January BarkBox

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Sophie & Shamrock Saturday

We are already into February and I realized that I have not yet given you the contents on the January BarkBox. I’m sure the February BarkBox is due to ship any day now!

This month’s theme:

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Both of this month’s dog treats, the Duck & Pomegranate Soft Chews and the Good Dog Chicken Pot Pie flavored treats {which are in the shape of cute tiny dog bones!}, have been winners.

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The Lamb Ear Chew went right into our pantry where I keep a small stash so that I can give Sham and Sophie one at the same time. But look at that cute little Hippy Bus plush-squeaky toy above! I didn’t think Sham would like Lucy’s Magic Bus because he tends to like toys that are small or have little pieces he can nibble on. But he went for this one right away!

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He has also brought this the bus into our bedroom on his own, without us coaxing. He really continues to surprise me on which toys he likes! If it weren’t for BarkBox, I probably would have been buying him the wrong toys since he was a pup.

There was a second toy in the box this month:

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He went for Ozzie the Hippie, too!

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Well, maybe he was a little apprehensive with that one. I haven’t seen him with it since. I can’t even think were it is right now.

Both Sophie and Sham are continuing to love their BarkBox. They know the word! If we accidentally throw it out there mid-month, their ears perk up and I get their undivided attention. But then I have to tell them, “Sorry, not for a while yet, babies!”

Sign up your pup for a BarkBox with this link and get a free box added to your subscription!

Happy Saturday!
Carrie

Bad Momma

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SOPHIE Saturday

I’m a bad momma.

A couple of weeks ago, January 9th to be exact, I posted all about Shamrock on Sophie & Shamrock Saturday.

Because I forgot.

I forgot that it was little Miss Sophie Jean’s 11th birthday!

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I was reminded later that day when her vet sent me an email message wishing her a happy one. Bad Momma! I should have made her a Puppy Cake!

I can hardly believe she’s ll.

I remember vividly the day she came home with me. I went to a Homeward Bound Rescue pet adoption to look at a different dog that I found online. That dog did not suit me at all; but I was really there just to look. Then, this little one just turned her head to look behind her and looked up at me with her puppy dog eyes.

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I picked her up and couldn’t put her down. Who could resist those markings?

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To give you an idea of how tiny she truly was as a pup…

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I was living with my friend Jen at the time. Sophie just adored playing with her friend Finnegan, who in this photo is just watching her from behind.

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It’s funny to think how they are about the same size now! The name Sophie came to me on the long ride home as I held her gingerly in the back seat. But I was trying to come up with something more clever and less common. For days, Rob called her Me Too because she followed me everywhere form room to room. The only thing I called her was Little Girl. Eventually, Sophie is the one that stuck stuck… and it became Sophie Girl and Sophie Jean over the years.

She now responds to Sophie, Sophie Jean and Jean.

She was very cuddly at the get-go. I learned that is ultimately what I need in a dog.  She has been the ideal dog for me!

She may be a little whiny at times; but she also makes funny noises and does silly things that make laugh.

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I am so lucky to have such a cuddilicious, lovable dog in my life. Miss Sophie Jean, you are loved. Happy belated birthday.

You can see and read more about of Sophie Jean:

Happy Saturday!
Carrie

 

Lately: Winter in Minnesota

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I am not one of those people who live in Minnesota because I can embrace winter. Even with this year’s mild winter, there’s really nothing to complain about. But there’s something about winter that makes me anxious for spring… So that I can get outside!

Sure, when the winter temps are reasonable, you can spend time outdoors in Minnesota. That’s just not me. So here’s a list of things I’ve been spending my time doing over the last few weeks.

Weight Lifting

I don’t have a photo, but for the first time ever, I’ve been lifting weights consistently three days a week. I am lucky to have my husband as my trainer. Previously, I’ve been totally clueless in this category of fitness, so I’m grateful to have his instruction and encouragement!

Painting

I took a community ed “Beginner” Acrylic painting class that proved to be out of the realm of my ability. I think I’ll stick with the paint and sip classes for now. At least I’m able to hang those on my wall at home!

