Monday, September 28, 2015

Eating My Way through Lake Charles, Louisiana

While New Orleans is probably the first city that comes to mind when you think of great Louisiana food and drink, Lake Charles in the Southwest part of the state is the Cajun capital. Forget about eating hot dogs when you’re in Lake Charles. This is the home of the boudin, a sausage-y creation that’s as ubiquitous as the dirty water dog in New York City and as artisanal a food as you’ll find anywhere in the US. For a more haute cuisine experience, you can also enjoy Rouge et Blanc, Lake Charles’s premier wine and food event, this year scheduled on October 17 at McNeese State University.  
When people ask what American cuisine is all about, Cajun cuisine rises to the top of the list. A little bit Creole with a dash of French, Cajun is smoke and spice, seafood and meats, and a whole lot of hand-crafted boudins and cracklins. In Southwest Louisiana, it’s a way of life, and a true expression of the local culture.

Boudin Trail

Different from a boudin blanc or boudin rouge that you might find in France or the Caribbean, Louisiana  boudins are rice sausages, made of pork liver, pork meat, greens and spices, encased in a wrapper made from washed and boiled pig products. Each boudin restaurant has its own standout version, and there are also seafood and alligator boudins.  I made it my business to try as many as I could as family recipes differ significantly. 

Cracklins are as much a part of this tradition as are boudins. Made from pork belly as is bacon, cracklins are their own entity because they’re cubed and cooked with their skin on. Deep fried and delicious, these pork rinds make the perfect finger food when you’re craving something salty. In Cajun country, cracklins are like potato chips. You eat them any time of the day and you can get them as smoky or spicy as you’d like. Grab some in a sack, add a few fried boudin balls (a smaller version of the sausage), and you’re ready to tailgate. No veggies allowed.

There are so many local restaurants offering boudins that the folks have organized a Boudin Trail, a trail that makes for good eating and people meeting for days on end. Think you’ve tried boudin if you stop at only one or two? Not really. Boudin is the Louisiana equivalent of BBQ – you’ll have a different recipe everywhere you go. You may not want to try all 27 on the trail, but a good half dozen will begin your journey into boudin expertise.

Five that I highly recommend:

Famous Foods – In Lake Charles. Three generations of the Guillory family have been serving Pappy’s boudin recipe for nearly 25 years. Customers drive in from all parts -- especially from Texas -- for the Creole-style menu. Famous Food will even ship to you. These boudins and cracklins achieve four-star status in my book.  337-497-1477

Sonnier’s Sausage and Boudin – In Lake Charles. The newbie of the group I visited, this seven-year old takeout shop sells smoked, spicy and regular boudins. All are marvelously addictive.  337-656-2876

B & O Kitchen and Grocery – In Sulphur (10 miles from Lake Charles). A veteran of 30 years and three generations, the shop makes boudins of varying spice levels as well as cracklins, beef jerky, smoked sausages, and Cajun slim Jims. Be sure to ask master boudin maker Jeff Benoit to see the huge vats where the cracklins are made and don’t miss the cheese-filled boudin balls, my personal favorite. 337-625-4637

Hollier’s Cajun Kitchen – In Sulphur. Perfect if you can’t make up your mind, Hollier’s offers an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet and a dinner seafood buffet. My suggestion is to stay focused and just order up the boudins and boudin balls. This is the place to try alligator balls.  337-527-0061

The Sausage Link – In Sulphur. No seating. The Sausage Link is mainly a butcher shop. They'll gladly let you watch them make the boudins, which come in multiple varieties. Lots of other meats are for sale here, too, including the mind-numbing turducken, a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck which is then stuffed into a deboned turkey. Of course, the turducken can be stuffed with boudin. 337-625-2030

Jambalaya, Seafood and Gumbo

Being near the Gulf of Mexico means there’s an abundance of seafood, all done up Louisiana style. Boiled shrimp, seafood gumbo, crawfish, oysters and jambalaya go perfectly with the Cajun music that’ll have you dancing and tapping your feet. You should try the different kinds of jambalaya that you’ll find: some have more seafood than meat, some mix the two, each with a wondrously smoky flavor. True Cajun gumbo is served on a bed of rice and can similarly be of a seafood or a more traditional sausage variety.

