Crazy Burger

I don’t go to Narragansett often. Other than the beach, I didn’t visit the town at all. But my in-laws kept raving about a place called Crazy Burger. They insisted, about two times a day every day we saw them for five years, that my husband and I try it.

There’s always that place that isn’t quite local but close enough to visit easily that just doesn’t get visited. I have a lot of those on my bucket list. So one day I declared that we were just going to cross this one off the list. Or was it that we just wanted to tell my husband’s parents that, yes, we had tried it?

My in-laws described Crazy Burger as a tiny, hole-in-the-wall place with gourmet burgers and vegan burgers. Despite the traffic, parking difficulty and long waits, they said, it was well worth it. They were not alone in thinking so: Guy Fieri tried it for the episode “Stacked, Stuffed and Loaded” on his TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Even though it’s named after the burger and pays tribute to the beloved sandwich more than twenty different ways on the menu, Crazy Burger is so much more than a burger joint. It also serves breakfast, salads, pizzas, appetizers, specials and dinner entrees not to mention fresh juices and smoothies and desserts.

The best feature on the menu, however, is the vegan options. I am not a vegan (I can’t give up bacon.) but at times in my life I have found it convenient for my diet and my kids’ diet to go with vegan options. However, it is not easy to find a place that offers vegan dishes. Crazy Burger has more than the one obligatory vegan dish; about half the menu is vegan. The best part is, the offerings are so tasty, I do not miss the meat. It’s true. During one lunch, I ordered a nut burger and my husband ordered a turkey burger. I had a bite of his but did not envy him, even though his was delicious.

It almost made me want to go vegan completely. Almost. But I settled for ordering a different vegan burger each time I went. One of my favorites is the Chana Masala burger. Besides Indian inspired, there are Italian and Mexican inspired foods. Ethnic inspired or not, each dish is served with a creative blend of herbs, spices and sauces.

I haven’t met a Crazy Side I didn’t like but I love to get the sweet potato fries so I can dip them in the homemade ketchup. It tastes a lot like apple sauce – with just a hint of tartness – which, as you might imagine, goes great with the sweet in sweet potato.

Our favorite appetizer is the Sweet Risotto Corn Fritters with the Maple Carrot Reduction. The name speaks for itself!

I go to pieces for a slice of the vegan carrot cake. It’s the best carrot cake I’ve ever had, with Pastiche’s carrot cake only coming in second. (A close second, but second nonetheless.) Sometimes I want to go there for that not-too-sweet, spicy, nutty carrot cake alone. Of course, I will go and order a vegan burger as well but that’s besides the point.

The powerful allure of the best carrot cake that happens to be vegan is enough. Enough to wait the hour and a half it usually takes to dine at Crazy Burger even. I can’t speak to the parking, as I have only been in the off season. I’m sure it’s ridiculous during the summer. It is a bit small, so it’s not good for large groups, but it’s not like you’re within spitting distance of your neighbor’s food. The waitstaff is completely used to and nonplussed by the crowds and very accommodating to children by offering high chairs and even puzzles.

Don’t wait as long as I did to try Crazy Burger. I’ll be there, with my in-laws, having my cake and eating a burger, too.

Advertisements

Pastiche

Whenever I go out and whatever I’m doing when I go out, I always think it’s a perfect idea to end the event with a slice of bakery goodness and a cup of tea or java. There are just a few problems with this plan. One is, if you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of picky. Another is that there are few cafes open at night so this option is only viable during the daytime. Finally, I find that I have virtually no options left when I need to go dairy free. (That is, when I am nursing, since both my babies turned out to be allergic to cow’s milk.)

In discussing the first problem, I’ll just say that I haven’t found many coffee desserts locally that are as amazing as I can imagine them to be. As far as being open at night, about half the coffee shops around here close by the time afternoon rolls around. So if I have the time and I’m in Providence, I go to Pastiche, which is renowned for it’s fine European desserts and is open until 11 or 11:30 p.m.

