Where to Eat (and Drink!) in Pensacola

I’m going to be a little controversial here and say that the beaches at Pensacola left me underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because we visited on a holiday weekend and they were just too crowded. That said, though, we still had a wonderful time in Pensacola, eating and drinking our way across the gulf coast! Here are the highlights of our visit…

Breakfast

Another Broken Egg was our breakfast spot and everything about the experience was above and beyond expectations. Another Broken Egg is used to their extreme popularity and they have learned to manage it well. With a line out the door we weren’t surprised to have a wait time of 30-45 minutes for a table.
In most cases this would be frustrating. Especially for breakfast–who would wait that long for breakfast?? But plenty of people do! They took our phone number and we instantly received a friendly text letting us know that’s how we would be notified that our table was ready and in the mean time, to feel free to grab a cocktail at the bar. There was a complimentary coffee station set up by the door, a generous amount of comfortable seating, and someone even came around with a tray of mini-muffins to speed along the wait!

Another Broken Egg Pensacola
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at Another Broken Egg in Pensacola

The excellent customer service continued through our entire visit. We split some beignets to start with and I had a Salmon Eggs Benedict that is without question the most . . . The most . . . I can’t even. It was good.

Lunch

We had to visit Pleasure Island Tiki Bar while we were on the coast. This is actually in Orange Beach, AL, just a little west of Pensacola, and we made a special stop because this is where Josh and I became “Facebook official”. Haha! Over bushwhackers and piña coladas.

Pleasure Island Tiki Bar
Pleasure Island Tiki Bar

Which brings up a good point–bushwhackers are a must if you’re on the Gulf Coast. Think boozy chocolate milkshake.

The food at Pleasure Island is not amazing, but the ambiance will put you right into a beachy mood. It’s on the water and open to the salty wet breeze. There is usually live music, as well. It’s a fun, lighthearted way to transition into vacation mode.

Dinner

So we major splurged and went to The Grand Marlin for dinner. It was a cut above what we had budgeted, but we needed to find some great seafood before leaving the coast and The Grand Marlin came highly recommended.

I had a blackened swordfish steak and Josh had the grouper piccata, and it is hard to come up with adjectives that go far enough. The fish was done to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, served on a bed of the silkiest mashed potatoes imaginable this side of heaven, and next to some tender crisp green beans that *had* to have been pulled off the vine minutes before arriving on your plate.

Plan on spending an arm and a leg on food if you’re visiting Pensacola. You won’t be able to resist, and yet it will be completely worthwhile.

Oh, one thing to note, have a dollar ready! The Grand Marlin is located on the toll bridge between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach. The way the lanes are structured, if you’re coming from the mainland, you’ll literally need to pay the toll and then do a u-turn in order to turn into the parking lot.

Drinks

I saved the best for last, guys. The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar stole our hearts and was by far our favorite stop! Located in an older building in the heart of downtown Pensacola, it has the ambiance of a dark, candelit 18th century library. But instead of books, a library of whiskey lines the floor to ceiling shelves! They even have the type of library ladders that roll along the wall.

Old Hickory Whiskey Bar Pensacola
A library of whiskey at The Old Hickory in Pensacola

I tried their signature Old Hickory cocktail which is one of their “smoked” drinks. Apparently this is not a new idea, but it was new and intriguing to me! They use a blow torch on a slab of wood then set the glass upside down over the smoking patch. The smoke billows around in the glass, eventually settling and adhering to the sides of the glass, and then the drink is poured. I think you smell the smoke in the drink more than you taste it. This particular one was interesting to try, but not my favorite–I think it was the fruitiness of the vermouth in it that didn’t float my boat.

The Old Hickory Pensacola
Signature “Old Hickory” cocktail at The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar

I loved trying Josh’s Japanese whiskey, though! We were both like kids in a candy store here, and it was hard to tear ourselves away.

As a last bit of trivia, the name of The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar is a nod to Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. President and the first territorial governor of Florida. I feel like this is worth mentioning because though his portrait is on the wall, this would have totally gone over my head if not for the help of my history buff hubs. It definitely adds context to the aged feel of the venue, though!

So no, I wouldn’t go back to Pensacola for the beaches. But for the eating and drinking? Yes, ohhh yes.

What are your favorite restaurants in Pensacola?

 

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Pin me!

 

This Is The South: Catfish House

In 2016, I moved from the land of snow and Uff-da to southern Mississippi. It has been a Cultural Experience on so many different levels. I have offended people with my disinterest in cornbread and grits, learned the meaning of the phrase “wide open,” and discovered various foreign delicacies that I had never heard of before such as chicken spaghetti and fried okra — to name just a few things! So I thought it would be interesting to start a series called “This is The South” where I occasionally feature various foods and customs that were completely new to Midwestern Me. Let us commence.

