Best Meals of 2016 (Non-Pittsburgh Edition)

Hey everyone! Sorry it’s been such a long hiatus since I’ve posted, life just has a way of getting away from you. I’ve decided to return with my two “Best Of” lists: first up is my top 5 meals of 2016 not in Pittsburgh. Tune in on Saturday the 31st for my top 15 best plates of 2016 in Pittsburgh. This was quite a fun adventurous year, with culinary adventures in Baltimore, Bedford Springs, and Las Vegas. Let’s get into it.

#5. Di Pasquale’s Marketplace / April 29, 2016 / Baltimore, MD

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Baked in their brick oven located within the dining room, the Fig Jam, Honey, and Mozzarella pizza was one of the most memorable bites my wife and I had in our trip to Baltimore in April. Overflowing with molten, gooey, creamy fresh cheese over the sweet bite of the fig and honey, with pillowy outer crust and cracker thin crunchy crush beneath. Unfortunately, I think this was one of the specials of the day, so it may not be available every day. That being said their grilled chicken caprese and meatball hoagies were outstanding and served on their fresh, homemade bread. Di Pasquale’s is a can’t-miss stop on any trip to Baltimore.

#4. Woodberry Kitchen / May 1, 2016 / Baltimore, MD

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Our last meal in Baltimore was Sunday brunch at the charming Woodberry Kitchen. Looking like a giant cabin, complete with open bakery, 20 foot tall stacks of firewood, and a lovely loft overlooking the entire restaurant, Woodberry was an outstanding meal from beginning to end. I was so impressed with their homemade ‘Batch 13’ hot sauce that I bought a bottle to take home with us. The magnificent stamp on the entire meal were their homemade pastries. We chose to sample the Blueberry Lavender donut and the Sour cream coffee cake, topped with blackberry jam and streusel. Perfectly balancing sweet toppings (the icing and jam) with savory, fresh, and light bodies to their pastries, it was the best ending to an incredible meal and even better trip. I would absolutely return to the Woodberry for brunch each time we’re in Baltimore. (PS –  They Might Be Giants fans be on the look out for the lyrics to “Women and Men” written on the walls where their restrooms are)

#3. Golden Eagle Inn / August 21, 2016 / Bedford Springs, PA

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You can read the full write-up here, but an absolute stand out of my trip with my wife to Bedford Springs for my birthday this year was brunch at the Bed and Breakfast we were staying at. From the make your own Bloody Mary Bar to the meatball frittata and tater tots, but the best was the fried chicken, biscuits, and sausage gravy. Hot, crispy fried chicken soared through this heavy as a brick (in a good way) dish of biscuits, savory sausage gravy replete with pan drippings, and herbed olive oil. Wonderfully seasoned and peppery bold, it was a confident and wonderfully composed dish. Just what you want to last you all day during a long road trip back home.

#2. Aburiya Raku / May 19, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

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Unfortunately, I never took the time to write up the expansive and outstanding meal that we had our last night in Las Vegas at Aburiya Raku, where chef Mitsuo Endo has been a Semifinalist for the James Beard Award for best chef in the Southwest 5 years in a row. The meal was a mix of skewers from their robata grill, made with such high quality ingredients as both Iberico and Kurobuta Pork as well as their hand-raised, humanely farmed Asajime Chicken, in addition to smoked pork ribs, sliced pork loin, Colorado Lamb, crispy asparagus (okaki), homemade tofu, grilled rice cakes (yaki onigiri), and Sake. An incredible dining experience, with over 15 courses, one of the finest and the course that made one of the biggest impressions, was the shishito pepper topped with smokey katsuobushi. The charred and grilled peppers combined their smokey spice and sweetness with the woody smoke of the bonito to create an incredible flavor and texture. It was the continuation of the (still-continuing) kick that I’ve been on, seeking out grilled shishito peppers wherever I go. However, where that started was on first night in Las Vegas, at…

#1. Carnevino Italian Steakhouse / May 13, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

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As with the Golden Eagle Inn, you can read the full write-up here, but Carnevino was easily the finest meal that I had this year outside of Pittsburgh. The dry-aged, bone-in Ribeye for two was an enormous 16 oz ribeye that was carved and portioned tableside in a grand fashion. Perfectly cooked to a bloody medium rare, lightly finished with large flakes of sea salt, and magnificently savage with gorgeous layer of marbled fat, rich and flavorful dry-aged beef. It was a truly indulgent meal from start to dessert, one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

8-21-16 / Golden Eagle Inn / Bedford Springs, PA

The night of the meal at the Crystal Room, my wife and I checked into the bed and breakfast she’d made reservations for us at the Golden Eagle Inn. The room was spacious and well-accommodated, with  huge windows and high ceilings, a modern bathroom, and a wonderful king-sized bed. In the morning when we woke, we went downstairs to our brunch reservations. I was immediately intrigued by the original and unique takes on “traditional” brunch foods and after the meal, I can confidently say I will be making a concerted effort to return to the Golden Eagle Inn and their restaurant every time we’re in Bedford Springs, if only to try everything on their seasonal menu.

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My wife had the chicken and biscuits, the classic southern dish with golden fried cutlets of white meat chicken, dense as a brick biscuits, sawmill (sausage) gravy, and a basil, garlic tarragon oil. The chicken was light, crispy, fresh, and delicious. Perfectly seasoned with the absolutely vital crunch to break up the heavy, dense dish, each bite of the chicken was superb. The biscuits, peppery and buttery, were the perfect consistency to not fall apart amongst the herbal oil or the smooth, thick gravy, which had that wonderful deep, earthy, pork flavor, without being overly salty or overpowering the biscuits and the chicken. The herbed oil was a masterful touch, providing a light, bright note that helped balance out the heavy and dense biscuits and gravy. An outstanding, stick-to-your-ribs kind of brunch dish that keeps you satisfied all day without making you feel overly indulgent.

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I went with the crushed meatball frittata, as their special of the day was a garden basil and fresh mozzarella frittata and I wanted to try some of their unique takes on protein (they also offered a meatloaf sandwich and a pastrami reuben, as well as a burger with candied bacon jam). The frittata was large and beautifully crispy on the edges, while perfectly cooked throughout. The melty mozzarella draped over the entire frittata added a lovely blanket of cheesiness, which as everyone knows is the best part of a meatball sub. Medium chunks of crushed meatballs, beautifully seasoned with a lot of garlic and fresh herbs (oregano, basil, and thyme) were dotted throughout the substantial open-faced omelet. The tater tots on the side were exceptional, hot and crispy, seasoned with some (well-appreciated restraint and) truffle salt and pepper.

Not pictured: the Build Your Own Bloody Mary that I built, or at least attempted to (100% my fault). The waiter brought me out a glass generously filled with Vodka and ice and I was free to add as much of the tomato juice, pickled vegetables (peppers, okra, tomatoes, gherkins), celery, bacon slices, and hot sauce as I wished. I really wasn’t thinking when I added those 4 shakes of the ghost pepper hot sauce, but that was completely on me and my inability to rationalize how far ghost pepper hot sauce goes in a glass. Next time, I’ll opt for one of their house-made cocktails and leave the cooking to the professionals.