Cafe Navarre

Brunch is, hands down, my favorite meal of the day.  Sleeping in, throwing on something comfy and meandering over to the local cafe for endless cups of coffee, reliving memories of the weekend and fantastic food.  Add in your best friend that you don’t get to see very often and sitting on the patio in the summer?  You have the picture of my perfect day.

Traveler tip: If you happen to know people in the town you are visiting, throw out a request for their new favorite places to eat and drink.  The locals are the ones who know the best places.  Don’t know anyone in town?  Ask your barista when you stop for coffee or even someone next to you pumping gas.

When we heard about Cafe Navarre in South Bend, Indiana, we stopped in to peruse the menu for dinner but were told they actually serve brunch as well.  While I was checking out the menu, my friend (a designer) loved checking out their interior design and overall ambiance as she has redesigned a couple of restaurants in her area.  We both loved the high windows, bright natural light and fresh decor.  The brunch menu looked so good, we decided to return for brunch the next day.

Image result for cafe navarre south bend

Image result for cafe navarre south bend

We started with mimosas and the build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.  They had homemade pickled green beans, maple roasted thick cut bacon and all types of pickled veggies, meats and cheeses to add to your drink.  The toppings alone made this worth the trip.

Traveler Tip: If your travel partner is willing, order different items on the menu and share so that you can try multiple items from the menu.

We did decide to split, so I chose the carrot cake pancakes.  On a brunch day, you always need something sweet.  These were remarkably light, with a light cream cheese mixture in between each pancake.  They were served with warm maple syrup and toasted pecans.  Even though they were decadent, they were much lighter than I anticipated.  The sweetness, however, might have kept me from eating a full order so I was thankful to share.

My friend, to balance the sweetness, ordered Crab Benedict.  Our server said of everything on the menu, this was her absolute favorite.  {Of note, I very much appreciate how knowledgeable our server was of the menu.  She knew the menu but wasn’t pushy.}  Because this isn’t a chain, it helps to have the servers know the menu well.  In my head I expected a crab cake benedict, but instead got eggs Benedict with large chunks of lump crab meat.  It was so light and flavorful and even fresh tasting.

This brunch was so wonderful I can’t wait to go back for dinner.  Next time I hope to try the gnocchi, Navarre salad and salmon.  Their lunch menu also sounded fantastic: autumn turkey sandwich, green goddess salad (I almost took this one to go after brunch!!) and shrimp and grits.  I was so impressed that each menu, brunch, lunch and dinner, were all different and you could tell were carefully crafted.  Be sure to check out Cafe Navarre in your next visit to South Bend, Indiana!

For other reviews like this, click here.

What is your favorite meal of the day?  Where is your favorite place to have brunch?  What do you like to order when you are enjoying a lazy morning?

Bien Trucha: A Review

Bien Trucha has been on my radar for years.  When you move from the city and leave the lively food scene of downtown Chicago behind for the suburbs, it can be so disappointing.  But, people had described Bien Trucha with remarks similar to places we talked about when living downtown.  When told it was Mexican food, I was even more intrigued.    Marrying into a Mexican family, we eat Mexican food a lot.  Is it possible to make Mexican food new!  exciting!  fresh!?  {Does being with someone for 10 years make you an almost-expert?  (To prove my point, I make my own salsa exclusively now.)}

Up to this point, I have reviewed places while on trips, vacations or visits with friends.  Bien Trucha is in my neck of the woods.  I love the idea of finding new places that I can visit over and over.  To celebrate an anniversary and a birthday, I called just over two weeks out.  Saturday was going to work best for us and the only available reservation slots were 5pm and 9:15pm.  Checking the next weekend the time slots were the same.  This told me two things: I would probably be paying a babysitter a lot of money because our meal would take a while and dinner was going to be gooood.

Geneva has a charming downtown comprised of State Street and a handful of side streets.  You can find lots of restaurants and fun shops.  There was even an art gallery and adorable boutiques. We were hoping to walk around but unfortunately it was late and rainy.  Bien Trucha lures summer patrons in with a fantastic patio between its two structures.  We decided to arrive early and sit at the bar while we waited for our reservation.  The atmosphere is charming and welcoming (a large patio between an old home and additional dining area) and inside it is modern and has a city vibe to it.

