Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Attn: New Yorkers! Goin' Out Tomorrow? Check Out My List of Who's Open & What to Get!

Merry Xmas Eve everyone! Being from the south, we NEVER ate xmas dinner out. One big reason being is that nothing and I mean nothing is open. You're lucky to find a gas station ready to serve. In NYC, it's a completely different story. With the abundant tourism and the fact half the population doesn't even celebrate my fave holiday, many restaurants keep their doors open. Below are my top 5 NYC restos servin' up yumminess all day tomorrow. Do call before going as some may have modified hours. And here goes in no particular order...

*Bryant Park Grill-located in the beautifully decorated Bryant Park, it's a perfect, festive place to enjoy delicious food and soak up the holiday spirit. The views of the park are lovely and a few of my favorite menu items are their Burrata with Heirloom Tomato, Braised Berkshire Pork Belly and Bryant Park Sea Grill. Tomorrow they'll have a fantastic holiday prix-fixe for $75 per person ($35 for the kiddos) that includes savory Duck Spring Rolls and Free Range Turkey. Save room for dessert and reserve asap!

* Red Rooster Halem-Head up to Harlem for Marcus Samuelsson's $55 Swedish Christmas prix fixe. The menu includes specialities such as Gravlax (cured salmon) and succulent Swedish ham. The basement lounge, Ginny's Supper Club, will also be open with the same prix fixe menu. You also have the option to order a la carte...fried chicken anyone?

*Red Farm-If you're a regular reader, you know my love for Red Farm-See previous post. Thank goodness they're open all day tomorrow! Get your fill of some of the best dim sum NYC has to offer. Don't forget Crispy Beef,  juicy Strip Steak and homemade Long Life Noodles. 

*The Smith-Again, another fave-See previous post. The Smith will be serving their regular menus all day. Lucky for us that includes savory Flatbreads, Chicken Pot Pie and Jalapeno Cheddar Grits. YUM!

*Southern Hospitality BBQ-Great place if you're visiting as this Hell's Kitchen BBQ joint was co-created by Justin Timberlake himself. They serve up hearty Memphis-style BBQ in a convenient mid-town location. The Mac n' Cheese and Fried Pickles are must try's. Y'all enjoy!

Want more options? NYC has over 200 restaurants open tomorrow! Visit OpenTable to see who's open and what they're offering. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! EAT UP!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Last Minute Gift Idea for Any Foodie!

This time of year we're all going crazy. Making holiday plans, xmas shopping and hunting down all of our favorite festive recipes. Do you still have someone to buy for? Is this person a "foodie"? If so, I have the gift for you! A subscription to Cook's Illustrated. This magazine is amazing. There's NO advertisements, which is one reason it is a little more expensive than some other subscriptions but worth every penny. The no ads thing means that this mag is full of only recipes, cooking tips and food porn. It's cover to cover FOOD. Yay! Cook's Illustrated was actually given as a gift to Ryan and I from my in-laws a few years ago and we've loved and saved every issue. The peeps at Cook's recently came out with Cook's Country and it's equally as good. These pages hold all the secrets-everything from making the best prime rib to fancy holiday desserts like Paris-Brest (we're making this tomorrow so stay tuned!) to what every cook needs in the kitchen. It's literally the gift that keeps on giving. 

They're running specials for the holidays so hurry and buy! Happy gift giving!

Best gift EVER. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Easy Recipe Alert! Barb's Buttery Mushroom Appetizer

Tis' the season for entertaining! When I have guests over I like to have food out as soon as they arrive. Little easy apps are a great way to go and they free up a little of pressure to get dinner out at a specific time. Things like a nice cheese plate or fresh veggie tray are perfect for this as you just slice and serve! I was recently visiting some family friends and like all good hosts, they had a few little snacks out for us to munch on while we caught up before dinner. Out came a bowl of savory little mushrooms as an hors devour. I LOVE mushrooms so I was excited. These little guys were perfect. Buttery with a hint of wine and just enough salt. The broth was heavenly. We began an hour long conversation about how we should just throw in a pound of fresh pasta and toss with cheese for a full on entree. Clearly foodies hang with foodies. Barbara (one of our family friends) was nice enough to share the recipe. It's super simple and perfect for easy entertaining. Do make sure you have enough time to make the dish as it slow cooks all day. Thanks Barbara!

