Reviews, Travel

Eat + Hike + Sleep: Monterey County, California

Big Sur |

Since the strong majority of our vacations primarily involve eating, hiking, and sleeping, it only makes sense to start an ongoing series aptly named Eat + Hike + Sleep. Yeah, you wish you could come up with a title as original as that. Didn’t even need a thesaurus.

The first location up for this series:  Monterey County, California. With all the times we’ve landed at SFO, we always ended up traveling north. There is tons of awesomeness up north like, duh…San Francisco, but also other cool places like Mill Valley, Sonoma, and Napa. I’ve never been, but I’ve also heard that Berkeley is a cool town to check out too. And if we’re talking further north, I enjoyed my time in Sacramento and its surrounding wine country.

Wanting to mix things up on our recent trip out west, we figured it was time to head south and check out what Monterey County had to offer. Specifically, we stayed in Carmel Valley and spent some time in Big Sur cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway.


Good to Go (Carmel-By-The-Sea)

Good to Go - Carmel-By-The-Sea |

Located in the Crossroads Carmel shopping center, this juice and smoothie joint was a convenient stop in between Carmel Valley and Big Sur. Also, with most of our other meals clocking in with a a maxed out indulgence level, grabbing some smoothies from Good to Go was a perfect way to start a day of hiking.

Café Rustica  (Carmel Valley Village)   Cafe Rustica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Rustica - Carmel Valley Village | | #foodstories

Cafe Rustica - Carmel Valley Village | | #foodstories

Herb-Roasted Half Chicken | crispy artichokes, au gratin potatoes, ratatouille, and kalamata olives

Café Rustica is such a cozy place. I felt like a foreign exchange student having dinner in a European family’s house. That kind of cozy. The portions were generous and my Herb-Roasted Half Chicken dish had like fifteen different sides (er, well four).  I was afraid they might be fattening us up for tomorrow’s special. And also, two words: Crispy artichokes.

Corkscrew Cafe (Carmel Valley Village)   Corkscrew Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Corkscrew Cafe - Carmel Valley Village | | #foodstories

Wild Mushroom Gnocchi | parsnips, arugula, pistachio, Brussels sprouts, chive lemon brown butter, & frisee

Corkscrew Cafe - Carmel Valley Village | | #foodstories

Roasted Tomato Pizza | mozzarella, basil, olive oil, goat cheese, roasted garlic, olives, tomato sauce

A sign of a good restaurant is one that you visit twice during a vacation. We did just that with Corkscrew Cafe. First of all, they have a bread basket on the menu. At first I was appalled that bread wasn’t free and was ready to fight someone. But the more we thought about it, we realized that if a restaurant is going to put bread on the menu, then it better be the best bread in town. After talking with the server, we found out that “Jason’s Bread” (as it is listed on the menu) is indeed made by Jason, whose sole responsibility at the restaurant is to make bread. He also confirmed that it was magical. So we got the bread and not only was the bread as brilliant as advertised, but the whole freaking meal was just perfect. The Wild Mushroom Gnocchi might have been the most memorable dish of the trip and the chili & honey braised Short Ribs just melted on the plate. I sent the knife back, because there was no need for it. It was so good and we returned the next night. Too bad they were out of bread, but I don’t want to talk about it…  Luckily the Roasted Tomato Pizza and Kale Salad did not disappoint.

Valley Kitchen (Carmel Valley)   Valley Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Valley Kitchen - Carmel Valley |

Located in the Carmel Valley Ranch, Valley Kitchen ended up being a perfect way to end the trip with a final dinner in Carmel Valley. The Honey and Goat Cheese Salad as well as the Asparagus and Wild Arugla Salad were fresh and filling. It was also fun playing a game of russian roulette with the cast iron pan fried shishito peppers. Somehow I ended up with all the hot ones. The real star was not the food, but our server (who’s name we forgot to write down)–He was knowledgable about the local wines in an unpretentious way and even allowed us to sample some of the ranch’s own Swing Pinot Noir. His friendliness also allowed us to find out a little bit more about the area and the ranch. The meal and service made it even harder to leave the next day, but I have a feeling we’ll be back soon.