Fresh made margarita are fantastically light.  Not overly tart or syrupy, each is made by hand.  They serve each table with hot chips and a smoky take on refried beans.  These were not your average beans on the side of a burrito.  They had a depth of flavor I had never tasted in beans before.  We also ordered the guacamole tradicional which was the best guacamole I have ever eaten (and know that I have tasted my share of guacamole!).  Cotija cheese offered a tangy salty bite on top.  They also have a guacamole of the day, which mixes in the fruit of the day (pineapple in our case, though I heard it can be other unique choices like blueberry, mango or watermelon).

The heart of their menu is the tacos, though they also have tortas (lunch only), soup, salad, a variety of sides and fresh made salsa and ceviche.  We were told plates were intended to share family style.  My husband ordered the arrachera tacos (skirt steak with caramelized onions, avocado and roasted serrano salsa).  Tacos are small, about the size of your palm so they don’t feel quite as heavy as your average taco.  Four tacos come in a serving.

My choice was tacos de pastor (ancho-guajillo marinated pork, cilantro, onion, fresh pineapple and their morita salsa).  You know I love the salty and sweet together!  As I said, the tacos are small but they pack a big flavor punch!

We arrived early, and before our appetizer even arrived, we were seated at our table.  The service was excellent and though I expected a longer wait time, everything was served very quickly.  Not wanting our date night to end, I ordered dessert (because, dessert).  I chose a small cornbread cake sitting in a rum glaze and dusted with powder sugar.  This was dense but warm and fantastic with the rum glaze cut the sweetness of the cake.

Bien Trucha was perfect for a date night.  Great food, energetic atmosphere and nothing was over $15.  If you would like to try it out for yourself, check out Bien Trucha in Geneva, IL at 410 W. State Street.  They accept reservations and call ahead to add your name to the wait list.  If Geneva isn’t convenient for you, the company also has A Toda Madre in Glen Elyn, IL (499 N. Main Street) and newly opened Quiubo in downtown Naperville, IL (120 Water Street).

Have you tried Bien Trucha or one of its sister companies?  Be sure to weigh in in the comments!

Pinky’s: A Review

When you are traveling, it is so easy to check out the nearest Panera or Chipotle or something else that sounds familiar.  But the next time you find yourself out of town, I challenge you to find a great restaurant that is only local.  I’ll be transparent, I was at the end of my trip and my mind was already heading home.  But my friend made the effort to seek out a funky place and Pinky’s is where we landed.  Man, am I glad we ended up there!!

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This is a highly recognized restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In fact, it was highlighted on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives!  The best thing about these types of restaurants is that they are very reasonably priced, great fresh menu and relaxed atmosphere.  We were looking for casual fare and this fit the bill.

Highlights of the menu:
[Appetizers]–veggie chili, Pimp’n Fries (fries with pimento cheese), Hush puppies and Crab puppies, Greg’s pickles (fried)
[Salads]–Tahini salad with falafel, Ginger Tuna salad
[Tacos]–Buffalo Shrimp tacos, Korean Pork BBQ tacos
[Burgers}–single, double and triple patties made to order (including toppings)
[Hot Dogs]–Reuben dog, Pinky dog (pimento cheese and chili), even vegetarian dog!
[Sandwiches]–Green Chili Pork sandwich (pineapple, swiss and arugula), Falafel, Tuna Melt

Corn Dog Shrimp Basket

This sounded like it would be so heavy but the batter was so light, they were delicious!  This was the item featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Oh, and that coleslaw on the side?  HOMEMADE and delicious.

Kick’n Chicken Tacos

Garlic Lime marinated grilled chicken topped with queso fresco, pico de gallo and garlic-parsley dressing.  These were so fresh tasting and delicious!  The black beans on the side weren’t just your average beans either.  You could tell they made everything from scratch.

Ding Dong Chicken

Thai-inspired grilled chicken breast served with honey-cilantro slaw, sriracha and chunky peanut butter.  I know it may sound odd, but this has the same flavors as the chicken satay with peanut dip that you might have enjoyed before.  And it was FANTASTIC.

Remarkably, there isn’t a single item on their menu over $10.  The quirky atmosphere keeps things light and festive and the fabulous food tricks you into thinking you are spending way more than you are.  Only 10 minutes from the Charlotte airport, be sure to check out Pinky’s if you ever get the chance!!

