Uppercrust Pretzels

Uppercrust Pretzels
Uppercrust Pretzels

I realize there are many, many food blogs out there. Some better than others. Some quite terrible. I stumbled on to one that was just basically a blow-by-blow retelling of Bourdain’s TV show episodes by a woman who obviously got very hot and bothered by the surly guy.

This is just another food blog in the great sea of food blogs. What makes ours special? Most likely that you know us. Or that you live in the area and are kind of interested in recommendations for things to eat around here.

If you haven’t been to Uppercrust (I keep running into people that have never been *aroooogah!* what?!) then take yourself up there immediately. Well, make sure you go early in the day because the place sells out quick. If you can make it past the pastry displays and get to the checkout without breaking your bank, then have a look on the counter there near the registers. They sometimes have baskets of the freakishly large pretzels up there.

You may have picked up that The Man lacks some impulse control when it comes to food. So of course he always attempts to buy at least a dozen of these things. I act as the sanity in this arrangement and cap him at something reasonable. One is enough to make me burst at the seams. We usually get a regular salted one and a cheese one. Flavors available vary apparently on the whim of the bakers. They sometimes even have chocolate ones.

You’re not going to find something like this very often. This is not a state fair or gas station pretzel. This is not one of those glossy jobs that look like they’ve been closed from some impossibly pretty but flavorless bread product. Those mall pretzels with the big zits of hard salt scattered over them? Nope. This is the real article, my friends.

I personally like to tear these into chunks and eat them straight out of the bag while we’re driving. Confession: I like it this way because I can stuff the big chunks into The Man’s face and save the little knobs at the bottom for myself. The Man likes to bring them home and pop them back in the oven so they get hot and crispy. I chop them up with sheers so they’re easier to dip into some spicy mustard.

And the last thing I can say about these pretzels is that at about $2.50 a pop, you can’t go wrong. Even if you’re one of our more thrifty friends, once you get your chompers around one of these, you won’t complain about the price.

Uppercrust
4116 NW 16th Blvd
Gainesville, FL 32605
Phone: 352.376.7187
uppercrust@uppercrustproductions.com
UppercrustProductions.com

Hours: Monday – Saturday | 8AM-7PM

[Girl21]

Falafel Burger, The Top

Growing up vegetarian meant a burger was a ‘veggie burger’ and what was in that patty could be almost anything but meat. Carrots, black beans, brown rice, mushrooms, tempeh, TVP, etc., etc. My mom’s recipe was mostly lentils, bulger wheat, and oats. I got stuck making those burgers far too often, which was a chore because the recipe produced about five dozen burgers at a time. I’m sure you’ve had more than your share of ‘WTH is this?’ moments with veggie burgers.

These days veggie burgers look and taste good, but you still don’t know what’s in them. The out-of-the-box kind that have the grill marks painted on. Until recently, the Top did what most restaurants do, and offered pre-made burgers like Boca or Morningstar Farms. Which are okay. Really. But I can make one at home, so why am I going to order that?

Then came a new dawn in the Top’s kitchen and they started making more and more things in-house. From sauerkraut and fake bacon, to burgers, to French fries and salad dressings. The black bean patty stayed and was joined by a falafel patty. Yes, I said that. A patty made from the same stuff you usually get in a pita sandwich. It’s not as sturdy as a pre-made burger, but that’s not a bad thing. It has flavor and texture, and makes your belly so happy!

The falafel burger usually has the standard lettuce/tomato/pickle innards on a delish pretzel roll, and you can choose the theme of your burger. I usually go with the True Blue, with blue cheese, seitan bacon, and fried onions. Or a little more mild is the Triple Cheese with sharp cheddar, Swiss, and smoked gouda (and of course friend onions too).

There are over a dozen pre-set themes for your burger, or you can customize it with a list of extras. Or swap out the bread (locally sourced). Sub out the usual sides (ginger slaw, potato salad, or fries) for something more fun like sweet potato fries, side salad, or soup (and they have some cool soups to choose from).

