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Orlando

I know this is a food blog, but this honestly couldn’t be avoided.
It’s been just over a week since the Orlando LGBTQ club shooting took place, wounding over 100 and killing 50. A week ago I was at a vigil with thousands of others outside the Stonewall in NYC, a gay bar with a historic past of pride, protest, and pain. I, like many others, came to mourn and commune with my people, to find an outlet for my confusion, pain, and anger. Mostly anger. I’m over the whole indignation and surprise routine, it would be inauthentic in a country that sees such regular and daily gun violence. Kumbayah, hold hands, and cry/hug by the campfire. I can’t anymore, it’s an empty gesture. It’s embarrassing to mourn such a preventable atrocity publicly, like leaving the oven on and burning the whole neighborhood down.
It kinda feels false and contrived to cry over people I never knew personally, but I mourn them none the less. In such a tight knit group as the LGBTQ community, where years of persecution and oppression have bound us together tightly, I feel like I do know them and their suffering, their fears, their joys. Coming out as a young lesbian at 13 in a southern bible belt state was shitty. People were shitty. People ARE shitty. But between Modern Family and Ellen DeGeneres being so mainstream, I just must have drank the Koo-laid and believed that the age of homophobia and systemic abuse were in their dying hours. RIP, you motherfucker. Should I have opened my eyes, seen the never ending race fight, and known better, been wiser? Sure. Hindsight is 20/20 the grass is always greener and all that fucking nonsense.
It feels like we’ve come so far. I’m young for the equality fight, a privilaged millennial, so maybe since I wasn’t there for all of it my view of the struggle is more distorted than I realized. I know it was hard fought, but I unknowingly claimed a premature victory.  We’re not equal, we’re still others to the normal, tentatively allowed abominations at best.
I don’t think many straight people realize the unspoken recognition and brotherhood of the gay community. We look for each other on the streets, meeting each other with prolonged eye contact and head nods, desperate for the recognition of a fellow gay. If you’re a member of the community, you probably know. The secret glances, our silent screams pronouncing “yes, I too hold membership to the rainbow club that you also clearly are a card carrying member of. Yaas, Robyn is my bitch. All praise the plaid squad, born this way, amen.”
I’d love to say I feel cleansed or healed through communion with my gay brethren and our supporters but I’m not. I’d love to tell you how the worldwide out pour of support softened my heart and renewed my faith in humanity as a whole. But it didn’t. If anything I’m angrier, more resentful, borderline belligerent. Pugnacious. Maybe even hateful. I see the empty words of contrite politicians and acquaintances, grandiose statements meant to illicit permission or acceptance from the gay community to continue on with their thinly veiled homophobia sans guilt. “SORRY UR GAYZ DIED BUT UR ALL GOING 2 HELL SO… “
You can’t, as fucking Ted Cruz did, call LGBTQ rights leaders “jihadists” out to destroy the Christian way of life, and then offer your thoughts and prayers for homophobic hate crimes. You’re either all in with us or you’re a malicious enemy as far as I’m concerned. I’m all for gray area, but not in this instance, not again, not after my brothers and sisters were slaughtered en masse in a public place, a safe space created by fellow queers as a collective house of acceptance and pride.
Having love for those that hate me has never been a particular strong suit of mine, or for the history of this country for that matter. We’ve always been piss and vinegar types of girls, America and I, and this situation doesn’t lend itself to leniency.
No amount of social media borne thoughts or prayers will quell the angry pit of fire in my belly or offer any small salve for the burning pain in my mind. I know a week isn’t much time to heal from anything, but I just want to be clear, I’m not healing, I’m fucking livid.
And if you love us, should be too.
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Hotel Chantelle

Brunch is the king meal of the week, eat it as often as humanly possible. It’s the exalted span when savory and sweet are allowed to coexist, the time that you can literally put an egg on anything and if you’re not drinking, you don’t belong here.  Hotel Chantelle, despite the name, is not a hotel at all but is certainly one of the champion brunch locales on the Lower East Side. With 97¢ vodka, lemon, and prosecco drinks how could you say no?

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Burrata with balsamic vinegar pearls, pecorino romano, and basil crumble.

I used to roll my eyes at the gastro chefs, persnickety and too precise for my liking, but gastronomy may be my new favorite thing. Burrata is a creamy gooey mozzarella purse too gluttonous to be turned away.  The cheese was too wispy for any real application or taste, but the crunchy basil was a welcome accompaniment. As always, the balsamic vinegar stole my heart and the show, the tiny bursting beads offered the perfect acidic punch, I only wish I had more.

