Category Archives: Travel

Wrapping up school, kicking off the rest of my life

It has been a whirlwind of activity around here since I got back from Culinary Business Academy in Georgia nearly a month ago — thus, not a single post! My personal chef business, Fresh Chef Detroit, officially is up and running and I’m ready for clients!

See? I graduated from CBA and everything:

Our last day was a short one — class in the morning for those of us who cooked the afternoon before, then lunch and some final notes with the gang. We also got to peek inside Cathy’s car to see how she packs things up — sounds like that wouldn’t be too revealing, but it’s actually been a huge help during the couple of cook days that I’ve done.

I actually hear Cathy’s voice in my head and have followed her advice at almost every turn. I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to go to CBA and to learn from Cathy and the other chefs who spoke to us. I’m able to put the lessons she made over the course of nearly two decades as a personal chef into practice immediately — hopefully with fewer blunders than I would have had.

It’s also great to have a group of people in the same exact position that I’m in to bounce ideas, failures and victories with! My classmates and I all e-mail each other to say how we’re doing and that’s been invaluable. I so appreciate those who have been e-mailing and I’m so curious about those who have not!

There have been a few bumps in the road, but mostly everything has been going really smoothly and I’m ready to start this next chapter in my life. I am so lucky to have friends and family who have been so encouraging and supportive (even when they wondered what the hell I was doing, I imagine). And I’m pretty sure my squeeze is trying to win the Fiance of the Year Award, as he has provided an endless supply kind words, generosity, and hugs-at-just-the-perfect-moment.

Today, I had a full cook day, came home to find my D an C playing Scrabble, took a shower, made dinner for my own family and we all got to sit down together and eat. THAT doesn’t happen nearly enough and it will much, much more once I’ve transitioned full-time to personal cheffing. I can’t wait. (Claire didn’t seem quite as excited when I asked, “Isn’t it great that I’ll be able to make you a healthy dinner every night?” She knew better than to say anything to the contrary!)

I’m really glad we had our first ever ‘real’ family vacation the week after I went to school — because I can’t imagine being able to take a whole week off again until maybe my honeymoon in 2012! Well, we’ll see, but it will be a busy year for sure. Here are a few shots of our Florida adventures:

Up next is VegFest on Sunday, March 27, hosted by VegMichigan. I served as VegMichigan’s newsletter editor for a couple of years, before passing the torch recently to focus on the business. VegFest brings thousands of people in from around the state who listen to speakers (this year it’s Chef Matt Prescott and, for the second year in a row, former Piston John Salley — yes you can be vegan and an athlete!); get information and items from veg- and earth-friendly companies, including dog food, authors, soap-makers and more; and — of course — tons of food samples.

I’m going to have a booth there to spread the word about Fresh Chef Detroit and I’ll be handing out a little something to my visitors too. Look for this banner:

I’ll also be doing a food demonstration! I’m going to teach a couple hundred people how to make raw edamame hummus. I made some yesterday — doesn’t it look good?

VegFest outgrew its former home at Ferndale High School last year when more than 2,000 people attended. This year it will be in Novi at the Suburban Connection Showplace (formerly Rock Financial Showplace). It’s free for VegMichigan members and only $10 for everyone else — totally worth it (and there’s even a whole area of things for the kiddos too).

OK, that’s enough for now. Starting tomorrow — an actual post containing a recipe again! Looking forward to getting back to it!


Day Five in Decatur

It’s hard to believe my time here is coming to a close. It’s been busy, exhausting, and, most of all, exciting. I feel so lucky to have had so many stars align that led to my being here, and not just taking this course but taking it now, with this instructor, in this city, with these classmates.

