Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 New-To-Me Food...

As much as I love food, I really only focused on my regular favorites up until recently.  That pretty much meant pasta & pizza almost all the time.

Not even chicken wings - that's also relatively new to me.  And that's how this all started.  Me, Shawn, Frankie & Alicia were out having wings and the idea was born that I should try a new-to-me food every month.  So Shawn put together a list on his phone of all the foods we brought up that night that I never tried.  That's where my input ended.  From that point on, we'd go out to eat somewhere and I'd be surprised by what food I'd have to eat.  And no matter what, I wouldn't say no.

Overall, I ended up finding 5 new foods I loved - I count that a giant success.  Here's the foods of 2017 rated on a scale of 1 - 10...

JANUARY:  Pho (3) - We ate this at some Vietnamese restaurant.  The place smelled awesome, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the pho.  I'm not the biggest fan of soup for a meal and that's basically what this was.....but bland.

FEBRUARY:  Hummus (4) - I don't understand hummus.  Why eat this when you could have nacho cheese, salsa, or queso? 

MARCH:  Lobster (7) - Me & Shawn had this in Lobsicle form (lobster on a stick) in Vegas.  This was awesome!  But I'm sad about that.  The reason I'd never tried lobster (and didn't want to like it) is because it's an expensive meal and I tend to stay away from meals that cost too much.  But I'll make an exception for this every now and then.

APRIL:  Stuffed Hot Peppers (10) - Growing up, my Grandma would make stuffed hot peppers for almost every family meal.  Yet I never tried them because she'd also make ravioli for me & her, so I'd fill up on that and the meatballs.  I regret not trying her stuffed hot peppers as they were probably the best ever.  I loved the ones I had at Jim's SteakOut though & now order them as a side when I go.

MAY:  Calamari (7) - If it's deep fried, I'm happy.  So this was a win.  Pretty much tasted like an onion ring and I like those, so obvious like.

JUNE:  Sushi (2) - This one made me the most nervous to try.  And it was on my birthday no less!  We did this as a sushi buffet so I got to try a bunch of varieties.  I wasn't a fan of the standard ones, but the weird Buffalo wing or other specialty ones weren't awful.  That's the best I can say about sushi.  A really fun birthday though with awesome friends.

JULY:  Clams (3) - This one should have made me the most nervous to try.  Some of my family is allergic to clams, so I've never bothered with them.  But there we were at MT Pockets specifically to try clams so was prepped for anything to happen.  Tried steamed clams and clams casino.  Both were good, but couldn't compare to the awesome Italian Sausage Sandwich there.  As for raw clams, it wasn't until October that I tried those (when doing my new-to-me October food).  I hated them raw.  In fact, I ended up sick and I'm pretty sure the clams were the culprit. 

AUGUST:  Beer Cheese Soup (Gouda Soup) (4) - It was was very cheesy & good, but it's soup.  Takes a lot to get me to rave about a soup.

SEPTEMBER:  Beef On Weck (2) - Aside from french fries & peanuts, I'm not a fan of salty things.  Especially on sandwiches.  Halfway through, I wiped all the salt off the bread & went crazy with the horseradish.  That made it better.  But this is a Buffalo tradition I'll never understand.

OCTOBER:  Lo Mein (5) - Went to a Chinese buffet for this.  Note this is only the second time in my life I've eaten at a Chinese buffet (the first was a couple years ago in Virginia where I really only ate a bunch of varieties of chicken).  The lo mein was good, kinda like seasoned pasta & butter.  Also tried an eggroll here - liked that too.  But this was also the place with the raw clams - that made the following night and day incredibly unpleasant.

NOVEMBER:  Jalepeno poppers (8) - My favorite TV show now is NBC's The Good Place.  Jalepeno poppers have been mentioned a few times and play an important part in the show, so I had to try them.  Dave at Manor Lanes bowling alley is a culinary genius (yes, the food at this bowling alley never fails to amaze me).  It was no surprise then that I loved this.  Plus again, you usually can't go wrong with something deep fried (unless it's deep fried bubble gum at the fair which was awful - and not even technically bubble gum).

