The Best Things I Ate in 2016

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I’ve noted a few times this year how my travel style/weekend activities has changed a bit as I get older.  I used to not care about where I stayed, and while I still very often just use a room as a place to crash, I do enjoy more and more finding interesting places to stay.  I used to be all about crowded bars and staying up late, and now I gravitate much more towards drinking during the day, and getting to bed early in order to maximize the following day. One of the biggest things that’s changed however is how food, and going out to eat, has become such a focal point of weekends. I used to be more a food-is-fuel type guy, not in the annoying fitness-buff way splattered all over Instagram, but in an I-don’t-want-to-spend-money-on-food-when-it-could-be-used-on-beer-and-activities. I’d go full weekends subsiding on McDonalds and Subway, just because I didn’t want to spend the time or money on something I considered a basic necessity.

Meatballs from Bar Pazza in Scranton, which thus far was part of my best meal of 2017.
Meatballs from Bar Pazza in Scranton, which thus far was part of my best meal of 2017.

Obviously, I was wrong.  Eating is often the best way to explore a destination, what I remember most, and now one of the first things I start looking up when I plan a trip. In fact, when I was doing my recent 2017 Weekend Fun Checklist, I neglected including restaurants I wanted to try, because there were simply too many.  In fact, I may do a separate 2017 checklist solely devoted to places I’d like to eat. Since January is now upon us, my food intake hasn’t been that exciting: a lot of whole grain cereal breakfasts, leafy green salad lunches, and grilled chicken dinners to make up for the damage the holiday has wrought upon my body. I’ll be doing this the next few weeks, at least until I return from my end of January trip to Florida, and then once again don’t have to wear a bathing suit for a couple of months.  So to make up for the good food I’m currently not eating, I thought it’d be fun to take a look back and fill you in on the best things I ate in the past year.

I have two criteria to making this list. One was that the food had to be something new and exciting.  I wanted to include things that had me talking about them long after eating them, and while the shrimp and garlic white pizza from Frank’s place in Simpson will always top my favorite foods lists, it’s too familiar the really get me excited.  These are new food experiences.  The second was that it doesn’t matter what kinds of ingredient were used, how locally sourced the foods were, or what kind of environment they were presented in. It simply matters that it was something I couldn’t wait to tell people about, and eat again. In many ways, this is going to be a very low-brow list, which I’m fine with. I’m never going to be the guy excited about escargot, ramps, or kimchi. I’ll always get excited about various iterations of burgers, wings, hoagies, and ice cream. That being said, here we go.

Domestic

I’m splitting this post up into two sections, domestic and abroad, only for our purposes domestic is any food located in the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania, while abroad is anywhere out of state.  While compiling this list I was excited to see that a large majority of the places in PA I included were in my native NEPA. This is exciting for a variety of reasons. Namely, NEPA is terribly overlooked, despite having a very interesting, and colorful culinary history, and for the longest time consisted of mainly pizza places, hoagie shops, and gloried bar food. I’m not complaining about this at all. Pizza places, hoagie shops, and bars are three of my favorite places to eat, and you’ll see that reflected in this list today. I’m just excited to new places are popping up, and that some of these aforementioned locations are getting a little creative with the food they have. It also, hopefully, entices more people to come check out the greater Scranton area.

Armenti’s Pizzeria’s “The Godfather” Hoagie:

One of the best things is when you find a new favorite at somewhere you’re familiar with.  The first time this happened was early last year when I was perusing the menu at Amerenti’s Pizzeria, which is located in Olyphant, PA, a couple miles north of Scranton. Olyphant is the town in which I work, and Armenti’s is a pizzeria located in a tiny strip mall across the parking lot from my office aka where I’m inclined to order dinner from when I order out. I eat there about once every two weeks (I mostly pack my lunch), and for the most part stuck to boneless wings because I’m a creature of habit, and because I’ve somehow convinced myself that boneless wings are a health food, since there is no large pieces of bread involved. I really can’t explain it in any rational manner, Anyway, I was not prepared to fall head over heels in love with their newest hot hoagie, “The Godfather”, which consists of breaded chicken cutlets, ham, mozzarella cheese, and the kicker: vodka sauce, all toasted on a good old fashioned white hoagie roll.  Every time I eat one of these I feel awful about myself for two to three days, because let’s face it, none of that combo is good for you, but also because the hoagie is legit huge, like huge in that I should only be able to consume a half, but I always end up eating the entire thing way too fast because it’s just that delicious. I might break my January “diet” now sometime this week.