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Mulled Wine

I made a nice batch of mulled wine to watch the final Packer Game of the year at home. :( I’ll definitely be keeping that recipe as well as these sangria recipes in case our homemade wine doesn’t turn out as well as we’d like!

Juicy Lucy

This cheese-stuffed burger at Buffalo Tap is the best one in the Twin Cities, IMHO. It’s winter in Minnesota – so you need to have a Lucy and tots at least once.

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Puzzling

For Christmas, I gave Rob a 1000-piece puzzle of Cinque Terre, Italy, thinking he could spend time putting it together on our coffee table on cold winter nights. Instead, it proved frustrating, especially with the dim lighting in our living room. He wanted nothing to do with it. I moved what we’d started to the dining room table. It took me about a month to finish. {Though I received a text from my teenage nephew with a photo of the 1000-piece puzzle I got him for Christmas. He completed his in one day.}

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Reading

Sometimes I wonder if the amount I remember reading as a child was in another life. Somewhere, along the way, I lost it… I became too busy. Still, I really wanted to return to the world of books because I enjoy them so.

A couple of years ago, I told myself that I had so many books in the house that I hadn’t read yet that I needed to read those first before getting anything new. I had so many books started… and just never finished them. Obviously, they weren’t keeping my attention. I had to give myself permission to let them go!

Instead, I did what I should have done a long time ago – I renewed my library card. My previous card was listed in my maiden name with an old address! Now, I can read whatever I really want to read! I know. Simple. Obvious. But I finally did it. There’s really not much better in the winter than snuggling under a blanket and reading with a cup of hot tea in hand.

Salt Cellar

You. Guys. We dined at Salt Cellar in St. Paul last weekend with our friends Jared and Matt. And I must tell you, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a really long time!!! {Well, except for the fab NYE dinner we had at Sul Lago; but that’s a given, right?!}

I didn’t take any photos while we caught up over dinner that night, but I will say this…

We arrived early for a Happy Hour cocktail at the bar. The Martinez is probably my new favorite!

HAYMAN’S OLD TOM GIN CARPANO ANTICA FORMULA LUXARDO MARASCHINO LIQUEUR REGANS ORANGE BITTERS

Martinez Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Carpano Antica Formula, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Regans Orange Bitters

We even got seated a bit early when the boys arrived. The menu changes often at Salt Cellar, so the Seared Scallops that I was eyeing on the online menu were not available. However a different, and perhaps more exciting, version was! There were multiple layers of flavor and texture that I can’t recall them all. But I will say that they included some of the creamiest polenta I’ve ever had as well as a new-to-me ingredient called cardoons!

I sampled everyone’s food and it was all delicious. Rob ordered the Tenderloin Tips aux Poivre, which  was served with heirloom potato gnocchi, kale, and Hen of the Woods mushrooms in a brandy cream. Get this – he was raving about the KALE! From appetizer to dessert, everything wowed us. Even the wine prices were reasonable. A $34 bottle of Minervois turned into two…

This is my kind of place with a setting that makes you feel warm, toasty and special inside. It felt like a true night out. I’d recommend it if it’s been a while and you need an intimate night out with your sig other. You’ve got the stellar ambiance, cocktails, service, wine and food all rolled into one.

Tip: Go for the $7 valet parking. Parking can be atrocious on Selby Avenue in St. Paul on a Saturday night. We figured that we’d pay at least $10 to park in a ramp in downtown Minneapolis anyway!

Oh, while we were having cocktails at the bar prior to dinner, Rob declared that we’d be making a trip back to try Salt Cellar‘s bar-only burger…

How are you keeping busy this winter?

Cheers~
Carrie

Drunken Dunkers & Taking Flight

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Happy Thirsty Thursday!

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I’ve written about Devil’s Advocate before… but it certainly needs an update. It’s one of our favorite places to go on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when there are no in-town sporting events and crowds are scarce.

That is… until we discovered BRUNCH!

