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Hey-- I'm not a local, but I did go up this past May with my boyfriend. We're both vegetarians, so all of these places have good meat-free options, but they all served stuff for carnivores as well. We're undergrads, so none of these places are super expensive, but I did include a couple "splurge" places. In (very rough) order of (perceived) awesomeness:
Paciarino-- sublime pasta. And they give you a mountain of bread, dripping in olive oil, to start the meal. Pretty good wine selection as well. Cannot recommend this more highly. Also-- feels expensive without actually being that expensive.
Pai Men Miyake-- (seconded.) Excellent ramen, excellent cocktails. They have a lunch special that saves some money, too.
Novare Res Biercafe-- (seconded) their beer menu is probably 30 pages long. Lots of hard-to-find options, but the staff is friendly, informative, and not at all snobby.
Hot Suppa!-- (thirded?) for breakfast/lunch. They have grits! It was also really friendly and cute, and seemed to have a lot of regular customers. Was a bit crowded, but we got a seat at the bar right away.
And for fun, some places with cool/quirky/interesting locations:
Grace-- in an old church. The building is sublime, we got to sit in the balcony and look over the kitchen. I would say the cocktails are more of a draw than the food, but that's not to knock the food.
El Rayo Taqueria-- in a converted gas station close to the waterfront, did solid tacos, had pineapple with chili powder and lime juice, and really dense coconut cupcakes.
Mint-- but if it's hot chocolate, then tea! There's a place out here in New England that does tea-infused hot chocolate and it's delicious.
My family has made quiche (from Molly Katzen's early cookbooks) every Christmas eve as long as I can remember. I can't eat it any time of the year, it tastes so much like home.
My mom would make homemade macaroni and cheese souffle with corn growing up, and the corn added a tiny bit of sweetness. It was great.
Mulled cider, and anything with bourbon. (Though last year I had a hot toddy during the power outages of the New England snowpocalypse, and it didn't help all that much, so I feel slightly betrayed.)
I love Moosewood Cookbook! Grew up with tofu nutballs while the other kids were eating meatballs... by name alone, tofu nutballs might be one of the more memorable vegetarian things I've eaten.
On the more palatable side, tapas at Toro in Boston is easy to make vegetarian: cheese plates, padron peppers, elote, pan con tomate... everything done perfectly.
My boyfriend and I (both vegetarian) usually just buy pre-made seitan, and I've found the Westsoy seitan strips to be a really good meat dupe. Ingredient list is: Filtered water, vital wheat gluten, soy sauce (water, soybeans, wheat, salt), garbanzo bean flour, defatted soy flour, garlic.
So perhaps a different kind of flour could help? Doesn't seem like they add any fat to it.
As far as recipes, we've come up with a pretty good dupe of the (Boston) Clover food truck barbecue seitan sandwich, caramelizing onions and adding the seitan at the last minute, then cooking them in prepared barbecue sauce for just a couple minutes. The seitan doesn't dry out at all that way, and I think the onion may even impart some moisture and fat (butter/oil used to cook it in) without leaving it greasy.
Back in the day, before this was a common fair food, a friend and I had a leftover chocolate cake doughnut and a leftover burger patty. Cut the doughnut in half, added the patty, no other toppings--it was great. My theory is that the naysayers have only tried the glazed-yeast-doughnut-burger, which is obviously not the correct type of doughnut to use.
Once I was at home and my mother and I replaced the vegetable oil called for in the Ghirardelli Double Chocolate mix recipe with orange-infused olive oil someone had given her as a gift. It was incredible. Like a better version of those chocolate oranges you get at Christmas.
All my meals are vegetarian! But lately my favorite has been barbecue seitan sandwiches-- on an onion roll with tomato, spinach, melted pepper jack, and sauteed onions.
Alterra got renamed? I am disproportionately upset over this!
That said, they brew the best cortados. Would try that stout if I still lived in Milwaukee.
Going to be practical and say parmesan. From a poor college student perspective, it's economical, doesn't spoil quickly, can be thrown into anything, and can be eaten plain if you have no other food in the house.
Pecan pie. I have a sweet tooth! But it's also family tradition for all the winter holidays.
Tacos! I usually have some extra beans premade (being a vegetarian) and then I can just throw in whatever vegetables and cheese I have around.
Valdeon, (blue cheese from Spain) because I'm pretty strong, but I mellow out with some honey.
I've had Flour's sticky rolls. You can split them between three people, easily, but they're amazing.
Osaka style soba, with big chunky pork slabs on top.
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