The black bean patty is nice too, but the falafel burger has more flavor, and makes my mouth so happy. I can’t ever finish it the first try because I usually go for a side salad. Which is why I find myself eating the rest of it cold, straight out of the fridge, the next morning while I make coffee.

This is not date-night food. There’s no dignity in trying to jack your jaw open enough to bit this thing. Expect to get messy. That’s all I’m saying about that. And it’s nom nom nom.

My meal:
Triple Cheese Falafel Burger – $8.95
+Side salad upgrade – $1.50
Angry Orchard Cider

The Top
30 N. Main St.
Gainesville, FL 32601
352-337-1188

No Website Yet (seriously? I know they don’t need it, but come on?!)
On Facebook

[Girl21]

Fresh Off the Vine

We’d heard some rumblings about this local bakery popping up quietly in town. There were breads showing up at Ward’s and Citizen’s Co-op, farmer’s markets, and then The Top! What? How did this sneak under our radar?

I hunted them down online and stalked them on Facebook. And then like a big, wet, unexpected kiss from an overly friendly dog, I saw that they were actually opening up a storefront right across the street from Satchel’s. Boom! There you go. Vine Bread & Pasta.

I always said that the reason I wasn’t heavier on the scale was because Uppercrust was across town, and harder to get to. Now this place is right around the corner. I could walk there if I wanted to (yeah, like that’ll happen). So when The Man and I had a spare morning free, we went to check this place out.

If you’re driving there, you will miss it. It’s back off the road in a little warehouse park between the Ole Barn bar and the row of storefronts next to it. It was hot the day we showed up (check their days and hours before popping in), and it was a typical warehouse space, so as the summer warms up, it should get painful in there for working.

Anyhow, we grabbed up some pastries and a loaf, and scurried home because we hadn’t even had coffee yet (gasp!). We got a cheese croissant and chocolate croissant, a cranberry scone, and a country loaf. The croissants were tasty; the pastry dough was not as flakey as Uppercrust’s but miles better than Flour Pot. I would have liked a bit more cheese in the cheese one, maybe another kind of cheese in with the Swiss? And a great deal of the chocolate in the other croissant was designer and you could taste the quality.

The country loaf is a sourdough, and I can count the ingredients on one hand. It’s good bread. That being said, we did one set of sandwiches with it which wasn’t very successful, and then one set of grilled sandwiches, which worked out better. The bread didn’t quite hold up in its unaltered state, and required a bit of toasting or grilling to give it some structure. And the whole heel of it turned out to be a giant air pocket, which was disappointing, but happens with wild bread like this. On the whole (haha, pun intended), it was a nice, simple bread that somewhat lacked the stronger sourdough qualities we were expecting.

The scone was nice, and I’ve craved and scored a few more since our first visit. It feels like eating a bowl of oatmeal instead of a pastry. Happy belly and happy mouth–almost a meal in itself. The cranberries are a nice touch, but I’d love to add a hint of orange or lime to give it a little pop of flavor.

We’re looking to get our hands on more of the other bread styles, including the rosemary baguette. And I really, really, really want to try some of their fresh pasta. Overall, it’s good bread, and a local business, so I highly recommend trying it if you can (look at their site to see what other local businesses use their bread, like Tempo Bistro, Manuel’s Vintage Room, and Civilization).

We will be watching and tasting, and keeping our fingers crossed. This bakery has some growing to do (haha, another pun! I am so not funny), and there’s a lot of potential here. It’s fresh off the vine and might need to ripen just a little longer (okay, done with the horrible plays on words here, I swear).

Vine Bread & Pasta
1801 NE 23rd Ave, Unit C2
Gainesville, FL
352-682-8038

VineGainesville.com (their site has been down since I last checked 5/14)
On Facebook

Check site for hours and other place to get Vine products.

[Girl21]

Boxtastic Breakfast

Cheating is such an ugly word.

The fact of the matter is that I’m not a morning person. I’ve never been a morning person. Ask my friends and family. They have scars to prove it.

