M ST. Cafe – Eat Your Breakfast

(Fourth in a series about winter travel)

We all know that old saying – Always start your day with a good breakfast. It’s especially important on cold winter days. The St. Paul Hotel has the M ST. Cafe (the M stands for Market Street where the hotel is location)on the lowest floor of the hotel. Take the winding staircase next to the bellstand down from the first floor or use the elevator. The cafe is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, closes at Noon on Saturday and has a breakfast/brunch buffet on Sunday. Menu items range from light fare such as Greek yogurt and berries to oatmeal and various egg dishes including Eggs Benedict. Try the Swedish Pancakes ($8.95), a delightful Scandinavian take from St. Paul’s ethnic heritage – three to four large thin light lacy crepes with lingonberry preserves. They offer maple syrup as well, but I recommend keeping it simple and in true Swedish fashion eating them with only the lingonberry preserves. Accompanied with a slice of grilled ham, it was a very satisfying breakfast. Recommended for the hearty appetite is the Northwoods Omelet ($13.95) – three eggs stuffed with sauteed asparagus, forest mushrooms, Gruyere cheese and a side of excellent tasty Bechamel sauce. When asked what kind of toast I’d prefer, upon mentioning that I restrict how much bread I eat, the server offered gluten free toast and also let me know the Bechamel was gluten free as well (thickened with cornstarch instead of flour). Now that’s what I call good service when a server cares about your dietary restrictions. I did not eat at the Sunday Brunch buffet but fellow travelers said they thought it was pricey for the offerings. At $22.95 and considering the variety of food, I would say it isn’t any more expensive than any other brunch buffets I have eaten at in other cities. M ST Cafe was named one of OpenTable’s Top 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America, for both 2015 and 2013, based on more than 5 million OpenTable Diner reviews.

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St Paul Grill – Not Your Average Hotel Restaurant

(Third in a series about winter travel)

When traveling during the winter and the subzero temperatures outside happen to have you thinking “Baby, it’s really cold outside, but I’d like to enjoy a good meal.”, one hopes that the hotel you’re staying in has a good restaurant. It’s an added bonus when that restaurant showcases local dishes as well as tasty familiar favorites. Such is the case with the St. Paul Grill, the main restaurant in the St. Paul Hotel. Settle into the sparkling decor coupled with dark wood for warm and cozy contrast,  yet with lots of light coming through the windows during the day. During evening hours, the lighting is low giving the restaurant an intimate feel.

I ate lunch and dinner here as well as one late night snack in the bar, giving a variety of food to judge the quality by.

Lunch – Ordered the Cream of Minnesota Wild Rice soup, a local speciality that is delicious and hits the spot on a cold winter’s day. I paired it with the Market Street grilled chicken sandwich with thick-cut bacon, Swiss and Cheddar on grilled ciabatta (swapped out the spicy Sriracha Mayo for regular mayo). The server was very nice to substitute a salad instead of fries. I left a happy camper.

The second meal was dinner with friends. To my shock, the grill becomes a very pricey steakhouse at dinner. That’s not a bad thing if you love a good piece of beef or fancy entree or are entertaining clients, but my friends were on a bit of a budget. I asked our server (a very lovely and helpful Oriental lady who was very patient with our party that included two teenagers) if I could get one of their burgers that I had heard were very good. It’s considered bar menu during dinner, but she gladly served two of our party the desired burgers. I had the Humboldt Fog Burger with Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Tomato, Lettuce and Balsamic Reduction. It was cooked perfectly and very flavorful. Again, salads were willingly substituted for fries. I tried a bit of one friend’s order of mashed potatoes (sides are served family style) and they were to die for. This friend had the slices of beef tenderloin entree, so good that he quickly devoured them. Other entrees include lamb, chicken and locally caught Walleye, which may well be the state fish of Minnesota.

My third visit to the grill, I sat at the crowded bar while having late night drinks with a friend. We were just hungry enough for something, but due to the late hour, the main kitchen was closed for the night, so choices were limited to appetizers and light fare. The bartender suggested French fries. My belief is if you’re going to eat something that is supposed to be bad for you, it better be worth it. OMG! A huge plate of piping hot perfectly cooked golden fries were presented with the restaurant’s homemade bordelaise sauce (the bartender’s idea) making for incredibly yummy dipping. Way better than ketchup or my usual mayo.

At all three meals, service was cheerful, helpful and top notch. The food was so good, I ate it before remembering to take photos. While pricey at dinner, the St. Paul Grill is well worth the money for the quality of food and service provided.

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St Paul Hotel – Historic Luxury

(Second in a continuing series on winter travel.)

I love historic hotels. I got to stay in the St. Paul Hotel recently for business. As soon as my ride pulled up to the entrance, I was like “Wow! What a beautiful place. How lucky am I to get to stay here.” I was greeted by a dapper doorman in top hat who helped get me and my luggage in out of the frosty outdoors. Check-in was smooth and quick. Ben, who escorted me to my room, was very helpful explaining all sorts of things about the room and hotel.