On my latest trip to Pastiche, my nursling was allergic to dairy, so I wasn’t sure I could even have dessert but I wanted to linger somewhere after dinner.  I prepared to have a nice cup of decaffeinated tea but look with envy at the dessert counter. Much to my surprise and delight, however, I was also able to have the macaroons and chocolate, which just happen to be a couple of my favorite things. I had the mararoons with my tea – brewed perfectly – and they were soft and moist and delicious. The chocolate bar came home with me and when I opened it I experienced creamy, Belgianlike chocolate, even though it was dairy free!

Pastiche is usually a sure bet and now you know it is worth the trip even if you are going dairy free. 

El mejor amigo del hombre

My favorite place to eat in Newport is Perro Salado on Charles Street. I don’t go there very often, because it isn’t the place to bring children, but it is a great spot for a romantic dinner for two or a cozy dinner with a friend or two or three. It’s in an old colonial home where tables are tucked into corners and flames from the fireplaces flicker on the walls. Authentic Mexican inspired dishes are served with fresh ingredients; I usually get one of the specials, which highlight this last feature. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the dessert is the best around I’ve discovered yet.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that the owners of Perro Salado opened a quick serve restaurant on Thames Street called El Perrito Taqueria. “Even though though he ambiance won’t be as charming,” I thought, “Hey! I can take my kids out and enjoy good Mexican food. Alright!” After it had been open an eternity, it seems, I finally made it down to El Perrito with my family today. The atmosphere was actually quite cozy. It’s almost literally a hole in the wall place, in the basement of a building. (There are several shops and restaurants set up this way.) A Mediterranean pocket place used to occupy this particular basement. But the new renters have transformed it so completely that it’s hardly recognizable. The interior designer kept with the dark wood theme of the parent restaurant but implemented a more rustic look. Despite the small size of the place and the dark colors, it has an open feel, with large tables, benches and even a little market to shop for sauces and even produce.

The menu did not disappoint. Just as it’s parents’ menu, the Little Dog’s offerings are extensive, affordable and unique. And, just as it’s parent does, the offspring offers up dishes thoughtfully executed with tender meats, flavorful sauces, soft cheeses, fresh cilantro and the like. Although the ingredients are familar at Mexican restaurants, the final products are unique. The result is savory and memorable. I ordered a chourico and potato taco, a braised short rib topped with mango sauce taco and Yucca fries with chimichurri sauce. The braised short rib is my favorite so far. You can’t go wrong with this tender rib for $2.75. And topped with a slice of mango in a sweet sauce…mmm. The Yucca fries are basically deep fried mashed potatoe sicks; they have a thick, golden crust and taste like Tater Tots. I love Tater Tots but never would have thought to dip them in a spicy green sauce. (I will now.)

Sadly, I did not have enough room for dessert. But I did also have chips — golden fried flour tortillas like Gringo Jack’s, and two varieties of salsa – one sweet and one hot. I also had some Mexican Coca Cola — which, as soft drink afficionados know — is the only Coke to have, as it is made with real sugar. That said, I cannot wait to go back to try the dessert. I just may have to order three more items off the menu as well. Y’know, since I’m already there. 

The Hunger Games: Hungry for More [Betcha haven’t heard that one before. (That wasn’t sarcastic at all.)]

First, let me say that this is about the movie, not the book, which I have not read yet. I am of the rare breed that would prefer to see the movie before I read the book.  I have my reasons and since I often find myself trying to explain them, I’ll delay my review for awhile in order to do that here.

The book is always better than the movie.  Save the best for last.  Just put two and two together, my friends!

The movie is more like a synopsis; there’s no way it can cover everything.  Exactly. Why not go and see the synopsis?  I love, love, love having more to look forward to when I get home.  Like the appendix in Lord of the Rings or mugglenet.com for Harry Potter fans.

I’d rather enjoy the movie than simply critique how it compared to the book or well it covered the material in the book.