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A Brunch Burger for the Ages

Everything levitates between the fluffy brioche bun halves and if you’re on the wrong side of a hangover, it’s a damn miracle. Bleu cheese, sauteed onions, mushrooms, and two sunny side up eggs to rain liquid gold down upon the miraculous stack. Always order your meat medium-rare or medium if you’re a quitter but for fucks sake don’t order anything well done. Just eat your shoe or wallet instead, it will be more flavorful.

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Lobster Roll

It isn’t trendy if you don’t garnish with micro greens, right? But seriously, this roll, served taco style between two butter toasted halves of Texas Toast, was my new Cajun bayou lover. Jalapeno, celery, tomato, and a sprinkle of Cajun seasoning on top and this lobster sandwich made me sing. Not literally, no one wants that, but you get the point.

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Skate Fish and Chips

This is what happens when Americans do Fish and Chips. We’re a showy bunch, but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t delicious. The fish was skate (get the presentation pun) and the batter was slightly sweet, but lead to a sinfully flaky crust in the end. I’m never a huge fan of large potatoes, give me frites or give me death, but I was too full by the end to care about them anyways.

If you’d like a rooftop appointment, be sure to make reservations or be willing to wait. If not, the inside downstairs is generally always open (but you want to get a rooftop spot, the live swing band will assure you of that themselves).

Reserve a table here.

 

 

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Thrillist Hall of Heroes

This weekend Thrillist NYC hosted the Hall of Heroes, their gluttonous annual ode to sandwiches. On Sunday afternoon 11 different local restaurants came in to provide their best adaptations of the world’s most iconic sandwiches, and were voted upon for the title of Best Thing Between Sliced Bread. There were simply too many to be named, so here are my favorites, for your viewing pleasure.

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Deep Eddy Vodka

Of course, you need something to wash down all that bread with, right? Fear not, because the endless cocktails and beer were aflowin’. Deep Eddy Vodka was out pimping their new grapefruit and ginger flavors and Radeberger and Schöfferhofer proveded some citrusy grapefruit concoctions of their own. The ginger and cranberry mix was legit, bubbly and tangy, something I’ll definitely attempt to replicate at home.

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Whitman’s

Who doesn’t love an all American Philly cheese steak? Chipped beef steak and molten cheesy gold, hard to go wrong. Nothing special about this classic other than the non-traditional jalapeno topping that added a welcome kick to a fairly bland sandwich.  Still, I wouldn’t throw it out of bed, if you know what I mean.

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Sticky’s Finger Joint

I have a real weakness for pickled cabbage that Sticky’s did a marvelous job of monopolizing on in their spicy chicken sandwich. Their twice fried chicken was fantastically crunchy with a well spiced batter and topped with a creamy secret sauce I simply must unearth the recipe to. They got my vote and token, although sadly, did not win. You’ll get ’em next year, you’re still champions in my heart (and stomach)!

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Luke’s Lobster

Given the name of this joint, I was expecting a lobster roll, but maybe that was just my own bougie expectations talking. Since Luke’s had both crab and shrimp I can’t exactly complain, right? Both were marinated in condensed butter an dusted with a mild Cajun seasoning and were positively unctuous, although the shrimp (surprisingly enough) was my favorite. I even went back and snuck seconds while they were closing up, it was just that good.

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The Best Thing Between Sliced Bread goes to…

American Cut’s meaty Reuben sandwich. I think the odds were stacked in their favor from the beginning given a New Yorker’s proclivity for the Reuben, but the people chose their champion. Not my thing, a big mouthful of meat, but I hear a lot of other girls would disagree so… to each their own. Congrats, guys.

An Honorable mention….

to The Jam Stand for their Bourbon PB&J brown bag specials that included a cinnamon bourbon milk concoction that was definitely more bourbon than anything else. Way to try to bribe your audience, I dare say it almost worked.

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8 signs your local Italian food place isn’t legit

Let’s face it, Italian food is the most delicious kind of food in the world. However, like many great food cultures, it has been diluted and contaminated over the years. I’m looking at you, Olive Garden. Here are 8 sure marks of an imposer purveyor of everyone’s favorite dining option.

1. Breadstickless tables

Italians are bout that bread life. Fresh baked bread and olive oil or thin crispy sticks that adorn the table in bouquets, either will do.

