Black Eyed Susan Day

Two years ago I attended the Kentucky Derby with my dear friend Holly. It was quite an experience .. hats, horses, drunks, mint juleps. When I moved to Baltimore a few months ago, I remembered that the Pimlico Race Course was the site of the second jewel in the Triple Crown – it’s here they run the Preakness Stakes. “Let’s go!” I said to my mom.

“Let it rain,” is what Mother Nature said in the days leading up to Preakness weekend. We planned to attend Black Eyed Susan Day, the Friday prior to the Preakness, meant to be a ladies day out. And let’s be real, the tickets are half the price. We purchased two seats in the Upper Grandstand, and I had the opportunity to scope out the course while volunteering at a wine festival in early Spring.

Turns out the rain DID go away (it was probably our singing and dancing) and by 12 noon we were pulling into a very muddy parking lot to go to the races. Early reports of attendance say that 37,000 people were at the track on BES Day, compared to the 120,000 that would roll in for Preakness the following day to see California Chrome take the second jewel in the Triple Crown.

The first bet we placed was a winner, a horse named Exchange Student ridden by a female jockey. Obviously, I was meant to win. She placed second and won me $13.20! No further wins followed but we had ourselves a lovely, if muddy, day.

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Beautiful Belvedere Square

This past Saturday I wandered over to Belvedere Square. I’d received a mailer around Small Business Saturday in November and am just now getting around to exploring.

Can I just say that I’ve been missing out?

Belvedere Square is a sweet little conglomerate of stores, shops, restaurants and great people. When I first checked out their website it’s no surprise I was gunning for the food. What I didn’t expect was the wide variety of businesses peppered throughout the block. You’ve got a salon, a diner, a bagel joint, a bank (two?), a pizza parlor, a pub, a gym .. what is this, New Jersey?

Know the best part? With the exception of the Sprint store, every single storefront is independent (as far as I know). And the second best part? There’s parking! #smalljoys

The real draw for me was the indoor market, which I can only imagine must be stunning in good weather with it’s cute cafe tables and booming business. I knew the key players from the website, and had chatted with @AtwatersBakery who informed me that croissants were happening for the first time this weekend. Check! Atwater’s also sports a deli counter where you can get your lunch fix, and do some quality people watching.

Atwater’s is in good company with Planet Produce / Earth’s Essence – purveyor of fresh fruit & veg and fresh juices and smoothies. I almost passed out when I saw a Zumex machine tucked into the corner of the produce section .. these things are The Answer to real orange juice in Spain, and I’d never seen one in the U.S. This alone will encourage me to go back again and again and again.

I also dipped into Grand Cru for a bottle of red wine, stopped at Neopol Savory Smokery for a pound of andouille sausage and some Italian pasta from Ceriello Fine Foods. Let’s not forget the muffaletta sandwich for lunch, the apple/carrot/ginger juice and a $9 matinee at the nearby Senator Theatre which dates back to 1939.

So much more to sample when I return. Shoofly Diner – just named one of the “Best New Bars in the South” by Southern Living. Yeah, I don’t believe this is the South either .. Mason Dixon line be damned. There’s also Sofi’s Crepes which recently catered an event for our office (duh, crepes are international). Greg’s Bagels was high on my list but I had zero cash at the time and the line was a mile long. Ryan’s Daughter is where I parked my car (4 hour limit for B Square shoppers) but I do have plans to return for a pint. All that said, I am quite ok with this to-do list!

Good day? Great day. Thanks, Belvedere Square .. see you soon.

Gathering (n)

Party. Shindig. Get-together. Celebration. Fiesta. Gathering.

This weekend we headed to the Gathering Underground, thanks to a tip off from one of my coworkers and fellow foodies. At first when I heard the words “outdoors” and “December” I immediately thought are you serious? Then I heard it involved food trucks. So, let’s do this.

At first glance, the Gathering is a community-based, family-friendly get-together. During the warmer months the group has several locations where the “traveling food truck rally” as the Baltimore Sun calls it, takes place. Now in the cold dregs of winter, they’re headed indoors with trucks, vendors and live music to the Gameday Warehouse close to M&T Stadium where the beloved Ravens play.

We drove around for a fair amount of time, mainly because my GPS does not approve of that location. But once we managed to find the warehouse, and a parking spot, it was smooth sailing from there. The venue was startling empty around 9 p.m. – hopefully it was bustling at 5 p.m. when it opened for the dinner hour. Several vendors were cross-eyed at the idea of staying through midnight in the cold. Local partners included Bmore Flea and Charm City Warmth Drive which meant a few art and clothing vendors in the tents, and a $2 admission discount for a donation to Charm City Warmth upon arrival.

gypsy queen food truck

Gypsy Queen [photo courtesy of http://tasteofbaltimore.blogspot.com%5D

By the time we arrived, several trucks were closing up for the night and the others were bundled up next to chalkboard signs and graffiti’d trucks. At the end of the line, the Gypsy Queen caught everyone’s attention with talk of tacos and gyros. I chose Espresso BBQ Pork tacos and was rewarded with two huge foil wrapped bundles for $9 – dinner, and then some. We decamped indoors to the couches and gave up talking for the sake of stuffing our faces to the 90’s soundtrack provided by a DJ.

