2018 – a Year of Loss and Love

2018 sucked. It just sucked. There was a LOT of loss. Loss of loved ones, heroes, icons, and precious items, but no weight, sadly.

There was also a LOT of love in 2018. I attended four weddings in four different parts of the country. The Hubs was the officiant at his very first wedding. My niece had a baby girl making me a Great Aunt three times over. And there were hugs, and tears, and hellos, and goodbyes. Through it all there was food, glorious food. Food to celebrate and food to drown sorrows or heal a broken heart. This my friends, is the list of the best things I ate in 2018. I had to weed out a few things that were awesome, like Maryland crab cakes IN Maryland. Many of these things made the list not just because they tasted great, but because of the memories attached to the enjoyment of or finding of the dish. I hope you enjoy this look back at my 2018 food year in review.

The Top 10 for 2018

Starting off with the locals, here they are…

Esther’s Kitchen

Local Chef James Trees, owner of Esther’s Kitchen, gave me two of my favorite bites of 2018. The Crispy Fried Cauliflower that I shared with The Hubs (he honestly didn’t get much of it) was better than any other version I have ever had. I am not sure if it was the capers or the anchovies or the texture, or the perfect combo of all of those, but I need to get back in there and eat this again!

fried cauliflower

Crispy Fried Cauliflower at Esther’s Kitchen

I thought pal Chef Johnny Church made the best porchetta (he made it for my Surprise 50th Birthday Party), but I was wrong (Sorry Johnny). The Porchetta SandWISH* made the list not only because it was delish, but because I split it with high school buddy Bob Bucci. The Porchetta is also available on the dinner menu as a main, but the pictured dish is only on the lunch menu.


The Best sandWISH I ate all year!

Sparrow + Wolf

On the ever changing menu at Sparrow + Wolf, you never know what you are going to find. Your fave may be taken off the menu to make room for something else that’s fabulous. I did learn from pal, Chef and Owner Brian Howard that they tried to take one of last year’s faves off the menu and there was a near riot. This was one of the nightly specials when I took Sister Nancy to dine there. Her words about this dish were, “I want this for breakfast every day for the rest of my life”. And she’s not wrong. It’s like the best French Toast you’ve ever had topped with the most decadent thing on the planet, and just so you don’t feel guilty, here’s a little fruit.

Foie Gras

Honey Toast with Foie Gras and Blueberries


Carnevino was one of the things we lost this year. It’s final meal service was July 21st and we were happily able to enjoy it with friends Al & Sue Mancini, Eric Gladstone and new friend Jason Harris. I had eaten at Carnevino before, and they have made this list before but I had never had the six month aged beef. Al called ahead and reserved a piece of this amazing beef for us. What a way to go! You can see all of the pics of that meal here.

Dry aged beef

180 day dry aged Prime NY Strip at Carnevino

Two From Vermont

Attending those four weddings in 2018 allowed me to try out some new places. Hen of the Wood in Burlington, Vermont was one of those places. Everything was exceptional and I really should have ordered this dish a second time. Yes, it was that good. Due to a seasonal and ever changing menu, you may not see this dish. Rest assured there will be something fabulous.

Hen of the Wood

Mushroom Toast at Hen of the Wood

The Bierhaus at the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont provided me with this perfect burger. The cattle are raised on the property and the beef is for the sole use of the Von Trapp family of restaurants on the property. The flavor is unique to that place as no other cattle can eat exactly what these grass fed cattle can. Think of the properties that terroir gives to wine and it’s kinda the same thing. Not anywhere in the same league as the steak above, but this was THE single best burger I had all year.

Farm raised beef

The best burger I ate all year!

Family Meal, Frederick Maryland

Attending Nephew Jeremy’s wedding took us to Frederick, Maryland and we toured several breweries and ate some fab food. Fried Chicken almost always makes my “best of” list in one form or fashion. For 2018 it was Bryan Voltaggio’s Fried Chicken at Family Meal. It made the list for several reasons:

  1. It was fucking delicious!
  2. We visited Rockwell Brewery and when we asked for a menu they pointed to the boring looking building in the parking lot and told us they could order from there and have it delivered. I declined. Face palm… I didn’t realize it was Bryan Voltaggio’s joint, so I was forced to return.
  3. It was served in a Revol Chicken Dish – one of my absolute favorite pieces from their collection (I have three small ones that were gifted to me). Fried Chicken served on a $60 plate? Yeah, it’s that kind of chicken!
  4. I ordered a side of Pimento Cheese Mac & Cheese and shared it with my two fave guys – The Hubs and The Son.
Family Meal

Bryan Voltaggio’s Fried Chicken

Conference Food

I often travel with The Hubs for his conferences because there are some fun locations. This year we attended three conferences and two locations made this list for 2018.

This rainbow of ciders from Schilling Cider House in Seattle was one of the best drinks of 2018! We went with friends and each of us ordered a flight of 6 and there were very few repeats because the variety was seemingly endless. Barrel aged, multi-fruit, and everything from sweet to ultra dry made the decision making process VERY difficult.