Point Lobos State Reserve (Carmel-By-The-Sea)

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve - Carmel-By-The-Sea, California |

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – Carmel-By-The-Sea, California

With a lot hikes, you have to really earn the good views through steep climbs, spider-webs, and losing at least one boot to a mud puddle. But, at Point Lobos, within about five minutes of walking, we were met with landscapes that I wish we could bring back with us to the east coast. The trails are all fairly easy and your reward for what seems like no work at all, is an abundance of blue coves, towering trees, and magnificent cliffs. And as an added bonus, we’re pretty sure we saw a seal give birth. Check off “birthing seal” from the bucket list. A word of warning, parking is limited, so unless you want to park on the street and hike to your hike, arrive as early as you can.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (Big Sur)

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - Big Sur, California |

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - Big Sur, California |

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – Big Sur, California

As easy and GORGEOUS (yelled with a British accent) as Point Lobos was, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park’s .64-mile McWay Waterfall Trail leads to a blue cove and a flowing waterfall that lands directly onto the beach itself. For a longer, more challenging hike, you can head inland on the 4.5-mile Ewoldsen Trail where you follow a stream along somewhat visible paths. You can park for free fairly easily along Route 1 near the park entrance, but why wouldn’t you want to support the park system? It’s only ten bucks…

17-mile Drive (Pebble Beach)

The Lone Cypress - 17-MIle Drive - Pebble Beach, California

The Lone Cypress – 17-Mile Drive – Pebble Beach, California |

2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD |

Checking out a beach along 17-Mile Drive with our fun buddy, the 2016 Mazda CX-3.

This is less of a hike and more of a “drive and stop to walk around,” destination, but 17-Mile Drive is still a fun way to kill an afternoon. It’s a surreal contrast between nature, tourists, and a golf course community where the average home price is in the double-digit millions.


Carmel Valley Ranch (Carmel Valley)

Carmel Valley Ranch | Vinyard Oak Studio |

The view from our Vineyard Oak Studio balcony at Carmel Valley Ranch

Carmel Valley Ranch | Carmel Valley, CA

Making good use of the double-sided fireplace

We had originally planned on spending our last night in San Francisco before we flew back, but we just didn’t want to leave Carmel Valley Ranch. From the indoor/outdoor fireplaces and outdoor soaking tub on our deck, to sweeping views and live turkeys, pregnant deer, and ranch-made honey, this place was almost as magical as Disney World–except Carmel Valley Ranch has heated bathroom floors. And that doesn’t even touch on the massive list of activities that the resort has to offer which include hiking trails, tennis courts, golf, food demos, horseback riding, and even a chance to collect honey from their onsite bee hives. You could literally stay here for a week and never leave. Yeah, it was totally worth it to wake up at 5 AM to drive two hours to SFO to catch our flight, just so we’d have one more evening here.

Obviously these are only a few of the hikes, eats, and sleeps that can be found in the area. Drop us a comment for your favorite places or suggestions for where we should head next time. There WILL be a next time.


Thanks to DriveShop and Mazda, we had a 2016 Mazda CX-3 to play with for a about 500 miles (check out our car review here). Its nimble handling made it a blast to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway.

2013 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD |


Disclaimer:  We were not provided any free food, lodging, or park entrances for this post. We liked all these goods and services and would gladly pay for more of ’em again.

Reviews, Travel

The Butcher and Barkeep – Harleysville, PA

The Butcher and Barkeep |

The Butcher and Barkeep is the type of establishment every town needs.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a small town, a big city, or even suburbia. There’s not a community on the planet that wouldn’t support a place like this.  A place that takes their beer as seriously as their cocktails and their cocktails as seriously as their food. The menu is thoughtful and interesting, yet the portions are generous for a reasonable price. The cocktail menu makes the joint sound fancy, but it’s plenty casual. You could come here to celebrate a promotion, or stop by for a beer after a rough day at work. It’s hard to peg The Butcher and Barkeep to a specific identity, because it has broad appeal, yet when you visit, you realize they’re doing something so specifically enjoyable that it’s as if they created the atmosphere just for you.

Shrimp & Grits | The Butcher and Barkeep |

Shrimp & Grits | cheesy grits, Carolina shrimp, andouille-bell pepper cream

In a time where many restaurants and bars are turning towards a specialized focus, it’s nice to have a place with the culinary cahonas to try to do everything well.

So, what’s the secret?

Food-wise there are no gimmicks. They have southern staples like Shrimp & Grits and Gumbo; albeit with their own interpretation. I suppose the Sexy Fries might sound like a gimmick, but you won’t give a damn. They’re so satisfying because they combining a bunch of comforting flavors, you can eat them by hand, and they go great with a brew. And drizzle truffle oil and Hollandaise on anything and it’s going to be sexy, but that ain’t no secret.

Sexy Fries | The Butcher and Barkeep |

Sexy Fries | hand cut fries, fresh herbs, parmesan, hollandaise, truffle oil

Having a huge beer selection definitely helps. And by huge, I mean they’re basically a restaurant attached to a bottle shop and draft house. Ask the bartender for a recommendation and you’ll realize he knows the ins and outs of everything they serve. Had a bad day slogging through 9-to-5? Try a Sly Fox Helles Golden Lager. Grabbing a brew after hitting the golf course with a buddy? Hardywood’s The Great Return IPA. Killing time while the wife works and you’re partial to the art of stout? Yards Love Stout. That’s all well and good, but being an excellent brewhouse is hardly some magic secret to success.

