — and was served on a slightly-soggy french bread roll. The wetness is fine, because you want that gravy. There’s something about the flavors of gravy, mayo and mustard all mixed together. The two-thirds proved to be too much from my roast beef friend, and I ended up eating half of her’s. Was it a work of art? Not by any means, but this isn’t art gallery food. It’s a sandwich that is so good that you don’t want to wash your hands afterwards, just so you can keep the smell of gravy on your fingers for the rest of the day.


You want in American umami? It comes from both of these places:

Central Grocery is located at 923 Decatur St., in the French Market District in New Orleans, La. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mother’s Restaurant is located at 401 Poydras St. at Tchoupitoulas in New Orleans’ Central Business District. They are open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.