Barb's Buttery Mushroom Appetizer
serves 4-6

5 lbs Large Mushrooms
1 qt Red Wine
1 lb Butter
2 c Hot Water
4 Beef and 3 Chicken Bouillon Cubes
1 tsp Dill Seed
1 tsp Garlic Powder

Cook 4-5 hours in a pot with the lid on over medium heat and then 4-5 hours with the lid off. Enjoy!

Buttery, salty goodness-A perfect holiday snack! Serve with hunks of soft, chewy bread for dipping or reserve the broth for a later dish.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Balance the Holiday Binging & Boozing with Two Easy Tips!

Ah the holidays! It's the time of year for family, friends, food and booze. Like everyone else in the world, I love a good party and it seems like this time of year is chock full of them. This means I try to be even more diligent with working out, my green juicy juice and drinking my fruit & spinach breakfast smoothies. I wanted to share a few of my other stay slim/cleansing tips. It's not just about keeping your weight down but really about how you feel. You're not going to be any fun at that party with your stomach in knots. I have 2 cleansing tips that aid in digestion, cleanse your system and will help you feel your best (even if you're like me and plop yourself by the bar and cheese tray). I try to do these little rituals everyday, all year round but I make extra sure I follow through during the holidays.

1.) First thing in the morning-drink a cup of hot water with lemon. FIRST THING! This helps cleanse your system and gives you a boost of Vitamin C which we all need this time of year. I read about this tip from the amazing Kimberly Snyder. Check out her website for additional healthy tips and tricks. 

2.) Before dinner and/or before a big meal/party where you know you'll big eating and drinking a lot. Drink apple cider vinager. Not the refined stuff you find at Walmart. It needs to be raw and containing "the mother". This trick has saved me many times. I also do this after a big meal although I find it more effective to do it before. See image and instructions below! 

Fresh, organic lemons!

Cleansing hot water with lemon

Mix a tsp of this stuff with a cup of water and drink 20 mins before dinner or a big meal. 
Let the digestion begin!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


So my girl The Gym Ninja and I decided to hit up Mario Batali's mega store / Italian paradise, Eataly-http://www.eataly.com/. This is a must stop for all tourists but also a super popular place for locals. The store has everything from cookbooks to groceries to beauty products. Not to mention 8+ areas to grab a delectable bite. My favorite restaurant in Eataly is the La Pizza/ La Pasta (naturally). All the pastas are super fresh and the pizzas insanely authentic and delicious. Lucky for me, The Gym Ninja (my friend Sarah for short) felt like splurging so pizza and pasta it was! My favorite thing about Eataly is you can grab a glass of wine or perhaps a cappuccino while shopping around, enjoy a perfectly al dente bowl of pasta and then pick up freshly baked bread and imported olive oils to take home. Once you're in a complete state of Italian bliss you can hit up Eataly's sweet gelato counter on the way out for the most creamy, homemade goodness NYC and perhaps even Italy has to offer. I could spend and entire day at Eataly...and have!:-) FYI-the restaurants do not take reservations so go early and be prepared to wait. There's plenty of foodie fun around to keep you busy!

***Good news for my friends in Chi-town...Eataly Chicago just opened! Congrats!

Pasta as far as the eye can see...

Ya know, just a typical selection of olive oil.

Hard at work!

Our fresh Arugula salad with lemon dressing


Linguine al Pesto Trapanese= A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

To Die for Hot Chocolate in Bryant Park...

There is no better place to be in the world during the holidays than New York City. The festive energy is completely and utterly infectious. One of the best areas to get your holiday groove on is Bryant Park. Tons of little seasonal shops and food stands open up around the park's famous ice skating rink, sky high Christmas tree and colorful decor. It's amazing. One of Ryan and I's favorite little stands is Max Brenner-http://www.maxbrenner.com/ where you can find all things sweet and chocolatey. The best find here is their Italian hot chocolate. It's incredibly rich-Ryan and I usually share a small, but there's no other flavor like it. $5 may sound like a lot for a little cup of hot chocolate but I promise it's worth a try. If you're in NYC do yourself a favor, pick up a cup and indulge in a little xmas shopping in Bryant Park...Happy Holidays!