You can gorge yourself silly at the über-popular Seafood Palace in Lake Charles, where communal tables are quickly covered with heaps of crawfish boulettes, crab pistolettes, fried okra and bowls of shrimp and crab gumbo.  If it’s the season, order a platter of giant Louisiana blue crabs – they’ll show you how to eat them. 337-443-9293

In Sulphur, The Boiling Point specializes in crawfish and local Gulf seafood. This is a good choice if you want to enjoy the area’s seafood but don’t want to lose an opportunity to try out another boudin.  337-625-9282

Other Foodie Experiences

Each year the Rouge et Blanc Food and Wine Festival sells out to hungry folks from the area and beyond. Stands showing off the best of Southwest Louisiana from tacos to tamales and BBQ line the field, and wine is poured generously.  It’s a dress-up kind of event, absolutely Southern in flavor, but appealing to all, and one that you should try to book well in advance. The four-hour tasting event sells out quickly.

Southwest Louisiana has its fine dining spot, too. La Truffe Sauvage prides itself on its six-course wine pairing dinners, featuring varying American vintners. Here you can sample baked French-inflected wild Gulf red snapper with saffron risotto or beef Wellington, for example, followed by a sinfully rich chocolate oblivion torte.  337-439-8364

Drinks Louisiana-Style

Lest we forget that libations go hand and hand with foodie celebrations, Southwest Louisiana has its own distillery, a newish operation that makes rum from local cane sugar. The largest private-label rum in the US, Bayou Rum comes in satsuma, a citrusy rum liqueur that uses seasonal fruit like clementines; silver (80 proof); spiced; and select dark. All use all-natural unrefined sugar and molasses and are aged and then poured into bottles rinsed with rum to eliminate bacteria and residue. You can tour the Louisiana Spirits distillery as well as sample to your heart’s content. The label’s pretty cool, too.

Back at the Casino

In Lake Charles, the place to rest your boots is L’Auberge Casino and Resort.  Here, you’ll not only have the chance to win some money, but you’ll also enjoy another level of fine dining. There’s the mandatory Beaucoup Buffet, of course, although this one’s actually really good and doles out dishes from around the globe. You can flit from the fried chicken station to the sushi bar and prime rib carvery within seconds. And the service is sublime.

But my favorite place to dine is the Ember Grille and Wine Bar, where the casino folks cater to the high rollers with top-notch cuts like Kobe beef, baby lamb chops done up like lollipops, and a 40-ounce ribeye “Tomahawk” steak, carved tableside. Seafood isn’t ignored, and the BBQ pecan-bacon-wrapped shrimp is the restaurant’s callout to shrimp and grits. The wine list is well curated and includes an award-winning selection of reds. If you catch it right, the resort’s outside beach area has a food truck, too, with tacos and other treats. The outdoor lazy river and pool area makes sure you’re fed and refreshed with cool cocktails and snacks. For late night drinks and music, Jack Daniel’s Bar and Grill has it all, in a lively setting right across from the casino floor. 337-395-7777

New Orleans in Southwest Louisiana

And for something almost not related to food, Lake Charles is the location of the Mardi Gras 
Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, where costumes from krewes past fill room after room with elaborate colors and memorabilia. Set inside the Central School Arts and Humanities Center, it’s the largest Mardi Gras museum in the world and it’s also where you can decorate your own King Cake with sugars in the three Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), gold (power) and green (faith). The King Cake is an integral part of Mardi Gras, baked up and served between Twelfth Night (12 nights after Christ’s birth) and Fat Tuesday. As tradition goes, if you bite into the slice with the baby toy inside, you’ll be the one to host the Mardi Gras party the following year (or you could consider yourself the king or queen of the present one, or just plain lucky!). Why is this museum located here? Lake Charles is the site of the state’s second largest Mardi Gras celebration. 337-430-0043 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

September 21 Marks the Beginning of Fall -- Eat Up in Manhattan!