Rob has done a 180 on brunch. He used to hate going out to brunch on a Sunday morning. In fact, we would never dine out until after Sunday brunch was over, unless he knew that a restaurant would offer up their lunch menu during brunch hours.

So what has changed? He has finally realized that Brunch does not = Buffet. Many restaurants offer menus with lots of breakfast-y items as well as lunch fare. The brunch menu at Devil’s Advocate {offered Saturday AND Sunday from 10a to 2p} is nothing short of spectacular!

During these hours, we can still order our favorites: the Holy Grail made with pork meatballs, mushroom, sunday gravy {on a pretzel bun!} and the Philly Cheesesteak which is considered the best and most authentic in all of the Twin Cities.

And while I find it quite annoying that Devil’s Advocate does not display their menu on their website, I did find the brunch menu in their Twitter feed. You can find that tweet here.

As you can see, there’s a good mix of breakfast and brunch optinons! But let’s zoom in on something in particular…

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Ahhh, yes! For one, I am a sucker for a good grilled cheese and tomato soup. And although we usually go to DA because they have one of the best tap selections in the Twin Cities, the basil-infused vodka intrigued both of us!

While you are waiting for your Drunken Dunkers to be prepared, the bartender pours you a shot of their house-infused basil vodka. I am not really a vodka fan. I generally only consume it in Bloody Marys. But this basil-infused vodka has such a wonderful aroma that I could sit and smell it all day.

When your celery-salted rim bowl {Yes!} of tomato-y goodness arrives, you get to pour that boozy liquid basil right into your soup!

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Drunken Dunkers: Bloody Mary Breakfast3-cheese grilled cheese and tomato soup with a shot of house-infused basil vodka.

And boy is it boozy! It’s warm and comforting and maybe a little bit too boozy for your liking. I’d suggest pouring in a little at the time and keeping the remainder at bay for aromatherapy purposes. :-) In fact, the two times that Rob and I have each order this, we’ve said, “Whoa! That is some boozy soup!”, after pouring the entire shot into the soup and not at all learning from our previous indulgence. Neither of us could finish our bowls on either occasion.

But don’t be fooled by that simple-looking Grilled Cheese! It is packed with ooey-gooey cheesy goodness. I’m talking the amount of cheese that would content a girl from Wisconsin. It’s seared to perfection, too. There’s nothing fancy here; but it just goes to show that a simple grilled cheese doesn’t have to be boring and can still make me swoon!

Rob and I decided that if we come back for the Drunken Dunkers again, we’d aim to order one to split, but request an additional grilled cheese. There is just not enough to sop up that soup!

And if you like Bloody Marys, but grilled cheese and tomato soup is not your bag, they make some over-the-top bloodies:

  • The Devil’s Fork can rival any basic bloody with fixings including, but not limited to, deep fried somethings, a bacon wrapped wienie, shrimp, olives and a deviled egg {haha!}.
  • But then there is the Beer Bucket Bloody served in a plastic pitcher and topped with all those goodies that adorn the Devil’s Fork plus a cheesburger, a grilled cheese and more! I can’t remember the exact price, but it’s spendy. Still, it’s a meal in itself. So if you want to share with a friend and you are on a pilgrimmage to discover the best or most outrageous bloody mary, this is definitely worth a stop. Check out a photo here.

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Winter is one of the best times of year for Rob and I to find beer on tap because that’s when we’ll find the bulk of the specialty porters, stouts and bourbon barrel beers. On our last visit to Devil’s Advocate, I did what I imagine most bartenders hate

I ordered a flight.

Truthfully, I knew it was okay for a few reasons:

  • They expressly state on their menu that they will serve five 4-ounce pours of any beer on tap for $15. {Make it count!}
  • It wasn’t crazy busy or packed – they had the time.
  • I actually asked, “Can I be a pain and order a flight?” {I know, who would say, “no?”!}

Normally, I can narrow my choices down to one or two beers on their extensive menu. But on this day, not only could I not decide, I was very unsure if I’d like any of the beers I was considering if I ordered an entire glass.

