Beyond the Food

Sneak Peek: Earls Kitchen + Bar | Tysons Corner, VA

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner

If you’re like me, you’ve probably never heard of Earls Kitchen + Bar, a North American “upscale casual” restaurant chain originating from Alberta, Canada. That’s not to say that they aren’t great, because they are, I’m just not well-versed in the Canadian food scene. Lucky for us, they’re slated to open a Tysons Corner location this fall, and I was thrilled to be invited to a cocktail demo lead by Cameron Bogue, the restaurant group’s Director of Beverage Operations.

I didn’t quite know what to expect. Still being relatively new to the food blogging world, we’ve only just started getting invited to preview nights like this. And up until this point, most of the restaurant stories we’ve done have been smaller restaurants or local chains.

With 64 locations in North America, Earls Kitchen + Bar is absolutely a chain. The restaurant group has over 7,000 employees and feeds approximately ten million people per year. This is a major restaurant operation here. The Tysons Corner location alone is a massive 10,000 s/f restaurant at the bottom floor of the VITA luxury apartment building near the new Silver line metro entrance.

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner (Photo courtesy of Earls)

So, quite honestly, I was expecting a larger corporate-ish event. The kind of event where you meet so many people that you don’t actually remember anyone or have a conversation that lasts more than the time it takes to exchange titles and business cards.

I’m happy to say, though, that this event was quite the opposite. A small, intimate section of the Mandarin Oriental DC’s Empress Lounge was set aside for the demo, which was comprised of a handful of food writers as well as the management and PR team for Earls Tysons Corner.

Oh, and the star of that evening, Cameron Bogue.

My impression of Earls can be best summed up by something Bogue said at the end of the night. As he packed up his bar utensil set, he was still beaming with energy from his beverage demo. He had spent the last hour and a half showcasing three cocktails he developed for Earls (which we’ll get to in a second), a nice perk of his role as the restaurant chain’s Director of Beverage Operations. His knowledge and enthusiasm for their beverage program–his beverage program–made it clear that Bogue was fully-immersed in a job that he loved.

As Bogue finished packing up his bar tools, I made a point to stop by and mention to him that his passion is clearly evident in what he does, but he corrected me–“It’s an obsession, really.”

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner | Cameron Bogue

Cameron Bogue, Director of Beverage Operations, Earls Kitchen + Bar (Photo courtesy of Earls)

And he was right. Bogue is obsessed with all aspects of cocktails. During his demo, in addition to a brief history of the libations, Bogue showed us how to make them, and also why he chose each component for the drinks. It was a charming mixture of professorial knowledge, combined with a giddiness and excitement that can’t be faked.

Bogue takes great pride in what he does and brought with him high standards for the beverage program at Earls. Each drink has its own character–some with their own specific glass (or camping mug). Juices are always fresh squeezed and all syrups are made in-house. Small steps that make a huge difference. And Bogue’s obsession isn’t just reserved for work, as some of the other Earls managers joked about his wall of spirits he had at his home and a kitchen drawer filled with, not utensils, but bottles of bitters.

So, although you might think passion and genuine obsession would be hard to find in a restaurant group the size of Earls, it was definitely present. It even extended beyond Cameron Bogue to the whole Earls team, each happy to tell their own stories within the company and their excitement for what the brand represents.

For example, Dylan Todd, the General Manager of the Tysons Corner location, has been with Earls for almost two decades, working his way up from washing dishes when he was 15 to his current role, managing one of the restaurant group’s most anticipated locations. You don’t stay with a company that long unless you truly have a passion for what it represents.

Of course, none of that passion matters if the drinks aren’t any good. Luckily, they were good. Very good.

Allow me to introduce you to a few fine libations…

Bees Knees

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner

Aviation Gin | Cointreau | Lemon Juice | Honey Syrup | Angostura Bitters (Photo courtesy of Earls)

This dangerously drinkable classic cocktail, Bees Knees, is the kind of drink that makes you wish for summertime and a hammock. And apparently people love to steal the honey bear glasses from Earls restaurants. No, I did not take mine with me…but I thought about it. Maybe next time…

Cabin Fever

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner

Crown Royal | Taylor Fladgate 10-Year Tawny Port | Pineapple Juice | Lemon Juice | Ginger Syrup | Bittered Sling Moondog Bitters | Soda Water (Photo courtesy of Earls)

Cabin Fever is a rustic cocktail that’s also well-balanced and, just feels plain cozy. It’s hard to not make friends over a round of these. And yes, that’s a pine cone in the mug. No, you don’t eat it, but it does help hold in the aromatics. Plus, it’s just cool. When’s the last time you had a pine cone in your drink?