If you wake me up in the morning and expect food to magically appear out of the kitchen, it had better involve a box. And preferably something that doesn’t require me to handle a knife before I’ve had coffee. Since there are only two kinds of cereal after a few minutes in milk (mush and gravel), I’ve never been a big fan of that option. Bagels are delish but I can tell you the statistics for people going to the ER to get stitches or parts of fingers reattached because of a stubborn bagel.

That leaves something tasty from the oven. I vote for muffins mostly because they’re supposed to be lumpy. Not all boxed muffins are created equal though. You often get that overtone of chemicals and flavorings that are mixed in 55 gallon drums. I stumbled upon the Krusteaz (because I am a Publix BOGO fanatic), and like to keep a box in the pantry for impromptu muffin cravings.

Specifically, the cranberry orange muffin mix. Yes, feel free to put your thumb over the ‘Fat Free’ part of the label because I hate fat free marketed products, and these just don’t taste like they’re short of anything. The fun thing about this boxed mix is that the cranberries are in a cute, mini can.

Toss the mix in a bowl with a cup of water, and stir it up so it’s lumpy. Add the cranberries and stir a little more. Drop the batter into 10 or 11 muffin cups, and bake for about 15 minutes. Simple, and no one gets hurt.

So this is one of my secrets. If you get these on BOGO, grab a few boxes and you’ll thank me later. It’s easy to remember … Krusteaz… like Krusty the Clown from the Simpsons.

[Girl21]

Homemade Pickled Carrots

Pickled Carrots

I often live vicariously through my friends. Fortunately, I can reap some of their rewards yet not pay the fines or do the jail time. So far.

Take for example, my sister, whom I adore above all others except maybe The Man. I got to buy all of the itty-bitty socks and skater shoes and toys for her baby, but I didn’t have to grow huge like a melon and then actually give birth. She’s the kind of ultra-patient, baby-sign-teaching, granola mom I would like to be … in theory, one day, when I’m ready. And as a granola mom, she’s also into all of those handicraft things that people used to do because they had to, because Wal-mart and the internet didn’t exist.

Our most recent gift from her incessant handiwork was a collection of “canned” goods which aren’t actually canned. More like jarred goods. Our favorite, judging from how quickly it disappeared, was the jar of pickled carrots.

I’m not a huge fan of pickles, but The Man is a cult-follower. He’ll eat just about anything pickled (anything vegetarian). Apparently people around the world have pickled almost everything they can get into a jar, pot, or bin over the last few thousand years. Things that Mother Nature never intended people to eat, what to speak of pickle and save for later. The WHO (World Health Organization, not the band) has issued a tentative warning that people who eat pickled vegetable as their only veggie source have an elevated cancer risk. So no, these don’t count as your daily source of vegetables apparently.

But they are fun garnishes and additions to meals. Especially the all-knowing, glorious sandwich. A few slices of bread, some gouda, mustard, sprouts, and these carrots–yum! And pickled carrots are a world away from ‘pickles’ as we Americans know them… suspiciously shaped and ridged cucumbers that are the butt of a few bad grown-up jokes (haha I said butt!). Pickled carrots retain their earthy flavors, and get infused with the salty, soury, dilly, peppery flavors of the brine.

My sister used the more traditional bay leaves, coriander, pepper corns, and dill in a basic brine, but added cloves of garlic and rings of jalapeno pepper as well. Not that they were spicy. They added a depth of character and lots of frilly notes to the basic flavor profile. And of course the love.

I can’t help but think about my sister spending a few days straight shopping, washing, cutting, mixing, jarring, labeling, and putting up this vast collection of veggies. The same sister that used to tag along behind me, whining at me to play with her, is now doing grown up things like raising a son and teaching herself old-world skills that women abandoned in the ’40s when god invented supermarkets and credit cards.

Eating home-canned pickled carrots out of a jar while sitting on a milk crate on the back porch doesn’t sound so glamorous. It’s not so far from our humble childhood. We used to talk about being career women in a big city, living in a trendy apartment and eating at restaurants every night. I’m happy that life happened this way instead. She gives me homemade gifts because she’s a grown-up these days, and I give her fart jokes because I’m not. It’s an even trade.

