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One of our favourite restaurants in Burlington is one we’ve come back to several times. It’s comfortable, the service is friendly and helpful, the menu is always full of interesting and enticing things from the region, and there’s plenty of outdoor seating when the weather is nice. At this particular time, the street air smelled like wonderful tree flowers. This time, we deliberately drove about half and hour out of our way on our way back to Canada to stop by the restaurant, and then waited around for an hour until it opened for brunch at 11am. It was worth it.

On the warm summer afternoon, we savoured our ice teas, which tasted brewed rather than from a fountain. After agonizing over the delicious menu, I decided upon a simple bowl of chili with some extra cheddar. It was a little spicy, full of ingredients, and just as flavourful as I could have wanted. I tasted my husband’s cup of cheddar and beer soup, which was also good. For dessert, I got what sounded like a homemade strawberry and rhubarb crumble, and ended being a thick-crusted, cold almost store-bought-like pie. I still ate it, and all the ice cream, though.

Reservations are recommended for both lunch and dinner and the place can get pretty crowded. Once, we waited for an hour in their downstairs pub for a dinner seat.

160 Bank St  Burlington, VT 05401, United States

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Just a hop away from the Raleigh-Durham airport is a large red wooden barn that houses one of the most revered institutions in the NC Triangle. The Angus Barn is much more than a mere steak house, and around Christmas time can be seen bedecked in lights, trees, apples, santas, and crowded with local families carefully dressed in their Sunday best for family reunions, dinner with Grandma, and milling about with chummy business associates impressing each other with their largesse. Downright impossible to get a reservation for the main dining area during these times, it’s best to go frightfully early, around 4pm, and set up camp upstairs, past the gun collection, in the no-reservations Wild Turkey Lounge, which has enough presence and Southern charm to satisfy any diner. Actually, due to the popularity of the Wild Turkey Lounge, a satellite area has opened up by the main entrance under some tents, which is open year-round.

This time we went in late April, which has a different, more homey feel to it than the pageantry of Christmas. Thanks to a reservation, my party was able to secure a table in the upstairs dining area, where we were greeted with a basketful of crackers and two small (or too small) crocks of cheddar and blue cheese spreads, and upon request was given a relish tray piled high with cucumber pickles, olives, pickled peppers, and celery. Forget the yummy twice baked herbed potato with cheddar or the huge “side” of Caesar salad and perfectly cooked prime rib with horseradish sauce and juice – one could happily munch on bottomless cheddar spread, homemade pita chips, and pickles all night with a glass of sweet tea. Expect a constant battle of the frustrating confines of ones own stomach, but just keep in mind that the portions (and service) are pure Southern hospitality and each additional course is worth sacrificing the previous course for room.

Don’t worry – the cheese spread and crackers are also available for sale in the country store by the exit.

9401 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, NC 27617, USA

See my December 2009 review here: https://rachelrecommends.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/angus-barn-a/

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Diners need to have either admission to the Biltmore Estate or a 12-month pass in order to dine here, but if you’re already in the area, it’s worth a visit to this laidback, almost California-style bistro. Don’t worry – the portions are East Coast-style. And it seemed family-friendly.

I was intrigued by the first appetizer on the menu, which was pickled shrimp with spring asparagus, green beans, tobiko caviar, and yuzu crème fraîche. It worked together, though the cold acidic shrimp had perhaps a tad too much vinegar acidity for my Northern taste buds. My main course of spring risotto with peas and mushrooms, tarragon oil and shaved parmesan was very good and something I might try to replicate at home; could not taste the tarragon, but didn’t miss it.

While I was full, I couldn’t resist the strawberry shortcake was mostly strawberry, with a very soft and somewhat spongey “shortcake,” topped with just the right amount of fancily swirled whipped cream; I enjoyed every last drop of it.

The Biltmore Estate, Antler Hill Village, Asheville, NC, USA

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a restaurant review. My husband and I have started to notice that we might have been patronizing the more mediocre restos in the area. Uh-oh. More research required!

Fortunately, this one isn’t one of them and we’ve been here many times in the past several weeks.

Holder does a satisfying weekend brunch. My Eggs Benedict came with a cute cake of Potatoes Dauphinoise and a nice fruit salad. On another occasion, their fish and chips were very nice – served hot, not too oily, and very tender and juicy on the inside.

For dinner, it’s important to get reservations or be told there aren’t any tables until after 9pm. It’s a bustling place with a sort of masculine energy during the week, as at least 60%-70% of the evening diners are groups of businessmen and the volume level is quite loud despite the lack of music. The bar has prominently displayed bottles and is well-stocked, seeming to have just about every whiskey imaginable.

The vegetable soup is fairly good, with rustic hunks of vegetables nestled in a tomato soup, which my husband says is like a minestrone without the noodles. The French onion soup is also very good, with a crusty top and dark broth soup that’s mostly onion. Tender fried calamari with just enough breading are also a good bet. I can heartily recommend the shepherd’s pie, which is a sophisticated mold of a very rich dish. Also, the unusually thick piece of calves liver. You get the idea – Holder is a keeper. The chocolate crémeux, coffee ice cream, cocoa and coffee sauce for dessert didn’t hurt, either.