Old Fashioned 

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner

Maker’s Mark | Demerera Syrup | Bittered Sling Root Beer Bitters (Photo courtesy of Earls)

Bogue’s take on this classic of all classics, the Old Fashioned. No big tricks or gimmicks here. Spirits. Sugar. Bitters. Ice. Nothing more. Don Draper would be proud.

Overall, it was a fun night of learning, laughing, good company, great conversation, and of course well-crafted cocktails. Based solely on these three drinks, I can safely say that the beverage program at Earls is an accurate and delicious reflection of Cameron Bogue’s obsession and a good omen for the food scene in Tyson’s Corner. The grand opening can’t come soon enough.

Earls Kitchen + Bar Tysons Corner
7902 Tysons One Place, Tysons Corner, VA
Twitter: @EarlsTysons
Facebook:  Earls Tysons Corner
Instagram:  @EarlsTysons

Disclaimer:  I was a guest of Earls Kitchen + Bar and was provided free samples of the three fabulous drinks mentioned above; however all opinions are my own. All photographs in this post are courtesy of Earls. 

Beyond the Food, Travel

11 Questions with Deli Board’s Adam Mesnick

Adam Mesnick of Deli Board

My relationship with San Francisco’s Deli Board all started with a single tweet:

The tip from @Catalyst_Red would become the recommendation of all recommendations during our recent trip to San Francisco. An hour after that tweet, I was mouf-deep in one of the best sandwiches of my life, the Ramone:

The Ramone | Deli Board - San Francisco

Let’s get a little closer:

The Ramone | Deli Board - San Francisco

Meet Ramone:  Romanian pastrami, turkey breast, kosher salami, provolone, cheddar, pickles, coleslaw, board sauce, brown mustard, and a fresh baked French roll.

Did it taste as good as it looks? Yes. Better, even. It was warm. It was satisfying. It was sure to appear in my dreams one night–every night. It’s construction felt like the design of a true sandwich engineer; each component working with the others, moist meat, the varying textures, house-made pickles, the bread–oh, the bread.

Before this gets too foodpornigraphic, let’s jump to the man behind Deli Board–The Chairman of the [Deli] Board–Adam Mesnick. A Cleveland native and former mortgage banker, Adam has turned his love of sandwiches into a carefully crafted deli destination in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. Although he is perpetually busy running Deli Board and the recently opened “newish delicatessen,” Rye Project, Adam was kind enough to take some time to answer these 11 questions:

1.  What is your fondest memory of food and why? 

For me, food evokes so many memories. I have too many amazing food memories to count–I have been eating food for 41 years. My memories of food are similar to many people’s feelings about music or a certain song, it takes me back to a certain place, a setting, it helps preserve great memories for me. Sometimes just cooking certain things, like matzo ball soup. I have so many memories, it really just depends on the day, and which woman in my family was yelling about too much salt in my broth.

2.  Do you have any specific morning routines or rituals that you do every day to prepare yourself for being the Chairman of the Board?

I am an early riser as we mainly focus on lunch, so I usually take my pooch for a quick stroll, grab coffees for my crew and head in to get the day prepped and ready. I live a block from both stores, so I am always close.

3.  Do you listen to music in the kitchen? If so, what artists are on the regular rotation?

I am mainly an old dead head, my crew not so much. They listen to all sorts of shit I don’t know the names of. But I do like that Usher song, “I Don’t Mind,” and they have really been into N.W.A. recently–I know all the lyrics from when I was a kid.

4.  You have a pretty solid team at Deli Board, what attributes do you look for in your employees?  

I am always looking for driven individuals that are service-oriented and have a positive attitude. Service and attitude are everything to me. Also, I am not afraid to spend the time training someone who is inexperienced; sometimes I actually prefer it.

5.  When you’re not working in your restaurants, what do you do to relax and unwind? 

Mainly eating out, I do yoga as much as seven days a week, hang out with friends and my pooch, and work. I am always working on something or thinking about food. I am sort of obsessed with food and those closest to me would tell you I never stop.

6.  Aside from yourself, is there one person (or people) who has been vital to the Deli Board’s success? 

There have been so many great additives along the way. It would not even be close to possible without great individuals working their tails off.