Buffalo Chips from Steve & Irene’s:

I also discovered a new favorite at Steve & Irene’s, what I consider to be the best hoagie shop in the area, and somewhere I frequent.  I’ve sampled most of their sandwiches countless times, but they recently have branched out to include all kids of appetizers including wings, and home made potato chips.  I’m a sucker for home made chips, and their buffalo chips hit the spot. Their wings are currently on my 2017-to-eat list.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie at Bingham’s:

I’m not a big believer in family style dinners, or any restaurant that markets itself as wholesome. Like the “healthy” boneless wings, I can’t rationally explain why, especially because I actively enjoy dining with my family.  That being said Bingham’s, a family style diner located just the Lennox exit of 81, has always impressed me with their desserts, namely their cinnamon raisin bread, which my father routinely picked up for us on his way home from work growing up, and it’s chocolate cream pies that we regularly have at Thanksgiving. Like Armenti’s and Steve & Irene’s, it’s somewhere I considered myself familiar with.  What I never had was their chocolate peanut butter pie, which is hands down the best chocolate peanut butter pie I’ve ever had. I’m a big chocolate peanut butter combo guy, but I usually feel like the pies, which I feel so many places offer, are a little too rich for my tastes. This one was not at all. The peanut butter cream is light and mousse like, and that chocolate on top, rather then being rich and decadent, is thin and crisp. You could probably eat the whole thing in one sitting and not feel grotesque. I’m currently scheming some sort of event I feel will warrant ordering one of these before Easter.

Homefries at Plate D’Azur in Carbondale:

Plate D’Azur is a new breakfast spot in Carbondale, PA, which occupies one of those store fronts that seems to have a new luncheonette every year. I think this one’s sticking around because it’s perpetually busy, and the food is made with ingredients that are a little step up from most local spots.  I love their sandwiches, their chicken parm hoagie in particular, but I’m going to focus on their homefries because they’ve made me a convert.  I’m not a homefry person. In fact, I sometimes think it’s an easy rouse to make you feel like you’re getting more food for your money, sub par quick fried potatoes that take away from the fact that you could give me more sausage, or at least better toast.  These ones are crunchy to the point of almost seeming deep fried, without being burnt, and well seasoned. I’ve actively come here for breakfast a few times just for them, which is something I’ve never done in 30 years.

Chacuterie Offerings at State Street Grill in Clarks Summit:

I love a chacuterie board, but my main complaint is that there’s never enough on it. I eat every meal like someone who has just been denied food for several days, so require an incredible amount of calories to feel satisfied. State Street Grill’s chacuterie was the first one I’ve ever had that I was actually scared I wouldn’t finish, like you could legit eat it for dinner, and on top of that, it includes my new favorite chorizo, and introduced me to the wonder of burrata, because apparently I’ve been living under a rock.

Chacuterie Board at Mad Chef Craft Brewing outside Lancaster:

I feel like including chacuterie on this is sometime a bit of a cop-out, as the offerings change so frequently, but that being said one of the best things I ate this past spring was marinated tomatoes on the board at one of Lancaster’s newer breweries.  I’m sure this is one of those dishes that’s absurdly easy to make, and I had like maybe 4 small slices altogether, but it made an impression as here I am talking about it 9 months later. Sidenote: I also ate this with such fervor, that I wore part of it on my shirt the remainder of that day.

See that little tin cup towards the back? That was enough to put this on my "best eats" list.
See that little tin cup towards the back? That was enough to put this on my “best eats” list.