It doesn’t bother me that the ending is “spoiled.”   I have already enjoyed the movie. And the end doesn’t have to be the end when you can read more.

It doesn’t bother me that the actors have portrayed the characters.  It’s true, some people are stuck as the characters in my mind, but not always.  Sometimes my mind reinvents them as needed.  It’s not difficult to do this with a really good book.

Now, onto the review.

Although I have read the Harry Potter and Twilight series but not The Hunger Games series, I have seen all the film adaptations and feel like I can comment on the comparisons.  I didn’t really see why the Twilight series was compared to Harry Potter at all, but now that The Hunger Games is supposedly the new Twilight, I can admit that Harry Potter and Bella had supernatural powers and even shared werewolves as friends.  But the comparison ends there.

I have no idea whatsoever what the heck The Hunger Games shares with Twilight, unless it is something evident only in the book and not on film, which means either it’s not significant or the film is a dismal failure and I doubt the later, judging from other reviews.  Or unless the comparison is that they are in a very broad genre; as my husband noted, “They are both young adult literature made into films.”

About that.  Why are adults so into children’s literature?  Is it because nowadays adolescence isn’t over until the age of 30?  Is it because children these days grow up so quickly — and can handle adult topics?  Those two premises, which I’ve often heard asserted, seem to be contradictory.

Perhaps the reason my peers and I are interested in children’s literature is because there’s not many who can fill the gap between the John Grishams and Dan Browns and the J.K. Rowlings.  It seems that if you read, you’re either a kid or a middle-aged person.

Or perhaps we’re just sick of the gratuituous bodily functions or language in adult literature.  And let’s face it;  other than those things, adult literature doesn’t really have anything one up on children’s literature.  The themes are not more interesting, the characters are not more interesting and the writing is certainly not more complex. (Don’t get me started on the atrocity that is called modern style.)

I strongly suspect that authors have caught onto this and are writing for an adult audience as well as a young adult audience. I could be wrong — I’m not in the publishing industry  — but maybe it’s simply a matter of what publishers want to brand the literature that is now considered young adult.

I have established what The Hunger Games is (young adult literature adapted for the silver screen) and but I must say a little more about what it isn’t — that is, how it is incomparable to Twilight.

In The Hunger Games,  coal miner’s daughter Katniss Everdeen is a nuturing huntress who volunteers, in place of her sister, to fight to the death 23 other teenagers, all picked as tribute to the overlords in the Capitol of Panem.  She has already risen to the occasion, but Katniss learns that her bravery is not enough in order to survive.  By the end of the film, she might realize that surviving is not enough, either.

While watching a scene in the film during which actress Jennifer Lawrence is climbing trees and whittling wood into weapons, my companion remarked, “This is what a strong female lead looks like — not Bella Swan,”  as portrayed by Kristen Stewart in the Twilight films.  My response, “I don’t deny I now wish I had been a girl scout.  But the beauty of Twilight is that every girl can already relate to Bella.  She’s ordinary and it only takes the supernatural to make her special.”  But, of course, he’s right. Katniss is, as my friend said, an “infinitely cooler heroine” than Bella.  Her character is much more interesting to watch.

Not to mention the fascinating sci-fi/fantasy post-apocolyptic world that Susan Collins has created.  It’s classic.  Who doesn’t remember that  chilling feeling when first hit the realization that the world of Logan’s Run or The Truman Show is close to our own? Once again, through Collins, we can be thrilled at the blatant suggestion that our civilization is actually barbaric.

As far as the action, there is plenty.  Even where there is no action, there’s the implication that something is going to happen, such as when Katniss is sleeping in a tree.  There is some sort of suspense almost the entire length of the film. I’ll say this — it’s not a film you go to see if you want to hold hands with your date. Because you’ll be gripping the edge of your seat or biting your nails instead.

That said, I cannot wait to read the book. I know it will be worth the time I don’t have to read novels. I know it will be good.  And I know that there is a whole new world for me to geek out over.