I had the nerdiest happy moment of all time this morning. I had nabbed my morning coffee and was walking down the hill to class. I first was laughing (maybe even out loud) that school was delayed two hours here today because of snow. Check out the blizzard that hit us today:

Anyway, I was walking down the hill, happy to be warm, have delicious Starbucks in my hand, and listening to my iPod. A Blonde Redhead song came on, which somehow seemed to be the perfect song at that moment, then one of D’s songs from Lazrus came on. I felt like some kind of iPod commercial, walking down the street bundled up, clearly headphones under my hat and smiling from ear to ear. I guess I just had this weird ah-ha moment when I realized I am designing my life, doing exactly what I want to be doing and I feel very lucky — and not for the first time and not just because of this whole personal cheffing thing.

Today was a speed course through a book I fortunately read ahead of time. Local personal chef Rosemary led us through 100 pages of culinary theory in about three hours — no small feat. Not to mention 75% of the time seemed to be on cuts of meat and every morsel of information that goes with it all (Do YOU know how acids affect gelatinization? I do.)

We then all went back to Cook’s Warehouse where we ate lunch that was prepared last week by our instructor, frozen, thawed and then heated (just like we will do for most of our clients). The meat eaters chose from one of two variations of gumbo and I enjoyed some brown rice (actually meant for the gumbo-eaters) and a big ol’ helping of kale-chickpea-casserole. I didn’t expect the care and consideration that went into the non-restaurant meals I have eaten this week despite my e-mail exchanges with Cathy ahead of time and I’ve been really happy to have something to eat!

After lunch, Rosemary, our guest instructor, taught the class how to make pot roast in the pressure cooker. I’m not the most familiar with pressure cookers (or pot roast) but hearing dry beans can be prepared in minutes vs. soaking them overnight, rice can be made in only a fraction of the 45 minutes it usually takes and it can make many meat dishes I may have to cook that much easier has it on the top of my kitchen wish list.

The gang then split in half for the afternoon. I stayed behind with three other classmates too cook three recipes and package them under Rosemary’s guidance while the other five students went back to class to learn packaging and freezing with Cathy. Tomorrow morning we’ll change places. M and I teamed up and got to work. We had to make some adjustments and took a little longer in order to accommodate little ol’ me!

We all made pasta primavera, then M and I prepped everything, but cooked separately the other two dishes. I replaced the meat with portabella mushrooms in the ginger glazed pork stir-fry and replaced chicken with tofu in my half of our cacciatore dish. I even brought my tofu press from home and everyone got to see how awesome it is.

It was really strange to be cooking in a totally foreign kitchen, but I better get used to it! I guess the good thing will be that I will be bringing my own pots, pans, utensils, etc. into the kitchens I’m cooking in, so I should know where everything is! Hopefully…

I think the veg dishes turned out great and you could only barely tell which one was meat and which was one was tofu in the cacciatore dish — I should have shaped the tofu or something! I was glad I was able to show people what a tofu press is — it is just so much easier and fast than balancing tofu between soup cans or the other ways we’ve all tried to drain it.

By the time we were done cleaning up, I’m pretty sure the activity of the last four days hit us all. After a bit of a vino break with M, I ended up heading out to dinner with T and her son, who had taken a bus four hours (one way) to see his mom for a mere 36 hours — what a good son!

We went to nearby Leon’s, which I’ve been wanting to check out all week because of the fries (‘pub frites’) I heard about, involving about a dozen dips to choose from. We went with massaman curry sauce, goat cheese fondue sauce and smoked tomato ketchup dipping sauce. All were delicious and I all but abandoned my ever-so-healthy arugala salad and warm chickpea salad to devour as many fries as possible.

Tell me if I’m crazy, but Casey totally looks like Henry Thomas from E.T. (and other fame) right?


Henry Thomas:

He totally looks like him right? He said that he’s been hearing lately that he looks like Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but I think (personally) that my Henry Thomas is more right on.

Crazy that tomorrow is it! We’ll do our class in the morning, then wrap up in the afternoon and head out to the airport. Fingers crossed I have a MUCH more boring flight than I had on Sunday and I get to Orlando to meet up with D and the bear at a decent hour. At least it’s supposed to be — gasp — 60 there!