[Girl21]

French Toast, The Top

French Toast, The Top

Growing up, we had a tradition of a big pancake breakfast on Sunday mornings. Which developed my personal tradition of a good cry on Sunday also. The sugar overload (and eventually the added girl hormones) made me unpleasant company for a few hours midday Sundays.

Like all traditions, we tend to carry them on without thinking about it. So when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll order pancakes when we go out for brunch on Sunday. Or French toast, if it’s good.

I wasn’t raised eating anything with eggs, as we were on the more conservative side of vegetarianism. So I missed out on years of fried bread and egg products such as French toast. I hear it can be a horrible train wreck of a dish if you don’t know what you’re doing. And of course, the internet being the educational tool that it is, I am a little nauseated to find out what passes for French toast in parts of the world. For the sake of argument, I’m only taking about the bread dipped in egg mixture, fried, then doused in sugary goodness.

I’m partial to the French toast at Leonardo’s 706, and it looks like it’s pulled right from a cooking magazine cover. But I adore the ugly stepsister that they serve at The Top. This is not pretty sliced bread, fried to look like golden lace, and daintily dressed with powdered sugar. This is knobby wedges of coffee cake, syrup-soaked and lumpy, with tasty, crispy bits and chunks of fruit. It’s warm and dense. It’s not particularly pretty, even decorated with banana slices. And on the side are a few slabs of The Top’s house-made seitan bacon, looking suspiciously like leather. This is a French toast that would cut a bitch if she had to.

The Man may or may not have figured out the connection between the French toast and seven cups of coffee, and the sulking and pouting I am prone to on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe he’s just into that kind of punishment. Or maybe he just chalks it up to general “women’s issues”. Because there’s never a hint of reproach in his voice when he asks me if I’m going to order the French toast. Although, later on, he does offer to head-butt me until I stop crying. Isn’t love grand?

The Top
Vegan French Toast [with Seitan Bacon]
Sunday Brunch menu only, $8-10

[Girl21]

The Orphaned Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

Expectations. What you think something is going to be is as important as what it ends up actually being. What you think it should be makes or breaks the results before you even meet face to face. Ask anyone who’s joined an online dating service.

Friends bought a Groupon for Cake Classics, a long-standing cake maker here in town that specializes in weddings and other upsetting events. In a pinch, to use the Groupon before it expired, she ordered a cake on the fly. She was less than excited when she got the cake home and had a piece. I heard about the cake in a mysterious way when she offered to bring it along to an impromptu late-evening get-together.

She had ordered the carrot cake, which was quite nice, expecting something larger and slightly different. Carrot cakes generally arrive with cream cheese icing, according to many fans. (There are people who would rather eat slugs than carrot cake. You know who you are.) There was cream cheese icing between the layers of this one, but the outside was just a general sugar icing. The kind of overly-sweet icing that feels like pure cocaine injected into your eyeballs. Not that I’ve had that, but it feels like a jolt to the body in an unwelcomed intrusion.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t bad. The cake itself was quite nice. There were just enough raisins. The density of the cake was just right, with just enough carrot. The icing was not the icing on the cake though.

I was taken aback but not surprised that at the tail end of the night, when the house had finally cleared out and I was washing up glasses, I found the cake box left behind with more than a third of the cake sitting quietly. Waiting. Orphaned. I adopted it.

Yes, carrot cake needs cream cheese icing. Yes, the sugar icing was like a bad Disney movie. Yes, it was quite small for the price she paid (even with a Groupon). But essentially the expectations didn’t match the reality and it was abandoned in my kitchen.

This worked too well for me, unfortunately. That was the week of the month that I become a sugar vampire (but not with glittery skin). I finished the cake, nibbling away over the week. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Not so much of the icing. But my expectations were different.

12″ Carrot Cake
Daisy Themed, Cream Cheese/Butter Cream Icing
Cake Classics
www.cakeclassics.com
Phone: (352) 371-1665

[Girl21]

Pee You Later, Asparagus!