Here is the flight I built:

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And here is what they built for me.

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Those of you who know me, might be surprised by this flight. Sure, it’s mostly darker beers; but there a lot Belgian-styles in this flight as well as a – say, what? – a Dopplebock. {And, yes, they had me at barrel-aged.}

And here is the most interesting part…

I loved all of them!

In fact, despite Rob’s disdaine for Belgian beers, he loved them all, too!

If I had to put them in order, they’d go like this:

#1) Brassserie D’Abbaye Des Rocs Grand Cru and #2) Val-Dieu Grand Cru, both listed under “Secessionists”, despite their high alcohol content!

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#3) Hinterland Bourbon Barrel Aged Dopplebock – Hinterland, I’m so proud of you!

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#4) Unibroue La Resolution – Québec, here we come! {Did I tell you that’s where we are traveling internationally this year?}

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#5) Bauhaus Brew Labs Winterloper – Yes, I had to give a little local love!

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I am so happy that I did this flight. It’s one of the best I can ever remember having! I know now that if I would have ordered any one of these beers by the glass, I would have loved them.

Speaking of flights, Devil’s Advocate might even be home of the flight. They do Mimosa Flights during brunch! I wonder what other kinds of flights they do?

What’s the best flight you’ve ever had?

 

Cheers~
Carrie

Vivo – My Happy Hour

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I don’t know why I forget to make Vivo Kitchen in Apple Valley a South of the River go-to restaurant!

I mean, they have my absolute favorite salad:

Heirloom Grain spinach, red pepper, avocado, tomato, provolone, parmigiano reggiano, lemon, evoo 7.95 / 12.95

Heirloom Grain Salad – spinach, red pepper, avocado, tomato, provolone, parmigiano reggiano, lemon, evoo $7.95 – small  / 12.95 – large

Geez, that photo doesn’t even do the salad justice. It’s got nutty “grains” in it including quinoa and, I think, barley. That is the small and it is plenty of food! I always add grilled chicken breast for $3.95. It’s simple, filling, lovely and healthy, too!

Last May, we took Rob’s parents to Vivo for lunch when they were in town. To me, lunch sandwiches are often overrated in restaurants. However, the ones they ordered were top notch. I made a mental note {or maybe even a verbal one!} that we have to remember to take out-of-town guests here for lunch more often.

Just look at that bread and those fries!

On that same afternoon, Rob ordered pasta of all things. He was craving it; but didn’t have high expectations…

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While this pasta carbonara doesn’t appear to be currently on the lunch menu, Rob did not a expect a velvety pasta dish that was creamy, flavorful and cooked al dente.

Vivo Kitchen also offers a stellar Happy Hour daily from 3p to 6p.

At the time of this writing, this includes:

  • $2 off any wine by the full glass {What full glass means, I have not asked, because I don’t see any half glasses on their menu!}
  • $3.50 and $4.50 pints of beer
  • $5 and $6 specialty cocktails
  • $5, $6 and $7 food specials

Rob likes both the $6 Vivo Burger, Jr. {which comes with fries!} and the $7 Pepperoni Pizza. Really, most people don’t think to go out for pizza at this sort of restaurant; but this delectable pie is highly is underrated. Both of those Happy Hour specials can be considered full meals… and steals!

My fave appetizers off the HH menu include the Ahi Tuna Crisps and the Parmesan Shrimp. I don’t expect either to fill me up; but then again, I’ll snag a piece of Rob’s pizza if need be. ;-)

All of this and I haven’t even mentioned how great the service is when sitting at the bar at Vivo Kitchen – some of the best South of the River.

One of the best non-Happy-Hour drink deals on the menu, though, happens to be their Bourbon Flight for just $11.95! You’ll be served three generous pours of selected Bourbons, in which Vivo specializes. In fact, rumor has it that they have an exclusive Bourbon Bar in the back that is open Friday and Saturday nights. We have yet to test that one out!

All I know is that whenever we go to Vivo Kitchen, whether I’m indulging in their Happy Hour or my favorite salad, it’s my Happy Hour.