Day Three in Decatur

Just a quick one tonight, as I’ve had a long busy day and should probably already be sleeping! Today was full of taxes and licensing and insurance and…are you sleeping??? Well, we weren’t! It’s that stuff that many people leaping into this kind of thing have no clue about — and we had a lot of questions. I only had SOME clue about it all and was happy to learn/determine I’ve made some pretty good choices so far and got some guidance so I can make some good choices in the future.

For lunch we headed down the street to Taqueria del Sol where I had two delicious veggie bean tacos with a side of turnip greens. And I couldn’t pull myself away from the salsas, guac and crazy gooey cheese dip — so much so that when the gang got up to disperse and get coffee, our instructor said something to the effect of, “No rush though, Kirsten. You can stay and finish eating chips and stuff. ” Yeah… (A friend, whose husband grew up in the area, warned me about how addictive the cheesy stuff was and she was right! Thanks for the head’s up, B!) The place was PACKED but our food came within about 2 minutes of our group of 10 sitting down. They have their system down, for sure.

We all grabbed some tea and coffee from Dancing Goats and I managed to have some willpower as I passed the yarn shop (being on the phone with D definitely helped).

Back in class, we managed to fight our way through the rest of our learning about business-y stuff and took our second of two tests for the day. I was a bit braindead by then, but I don’t think I’m going to fail. 🙂

At the end of the day, I grabbed a quick glass of wine with a couple of my classmates, then I headed to the Dekalb Farmers Market with T and M. Cathy (our teacher) has been talking about it, but I had no idea what I was in for. What an incredible resource for anyone — whether a home cook or a personal chef (especially a personal chef!). There were bulk spices and beans, giant containers of everything from soy sauce to poppy seeds, every variety of most fruits and vegetables (have you ever seen five or six kinds of pears at once?), and an incredible selection of fresh meat and seafood — if you’re into that kind of thing. 🙂 And let’s not forget the breads, baked goods and amazing tarts and things.

I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking:

There was a bit of a buffet in the cafe area of the market and we decided to go for it. There was one whole side that was mostly salad bar and the other had hot dishes, bean salads, etc., as well as such items as samosas, pastas and pizzas. I loaded on a little bit of everything — as you can see — and decided it would be worth it even if I couldn’t get to everything.

Among the items on there are a big ol’ salad with homemade Asian ginger dressing, curried chickpeas, roasted plantains, roasted winter vegetables, sweet and spicy lentil salad, broccoli/potato casserole and pesto ravioli. I refuse to reveal how much I managed to eat…

I’m really getting to know a couple of the women in class and we’re having a great time. It’s nice to meet some interesting people and find out how much we’re all alike — in our food and our ‘regular’ lives. Tomorrow we’re onto marketing and whatnot — should be a fun day. I can’t wait to get into the kitchen on Thursday though!

Day Two in Decatur

Today was remarkably different from yesterday, but just as interesting/exciting. I tossed and turned a bit last night, but was up and at ’em, waltzed over to Starbucks first thing and found my way to class just before 8. We are a class of 9 plus our energetic, hilarious, and b.s.-free instructor, Cathy, who has been an area personal chef for more than a decade. She didn’t have the good fortune of attending a class to teach her the ins and outs of personal cheffing, but had to learn it all the hard way (or at the very least the extremely interesting way!) and has since helped to develop the course I’m taking.

A bit of a side note — the office building in which the academy rents a conference room for the class used to be a bank and the conference room itself used to be the bank vault. No, really — the door is still there, with its big ol’ emblem. And if you stomp on the floor there’s no question there’s steel under that thin layer of carpet.

The class is full of all kinds of characters, including those who’ve been laid off due to the economy; a recent divorcee looking to supplement her alimony checks after nearly three decades as a wife and mother; a portrait painter hoping to supplement his income; a recently retired army colonel just back from Europe; a former executive chef and chain restaurant franchisee hoping to do some enjoyable and meaningful work as he lives with a serious illness; and those looking to create a custom menu for their lives.

We’re a chatty and friendly bunch — so much so that our class is a bit behind already, something quite out of the ordinary according to the woman at the helm. That speaks to the casual nature of the course in general and the fact that we’re all so excited and interested — there are just so many questions!