DECEMBER:  Pasta carbonara (10) - The new-to-me food year ended on a huge highlight - this (along with stuffed hot peppers) won the year.  I question this being a new food though as I've had all the things it's made with before.  But I guess the same can be said with stuffed hot peppers thanks to the Carolina Reaper & Ghost Peppers I had tried, so this'll count.  And the combination of these ingredients blew me away.  Spaghetti is actually one of my least favorite pastas (so messy & a pain to eat) but the sauce in this was so thick, it made the spaghetti stick together and was just a perfect meal.  Also loved that the bacon taste was there, but didn't overpower the meal.  Shawn made this one and whoa does he know how to cook!  I'm sure I'll eventually try this at a restaurant too but there's no way it could ever top homemade.

I know there's more left on the list, so hoping to continue on through 2018.  Follow me on Twitter @JohnAnthony1025 or on Instagram at johnanthonyspinridefan and go ahead and suggest things.  After sushi & clams, I'm up for anything now!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

TN food!

This is a fast foodie lover's post.  All the TN food highlights (and lowlights).

Things started off shaky with a stop in Ohio at White Castle.  I've been to one in Missouri 15 years ago and hated the sliders.  They tasted worse than cardboard - I ordered 4 and threw 2 away (and I never waste food, so that says something).  All these years later, they still taste awful.  The cheddar and apple butter slider wasn't too bad though.

The next TN food stop was for the food Nashville's known for - Hot Chicken.  My buddy Shawn highly recommended this, so even timed my drive to make sure I was hungry for it.  Hot Chicken is basically a chicken breast with a really hot dry rub.  I of course had to get "hot" because it's in the name.  But it was way too hot for me and overpowered the whole meal.  Not a win for that reason only, but their mac-n-cheese was awesome!  And next time (there will be a next time) I'm doing medium chicken lol.

Things had to turn around in the morning, so hit up Biscuit Love.  This was an hour-plus line!  No way was I waiting that long for breakfast.

But then I randomly ran across the #1 fast food restaurant on the planet.  I had no idea Cookout was in Nashville!  Yes, corndogs are a side there and the hushpuppies are a thing of food beauty.  While in line a guy started talking to me about how bad they need a Cookout in New York (too funny running into another New Yorker there).

The bad food vortex I was stuck in was finally over!  Saw this random place in the Opry Mills Mall but was still too full from Cookout, so it's on the list for my next Nashville trip.


The next food highlight was Bennett's Pit Bar-B-Que in Pigeon Forge.  I mean really you can not go wrong with pulled pork on a breakfast buffet.  I was in food heaven.

If you ever visit the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area, an Ogle Dog is a must!  It's a corndog made with TWO hot dogs and it's by far the best corndog I've ever had.  This is always a mandatory stop when I'm there.

The trip ended with another fast food favorite of mine - Bojangles.  I love the Bo-Berry Biscuits and pretty much everything else on the menu (as you can see by the massive meal I ordered).  I couldn't decide what I wanted so ended up going with two breakfasts lol.

Nashville & Pigeon Forge, TN

I go to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge every November, but I've never ventured further into Tennessee before so decided to stop in Nashville on the way.

The drive was brutally long and because it gets dark early this time of year I wasn't able to stop and see too much.  But KY Stonehenge was a must.

The pic is awful but it was night, there was no moon, and most important it's private property (the yard of the town's mayor no less), so there was no way I was going to get arrested to get a cool pic.   It's about 15 minutes north of Mammoth Cave in a town called Munfordville, KY.  I've now seen Foamhenge (a Stonehenge made of foam in VA that I was super impressed with), the real Stonehenge in England (which I wasn't impressed with because it was so touristy), and then this which was just awesome.

A few exits down the highway, saw this marker.  Check out the middle part - yup, a UFO partially blamed for this mess lol.  The marker was in a strange spot surrounded by fast food restaurants (a McDonald's was literally right across the street).

Then it was time for Nashville!  My first big stop was the Parthenon the next day.  It's an exact replica of the one in Greece.  I ended up staying there almost three hours.  Just walking around it was amazing, but then inside was an excellent art museum - they even had an exhibit on the 1897 Nashville exhibition the Parthenon was built for.  If you go to Nashville, do not skip this - it's totally worth a visit.

