Monthly Archives: April 2015

Thirsty Thursday: Maple Island & Lift Bridge


Happy Thirsty Thursday!

This week’s Minnesota craft brewery post takes a tad north to Stillwater. Enter first: Maple Island Brewing.

IMG_0083Maple Island Brewing is located in the heart of Stillwater along the St. Croix River. We visited in the winter. However, we could tell already that the patio overlooking the river will be a popular place in the summer!

What I like about Maple Island Brewing is that there are several beers available. There is also a wide range of styles, including those that aren’t run-of-the-mill. You may have noticed by now that while I love a good IPA, porter or stout, it’s the twists on a traditional beer that interest me most!


Believe it or not, we had a Groupon/Living Social voucher of some sort. While we want to visit so all of the breweries in the Twin Cities metro area, it’s generally a deal voucher with an expiration date that gets us there in a timely fashion. I’m not sure we would have made it up to Stillwater in winter otherwise.

I love when breweries allow you to try any of their beers as part of their deal voucher. Some only include their year-round beers in flights (even without a voucher).

Case in point, after our trip to this Maple Island, we popped over to Lift Bridge Brewing, also located in Stillwater. Lift Bridge did have a Groupon available at the time, but we did not purchase it. It wasn’t a very good value because among other trinkets we didn’t need, the “deal” included flights of flagship beers only such as their Farm Girl Saison and their Hop Dish IPA. We love that IPA and the clever name!

Hop Dish

Still, those are Lift Bridge beers that  I can find all over the Twin Cities! Give me a reason to come to your taproom. I want something new and interesting to drink. We only stopped by because we were in Stillwater and just for a pint. I was surprised that the taproom was rather small. It’s only now that I realize that I didn’t get any photos.

But here are a couple interesting facts about Lift Bridge. The brewery takes its name from the, uh, lift bridge that crosses the St. Croix river connecting Minnesota to Wisconsin. It’s also the first craft brewery in Stillwater since Prohibition! They’re a little part of history here.

Maple Island, on the other hand, allowed us to try any of their beers as part of our flights. Which meant that between the two of us, we could sample all nine on tap at a time!


Did we have a favorite Maple Island Brew, you ask?


You bet we did! We were lucky to hit up Maple Island Brewing in the winter because they had available their I Scream Brew! This beer is an Ice Cream Stout. No, really. It’s not a stout float. They added 60 pounds of Stillwater’s own Nelson’s chocolate, peanut butter and caramel ice cream to the batch. The result is a creamy, delicious, slightly sweet stout like no other!

Here’s another reason I love Maple Island: When they have specialty brews like this, they allow you to fill a growler with it, at a bit of an extra charge. See the tap menu and the note below it.


Many breweries don’t allow growler fills of their specialty beer because of limited quantity. Keeping a specialty beer on tap can draw people into the taproom. A beer that is sold out in record time will not once it is gone! I totally get that. But our voucher came with a growler and the I Scream is the brew I wanted to go home with me. And it did. 😉

I apologize for hyping up this beer when you can’t get it at the time of this posting. You may have noticed that we’ve visited most breweries in the winter. This is because our favorite styles tend to be offered during the colder months.

I don’t think you’ll find food trucks parked at Maple Island nor Lift Bridge, but Maple Island offers free popcorn and sometimes has Chicago Dogs for sale.

How far would you drive to check out a new taproom?


Pittsburgh Blue {and blue and more blue}


Rob and I haven’t been to a steakhouse in a really long time. I guess that sounds surprising when you consider that Rob is allergic to anything with fins and feathers. The reason is that when we want the perfect steak, we go to our fave little south-of-the-river Italian joint – Sul Lago.

But when we were invited to celebrate a birthday dinner with friends, we got to experience Pittsburgh Blue!

We didn’t know a ton about PB before we got there, but we did check out the menu online. Since it is part of the Parasole restaurant group, we decided to call it Manny’s Jr.

Manny’s Steakhouse is a popular one in downtown Minneapolis. Manny’s is just what you’d expect – steaks à la carte, over-the-top shareable sides and overpriced wines. We dined there with friends once. We were not disappointed! It’s just that it’s one of those places where you know you are going to drop a lot of cash.