Celebrate fall with these five stunning food (and benefit) events in Manhattan

Brooklyn Brewery and the Craft Beer Revolution
Monday, September 21, 7pm

Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy (author of Beer School) and Garrett Oliver (author of The Brewmaster’s Table) share the story of how their revolutionary company grew from a home-brew hobby into a multimillion-dollar business—in the most competitive beer market in the US.  Tasting included.
92nd St. Y, 1395 Lexington Ave. (at 92nd St.), Manhattan

A Second Helping of Life
Monday, September 21, 7pm-9:30pm

Join New York City's premier women chefs to support SHARE and raise funds to help thousands affected by breast and ovarian cancer. Headlining chefs include April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin. For more information email
Chelsea Piers, Pier 60 (at West 22nd St.), Manhattan
Tasting Event tickets start at $325

Sweden Day at NORTH 2015
Thursday, September 24, noon-10pm

On Sweden Day, celebrate the country that gave us ABBA, IKEA and Spotify with a free event at the Scandic Haymarket Square at NORTH 2015. Food and drink from Stockholm provided for all.
The Scandic Haymarket Square, 139 Charles St. (Washington-Greenwich Sts.), Manhattan

D'Artagnan Cassoulet War
Thursday, September 24, 7pm – 10pm

On September 24, fifteen chefs battle for cassoulet supremacy at The Standard Biergarten. Enjoy the festivities and the cassoulet experience while voting for your favorite cassoulet. Proceeds benefit Action Against Hunger. A panel of judges including Chef Sara Moulton (Food Network’s “Sara’s Secrets), Chef Andre Daguin (Hotel de France), Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis (La Tupina), Francis Staub (Founder of Staub Cookware), and Jean-Michel Cazes (French winemaker) will choose the Most Authentic and Most Daring cassoulet champion.The Standard, 848 Washington St. (at Little West 12th St.), Manhattan

Pop Up New York's Chelsea Eats
Saturday, September 26

Chelsea Eats will bring a culinary journey to 8th Avenue from 14th – 23rd street with the focus of giving a makeover to the classic street experience. The Chelsea Eats strip will bring together the best of New York’s artisanal food, handcrafted goods, stunning visual artists and live entertainment. As part of the event, dancers from the Joyce Theater will put on live performances from tap, jazz, salsa and ballet genres.

Participating vendors include Red Hook Lobster Pound; Melt Bakery; Alchemy Creamery; Mighty Quinn’s BBQ; Brooklyn Oyster Party; Duck Season; WtrMLN Water; Detox Water), visual artist (UTA Brauser) and merchants (Papercrane Heart, The Green Pallette Brooklyn Bar Body and Bath). Local restaurants located on the Chelsea Eats strip Pound & Ounces, Bareburger and Forringers host beer and wine gardens outside of their venues.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Celebrate with Wolffer Estate Vineyard This Weekend in the Hamptons: Happy Labor Day!

I love Wölffer Estate Vineyard and Montauk, both.And this weekend it seems that the Hamptons aren’t as crowded as you might have anticipated. So here’s a good reason to head to the East End for a last tribute to the summer.

On Sunday, September 6 (rain date Monday, September 7), Sagaponack’s Wolffer Estate Vineyard and Montauk’s ultra-hip restaurant and bar The Crow's Nest have joined forces to create and evening of Argentine fare and festivities. Guest Chef Fernando Trocca of Buenos Aires will prepare his signature seafood paella and Wölffer will be serving their first wine from their partnership in Mendoza, Finca Wolffer Rose. The weather is gorgeous, and this will be an outdoor event to remember:

Endless Summer Paella Party, Argentine-Style
Sunday, September 6th (rain date Monday, September 7), 5pm-8pm at the Lakefront at Crow’s Nest Beach, Montauk, New York

Be among the first to try Finca Wölffer Rosé, Wölffer Estate’s new wine from Argentina, plus Wölffer No. 139 Dry White and Rosé Cider, regular beach bar cocktails and a special Wölffer cider cocktail.

Food choices include the aforementioned seafood paella as well as tapas such as: Red Shrimp Ceviche, Octopus Tiradito, Heirloom Tomato, Feta, Anchovies, Capers and Saatar Salad over Pita,Ricotta with Aubergines, Almonds, Honey and Lemon Zest,Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco Sauce,Raw Zucchini Carpaccio with Olives and Chiles,and Chopped Chicken Liver over “Pan De Campo.”