2. Diavola pizza with sausage and peppers

This is just ridiculous, the abominable Guido of pizzas. I was served this once in Florida and did a double take. Where am I, the Jersey Shore? Unfuck yourselves, please.

3. Pre-sliced pizza

Pull it together and eat your pizza as Mamma Italia intended, with a knife and fork! Heathens. And don’t even think about pulling a New Yorker and eating on the streets while walking!

4. Meatballs the size of your face

Why do Americans think one bowling ball sized slab of meat is better than several smaller, more manageable portions? Is it just the love of meatloaf running over and tainting other food forms? Whatever it is, stop it, please. Bigger is not always better.

5. Chicken-mother-fucking-parm

I’ll admit, this shit is tasty. In Italy a parmigiana is always eggplant. Still tasty, just different. Good job America.

But don’t get ahead of yourselves, because the next one is positively immoral. Shame on you, America.

6. Cream in the carbonara

This is one of the most grievous crimes against the motherland. Why would anyone befoul perfectly good pasta like this? Carbonara should only have 4 things in it. Pancetta, egg yolk, pepper, and Pecorino Romano. It’s perfection is in it’s creamy salty simplicity.

7. Rushing the check

Italians are not exactly known for their expedient behavior. Rushing the service or check is considered extremely rude in the motherland. So take your time, friend! Have another glass of wine, you deserve it.

8. Shredded Mozzerella

If the mozzarella doesn’t come in ball form in a brine you’re basically just eating sawdust.

Now that you’ve been properly educated, go forth and mangia bene amici!

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Cask and Ale

Before you ask, that is cheesy grits, hangar steak, and BOURBON CANDIED BACON. That’s right, you heard me. Bourbon. Candied. Bacon.

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I’m not even a huge pork person myself, I think it’s generally a tad overpowering in dishes, but damn. This was just the most melt in your mouth heavenly porky bite I’ve ever taken.I don’t want to make you jealous but.. I’ll understand if you are, friend.

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Before I get ahead of myself, this was brunch at Cask and Ale on South Howard here in Tampa. They only recently opened up, in the old Sunova Beach venue, completely redone. You can’t even smell the stale beer and regrets anymore. Super creative and fresh American bistro menu, unlike anything else going on in Tampa.  Go for brunch, go for lunch, it’s all delicious.

Something unique, they started us off with complementary popcorn with a flavor of the day, pumpkin spice. I know, Pumpkin Spice! But it was anything other than basic. I’ve never owned Uggs and don’t know what constitutes a frappuccino so you can trust me. Truly delicious, and if for nothing else, go for the bacon!

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717 south

Oh yeah, just look at the crispy little legs on this baby. You know how I feel about calamari fritti, it’s one of my island foods. As in, if I’m ever trapped on a desert island, this is a food I could not live without. I used to get calamari almost every week with my mom at the market in Italy, fried fresh and tossed with a bit of lemon juice into a paper bag. So simple, so good. 717 South cooked these leggy little guys up to perfection. They’re coated with a breadcrumb and Panko mixture, a little heavier than a normal batter but crunchy and delicious. The heavier breading really helps them keep their crunch with the sauce.  And oh, the spicy arrabbiata sauce!? Fuggettaboutit. Tangy with a little kick, molto buono.

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Fruitwood Market

Although not conventionally Italian, the Fruitwood Market has such fantastic woodfired pizza it doesn’t matter! I especially love the  Pink Flamingo flatbread but without the honey mustard drizzle.

On the far left was my delicious flatbread with rucola, mozzarella,  pistachio, and red pepper flakes. In the middle, habenero, pancetta. On the right, black bean, pancetta, gorgonzola, corn. No complaints, just all around delicious for the whole group! Paired with their peach cider it’s a part of your complete nutritional breakfast.

Panninoteca

mozzerella and a garlic aoli make this a creamy alternative to the original.

Caprese done right

Tomato, mozzarella, basil, all married with a garlic aoli and balsamic vinegar dressing on focaccia bread. Need I say more? Panninoteca in downtown Tampa has some of my favorite food in Florida, though I suppose I’m a bit biased toward Mediterranean food, so take that with a grain of salt. I had their roasted lamb and some silky baba ghanouj that was fantastic, but this sandwich will always be my favorite! They do an awesome half off sangria on Sunday deal that makes #sangriasunday feel oh so right.