Do you have a favorite Happy Hour you take advantage of near you?

Cheers~
Carrie

 

Chicken & Mac – Take 2 {Hint: Pirate Bar}

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In this month’s edition of Girls’ Dinner Night Out…

I’m going to tell you about another time I enjoyed Chicken and Mac & Cheese.

Jen chose to drive us all up to Stillwater for what celebrechef {I’m pretty sure I just made up that word} Antonia Lofaso declared as the “Best BBQ Ever” on the Food Network. Those who frequent this blog may know that I am not a fan of barbecue sauce.

But Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ and Pirate Bar {don’t you love that name!} is known for its Caribbean-style BBQ. I just love jerk chicken. I was game!

Though we didn’t stop in the bar area, that was no reason not to order some cocktails! Argh! I had a sip of both Jen’s Pina Colada and Kim’s Dirty Wench. {Wait that didn’t sound right.} They were both the kind of drink that’ll take you away to paradise on a cold MN winter’s day.

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Me? I went with a beer brewed locally right in Stillwater – Lift Bridge‘s The Warden Milk Stout.

When I think of jerk chicken, I think juicy chicken seasoned with a dry rub. But apparently, there are several kind of Caribbean-style BBQ sauces, the Scotchies Sauce being the spiciest and most traditionally Jamaican. {It also is the runniest!}

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It seems you can get a tradtional housemade American BBQ sauce as well. {I did not try it.}

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Jen kindly ordered us a side of plantain chips. And they were truly like chips – thin, seasoned and crispy.

Plantain Chips

Plantain Chips

Jen was feelin’ all shrimp-y. Three skewers yields a generous number! Each meal was served with a nice hunk of cornbread with chiles. We also got to choose two sides.

Sugar Cane Skewered Shrimp 3 Sugar-Cane Skewers Sauced Your Way

Sugar Cane Skewered Shrimp – 3 Sugar-Cane Skewers Sauced Your Way | Sides: Grilled Curried Vegetables with Jamaican Sauces, Mac ‘n Cheddar with Chiles.

Kim had a little trouble choosing, so she picked a barbecue combo to try more than one meat.

Barbeque Combos Build Your Own! Link Sausage, Pork Spare Ribs, 1/4 Chicken, Grilled Shrimp, Ropas Viejas, Pork Shoulder served with two sides. Skin On Potato Salad with Bacon and Egg.

Barbeque Combo: 1/4 Chicken & Grilled Shrimp | Sides: Skin On Potato Salad with Bacon & Egg, Creamy Cole Slaw with Celery Seed and Horseradish

That looks more like a 1/2 chicken to me!

What is supposed to make this smoked chicken so special?

  • using fresh allspice in the seasoning blend
  • smoking the chicken over real Jamaican Pimento wood chips {a rare practice in the U.S.}
  • smoking the chicken for at least two days before finishing on the grill
  • serving it with authentic sauces.

Yes, I decided the chicken was the thing I was supposed to order at Smalley’s!

1/2 Smoked Chicken - Mac 'n Cheddar Made to Order (Chiles or Bacon Optional). Creamy Cole Slaw with Celery Seed and Horseradish.

1/2 Smoked Chicken | Sides:  – Mac ‘n Cheddar with Chiles, Creamy Cole Slaw with Celery Seed and Horseradish

This was so much food! I am not sure that I even ate half of it. I liked that the chicken wasn’t too smoky, either, just tender and juicy. I enjoyed all three of the sauces with it; but of the three, I think the Scotchies was my least favorite. That’s not because it was spicy; because I like spice. It was just a little runny for a sauce.

I chose the mac and cheese because it was recommended by the chef here. My only complaint would be that I would have liked the chiles to be roasted, not just cut up and thrown on the top. The cole slaw had a nice kick to it with the horseradish, but I can always use a little more. ;-)

Overall, we enjoyed our meals at Smalley’s. However, after having a to-die-for shrimp pasta on NYE at our favorite Sul Lago, these shrimpies just couldn’t compare. And while it’s surely less healthy, I think I’d chose Revival’s Tennesee Hot Fried Chicken over BBQ Chicken, even if it is Caribbean BBQ. I’m not sure if that is comparing apples to oranges. Maybe I am comparing apples to apples – different styles of chicken – like Honey Crisps to Granny Smiths, no?