The hotel has had its ups and downs since opening in the mid-1800s. So glad that back in 1982, a group of people in St. Paul cared enough to save and restore this important piece of the city’s history for visitors to enjoy. I was charmed with the elegant Old World decor including the welcoming warmth of the lobby fireplace. Four of the chandeliers in the lobby area originally hung in the old ballroom.

My spacious king room overlooked Rice Park – lovely at night with the trees lit with tiny white lights. The bed was super comfy. The fluffy pillows gave such great support for my neck that I only needed one to sleep on; a first in any hotel stay. Certainly contributed to getting a good night’s sleep.

 

Cons – 1) Since you can only update a fine old structure with limited electrical, the room sometimes seemed dark and 2) You can feel a draft from the windows and the room can be cold at times when it’s sub-zero or single digits outside.

The Good Stuff – The bathroom has lots of counter space including a shelf above the sink for all a lady’s toiletries and make-up. Free WiFi was speedy enough for my iPhone. Like some British hotels, high tea is served in the lobby on select days. There was a tea held on Saturday which was very popular and heavily attended. Of the meals I ate at the hotel (more in detailed reviews under individual restaurants), all were satisfying and wait staff was very helpful. Throughout my stay when I needed various things, the staff took care of requests quickly and to my complete satisfaction. Quick walk to several restaurants and Skyway/Tunnel walk to Xcel Energy Center Arena and other event venues keeps you out of the cold. I would gladly stay at the St. Paul again and highly recommend it, especially for a romantic weekend or special occasion. It isn’t cheap to stay here, but well worth it.

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Florida Girl Survives Minnesota

The title phrase above (or something similarly worded) came across my Facebook feed one day while I was eating lunch at the Headwaters Cafe in St. Paul. I was not amused, but could see the humor in it.

How did a 30+ year resident of the Sunshine State end up in Minnesota in mid-January?! As a long-time volunteer in a winter sport (ice skating), I worked at the 2016 US Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota.

An email from a local on our crew assured me people do live and survive winter just fine in Minnesota.

As I planned my wardrobe for the trip, I had brief moments of doubt as to how I would keep warm, especially when temperatures dropped below zero . Except for snow boots bought after a huge snow storm when I was in Boston more than a decade ago, some cashmere-lined leather gloves and a pair of ear muffs, I didn’t have the clothes for a professional event in a winter climate. I called upon my long ago memories of living in Maine when I was a child for ideas. Warm coat – check. Gloves – check. Snow boots – check. Scarf – check. Supplement with stylish wool blend suits and wool dress pants – check. This was not going to be so hard after all.

When I got off the plane and walked to where I would catch the hotel shuttle, I could feel a creeping chill. As soon as I walked outside, I knew I might be in for a bit more than I bargained for. When I arrived at the hotel, the cold made it harder than normal to struggle with my gigantic suitcase full of winter clothes. A properly bundled up doorman complete with top hat at the St. Paul Hotel jumped to my aid.

I was to experience a few more cold shocks –

  • Leaving the rink after the first night of events, I could feel my knees starting to freeze ever so slightly on the short walk to the car and this with lined wool dress slacks and tights on.
  • The next morning I was greeted with a temperature of -12. My cheery local co-worker said at least it wasn’t the forecast of -17 to -18 it was supposed to be.
  • My hotel room was very cold on the first day and had a drafty window due to being a historic property over 100 years old. It was explained that even recently constructed buildings with modern insulation, when the temperature drops into the minuses and stay there, you can still feel the cold inside. That was not a warming thought. I tested this out one night, touching the wall of my room and it felt cold despite a thermostat reading of 70 degrees.
  • Sheets on the bed were frigid each night. Thank God for the cozy comforter to snuggle under.
  • Wind chill is not fun, especially when combined with sub-zero temperatures!

Things did improve. The night of the predicted -17, three of us hardy souls walked briskly across Rice Park back to the hotel after dinner no worse for wear and no frostbite was incurred. I did this with my down coat clutched closed because the zipper had jammed!

As the days went by and temperatures rose into the lower double digits, it was not too bad to walk outside as long as the wind was not blowing. On the final day I was there, I actually walked a couple of blocks to a diner in a gentle snowfall and it felt pleasant. Yes, the girl from Florida described St. Paul weather as pleasant. Some days in St. Paul can be pleasant, but then again, I don’t think I want to spend months in it.

I will have to learn to survive the cold soon enough as my husband and I plan to retire to the incredibly beautiful state of Maine. Then again, we plan to have ‘thaw out’ time in Florida when it gets really bad.

 

 

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Thank You, Tom Pritchard

On this national day set aside for giving thanks in our country, it is a sad day for foodies here in Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay Times announced the loss of Tom Pritchard, one of the “most inventive and influential executive chefs” who died at his St. Petersburg home on Wednesday (11/25) at the age of 74. Pritchard was responsible for shaping some of the most popular restaurants in Tampa Bay – Salt Rock Grill, Island Way Grill, Marlin Darlin’, Rumba Island Bar & Grill and Salt Rock Tavern.

