Max Brenner: A chocolate lover’s dream

I took a trip into NYC to meet my college roomie and since I had been wanting to try Max Brenner for months, we made reservations for lunch. It was finally the perfect opportunity! She loves chocolate too, obviously.

We headed downtown from Penn Station, walked through their little chocolate shop and over to the hostess stand to check in. I considered buying chocolate, but decided against it because it was a balmy day in the city and I didn’t want a puddle of inedible cocoa by the time I returned home later that afternoon.

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We were seated quickly and greeted by the waiter who explained a few things on the menu and recommended a several items. We ordered shakes and then our lunches. My shake of choice was the Chocolate Hazelnut and my roomie got a Cookieshake. Fortunately, my shake included a whipped cream topping and sadly hers did not. We both loved our beverages and the cup added to the experience. The straw laid perfectly in its little spot and there was no mess from the whipped cream, like a diner shake might yield. Everything sat perfectly and then relocated into my belly.

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For lunch, I got the Turkey Club Waffle Sandwich and she ordered the Brenner Lunchette Burger with fries. My sandwich was pretty light because the waffles were thin, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by a sweet or savory taste. They were substantial substitutes for bread slices. The sandwich included cold turkey, salty bacon and creamy avocado. With waffles, it was organized better than a club sandwich with toast because nothing slipped or fell out. The honey mustard and chili aioli gave the sandwich a zesty flavor. I didn’t finish my lunch because I didn’t want to overindulge and miss out on dessert. This was a chocolate restaurant after all.

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For dessert, we decided to share the Chocolate Chunks Pizza with roasted marshmallows and peanut butter. We got the half size, so we didn’t feel to gluttonous. The half pie came out with roasted mini marshmallows sprinkled all over it and peanut butter swirled on top. Underneath, there was a layer of milk and white chocolate. When we took our first bites, we were surprised at how light the crust was. It was much lighter than a pizza dough and didn’t confuse my taste buds, like some dessert pies do. The marshmallows, peanut butter and chocolate were warm and melty, and that’s exactly how they should be. If your marshmallow isn’t warm and stringy as you pull and poke at it, you aren’t eating it right.

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After we had eaten our fill, we remarked at how tasty everything was. We didn’t even get a full representation of the menu, so I will have to schedule future visits to really see how their hot chocolate measures up to my favorites.

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If you are a chocoholic, you need to get your fix at Max Brenner. Come on, you deserve a treat!

Max Brenner, 841 Broadway, New York, NY, 646.467.8803

Shake Shack is no joke

IMG_5203Since the first Shake Shack opened up in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New Yorkers were hooked. I’ve never been to that location, but I have eaten at Shake Shack in Citi Field and now in Westbury, New York. Among the many locations that the Shake Shack has, you can pick up some delicious grease at the Grand Central Terminal and the JFK Airport, if you want to make your fellow flyers jealous. The original location in NYC always has a line. That’s how good the burgers are! There is even a Shake Cam streaming video of the line on their website so that people in NYC can keep an eye on it and judge what the best time is to head down to Madison Square Park for a trademarked ShackBurger®.

My most recent visit to hamburger heaven, was to their Westbury location. On a Friday afternoon, the line wasn’t too bad when we hopped on. I ordered a ShackBurger® and TK had a SmokeShack®. My burger included cIMG_5205heese, lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce. I dipped the burger in ketchup as well. It was magical. The burger was juicy, pure and delicious; exactly how a cheeseburger should be. I tasted TK’s burger and that was so good, but with an added kick. His had cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, chopped cherry peppers (the heat culprits) and ShackSauce. His burger was a bit messier than mine, but it had a bunch of delicious flavors. It had the saltiness of the bacon, the heat from the peppers, the zestiness of the ShackSauce and the pure meat flavor of the beef. I thought he made a great choice.

We also shared a side of their Crinkle Cut Fries and they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Crinkle Cut is my favorite fry variety, with waffle as a close second. TK also ordered a Peanut Butter Shake and I ordered a Lemonade. The lemonade was perfect and refreshing. The Peanut Butter Shake was so good and quite dangerous. It is made with their Frozen Custard, so it is thicker and creamier than regular ice cream. If you like peanut butter (and we do), you will not be disappointed. You may actually tell your friends. IMG_5204

There are other menu items that deserve a shout out. Just because we didn’t order them this time, doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. They have Flat-Top Hot Dogs, dog treats and Concretes. Their Concretes include custard with toppings mixed in. There are a few that you can only get at this location, like the Westberry and the Old Country Rocky Road which sends five percent of all proceeds to Island Harvest, or you can build your own. The mix-ins aren’t your regular sprinkles and Snicker bars, they are for real. On the list, they included Belgian Waffles, Chocolate Truffle Cookie Dough and Strawberry Puree. Concrete is a definite for next time, but so is a burger and an order of fries. Shake Shack is so popular with New Yorkers because it is just that delicious.