7.  Outside of sandwiches, is there another food item or genre that you’d like to master next? 

We are always looking to learn more about sandwiches, salads, salad dressings, soups, and sauces. We make everything in-house and they continue to evolve. We currently sell hot sauce at the stores and people dig it…I dig it. I am a pepperhead and love hot sauce, so packaging and the outsourcing of bottling is on the horizon. Way back in the day, when Deli Board started in 2009, we were a soup wholesaler and caterer. We now only cater, but we are working on a soup revamp as well right now, but for Deli Board and Rye Project, not wholesale.

8.  In an interview with SFGate, it was mentioned that the catalyst that eventually led you to Deli Board was losing your job in the  mortgage banking business. If you hadn’t lost your job, do you think you would still be working in banking industry today?

I stuck around mortgage until 2009–it was the catalyst for sure. It was my best job in the mortgage industry, and things went south from there. I sold my home short, and have built Deli Board from the ground up. There have been some angels along the way, but it was all loans and most are complete, or close to it. I needed to do food.

9.  If you could travel back in time to when you started Deli Board and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

The fact is, it’s food and my dream come true, but it is a business and needs to be sustainable.

10.  What’s the first thing you eat or first restaurant you visit when you go back to Cleveland?

I love Tommy’s Restaurant in Coventry; I eat a falafel. I also am a huge fan of pepperoni bread, so I run to the West Side Market.

11.  Has Lebron James ever eaten at Deli Board? If so, what’d he eat? If not, what sandwich would you recommend for him?

Lebron has only eaten at Deli Board in my dreams. He strikes me as a simple eater–he grew up in Akron. He would probably want corned beef or roast beef and cheese, bread, simple…maybe a little sauce.

A HUGE thanks to Adam for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions. And for everyone else out there, I hope your next task of the day is to book a ticket to San Francisco (especially you, Lebron).


Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

Biscuits? Good. Peaches? Good. Peach biscuits? Easier said than done.

The facts are these:

1.  Making flaky scratch-made biscuits requires a grandmotherly touch and often results in a kitchen mess comparable to a hurriquakephoon (the rare and deadly combination of a hurricane during an earthquake, followed by a typhoon).

2.  Locating perfectly fresh peaches is as difficult as it is to find Waldo at a red and white striped sweater convention. Yeah, I’ve tried.

Want an easier solution to your stone fruit biscuit craving?  Call in some replacements. Drop biscuits and nectarines, you’re up! 

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

Drop biscuits are as easy to make as pancakes, can be done in only one bowl, require no rolling or folding, and they still give you everything you love about homemade biscuits. Warm, fluffy interior. Slightly crunchy, GBD exterior.

And the nectarine is like the more consistent sister of the peach. Sure, it’s tough to beat a perfect peach–so sweet, so juicy–but they’re so delicate and high-maintenance that a good peach can turn into a handful of mush by the time you get home.

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

These nectarine drop biscuits are good. So good that they don’t even need any accoutrements. However, sometimes good isn’t enough. Sometimes you want great. Enter, spiced honey butter.

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

There’s no question that butter is the root of all culinary greatness. Adding honey, cardamom, and cinnamon is simply a bonus. A delicious, yet simple bonus.

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

The combination of the spiced butter with the delicate biscuits is so great that you could literally be in the middle of a hurriquakephoon and not even notice. But, if you are asked to evacuate, you probably should…just make sure you bring these biscuits with you.

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

Nectarine Drop Biscuits

Makes about 14 biscuits

  • 2 Large Nectarines, peeled and diced
  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons White Sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Cup Salted Butter, melted (1 stick)
  • 1 Cup Milk

1.  Preheat an oven to 450° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  Mix the dry ingredients is a large mixing bowl, then add the melted butter and milk. Mix until just combined; try not to over mix.

3.  Gently mix in the diced nectarines.

4.  Use a standard-size ice cream scoop to drop the dough onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes (until the biscuits are golden brown).

5.  Remove from the baking sheet and let them sit on a cooling rack for approximately 15 minutes. You can eat them immediately while they’re hot; however, given the moisture from the nectarines, they’ll seem a little underdone.

Spiced Honey Butter

  • 1 Stick of Salted Butter, softened
  • 2 Tablespoons Honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Cardamom
  • Pinch of Kosher Salt

1.  Mix all ingredients together until well-blended.

2.  Form the butter into a log and roll up into parchment paper or plastic wrap (like a butter-sausage). Freeze for about 10 minutes to set, then store in the refrigerator.

Nectarine Drop Biscuits with Spiced Honey Butter

Mouf Links, Travel

Mouf Links: Pocono Mountains Edition

Pocono Mountains

Okay, first purge your mind of what you think the “Poconos” is all about, because you’re wrong. The era of champagne glass-shaped hot tubs is over, ’cause we’re talking bout the Pocono Mountains here. The real attraction of this destination can be found outside of a hotel room, with enough outdoor activities to satisfy even the bravest Bear Grylls wannabes. Not to mention the fact that the area is quickly becoming a mecca for water parks. Oh, and you want good food? Yeah, they got that, too.