Asparagus

Oh, yes! The jokes about asparagus-scented pee. Why the fascination? And why the historic argument about it? Apparently people have been arguing about asparagus-scented pee for hundreds of years. Whether everyone who ate asparagus has funny smelling pee afterward. Whether everyone could smell it. Whether it was a good smell or a bad smell. Really?

Leave it up to modern scientists to get down and dirty with the most trifling of arguments. They actually did studies about it and published big fancy papers on their results. At least we now know. Yes, everyone who eats asparagus has funny smelling pee. No, not everyone can smell it. Apparently because of genetics, only about 1/5 of the population can positively identify the smell. Some people cannot. And it’s a personal preference if asparagus is an improvement over regular pee or not.

I never thought much about it until I started reading Tom Robbins, and in his book Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas he colors an intimate exchange between characters with the promise of asparagus-scented pee. Very few authors could get away with this.

When buying asparagus, look at the dark tips to make sure they look fresh and not slimy. There are of course many incorrect things you can do when cooking asparagus. To me, the two worst things are overcooking it, and leaving too much stem on it. Asparagus should be just barely past raw. Lightly sauteed to wake it up. I generally like it a simple as possible to let the flavors speak for themselves. A little olive oil in the pan with salt and pepper, and maybe some diced ginger and a splash of lemon juice. Only when the pan is hot and the ginger sizzling, do I toss in the asparagus and cover-turn-cover for just a few minutes. When it shows the first sign of relaxing, long before it goes limp, take it off the heat and out of the pan.

Before you toss it into the pan, you have to take off the fibrous part of the stalk so that you don’t spend half the night chewing, or trying to figure out how to cough up an asparagus hairball with a little more grace than a cat. The simplest method to separate tender from tough is to hold the base of the stalk firmly in one hand pointed away from you, and with the other hand, gently grab the tip and start bending it towards you until you feel the resistance in the stem. It will usually snap itself easily at just the right spot. Try it a few times and you’ll see how easy it is to find the snapping point.

But why waste all of that stem and get only a little of a pricey veggie that makes you pee smell funny? Ultimately, because asparagus is a delicious source of nutrients, including a wide range of vitamins and minerals (significantly folic acid, vitamin K, iron), and fiber. Many different cooking cultures celebrate asparagus, so there’s quite a few ways to prepare it. Yet oddly enough, it’s grown in only a few places around the world (notably Michigan, Washington, California, China, Peru).

We are of course only talking about the typical green asparagus commonly available in most grocery stores. Originally there was only wild asparagus, much thinner than the current favorite, and this was harvested as far back as 3000 B.C. by the Egyptians. Our common green asparagus developed over time as it became a sought-after crop. There is a contemporary demand for white asparagus (shoots are grown under soil) in Europe, as well as a few newer breeds being developed. You can usually find it canned or ‘marinated’ if you can’t find it fresh. The Egyptians once dried it, which is just something those wacky folks seemed to love doing.

Asparagus is another of those veggies that has people worked up. Most people have an opinion about it. Some refuse to eat it. Some make websites devoted to its awesomeness. The possibilities are endless for this delicious, nutritious veggie. And worse comes to worst, you’ll know if you’re in that group of 22% who are genetically capable of accurately sniffing out asparagus pee.

[Girl21]

True Blue Falafel Burger, The Top

True Blue Falafel Burger

This picture is a little blurry, I know. It was hard to shoot this burger while it was moving so quickly towards my mouth. I think there’s still cheese in my camera lens.

I was hungry. And when I’m hungry, I dream about this thing. The True Blue Falafel Burger at The Top.

A while back, The Top switched over and started doing as much of their menu as possible in-house. From ‘burger’ patties and seitan bacon, to saurkraut, to salad dressings and dips. They make it in the kitchen instead of open a box or can. A while back they used to have portobello, black bean patties, or pre-made veggie burgers as their vegetarian burger options, which you could do any number of ways from their ‘style’ menu. They dropped the mushroom and the veggie patty, and introduced this falafel patty instead.