And, if you can’t make it all the way to Montauk, try to get a reservation at Wölffer’s new restaurant in Sag Harbor, Wölffer Kitchen, 29 Main Street, 631-725-0101. While the initial attraction is the vineyard’s substantial list of wines and ciders, it’s the local produce and main courses that are the standouts. Of particular note, the steaks, pastas and veggie sides all profit from the fresh
produce and proteins from the area. Chef Deena Chafetz and Wölffer winemaker and partner Roman Roth have curated both a menu and a wine list to appeal to all foodies and wine lovers. And the location can’t be beat, steps from the Bay Street Theater and the center of Sag Harbor.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Back from Vacation? Order These Foods as Reminders of Your Trip

Although I can pretty much find anything I want in Manhattan, I love the idea of world cuisine being shipped directly to my door (as well as New York City goodies). From Manhattan dessert treats to the finest Alaskan seafood or Spanish wines and oils, you’ll enjoy global treats that will remind you of your holiday dining.

Here are some of my favorites:


If you salivate over tapas from Barcelona or olive oils that are some of the freshest in the world (my favorite is the very grassy Arbequina), you’ll want to know about DeliShop. This Spanish food shop features everything from the finest of Spanish cooking oils to essential pastas, sauces, spices and more.  Not only does Delishop deliver to your door after just a few online clicks, but it also has an extensive list of traditional recipes for make-it-yourself world cuisine. Some Spanish favorites include a classic paella entrée, típico cocktails and the ever-delicious tres leche cake. Although not limited to those found in Spanish meals, selections largely draw upon an Iberian-based diet of oil, seafood, starch and more oil.  DeliShop also offers cooking classes at its four Barcelona locations, a potential vacation activity for the foodies and cravers of a bit of onsite Spanish culture. Check out recipes, locations and food order options at

Cookie Panache           
For sweeter treats to indulge yourself or your friends & family, Cookie Panache is a solid go-to.  Its bestsellers include the likes of Dulce de Leche and Red Velvet Vanilla chewy cookies, as well as Brownie and Blondie bites. Perfect for special occasion planning, the website filters results based on the event theme. From birthday gifts, to thank you acknowledgements, to get-well-soon packages, a wide range of sweet snacks are available.  Located in Manhattan, this gourmet bakery will alleviate any “I Miss New York” pangs. Order at           
There are no false promises when it comes to Wisconsin’s delivering as the Dairy State, especially when it comes to its selections of meat and cheeses. Figi’s has specialized in this combination of smokehouse favorites since 1944. The variety packs are a definite win if you’re looking for a mix of new and old tastes, combining the best of all flavors into an assortment of snack-sized cuts of Colby-Jack and Cheddar cheeses, Smokehouse Summer Sausages, and buttery Cashew and Mixed Nut Add-ins among others. Try the Salami- or Bacon-flavored cheese if you’re feeling daring.  Order at

Sick of the grocery store’s mediocre seafood section of same-old, sad hunks of fish?  Alaska wants to change all that.  From Halibut to King Crab, Snow Crab, Shrimp, Scallops, Smoked Salmon, Rockfish, Sablefish, Black Cod and more, you’ll love the choices Coal Point Seafood offers.  Fare is purchased directly from Alaskan fishermen and shipped to your door.  Coal Point even has a same-day-caught-blast-frozen policy!  You can choose from individual samplers to variety packs, and different ounce options are available.  Halibut is the Alaskan fish of choice, so that is always a good start if you’re not sure what to buy. Order at or call 1-800-325-3877 to order direct.  


Anyone who visits Manhattan knows that Zabar's is a must-visit, one-stop shop for all deli items.  Order main courses like roasted turkeys and sides such as honey roasted yams,  typical Zabars treats like rugelach, smoked salmon and bagels , or their famous coffee beans. You’ll spend lots of time online perusing their site at,  or call 800-697-6301 for help in selecting the perfect menu.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Shop and Eat in the Hamptons for Two Good Causes – Saturday July 25

This is a weekend to skip the beach and go for some heavy-duty shopping and eating experiences on the South Fork of Long Island, New York.