Drink up & enjoy!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hearty Hell's Kitchen Italian at a Bargain...

Mercato-http://www.mercatonyc.com/mercato is a small, hole-in-the-wall in Hell's Kitchen, NYC. If you're not looking for it, you'll miss it. The only reason I found Mercato is because I was meeting my mother-in-law for dinner as we both work in the neighborhood and I googled "best restaurants in Hell's Kitchen". This is one of the first places to pop up. Done and done.

I have been here several times now and it's one of my favorite Italian spots in the city. A little bonus-it's a bargain. It was actually voted one of NYC's best value restaurants by Michelin Travel. 99% of the menu rings in at well under $10 for salads and apps and under $20 for entrees. I know my southern and mid-western peeps would slap me saying these prices are a bargain, but for NYC I promise it's a steal. 

The ambiance is very old world Italian-small, dark and romantic. The tables are insanely close together but with all the other pluses you won't really mind. Every dish is homemade, fresh and made with lots of love. You can literally taste it. Below are some images of my favorite Mercato dishes. They're open all day so it's also a great spot to hit before a Broadway show or play as it's very close to the Theatre District. Gustare!

Creamy Burrata with fresh chopped tomatoes. One of my favorite Italian combos.

The very important vino.

Homemade Lasagna Tradizional...It def makes my top 5 best Lasagnas EVER. Yum!

My Fettuccine al Funghi made with fresh pasta noodles and sauteed mushrooms. I could just die.

Get to Hells Kitchen stat.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My New Fave Tapas Joint-Sabor Latin Bistro

Welcome back to NJ!!! There is a huge Hispanic population in the North Bergen area of Jersey where Ryan grew up in. This means a ton of fantastic (& authentic) Latin foodie hot spots. We've passed by Sabor Latin Bistro-http://www.saborlatinbistro.com/ about a hundred times and always said we need to pop in. Last week we decided on an impromptu date night and headed over to River Road to give this place a try.

The decor is super fun and festive both inside and out. The vibe is very cool. Dark, fun music and large bar & lounge area. Looks like they also have an upstairs as well but we stayed on the street level. They have a yummy cocktail menu that included a Lychee Martini-my fave! Their tapas menu is insane. We wanted to order everything! They have an appetizer sampler which included Albondigas (Spanish meatballs) with a truffle mushroom cream sauce (SOLD!), Chicken Empanadas and Guacamole served with crispy Plantain Chips. The portion was huge and everything was delicious-especially the meatballs.  We were actually pretty full after the sampler but of course had to try a few more dishes. The Crab Croquettes, The Masitas de Puerco (crispy pork with garlic) and the Cheese Plate.

The Croquettes were divine. Like plump little crab cakes with lots of sweet meat.

The Pork was just insane-totally worth coming over the river for. It literally melts in your mouth.

The Cheese Plate was one of the best cheese plates I've had. It came with cheese AND meats, sweet fruits, a savory pepper relish with thick buttered bread. One of the highlights of the cheese plate was the fried goat cheese...so good. All of this for $16. It's almost a meal in it's self. Needless to say we had lots of leftovers and left full and very happy.

We came early and had no problem getting a table but I've seen them look pretty busy. They do take reservations and, as always, I recommend them. The portions are much larger than expected so it's a perfect place to go with friends and/or family to share a bunch of "small" plates. They do have entrees as well so we'll have to give those a try on our next visit...if we have the room:-)


My Lychee Martini

Our delicious Crab Croquettes. 

My enormous Cheese Plate-this dish is a must try.

Eat up!!!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Recipe Alert: Tis' the Season for Pecan Pie!