Service is fairly good, though it is a busy restaurant. Pricing is reasonable for what it is.

Metro: Square Victoria

407 Rue McGill, #100A and Rue Saint-Paul Ouest

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I’m upgrading my rating for the Law Café, Avvocato (get it? Anglophones, look up the French word for “lawyer” and you’ll get it), which is my new favourite eaterie on campus.

I’ve been increasingly getting lunch from the takeout law school café at McGill, located in the basement bowels of Chancellor Day Hall. Of course, there are several kinds of coffee – both Starbucks and free trade – and other beverages in the cooler, including plain, strawberry, and chocolate milk. It has a minimal selection of snacks, pastries, self-serve salads, prepackaged sushi, flatbread pizza, prepared sandwiches, and soups. I’ve come to notice the to-order pasta station with a selection of meat or tomato sauce and plain pasta or ravioli or tortellini for a reasonable price (a little over $4) and a slightly more expensive (~$8-$9) hot daily special. Some recent selections included braised sausage with onions, tender herb potato quarters, and corn; moist and tender roast beef, mashed potatoes, and tasty and crisp two-coloured green beans. I was well-pleased with both, in both portion and quality. During the summer and on Fridays in September, there was an outdoor barbecue grill with juicy hamburgers and hot dogs and a selection of condiments. I like that the head honcho of Avvocato is so enthusiastic and likes to try new things. The food offerings are good for on-campus fare, and I’m not eating it just because I have no where else to go. I actually like the food.

The only major drawback of this establishment, and why it does not receive a perfect A, is the routine bottle-necking by the cash register, which can mean a wait of several minutes even when there’s only one other person in line. The staff are friendly and like to chat, leaving one often standing with an increasingly hot and moist takeout container in their hands.

Not being even remotely affiliated with the law school, I’m not comfortable eating in the spacious dining area – besides, lawyers and future lawyers give me the willies. As with many on-campus dining options, the café mostly closes when the undergraduates leave. There’s a snack vending machine in the hallway, but not enough for lunch.

Metro: Peel

3644 Rue Peel and Avenue Docteur-Penfield

See my April review here.

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One of the highlights of summer in Montreal is the International Fireworks Festival. This year, they’ve crammed the performances into July, though in the past they’ve run from mid-June to August. I confess to ignoring the booms echoing against the stone buildings of Old Montreal the first year we lived here, but then we became determined to see them all. My paltry experiences of small town 4th of July fireworks displays in NJ and even a quite spectacular all-night show from one talented family in Kirksville, MO failed to prepare me for each 30-minute, music-coordinated spectacle. Some are more memorable than others.

Tickets priced between $26-50 are available for purchase at La Ronde, where the competition is headquartered, but most viewers have a favorite spot they find with a good view of the Jacques Cartier Bridge (I’m not sharing mine, but it’s somewhere in Old Montreal). Many of the Old Montreal restos with a terrace offer pricey “fireworks festival” prefix dinner seatings, but because of their angle and the nearby trees and, I doubt any of them have as good a view of the action as scouting out a good spot by the bridge. Bring your own radio with headphones to enjoy the officially synched up music accompaniment on 105.7 FM. And bring a big umbrella and insect repellent – fireworks are rain or shine. Shows are from 10:00-10:30pm each Saturday, with a couple on Tuesdays (hint: they start when the lights on La Ronde’s Ferris wheel go out, and end when the lights go back on). Go early to get a good viewing spot.

See my August 2010 review here.

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Coppola’s will forever be Villascotta’s in my mind, the pizzeria at the end of a small strip mall where teams went after soccer matches to get tall sodas and huge pizzas dripping with oil and hot cheese. It’s busy for lunch and busy for dinner, even when the tiny town had one or two other pizzerias. Villascotta’s had the pizza to which all other pizzas were compared. But times change, and the pizzeria expanded and morphed into Coppola’s – pizzeria on one side, and nice sit-down Italian restaurant on the other side that’s often used for high school graduation dinners or a nice dinner out. It was a good renovation.

My husband is puzzled as to why I like NJ pizza so much. It’s not gourmet pizza, so what’s the big deal? I answer thusly: A good pizza is a combination of many factors. Coppola’s crust is thin, chewy, and firm and still soft enough to chew. The crust is never greasy or burned or soggy. The sauce is tasty, of the right quantity, and is spread to a good part of the crust. Next comes just the right amount of flavorful cheese, then generous toppings. When it comes out of the oven, the cheese is hot and stringy and the huge slices have to be at least half folded to keep the cheese from sliding off. Some pat their slices with paper napkins, or fold their slices completely in half to create a calzone, but I say that the oils are meant to be savored and if I wanted a calzone, I’d have ordered one.

And that is why NJ has the best pizzeria pizza.

590 Central Avenue, New Providence, NJ 07974, USA

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