Shake Shack, 860 Old Country Road, Westbury, NY, 516-620-2880

Let’s meet at That Meetball Place

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At first, I thought name was a little strange, but then I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. The outside of That Meetball Place looks like it was cut out of a New York City street and plopped in the center of Main Street in Patchogue, N.Y. Then, you go inside and you feel like you are in downtown Manhattan and not in downtown Patchogue. One night, we went out to “meet” our friends and enjoy a nice meal together.

We started off by ordering our drinks because the menu took a little getting used to. You pick the type of ball you want, then you pick the sauce and then you pick the way you want it. You can also add some extras, like Dynamite Fries and Macaroni and Cheese, or even a dollup of Ricotta. Yum!

I ordered the Vegetarian Risotto Balls with Pancetta Cream Sauce. They were very good. The creamy sauce was a nice pairing with the seasoned rice balls. Interestingly enough, TK ordered the Balls of Fire with Spicy Marinara Sauce over some Rigatoni. His mouth was on fire (hence the name), but he enjoyed them. He also ordered Ricotta to put over the top. Maybe he thought that the Ricotta would save his taste buds from the heat. They didn’t.

I had visited That Meetball Place once before for a business lunch, so we were able to sample the dessert menu. At that time, I loved the PBNJ Sandwich, but on this night, it wasn’t warm enough, so I was kind of disappointed. Usually, the deep-fried peanut butter, Nutella and jelly sandwich is nice and warm and the whipped cream is a cooling and sweet accompaniment. Unfortunately, that was not the case on this night, but I am not one to ever turn away Nutella, so I partook in dessert.

This meal was yummy and the beer selection was pretty good too. If you are looking for somewhere to “meet” friends and have a few bites, this is a pretty good spot. Just try to not get too carried away with ordering extras because your eyes can easily become larger than your stomach.

Modest, but Culturally Committed and Delicious

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The Puglia

After spending a couple of hours at the NY Times Travel Show, we left the Jacob Javits Center and looked for somewhere to eat lunch. Right down the street from the Javits Center, in Hell’s Kitchen, is an Italian deli called Sergimmo Salumeria and the sandwiches are pretty delicious.

Judging by the menu, the fresh ingredients and the creation of all of their house-made menu items, Sergimmo is truly Italian. And, to make it more authentic, they even make their own meats, including salami and prosciutto. The sandwiches are wrapped in wax paper and are presented on little cutting boards. The crusty bread is sprinkled with flour and the fresh ingredients are stacked up and showered with balsamic vinegar and oil.

I chose my lunch off of their enormous chalkboard that was riddled with delicious Italian options. My choice was the Puglia panini which featured grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, arugula and sweet peppers. I washed my meal down with a San Pellegrino Blood Orange Sparkling Water and it was refreshingly sweet, but thankfully not as sweet as an orange soda. My mother ordered the Toscana which stacked a thick amount of prosciutto cotto, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and arugula. Fortunately for me, I was able to eat half of my sandwich for lunch the next day and half of my mother’s sandwich the day after. Both sandwiches were delicious and both were made with fresh ingredients. You could see the red, white and green in the sandwich and you could taste Italy with every bite, and it was a very pleasant experience.

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Blood Orange Sparkling Water

Sergimmo Salumeria, 456 9th Avenue, New York, NY, 212.967.4212

As Close as I’ll Get to Cuba

After they closed the Victorian Manor in Lemont, Pennsylvania (right outside of State College), my favorite restaurant became Victor’s Cafe on 52nd and 7th in New York City. It serves food that I am accustomed to because I am half Puerto Rican and Cuban food is very similar. Also, everything they serve is delicious.Flan de Huevo

In 2010 we ate at Victor’s for our second wedding anniversary and really loved it, so I suggested revisiting it for the bachelorette party in the city. I remembered that I was in love with the Lechon (shredded pork) in 2010, so this time I decided to get the Taste of Cuba which is one of their prix-fixe options and included a number of Cuban classics. Honestly, I am pretty pleased that I allowed myself to try everything.

The first course caTaste of Cuba Appetizerme with Croquetas Corral con Salsa Lulu (ham croquettes), Chorizo (sausage) and Papas Rellenas (stuffed potato puffs). All of them were delicious and a nice intro to a fabulous meal. My father makes the Puerto Rican version of Papas Rellenas and it is one of my favorite things to eat.