If a restaurant excels in food and is also well versed in its selection of craft beer, there’s no way they’d be able to present a cocktail program that lives up to the already high expectations, right? Wrong. House-infused liquors and homemade syrups fuel libations such as the Matcha Maker (matcha tea infused vodka, elder flower liquor, lemon, anise syrup), Country Pie Old Fashioned (brown butter infused bourbon, luxardo, honey liquor, angostura) and the Winter Mule (black pepper infused vodka, lime, ginger beer, winter spice syrup, nutmeg). The cocktails are complex–not complicated–and so precisely balanced that you can only assume they were designed in a laboratory.

Matcha Maker | The Butcher and Barkeep |

Matcha Maker | matcha tea infused vodka, elder flower liquor, lemon, anise syrup

If the secret isn’t the food, or brews, or cocktails, then it’s easy to say that the secret has to be the people. Attentive servers and knowledgeable bartenders can only be the result of a trickling down of great leadership from the owners Gerard Angelini, Cody Ferdinand, and Jeffrey Sacco. 

The simple truth is that there is no one singular reason and that The Butcher and Barkeep is far greater than the sum of its parts, where the sum equates to a place where you want to go to simply be happy. When was the last time you had a meal that made you truly happy? Content without feeling trendy. Comfortable, despite being surrounded by strangers. Satisfied, without feeling like a glutton.

If you’re ever in Harleysville, PA–which is a suburb of Philadelphia–make the effort to stop by The Butcher and Barkeep for a great meal, cold drinks, and an unlimited supply of happiness.

The Butcher and Barkeep
712 Main St, Harleysville, PA 19438
Butcher and Barkeep Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich: Surprisingly Not Awful

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Review #getinmymouf

Thanks to DriveShop and Kia, we had a 2015 Kia Optima SX to play with for a week (check out our car review here). It’s a really comfortable car, so I figured it would make for a great lunch escape. Sure enough, it was provided a calm, comfortable, place to enjoy a Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich from McDonalds.

McDonald's Butter Crispy Chicken Review #getinmymouf

Now, on to the sandwich…

McDonald's Butter Crispy Chicken Review #getinmymouf

I tried this sandwich twice. The first time, my expectations were so low that I also simulataneously picked up a Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich from Wendy’s as a back up lunch. Yes, I was prepared to hate McD’s new “food truck worthy” sandwich. And yes, I was prepared to throw it in the garbage and eat the ol’ faithful from Wendy’s.

Fortunately, I did not have to throw out any chicken.

McDonald's Butter Crispy Chicken Review #getinmymouf

In other reviews of the sandwich, there have references to dry, stringy chicken. The first sandwich’s chicken was burning hot, moist, and–dare I even say it–perfect. The second sandwich wasn’t completely dry, but was just okay. So, it seems like consistency might play a role in everyone’s individual experiences. For the best chance, you’ll definitely want to go during a busy lunch hour, or else you may end up with a chicken fillet that has been hanging out a little too long.

As the name would suggest, it was also quite crispy. Actually, crunchy might be more accurate. Yes, it was very crunchy, which was nice.

Flavor-wise, I definitely tasted some of that tang of the buttermilk, along with a healthy dose of black pepper. It reminded me a little bit of the flavor of Wendy’s fried chicken sandwich. No need to reinvent the wheel.

The bun? Impressive. Soft, buttery…brioche-y. It’s a good bun.

McDonald's Butter Crispy Chicken Review #getinmymouf

Even the vegetation was better than most of McDonald’s other sandwiches, with a thicker slice of tomato and crisp lettuce, which also seemed fresher than the usual lettuce suspects.

The Mayonnaise Situation

The only flaw, which is also a flaw for many sandwiches at McDonald’s, is the mayonnaise. I rarely shy away from a good, creamy mayo. I spent the better part of my teenage years surviving off Subway subs with extra mayo. So, as a big supporter of the pro-mayo movement, it takes a truly awful mayonnaise to make me angry (and don’t get me started on that disgusting Miracle Whip stuff).

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Review #getinmymouf

And with McD’s, there is always way too much mayo. It’s too thick, almost gelatinous. I feel like I should be using it to grease up car engine parts of my 2015 Kia Optima loaner rather than underside of a brioche bun.

McDonald’s, you need to fix your mayo situation.

Final Verdict

Mayo-hatred aside, this is actually a really good chicken sandwich from Mr. McDonald. I’d definitely order this again. I would recommend ordering this one sans the white goo and “fixing it” with a few packets of Chic-fil-A mayonnaise. You keep extra Chic-fil-A mayo in your car, right? Good.