Macarons at Lola’s Dessert Shoppe and Barbaret Bakery:

I guess I really have lived under a culinary rock in the sense that aside from being unfamiliar with Burrata, I’ve also gone 30 years without eating a macaron, because I’m an uniformed American and got them confused with macaroons, which are coconut based, and I have an aversion to all things coconut I trace back to gorging on Almond Joys, and then violently vomiting, during the Halloween of ’93.  My mother and I were visiting Lancaster and are final stop of the day was at Barbaret Bakery. While talking with the worker, we were informed of our macaron/macaroon confusion, and decided to try these little suckers out, thinking that at $1.95 for something the size of a dime, there must be some magic. There was, we were  hooked, and lamented the fact that we probably couldn’t get any up in our neck of the woods, when lo and behold I discovered Lola’s Dessert Shoppe in Dunmore PA, which is a macaron based bakery. Their macarons are significantly larger and go for $2.00 a pop, with flavors changing every week. My favorite so-far has been Butterscotch Bourbon, followed closely by Eggnog Creme Brulee, and Chocolate Cherry. I might stop there frequently.

Lobster Dinner at Philly’s Oyster House:

I was so impressed with the lobster dinner at Philly Oyster House that I already wrote a post all about it.

Treat. Yo. Self. 2016.
Treat. Yo. Self. 2016.

Cheese Curds at Bud & Marilyn’s in Philly:

My sister and I went to Bud & Marilyn’s back in October because we’d heard through the grapevine that it had the best fried chicken in all of Philadelphia.  I find fried chicken to be one of those foods where if it’s done right, you don’t want to eat anything else, BUT there’s a lot of really dry, flavorless fried chicken.  Unfortunately, and I hate to give places that in general I like bad reviews, to me Bud & Marilyn’s fried chicken wasn’t bad, but it was bland, and not in any way memorable. What was memorable? Their cheese curds served with a side of burnt scallion ranch. Ever since being introduced to them 2 years ago in Wisconsin, I’m a believer in the cheese curd, and it actually confuses me as to why so many restaurants waste time with mozzarella sticks.  Let’s be serious, when’s the last time you had a mozzarella stick that blew you away? Maybe it’s because they aren’t on every menu, so I get super pumped when I find cheese curds, but either way these cheese curds are amazingly delicious. These were memorable, and I will be back for them, especially since they are served on Bud & Marilyn’s special late night menu.

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Chicken and Waffles at Bainbridge Street Barrel House:

I’m segueing from just plain old fried chicken, to chicken and waffles, which to me is one of the unicorns of the food world. When done right, it is the best thing ever, but it’s hard to find in Pennsylvania, being a southern staple and all, and when you do find it, it’s often somewhat mediocre. I’m ending with the chicken and waffles at Philly’s Bainbridge Street Barrel House, because it hands down might be my favorite culinary find of 2017.  To start, it’s not just any old waffles, but rather made with biscuit dough, so more on the savory then sweet side, and I happen to be a big fan of savory waffles. The syrup used in bourbon based, and I’m also partial to bourbon based syrups, so we’re two for two here. Then the kicker, is that this was some of the best, moistest, most seasoned fried chicken I’ve ever had. I would’ve eaten it for days on it’s own, but combined with the biscuit waffle, bourbon syrup, and light coating of powdered sugar, I basically cannot wait to brunch in Philadelphia again.

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ABROAD

Margarita Pizza at Benji & Jakes:

Benji and Jake’s pizza place was one of my favorite overall finds of 2016, and definitely the best margarita pizza I’ve ever had. It’s light, crisp, and has the perfect ration of sauce, cheese, tomatoes, and basil. I could eat this three meals a day for at least one day without being sick of it.

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Lobster Rolls and Clam Strips at Markey’s Lobster Pool in Seabrook, New Hampshire:

While you absolutely could get some decent lobster rolls in PA, I’m convinced the best ones have to be in New England, and this spring had one of the best, freshest, seafood dinners at Markeys Lobster Pool in New Hampshire, a place so bare bones and old school, it doesn’t even have a website. The clam strips, which normally just taste like breading, were fresh and fishy, and the lobster rolls were stacked with meat, and the perfect amount of mayo. I would travel the 5 hours it took, just to have a quick dinner here again.

I mean, look at that. That's a perfect lunch right there.
I mean, look at that. That’s a perfect lunch right there.

Käse Und Schinken and Wings from Reichenbach Hall: 

My favorite ethnic food, besides Italian, which let’s face it, really isn’t an ethnic food, as much as the main based around so many other foods, is probably German, as cheese, meat, and potatos seem to be the trinity around which it is built. One of the best German meals I had this year was at Reichenbach Beer Hall in Manhattan when visiting some friends last winter. I had a schniztel stuffed with cheese and ham, and honey-mustardesque “German style” wings. The whole meal was glorious.