Although we were unable to attend a recent #DCTravelBloggers trip to the Pocono Mountains, below you can find links recapping the experiences of some of our local blogger friends who ventured up to Pennsylvania for a long weekend. If you’re considering a vacation in the Pocono Mountains, we highly recommend perusing their experiences. They’ll tell you what to pack, where to stay, what activities to do, and especially what you should EAT.

1.  48 Hours in the Pocono Mountains | Will Drink For Travel

2.  Farm to Table at Shawnee Inn | The Dining Traveler

3.  Weekend Trip to the Pocono Mountains | Travelaine

4.  Escape to the Pocono Mountains | The Together Traveler

5.  8 Great Poconos Summer Activities | McCool Travel

6.  Kalahari Resort, Pocono Mountains | McCool Travel

7.  SCDC Travels:  The Poconos | Spicy Candy DC

8.  Pocono Mountains (Summer) | A Lacey Perspective

9.  Experience the best of the Pocono Mountains | The Hungry Travelist

10.  Whitewater rafting in the Poconos | The Hungry Travelist

11.  Dinner at the Shawnee Craft Brewery – “Beer from here; Food from near” | The Hungry Travelist

12.  Recap:  Shawnee Island Camping Experience in the Pocono Mountains | Will Drink For Travel


50 Posts in 100 Days

50 Posts in 100 Days

So, our #100DaysofFoodBlogging train fell off the tracks during that last month and we only hit 50 posts. Averaging a post every other day is still much better than our prior average of about once a week, so it did work as a strong motivator to be more productive.

We’re glad we did it to push ourselves a bit, but would we do it again? Probably not; at least not exactly the same way. There’s a certain point where quantity becomes more important than quality and when you hit that wall, it starts to feel like work. The last thing we want is for the blog to become a chore looming over us every day.

Having said that, it did force us to try some stuff we probably wouldn’t have otherwise and was great motivation to think up some cool ideas for future posts (when we have more time). I think next year we’ll use the 100 days to try and come up with an idea for a post every day; essentially starting a draft of a post each day to which we can go back and take the time to have fun and make it right.

No matter what, it was fun and for a procrastinator like myself, it’s always thrilling to have one more thing to put off until the last minute (or ignore completely).

#100DaysOfFoodBlogging, Reviews

Woodbridge Food Truck Festival aka Food Truck Heaven

Woodbridge Food Truck Festival |

[This is post #050 towards #100DaysOfFoodBlogging, our goal to do 100 posts in 100 days as part of The 100 Day Project. Yeah, we’re WAY behind, but we’ll catch up…or not.]

Cost:  There is no admission fee; however parking is $5 per vehicle. There are optional $10 VIP tickets that allow you access to the festival for an hour before it opens to the public, along with free parking, and a beverage. Food from the trucks ranges in price, but be prepared to spend at least $20 per person to get a good sampling of food, drinks, and sweets. I ended up spending $31 for myself on all the food shown below along with a bottle of water. I was STUFFED by the time I left.

Location:  Prince William County Fairgrounds – 10624 Dumfries Road, Manassas, VA 20112

Past/Future Dates:  July 10, 2015 & September 26, 2015

Okay, so we’ve complained in the past about the lack of food trucks out in the ‘burbs, but on Saturday, July 10th we had absolutely nothing to complain about. With approximately 30 food trucks at the event, the Woodbridge Food Truck Festival arrived at the Prince William County Fairgrounds in Manassas, VA. Previously held at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, VA, the original festival attracted somewhere between 8,000 – 10,000 attendees, so the fairgrounds provided a larger venue, which can more easily accommodate that type of crowd.

With so many options, it was hard to decide what to eat. I think I spent more time wandering around the aisles of trucks lined along the the paved walkways than I actually did eating. And obviously it would be impossible and very expensive to try and eat something from every single truck (by the way I’m willing to do this if someone wants to be my financial backer). None the less, here are a few of my favorite bites and trucks from the event.


MeggRolls |

Literally two days ago, a co-worker of mine was telling me how she wished there was a food truck based solely on egg rolls. You can pretty much stuff anything inside of a crispy wonton, so why not, right? Well, Meggrolls is doing it and doing it well. Their “Big Megg” is a play on a Big Mac, complete with special sauce and pickles. I’ll take the egg roll version over the classic burger any day. I also loved the Meggrolls truck because they offered smaller dishes ($3 for one egg roll), which helped me save room and money to try some other fare.

