By the Bagel

Greg’s Bagels
519 E Belvedere Avenue (Towson)
Read the Yelp reviews

What I ate.  Colossus bagel with cream cheese & lox. How do you say no to a bagel by that name? It’s important to know that here the bagel is not about size (which many Yelpers have a fit about) – it’s about a colossal flavor. Rather than read the laundry list of ingredients, I ask Greg the owner exactly what is on the bagel. “The goal is to use very seed there is,” he tells me. I mention the cumin that sneaks up in the end after you’ve finished a bite and he commends me on my palate. Thank you sir, – toss me another!

On lox. This place is lox heaven. The list of types of lox is truly astounding and I’m not going to lie, I don’t know a damn thing about lox. After reading the reviews I turned to Google in an effort to understand the differences. Thanks to some intrepid foodies I learned a bit about the brining process and the way the salmon is cured .. then I got hungry and left. I asked for Norwegian lox because it’s at the top of the list. Kathy, Greg’s wife asked me if I’d ever had it before – clearly my ignorance was shining – and when I said I had not, she made a kind recommendation for the Scandinavian which was better that day. She was not wrong.

Customer service for days. This place is charming. Greg and his wife keep a running commentary at the counter (Greg more so than Kathy) and even if the line is five deep, you’re drawn into the display of bagels, the brightly lettered signs, including the neon green “Cash, Checks & Rolex Watches.” I acknowledge I’m a first timer and tell Greg, “Your reputation precedes you.” His response? He points to his wife and intones, “Those five years in prison, you know ..” As he greets his customers and and conducts his business in city-style speed he is saying, “Giving it away today, folks, giving it away.”

The price. They really are giving it away. A small chai latte, $1.75. Bagel with plain cream cheese and lox: $6.75. Don’t forget this place is cash only, but there’s an ATM across the street if you need it!

Attention to detail. I’m seated comfortably at a small table nestled up against the glass case, watching the parade of souls in the front door. I can hear the pack of high school students chattering behind the counter, and customers calling out “Hi Greg!” as they come through the door. The man in question runs by my table and stops to ask what I think of my bagel choice, bending down to take a look at my progress since I left the counter (I am delicately demolishing the thing). On the way back to the register he stops and talks to a young dad and his two little ones to confirm that their bagels are perfect. Dad has a mouth full and gives him a thumbs up in satisfied silence. I concur.

Accolades & competition. A runner up for Baltimore’s Best Bagel in 2013, the winner Towson Hot Bagels is also a gem although it has the chain atmosphere and three locations (and rather creepy homepage music).

Last words. A well-run small business with affordable breakfast, a great location and a cozy atmosphere makes Greg’s the perfect spot whether you’re dining in or flying out the door with a brown paper bag. Either way, you will leave planning ahead to the next time you’re coming back.

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Good morning, Miss Shirley

I love food.

I love talking about food, eating food, blogging about food, cooking food, baking food and the whole experience of food. Because that’s what good food is to me: an experience. Sometimes it’s atmosphere at a sweet little café tucked into a side street, or a thoughtful waiter at a bustling restaurant. It’s also the laughter of friends fueled by red wine, and the full feeling of heart and appetite at my parent’s dining room table. I’m not a food critic and I don’t go looking for Zagat ratings (although I admit to Yelp-ing and Urban Spoon-ing in a new city). I just like food.

One of the best meals ever put to plate in my opinion is breakfast. Growing up my father’s breakfasts were legendary. Friends stayed over and hustled around the kitchen table watching the magic happen: silver dollar pancakes, bacon, eggs, french toast, homefries, an endless array of good smells and good eats. At the time I raised my eyebrows at runny yolks, and now I will gladly skewer a fried egg over a medium burger. I pursed my lips at Hollandaise sauce and other “fancy” deviants at the restaurant table and have since converted to savory treats and curious flavor combinations.

Some stellar state-side examples:

Brunch is an event. Even if it only involves two people, there is fanfare. I have a long standing arrangement with several friends to 1) not commit to the same dish, 2) switch plates at the halfway point and 3) combine savory and sweet. This may sound serious .. but this is breakfast. We are not messing around here, people.

