Tiny and Tasty

My friend Mary Jo and I are developing a breakfast club and have been eating the morning meal at places around town. By club I mean a nice excuse to get together and nosh.

On Thursday we went to Fonda la Hermanita, a tiny spot located in the back of The Coronet (which recently moved into the old Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant.)

We had a little trouble finding the entry; signage was limited, but we persisted to find a cozy eatery that is only open from 8 am – 2 pm, Wednesdays through Sundays. Diner hours really, but this is no diner, no way.

We ate the one cafe table inside – it was a tad chilly out – but the cozy, secluded patio soon filled up with a mix of people.

Chef Erika Bostick and owner Sally Kane have created a menu that in spite of being really small still offers big tastes. I had the corn gorditas and Mary Jo went with the molletes, toasted bollilo bread topped with your choice of items: scrambled eggs, chicken, hibiscus flowers or a combination of the two of those items. A black bean spread and pickled onions are also a part of the mix. molitas

The gorditas have melted Oaxacan cheese inside; the molletos have queso fresco. And while there is a whole slate of coffee options, we stuck with simple brewed coffee, which was done well. Sides come with the platos – frijoles charro (in this case black beans, frijoles refrito, ensalata, fruit salad or rice. I did the charro beans which were dark and savory.

My gorditas were like tiny corn cakes, but they held up nicely even with all the goodies stuffed inside. The cheese was especially tasty.

MJ loved her molletos, as well.

You’ll also find greens, a fancy toast, a caldo de pollo. (Next time for sure.)

Truly a different approach to Mexican breakfast/brunch.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Earlier this year, long-time Midtown fave, Club 21 closed after 70-plus years in business. The building stood empty. Perhaps another business would open there, but in usual Tucson fashion, the chances of that happening anytime soon were few and far between.

But then, about a month ago, word got out there was going to be a new Mexican restaurant, called El Chinito Gordo, opening in the space. And then in no time at all, El Chinito Gordoopened its doors.72811824_125318985559642_8564155399425490944_o

On the website the owners claimed they were “inspired by Central Mexican recipes passed down through generations, carefully refined in a way that preserves tradition and elevates Tucson’s Mexican culinary scene. We’ve melded flavors, textures, spices, and ingredients in meaningful ways that evoke a deep sense of true, Mexican homestyle cooking. We do this all for a simple reason: to bring together friends, families, and the Tucson community; nourishing panzas and souls alike.”

On our visit the other night, we found that claim to be pretty much right on.

You wouldn’t recognize the place. The booths are gone, the walls are lightened and the whole space seems more open and airy. What a welcome change. Not that Club 21 lacked in decor, but the change adds the owners signature, makingEl Chinito Gordo their space.

Here too, the Mexican fare was not your typical Sonoran options, although chimis, chile rellenos and soft or crispy tacos are available. But chiles en nogada are also on the menu and pescados Vera Cruz and a chorizo hamburger and nopalitos con chile rojo. A serious step away from the more familiar fare and had a tough time deciding which way to go.

I opted for the chicken breast mole and John ordered the ground beef chimichanga.

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My mole was great. Thick, dark and rich sauce generously covered a most tender and juicy chicken breast. Sopping up the sauce with the warm tortillas that are served along side was a treat. The rice and beans were also nicely done.

John thoroughly enjoyed his ground beef chimi. The beef was lightly seasoned and incredibly moist.

Service was friendly and professional showing how much the staff cares  (and that the owners care for their staff.)

Anyway, we’ll go back toEl Chinito Gordo. There are so many dishes I want to try.

PS – Photos are from the website.

 

 

 

 

Get Thee to Charro Vida for a Healthful, Luscious Meal

My birthday month has seeped into December with last night’s foodie gathering.

Karyn Zoldan, Edie Jarolim and Norma Gentry and I headed up to Charro Vida, the Flores family newest eatery. At this northwest side restaurant, the menu is a blend of Mediterranean and Sonoran cuisines with a nod toward plant-based dishes. While that may seem limited and ‘hippie-ish’ (bland and one-note), the food we enjoyed was anything but. Rich flavors, quality ingredients, clever twists on traditional Mexican dishes, all come together in most tasty ways.

Warm, thick tortilla chips were brought to the table along with a lively tomatillo salsa. I’m not sure the chips were Hola Hemp tortillas (yes, real hemp) but they were addicting.

Hola Hemp mini-chimis followed. They were filled with queso planta (plant-based cheese) y chile verde, guacamole and pico salsa. Now having spent the last year and a half, eating, writing and promoting chimichangas I have to say these tiny chimis were jam-packed full of flavor. There were four to a serving, but I could easily have eaten more. Each bite was creamy and savory and the rojo sauce on top add a pop. (sorry no photo.)

Tableside avocado hummus came next. We went chunky style, but that didn’t mean the hummus wasn’t rich and creamy. Another bowl of chips accompanied the guac, but there were also crispy plantain strips.IMG_1388

 

A healthy portion of queso fundido followed. Usually this dish is a big gooey mess, but notCharro Vida’s version. It wasn’t on the menu so I have no idea what all went into it, but I loved this dish, especially scooped up with those plantain chips.IMG_1392

Two of us ordered the Vida Bowls and two of us ordered the Branzino del Rey.