One thing I can tell you, is that on a Saturday night at 6:30pm, the Edina location of Pittsburgh Blue, is packed! Our reservations weren’t until 7:15, so we enjoyed a drink at the bar.

Please Note: My photos are random from this dinner because I was really just enjoying spending time with lovely company during our friend’s birthday dinner.



Hips Like Cinderella – Elderflower liqueur, blanc de blancs, creme de violette, lemon – $10

I ordered this fun little cocktail at the bar. It was served on the rocks, but was a little too sweet for me. Rob asked if I’d like another and all I could think was that I could buy an entire bottle of St. Germain elderflower liqueur for the price of three of these drinks. I passed on a second round..

Blackberry Mojito Martini – Don Q Citrus Rum, blackberry, mint, lime – $12

One of the gals in the group ordered this one. When it came to the table, I was surprised to see a mojito served in a martini glass. That’s because it is a martini {read: more alcohol}. For the record, she loved it.

Smokin’ PB Cosmo – New Amsterdam Citron Vodka, pomegranate, cranberry, lime – $12

Another gal ordered chose this cocktail. It became the favorite of the two martinis. A second round was ordered. {By now, you have probably recognized that PB does not mean peanut butter in this post.}

PB has a half-way decent selection of about a dozen tap beers {several local} that’ll set you back about $6 or $7 for a pint.



There is also a humongo wine list with a heavy focus on cabernet sauvignons, which is important when pairing with steak!

Rob and I really wanted a nice red to go with our meal. Most of the wines in the $40 – $50 range were less than satisfactory for our tastes. To give you an idea, a $12-$13 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir was priced at $49. Such is to be expected in a restaurant, especially one of this type. When we thought we had finally decided on the best value wine for our tastes, I spotted something under Spain/Portugal:

CATEDRAL RESERVA, RED BLEND Dão, Portugal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2010 – $30

This was the lowest priced red wine on the menu. That is not why we chose it, though. We liked that they had something not only inexpensive for a restaurant, but also interesting. We had tried a wine from this region of Portugal when we once belonged to the Zagat Wine Club. It was one that we really enjoyed. So taking a chance on this one was a no brainer.

It was a perfectly respectable red for our meal! We liked that it wasn’t generically sweet like so many cheap cabs or house reds. Rob appreciated the lack of tobacco aromas that he tends to dislike in some South American wines. It was a win-wine. {See what I did there?}



We got the For the Table – Hot Appetizer Sampler which includes coconut shrimp, tomato fondue (with grilled cheese for dipping), crab cake and onion rings for $22.95. Nothing was left untouched! The only thing I tried was the tomato fondue. I was slightly disappointed, but the other gals wanted to finish the fondue by the spoon or pour it all over their steaks! Maybe they got more of the brie flavor that it was supposed to have than I did?



Like many steakhouses, Pittsburgh Blue’s steaks are served à la carte and sides are served family style. We ordered three sides for our group of eight.

I didn’t know what was so grown-up about the Grown-Up Mac & Cheese ($10.95) because it was rather boring to me.

But the other sides left me wowed!


Maker’s Mark Mushrooms – $10.95

I ate at least four or five of those bad boys! I probably would not have ordered those mushrooms on my own because of the name. Normally, whiskey sauces are too sweet for me. But I didn’t get that flavor on these at all. I would order these again in a heartbeat.

HASH BROWNS BLUE STYLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14.95 applewood smoked bacon, tabasco, onion and bleu cheese

Hash Browns Blue Style – applewood smoked bacon, tabasco, onion and bleu cheese – $14.95

Best hash browns EVER. {They easily usurped the ones we loved at BlueStone that no longer seem to be on their menu.} These were perfectly crispy and that blue cheese was a fantastic addition. You may know by now that I am not a fan of bacon in dishes, but it did not overpower here! In fact, I could barely taste any bacon. That might upset those of you who love bacon; but Rob agreed with me that these hashbrowns are #1.



