Friday, January 02, 2015

2014 in Review: Food

This is the second entry in my blog series reviewing 2014. Click here to see my previous entry on books.

My life situation changed dramatically in 2014. Financially, geographically, and otherwise, 2014 ended with me in a very different place than I was when the year began. Because of this, there wasn’t nearly as much discovery in 2014 as there was in other recent years. When I wrote my food review of 2013, I mentioned that Tallahassee, Florida didn’t have a lot of enticing options. Moving back to Utah has been a net gain in the world of dining out, and yet we are less financially able to eat out than we were when we lived in Florida. That means we’ve yet to reap the culinary rewards of living here, at least to the extent that we someday will.

Although there were only a few eateries in Tallahassee that Melanie and I truly loved (or maybe even really liked), I feel I should present a kind of “In Memoriam” to those establishments whose cuisine will never again grace our taste buds. One of the saddest losses of 2014 is Bagelheads, the Christian bagel shop that featured the best sandwiches I’ve eaten outside of Utah. In my 2013 food review, I lamented the day I would move away from Tallahassee and no longer be able to patronize Bagelheads. Little did I know that Bagelheads would permanently close its doors just a few months later, with March 29, 2014 marking its final day in business. Melanie and I had to spend a sad three months in Tallahassee without our favorite bagel shop. The other restaurant we will truly miss is Tan’s Asian Café. Tan’s was about the nearest restaurant to our Tallahassee apartment, literally about a block away, and had the best Chinese food we’ve tasted outside of Utah. In fact, we now think it might be the best Chinese food we’ve had anywhere. We invested a great deal of our eating-out money to Tan’s, and I will miss them dearly. I will also miss Sonny’s and their barbecue food. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Sonny’s was amazing, but they were yummy and I’m not really sure where to go for my barbecue fix now that I’m back in Utah. Maybe I’ll know by the time I do my 2015 food review.

Moving back to Utah, I’ve actually been surprised to learn what restaurants from Tallahassee we won’t be missing. Marco’s Pizza is a chain restaurant, but they had become our favorite pizza place while living in Tallahassee. We were sad to leave Tallahassee, knowing Marco’s didn’t exist in Utah. Shortly after moving here, however, we saw that a Marco’s was being built not far from my parents’ home. We considered it a small miracle, one worth cheering about. Not long thereafter, I discovered a Wingstop here in Utah. Wingstop was another chain restaurant in Tallahassee that we quite liked but didn’t expect to find in Utah. I think the Wingstop here is quite new, and I couldn’t believe our luck. If we had had to choose two chain restaurants from Tallahassee that we’d want to take with us to Utah, Marco’s and Wingstop may very well have been the ones. Fast forward to just a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve discovered that they are building a Zaxby’s somewhat near to where we currently live. Zaxby’s is a chicken-based fast-food restaurant—if you think of Chick-fil-A, you’ll be in the ballpark—that has some pretty good food. We didn’t go there very often in Tallahassee, but I don’t mind having them as an option here in Utah. They’re good enough to visit every once in a while.

When it comes to genuine discoveries of 2014, I did most of my exploring back in Tallahassee. It almost seems pointless to talk about the good and bad restaurants I discovered in Tally, now that I’m nowhere near them. Still, as I have little else to talk about, I’ll go ahead and mention a few places. Probably my favorite Tallahassee discovery was the Flying Bear Great American Grill. Melanie and I had some coupons that resulted in us going to the Flying Bear on a date. (Because what’s more romantic than a date with coupons?) We had an appetizer of spinach and artichoke nachos, and we then shared a pasta entrée that featured cherry tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms with a combination pesto-alfredo sauce. You couldn’t even tell that alfredo sauce was part of the equation, but the food was still very good and of high quality. The same was true on our follow-up visit, when we took the boys with us. Melanie stuck with pasta. A key part of her dish was pepperoni and habanero flakes. It almost sounds wacky, but it was super good. I customized a mushroom bacon burger, and it was great. If we were still living in Tallahasee, I would want to visit Flying Bear again.