The entrée portion included Lechon Asado (roast suckling pig), Camarones Enchilados (shrimp in creole tomato sauce), Ropa Vieja (shredded black Angus steak) and Platanos Maduros Fritos (sweet plantains). The Lechon also included a couple of pieces of Chicharron (crispy pork skin) and it was crunchy and flavorful. All of the options were a little more than three bites worth and completely delicious. It was awesome to have all of those options instead of choosing just one. Sincerely, at Victor’s, it is like Sophie’s Choice trying to pick something to eat because ITaste of Cuba know I will love what I chose but wish I could have it all. By the way, the entrée is served with white rice and black beans, which I could eat also because there was not an exorbitant amount of food, not because I am a porker, even though that is true too.

To complete this delicious meal, the dessert plate came out with three Cuban specialties. The Flan de Huevo (caramel custard) I am not a fan of, so I gave it away, but the Arroz con Leche (rice pudding) and the Guayabitas de Maria (guava cobbler) were both small and delightful. Sometimes you can only stand a few bites of dessert anyway, so this was the perfect amount of sweets.

The beverage of choice for my meal was a Dragonberry Mojito. It was so good and not overly sweet. I also didn’t have a problem getting mint leaves out of my teeth, which I find happens to me every Taste of Cuba Desserttime I order a mojito. Another tasty beverage option is the fruity sangria, even though I had it in 2010 and not on this night, I know it is great and now so does most everyone I had dinner with. You can order the red, the white or a champagne version.

A meal at Victor’s is always pretty expensive but I can’t be disappointed because I loved every part of it and plan on going back because there are still things on their menu that I haven’t eaten.

Victor’s Cafe, 236 West 52nd Street, New York, NY, 212.586.7714

The Smith for a Celebratory Brunch

After the bachelorette partying had ended, we wanted to top the weekend off with a nice brunch in NYC. We happened upon The Smith, with a recommendation from one of our native-NYCers.

The environment was very industrial with white ceramic tiles adorning the walls and metal fixtures. The water is placed on the table in wine bottles with no labels and the bread is served in little white paper pockets. From the interesting mix of items on the menu, I was trying Vanilla Bean French Toastto decide between a Belgian waffle and Vanilla Bean French Toast, with the French Toast winning because I can get a Belgian Waffle anywhere. The French Toast was soft and pillowy with sweet caramelized bananas drizzled on top in maple butter. Surprisingly, they weren’t too sweet where I was wishing they were a dessert instead of a breakfast.

There was also a variety of omelets available and a couple interesting choices of Eggs Benedict. As a nice bonus, a beverage is served with every brunch order. You can order a Strawberry Mimosa, a Bloody Mary, a Bellini, a Passion Punch or a glass of juice minus the alcohol. However, if you do arrive before noon, you have to wait to get your beverage with a kick.

The Smith seemed to be a popular spot for locals and even those celebrating an event in the city, so making a reservation by just calling ahead is important. This spot is great for brunch if you want something different and delicious, but you could get the traditional eggs and home fries if you really wanted.

The Smith, 956 Second Avenue (at 51st Street), New York, NY, 212.644.2700

A German Bierhaus in NYC

While celebrating a friend’s bachelorette festivities, we started the day at the Bierhaus on 3rd Avenue and 45th Street. The atmosphere was all Bavarian, from the steins on the walls to the flags hanging in every corner. We sat at a long table with the silverware stacked inside a glass stein at the end. This was not a place to stay quiet and enjoy your meal, it was a place to be rowdy and enjoy your beer.

The menu was full of German specialties, and lucky for us, we started with the Wilhelm Sampler Platter. The trays were full of pretzels, potato pancakes, potato salad, radish salad, sauerkraut, sauerkraut balls and wieners, with the accompanying condiments. It was all delicious and I made sure to try it all. I especially liked the pretzels and the potato pancakes because, let’s face it, the Germans have perfected them. The radish salad was also surprisingly good because it was just pickled pink radishes and it was a nice addition. The sauerkraut balls were interesting because they were battered and didn’t have too much of a sour taste to them, but they too were yummy. This was not the end of the food for me (I know you are surprised) as I ordered the Pork Schnitzel Sandwich with fries. The fries were excellent but I felt like I wouldn’t know the difference if it was pork or chicken, or even beef for that matter. The breading made the sandwich.

A boot full of Dunkel

The only beer on the menu is German and delicious, but there is wine and liquor just in case the brew isn’t for you. My beverage of choice to start the day was a half liter of Hofbrau Hefeweizen, a non-distilled wheat beer that I remember loving at the Las Vegas Hofbrauhaus, and it didn’t disappoint, once again. We also passed a boot full of Dunkel (a dark lager) around the table to see who would get splashed in the face by the remaining liquid first. When the beer rolls back into the shoe part of the boot, the air pops the beer back at the opening and at your face.  It is silly, but pretty fun too.

So, if you are looking for good beer and good German food, and want to enjoy it all in a place that is not the least bit presumptuous, take a trip into NYC to the Bierhaus.

Bierhaus, 712 3rd Avenue (at 45th Street), New York, NY, 212.867.2337