Next Underground Gathering of the winter persuasion is January 10 at the Gameday Warehouse (map).

For more info: http://www.thegatheringbaltimore.com/

Food, Greeks & Friends

Ah, the weekend. My second official one here in Maryland. Pretty comical considering I only worked two and a half days this week. So while I didn’t need the break, I did make the most of it.

My friend Lisa came to visit and we made plans to go out for breakfast, walk around Inner Harbor and wander over to the Greek food festival going on downtown. Some observations:
* Where is everyone on a Saturday? Inner Harbor was disturbingly quiet. Our guess was markedly less tourists in the early days of November, but still surprising on a beautiful day.
* Parking is no joke. I quickly figured this out while apartment hunting and keep confirming it when I go into the city. Parallel parking reigns supreme, and if you want a garage you’re going to pay for it. I parked in two spots over the course of five hours in two different locations and paid $24.
* I am still in civilization shock. I continually make exclamations like, “Oh my god, a _________! I can’t tell you the last time I was at one of those.” Wash, rinse, repeat. Good for the next six months.

Sites of note:
* Miss Shirley’s Café was so damn good that I need to put the food description here for you. Appetizer: Sweet potato biscuits with peach jalapeño jam. Entree: Grilled Salmon Florentine Benedict .. Poached Eggs & Grilled Salmon, Potato Zucchini Pancakes, Wilted Spinach, Dill Garlic Sour Cream & Herbed Hollandaise Sauce. I already know what I’m getting next time .. is that weird?

* Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation put on the Greek Food & Cultural Festival in a series of tiny tents and buildings on Preston Street. A sampler platter had us filled with phyllo dough, and items I could not pronounce and left just enough room for four different desserts. I smiled at the sight of loukamades, a severely sweet treat that I first / last had in Nafplio, Greece. I opted out here to keep the memory equally sweet.

* City Café provided much needed caffeine after all the walking around. I suspect this is a sweet spot for happy hour, as well. If I wasn’t already stuffed from our Greek outing, I would have made a pass at the fried cauliflower with outrageous dipping sauces in this sleek space.

More on Towson exploration later this week ..

1M Strong in Wisconsin

Would you believe me if I told you that more than ONE MILLION people traveled to the Wisconsin State Fair this year? It’s true. Just a few hours after I returned to Illinois my inbox chimed with the final count from Wisconsin State Fair Park: 1,012,552 fairgoers – the largest crowd since 1969 – over eleven days.

Other notable numbers posted from the outskirts of Milwaukee:
* 3200+ exhibitors participated in 2013 Fair Competitions
* 467,000+ lbs. of ice provided by Arctic Glacier for Fair vendors
* 62,000+ grilled cheeses made at the Real Wisconsin Cheese Grill
and my personal favorite:
* 387,000+ Original Cream Puffs made by the Wisconsin Bakers Association

So what the heck else is going on in Wisconsin that draws so many? Here’s what I observed while I was there, as an amateur fair-compare city-girl.

If you’ve read about my recent foray to Indiana, you know what I’m looking for in a fair: clean, easy to navigate, places to sit / cool down, excellent food and affordability.

Wisconsin has all of these things, and easily provided myself, three friends + a toddler with a fun Saturday. While the admission price was the same ($10), the parking was higher ($10 instead of $5). A shout out here for local hotel Radisson Milwaukee West, who drove us to the fair for free – so no parking or shuttle costs.

Interestingly, there is no theme. Indiana has spoiled me with it’s marketing scheme and thoughtful choice of commodity these past two years, so I was looking for something similar. One thing Wisconsin is loud and proud about is it cream puffs, in case you needed further evidence than the immense statistic above. You can order them to go, in 3’s or 6’s or dozens. You can buy them at the fair, indoors, outdoors, and at kiosks. They are delicious … so maybe that’s a theme.

Wisconsin is big on vendors – there are several places like the “World Cafe” where various artisans are selling their products, in addition to a huge expo hall (everything from windows to belts to mandolin slicers), and an avenue of booths behind the grandstand.

The other thing I noticed about this fair is the music. There is live music everywhere, on various stages and platforms. Know why there are so many? This is my own personal conclusion, but I’m going to go ahead and wager a guess it’s because they serve alcohol at this fair. You may remember that there is NO alcohol served in fair time in Indiana due to an ancient state law, but that is so not a problem in Wisconsin.

So what’s the connection? Many of the tents, booths and bars are sponsored by beverage labels. On the map of the fairgrounds there are 24 “Vendor Stages” – Budweiser Music Pavilion, Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill, Saz’s Miller High Life Pavilion .. you get the point.  Miller Lite is the “official great taste of the main stage” which featured acts like Heart, Weird Al (!), Theory of a Deadman and Miranda Lambert.

On the Saturday schedule, there were over 40 acts booked on the vendor stages throughout the day. As the day turned into evening, it was like one giant happy hour. Our crew was happy to dine on the fried stuff, wander around, and head home for Madison around 9 p.m. Fried mac & cheese was my first and favorite at this fair, with fried pickles in a close second 🙂

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