We’re all at different stages in our business plans and development, but it’s really incredible to be in a room with a collection of folks all working toward a very similar goal. We all have different points of view, different concerns and fears and questions that span every topic imaginable. I can’t fathom walking away from this week without every possible topic I could dream up being addressed.

On top of our instructor’s advice, insight and 15 years of working through the details of what makes an efficient and successful personal chef tick, she’s got all kinds unbelievable stories that, though they make us laugh, are truly invaluable bits of info and — I’m sure — frustrating situations she had to face.

Like the fact that you might want to mention to clients up front that neither they nor their children can be in the kitchen on their cook day — or you might end up running a counseling service while slaving away in the kitchen. (I mean, if they want to pay me for my time, I have no problem throwing back some wine and chatting, but they won’t have any dinner on the table at the end of the day!) Perhaps you should say up front that you’re not going to open the door for anyone, so if they leave you will not let the plumber in, sign for packages or deal with solicitors.  Or, hard as it is to believe, please don’t leave your toddler granddaughter with me when A) I don’t know she exists and B) I don’t know you’re leaving. (True story!)

We popped across the street to a lovely little French restaurant called Cafe Lilly where we all either ate soup or salad and half a sandwich for lunch. Though the tomato dill soup sounded great, it was made with chicken stock, so I went with the grilled veggie sandwich and field greens salad with a cup of hot tea. I think I was hungrier than I thought — I wolfed it down.

About half the class then walked down the street to get some coffee at Dancing Goats. The coffee was really rich and delicious and the decor reminded me a lot of Argo Tea, which I frequented when I lived in Chicago.

Along the way were — of course — more interesting and colorful shops.

I also passed a cute little yarn shop named Sheepish (I seem to have a nose for sniffing them out no matter where I go!), but it isn’t open on Mondays. Perhaps that’s for another lunch break later this week.

By the end of the day, just after five, I was pretty pooped. More than you would think after ‘just’ sitting and listening all day. It’s a different type of tired than chasing after the kids all day, but equally mentally draining (I’m afraid this blog post won’t be quite as well-spoken as I hope yesterday’s was — and even that was after a day of traveling). The fact that I have been slowly tapping it out over the course of two hours says enough.

For dinner I  joined two others for sushi across the way at Sushi Avenue, next to Cafe Lilly, and it was delicious. A little hot sake and miso soup was just what I needed on a drizzly and cool Georgia night after a long day.

On the agenda for the week is the renowned Dekalb Farmer’s Market, which is open daily until 9 p.m. Word on the streets is the hotel shuttle will take us there, and we can buy several years’ worth of spices for under $20 (where I can fit this into my luggage, I haven’t yet determined).

Just across from the building our class is in is the restaurant Watershed, owned by the Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers, which has a good reputation so I’m told. Though the rest of the menu looks delicious for meat-eaters, the lone “Hot Vegetable Plate” isn’t really selling me. But we’ll see.

Funny as it sounds, I’m looking forward to a day of learning about the real meat of the business side of personal cheffing, including taxes, marketing, etc. tomorrow. This morning when Cathy said each day students arrive later and later and by the end of the week are mush. I think I’m only starting to understand why, but I do believe I’ll be a happy pile of mush. The good news is I’m only getting more excited to start this venture and hopeful for what’s to come.

Day One in Decatur

Today I left home with a belly full of breakfast from Toast, a bit of exhaustion and the anticipation of warmer weather. It has been a day of adventures — to say the least — and I figured I might as well use the blog to keep friends and family posted on the life and times of a would-be personal chef set loose on the outskirts of Atlanta.

I got squeezed into my window seat and watched people trickle on board as the seat to my right remained empty. Then, as the doors were practically closing, a man in a red and white hat came bumbling down the aisle, mumbling to himself.

Please, no, god there is no room for…crap.

With the strong scent of cigarettes and cheap beer wafting feet in front of him, my buddy for the next two hours plunked himself down next to me, continuing to mumble. He was short on teeth, long on chatter and it turns out Bud Light is his drink of choice. He actually ordered one, but then only had cash, so he said, “I’ll give her the money and she can put mine on her card.”

Um, what’s that now?

“Chivalry is not dead,” he tells me. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Confused, I politely say my bloody mary mix is sans booze but he doesn’t get it, mentioning over and over again during the next hour and a half that he is going to be buying my drink.

Soon into the flight, I pulled out a book, but it turns out he’s a reader. He breezes through 1 1/2 books with a giant $1.25 sticker on the covers of poorly drawn farm scenes with dogs. He tells me they are romantic mysteries “with just a bit-a Jesus in there.”

I decided I needed to watch something — perhaps headphones will force him to quietly read his book. I’m quite sure I jinxed myself last night when I told D that planes are the one place I don’t like to chat with people. With my headphones on, I start watching the latest episode of Top Chef on my computer. This. Didn’t. Slow. Him. Down. For. A. Second.

I learn about this unnamed friend that he is originally from Michigan but retired to Alabama. His wife (who won’t let him out of the house with a credit card) can’t even boil water, but his son, who owns a bar and grill in Michigan, has a culinary degree. He was confused when, at the end of the flight, he directly asks me what I’m going to Georgia for and when I tell him, he says he doesn’t understand why I didn’t tell him that when he told me about his chef son.

Keep in mind any of this conversation happened as I was watching the show. He would say something, I would hit the space bar to pause the show and turn to him.

What’s that? Mmm hmm. (Turn back to my computer)

Sometimes only 30 seconds went by between interruptions. I tried to come up with a nice way to tell him I would like to watch my show in peace, but came up with nothing. Fortunately, he fell asleep toward the end and I had a few minutes of peace. When he woke up, he was sure to mention that “Atlanta is a lot bigger than Detroit, little girl” and told me he hoped I would find a nice Southern gentleman. I showed him my engagement ring, and said I already had a gentleman and that he did have Southern blood.

I let some people go between he and I on our way off the plane and he started hitting on a nice young woman with curly extensions and a Steelers jacket, who told him she liked him for saying she was so pretty. Whew, that was a long, long flight. I hope by tomorrow I won’t experience phantom wafts of his scent.

Though it took a while due to a stopped train, I navigated the  MARTA system well and made it to Decatur, just a few miles outside of Atlanta. In the few blocks to my hotel, I saw tons of adorable little shops, from kitschy kitchen stores and indie art shops to children’s bookstores and galleries. There is even a Starbucks along the way — which I’ll pass each day on my way to class.

Looking down the main drags were dozens of independent restaurants and only in the distance could I see one block of usual suspects like Ruby Tuesday, BW3 and Outback Steakhouse.

I checked in at the hotel and decided to head out in search of food, starving. The woman at the front desk said anything good in Decatur involves meat, but I might find something at a sushi place. I ignored that suggestion and headed back toward the cute area near the train station, when I happened upon a couple waiting to cross the street. Turns out Edie and Mike are vegetarian and full of suggestions!

I walked around a bit to finish my coffee, then ended up at the place they were heading — Brick Store Pub. I sat at a table near the front, sipping a great IPA out of Pennsylvania, as a table of old friends reunited in the window seat to my left — one of them from Ann Arbor.

I quietly read my personal chef reference manual and people watched. The customers and staff included everyone from grandmothers and families to young couples and hipsters sitting at the bar. I ordered the suggested pierogi primavera, which I tried so, so hard to finish but just couldn’t.

I walked back to the hotel and — when passing the lounge area — was asked to pledge an allegiance to either Green Bay or Pittsburgh (is that right? Whoever else is playing.) And, when forced to choose all I could say was that I used to live in Wisconsin, upsetting half the room.

A man sounding exactly like Borat, but roughly 75 years old, then got on the elevator with me. We shared that neither of us cared much for football, though he then asked if I wanted to have a drink and watch the game. I politely said no thanks as the elevator doors opened and quickly headed in the opposite direction.

Although I know I’ll be so busy I won’t have time (or likely energy), I wish my squeeze was here to explore with me. But I suppose the solitude will help me focus and hopefully I’ll become pals with some of the other students so we can keep in touch and bounce ideas off of each other down the line as we build our businesses throughout the country.

Fingers crossed I sleep more than I could last night. I haven’t been in class more than a decade — I need all the help I can get!

A Delicious Weekend in the Windy City: Part 2

I’m crumbling under the weight of the blog posts in my mind and on my camera just waiting to be uploaded. After a busy couple of weeks, I’m ready to complete my two-part post on our early April trip to Chicag0, Part 1 highlighting the delicious Handle Bar.

Spending about 48 hours in a city where you know buckets of people, usually means, try as you might, you’re only going to see a handful of them. We did our best to create what Daniel referred to as “epic brunch” and, sure enough, had a fantastic crew come out to Treat on day 2.

I’ve heard really good things about Treat, but never managed to go there during my time in Chicago. Better late than never. Holy crap. One of the best meals I’ve had in Chicago ever. EVER.

I wanted everything and had a terrible time deciding what to get. Of course I started out with a good, strong cup of coffee. Then Megan blew our minds when she pulled two bottles of champagne out of her purse and asked her friend, owner Tamiz, for a carafe of o.j.

So, back to wanting one of everything, I decided the tabled needed to have samosas for an appetizer. They were so good, I insisted on a second order, even though everyone said we had enough food coming. I’m pretty sure they were happy I did. These were by far THE best samosas I’ve ever had. They were so good.

Basically everything everyone ordered was beautiful and, by all accounts, delicious. See what I mean — here’s Daniel’s open-faced veggie sandwich sans cheese.

Many (or most) things on the menu have an Indian twist and it all sound incredible. While the masala French toast, curried gnocchi and tomato korma rigatoni all sound like fine options, I decided to get one each of two different types of savory pancakes.

I got one pakora pancake, made from a chickpea batter with onions, wilted spinach, cilantro and tamarind chutney. It’s was very thin, with a mild flavor. My friend Colleen did the same thing I did and this was her favorite of the two we both tried. Here she is holding hers.

Although I really liked the pakora pancake, I preferred the other pancake we each got. It was a thicker, savory pancake with leeks, roasted corn and a thin Hollandaise sauce.

I wish I could eat one of these every day. Seriously one of the best meals in the history of the world.

But it wasn’t over! We all sat around, finishing off our mimosas and chatting. Stuffed to the gills, in the company of fantastic friends and ready to spend the afternoon shopping before slipping off to the Aragon Ballroom to see Thom Yorke, Flea and the rest of Atoms for Peace.

Once again, Megan has one of the best ideas of all time and sits down to say we have two desserts on their way. Mango creme brulee and an apple tart with black pepper ice cream. I love pepper. But ICE CREAM? Yes. Please and thank you. DELICIOUS.

I can’t believe I never managed to go to Treat (or ever hear of it, though I lived 2 blocks north of it for a couple of months) and I can’t wait to go back — even though it will be a struggle not to order the same delicious things every time I go back!

After the show Sunday night, we set out in search of a late dinner since doors had been at 5:30 and the show was at 7 (must be Thom Yorke is getting a little long in the tooth and gets tired early?)

Practically next door to the beautiful Aragon Ballroom was Ethiopian restaurant Demera, so we waltzed in there. We got the vegetarian messob (where a bunch of food comes out and you all dive in with bread as your utensil) dinner for two, where you pick six different dishes. I don’t remember exactly what we got — a couple of dishes that were lentil- and chickpea-based, one that involved collard greens, maybe one with spinach.

I panicked would not be nearly enough food for four people — but Leah was right. It was the perfect amount. We finished basically all of it, but left happy and full. Again, delicious.

Before we took off Monday morning, we did a little Division Street shopping and stopped by  Milk and Honey Cafe, where I’ve had many-a-good-breakfast. They have amazing granola and oatmeal and a really delicious casserole-style huevos rancheros during weekend brunch only.

I didn’t love the breakfast burrito I got, but only because I’m not really feeling eggs these days. I asked for half the amount of eggs normally in it and kind of hoped there would be extra beans in their place, but it was still pretty egg-laden.

Daniel is somewhat of an oatmeal connoisseur and he loved his. Doesn’t it look delicious?

And a trip to Chicago wouldn’t be complete (at least for Daniel anyway) without stopping by Sultan’s on North Avenue for the best-falafel-of-all-time (though Anita’s Kitchen right here in Ferndale is catching up, I think). They’ve apparently doubled in size from their buffet and cafeteria-style one-room restaurant since the last time I was in there.

I ran in and picked up two sandwiches, then we hit the highway. They hit the spot a few hours later when we got hungry again on our way home. This may have been the best trip to Chicago yet in terms of food, and that’s without going to some of my favorite restaurants. It’s so great to discover new things in a city I still love so much, and made me want to explore Detroit restaurants even more after I got home!

A Delicious Weekend in the Windy City: Part 1

My squeeze and I headed to Chicago for a quick trip to visit friends and check out Thom Yorke’s new project, Atoms for Peace.  In my five years living there, I had the good fortune to encounter some amazing restaurants, big and small. We always hit up a couple of my old favorites when we come to town. This trip we even tried some that became instant NEW favorites.

Here’s a quick peek into our whirlwind weekend in Chicago, that kicked off with one of our favorites.

We pulled into the city around 6:30 p.m. Central Time and headed straight to Handlebar on North Avenue in Wicker Park. I had eaten there a handful of times during my time living there, including once for brunch with Daniel. Then on my last night in town, we went there for dinner. Until this weekend, neither of us has ordered anything different than we did that night, just over two years ago.

Handlebar, a restaurant and bar with a great back patio, has a menu full of vegetarian, vegan and seafood items, a great selection of interesting foreign and domestic beer, and one of the friendliest waitstaff’s I’ve ever encountered. Its name refers to the city’s bicycle messengers and cyclists it caters to.

Daniel’s standard is the Ground Nut Stew, which he said was a little off this time for some reason, but still delicious. It comes in a large bowl with brown rice and includes sweet potatoes, kale, peanuts, toasted coconut and zucchini.

Daniel so graciously allows me to sneak bites every time without stabbing me with his fork. See how happy he is waiting for its arrival? (And notice the beer in the left corner? That’s a ginger-infused beer from Left Hand Brewing Company. It was amazing.)

My standard is the Black Beans Maduro, a ridiculous mess of crispy plantains, rice, hot sauce, spicy black beans and deliciousness. I love, love, love it. BUT, considering the massive quantities of beans, rice and plantains I’ve consumed in the last few weeks, I decided to stray.

I ordered a special. I’m not sure exactly what was in it, because the waiter never came back to ask us if we wanted dessert. I was going to ask to see the menu, so I could spy on the back where the specials were. What I do know was that it was lemon risotto with asparagus, grilled tofu, a vinegary/pickly salad on top and an herb sauce/vinaigrette around the outside (I just couldn’t remember or figure out what herb was in it).

It was good, and definitely grew on me as the meal went on — but do we really want food to grow on us? It was good, but I just wouldn’t order it again. I can’t beat the Black Beans Maduro I guess!

I realize I never have pictures of myself on my blog (A: I’m always taking the pictures. B) Clearly I don’t belong on the other side of the camera. Can you sense the awkwardness?), but here I am about to dive in.

If you live there or are in town, check them out. Meat-eater or not, the food is GOOD and there are lots of choices. (And if you’re vegan/veg – you’re in luck! So many choices!) Take a look at their menu here.

By the time it was all said and done we were stuffed to the gills and ready to make it down to our friend’s new amazing pad in the South Loop and later to some hilarity that is Improv Olympic’s The Cupid Players. So, as often is the case, there was no room for dessert!