Of course everybody told me I had to see the Grand Ole Opry.  This was the extent of my visit.  I was more in the mood to see Jigsaw which was playing in an Opry Mills Mall theater next door.  Great movie btw, as good as the Saw 1 - 3 movies.

That night I hit up Broadway in Nashville.  That's like the Chippewa of Buffalo.  But they've got something there that tops anything in Buffalo - the HQ Beercade.  It's a bar but with tons of classic arcade games and pinball (good ones).  Here's the thing that makes it so different - no cover charge to get in and all the games were FREE!  Obviously they want you to buy food and drinks there and believe me I did.  Ended up staying there almost four hours.  But I left for a bit to see the entire area too - definitely the cool night spot in Nashville.

After that it was off to Pigeon Forge to meet up with my friends.  I absolutely love Dollywood and the entire area it's in.  Dollywood is the home to the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world.  It's kinda debateable whether it's really a wood coaster, but I love it (especially night rides) so don't care.

Lots of other random stuff happened too - Rowdy Bear Mountain alpine coaster, Jungle Boat ride, Big Top arcade, dancing fountains.  There's so much to do, it's impossible to hit it all in one trip (a year lol).

And finally, there was this...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Vegas Road Trips (Area 51, Death Valley & more)


First gotta give a huge shout-out to Shy Guy Shawn for all the planning, awesome pics & one of the greatest friends to hang out with on a road trip to this dream destination.  It doesn't seem like much, but Area 51 is so shrouded in mystery I just had to see it myself!

This was my absolute highlight of the vacation (and the original reason for the trip).  The views on the way of endless roads extending into what looks like forever were awesome (even better than the Grand Canyon to me).

The only thing that could have made this day better would have been a UFO sighting or alien abduction.  But I'm thinking even if the aliens were to visit, this would be the last place they'd come to.  

So we didn't realize it when we stopped here to take a pic of the view, but this road below is the one that leads to the front entrance of Area 51!

The Little A-Le-Inn was the big food destination.  Lots of alien merchandise here, alien beer lol and people who lived and breathed the mythology that is Area 51.  The food was just ok but the ambiance was awesome.

The first Area 51 visit was to the back gate.  You know it's being monitored but we never saw anyone there aside from other cars that drove up to see it.

The Black Mailbox is just a mailbox in the middle of nowhere.  It really doesn't have much to do with Area 51 other than it's there.

Now the front "gate" is the one that's got a freaky feel to it.  The road to it is long, dusty & surrounded by free-roaming cows.  And then all of a sudden around a bend, there it is.  On the way some Cammo Dudes in a white van passed us - me & Shawn were super psyched!

And we could see yet another white van up on the hill - I'm guessing there were some Cammo Dudes watching us from there the whole time.  Made hanging around the gate a little spooky.  But this is why we came, so we explored the area a little - from our side of the "gate" of course.

I have no doubt if we were to take five or six steps over that line, we'd suddenly see someone with a gun blocking our path.  Didn't want that experience.  Our eyes were almost constantly on that van watching to see if it moved toward us.

Heading back, we had to stop at the Alien Research Center.  This is where we bought some alien stuff (hoodies, etc).  Loved this stop and highly recommend it to anyone who visits Area 51.

Then the ride back & more amazing views.  100% successful day trip!



We used Take Tours for this day trip ($95 per person).  I'll give you the good and bad of the trip, but it's mostly good.

Things started off sketchy as the bus showed up to the hotel 10 minutes late and there was no way to contact them to see what was going on.  We weren't sure if we missed the bus or not.  Then they finally arrived.

After one more hotel stop to pick people up we learned there was only going to be 7 people taking the tour - awesome!

The first stop was Hoover Dam.  We had 25 minutes to walk up a long path to a bridge that overlooked Hoover Dam.  It was a great view.  And of course we had to walk the entire length of the bridge to see the Arizona welcome sign and the Arizona / Nevada border symbol on the bridge.  But we cut things really close doing all that walking - Shawn & I then had to jog back across the bridge and back down to make it to the bus on time.

Then it was off to the Grand Canyon (West).  The first stop was the gift shop.  From there, everyone (all tours and tourists that visit) have to take another bus to be shuttled to the three Grand Canyon stops.  We had 2 hours before we had to return to the bus.