Miss Shirley's

My most recent off the charts breakfast experience in early November was here in Baltimore at a divine haunt known as Miss Shirley’s Café (three locations). It’s the kind of place with a monster menu and gorgeous twists on breakfast classics. We even ordered an appetizer: Sweet potato biscuits with peach jalapeño jam. She stole my heart with a “healthy” Grilled Salmon Florentine Benedict .. Poached Eggs & Grilled Salmon, Potato Zucchini Pancakes, Wilted Spinach, Dill Garlic Sour Cream & Herbed Hollandaise Sauce. The result automatically puts her on the above list of memorable eats.. and I’ll continue to search for more.

Well met, Miss Shirley.

SoCal Foodie Delight

My first trip to California. Yes, really. I’m 29 and the furthest West I’ve been is Arizona. Well, no longer.

Flying to the West Coast in February had even more allure than I thought – namely because it was 30 degrees when I left my home in Illinois and it was almost 80 degrees when I landed in Orange County. What better way to fight the Midwestern winter than with sunshine?

What’s the best way to see a new city? To eat.

Sure, Hollywood Boulevard is important, but my stomach is always growling. Luckily, when you roll with a fellow foodie, your priorities are always the same. Here are some of the stops we made over the course of my brief weekend in SoCal. (all addresses are in LA unless otherwise noted)

* In & Out Burger – My first ever! Thanks to local assistance, I knew to ask for both burger + fries “animal style.” Next time will ask for Neopolitan shake.

* Mashti Malone’s ice cream – 1525 N. La Brea – So many wild flavors here .. I chose Rose Saffron

* Olocuilta – 3958 W. 6th – Homemade Salvadorean pupusas here, oddly enough – in Koreatown. The abuela in the back seriously know what she’s doing.

* Cafe Tropical – 2900 W. Sunset Blvd – guava and cheese empanada. Yeah, you heard me.

* @ an undisclosed location – street tacos! $1 a piece and right on the money.

* Lynda Sandwich – 15380 Beach Blvd, Westminster -  banh mi’s for the beach.

* Egg Heaven – 4358 E. 4th Street, Long Beach – outrageous breakfast. Do not miss the super browns loaded breakfast potatoes. I died.

* One of the many Farmer’s Markets for superior produce & snacks – my first brush with an ojo blanco (less acidic grapefruit) and the best oranges I’ve had since Spain.

Other fun stuff
Skylight Books – 1818 N. Vermont Avenue
Griffith Park Observatory -2800 E Observatory Road
(check out their free public star parties!)
Watts Tower – 1761-5 E 107th Street
Dodgers Stadium – 1000 Elysian Park Avenue

Tasty wines
Babble wine (wins best label), Khroma (wins fancy label and cheap local red), Carpe Diem (stole my soul & that of NYTimes winos a few years ago).

Thank goodness for Los Angeles, and Natalie :)

Behind the Apron: Baked Oatmeal

Thanks to the Food tag on Pinterest, I’ve been cruising some gorgeous recipes of late. This one hit the spot. I’m a big fan of breakfast, and a staunch supporter of oatmeal. Usually I am wolfing it down in my office after a morning rec session and while reading my email (terrible habit, I know). Not today, my friends! Sunday morning, house smells delicious.

Here is the original post from Jellytoastblog, who adapted it from Spoon Fork Bacon. Three cheers for blog-sharing foodie love. You could do so many things with this recipe .. my notes in green, below.

Cranberry Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal (makes 8 servings)

Ingredients:
2 C rolled oats
¼ C flax seeds, ground (or flax seed meal)
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon * 2 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp ginger
½ tsp salt
¼ C brown sugar * dark brown sugar
3 Tbs honey
2 C skim milk * 1/2 C milk, 1/2 C almond milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ C fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 large apple, diced
* 1/4 C chopped walnuts
1 Tbs brown sugar
Maple syrup for serving (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish or 8” square baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together oats, flax seeds, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and ¼ cup of brown sugar and set aside. In a second bowl, whisk together honey, milk, egg, and vanilla. Pour milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon, making sure all of the ingredients are evenly mixed. Fold in the cranberries and apples. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar. Bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes or until oatmeal is golden brown and bubbling. Allow the oatmeal to cool for several minutes, drizzle with syrup and serve! * I don’t go for super sweet & originally turned up my nose at the maple syrup. Now I can say: USE IT. It’s the finishing touch.