Southern Catfish House
Southern Catfish House delicacies…

The Catfish House

Probably every small town in the south has some kind of catfish house. The business model seems a little unique to me. Most catfish houses are only open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, (and sometimes Sunday) nights from about 5-9pm. During these truncated hours, they are jam-packed with all — and I mean all! — of your friends, neighbors, and relations.

It is such a distinctive experience that some catfish houses don’t even have menus — everybody knows what would be on it, so why bother, right?

Typically, a bowl of coleslaw and a basket of saltine crackers will be brought out as an appetizer. The staples on the menu are usually a 4-6 piece plate of fried catfish fillets, hushpuppies, french fries, fried okra, stewed turnip greens, and other fried things as well. Probably hamburgers are available, too, for the un-fishy among us though I haven’t looked specifically for that. Oh, and of course, Sweet Tea! (Too sweet for me! I’ll stick with water, thanks.)  Condiments on the table, in addition to the obvious salt and peppers, will include some kind of hot sauce, ketchup, and a bottle of “pepper sauce” which is actually not a sauce, but a jar of vinegar infused with hot peppers. (This is a must for sprinkling into your turnip greens.) There’s a little bit of variation in seasonings for the breading of fried items or turnip greens, but for the most part I think a catfish house is a catfish house. Near larger towns, they might mix up the menu and bring in some shrimp or crab.

Jerry’s Catfish House

Jerry's Catfish House, Florence, MS
Jerry’s Catfish House, Florence, MS

Or frog legs. Jerry’s Catfish House does frog legs…..And that’s not the only unusual thing about it!

I drive by Jerry’s Catfish House every day, and I wonder what the story is. The building looks like a big, white igloo on the side of the road. My best hypothesis is that maybe the catfish house owners purchased the building from some kind of displaced eskimo cult? Maybe? So this past weekend, we finally decided to check it out.

Despite its puzzling architecture, Jerry’s Catfish House is a typical catfish house. They make use of the domed rotunda by having a second level of seating along the perimeter that looks down on the level below through a railing lined with streetlamp-like fixtures. While I was there, I didn’t ask anybody about the reason for the “igloo” design because everybody seemed a little too busy to be bothered. But from some photos on the wall, we found that apparently the owners of the catfish house were involved in the construction! So the mystery continues. Maybe it’s supposed to look like a catfish egg. Oh–no, apparently catfish eggs are orange. Hmm. Oh well!

As far as how Jerry’s food stacks up, I feel like I have had more flavorful breading elsewhere, but overall everything was great! Not too greasy, and very crisp and fresh.

Conclusion

Fried Okra - This is The South
Fried Okra – This is The South

 

This is the South: A Catfish House
This is the South: A Catfish House

 

So if you’re ever anywhere in the south, make sure you visit a catfish house! Throw caution to the wind and try fried all-the-things — I especially recommend okra and jalapenos.

 

And if you can find out why Jerry’s looks like an igloo — leave a comment! I’m dying to know!

 

 

 

3 Free Things to Do in Sioux Falls + A Bonus

Last week I shared some of Sioux Falls restaurants with you. In between meals, though, there’s actually plenty to do in and around Sioux Falls, and a lot of it is free! Here are some of our favorite things to do and see in Sioux Falls…

Three Free Things to do in Sioux Falls

Falls Park is Sioux Falls’ landmark attraction. Surprisingly, it’s located near the heart of downtown. It is beautiful no matter the season, whether crashing over the rocks after a spring thaw or frozen into an abstract ice sculpture in the middle of winter. Check out the ruins of the Queen Bee Mill — it was destroyed many years ago in a fire, The Overlook Cafe will give you a great view and a place to sit down or get out of the weather if you need to!

Standing in front of the falls, Falls Park, Sioux Falls
Standing in front of the falls, Falls Park, Sioux Falls

Another highlight is the tower that’s part of the visitor center. You can climb up five stories and see the whole city.

I could tell you a funny story about that tower, but . . . I should probably wait till we’re better friends.

While you’re downtown, check out the Old Courthouse Museum. Free admission! Some say it’s haunted — it definitely has a little bit of an eerie feel with constant restoration going on  — fading murals and crumbling plaster, that kind of thing — and there’s a sign outside documenting the hanging of an innocent man. The Pettigrew Museum is nearby, and full of curiosities from around the world and Native American artifacts.

The hanging of an innocent man, Sioux Falls
The hanging of an innocent man, Sioux Falls

Bonus time!

Palisade State Park Sioux Falls South Dakota
Palisade State Park, South Dakota

Our favorite thing about Sioux Falls, though, is kind of a secret. (Here’s the bonus!) Less than half an hour northeast of town, you’ll find Palisades State Park. A river runs through it (sorry, was that a bad pun?) and formed a totally unexpected rocky canyon. It’s not a huge park and the trails are pretty short, but it will definitely get you out of the city for an afternoon.