From 1pm-6pm, Super Saturday in NY invites shoppers to indulge their inner Sex in the City with the garage sale of all garage sales. Donated clothing and home products from designers ranging from Sigerson Morrison and Magaschoni to Ralph Lauren, Diane van Furstenberg and Theory will be on sale under the tents at prices 30-50% below retail, with all proceeds going to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF). Now celebrating its 18th year, the event is hosted by Kelly Ripa and Donna Karan.

Kelly Ripa, host of Super SaturdayPhoto: Mike Coppolla, Getty Images

In addition to shopping, Super Saturday includes food and drink, a kids’ carnival, and tented events throughout the day such as dream interpretation, psychic readings, hair braiding, a Photobooth, and beauty treatments. , Water Mill, New York; Nova’s Ark Project, 1-6pm (VIP entry at 12Noon).  Tickets will be on sale at the event.

Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, you can concentrate on some serious eating and drinking at the James Beard Foundation’s annual Chefs & Champagne ® tasting event. Forty-three chefs – many of them James Beard Award winners -- from restaurants in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Mississippi and Washington, DC will dish up their best under the beautiful tent at Wölffer Estate Vineyard. Beverages will be provided by Champagne Taittinger, Wölffer Estate Vineyard, and Stella Artois.  

James Beard Foundation's Chefs & Champagne, Wolffer Vineyard Estate

The menu already has me salivating. Dishes like Tyler Kinnett’s (Harvest, Cambridge) spicy Vermont pork with watermelon, peaches, labneh and basil pesto; Amanda Cohen’s (Dirt Candy, New York City) tomato tarts with smoked feta; and Noah Schwartz’s (Noah’s, Greenport) oysters with soy mignonette and micro-wasabi show why summer is the best season for eating.

Guests receive a goodie-filled swag bag and can also take part in an extravagant silent auction with the chance to win a vacation getaway, a delicious dining experience, crystal and china, and more. A preview of some of the auction items is online at 

Proceeds from the auction and the dinner benefit the James Beard Foundation, whose mission is to celebrate, nurture and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire., Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Sagaponack, New York; 212-627-2308, 6-8pm (VIP reception 5pm-6pm, with after party from 8-10pm)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gorgeous St. Paul de Vence

The French Rivera is dotted with villages perchés, clinging almost impossibly to the tops and sides of hills throughout the countryside. On a family excursion throughout the Côte d’Azur, it became a mantra to discover which of these often- fortified villages could outdo the next. Our favorite was clearly St. Paul (also known as St. Paul-de-Vence), a marvelously preserved and restored gem with cobblestoned climbs and virtually intact ramparts still protecting it from the warring factions of yore. Just 12 miles outside of Nice, the village towers over the rolling hills and rich valleys of the Vence countryside.

The sight of St. Paul has inspired artists throughout the years to sketch its precarious foothold in the sky, and my husband and sons responded in kind.  Just short of donning French berets to complete the tableau, they parked themselves on a curb outside the stone arched climb into the village to draw this 16th -century miracle. Armed with colored pencils, fine-point markers and sketch pads, my three budding artists sat in pictorial juxtaposition with an intense game of boules just around the bend from the famed Colombe d’Or.

Originally a gathering place and café for young and unknown painters in the 1920s, the Colombe d’Or now rates as one of the Riviera’s toniest restaurants.  While a seat at the walled, garden patio is a delight on one of the Riviera’s azure-blue, sunny days, it is considered a coup to experience the old auberge itself.  Only those staying at the inn or having confirmed dining reservations are allowed a look at the Colombe’s esteemed art collection, which rivals that of the nearby Fondation Maeght. In return for lodging and viands, Modigliani, Bonnard, Braques and other then-unknown artists contributed paintings which now adorn the walls of the auberge. Struggling artists were later followed by intellectuals of the literary world such as Camus and Prévert and later-day French film icons Yves Montand and Simone Signoret.