As you all know I'm not a huge sweets person. Even more so, I'm not a big pie person. If I'm going to eat sweets, I usually prefer cake, chocolate or chewy, homemade cookies-YUM! All of this being said I think my mother-in-law has recently turned me into a Pecan Pie lover. You would think being from the south I would have picked up on the Pecan Pie love, especially since it's one of my dad's absolute favorite desserts. Bottom line-my mother-in-law Linda makes the best. After devouring like an entire pie over the past couple days, I asked her for her recipe. To my surprise it's super easy and a guaranteed holiday crowd pleaser...Bake away!


Homemade Pie Crust 
If you're too busy or just lazy (like myself;-)) you can sub a store bought crust.

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1/4 c shortening & 1/4 c butter
4-5 T cold water

Mix flour & salt with butter and shortening. Mix will not be smooth but "pebbled". Mix with water and knead. Roll out and press into pie pan. 

Pre-bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees and cool.

The Yummy Filling

3 large eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla 
3/4 c sugar
1/3 c melted butter
2 T real/pure maple syrup of choice-good quality
1 c light corn syrup
1 1/2 c chopped pecans (can toast if preferred)
Dash of cinnamon

Mix all of the above together well and fill pre-baked or store bought pie crust. 
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and enjoy! Serve hot or cold-amazing either way.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Healthy "Junk" Food? Yes Please!

Organic, grass-fed, all natural burgers, fries and sodas...say whaaaaa?!? Bareburger-http://www.bareburger.com/ has begun it's take over in the tri-state area. Lucky for you, they're also expanding to areas such as DC and Columbus, OH. Woo hoo!

I just recently tried Bareburger for the first time and was impressed. They have a great menu (lots of burgers of course), homemade sodas (which I LOVE) and quick, friendly service. They source locally when they can and have an impressive variety of "exotic" meats such as bison and ostrich. Not that I am a vegetarian or vegan but they do have delicious options for all and if you are looking to eat on the lighter side, their salads are fantastic. A few of my recs would be their Fried Pickle Chips, Onion Rings, Pickled Beet & Goat Cheese Salad, ALL Burgers (they have a million ways to order them and every way I've tried is a winner), Sodas and Shakes (Get the peanut butter!).

Bareburger is a super causal spot so walking in for a table is never an issue though you may have to wait during busy meal periods. Some locations even serve booze (Cheers!). Remember-Although they do use fresh and healthy ingredients, we're still talking about cheeseburgers and fries. Eat Up in moderation...

Panko Breaded Butter Pickle Chips

My Pickled Beet and Goat Cheese Salad. Yes, that's a hunk of fried goat cheese...YUM!

Ryan's Roadhouse Burger with Bison on a Brioche Bun

The yummy sauces that come with their onion rings and fries...
Curry Ketchup, "Special" Sauce, Paprika Mayo and Smokehouse Sauce. All delish.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pickle Martinis...Genius!

St. Marks Place is a fab strip of shops & restaurants located in Manhattans east village neighborhood. I can not come within a 5 block radius of this area without a stop at Bua Bar-http://buabar.com/. This little gem has a delicious bar menu of snacks (including a tasty grilled cheese), but more importantly fantastic cocktails. My favorite is their Pickle Martini! Think a standard dirty martini but made with pickle juice and garnished with crispy pickle chips. So savory my mouth is literally watering. Clearly I'm a pickle lover so for those not into a pickle-y flavor profile, Bua does have an entire menu of non-pickle dranks ;-). 

They also have a nice outdoor space and can get quite crowded so be prepared. 

I included a recipe below that I like to use when making pickle Martinis at home...if I can't make it to Bua Bar that is.

Drink up!

Eat Up, Drink Up Pickle Martini

Yields 2 cocktails

2 cups of ice
4.5 ounces of preferred vodka
2 ounces of dill pickle juice (I like Claussen!)
6 slices of dill pickles for garnish

Put ice, vodka and pickle juice into a shaker. Shake, pour into martini glasses, garnish and serve!

The Bua Pickle Martini

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Attn: Seafood Lovers! Bring On The Oysters & Mussels!

I was introduced to Flex Mussels-http://www.flexmussels.com/ a few years back and it quickly became one of Ryan and I's favorite date spots. They have two great locations-upper east & west village, both with an amazing menu. If you're a seafood lover then Flex Mussels is the place for you! Before you hit up this mussel junkies paradise...know the following...