Feelin’ Crabby

Feelin' Crabby |

I’ve heard great things about this crab-themed food truck, so I made it a point to stop by Feelin’ Crabby to check out the Crabster, their “hybrid” slider. For $6, The Crabster includes 1 oz of jumbo lump crab and 1 oz of lobster claw and knuckle meat dressed in an Old Bay seasoned sauce (it’s kind of like cold crab/lobster salad sandwich). The slider was outstanding and was packed full of meat with a sauce that added that classic Old Bay taste without stepping on the delicate flavor of the seafood. If you’ve never tried this truck before, add it to the top of your “Must Search Out and Devour” list.

Arepa Zone

Arepa Zone |

Having had a less than stellar arepa experience from restaurant in another city, I was eager for Arepa Zone to make me a fan of arepas. “What’s an arepa?” I’m glad you asked! It’s a grilled corn patty that is sliced open and stuffed with meat, cheese, and/or other delicious toppings. I opted to try the Catira, which is filled with shredded chicken and shredded yellow cheese. The corn patty had a nice exterior crunch, while the chicken was moist, packed with flavor, and plentiful. It’s also served with a spicy sauce on the side that added a nice kick. The arepa was made to order, so it was burning hot which meant I was battling my will power not to quickly devour the whole thing and burn my mouf. In the end, Arepa Zone did make me a fan of arepas. BIG TIME.

Dyvine BBQ In Motion

Woodbridge Food Truck Festival |

In an industry dominated by fusion food, quirky dishes, and food trends, sometimes it’s nice to take a break with something simple, honest, and satisfying. All three are easily achieved by the chicken on a stick from Dyvine BBQ In Motion. An entire boneless chicken thigh, perfectly juicy with an awesome house rub (no BBQ sauce necessary) was the perfect way to end my adventure at the Woodbridge Food Truck Festival. So, yes, I basically had BBQ chicken for dessert.

#100DaysOfFoodBlogging, Reviews

Review: Popeyes® Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp

Popeyes Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp |

[This is post #049 towards #100DaysOfFoodBlogging, our goal to do 100 posts in 100 days as part of The 100 Day Project. Yeah, we’re WAY behind, but we’ll catch up…or not.]

The wait is over. At the beginning of July, Popeyes introduced their newest limited time offer:  Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp.

Popeyes Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp |

Basically, they take their marinated butterfly shrimp and toss it in a hushpuppy-inspired sweet cornmeal batter. To continue their cycle of new dipping sauces, the shrimp are accompanied by a Creole Cocktail Sauce. Makes perfect sense to combine two seafood favorites into one bite, but I honestly didn’t have high hopes for these shrimp. I’m the first to profess my love of Popeyes chicken, but rarely does seafood translate well in fast food form. So, I liked the concept, but didn’t expect it to be an item I’d want to order again.

Well, I was completely wrong.

Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp

Price:  Prices vary by location, so these are based on the Manassas, VA store.

Combo:  Approx. 8 shrimp + 1 Side + Drink = $5.99
Platter:  Approx. 8 Shrimp + 2 Sides + Drink = $7.99

I opted for the platter with sides of cajun rice and mashed potatoes. The platter also comes with an even larger drink which I believe they call Diabetes Size. Seriously, take a look at this monster, which is next to a half-gallon carton of milk:

Popeyes Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp |

Looks:  The first thing I noticed was that the Shrimp are disappointingly small. I suppose for the price, it’s hard to complain, but I would recommend going for the platter, which will help fill you up with that extra side. The crust is noticeably different than previous versions of their shrimp, which is clearly made with cornmeal. The shrimp are not quite uniform, with some looking more like a group of fried amoebas.

Popeyes Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp |

Smell:  I picked up my meal through the drive-through, so I had to spend about ten minutes smelling these things on the drive home. I can’t say they specifically smelled of hushpuppies, rather they smelled more generally like a seafood restaurant (in a good way). I wanted to sneak a bite at a stoplight, but my hands were dirty from playing basketball with my brother. (And yes, I beat him two out of our three games, with a three-pointer at the end of the third game to confirm my greatness. I’m ready for you, Lebron.)