Rainbow of Ciders

A rainbow of Ciders from Schilling in Seattle

Orlando is…well, Orlando. We were at Universal Studios Resort and there was this. And it was so good I had to go back and order it a second time just to make sure that I wasn’t wrong. The first time I ate it I was so hungry that I thought maybe it was just mediocre. It was equally delicious the second time around. At Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, a kitschy themed restaurant in the tourist area, you can get these tater tot nachos – “totchos” – and they were loaded with toppings and flavor. I have to find a way to recreate them here because…damn.

Tater tot Nachos?

Totchos with green chile, queso and fried pork belly

And finally…from my kitchen

I love to cook and I hate to waste food, but sometimes “leftovers” aren’t what I want. I made this one day with freshly poached eggs and everything else was a leftover from something else. Jamon de Serrano crisped up in the pan with parmigiana reggiano and asparagus made for a great way to clear out the fridge and fill up my belly. Perfect leftovers? Perhaps. A little Hollandaise wouldn’t have sucked on this dish.

poached eggs

The one dish from my kitchen that made the list

I hope you have enjoyed this look back at 2018. I am ready to put all of that behind me and move on to creating and enjoying more food memories with my nearest and dearest. Wishing you all a tasty 2019.

*In case you are new here – I always write sandWISH instead of the correct word.

A Hill Country Wedding and Four Kings

My recent whirlwind trip was precipitated by two celebrations – a wedding and a landmark birthday. Travel for almost any reason is a good thing, but when you get to travel for a celebration it’s even better. “My Friend Brian”, dear Friend Nanette’s son, married his sweetheart Krystal in charming Texas Hill Country style and Mom turned 70 on a weekend cruise out of Miami to the Bahamas (read a little about that here).

When I was growing up in New York, there was only ONE WAY to have a wedding “The Right Way”. You start with a ceremony at a church, proceed to the reception hall after pictures. Then there is an open bar cocktail hour, toast by the best man, dinner, cake and bouquet/garter ceremonies and then dancing and more drinking. Clean, simple and in that order every time. Thankfully that mold has been broken!  Now there is so much more variety and happy couples can truly express themselves and make their wedding more about THEM and less about traditional trappings. In a gorgeous outdoor setting amid trees at Ruby Ranch, a converted hunting lodge one used by LBJ, I was treated to a Hill Country wedding and I am honored to have been included.

The Bride and her attendants wore cowboy boots beneath their dresses and there was a completely relaxed atmosphere among the bridal party and the guests that I have NEVER seen before. What a pleasant surprise to feel relaxed at a wedding instead of keyed up and stressed out! Of course at every wedding something goes wrong, but when it happened here, there was laughter, not tension. And then there was the food.  If you know me AT ALL, you know that my least favorite type of cuisine is BBQ (I despise the sauce and most of the traditional sides) and no respectable Hill Country wedding would be complete without it. I will say Bill Miller’s smoked sausage was much better than I remembered. But the CAKE was the star of the food show here. Usually wedding cakes are all form and no function. They LOOK great and taste like shit. Not so here! Letty’s Sweets made a wonderful cake for cutting and light, moist, delicious cupcakes for everyone to enjoy. The buttercream was so LIGHT and filled with flavor it was nearly a revelation.  All my best to My Friend Brian and Krystal for many happy years together.

Brian and Krstal changed into something more comfy for the cake, dancing and singing portion of the evening.

Brian and Krstal changed into something more comfy for the cake, dancing and singing portion of the evening.

My Friend Brian (2nd from the left) and his attendants waiting on the Bride's arrival

My Friend Brian (2nd from the left and brother Daniel 3rd from left) and his attendants waiting on the Bride’s arrival

The Newlyweds

The Newlyweds

And then there was more… Every Wednesday my pals in San Antonio bowl in the morning and then have lunch. The happiest change in the routine is that every now and then a new place opens and there is more variety. So is the case with Four Kings. I can’t say enough good things about Sandra and her team. Each and every thing I had was exceptional. House roasted meats for sandwiches, from scratch baked goods (including their sandwich breads and rolls) and homemade soups that made me wish I was there more than once. I rarely want to go back to Texas (you all know how much I love the west coast and Vegas), but this little lunch spot made me yearn for another trip soon.  No website as yet, but you can follow along with them HERE!

Owner Sandra putting the finishing touches on a sandWISH.

Owner Sandra putting the finishing touches on a Bahn Mi sandWISH.

Sliced roast beef on a pretzel roll, grain mustard aoili, caramelized onion marmalade, spinach, and Colby Jack cheese served hot.

Sliced roast beef on a pretzel roll, grain mustard aoili, caramelized onion marmalade, spinach, and Colby Jack cheese served hot.

Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese

Homemade rolls - YUMMM!

Homemade rolls – YUMMM!