Darkey Kelly’s Burger in Dublin:

I spent a wonderful 10 days  in Ireland this August. It was my second time there, but what made this trip truly special is that I was joined by my brother, sister, and parents.. Heritage wise, we’re a pretty Irish family, so it meant a lot at my age to be able to experience this all with them.  Ireland is not known for it’s culinary prowess, however, I ate such good meals almost the entire time I was there, that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few, which is what I’m going to have to do.  A simple burger with tomato jam and fresh Irish cheddar at Darkey Kelly’s pub in the Temple Bar area of Dublin was one of the best burgers I’ve had, ever.  Maybe it was because it was the first thing we all ate together there, maybe it was because by this point I was delirious from having spent 4 extra hours drinking in JFK as my flight got delayed, and then subsequently not being able to fall asleep on what became a red-eye, or maybe it was just because it was a good, damn burger. The twice fried fries with mayo with the perfect companion.

Egg Bake at the Roadford House in Doolin:

Doolin is a tiny village located near the famous Cliff’s of Moher, and we stayed in a really great little bed and breakfast there. I had an egg bake, with smoked salmon, brie, and basil oil, accompanied by the requisite brown bread. The breakfast almost made up for the fact that it was storming so badly that day that we never made it to the Aran Islands as we had planned. Almost.

Fish & Chips, Brown Bread, and Fried Oysters at Moran’s Oyster Cottage:

Moran’s Oyster Cottage is an actual Irish Cottage situated on in inlet in Galway Bay, so fresh and authentic that we actually saw a man dressed in waders and a cable knit sweater carrying in that day’s haul.  We ended up sitting in our own private little room (or “snug” as they call it), and I had a delicious meal of Irish brown bread, some broiled oysters, very fresh and tasty fish and chips, and a  “Galway Hooker” that ended up not being as good as it’s name, however the food and the scenery more then made up for that.

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Rostis at The Breakfast Club in Lake Placid, NY:

I was introduced to the concept of a “rosti” during breakfast on a hiking trip to Lake Placid, where we didn’t end up doing any hiking due to the rain, but rather ate our way from the Adirondacks to Vermont. This particular one was a bed of home fries in a cast iron skillet topped with melted swiss cheese, bacon, and eggs.  Swiss and bacon is one of my favorite combinations, and everything combined together really was glorious.

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Kebabs at The Istanbul Kebab House:

This was during the same, supposed to be hiking, but really eating trip through New York and Vermont. We’d taken the ferry over from the Adirondacks to Burlington, and were looking for somewhere to get lunch. We settled on the Istanbul Kebab House, as Burlington is known as a foodie town, and I wanted to try something different. Plenty of you are probably reading this and thinking, “duh, Turkish food is delicious,” but keep in mind that while I love trying new food, I’m not very adventurous, so this was a big step for me.  Long story short, I am now a fan of Turkish food, and enjoyed the delicious lamb kebab, as well as cheese and yogurt dip we had for an appetizer.

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BBQ Sampler at the Blue Bird BBQ in Burlington:

For dinner that night we hit up the Blue Bird BBQ in Burlington, where my brother and I split their “BBQ for two” which included 2 types of ribs, pulled pork, several sides, and a variety of sauces to slosh it all with. I feel with BBQ the same way I feel with fried chicken: when it’s done right, it’s delicious, but there’s unfortunately alot of places that do it only ok. Bluebird was not one of those places, and the sampler was actually the perfect size for two people, not hugely overwhelming, or small plate style, and allowed us to go out afterwards and sample a cheese board or two. This is key.

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Grilled Hot Dog from Burger King:

I’m not being ironic, or lying here. I got a hot dog from Burger King on my way home from Stowe last February and it legitimately blew my mind. It wasn’t the best hot dog I ever had, but it was definitely better than most concert/beach/stadium hot dogs in that it actually tasted grilled.  I told you this list would cater more towards the low-brow. I can’t help. One of the best things I ate so far in this 2017 was a vanilla layer cake from Sam’s Club.

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Anyhow, what were the best things you ate in 2016? Bonus points if they are somewhere I can easily drive. Also, where are you looking forward to eating in 2017?

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