Popeyes Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp |

Texture:  The exterior crust was deliciously crunchy without being too heavy. A lot of fast food restaurants attempt to hide the actual shrimp with too much thick, cakey breading, but I like the shrimp-to-batter ratio on these. Hey, and shockingly, the shrimp wasn’t overcooked! It was moist and as pretentious as it sounds, “its softness contrasted nicely with the crunch of the cornmeal breading.” Yeah, I know…

Taste:  The good times kept rolling with the taste of this batter. As advertised, it had a nice hushpuppy-style sweetness, but the surprising part was that the shrimp were also a little bit spicy. It took me off-guard because I wasn’t expecting any spice. It was a decent heat, but I wouldn’t call it burning hot by any means. Overall, it reminded me of a hushpuppy, but even better. Most hushpuppies wish they were this good. I quickly became sad that I only had eight small shrimp to eat and regretted not getting a second “backup” order.

Creole Cocktail Sauce

Popeyes Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp |

Sadly, the name of this new dipping sauce should have been Unnecessary Cocktail-Sauce Inspired Ketchup. First, the shrimp are so good that the don’t need any sauce. Second, if the shrimp did need a sauce, I would think a cooler tarter sauce would work well with the spiciness of the shrimp. Overall, I didn’t hate the sauce by itself, as the Creole Cocktail Sauce’s heat was pleasant and I wouldn’t mind dipping some fries into the thick, dark red sauce, but it just seemed superfluous with these shrimp.


Although I’d skip the sauce, I would absolutely order the Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp again. In fact, there’s a 93.4% chance that I’ll be stopping by Popeyes again this weekend. I loved everything about these, except for the size, which is in-part due to the fact that they taste so freaking good that I wanted more.

Not sure if it would translate well to chicken, but I’d be curious to try some chicken tenders with this batter. (You listening, Popeyes?) or maybe Popeyes should just PUT ACTUAL HUSHPUPPIES ON THE MENU. Just a thought.

Want a second opinion? Check out these other reviews:

Grubgrade | Review:  Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp from Popeyes

DanimalCrossing | Popeye’s Hushpuppy Butterfly Shrimp Review

If you liked this post, you might enjoy this review of POPEYES SMOKY GARLIC CHILE CHICKEN:

Popeyes Smoky Garlic Chile Chicken |

Disclaimer:  No free shrimp or cash money was provide to us for this review; however, they did accidentally give me a free side of mashed potatoes.

#100DaysOfFoodBlogging, Reviews

Duck Donuts – Fairfax, VA

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

[This is post #048 towards #100DaysOfFoodBlogging, our goal to do 100 posts in 100 days as part of The 100 Day Project. Yeah, we’re WAY behind, but we’ll catch up…]

The legend of Duck Donuts has grown fairly quickly around Northern Virginia over the last year.

A staple of the Outer Banks (a beach vacation destination for many in the area), the donut shop has recently expanded up the east coast via franchised locations.

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

Exterior of the Fairfax Duck Donuts location

Although I have been to the Outer Banks before, I never had an opportunity to try Duck Donuts, so last year at this time, I didn’t even know what a Duck Donut was. Now they’re popping up all around us, including one in Herndon, the newly opened Fairfax location, and the soon-to-be open Bristow shop (which happens to be about five minutes from our house).

People who have enjoyed the fried treats at the beach are happy to sing their praises. So much so, that over the last year the lore of this brilliantly delicious, yet simple donut shop has spread with conversations that have included the following phrases:

“You’re getting a Duck Donuts!”

“I don’t eat donuts very often, but I always eat Duck Donuts when I’m at the beach.”

“OMG! Is Duck Donuts open already?”

“DUCK DONUTS?! [followed by weird exclamatory noises]”

With so much hype, I was a little bit concerned of being let down. Could these fried dough rings really live up to the legend?

Fortunately, the Fairfax shop is near my office, so a co-worker kindly picked up a couple dozen for us to sample.  We tried nearly all of the  possible flavor combinations, with the highlights being orange glaze, classic cinnamon sugar, chocolate with peanuts, and french toast (the daily special, which I believe was a cinnamon sugar donut with maple glaze).

So, what’d I think?

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

I ate three donuts for breakfast, then went to the store at lunch to take a dozen home.

These donuts are freaking addicting. I’m typically partial to yeast donuts over the cake style, but these cake donuts are very light. When eaten fresh you’ll be met with a nice crunch in the middle hole where the dough was fried crispy–I love that crunch.

What’s their secret to a simple, yet addicting fried treat?

They don’t have a case of pre-made items for you to pick from, because ALL of the donuts are made to order. What makes the process even easier is the order forms. You don’t have to use them, but it definitely helps for large orders, as a grid of toppings and flavors lets you easily choose your favorite combinations.