Have you ever stumbled across a hidden gem in your travels?  Where were you?  What favorite local restaurant would you consider the perfect diner or dive for visitors in your town?

Yesterday’s: A Restaurant Review

Every once in a while you come across something too good to keep a secret.  The crazy part about it is that this restaurant has been around for decades in the South Bend, Indiana area!  Need a great place to eat before or after a Notre Dame game?  Yesterday’s is it.

Image result for yesterday's restaurant granger indiana

I’ll be honest, I live in one of the best food scenes in the country.  We have world renowned restaurants and chefs and some pretty awesome places and cuisines.  But I recently went back to South Bend, Indiana for a family wedding that happened to fall on the same weekend as Mother’s Day.  My mom was generous enough to drive from Michigan to come watch my munchkins for the wedding and I wanted to take her out to thank her for that and celebrate the day with her.  It is very rare that I get to celebrate this holiday with her.

Some of the typical and expected places for Mother’s Day brunch that I tried were booked already.  And then I remembered Yesterday’s.  We didn’t come here much growing up, but the few times we came, we always left stuffed and happy.  Thankfully, they were open and even had a special menu for the day.

Image result for yesterday's restaurant granger indiana

The setting is a charming old home converted into a fantastic restaurant.  Because of this, you feel as if you are welcomed into a cozy home of a friend instead of a sanitized place where people eat.  The floors creak with age and the walls are filled with quirky photos and art.  The decor and place settings have a tropical feel but it is anything but cheesy.  It simply just lightens the mood.  Because of the quality of the food, people may expect linen tablecloths and a wait staff in tuxedos.  However, you feel like you’re being ushered into a vibrant and friendly home.

Now, the food.  Let me just tell you, the staff pay attention to details you completely forget about.  Your entree comes with a soup or salad and my salad was so good it could have been my meal.  Homemade (read: AMAZING) croutons and a from-scratch dressing (I had parmesan peppercorn) won me over immediately.  Put that on top of lettuce with onion, grape tomatoes and cucumber and you have a pretty fantastic salad!  Since my mother was watching, I refrained from licking the plate.  It was Mother’s Day after all and I wanted her to know that she did raise a child with manners.

It should also be noted that our waiter was incredibly friendly and attentive.  At one point I somewhat panicked that he seemed to be taking so much time with us.  But, when I remembered we didn’t have toddlers with us I sat back and enjoyed his company.  He was so personable I nearly asked he join us at the table.  Some of their staff has been there nearly 25 years!

When the entrees arrived, I couldn’t believe how beautiful this food was.  The presentation was spectacular and colorful!  This was my mom’s meal: Walk the Plank, Matie.  Great Lakes whitefish served almondine on a cedar plank.  Isn’t it so pretty?!  The real orchid on each plate shows the attention to detail at Yesterday’s.

My meal: Captiva Crab Cakes.  Served with a curry mayo on the side with steamed broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes.  Often when a vegetable is served on the side of something it is very much an afterthought.  This was the. best. broccoli. I have ever had.  Period.  The crab cakes were about 85% real crab meat with corn, peppers and special seasonings and very carefully browned in a skillet.  It was so nice that the crab was the predominant flavor and ingredient.  And again, so pretty!

You are too full, you say?  Oh, no.  You MUST get their fantastic made-in-house desserts.  Portion sizes are very large so it is completely acceptable to share.  Though I can’t find the exact name of this cake, it was something like triple chocolate cake with two types of chocolate ganache on top.  Yes, that is real whipped cream too, not from a can.

What a pleasant surprise to be reintroduced to such a fantastic place.  My mom and I had a such a lovely lunch with fantastic food and even better service.  Great for special occasions like dates, birthdays, anniversaries.  Other local “go-tos” for Mother’s Day brunch would have run about $40 per person not including drinks for a brunch buffet.  Pricing was pretty comparable here, but it was a special menu and we got to order what we wanted.  In my eyes, a much better choice for the money.

Best part?  We both went home with half our entrees for the next day and even some dessert, though we split that too.  If seafood isn’t your thing, they have a wide range of steaks as well as chicken and the #1 rated burger within 100 miles.  If you need a delicious, fun meal the next time you are in South Bend, Indiana, be sure to check out Yesterday’s!

Do you have a hidden gem in your hometown that you love?   Where would you love to take your mom for Mother’s Day?