A note on re-heating from previous blogger: add a splash of milk before microwaving or reheating in the oven.

Me & the King in Memphis

Based on some dart throwing and the pursuit of Operation See All States, Lisa and I met in Memphis, TN last weekend. It’s a six hour drive from Charleston, door to door. I found an apartment on HomeAway in East Memphis, a short drive from downtown and a mere $99 a night.

bbq nachos

BBQ Nachos, Corky's BBQ

It started to rain by the time I picked up Lisa from the airport and we detoured to a local Kroger for some basics. By the time we got home it was 7 p.m. and it seemed like everywhere we wanted to go was closed. Turns out many places are Lunch Only – we just happened to find them all at the same time and while starving. We drove to Corky’s BBQ*, recommended to me by several people. They were so right. From our singing waitress who called me every pet name in the book (sugar, honey, baby) to the perfect pile of BBQ nachos and huge rack of ribs we consumed, Corky’s is ok by me.

*all restaurant / venue contact info can be found at the bottom of the post

Sun Studio

Million Dollar Quartet: Johnny, Elvis, Jerry, Carl

On Saturday under cloudy skies, we made our way to Sun Studio for the first tour of the day. We took advantage of free parking AND a free shuttle that travels between Sun Studio, Graceland and Beale Street every hour. Admission is $13, and the still-active recording studio is a great first step in Memphis music history. It’s the place where Elvis was “discovered” – by a secretary, not Sam Phillips – and where greats from Johnny Cash to U2 have recorded and jammed. Kudos to the bodacious chalk art behind the bar, and the outrageously affordable beverages.

graceland

Tapestry & billiards, Graceland

The next obvious step was the postcard palace: Graceland. If you are a card-carrying AAA member, you can save $4 on admission, which is a whopping $32 for the basic tour. We opted out of the upstairs, the jets, and the top secret expensive stuff that other people apparently go in for. Approaching the grounds we had to wait for a wedding party to finish their photographs on the front steps of this modest mansion. No, the groom was not dressed as Elvis, and yes, I was disappointed. We toured the ground floor and basement, and wow, that is some serious decoration. From taxidermy to carpeted walls, there’s a lot going on. A worthwhile audio tour with some interesting facts comes with the price of admission. Stop in the gift shop(s) for postcards, mugs, Elvis Barbie, Elvis Potato Head and Elvis bobblehead .. to name a few.

King's Palace Cafe

King's Palace Cafe

All that crooning made us hungry so we took the free ride to the infamous Beale Street, which is supposed to be the city’s answer to NOLA’s Bourbon Street. By day it was lined with Corvettes, and still a sight cleaner and less abused than Bourbon Street (my memories of Bourbon smell like .. bourbon). We wandered out onto the patio of King’s Palace Cafe and chowed down on po’boys (shrimp or catfish) and listened to a local artist singing the blues. He did everything from Elvis to Tracy Chapman, and in the sunshine with a full stomach, everything sounds beautiful.

We drove back toward the apartment and swung into YoLo Frozen Yogurt, a local favorite and a delicious ice cream alternative. I was briefly distracted by the cupcakes but eventually made my way to Caramel and Espresso soft serve with about 43 toppings. By virtue of our most excellent metabolism, we managed to have dinner just a few hours later. Our website searching led us to Huey’s – a well known burger joint with numerous locations. We drove to Huey’s Midtown on Madison and enjoyed the toothpick ceiling art while sipping on Ghost River, the local brew. The onion rings we ordered as appetizers were approximately the size of my face and unbelievably delicious. My burger showed up shortly afterward, which was equally divine. Like a crazy person, I also took lemon ice box pie to go. Through tweets with @HueysRestaurant I learned that a waiter once dared a diner to eat a burger AND a whole order of onion rings. The prize was a high five and bragging rights .. I don’t think I could do it.