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

While waiting for your order, you can watch the efficient assembly line at work. On one end, guided by a human donut professional, a donut machine cranks out little fried halos of heaven. Another donut pro places them on a drying rack ready for the next group of employees to fill orders by glazing and topping the donuts with the customers’ choices.

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

When your number is called, you’re shown your box of donuts to confirm everything looks right. Then they close the box up, hand it to you, and–this is my favorite part–IT IS STILL WARM.

A warm box of donuts is a dangerous thing.

More dangerous though, are the actual donuts.

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

Like many before me, I am happy to help spread the legend of Duck Donuts. Go ahead and drool over this menu:

Duck Donuts - Fairfax, VA |

Disclaimer:  No free donuts or ducks were provided for this post. 

PS:  Their donuts are fantastic fresh, but if you do happen to have leftovers, might I suggest using them to make this >>> Doughnut French Toast Waffles

#100DaysOfFoodBlogging, Recipes

Brown Butter Ramen with Berries & Almonds

Brown Butter Ramen with Berries & Almonds |

[This is post #047 towards #100DaysOfFoodBlogging, our goal to do 100 posts in 100 days as part of The 100 Day Project. Yeah, we’re behind, but we’ll catch up…]

There’s an easy trick that can be used to make almost any dish taste better: Add toasted almonds and dried fruit.

Is your salad looking like just a bowl of leaves? Sprinkle in some almonds and dried cranberries.

Lonely bowl of vanilla ice cream? Invite some almonds and dried fruit to the party.

Tired of the same old Brussels sprouts? Almonds. Cranberries.

But does it work for instant Ramen?

Brown Butter Ramen with Berries & Almonds |


Since ramen noodles themselves don’t have any sort of strong flavor, they work quite well as base for a dessert. Brown butter makes everything better, while the almonds provide a crunch and the berries cut the richness with a pop of tart. And it’s fun to slurp noodles. It just is. I would slurp all of my meals if possible.

This isn’t overtly sweet and I enjoyed it. I ate the whole bowl, even though I had already eaten breakfast and only planned on tasting it. (And let’s be honest, there’s no good reason to waste brown butter).

Okay, so it tastes pretty good, but would I actually make this again?

Brown Butter Ramen with Berries & Almonds |


I’m not quite sure where this dessert fits. It wasn’t difficult, but for the effort you could probably make something better. I might lean more towards making this for breakfast since it has the same vibes as oatmeal. But, I’m not sure this is better than oatmeal. It’s certainly not as nutritious.

However, the name does lend itself well to a restaurant menu. If I saw “Brown Butter Ramen with Almonds & Berries” on a dessert menu, I’d absolutely give it a try over chocolate cake, cheesecake, or some other mundane choice. And the name is probably why you clicked through.

Either way, it’s still a fun dish and is worth making at least once.

Brown Butter Ramen with Berries & Almonds |

Brown Butter Ramen with Almonds & Berries

  • 1 Package of Instant Ramen
  • 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon of Honey
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Slivered Almonds
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Berries
  • Cinnamon

1. Toast the almonds over medium heat in a small frying pan until golden in color. It should take about five minutes, but your nose will also let you know when they’re done (it’ll smell like roasted nuts).

2.  Brown the butter using these tips. Once sufficiently brown and not burned, pour the butter into a small bowl and set aside.

2.  Prepare the ramen noodles per the instructions on the package (don’t use the flavor packets).

3.  Drain the noodles and place back into the pan you used to boil them. While still hot, pour in the butter, pinch of salt, honey, and berries. Toss until well mixed, then place in a shallow bowl. Top with almonds and a light dusting of cinnamon.

Brown Butter Ramen with Berries & Almonds |


#100DaysOfFoodBlogging, Beyond the Food

Shenandoah Express Juice & Java – Prince William County, VA

Shenandoah Express Juice & Java |

[This is post #046 towards #100DaysOfFoodBlogging, our goal to do 100 posts in 100 days as part of The 100 Day Project. Yeah, we’re behind, but we’ll catch up…]

I think most people living in the Washington, DC metropolitan area feel the pain of a daily commute. The money blown on gas. The monotonous crawl of cars. All those wasted hours.

Sometimes enough is enough. So, last year Kandi Mitchell decided to do something about it. And somewhat ironically, her plan to avoid the 90+ minute one-way commute from Bristow to Arlington everyday, involved spending more time in a vehicle: Her very own coffee truck, Shenandoah Express Juice & Java.

Shenandoah Express Juice & Java |

Part of the inspiration came from the Alaskan coffee huts she and her husband frequented when they lived in the 49th state. Each hut has its own unique look, personality, and menu–quite the stark contrast to the surplus of chain coffee shops in Prince William County.

