Like Fancy Ladies

Would you look at this fancy lady?

Birthday Sipes!

Jackie’s birthday fell on the first full day of ACRL, so after my early morning presentation and a day of conferencing, we were determined to find some sort of mischief befitting two fancy ladies celebrating a special occasion. That is how we found ourselves at Varga Bar, which not only caters to fancy ladies, but also features pictures of fancy ladies on the walls! Perfect. While the cocktail menu was somewhat uninspiring, we were overwhelmed with delicious choices for dinner, and ended up selecting four things, all of which were excellent.

First: the house pickles: cucumbers, carrots, squash, beets, onions, and artichokes, all lightly pickled and perfectly crunchy. Sorry, Mr. Pickle.

Mr P and Curcubit Cousins

Second: duck confit chicken wings – sweet, spicy, and savory in a pomegranate molasses glaze, and served with a blue cheese dipping sauce that could only spuriously be called a sauce. It would be more accurate to call it a wee cup of blue cheese. I don’t normally like chicken wings, but we ate these right up and asked for more blue cheese, which I shamelessly ate with my fork.

Third: the Varga salad: arugula, fava beans, fresh peas, grilled artichoke, shaved parmesan, and a light lemony vinaigrette – a crisp and fresh counterpoint to the delicious excess of the wings.

And finally: the best damned Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had. Now, I’m a fan of Brussels. You know that. I will eat them in just about any form, with just about anything, and without the slightest bit of provocation. But these sprouts? They were something else. Crispy and light, tossed with olive oil and parmesan, and bearing a more than suspicious resemblance to movie theater popcorn. That’s right: buttery, salty, delicious movie theater popcorn – except Brussels sprouts! I wish we’d ordered more, as they were the best part of the entire meal.

We thought about dessert, but really, who needs dessert when you’ve just had the most perfect Brussels sprouts of your life? Or, for that matter, when you have a librarian dance party to attend?

Mr P Takes the Decks


So Into Grain Salads U Guys

I survived nearly 30 years on this planet before encountering grain salads. Sure, I had the odd meal of couscous and roasted vegetables – but no quinoa, no Israeli couscous, and definitely no wheatberries.

Wheatberry Salad with Cherries and Roasted Asparagus
Photo by esimpraim

This all changed when we started doing our grocery shopping at Plum Market, where I fell in love with their wheatberry salad: nutty grains, dried cherries, and toasted pine nuts tossed in a light vinaigrette. I really kind of can’t get enough of it. I’ve had good intentions of duplicating this salad for the better part of two years, but instead the jar of wheatberries has lingered in the cabinet.

So imagine my delight when Jackie and I went to Marathon for a late dinner and found an entire section of the menu dedicated to “Greens and Grains.” I couldn’t pick just one – but they had a sampler platter, so I got to try several, though they had run out of two of the four that I requested. I did, however, have beets with goat cheese – always a good thing – a creamy, nutty, savory dish of wheatberries, roasted mushrooms, and braised cabbage, and a lightly dressed green salad besides. So good! I wish I’d had the promised Brussels sprouts – but was quite happy with my wee salads and two refreshing cocktails (absinthe and champagne! white grape martini!).

Oven Roasted Red Beets - Home Bistro
Photo by Tammy Green (aka Zesmerelda)

Of all the stands at Reading Terminal Market, I happened to find myself in front of yet another grain salad on Friday – this time cracked wheat or barley, corn, and green beans nested in greens, and served with roasted vegetables. Not as glorious as Marathon’s offerings, but a delightful and delicious find among stands selling pretzel dogs (Thursday’s lunch), absurdly large apple dumplings, and cookies by the pound. I wish I could tell you the name of the place, but I was too hungry to make note of it, and too turned around to be able to locate it on the Terminal map. Just walk around until you find something healthy, and maybe you’ll end up with a magical grain salad as well!

If you go:
There are a variety of locations, but we had dinner at 10th and Walnut, and if I hadn’t gotten the grains and greens, I would’ve gone for the pork nachos, which looked amaaaaazing.

Coffees of Philadelphia

I spent three days in rainy Philadelphia last week while attending (and presenting at) the biennial ACRL national conference.  This was my second trip to Philly – the first being three years ago, when we drove up to visit Karin, ate a lot of bacon, and generally spent the weekend making mischief.  This trip was slightly more professional, but no less busy – or delicious.

last drop
Photo by taulu

After a rough flight, I paid a little extra to get on Jackie’s train, and we fancy ladies made our way up the east coast and landed at The Last Drop, a totally adequate coffeeshop around the corner from the apartment we were renting.  Now, there’s not much about The Last Drop to commend it in comparison with the lovely Spruce Street Espresso around the corner, but I wouldn’t object to having The Last Drop in my neighborhood.  Here’s why: the coffee’s cheap, they have an array of baked goods, and the The Smiths were on the stereo the whole time we were there – just the sort of thing I loved about Caffe Paradiso.

Elizabeth studying at Paradiso on a Friday night
Me at Paradiso waaaay back in the day, photo by Oldtasty

I’ve made this complaint before – that Ann Arbor’s just a little too fancy, that there’s nothing good-grungy about it.  There’s no place to settle in with a sandwich and a cup of coffee for an afternoon of grading, or for a decaf and a brownie with friends in the evening.  We tried to go out for dessert in our first month or two in town and ended up spending $35 for two drinks and a shared treat.  So it’s kind of funny to me that I was disappointed by exactly the sort of place I miss so much.  The same thing happened Friday morning, when I went to Cake and the Beanstalk for breakfast on my way to the Convention Center – totally adorable, but my toasted bagel was still cold, and there was nothing special about my bagel.

Cake and the Beanstalk

Spruce Street Espresso, on the other hand, met my requirements for good coffee and a cute neighborhood vibe. Alas, I didn’t have time to stick around and enjoy my excellent cappuccino, as I had a presentation to give. I’d love to have Spruce Street in our neighborhood as well, though Comet fills the niche quite nicely.

Photo by confusedbee

If you go:
The Last Drop
1300 Pine St (corner of 13th and Pine)

Cake and the Beanstalk
1112 Locust St (near the corner of Locust and Quince)

Spruce Street Espresso
1101 Spruce St (corner of 11th and Spruce)