I lived in Sioux Falls for 2.5 years, and somehow I didn’t manage to see everything I wanted to! Someday we’ll have to get back there and hit the Strawbale Winery, Japanese Gardens, and Sertoma Butterfly House. If you go to any of these, tell me about them in the comments!

What’s your favorite thing to do in Sioux Falls?

3 Free Things Sioux Falls

3 Free Things Sioux Falls

7 Sioux Falls Restaurants You Don’t Want to Miss

7 Sioux Falls Restaurants
7 Great Sioux Falls Restaurants!

 

 

Sioux Falls probably isn’t on your bucket list. And if you were passing through, after driving through all that empty prairie, it probably wouldn’t occur to you to look for really great world cuisine options or a waterfall.

And yet, there they are.

I lived in Sioux Falls for a couple years while finishing my degree–this is also, for the most part, where I dated my husband. So I like to think I know a lot of the things there are to know about Sioux Falls.

Am I going to tell you to add it to your bucket list, you MUST go? …… Nah. But if it’s between you and wherever you’re going, it’s worth a stop!

For one thing, all the food! Here are seven really great and unexpected dining options in Sioux Falls….

 

 

Where to Eat in Sioux Falls

Here are a few of our favorites…..

  • Sanaa’s – Authentic Mediterranean, and she’s always switching up the menu so there’s always something new to try! Gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly, if you have those preferences!
  • Coffea – Sioux Falls has a bunch of coffee shops, but unfortunately, this is the only one I’ve visited! (I have also heard Joseph’s, The Black Sheep, and the Bluebird Cafe get rave reviews.) My experience of Coffea is that they are very on-trend. If you want the perfect hipster, artsy coffee shop vibe, this one’s for you.
  • McNally’s Irish Pub – A gorgeous interior with lots of dark wood and hammered metal. The food is pretty upscale and they include both classic Irish fare and some more surprising menu options.
  • Oshima Sushi – From the cozy atmosphere to the really great service, I think this is probably my favorite Japanese restaurant ever. My mouth still waters thinking about their miso soup.
  • Minerva’s – If you want to get fancy, don’t miss Minerva’s. They have multiple locations across South Dakota and Iowa, but the one in downtown Sioux Falls is where it all began and it’s a regional icon.
  • Lalibela Ethiopian – Researching for this article, I was sorry to find out that Lalibela has closed due to their building being razed to make way for a gas station! I’m still going to include it in this list, though, with the hope that they’ll be able to re-open somewhere else. This restaurant was truly a gem and a one-of-a-kind addition to the local food scene.
  • Overlook Cafe – The best soups, salads, and sandwiches in town — and the view is pretty unique, too, which leads to our next category…..

 

Remember how I mentioned that waterfall? Tune in next week for some more Sioux Falls attractions!

 

 

One Day in the Twin Cities

one day itinerary minneapolis st paul twin cities

The Twin Cities have a special place in my heart.

It’s at least partially a mythology my brain has built up around it–the soothing drone of Garrison Keeler rippling across the prairie grasses, a shadow of young F. Scott Fitzgerald hashing out his thoughts about life over absinthe, the glint of chrome at Mickey’s Diner — which I’ve never actually been to, so there may not be any chrome but I feel like there should be — the silent grandeur of Summit Avenue whose houses have seen so many glittering snowfalls and so many gem-like leaves in August.

I think the mythology we accumulate about certain places makes them come alive in our minds in a special way. And sometimes, the mythology can make the reality look a little drab.

But here is some wonderful reality for you.

After our wedding, Josh and I spent one day bouncing around Minneapolis/St. Paul before moving on. Although it was just a taste of what the Twin Cities have to offer, it was a perfect, bite-sized refreshment.

You could easily fill up an entire week or two there, but here is a one day itinerary for the foodie, art buff, or just plain multicultural enthusiast.

One Day Itinerary: Minneapolis and St. Paul

As a former barista, there are so many coffee shops in the Twin Cities that I would loooovvvvvve to visit. We just went to Claddagh Coffee, though, and it was a perfect, low-key start for our day. Bring your order down into their comfy basement. Some coffee shops have kind of a pretentious, hipstery vibe. Some coffee shops have an overly commercialized vibe. This one was just pure, quirky, casual comfort. Oh, and toss some gold to their leprechaun on your way out.

Next — now trust me on this — the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Plan on spending all day here. They have a cafe inside, so you don’t need to leave for lunch! We arrived around one in the afternoon, walked until our feet hurt and walked some more, didn’t leave until closing time — and we still missed out on a couple major galleries. Even if an art museum doesn’t sound interesting to you, there is something here for everyone — jade exhibits from Asia, mummies from Egypt, re-creations of Jane Austen era rooms, swords and suits of armor, all the famous paintings and sculptures your eyes are capable of absorbing in one day (actually, more), sheep to take selfies by. . .