Turning the bend, past the multi-generation “bowling” competitions held daily across from the Café de la Place, one enters the medieval world of St. Paul, up a short climb and through a well-defined entry arch.

Ascending St. Paul’s narrow pedestrian-only main street, the Rue Grande, one can almost touch the 17th and 18th century homes on each side, many filled with elegant and creative art and handicrafts galleries. The artist tradition continues at every turn, leading to the town’s most spacious gathering spot, a square of sorts around an urn-shaped fountain. Popular as a tourist destination, St. Paul offers a variety of shopping choices and cozy restaurants, but few options for family dining. If traveling with children, put together a picnic instead with fresh bread, cheese and cold cuts from the local boulangerie and charcuterie outside the walled city.

Digressions up the stepped streets off the Rue Grande lead to such gems as the 12th century gothic church on the rue de la Castre, with a commanding position overlooking the village. France’s rich religious heritage is revealed in the church’s lavish interior décor and its celebration of the Jubilee, replete with colorful tapestries and flowers adjacent to traditional oil canvases and carvings. Among the church’s interesting art pieces is a painting of St. Catherine of Alexandria attributed to Tintoretto.

An escape from the crowds and a particular delight at sunset was a stroll along the parapet walk adjacent to the thick stone wall ramparts that encircle St. Paul.  Surrounded by the coat-of-arms brandishing homes lining the walk, one could easily time travel to a simpler world when views of the Alps, the sea, and the Esterel provided the inspiration for new artistic palettes and a fitting motivation for the location of the Fondation Maeght, further down the road.

Simultaneously an interior and exterior art museum, the Fondation Maeght feels like a college campus, set in a rich green forest with art works all around.  Designed by architect José Sert in 1964, the sprawling modern art museum ranks among France’s most significant, with notable works by Chagall, Miró, Calder, Braques and Bonnard. Rotating exhibits of the Fondation’s permanent collection of 20th century art are displayed with an awareness of color and presence. The use of cameras and video equipment is permitted for a small charge and is highly recommended to capture the excitement of the expansive outdoor sculpture garden as well as the airy rooms inside. Especially enchanting for the entire family is the Labyrinthe de Miró, a statue-filled maze of trees, water and gargoyles.

To reach St. Paul, park your car very carefully in the car park down the road from the arch. Parking spaces are surprisingly narrow and the spiraling turns in the garage require skillful negotiation. Expect to be bombarded after exiting the garage by numerous shops all hawking household items with the ubiquitous yellow and blue colors of Provence. Purchase memory cards, instead, and bring back a photographic souvenir of the wonders of St. Paul.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Tony Awards are Sunday -- Catch them via Simulcast from Times Square's Viewing Party 4-11pm

Last week’s “Stars in the Alley”,  United Airlines’ and the Broadway League’s presentation of Broadway song and dance, left me thirsting for more.  It’s a great time to get your tickets to a Broadway drama or musical. With the Tony Awards  for outstanding theatrical achievement this Sunday, you’ll want to snag seats on your preferred dates before the shows book up. 

The Tony Awards turn into a free, social viewing party this Sunday in Times Square, rain or shine.  Head over to Times Square to see the award show live, on the big screen.  Although it might not be as glamorous as dressing in black tie to hob nob with the stars of the Great White Way or hosts Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming at Radio City Music Hall, it’s still a fun evening for theater lovers and more exciting than “sitting all alone in your room” watching TV.  You can bring a picnic with you, grab a folding chair or a seat on the risers behind TKTS, and cheer for your favorites. Viewing
will be on the Clear Channel Spectacolor screens at Duffy Square and the Broadway Plaza between 46th and 48th streets, in the heart of Times Square.  The program begins at 4pm, ending at 11pm. The simulcast of the CBS Tony Awards will be broadcast starting at 8pm.

Festivities will also include live performances from Broadway stars Justin Guarini and Deborah Cox, singing “I’ve Got Rhythm” and “On Broadway,’” Deborah Cox singing “Easy as Life” from Aida, and Jeanna de Waal singing “History of Wrong Guys” from Tony-award winner Kinky Boots.