You may be familiar with falafel if you like Middle Eastern food. Most people know falafel as the sandwich of flat bread and deep fried chickpea or fava bean balls. And if you haven’t experienced it this way, put some pants on and get yourself down to Falafel King. Falafel is just the balls part, which is also often shaped into ‘fingers’ and patties. Hence, the falafel patty at The Top instead of a burger.

As always, you can choose from The Top’s ‘style’ menu of fifteen options when deciding on a burger. There’s the Smurf ‘n’ Turf (sourdough, mushroom ragout, arugula, blue cheese), the Southwestern (guacamole, sharp cheddar, jalapenos), or the Maradona (chimichuri, fried onions, peppers, swiss cheese). I adore the True Blue… blue cheese that gets all squishy, fried onions with a sweet kick, and the crispy seitan bacon that hugs the falafel patty. All of it held together with lettuce and the usual accouterments between a pretzel roll.

If you don’t like blue cheese (yes, I know, right? Why do I have these friends?), you can try the Triple Cheese with the falafel patty instead… sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, swiss, and fried onions. But trust me. The blue cheese, onions, ‘bacon’ combination is perfect with the falafel.

And if you’re feeling frisky, substitute the usually fries or whatnot out for the sweet potato fries. You get your choice of regular fries, potato salad, or ginger slaw generally speaking, but at The Top I always suggest substitutions for something that tickles your fancy. Like corn nuggets. Or the soup of the day which is usually delish.

The Top
True Blue Falafel Burger – $8.95
…with side of sweet potato fries – $1.50
…and a crisp, cold cider on a humid summer night – $4.95
..on the patio with a friend 🙂

[Girl21]

Veggie Summer Rolls

Summer Rolls

The early bird gets the worm, right? Yuck. Worms?

Well, okay. Maybe if eating worms was like eating veggie summer rolls. I like to think birds feel about worms and caterpillars the way I feel about summer rolls. Sticky, awkward, crunchy, flavorful, and full of yummy god-knows-what. I mean, sometimes the rice vermicelli even looks like innards to me. Delicious innards that need to be dipped into peanut sauce.

Every restaurant makes their veggie summer rolls a little differently. You can usually be greeted by a fresh roll or two of sticky rice paper tucked neatly around finely shredded veggies like carrot, cabbage, celery, lettuce, or cucumbers (and tofu if you find the right place). If it’s not specifically veggie, you may be getting a roll with pork or shrimp, the traditional ‘other’ ingredients.

The real pleasure is in the fresh herbs that are wrapped into this squishy packet of fun. I’ve never been impressed with fresh mint in a savory dish, but it’s absolutely critical in the flavor balance with the cilantro, and basil–and the scallions, which stick out of the roll on one end like green antennae. And of course a peanut dipping sauce brings an earthiness to the fresh, herby roll.

I rarely ever pick up my summer roll and pretend it’s a caterpillar with green scallion antennae. I promise. I think The Man would stop taking me out in public if I did that too often.

We generally go to either if the Ichiban Sushi places here in town, or to either of the Chopstix (but they’re a little clunkier there). But the absolute best, if you’re ever in Tampa, is Trang Viet Cuisine.

Trang is a little hole-in-the-wall storefront in a sketchy neighborhood. The décor is reminiscent of low-budget prom. It hardly looks like much when you walk in. It’s one of those places that are so good, you only tell friends about so that it doesn’t get too crowded. They have a really good veggie selection, including a platter that had two each of four kinds of rolls (including summer rolls) and complimenting dipping sauces. We waddled out of there that day, let me assure you.

I’m linking to another blog here for Vegetable Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce on Two Peas & Their Pod (the names spring/summer rolls can get swapped back and forth apparently). I want to go back and try the recipes for myself and this is easier than bookmarking them. So if you try the recipes, let me know if they’re any good, m’kay?

And while you’re there, follow their link through to the next blog WhiteOnRiceCouple.com for some disgustingly gorgeous food pics.

FYI:
Trang Viet Cuisine
1524 E Fowler Ave
Tampa, FL 33612
(813) 979-1464

[Girl21]