I would recommend, however, getting to Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ and Pirate Bar in the summer. They have a great patio not too far from the water. Get thee there if you can – ARGH!

How about you – which would you pick if you had the choice: fried chicken or BBQ chicken?

Cheers~
Carrie

Cecil’s Deli

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As you may or may not know from reading this blog, my husband just loves Reuben sandwiches. To be quite honest, I never had one until after I met him! It just wasn’t one of those things I grew up eating nor did I ever order it in a restaurant. I’m still not quite in love with them as he is {it has to be a very special one!}; but I was willing to try what is often touted as one of the best Reubens in Minnesota.

So just after the new year, on a not-yet-too-cold Saturday, we headed over to Cecil’s Deli in St. Paul.

We did have to wait in a short line to get seated in the small diner-like area in the back of the deli.

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Boy was it busy! It’s such a popular little dive where you will find people of all ages and walks of life. I dug it.

That was, until a woman was seated beside me.

Actually, we were seated in the  middle of the “cozy” {read: tables tightly placed together} restaurant and her back was to me. Suddenly, as she removed her jacket, an overwhelming scent wafted our way. It was patchouli-like, but oh-so strong. I had to contain myself from sneezing to many times in a row. My eyes were watering. It was overpowering and it made the rest of our experience at Cecil’s miserable because we could concentrate on nothing else.

Still, we tried hard to focus on the meal as much as possible because we were there to enjoy some sandwiches!

Of course, Rob ordered the traditional Reuben that they are famous for and I knew he’d allow me a bite. And if this deli is as good as they say it is, the Roast Beef Sandwich Reuben should be just as good. Besides, I just love horseradish.

·ROAST BEEF REUBEN· Thin sliced Roast Beef, our own horseradish sauce, sauerkraut, and Swiss, on fresh baked Russian Rye.

·ROAST BEEF REUBEN·
Thin sliced Roast Beef, Cecil’s horseradish sauce, sauerkraut and Swiss on fresh baked Russian Rye.

Dear God does that bread look simple – but it’s the best rye bread I’ve ever had! In my opinion, the sandwich had way too much sauerkraut that overpowered the sandwich. I could barely taste the meat. Once I took off half the ‘kraut, everything was much better, though the horseradish sauce was still pretty mild.

·REUBEN· Thin sliced Chicago corned beef, aged swiss cheese, hot sauerkraut, and our reuben sauce on grilled dark rye. This is the one we're famous for!

·REUBEN·
Thin sliced Chicago corned beef, aged swiss cheese, hot sauerkraut and Cecil’s reuben sauce on grilled dark rye

Just look at that corned beef! Some of the best I’ve had. Although Rob agreed that there was way too much sauerkraut on his sandwich, too. Maybe that’s traditional or maybe it’s just our personal preferences. Once half the ‘kraut was removed, we could taste that aged Swiss cheese, too!

Rob also ordered an Egg Cream to sip on, which he finished nearly before our plates arrived. Breakfast seemed to be a popular choice, even at 12:30 pm. And the line was now almost out the door.

Upon exiting, the deli was crazy busy. I would have liked to have perused their offerings and maybe purchase some of that corned beef or rye bread; but there just wasn’t time before we went to see The Whales at the Imax Theater.

But we do know that the next time we go to Cecil’s Deli, it’ll be for carry-out. We know we could have been seated next to a woman wearing an overabundance of musk, perfume or what-not anywhere; but since one needs his/her sense of smell to truly enjoy what they are eating, it ruined our experience.

Have you ever had a miserable experience at a restaurant that was in no way the restaurant’s fault?

Did you return?

Where can one find the best Reuben you’ve ever had?

Cheers~
Carrie