The article mentioned that Pritchard always had a story to tell and I have my own of how our paths crossed. At the time, I was a figure skating judge and came to Clearwater often to skate and judge younger skaters. One of those skaters was an dark haired boy with a charming smile named Adam Ostfeld. This boy had talent and really loved skating. I had the opportunity to meet his mother, Jody Hale. Fast forward to 1994 when I met and started dating my future husband. One of restaurants where we went on dates was The Grill at Feathersound, where Tom Pritchard’s talents were being praised as one of the biggest things to come to the Tampa Bay food scene. One evening Jody saw us in the restaurant and introduced us to the affable Tom. I think we were in as much awe of his cooking talent as he was of me being a skating judge. One year, Tom cooked an amazing private dinner for skating officials who were judging the Suncoast Open competition that was hosted by the Florida Suncoast Figure Skating Club each fall. Sadly, the Feathersound restaurant closed, but we watched over the years as success unfolded for Tom with each new restaurant opening. We shared in the sadness when Adam was tragically killed in an auto accident after returning safely surviving 14 months of dangerous duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army.

We have enjoyed dining at Island Way Grill and Rumba, where we have attended dinners held for skating officials. Rumba has the most sinfully delicious Rum Cake. We continue to dine at the Salt Rock Tavern, a gem of a place that has proved to be crazy popular here in Oldsmar.

Thank You, Tom Pritchard, for the legacy you have left to the Tampa food scene – fun restaurants with great food. We will remember you with each delicious bite.

 

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Azteca D’Oro

I eat Mexican whenever I can on solo dining trips as my husband doesn’t like this type of food. When I saw Azteca D’Oro on University Boulevard in Orlando near UCF, I knew I had to try it. The first time I went, I did carry-out during a very busy lunch hour. I went to the bar to order. Got an appetizer quesadilla & added chicken for an extra charge. Later when I was back at my hotel, I looked at the menu and discovered that it would have been a better deal to order the Club Quesadilla entree which included whole wheat tortilla stuffed with chicken, bacon, avocado, lettuce, Monterey Jack cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream and is served with white rice and Rancho (cholesterol-free) beans. Would have been nice if the bartender who took my order had mentioned it. Azteca is a super popular lunch place in the UCF area, crazy busy. I timed my second visit for mid-afternoon. Lunch prices are in effect until 3PM so it’s cheaper to sample menu items at this time.

I ordered the IMG_0384Pollo a la Crema – strips of chicken breast sautéed with onions and mushrooms in a cream sauce and garnished with Cotija Mexican cheese. I got double black beans in place of rice. The entree came with a little mound of salad greens as well. I feel I struck gold with this dish as it was really tasty, what with all that creamy melted cheese sauce. Only problem was when I found a piece of melted cellophane wrap in the dish. Yuck! The waiter was very apologetic. Without me asking, he reported it to the manager who offered me a free dessert, which I accepted (got the flan). Tortilla chips and salsa come with all meals. It is the best salsa I have ever tasted with a delightful smoky chipotle flavor. The tortilla chips, however could use a little more salt. If you like Mexican food, try this place and you won’t be disappointed. Check out their daily specials like Taco Tuesdays and $2 Margaritas Monday – Friday from 11AM – 3PM.

While there, be sure to look up at the ceiling near the bar to see the chandelier made of Corona beer bottles. It’s awesome. IMG_0385.JPG

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Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine

We have dined many times at the Winter Park location of Bosphorous and know well it’s reputation for delicious and authentic Turkish food. Didn’t know this location in the Dr. Phillips area existed but were delighted to stumble upon it one Saturday when looking for a place to have lunch after visiting the outlet mall in Orlando.

IMG_0375We started with an order of hot fresh baked Lavas bread with Babaganoush (fresh smoked eggplant purée with tahini, olive oil, and yogurt) and Haydiri (thick and creamy yogurt mixed with walnuts, dill, and mint) for dipping. This bread arrives at the table all puffed up and deflates when poked with a fork to tear apart and eat. Great for sharing and a must have with any Turkish meal.

My husband ordered his favorite dish of Donner Kebap – tender lamb, grilled vertically and thinly sliced) with rice and Turkish style veggies (beets, carrots). IMG_0377I had the Yesil Salata house salad – Romaine hearts, spring mix, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, feta cheese, tabbouleh, and Turkish black olives with their special dressing and added grilled lamb chunks. The salad was huge. I had never had tabbouleh before and I found I liked it. I love the way they fix lamb – the spices and the grilling make for incredible tasting meat.

My husband finished the meal with a cup of strong Turkish coffee.

Lunch prices are lower than dinner and there are specials for added savings. The menu includes selections for kids. My niece likes their pizza. I highly recommend either location of Bosphorous for an enjoyable tasty meal.IMG_0379

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