Brother Juniper's

Brother Juniper's, open faced omelet

If you’re wondering how I managed to go somewhere without courting a breakfast place or two, don’t panic. We visited two very different places, which received equally high ratings from our stomachs & wallets. First up: Brother Juniper’s, labeled the best breakfast in Memphis by everyone and their mother. Those folks were also all in line on Sunday morning when we rolled up, but we got seated at the counter within 20 minutes (as opposed to the 40 mins we were originally quoted). Let me just say this to you: sit at the counter. As with any busy restaurant, that’s where the action is. Lisa and I barely spoke because we were so entranced by the reality TV show going on around us. Oh, and the food was delicious. Rachel Ray has given her stamp of approval to their open faced omelet concept – and I’m right there with her. The Florentine boasted two eggs, turkey sausage, tomatoes, mozzarella, spinach, sunshine and happiness with a side of cheesy grits and a biscuit.

Bryant's

Bryant's

The second breakfast joint is a schlep from downtown but worth the haul. Be advised you need to pay in cash at Bryant’s – and you can take your food to go (in tidy brown paper bags) or you can sit in the seating area and watch the parade. There are businessmen, painters, salesmen, laborers and housewives all lining up for the same good stuff. They are known for their biscuits, so I sidled up to a smoked sausage (read: kielbasa), egg and cheese. Lisa landed three biscuits on the side of her everything omelet, so those very awesome biscuits were car snacks for my ride home.

To round out the eating spree, we added another local restaurant and an expertly themed lunch joint to our final sweep through the city. For our last dinner in Memphis, we drove out to Interstate BBQ only to discover they were closed. I feared Sunday Night Syndrome and we hopped online to research closing times for other local eats. Gus’s Fried Chicken was open AND poppin’. We walked in and were seated immediately, in a perfect corner to enjoy the madness that is a Sunday night at the fried chicken place. Down home cooking is the name of the game – you pull up to a picnic table and figure out your chicken situation (2 piece white for me) and your sides (potato salad, slaw, fries). Gus’s was SO loud that once again, we hardly said anything. I was too busy watching the idiot moms with their tots, celebrating a birthday by ignoring their children post salon / high fashion / too much blush and Franzia. You know I had to take my chess pie to go to avoid freaking out entirely.

lunchbox eats

Lunchbox Eats

Lisa found a livingsocial deal for Lunchbox Eats – a hella cute place by the FedEx Forum (home of the Memphis Grizzlies). As the name suggests, these gourmet meals are fit for a lunchbox. Served on bright red cafeteria trays (compartments and all), you select your meal from a notebook paper menu, scratch your order on a slip of paper, and roll around in your old school wheely chair. I had the Third Period Smoking Birds sandwich (duck, turkey, chicken) and waddled away a very stuffed little bird myself. I’m still thinking about their mac and cheese … maybe next time.

Other notables include: riding the Riverfront Trolley (parked for free at bus terminal, rode for $1); Mud Island River Park has an excellent museum (tour a steamboat), scale model of the Mississippi River and beautiful river / bridge views; and yes, the Duck March at the historic Peabody Hotel. Seriously.

Mississippi

Bridge over the Mississippi

Corky’s BBQ – 5259 Poplar Ave – http://www.corkysbbq.com/
Gus’s Fried Chicken – 310 S Front St – http://www.gussofms.com/
Huey’s Midtown – 1927 Madison – http://hueyburger.com/
YoLo Frozen Yogurt – 6 S Cooper – http://www.yolofroyo.com/
King’s Palace Cafe – Beale St – http://kingspalacecafe.com/
Brother Juniper’s – 3519 Walker Ave – http://brotherjunipers.com/
Bryant’s – 3965 Summer Ave – http://www.bryantsmemphis.com/*cash only

Sun Studio – 706 Union Ave – http://www.sunstudio.com/
Graceland – 3765 Elvis Presley Blvd (obviously) – http://www.elvis.com/graceland/