Here are some of my favorites that are contenders for a variety of Tony Awards:

Something Rotten! – This musical’s a laughfest from start to finish, as the poets of the Renaissance put together what could be the most hilarious musical ever.  A lot of “insider” references to musicals make this the perfect show for theater junkies. I’d be shocked if the male lead and featured actors, Brian d’Arcy James and Christian Borle, don’t get some sort of acknowledgement.

The Audience – No one plays the Queen like Helen Mirren. She’s charming, grand, self-deprecating, and even funny.  Her meetings with her prime ministers are a primer in British history.

Hand to God – An evil puppet, creatively nasty dialogue, and an inventive plot make this one of the season’s top go-tos among non-musicals. Can they give a Tony to Tyrone (Steven Boyer)?

Fun Home – The cast is top-notch in the offbeat musical about family interactions. Although the show moved to Broadway from its downtown home, the Circle in the Square is still an intimate venue for the action.

An American in Paris – Go for the music, the dance, the beautiful sets and the lushness of the Broadway version of the beloved Gene Kelly movie. 

The full list of Tony nominees can be found at

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Taste of the Upper West Side - May 29 and 30

This is a weekend to eat, eat, and eat… for a good cause.  The New Taste of the Upper West Side is where you want to head to sample the best of the many chefs that have taken this part of the city by storm.  The food festival presents two days of culinary extravaganzas, all located under the tents on Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th streets. The annual event, created by the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, donates all net proceeds to the local community for neighborhood improvement and beautification projects. Tickets are available at  When purchasing two tickets to any one event, a special “twofer” discount applies.

It’s ‘Friday night live’ does Jimmy Fallon, culinary style, at the evening’s “Comfort Classics” competition.  Forty Upper West Side restaurants will present their most innovative “home-style” creations in an attempt to win the coveted title of “best comfort food dish.”  Adam Richman, host of NBC’s Food Fighters, emcees the event and will also be signing his new cookbook, Straight Up Tasty. If you book now, you’ll also get a chance to win a free copy of Richman’s book.  Among the 40 contenders for this evening’s event are Upper West Side neighborhood faves Bodrum (Ali Gurman), Elizabeth’s Neighborhood Table (Tomas Arenas), Good Enough to Eat (Michele Weber), Insomnia Cookies, Jacob’s Pickles (Jacob Hadjigoergis), Momofuku Milk Bar (Christina Tosi), and Virgil’s Real BBQ (Neal Corman).  In addition to the food tastings, creative cocktails, international wines and beer will flow along with the strains of music by the Silver Arrow Band.  7-10pm, $105 per person.

Saturday evening’s “Best of the West” is a glamorous night of fine food, wine, beer and spirts, all created by the neighborhood’s culinary geniuses.  The evening is hosted by Marc Murphy, chef and owner of Landmarc (Columbus Circle) and Ditch Plains (named after the famous beach at Montauk), and judge on Food Network’s Chopped, along with Anne Burrell, co-host of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America. Musical accompaniment will be by Joe Battaglia and the 16-piece New York Big Band.  Two tiers of tickets are offered:  a VIP Reception which includes exclusive lounge access, a champagne and beer bar, gift bags, and signed cookbooks from Murphy and Burrell beginning at 6:30pm; or general admission at 7:30pm.  Tastings from 45 restaurants and food purveyors include such notables as Boulud Sud (Travis Swikard), Dovetail (John Fraser), Jean-Georges (Jean-Georges Vongerichten), Parm (Rich Torrisi), RedFarm (Joe Ng), Tavern on the Green (John Stevenson), Tessa (Cedric Tovar), and The Smith (Glenn Harris).  VIP reception: 6:30pm, continuing until 10pm, $225 per person. General admission: 7:30-10pm. $135 per person.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Weekend (or maybe a week) in Branson, Missouri

Country music lovers have a destination to go to where the music and shows never quit.  With Branson’s 40 theaters and shows starting as early as 10am (and sometimes even earlier), your toughest choice will be where to begin.  Music fans who have already been to the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, or paid big bucks for Garth Brooks in Las Vegas, or who just want a more concentrated country music experience than what they might have at home, will rejoice in this Ozark Mountains oasis of music on the lake. 