They've been around a while but still can be hard to get a table during busy meal periods. Make a res.

They have a great happy hour! Ryan and I like to go to their bar for happy hour priced drinks, oysters & insane fish tacos before sitting down for dinner.

They have 23 different types of mussel options. They fill up steaming pots of mussels with different broths-cream-based, tomato-based and more! Then add the extras-cheeses, bacon, veggies, even some with shrimp and lobster. I have yet to have a mussel pot I didn't LOVE! They also have thick, crusty bread for dipping...just divine.

They're known for mussels (obvi :-) but they also have delicious oysters. I didn't even care for raw oysters before trying them here and they're the best I've had. They even come with a homemade cocktail sauce & tangy vinegar. Yum!

If you go to the downtown location, you must get their truffle fries. Yep-truffle fries. And at either location dessert is a must! They have signature donuts filled with a variety of tasting fillings. Everything from sweet strawberry to salted caramel all served with a white bean vanilla dipping sauce. OMG...

The best oysters ever.

Crispy Fish Tacos. This is a new menu item for them and a definite keeper.

TRUFFLE FRIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My favorite pot-The Fungi with mushrooms, garlic, bacon and cream. I'm also a big fan of the Maine and the Parma.

The most incredible donuts. Please save room for these as they'll change your life.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Krazy for Korean!

Being that I'm half Korean it makes sense I would love Korean food. I grew up with sticky rice and fresh kimchi as household staples. My sister and I would constantly fill up on rice cakes, seafood pancakes and the always popular bulgogi (marinated & grilled rib-eye, usually served with rice, hot bean paste and lettuce for wrapping-the english translation is literally "fire meat"). Korean cuisine has recently gained notoriety in the foodie world, especially in urban areas like NYC. Here in Manhattan we have an entire block dedicated to all things Korean (aka. K-town). There are many great Korean restaurants here and you can find this delicious cuisine in every form from food trucks to fine-dining establishments. My most recent fave is a no frills mid-town spot called Madangsui-http://www.madangsui.com/Madangsui/Home.asp. It's nothing fancy but the food is spectacular! The New York Times even awarded Madangsui a star which is a huge deal. Any star from the Times is considered an honor especially for a small, casual dining Korean spot. They serve booze which is a plus and are often very busy but you can still walk in and be sat fairly quickly if not immediately. Menu stand outs include-ANY of their Bibimbap dishes (rice bowls with a variety of veggies & meats), all of their BBQ meats and Jap-Chae (sweet potato noodles with veggies, beef and soy sauce). I also love their Ddeok-Gook (a super flavorful rice cake soup). If you're feeling a lost, visit this link for a little Korean food 101-http://koreanfood.about.com/od/koreanfoodbasics/a/Korean101.htm...

즐겨 (Enjoy!)

Korean "Banchan"-small side dishes served as compliments to your meal (ie. free food-Yay)! 
"Banchan" is usually a mix of veggies, kimchi, beans and spicy seafood.

My Ddeok-Gook soup! 

My friend's spicy seafood Bibimbap served in a hot stone bowl. This dish was full of flavor with just the right amount of spice (FYI-I love spicy food). The rice was perfection, it literally came out sizzling. Mmmmmm. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sneaking Veggies Into Every Meal...

In case you didn't already know…I LOVE to eat. But I also like to be healthy and do what's right for my body. Like I always say, life is about balance. One way I achieve this balance is by trying to add fruit and veggies to every meal (hence my fruit and spinach morning smoothies). I also do this throughout the day with my lunch, dinner, snacks and even my most unhealthy food choices. Below are my 8 tips and tricks I use to get the fruits and veggies I need in my diet every day.

1.) A "salad" for breakfast. This could be either a green juice or fruit and spinach and/or kale smoothie. This is my number one tip for a reason. It really starts your day off right.

2.) Always have your snacks be fruit or raw veggies. Carrots and celery are perfect for this. If you're feelin' frisky or it will help you actually eat them, use your fave dressing. Ranch anyone?

