As I reminisce about 2013, my favorite memories involve delicious food, drink, great company and traveling. I knew all of my Instagram #foodporn would come in handy!
In January I discovered the best restaurant concept, pizza and B.Y.O.B. Antico Pizza in Atlanta, GA is serving up what I consider some of the most authentic Neapolitan pizza in the South. People line up with beer and wine in hand, hopeful for a spot at one of Antico’s community tables. The restaurant closes when they are out of dough and fresh ingredients are shipped straight from Italy.
I went to Antico with my friend Rebekah and cousin Christine. After grabbing SweetWater beer from a gas station down the street, we ordered the Margherita D.O.P. with San Marzano tomatoes, bufala, basil and garlic. I enjoyed the open atmosphere of Antico where I could see the chefs kneading the dough and preparing the pizza before going into the large wood burning ovens imported from Italy. Our wood fired pizza was perfectly crispy and topped with quality ingredients. I enjoyed every bite of my pizza pie while the chefs were humming along to the loud Italian music playing throughout the restaurant.
February was all about comfort food. I sported my red pea coat around Raleigh in search of hearty food to cure my winter blues. The cool winter months always make me homesick and longing for the love of my family. Mandolin in Raleigh, NC delivered the comfort food, especially in the shrimp and grits department. Chef Sean Fowler serves up an iron skillet topped to the brim with stone-ground grits, plump NC shrimp, andouille sausage, peppers and scallions. The creamy grits warmed my soul and I didn’t even notice the ice on my car after leaving brunch to head home for hibernation.
My views on life and people changed in March during my trip to Turkey with my friend Courtney. Together we explored a new country and learned about Turkish culture. I always felt safe in Turkey and complete strangers had a way to make me feel at home. My favorite memory from the trip is sitting in a family owned gas station in Olympos. Distressed and waiting for a cab in the middle of the night, I learned about the good in people. The whole family came downstairs, surrounding Courtney and me in the sitting area. We sat in silence around the furnace and sipped on a warm glass of çay. Although we couldn’t speak the language, I felt confident that these strangers were looking out for us.
Of course, food was a highlight of my trip to Turkey. Perhaps it was the small balcony overlooking the Bosphorus and the fact Courtney and I were spending our last day in Istanbul, but this breakfast of traditional menemen is by far my most memorable.
It’s quite amazing how one coffee recommendation from Twitter led to such an unreal day for me this past April in Pittsburgh, PA. I spent the afternoon learning about the local foods movement in Pittsburgh with Tazza D’Oro’s owner, Amy. After an incredible tour of a community farm, Amy treated me to a delicious lunch of beet-tinis, mussels and frites at Point Brugge Café. People are beautiful and want you to appreciate new places. Most importantly, people want you to feel at home wherever you may go.
May was about celebrating. My brother Kevin graduated from North Carolina State University and Chef Dean Thompson of Flights in Raleigh, NC helped make this occasion special for my family. Chef Dean prepared unique tastes for my family throughout the meal including dishes like lavender chicken and waffles. But he really went above and beyond during dessert. Kevin’s favorite flavor combination is peanut butter and chocolate. Chef Dean prepared a special hot cheesecake with peanut butter and Oreo cookies. My family still talks about this incredible dinner and Chef Dean’s generosity.
June is always about ice cream. The weather gets warmer and I get on this kick of finding the best ice cream. The Parlour in Durham, NC stole my heart. After going on a bad first date, I walked around the streets of downtown Durham by my lonesome. I found my summer love, the Parlour’s handmade black raspberry ice cream with dulce de leche in a chocolate waffle cone.
In July I ate my favorite pastry. Before meeting up with my friend Marianne in Boston, Mass. I enjoyed a sticky bun at Flour Bakery. The sticky bun’s dough was soft and stretched after each bite I took out of the heavenly creation. I didn’t mind that the bun was dripping in buttery “goo,” a mixture of butter, brown sugar, water, heavy cream and honey. The crunchy pecans were even perfect. I love when food brings a smile to my face.
August marked unique eats. The Stanbury opened with one of the most eclectic menus to hit downtown Raleigh, NC. During the soft opening I tried crispy pig head for the first time. Crispy pig head was served with field peas, a 64 degree duck egg and Persian cress. I enjoyed this custard-like egg with the crisp pieces of pork.
In September I succumbed to the food trend sweeping the world, the cronut. Earlier this summer I waited in line for hours only to have my dreams crushed. Luckily, I made it back to NYC with my heart (still) set on getting the cronut. I convinced my friend Caryn to wake up at her Sunnyside apartment by 4:00 a.m. so we could get in line for the cronut.
Two and half hours later filled with new friends and a plethora of coffee, Caryn and I had succeed. We waited in line to pay for our cronuts and then the prize was handed over, a golden box. I was beaming for the rest of the day after eating Dominique Ansel’s fig marscapone cronut. Honestly, the cronut was proof of the special bonds you can form with strangers in just a few hours. The cronut experience will go down in food history and to say I was a part of the craze is something I will never forget.
October was all about the beer. I marked a special item off my bucket list, to attend Oktoberfest in Germany. Beer truly connects people. It’s incredible to be surrounded by a variety of people who are celebrating happiness and yelling “Prost” as they clank their mugs of beer together in unison.
In November I counted my blessings. I’m so thankful to be surrounded by friends who also love food. Chef Mike Lee generously offered to cook Korean fried chicken at my home in Raleigh. Mike is passionate about food and I’m fortunate to have such a great friend who is anxious to teach others about a new cuisine.
In December I had a unique experience at my friend James Naquin’s home. He cooked a fabulous Cuban meal in honor of Roberto’s parents visiting the States. Roberto owns Old Havana in Durham, NC and his parents were in town from Cuba. We laughed, told stories and drank wine over a delicious meal of Lacón con Grelos and Tarta de Santiago. Of course, my favorite part of the meal was James’ charcuterie platter with his smoked brats, coppa and head cheese. Chef James’ smoked hog head cheese is a 2014 Good Food Awards Finalist. I’m so proud of James and cherish our friendship.
Listening to Roberto’s parents speak Spanish and talk about life in Cuba was eye opening. Roberto’s parents discussed how they did not have access to simple things in Cuba like yarn for knitting or plywood. This was definitely a night I will always cherish because I learned to appreciate the simple pleasures of my life in America.
People and food changed me in 2013. Keeping an open mind is important so you can fully drink in all that life has to offer you. Most importantly, I learned to trust others. I opened my mind to new experiences, tried unique foods and met amazing people along the way. Cheers to the mystery and adventure that 2014 will bring!