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Review #getinmymouf

Want another opinion? Then check out these other reviews:

GrubGrade |Review: Premium Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich from McDonald’s

DanimalCrossing | McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich Review


Disclaimer:  No free chicken sandwiches or money were provided by McDonald’s for this review. 

Reviews, Travel

Red Truck Rural Bakery – Marshall, VA

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Thanks to DriveShop and Mitsubishi, we had a Rally Red 2015 Outlander for a week that begged to be driven (check out our review here). And thanks to a grey, rainy day, our original outdoor plans were nixed, so we decided to head west to add some color to our day at Red Truck Rural Bakery in Marshall, VA.

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Red Truck, meet Red Mitsubishi. #DriveMitsubishi

Red Truck Bakery is an iconic bakery and market that has historically only had one small location in Warrenton, VA. Luckily for us, they had their grand opening of the new, larger Marshall shop. How grand was the opening? I dunno, maybe you should ask Academy Award Winning Actor, Robert Duvall:

The trip out west on Route 66 is much different than the mess that I normally sit in every weekday. The small town of Marshall is about an hour outside of Washington, DC; once you get past the cookie-cutter residential developments of Prince William County, you start to feel the calming sensation of being surrounded by green stuff–you know, actual nature, like trees, hills, mountains. So, despite the rain, we had a comfortable ride in the Outlander along with some pleasant scenery to take in.

When we arrived at Red Truck Bakery, we were met with an exterior that was charming and blended in well with that small town vibe. Parking is easy, as they have plenty of space out back, but there was also ample street parking available. We parked on the street thanks to my stellar parking abilities (aka a backup camera).

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

That small-town feel follows you inside, as the staff and customers were all friendly and eager to provide recommendations on what to order. It’s the kind of place where you get the impression that everybody knows each other, even if they don’t.

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

The wall of deliciousness.

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

These fellas would have made a fine picnic had it not been for the rain.

When it comes to the actual food, the choices were quite overwhelming for us first-timers. First, there’s a glowing case of baked goods–all of which were fighting for our attention–as well as two refrigerated grab-n-go cases with sandwiches, drinks, and other goodies. On top of that, there is this wall of jars and bottles of packaged goods from other local and lesser-known companies. Who knew a mini food mecca could exist in a small town bakery?

Tina tried their (highly coveted) Veggie “Beetloaf” Sandwich (roasted beets, sweet potatoes and ground walnuts). She was instantly a fan and for me, as someone who doesn’t really like beets all that much, I enjoyed the few bites I had. It doesn’t taste as “beety” as it looks, and rather has more of an “herby” taste.

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Veggie “Beetloaf” Sandwich: roasted beets, sweet potatoes and ground walnuts.

For us meat eaters, you can’t go wrong with their Chicken Salad Sandwich. Or as I will forever call it, the Kitchen Sink Salad Sandwich (as they put everything but) in this jam-packed sandwich, including fresh local roasted chicken, grapes, apples, celery, raisins, walnuts and a hint of curry, with local Bibb lettuce.

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Chicken Salad Sandwich: fresh local roasted chicken, grapes, apples, celery, raisins, walnuts and a hint of curry, with local Bibb lettuce.

Sandwich Tip:  The sandwiches are pre-made and are grab-n-go, so they can sell out fast. So, it’s highly reccomended that you give them a call to reserve what you want. Luckily, we called ahead and got the very last Veggie Beetloaf Sandwich. 

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Peach pie. Maybe the last of the season…

Our dessert included peach pie and a cookie, but was completely overshadowed by one of the best cranberry-orange walnut muffins we’ve ever eaten (sorry, not pictured). I can’t remember getting this excited about a muffin before… I mean, it’s just a muffin, but it’s not.

We didn’t try them (still not sure where I discovered that willpower), but the pumpkin scones with maple glaze beckoned like an old friend, while the ham scones looked as if they could be my new future best friend. Until next time, scones…until next time.

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Overall, we really enjoyed this little gem of a store and highly recommend giving them a try. The Marshall shop is also in proximity to two of our favorite wineries, Barrel Oak Winery and Aspen Dale Winery, so Red Truck is a convenient place to grab a picnic lunch before heading out for a day of wine tastings. And if you do go, leave the willpower at home and take ALL the scones home with you.

Red Truck Rural Bakery
8368 W. Main Street
Marshall, VA 20115
Twitter: @RedTruckBakery

Red Truck Bakery - Marshall, VA #getinmymouf

Disclaimer:  We were not compensated by Red Truck Rural Bakery in any way for this post. We really like ’em and you should too!