I originally went in thinking I was going to order the Grilled Tenderloin Steak Salad and Rob thought he’d try their Classic Burger. But after seeing steaks come out to the people sitting next to us at the bar when we were sipping our pre-dinner cocktails, we decided that our original choices might not be the best way to experience PB. 😉

Instead, we ordered an Aged Sirloin ($29.95) and split it. We also made them crust it with blue cheese. Why not?! Can’t get enough blue cheese at Pittsburgh Blue!

It’s not pretty, but here is what my plate looked like with sides:


I normally order my steaks medium rare, but the steak ordering guide had Rob and I thinking we should go medium. It was perfect.


I did not hear one complaint about their steaks from any of the eight people in our party. Everyone raved about the food! Our server conveniently split our checks, divvying up the prices of the appetizer and sides among us. It was easy and painless, especially for such a large group. They really do have the whole thing down to a science. We were impressed.

While my fave steak is still at Sul Lago, there is nothing bad to say about Pittsburgh Blue. While pricey, it’s perfect for a celebratory night out. Rob and I also talked about going back for Happy Hour. They have a few good deals. Or we could just order and split those hashbrowns. 😉

What is your favorite cut and preparation of steak and why?


Hammer & Sickle!


One of Rob’s co-workers told us that we needed to give Hammer & Sickle in Uptown Minneapolis a try… He lived in Poland for at least five years and said that the pierogies at Hammer & Sickle are more authentic than any he’d had in the Twin Cities, including Nye’s Polonaise Room (soon to close) and Moscow on the Hill.

We’d been to Nye’s several times and loved the pierogies there! We also love the steak and pierogies at The Lowry. We’ve never been to Moscow on the Hill. Why? Borscht doesn’t sound all that exciting to me. But when someone recommends something, I’m all about it!


Finding Hammer & Sickle can be a challenge. We had the address, but saw no sign. The only thing that’ll tell you that you are in the right place is the hammer and sickle symbol on the on the door handle.


According to the restaurant’s website:

Hammer & Sickle is Minneapolis’ vodka bar featuring Eastern European and Russian comfort food with an American twist. With over 70 different vodkas in our collection (including six house-made infusions) and a full wine and beer selection, there is a little something for everyone.

Neither of us are very keen on vodka. We prefer something with a little more flavor. But when in Rome, right?


I went with a cocktail that was recommended: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE:

007 would be proud of our cucumber twist to his classic Vesper Martini: Effen Cucumber Vodka and Hendrick’s Gin with dry vermouth make this drink licensed to kill.

If I remember correctly, Rob had a Manhattan. But he immediately switched to an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout as soon as he saw that was on tap. Why shouldn’t they have that?! Fitting, no?

Despite my lack of appreciation for vodka, many of the cocktails sounded pretty good! Here are some that I’d consider next time:

Drago – for the horseradish vodka and caviar. {Have I mentioned I love horseradish?!}

Romaschka – I’ve never had honey vodka!

Russian Honey Bee – See above + cider!

Petite Ginger – I like ginger liqueur, but have not had ginger vodka.

Prickly PearSt. Germain elderflower liqueur – duh.

Stalin’s last words – ever since I’ve had Luxardo cherries

With all of those options, I just might have to buy myself a few drinks in advance to add myself to the board.

IMG_2566The chalkboard lists drinks that have been bought for friends. (Or you can buy them for yourself for a future visit.) I’ve seen what I like to a call a Pay-It-Forward Board like this a couple of other times. I love the concept!

And then… the pierogies. They are such a deal at $10 a plate! One plate is a meal in itself.


These pierogies are nothing like I’ve ever had before! They are a bit more dense, sort of like dumplings, but not. And just look at that sear!

THE POLISH Potato, ground beef, kraut, served with creamy horseradish

THE POLISH – Potato, ground beef, kraut, served with creamy horseradish

These are the best pierogies I’ve ever had! While you can’t tell from these photos, the filling was generous. I loved the texture and got my horseradish fix, too.