Speaking of burgers, I’ve always been a fan of gourmet burger restaurants. I tried a few new ones in 2014. In Tallahassee, I tried both BurgerFi and Vertigo Burgers & Fries. Vertigo came first. It is largely regarded as one of the best burger joints in Tallahassee. It was pretty good, but messy. Peter had a slider, and we joked that it must be so-named because the meat kept sliding off the bun. Melanie and I had the same problem with our burgers. BurgerFi was very, very, very expensive. Ridiculously so. I admit, it was tasty, but it wasn’t any better than Five Guys (and may not have been quite that good), making their exorbitant prices a huge turn-off. I wouldn’t bother with them again. Since moving back to Utah, I have twice eaten at Smashburger. My buddy Matt treated me to Smashburger in early November. My burger didn’t quite wow me, but the quality of the food was high enough that I was eager to return and give them another shot. We went there as a family a couple of days before Christmas. I tried a different burger, but the result was the same—good, but not quite knocking me off my feet. Having given them two tries, I don’t think I’ll bother with them again. They’re fine, but if you’re living in Utah, it’s hard to justify wasting your time on anything other than Crown Burgers. Especially when Smashburger serves shoestring fries, which I feel are kind of an insult to customers. On the plus side, I very much enjoyed Smashburger’s “Smashfries,” which are tossed in olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, making them pretty darn good despite being very thin. As for other items on their menu that I’ve tried, their fried pickles are okay and their Nutter Butter shakes are unique, but not really worth bothering with.

I’m happy to report that my favorite food discovery of 2014 did indeed take place in Utah and so is something I’ll hopefully be able to enjoy for years to come. I’ve now eaten at Café Zupas a total of four times since moving back to Utah, which isn’t too shabby given that I can only splurge on such things once in a while. I’ve tried several soups and sandwiches at this point, and each and every one has been of high quality and mighty tasty. My favorite soup is the cauliflower cheese, and I’m still trying to decide what my favorite sandwich is. I quite like the pesto chicken Panini, but on my most recent visit, Melanie got the Honey Cilantro Carnitas sandwich and it was super friggin’ yummy. This is a place I will hope to return with some frequency.

Among my food discoveries of 2014 are a handful of sweet treats. Gigi’s Cupcakes is located a few doors down from the Flying Bear and has extremely fancy cupcakes. Too fancy, really. There’s a mountain of frosting atop each one. It looks pretty, but I’d rather pick up a pack of Hostess Cup Cakes from the gas station (and they’d be cheaper). Lofty Pursuits is a combination ice cream parlor / game shop in Tallahassee that has really good ice cream. Sadly, despite my intentions to return, I only visited them once. I had their pistachio ice cream, which had a very clean, airy, flowery flavor to it. I tasted a few other flavors, thanks to my family and, of course, taste spoons. All of the flavors had a slight alcoholic taste to them, or so I thought. One of the flavors I tried, whose name escapes me, tasted exactly like buttery mashed potatoes. I don’t think that was the goal, but so it was. And finally, back in Utah, Melanie and I took our boys to Daylight Donuts on the morning of New Year’s Eve. I was woefully unimpressed. The selection was shoddy, the donuts looked messy, and the store employee didn’t know anything about them. I assume it was an anomaly, but at the time we visited, they offered only cake donuts. I asked the guy, “So, you don’t have any available right now that aren’t cake donuts?” He pointed at one kind of donut and said, “Well, these are cake donuts.” He then pointed at another kind of donut and said, “And I think these are whatever the other kind is.” Both kinds of donuts he pointed to were cake donuts. Melanie later heard him saying to another customer, “I’ve been telling people these are cake donuts, but I’m not really sure.” Regardless, the donuts we selected were so-so. They were very, very sweet. I will never go there again, and I would encourage people not to.

Okay, that’s enough food for thought. Stay tuned for more 2014 in Review…

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