Bowls are popular these days but so often they end up being a mishmash of whatever the chef can toss in the dish. Again, the kitchen took the idea and turned it into a wonderful entrée. Grains, avocado, nopalitos, roasted potatoes, corn and frijoles campos were presented in a large bowl. Edie opted for an added protein, in this case salmon. Comments from both her and Norma were glowing.IMG_1394

The branzino was served under a blanket of roasted veggies (squash, potatoes, onions peppers and more.) The fish was perfectly cooked. I would definitely order this dish again and again.IMG_1397

Did we dare order dessert? We did. In fact, we had two. A work in progress tres leches cake and deeply dark, insanely crispy chocolate churros. The white cake was delicious, but the churros were unlike any I’ve had. I took one home. John is lucky it made it that far.IMG_1399IMG_1400

If you have any reservations about a plant-base menu, Charro Vida will change your mind.

Service was top-notch from our friendly, knowledge able server Katie, the hummus creator, the manager and Ray Flores, the owner who stopped by to chat.

I can’t wait to go back.

The Bread Garden is a Wonder

We ate at The Bread Garden more than once. Located next door to our hotel, this restaurant/market/bakery/wine shop/gelatoteria/gift shop/florist has just about everything a person might need to eat or drink. They’ve been serving Iowa City foodies for over 35 years and are a big part of the cool Ped Mall that is a big part of downtown Iowa City. Students, families, couples, singles, everybody and anybody shop and eat there. A small dining room has a quick turnover.

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The premade sandwiches (chicken salad and ham and cheese) we had, in spite of their simplicity, were perfect examples of what they each were. We had a choice of at least eight soups to choose from. The cheese soup was creamy, rich and cheesy – in a good way. The chicken noodle had plenty of chicken and homemade noodles.Bread

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Bakery choices were plentiful and all well done. The salad bar – paid for by weight – had almost too many choices that could be tossed with a dozen different dressings. Lunch can be ordered from a kiosk or grab a tray and use the hot line. One day the line was a taco bar; the other day baked chicken or pork with all the trimmings were there for the asking.o

Wine choices are worldly.

We didn’t even use the grocery store part. We’ll save that for our next visit.

Goosetown Goodness

For his sixth birthday dinner, our grandson, Charlie, picked The Goosetown Café; not the usual option for a six-year-old, but then again, Charlie has never really been the typical kid when it comes to food choices.

The Goosetown Café is located in a corner building in the Goosetown area of Iowa City. The owners have made the most of the historic aspects of the building and have created a warm and welcoming space.welcome

A bar sits in the middle of the room. Exposed brick. Big windows, mixed lighting, tile, wood …it’s both modern and vintage.goosetown

 

The menu is as eclectic as the room; they serve breakfast/lunch/brunch every day but Tuesdays and dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Duck pot pie, hamburgers, shrimp n’ grits, ratatouille a bibimbap bowl are just some of the choices.

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We shared several orders of the duck tacos, a cheese board and the salt-roasted local beets. The tacos were surprisingly good. The tortilla passed muster and was filled with tender, savory shredded duck and a sprinkling of cabbage and other crunchy greens. The cheeseboard probably was small but serviceable and the beets were done just right.

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Three of us ordered the trout, but were informed that the fish was salmon instead. No matter, this was a great preparation lightly encrusted, cooked to fork tenderness and served on a mess of roasted vegetables. Two people ordered the tenderloin that came with fingerling potatoes, veggies and a bordelaise sauce. There was the house double stack burger (along with a salad) and the duck pot pie.

I think everyone enjoyed everything including the cheesecake and the flour less chocolate torte for dessert.

We split a magnum of Moron Beaujolais.

I’ll go back.

Rodina – Welcome

One of the translations of the word, Rodina, means ‘family’ and at Rodina, a relatively new restaurant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, they spin the translation into serving all menu items family style.

The dark, low-slung building belies the warm, cozy interior. We were seated in a room with about a half dozen small tables but the other rooms were set up for communal or large group dining, including a long, high top in the bar area. All this adds to the convivial vibe at the place. There is a serious farm to table, local, sustainable, Midwest Comfort food sensibility to the place.

We let Sam and Riene choose the menu for the evening… we do that often. They know what they’re doing.

The menu is divided into: starters, small plates, mains, sides and specialty. We ordered plenty from the first two sections and the whole roast duck from the main menu. They say there is a limited number each evening and apparently, we got the last one.

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The dishes arrived at almost a break neck speed. Emu carpaccio with a paprika aioli and a cured egg, goat cheese and beet with toast points, dill and horseradish, pork skewers with a fiery Calabrian chile and squash that was reminiscent of kimchee, shiatsu peppers, peppers rodinaa lovely potato pancake with all the traditional with a twist trimmings, cabbage salad (which I didn’t try), baked meatballs slathered with a savory gravy and creamy mashed potatoes, meatballs rodinamushrooms and pheasant all buttery rich and silky, a cheesy spaetzle, another cheesy farro  (from Hayden Mills in Arizona) dish, a sharp tomato and ground cherry ‘salad’. Did I miss anything? I may have.Rodina+Farm+to+Table+Resturant+(41)

They brought the duck to the table whole and then returned it to the kitchen to carve.duckrodina

The duck was a little disappointing, under seasoned and a little chewy. But it all came together nicely, thanks mostly due to the company.

We finished the meal with freshly-made, warm madelines.

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Rodina is new and it’s obvious they’re working out the few kinks. I’d go back just to see the progress they make.