Coffee Shops in Newport, RI

Granted, since I’m 9 months pregnant, I haven’t had coffee in a long time. But, generally, for the 4 years I’ve been living in Newport, I’ve enjoyed a specialty latte or cappuccino every now and then. And I frequent coffee shops for their non-caffeinated drinks, sandwiches and of course pastries!  Mostly, I love having a place to go.

This isn’t an extensive list of what’s offered in town but here is a review of what I consider three major competitors in the area of the European style coffee shop.

The People’s Cafe

I couldn’t help but be intrigued when I first noticed this cafe was opening in an old bank. The People’s Cafe on Thames Street is spacious and utilizes this advantage to have charity fundraisers, mom’s group meetings, Sunday brunches, etc. What also caught my eye was the lunch menu with plenty of hot sandwiches, soups and specialty salads. “Could this be the local answer to Panera?” I thought. And “Will this replace Hendricka’s Cafe or Bliss Grocer in my heart?” (Both Hendricka’s Cafe and Bliss Grocer were great breakfast, lunch and coffee spots on Broadway. Well, the coffee was okay but the food was good.)

I tried it a couple of times. The first time, it was newly open and I went in the evening for a pastry. The staff was helpful but there was no offering to be had, as the croissant was moldy (yes, moldy). I turned away disappointed, but remembered that it was difficult to find a cafe which was open in the evening, let alone still stocked with fare.

I gave the spot a couple of months to find it’s business groove and returned at lunchtime. It was very clean, though it was crowded. The clientele was older but hip. The menu was not quite so ambitious as it was originally. My small companion got a yogurt parfait and I got grilled ham and cheese with a cup of tea. (There are baristas with a limited repertoire of espresso drinks but for aforesaid reason I couldn’t try any at the time.)

My two-year-old son couldn’t say much for the parfait, as he didn’t finish it, but, hey, toddlers are fickle. As for my grilled ham and cheese, it wasn’t as good as home and was overpriced. In fact, the total for our meager meals (my sandwich did not come with chips or even so much as a pickle) was around $15. The parfait was probably around $5, the tea around $2 and the sandwich around $7.

Not wanting to have absolutely no reason ever to return to the People’s Cafe, I ordered a cookie. It was like eating hardtack.  I haven’t given it a second glance.

Starbucks

I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks, also on Thames. Here’s what I love.

The people. The baristas are the best. You’ll never meet any more interested in you personally. They talk to you like it’s their job, because it is. The more they get to know you, the more they know what you like and how you like it – also, the more likely you’ll return because you that welcoming feeling you get is part of the third place experience.

The clientele of Starbucks, excluding the tourists, are good, salt-of-the earth New Englanders and community-oriented Newporters.

The coffee. I rarely get an espresso drink from Starbucks that isn’t good. Generally, the machines are calibrated at regular intervals, the beans fresh and the baristas well-trained. The recipes are standardized and easy to modify. Also, the brewed coffee is the best anywhere. In fact, the only other place I like a cup of coffee is at Ma’s Donuts. Only Starbucks and Ma’s brews coffee in the correct proportions and have the heartiest flavor beans. But this review is focusing on places to hang out with your cup of coffee, so no further mention of the truck stop will be made.

Here is what I hate about Starbucks.

The atmosphere. If I’m going to be completely honest, I have to say that Starbucks is filthy. Yes, it is probably the busiest coffee spot, but crowds I can handle – filth, I cannot abide. During busy times – which is almost always – the counters are encrusted with dried milk; trash bins are overflowing; tables littered with papers, crumbs, spilled drinks and the bathrooms – well, let’s just say that unless I was cleaning the bathroom when I worked there, I used the public restroom in the parking lot instead.

Another thing I hate about the atmosphere of Starbucks is the advertising. Since Howard Schultz has come back onto the scene, it hasn’t been as bad, but sometimes I feel like my eyeballs are bombarded with glossy cardboard signs. They’re hanging from the ceiling; propped up in the display cases; leaning on the counter; taped in the windows; the fabric of the menu; on packaging, cups and napkins and even standing in line on posts bigger than traffic signs. It’s as if Starbucks thinks I just wandered in and have no clue where I am or how to begin to order. If that last bit weren’t the case, it certainly could be; just give me one place to look for my options, please!