Stop 1:  The Hualapai Village.  I read reviews online that said it's a tourist trap where all they do is try to sell you stuff.  And the amazing Grand Canyon views - not here.  So we just stayed on the bus and skipped this stop.  Which was a smart move as it would have wasted the short time we had to see the reason we came.

Stop 2:  Eagle Point.  Wow, the view is amazing here.  Shawn ran right to the edge and sat with his feet dangling into the canyon.  There's no barriers or anything - you get too close and fall off, that's a really bad day for you.  But we all then had to do the same as the picture and view was awesome.

This is also where the Glass Bridge was (a $25 upcharge we had paid on the bus).  I wasn't impressed with the bridge or the views from it as it was so much cooler walking right up to the edge just minutes earlier.  It was basically 5 - 10 minutes of a photographer following you around, having you do poses, and then wanting you to buy the pictures after.  You are not allowed to take anything on the bridge with you - no cameras, no hats, no nothing.

Stop 3:  Guano Point.  People say this is the best view of the canyon and it didn't disappoint.  The winds were fierce this day which made things even crazier getting close to the edge.  We were even nervous holding up our phones for a pic, worrying that the winds were going to blow them out of our hands into the canyon.

Then back to the gift shop to catch the bus back to Vegas.  Here's the biggest negative I have for the tour.  We got on the bus on the far side of the lot early.  So Frankie & Shawn went to use the nearby bathroom for a second and that's when the bus driver decided to move the bus all the way across the lot to the main entrance.  He wouldn't wait the extra 10 seconds for them to return, so they then had to walk all the way across the lot to get back on.  Yeah, it's not crazy far but that wasn't cool.  Especially since it was still early.  Even more annoying was two of the other people ended up getting back to the bus 20 minutes late forcing the rest of us to sit there and wait.  They're the ones that should have been left behind.

But overall, I'd say go with this tour company.  It's cheaper than others and got us to the main stops we wanted to go to.  And it still left plenty of time to do things in Vegas when we got back there.



We booked an SUV with East Side Sierra Shuttle for this.  It was $500 for the 4 of us.  Paul was our guide to the extremely hard to get to Racetrack Playa area of Death Valley.  That's where the rocks mysteriously move on their own.

Very few tours go to this area - I have no doubt in my mind we picked the absolute best one.  Do not do this drive on your own.  The road to get there is awful and Paul's SUV was readied for this journey.  He said many people get a flat or two trying to make this trip.  After bumping along that crazy gravel road for 3 hours, I have no doubt about that.  We got lucky this trip though - no flats.  But his car did have the warning lights on by the time we got back.

After 90 minutes on a road that got more "gravely" and bumpy as we went on, we arrived at Teakettle Junction.  It's a junction of roads where people hang teakettles on the sign lol.

Almost 30 minutes later, Racetrack Playa.  Beautiful.  This is where the rocks move.  Now Death Valley is the hottest place in the world!  But on this day, I wore a heavy hoodie.  The winds were whipping and it was cold.  Around 50 or so (wind chill certainly less).

The next hour or so was spent wandering the Racetrack checking out all the rocks and their trails.  We heard there was vandalism here a few months back but luckily didn't see much evidence of it.  The rain must have washed the tracks off where people annoyingly drove on the Racetrack.  We also heard people had removed some of the rocks at the ends of the trails.  Some were definitely gone but others had started new trails and we had plenty to take pictures of.

Paul let us hang out as long as we wanted.  When done, the journey back felt like forever down that gravel nightmare.  Just as the gravel road ended another 90 minutes later, we stopped at Ubehebe Crater.  The wind was insane here but of course that didn't stop us from going right up to the edge for some epic pictures.  The view so impressive.  We could have hiked down into the crater, but passed.  We were ready to head back to Vegas and eat!

After Paul dropped us off, we did a quick stop at the Death Valley Visitor's Center for some souvenirs then it was back to Vegas.  Yet another successful Vegas day trip!

If you want to do this tour (or any tour of Death Valley), absolutely go with this company.  We could not have possibly had a better time than with Paul.  I've been putting links on all the titles, but this one deserves to stand out even more -