Kandi describes the moment she decided to pursue the coffee truck as “exhilarating,” but there was also plenty of anxiety mixed in.

I was excited that I’d finally made the decision to breathe life into the ideas that had been rolling around in my head for the past few years. At the same time, I was very nervous about giving up a well paying job to do something I had never done before.

Shenandoah Express Juice & Java |

Kandi quickly got to work. She found an excellent resource at and raved about the helpfulness of their podcasts, which feature interviews with food truck owners and related industry professionals. She also tapped into her experience in project management as a Systems Engineer for an aviation consulting firm. Patience and good organization are two valuable traits to have when dealing with the business side of things. It also goes without saying that her service to our country in the United States Air Force would also come in handy in staying cool under pressure and stressful situations.

From the start of her venture, Kandi knew she wasn’t in this just to replace her day job; she wanted to make a difference. Through Organic Products Trading Company she learned of Cafe Femenino, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide grants to programs and projects that enhance the lives of women and their families in coffee-producing communities around the world. Sourcing a product that is good is always the goal, but she was able to find coffee beans that were also doing good. After sampling the coffee, she and her husband, Jesse, were hooked. This was a product she would be proud to serve.

Shenandoah Express Juice & Java |

With a source of quality raw beans, next was finding a commercial roaster to make those beans ready for her espresso beverages. Like some perfect coincidence, Kandi found Monument Coffee Roasters, another local company, who much like her, was in the early stages of their own coffee business. (To learn more about the story behind Monument Coffee Roasters, check out our post from last winter.)

Beans? Check. Roaster? Check. Now, the most important part: The truck. Built from scratch in Georgia, this deep red truck arrived as a blank canvas. Kandi credits her sister, Kris, for being a vital part of the design by helping to create the logo, decals, and signage. Kris even went so far as to fly down from Michigan (with everything stuffed in her luggage) to help Kandi apply the decals to the truck. With Kris’s help, Kandi was able to pay homage to the local train culture, while also ensuring that it attracts plenty of eyes–an important aspect to any food truck.

The inside of the truck is also surprisingly spacious, comfortably fitting 3-4 adults with elbow room to spare. It’s even outfit with plenty of amenities, like air conditioning/heating, running water, large refrigerator, and even a bathroom, something that will make long days at events a little bit easier.

Shenandoah Express Juice & Java |

This is by no means an easy task, and Kandi admits that owning her own truck has created its own set of daily struggles–sustaining a parking place, sourcing ingredients, following (and sometimes interpreting) regulations–it all takes patience and perseverance. As I noticed and mentioned before in a previous post, entrepreneurs don’t venture out on their own so they can work less, they do it so they can work more at something they’re passionate about.

It’s been and continues to be really hard work. I actually love that part. I feel challenged in a completely different way than I am used to.

Kandi also noted that one of the benefits of leaving a desk job was the increased physical activity; being on her feet all day has even led her to losing a few pounds (so maybe the “Food Truck Diet” will eventually catch on). But also mentally, there’s a strong sense of accomplishment that can be achieved through interacting with satisfied customers.

“I get a lot of really nice comments about my truck and my products. People really like it once they’ve tried it and I already have a few regular customers. That’s very validating.”

Why are the customers so satisfied? Aside for fresh, locally roasted beans, she offers something different from the same ol’ options, with a menu that’s constantly changing. The menu has its standard morning fare, fresh fruit smoothies, hot or iced lattes, and pastries, but there’s always a special or two to help mix things up, like The Commuter Canon (a hazelnut and caramel latte), or a supercharged Soy Chai latte with a shot of espresso. Also, with the hot summer months, you can expect to see some refreshing cold brew being served. When asked about her personal favorites, Kandi mentioned she was more a fan of variety than of any go-to drink.

“I like to try something different every day, but my favorite flavors are hazelnut, caramel, and chai so they’re my fallbacks when I’m not feeling particularly creative.”

So, if you’re in Prince William County and you see her red truck parked somewhere, be sure to stop by and say hello to Kandi! Sure it might be easier to go to the drive-thru of a large chain, but when you have an opportunity to support a veteran, woman-owned business sourcing responsibly and supporting a great cause, seems like the choice is pretty clear. And Kandi’s coffee is way better.

Shenandoah Express Juice & Java |

Picture courtesy of Shenandoah Express Juice & Java via Facebook.

You can follow Shenandoah Express Juice & Java’s schedule on Facebook for updates on where the truck is parked, but here is a sampling of some of the regular spots: