Eat here: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, New Orleans, USA

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
http://www.snobliz.com

If you find yourself in New Orleans, count yourself lucky. Because summer over there is snoball season, and the only place to get them from is Hansen’s. If you live over there, you already know about Hansen’s. If you don’t, keep reading – its much more than just dessert.

It’s a really simple concept for a hot day treat: shaved ice, drenched in flavoured syrup. Starts as a frozen dessert requiring a spoon, ends as a slushie. And they’ve been making their snoballs the exact same way since they started in 1939.

See, Ernest was an enterprising young machinist who created a machine to shave light, fluffy piles of ice. And his wife, Mary, was a whiz in the kitchen where she came up with the syrup recipes (which they still follow to make their syrups in-house to this day).

Now run by the third generation of the family, they open every year while the weather is hot. Walking into their store is like walking back in time to the most perfect cotton candy-pink museum you could imagine. It really is one of those places that make New Orleans what it is, especially these days when there aren’t many family businesses still around. We got lucky last year; with the city experiencing a particularly long summer, they were still open in late October, and we got stuck into this coconut pineapple snoball.

Eating the city: Berlin, Germany

It’s not all meat and potatoes… well, I mean, there is a lot of that, but it’s really, really good!

Potato dishes

Why get it:
Germans do potato particularly well – there’s a lot more to it than mashed potato with meat. Dishes like this one from Zur Rose make it a kind of replacement for pasta, without making it just like gnocchi.
We got ours from: Zur Rose, Weinbergsweg 26, Berlin 

 

Goulash and potato dumplings

Why get it:
When you’re travelling through Germany in winter, you want warm, hearty comfort food. That’s goulash with the aforementioned mashed potato. It may look like dog food, but the meat is fall-apart-in-your-mouth soft, the sauce is rich, the sauerkraut is the perfect food to cut through the richness of the goulash, and mashed potato is always a welcome addition.
We got ours from: Georgbräu, Spreeufer 4, Berlin

 

A cured meat and cheese breakfast spread

Why get it:
It’s not all rich, hearty food – places like Alpenstück are breaking the stereotype with some really basic but delicious options for the modern traveller. Everything is so fresh and simple, it’s the perfect change from the typically heavy meals you’ll eat later in the day.
We got ours from: Alpenstück Bäckerei, Schröderstraße 1, Berlin

 

Pork knuckle

Why get it:
For that heavy meal later in the day, you can’t beat a crispy-skinned pork knuckle. This is the quintessential German plate of meat: juicy, soft pork under a crispy, salty layer, sitting on yet more sauerkraut with a side of yet more mashed potato. Sounds like it’d be getting repetitive, right? Wrong.
We got ours from: Weihenstephaner, Neue Promenade 5, Berlin

 

Traditional German sweets

Why get it:
After all that meat and potato, you’ll be wanting some sugar to balance things out. And Germany does sweets just as well as they do meat and potato. Some delicious options to look for are strudel biscuits – basically a jam covered butter biscuit with ‘crumble’ on top, and nussecken, an absolutely delicious nut/apricot jam/chocolate concoction (click on over to get my recipe for them!) that you really have to try.
We got ours from: A tiny little café that I can’t remember the name of…

Eat here: Cochon Butcher, New Orleans (sandwiches/meat)

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
https://cochonbutcher.com/

A tribute to Old World butcher and charcuterie shops, Cochon Butcher melds a distinctive Cajun accent to the art of curing meat.

With a menu description like that, as if we weren’t going to visit this place! We first saw it through the eyes of Anthony Bourdain, then read a ton of great reviews, and then heard more good stuff about it once we got to New Orleans.

Much like places in Melbourne (think Jimmy Grants, Huxtaburger), Cochon Butcher is the super successful, less formal offshoot from the more fancy Cochon, drawing in a solid hipster and young professional crowd. The menu is very pig-centric, in the best possible way, with everything crafted, cured and smoked in house.

We visited at lunch time and shared a Buckboard bacon melt with collards on white bread (bottom left) and a charcuterie plate (top left). Buckboard bacon melt was probably the best spin on a ham & cheese toastie I’ve ever had – that bacon was amazing.

The charcuterie plate was next level – for a mere USD$16.00, we got dry cured pork loin, country terrine, spicy fennel salami, chorizo, pork rillon, flat bread crackers and pickles. And every single thing on that board was magnificent.

They also have a mean cocktail menu, heaps of beer and wine options, and you can shop their flatware, aprons, sauces and pickles after you’re done eating. They’d have every right to be a little arrogant and pretentious, but the staff were cool and laid back without being complete tools. They made the atmosphere like that of a fun, young deli, but the food was clearly the product of experience. We’d go back to eat there again in a heartbeat. And now all I want for breakfast is a bacon sandwich.

Eating the city: Vienna, Austria

I didn’t know much about Vienna’s food before I visited other than it was a city famous for a chocolate cake and veal schnitzel. Turns out they do other stuff pretty well, too…

 

Sacher Torte

Why get it: Because you actually can’t go to Vienna without trying this cake. Everyone knows it. Layers of chocolate cake and apricot jam encased in rich couverture chocolate. Yes, please.
We got ours from: Hotel Sacher, Philharmoniker Str. 4, Vienna

 

Krapfen

Why get it:
These apricot-jam filled donuts are particularly popular in Vienna, and for good reason. Light and fluffy deep fried dough full of sugar jam makes – delicious!
We got ours from: One of the Christmas markets we visited, but Café Oberlaa (several locations) is a local favourite.

 

Wiener schnitzel

Why get it:
The Wiener schnitzel is one of the city’s most famous exports – a thin piece of veal is crumbed and fried to golden perfection.
We got ours from: Pürstner, Riemergasse 10, Vienna

 

Fancy cakes

Why get it:
Vienna’s sugar game is tight, and one of the things they do best is cake. Not your standard sponge cake, I’m talking fancy, multi-layeredm gourmet delicacies that you sit down and take your time to enjoy.
We got ours from: Café Central, Herrengasse 14, Vienna

 

Käsekraner

Why get it: Because it combines the best of both worlds – a thick pork sausage studded with little chunks of cheese. Heaven. And even better – that cheese oozes out while they cook on thr grill, so you get this deliciously caramelised crust on it. Usually served with mustard and bread, it’s simple but ridiculously good.
We got ours from: Street side stalls. Yes, we visited several of them. Quality control, you know…

 

Schmarren

Why get it:
This little pan of heaven is made by first cooking up a thick, fluffy pancake. Then, it’s chopped up into little pieces and refried in butter with raisins, dusted with a heap of icing sugar, and traditionally topped with a spiced plum compote.
We got ours from: Heindl’s Schmarren & Palatschinkenkuchl, Köllnerhofgasse/Grashofgasse 4, Vienna

Eat here: Flavio Al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy (Italian)

Flavio Al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome
http://www.ristorantevelavevodetto.it/en/home

In Rome’s Testaccio district, the ex-garbage dump of the ancient Romans (literally, there’s a hill around the corner from here that we found while walking around to kill time before lunch that was made from broken Roman terracotta), where the tourists rarely venture, is a bowl of pasta that is the stuff of legends.

It’s a dish that’s just now gaining momentum and becoming trendy (god help us), and it’s so simple it sounds downright boring, made with only three ingredients: pasta, cheese and pepper. Seriously – that’s it. Well, it’s not, there’s a real art to it, and Elizabeth will explain it to you better than I can if you want to take a quick detour to her blog.

I knew we were eating cacio e pepe when we visited Rome, and there’s only one person I trusted to recommend the right place to eat it – and Elizabeth Minchilli didn’t let me down. Having seen a ridiculous number of bowls of this dish on her Instagram account in the year leading up to our trip, all from the same restaurant, it was decided we’d make the trip out to Testaccio to visit Flavio’s.

The restaurant itself is one of those you’d-miss-it-if-you-weren’t-looking-for-it kind of places. No big flashy signs out the front, no neon lights in the shape of pasta bowls, just a little gated courtyard with the name clearly printed above it.

We rolled in right on opening time, because we heard it got busy fast – it did. The place is surprisingly big inside, with several dining areas seperated by walls and corridors. The tables were laid with crisp white linen, and the staff gave the immediate impression of being a very well-oiled machine, to the point of being almost mechanical – I’m guessing the Roman regulars have a bit of a warmer welcome, though.

I knew what I wanted to try well before I saw the menu – cacio e pepe, obviously. A deep fried artichoke. And pasta carbonara. Oh, and a bottle of wine, because, when in Rome…

I’m used to my family’s artichokes, which are marinated in oil and herbs (and are very good), so a deep fried one was very different – and so, so good. The petals were like salty little artichoke chips, and the heart was still soft and sweet underneath all that crunchiness. Perfect starter, clearly, because every other table in the room had one, too.

Then came the pasta – the tonnarelli (like fat spaghetti) cacio e pepe did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente pasta smothered in cheese and pepper is a thing of beauty. Husband said it was the best bowl of pasta he’s ever eaten. Again, a clear winner, because every table seemed to have at least one bowl of this.

The other bowl of pasta I chose was rigatoni carbonara. This is one of my favourite meals, but I don’t order it at home, because most restaurants don’t know how to make it. Contrary to popular belief, carbonara is not made with cream; it’s made with eggs. So when restaurants make it with cream and call it “authentic Italian,” it makes my blood boil. But here, they make it right, with eggs. And guanciale (cured pork jowl, one of my favourite meaty things). And more cheese. And let me tell you, even though it may not look like much, that was the best bowl of pasta I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Nonna).

We washed it all down with what was left of the bottle of wine, used the contents of the complimentary bread basket to mop up what was left of the sauces, rolled out the front door and continued to talk about lunch for the next three days. If you’re only going to eat pasta at once place in Rome, make sure it’s at Flavio’s. And that’s coming from an Italian.

Eat & drink here: Der Pschorr, Munich, Germany (modern beer hall)

Der Pschorr
Viktualienmarkt, 15, Munich
http://www.der-pschorr.de/der-pschorr-munich-city-centre.html

We were about 48 hours into the Berlin leg of our trip when we began to suspect that these awesome beer halls we’d heard so much about might not be as easy to find as we had expected.

A bit of Google investigating revealed that beer halls actually aren’t a German thing; they’re a Bavarian thing. As in, stop looking for them in Berlin and wait to get to Munich. In preparation for the next stop, husband compiled a list of beer halls declared by the internet to be worthy of our time and stomach space. One of those was Der Pschorr, located in the Viktualienmarkt.

We figured we’d drop in for a post-market shopping beer before moving on for lunch. Spoiler alert: we didn’t.

As beer halls go, Der Pschorr was unrecognisable from the stereotypical underground, dimly lit affairs of the movies. Instead, it was modern and flooded with natural light, still with warm wood finishes and flooring, but you couldn’t imagine pot-bellied old men throwing steins around there. It was more of a hip young bucks night or millennial business meeting kind of place.

I was skeptical. We were there for traditional, old school, not shiny and new. But we took a seat and husband had a beer. He said it was excellent. And in a fantastic throw back to tradition, a small barrel was brought to the bar while husband enjoyed his first beer – this was to be tapped open then and there. He hadn’t tried beer right out of a freshly opened barrel before, so he tried that, too. Excellent again.

Meanwhile, we were getting hungry, so we ordered the snack platter, thinking we’d get a small tasting platter €16.90 seemed pretty reasonable). Wrong again – it was huge, and the variety was great! We had a huge assortment of cured meat, pâté, terrine, cheeses and pickled vegetables, and it wouldn’t have been at all out of place at any fancy restaurant back in Melbourne. And I have to say that despite initial assumptions based on the tacky outfits, the staff were wonderful – they couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful in their recommendations, and were super efficient, even as the place started to fill up.

While the older, more traditional halls were amazing, this modern twist on an old favourite was a really pleasant surprise – I just wish we’d have had time to go back for a meal!

 

Eat here: S.Forno Panificio, Florence, Italy (bakery)

S.Forno Panificio
Via Santa Monaca 3r, Florence
http://t.ilsantobevitore.com

My auntie is a wonderful artist; she often travels to Italy to paint (because it’s impossible to not be inspired by such a gorgeous country), which means she has plenty of opportunities to find some real hidden gems. When I told her we’d be visiting Florence again, she told me I had to go to S.Forno. She was right.

The beautiful little bakery we found actually looked like it’d be more at home in Fitzroy or Collingwood than a tiny side street in Florence, but the retro decor and feel isn’t just fabricated to be reminiscent of the past. This is actually an old bakery that’s been rescued from certain doom by an enterprising  group of people…

The space has been a forno (bakery) for over 100 years. For the past 40 years, baker Angelo has walked into the store every morning to prepare freshly baked bread for the local Florentines. But something happened lately. After years of 7-day weeks and 18-hour days Angelo needed time beyond the bakery business and local restaurant team behind the successful Il Santo Bevitore came to the rescue. Partnering with Angelo, they have brought the business, but kept the baker, to ensure its place in the neighbourhood is secure for the future.
                                                                            – Lost in Florence

The daily offerings were written up on a chalkboard behind the counter, and assorted baskets were filled with loaves of bread. The front counter’s display case was filled with a mixed bunch of cake trays topped with an assortment of sweet treats, and the air smelt like freshly baked bread. Heaven. Husband and I were told the food was delicious and it didn’t disappoint; we ate cauliflower quiche and a prosciutto-topped slice of foccacia for lunch, and they were divine. While we ate, we watched customer after customer come through the door and leave with arms full of fresh bread.

We weren’t ready to leave after lunch; the atmosohere and people watching was too good. Sitting in there felt like total immersion in Florentine life, and we couldn’t have been happier to be sitting in the middle of it. Also, the sweets looked too good to leave without sampling.

Just to be clear, this is not a coffee shop. There’s no fancy espresso machine or 2 page caffeine menu. The focus is on the dough. But they are kind enough to offer some self-service, stock-standard American coffee and boiling water for tea, so we grabbed some of that and chose two typically Tuscan desserts – a baked rice cake, and a piece of castagnaccio, made from chestnut flour, rosemary, pine nuts and raisins.

Don’t be fooled by the nondesctipt façade; the service and atmosohere are both so warm and welcoming, and the food is some of the best in the city. It seems that they’ve arrived at the perfect balance between old traditon and new innovation, and that should earn them a visit when you’re next in Florence!