The food. Not that having great food is one of Schultz’s goals, but the stuff is trucked in, stored for a few days and warmed, if desired, in a microwave/toaster. The selection is severely limited, very difficult to modify and overpriced.

Empire Coffee and Tea

Empire Coffee and Tea on Broadway is difficult to write about because I love it so much and it’s difficult to give an unbiased review. Or is it that I need to review it separately in order to give it just praise? It’s also hard to write a critique when there is nothing to critique. Those two complaints I have had have been resolved either by mere hint or the foresight of its owner/manager. For example, although Empire is the only coffee shop I know of that is child friendly, it just replaced a rickety changing table with a new changing station. (When you’re a parent of a small child, your life kind of revolves around poop so anytime you don’t have a potential crisis looming over your head, it makes your day that much better.)

There is only one barista who can’t seem to make a cappuccino for beans (You guessed my other complaint! But when this drink’s done right, which is most of the time, it’s one of the best. I will only have my favorite espresso drink from either Starbucks or Empire.), but of course I have my favorite – CJ, the owner himself. CJ takes a keen interest in what I’m interested in and offers samples of new recipes, to concoct something for me on the spot or even to “test” my cappuccino before declaring it “perfect.” Then CJ gets me interested in what he’s interested in – all the changes to Empire that I will be seeing soon.

And here is where Empire really has an edge over any other local business or even corporate Starbucks – constant and quick improvement, from new artwork and furniture to new machines and recipes. If it’s not already your favorite spot, I promise it will be soon.

Notes on Empire

Clientele: the college crowd or professionals

Food: the standard offerings – such as breakfast and deli sandwiches, muffins and scones – plus decadent desserts and mochi ice cream

Coffee and tea: the most original and extensive menu

Cleanliness and overall atmosphere: the occasional need to wipe the table or toilet seat; the most spacious and artsy, yet the most homey and conducive to hanging out

Price: the most reasonable

Product Review: Cami Secret

WARNING:  In this post I review a product made for females called Cami Secret.   For those of you dudes who don’t know, camisoles are what gals wear for modesty.   Hence, this review is not safe for the opposite sex (especially dads)!

At first it seemed like the perfect solution and I needed one.   Being pregnant adds curves everywhere, but maternity clothing does not seem to account especially for the fact that you are not just growing a baby in your uterus but you are also growing the Twins.  IfyouknowwhatImean.   Maternity dresses such as this wrap dress

Wrap Maternity Dressare comfortable, versatile (you can wear it as a nursing mom)  and — very revealing.   The solution?  Camisoles, of course.  But not so fast.

First, you need a maternity camisole to accommodate that baby bump.  Plus sizes will be cut too wide on the top.   But not just any maternity camisole will do.  Nursing camisoles

have a shelf bra, a.k.a. the teeniest, tiniest, flimsiest bra known to womankind.   I mean, isn’t the whole point for the shelf to go, you know, under the boobs?  And again, you can’t simply buy a larger size, because the cut won’t be right.

That leaves us with just a plain, old maternity cami.

Great —  problem solved, right?   Maybe, if you’re lucky.   But even if you’re so lucky as to find one with adjustable straps, the stretchiness of the cami will mean that it just gets tugged down into a revealing position anyway.

I’ve tried layering with tank tops, but all that fabric under a plunging neckline just doesn’t look right.   Sweaters and scarves are okay, but not for the summer.  You really do want a cami, but just can’t find one to work for you.

Cami Secret promises to do that.   It’s not a full cami, but basically a modesty bib that you clip to your bra.   You can adjust it to the perfect height and then, viola — it just stays there, right where you need it, in the amount of coverage you want.   It sounds like such a good idea, I bought a pack.