And although I’m not a huge bacon fan, I loved Rob’s pierogi as well:

THE COMRADE Potato, cheese, topped with carmelized onion, bacon, sour cream

THE COMRADE – Potato, cheese, topped with carmelized onion, bacon, sour cream

You really can’t go wrong with that combo! I loved these two so much that I’d be hard pressed to try any other, but The Latin and The Easterner really caught my eye, too. Maybe I can get a group of five people to go. {There are five pieces per plate. See what I did there?!} We can order five of the six preparations and I can try one of each. Will you do that for me?

There is much more to the menu than the pierogies, but I’ve heard they are a highlight.

Do you like pierogies?

How do you prepare them?


That Time I Tried All the Smoothies… {Part I}


Over the past few weeks, I decided to get out of my smoothie rut and try something different. While I absolutely love my go-to smoothie for the taste, the nutrients and the ease of making it at 6am, it was time to take action on the several dozen smoothies I’d been pinning!

Hopefully, by trying all of these new ones out, I’ll get a feel for what smoothies I like best. Maybe I’ll find a new favorite. Better yet, after all of this practice, I should be able to just throw in whatever I have on hand. Right?

And so we begin with the first set…


1) Chocolate Green Smoothie from Greatist

I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: I did not add the superfood greens nor the hemp powder simply because I did not have them. I completely forgot the ice because I don’t put ice in my normal smoothies. It came out just fine.

Thoughts: I almost always do a half of recipe because smoothies seem so high in calories and filling to me. I don’t know what I was thinking on this one! It didn’t make very much, nor was it high in calories either, even when I used 1% milk. This was nice and chocolate-y. Looking back, my variation of this smoothie is almost the same as my Magic Green Smoothie, subbing out the cocoa for the peanut butter. The peanut butter version adds protein and more staying power!


2) Tropical Green Smoothie from Simply Recipes

I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: I used a frozen banana, my fresh-frozen spinach, canned pineapple with natural juice. I also didn’t add any water. It didn’t need it. This was runnier than other smoothies I’ve made.

Thoughts: The pineapple was a nice change of pace to usual smoothies. It made it taste more tropical! I made another one of these the next morning to use up some the rest of the can of pineapple.


3) Best Three-Ingredient Avocado Smoothie from Omnivore’s Cookbook

I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: None.

Thoughts: This was my first avocado smoothie! I loved creaminess and also liked that it wasn’t too sweet. The color came out more yellow than the green I was expecting. So flippin’ easy.


4) – Chocolate Banana Avocado “Milkshake” from Meaningful Eats

First off, I should mention that I had both of these smoothie recipes that seemed so similar:

I eventually decided to make the one without the Greek yogurt first.

I made: 1/2 Recipe which was about 439 calories.

Variation: I didn’t use ice. It was smooth and easy to drink.

Thoughts: There are lot of ingredients in this bad boy! Too many for me to keep track of early in the morning. This one is very chocolately! I liked the addition and the texture of the chia seeds. You may not.

While the avocado makes it a creamy smoothie (at least without the chia seeds), I think I’d rather stick to my nutrient dense spinach for a morning smoothie and save my avocado for a meal later in the day… or have my avocado smashed on whole wheat toast with a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes instead. 😉



5) – Chocolate Power Smoothie from Sweet and Savory Eats

I chose to do the smoothie with Chocolate-Avocado smoothie with the Greek yogurt the next day for an easy comparison. Despite the fact that those two recipes seemed very similar, the two smoothies couldn’t taste more different! Again, it was a lot of ingredients…


I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: I only had that plain Greek Yogurt, so I added 1/8 tsp vanilla extract.

Thoughts: This one was very peanut buttery. I really love peanut butter, but I just didn’t like this combo at all. Isn’t that strange. It was my least favorite smoothie so far. I wouldn’t make it again. I still think it’s crazy that the recipe seemed so similar to the previous one. It just goes to show that a little tweak can make a big difference!



That’s it for this week! I’m not going to inondate you with my smoothie experiences all at once. I’ll save the next batch for next week.

Which of these smoothies do you think you’d like best?

Let me know what you think if you try any!


Doggies Get Fit!


Sophie & Shamrock Saturday!


April’s BarkBox is all about fitness…


Shamrock went straight for those boxing gloves!