A bit tricky to get to, depending on your gateway city, Branson, Missouri sits aside Table Rock Lake in the Ozark Region of Missouri.   Here you’ll see visitors of all ages, listening, eating and playing, taking advantage of Branson’s family-friendly ambiance and enjoying the great outdoors in addition to the fabulous entertainment inside.  (Yes, there’s fly fishing, zip lining, hiking, camping, too). Add to that a variety of theme museums, special events, and patriotic happenings, Branson is a concentrated dose of Americana.

Music, Music, Music – Theaters here have names like the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre, Dick Clark’s AB Theatre, and the Oak Ridge Boys Theatre. The names don’t actually describe the performers but they'll give you a hint as to the type of show to expect.  Some of the best include the Elvis impersonators like Joseph Hall (one of the stars of America’s Got Talent!), the 3 Redneck Tenors, or Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. Tribute shows exist for non-country artists as well like Neil Diamond, John Denver, Bon Jovi and the Bee Gees. There’s pretty much something for all ages, and the weekly list of shows can be overwhelming. Performers are often available to meet, and you might be in for a treat. I met the original Lennon Sisters of Lawrence Welk fame.

Titanic Museum – John Joslyn, the owner of this museum, is obsessed with the Titanic.  In fact, he spent more than 25 years diving and collecting as many artifacts as he could to create an experience showing what it was like to be on the Titanic’s maiden (and only) voyage.  Greeters in period costumes set the mood, as does the gigantic boat exterior, best seen from the road. It’s billed as the “world’s largest museum attraction.”  

Clockers Café on S. Commercial Street is about as old-fashioned as a coffee shop could be.  Booths, hamburgers, and sweet-as-sugar waitresses await, with prices so cheap that you’ll really think you’re back in the 1950s. Where else can you find a turkey burger on a pretzel bun with fries for $6.29? Add a soda? It’s $1.60. The restaurant opens at 6am so you can enjoy “The Clockers Breakfast” before your first show: two eggs, sausage or bacon, oatmeal or grits, toast or biscuit, with optional hash browns for $5.89. 417.335.2328

The Great American Steak & Chicken House – I can’t vouch for the quality of the food here, but the building is definitely worth a look and a photo.  2420 W. 76 Country Blvd. (no website)

Silver Dollar City -- Home to some of the most creative roller coasters in the country, a made-from-scratch lunch buffet, and superlative baked goods, Branson’s theme park is a magnet for families.  Live entertainment, sprawling grounds, and arcade games fill the park. Test your coaster mettle on rides like the twisting, wooden Outlaw Run and the super-looper WildFire, my absolute favorite.  Not for the faint of heart. 

Dick’s 5 and 10 – Did you lose your original Monopoly game? Or maybe a psychedelic puzzle from the 70s?  Or do you need some fabric, thread, and thimbles?  You’ll find pretty much everything you can think of here including a nostalgia-inducing selection of candy.  Outside, there’s one of those old-fangled rocking horses you can sit on (or get to move for just a few coins).

Flea Markets – Branson is lined with building after building filled with rooms and booths of everyone’s discarded “stuff.”  If you look hard enough, you might just find that one piece of china that would replace the one you broke when you were a child. Your family will thank you. Located up and down Hwy 76 starting from Branson Landing.

Shopping and Dining along the Lake – Along the Taneycomo lakefront in downtown Branson, Branson Landing offers a pedestrian stretch lined with stores and restaurants to fill your hours as well. There’s even an Irish pub if you need to escape the American country scene. Prices are quite reasonable, too.

Bass Pro Shops -- This super-sized fly fishing, hunting, and boating emporium will satisfy all your outdoorsy needs. It’s appropriately located on the lake against the cliffs.

Where to Stay?   

There’s really only one place you should consider, the Hilton Branson Convention Center, 417-336-5400.  Rebuilt after the tornado of 2012 cut a swatch down Main Street and shattered every pane of glass in the hotel, the Hilton Branson is quite beautiful, with several restaurants and bars including the high-profile Level 2 steakhouse. The Hilton is perfectly located away from the traffic surrounding the theaters and walkable to all shopping. 


Branson information can be found at