Not kidding about the sheep.

sheep selfie

Also, admission is free.

So when they kick you out at closing time, you’ll need to find some dinner. Moscow on the Hill. Do it. If I lived next to Moscow on the Hill, I would eat my way through their entire menu. Perusing the enormous vodka menu, Josh was like a kid in a candy store. I think we split their Appetizer Tasting Platter and it happened to be a variety of all things salmon, and it was amazing. I also tried escargot for the first time, and it is actually not revolting if you don’t think about it too hard!

It has been a year and a half, and my mouth is still watering, thinking about the salmon pate.

 

At the end of our long day, we checked into Hotel 340. They upgraded our room at check in due to availability, so I’m not exactly sure what kind of room we ended up in, but it may have been a king suite. It felt more like an apartment than a hotel room — I think I’d be ok with living there! It was a charming mix of modern convenience with early 1900s ambiance soaring 12 stories above the streets of St. Paul.

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Usually, I’m the type of person who likes to try new things. I never buy the same shampoo twice. I’m always trying new recipes from Pinterest. If I’m going to travel somewhere, why see things that I have already seen?

But all that said, this one-day trip is one that I would be happy to recreate over and over again.

A Weekend in Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama is a hidden treasure.

I found out about it kind of by accident — The Hubs and I had two days

off in a row on the horizon, so I was planning a short get-away for us and researching Mississippi day trips. All these really cool places in Alabama started showing up in my search results, though, and there were two attractions I really wanted to see.

Huntsville just happened to be smack-dab in between them, and so it was a logical place to spend the night!

And now I can’t wait to go back. We barely scratched the surface of what there is to see there. Hopefully next time, we’ll be able to check out some of the more mainstream attractions like the Rocket Center and Monte Sano State Park.

As it is, we explored secret caves and canyons, visited a fun little brewery, and had a really great dinner all in under 24 hours!

From Southern Mississippi, it was a 4-5 hour drive which is probably about the farthest we would attempt for a weekend getaway. Starting from anywhere in Tennessee, Georgia, or the Florida panhandle would also probably be do-able on a 3-day weekend.

 

Our first stop was Dismals Canyon located 1.5 hours west of Huntsville.

 

Dismals Canyon, Phil Campbell, AL

It’s privately owned and the admission was a little steep at $12 per adult, but it is so well maintained, family friendly, and truly epic that we found it worthwhile.

After paying admission in their large gift shop/eatery and receiving your trail map, you descend stairs upon stairs down into the canyon. The stairs are actually pretty strenuous and may be unsuitable for those with certain health conditions, but aside from that it was a really low-key trail and many people had their kids and puppies in tow.

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The trail brings you past waterfalls and between looming mossy boulders that line a small stream and loops back, about 1.5 miles round trip. A map is provided that makes the trail seem kind of like a scavenger hunt for all their creative place markers and pieces of local trivia.

👌

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The canyon is otherworldly and a little eerie even in the daytime. They also do guided tours at night featuring a local glow-worm population!

 

Where to Eat, Where to Stay

From there, we ran up the road to Huntsville and found our motel for the evening. Knights Inn Huntsville was a great deal for us; I think only about $60 for the night, and it was clean and comfortable.

Dinner at Connors Steak and Seafood where the lights were low, the staff were awesome, and everything was delicious. I had grilled salmon and the hubs endorses their steak which was perfect with the Cigar Box Malbec.

We found breakfast the next morning at the Blue Plate Cafe, which had a fun, retro ambiance. I have never really understood the southern country fried steak thing, but I had a bite of Hubs’ here and it finally made sense — that crispy batter and perfectly seasoned gravy….Try the cheesy hash-browns, too.

 

Stephen’s Gap Cave

Our primary objective on this trip was to visit Stephen’s Gap.

It. Was. Amazing.

It also happens to be very accessible, even to the novice cave explorer with no gear. I’m going to write a separate post with all the details, but will leave you with this taste. (Update: here’s that post!)

#stephensgap #cave

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Brew Scene

Huntsville is a bit of a brewery hub, so we had to check it out. Our final stop before heading out of town was Below the Radar. Their website doesn’t seem to be working right now, but we were lured in by descriptions of some of their dark beers.

We tried a flight of six that piqued our interest. I don’t think we discovered any new favorites, but some of them were pretty unusual! The Gravel Road Saison tasted like candy. I had high hopes for the 300 Blackout Smoked Porter, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

Huntsville! Recommended for the:

  • Outdoorsy
  • Craft Beer Enthusiasts
  • Budget Travelers