I thought that Sophie and Sham might finally play tug with those, but it has yet to happen. At least they still play. All. The. Time. I love that they are playmates! We never would have known when we adopted Sham that they would become such buds.

Glamour Shots for Dogs?

Glamour Shots for Dogs?

But back to The Box

There was another toy in the box that didn’t get photographed. It’s a rubber squeaky toy, in the shape of a ball, but with feet and muscles! Ha. Sophie loved rolling around on it one night. She used to do this with a toy long ago that we called “binky.” It had little rubber spikes that she loved to roll on. We can’t find anything like it. Maybe this will be the replacement?

And the treats:


Per the usual, our dogs had no complaints about these treats. They were also happy that we received another barkworthy chew. This meant that now that one that momma had been saving would mean that each could have their own. 🙂

Thinking about signing your dog up for BarkBox? This month you can click my referral link to add a free box to your subscription. Choose your dog size and you are on your way!

Happy Saturday!


A Couple of Gifts…


Five years ago today,

Rob and I were married on Pensacola Beach.


We don’t usually give each other gifts, but enjoy a nice dinner out instead. However, this year, I just had to get him tickets to see this. Unfortunately, that show isn’t until October. So until then, you are just going to have to settle for Rob’s updated Top 10 Burger List.

Happy Anniversary to the man who makes me laugh every day…

even if I don’t want to!



Thirsty Thursday: ENKI Brewing


Happy Thirsty Thursday!

Boy, I’m hopping all over the Twin Cities this week!

This week’s MN Brewery edition takes us 25 miles west of Minneapolis to Victoria. Let me introduce ENKI Brewing!


ENKI. You are probably wondering where that name came from. I did! And I spent a lot of frustrating, non-connective wi-fi time trying to figure it out. But there it is right on their website:

Most notably recognized as the Sumerian God of Running Water, ancient Sumerians believed that ENKI brought life-giving waters to the Fertile Crescent, enabling grains to grow and ultimately beer to flow. ENKI also represented creation and wisdom–both virtues important to the integrity of the craft of brewing beer, a practice as old as ENKI himself.


Appropriate, no?

But ENKI Brewing has another mission:


I don’t see anything wrong with that!

The people who live in Victoria and the vicinity are lucky to have a brewery in their midst, without having to trek all of they way to Minneapolis. For us, it was a bit of a hike. Such that, this happened:

We went on the wrong day to use our Groupon. {You can’t fill a growler on a Sunday! Doh!} We decided to just order the beers we wanted to try rather than go with the beers that would have been included in the Groupon flight. We gave our Groupon to a friend who lives in the area. Truth be told, I think we wouldn’t have liked the flight as much as the beers we tried!

ENKI’s taproom interior is pretty small. There are only a couple of seats at the bar. And only a handful of tables in the main room.


There is additional seating in odd little corners throughout the building as well as on the patio when the weather is nice. Unlike other breweries, there is no food truck parked outside. But there is ENKI Express, a small menu offered in conjunction with the local restaurant Victoria House.

Yet ENKI does display two things that every local craft brewery should:

  1. A display of growlers from every other local craft brewery they’ve enjoyed,
  2. The current tap list.

(Though not necessarily in that order.)

We were so lucky to arrive on the day that we did. There was a very special beer on tap – the Mocha Porter. It was an experimental beer that they were testing out and they… NAILED IT!

The only problem was that it made every other beer taste subpar!

Well, in my opinion, anyway. Rob really enjoyed the Tailfeather IPA and the Warming Hut Brown Ale. After trying my friend Jen’s Mocha Porter {the specialty beer}, it was tough for me to go back to my Cacao Porter {the year round beer}. I knew that on any other given day I would have found the Cacao Porter to be sensational.

I tested this theory a few months later at a restaurant that had the ENKI Cacao Porter on tap. It was smooth and creamy with a hint of chocolate. I was pleased. But I didn’t have the Mocha Porter alongside it to taint me. 🙂

Yes, ENKI Brewing was most definitely worth the trek. Stop by if your are in the area. Or consider taking following this SW Minne Tour!

Have you ever had a food or beverage that you know you liked but that didn’t taste as good because you just consumed something even better?