Then I discovered that Cami Secret, despite it’s claims that it is perfect for both “petit” and “full figures,” is not adequate for full figures.

Here’s why. Add some curve to this woman’s figure and as that gap between her bra and the cami becomes larger, you have more and more of a problem.   Although your bra might not show under your dress, that gap does and the cami scrunches up in the middle, too.

Long story short, there’s not enough fabric.   When I held up the cami to my husbund, I said, “What’s wrong with this?”  His immediate reply, “Your cleavage is bigger than that!”

Oh well.  It was a good try for $9.99, I guess.  At 7 months pregnant, I’d really like to wear some nice spring dresses, though.   Any other ladies have a problem with finding modest maternity wear?  Have you found any solutions?

Babies

Babies is a visually stunning, intellectually intriguing and emotionally moving French documentary not quite as well-known (it grossed less in the box office and won no Academy Award), but more potentially appealing than March of the Penguins. Babies is both intimate and familiar; it follows a year in the life of four babies, whose names we know, homes we enter, successes which we celebrate and frustrations with which we empathize. Even though Hattie is from San Francisco, Ponijao is from Namibia, Bayarjargal is from Mongolia and Mari is from Tokyo, they are unmistakably, universally all things baby. Their environments might be different and their parents’ methods might be different but they do the same things: fight with peers over toys, seek comfort in their mothers’ bosoms, express curiosity about pets, explore and learn.

Hattie and Mari’s experiences are very similar, probably because they are both from First World, urban environments. Although none of the families are notably affluent or impoverished, they have advantages – if you want to call them that – over Ponijao and Bayarjargal, who live in rural Developing or Third World nations. However, through ingenious juxtaposition of similar scenes the film subtly conveys the idea that perhaps, despite outward circumstances, babies grow up on a more or less equal playing field (sometimes literally, since Bayarjargal’s play yard is his family’s entire cattle farm). It suggests that nature, not nurture, is the domineering factor in child development. One minute we might note that Bayargargal seems to be alone quite a lot or bullied by his older sibling and yet he is undeterred in his exploration and extremely happy in his discoveries. In the next scene, we might be surprised that Mari is surrounded by toys and yet is frustrated by every single one of them after one attempt at making them work. This particular series of events might even lead one to conclude that all the doting the First World babies get is more harmful than good, but I think that would be reading into things a bit too far.

My companion viewer did note that Hattie and Mari are disadvantaged in regards to socialization. Their parents need to take them to various music classes and play dates in order for them to be around peers, but Bayarjargal at least has his older sibling. Ponijao has the best family/community life, with not one, but two women, nearby and what seems like a dozen playmates in the village children. In his village, the kids look out for one another and for the most part get along very well. Maybe it doesn’t take a village to raise a child, but it does seem like a pretty good idea.

Being accustomed to certain things – particularly a certain level of cleanliness – I will interject that considering the options from every angle, I would always prefer to raise my children in a First World country, thankyouverymuch. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a great deal from how other parents raise their kids. Mainly, it’s a relief that no matter my parenting style or mistakes, it’s likely that all you really need is love.

This film is not only interesting to moms-who-love-babies or obsess about every detail but enjoyable for the whole family.* My husband discussed it with me and my 2 ½ year old son was interested the entire length of the film making it the first full length feature film he’s watched start to finish. Personally, I found it so enthralling that a second viewing only kindled a desire to watch it a third time and perhaps a fourth and almost every day of my life. Though that may seem like quite an overstatement, I’m not quite sure it is. Since there is no interviewing, narration or English subtitles, every piece of information, every feeling is conveyed visually or tonally. I could become an obsessed observer, like an anthropology student. At the very least, it has become one of my favorite films in any genre.

Have you seen Babies?  What did you think?

*I suppose I should throw in a disclaimer here. Uncle Orson disagrees with me because of the potential problem of parents with bare nursing breasts and what I can only guess to be his discomfort with undiapered baby boys. I suppose it has to do with the age of your children and parenting approach.