3.) For lunch I try and eat a salad of some sort. I'm human so this naturally doesn't always happen. Load up your sandwiches or burgers with lettuce, tomato and onions. Go nuts with pickles, peppers and olives if you really want to get your veggies in. Vegetable soups (without a cream base) are also a great way to go.

4.) Add veggies in your burger-like in the actual meat. Ryan and I do this all the time. We add peppers and/or onions to the raw burger meat and then cook. It cooks the veggies through and adds extra flavor.  So good. You can also do this with cheese and bacon but since this is one of my "healthier" posts, let's get back to the produce...

5.) PIZZA! I freakin' love pizza. I'm like a 5 year old as it's one of my favorite foods. I adore fatty toppings ie. pepperoni and bacon but I also try and add all of my favorite vegetables. My faves are mushrooms and onion but Ryan likes the peppers so we usually just add them all. Also be sure to blot. You'd be shocked how many calories you can save by blotting off all of that extra grease.

6.) A side salad at dinner...regardless of what your having. I really try and do this. Start your meal off with a small side salad so you get your veggies in and you fill up a little on the good stuff. Hence less room for the other (even better ;-) stuff.

7.) Pastas are great with just about any vegetable. Whenever I make pasta I always add a ton of veggies. Whether it's sautéed zucchini, portobello mushrooms or fresh tomatoes, pasta is a perfect culinary canvas to work with so you can get creative.

8.) Fruit for dessert. I love fruit and it's perfect alone but if you're going to splurge with chocolate or ice cream, consider throwing in a handful of berries or sliced apples for some extra nutrients.

Eat up…but be healthy!

My favorite homemade veggie lasagna with a mixed green salad! 
I make this lasagna with fresh, whole wheat noodles, spinach mushrooms, onions and mozzarella.  

Roasted red pepper turkey burgers! Yep, those are diced red peppers right there in the burger. 

One of my favorite lunches. Panko-crusted goat cheese salad with arugula and beets. 
I heart goat cheese. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mario Batali's Babbo Ristorante & Enoteca. Nuff' Said.

Ahhhh Babbo Ristorante & Enoteca-http://www.babbonyc.com. This culinary gem from Top Chef Mario Batali is one of my top 5 favorite restaurants in NYC (& possibly anywhere). The location is amazing, the space lovely and they play awesome rock music in the bar and dining room which is a cool surprise. Their bar is usually insanely packed so I recommend a reservation. I also suggest you make this reservation WAY in advance. Def not an easy table to snag. One of my favorite things about Babbo is you can get amazingly fresh, creative pasta dishes (think Beef Cheek Ravioli & Calf's Brain "Francobolli") AND one of the best steaks you've ever had melt in your mouth. I wouldn't usually order steak at an Italian joint but Chef Batali obviously knows his steaks. The Ribeye for Two is always cooked to perfection and topped with aged balsamic vinegar (like O.M.G).

To top the experience off, they have great service (don't get scared off by the head host. He's quite nice if you don't piss him off. They're a very busy establishment so patience is a virtue), a fab wine selection and yummy little breadsticks (Ask for these! They usually only bring them out at the bar but will give them to you at your table if you ask;-). For those with a sweet tooth, their desserts are pretty phenomenal as well. I recommend the Roasted White Chocolate Cheesecake with Coconut. So freakin' delish. Don't forget the dessert wines! Salute!

Lots o' VINO!

My Goat Cheese Tortelloni with dried orange and wild fennel pollen. 
So fresh and cooked to a perfect al dente.

Ryan and I shared a savory, medium-rare Ribeye for Two.
Those are little roasted potatoes with rosemary underneath...Yummy!

My creamy and delicious Roasted White Chocolate Cheesecake. 
It even had a touch of salt for that tasty salty/sweet combo...just insane.

Order a coffee or espresso and you get this lovely assortment of sugars! 
The rock sugar pops are my fave. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Top 5 Chain Restos You Know You Hate To Love...But You Do.

Living in NYC I deal with a lot of food snobbery. Yes, the city does have the best of the best but there are reasons why America's chain restaurants have 8 million locations and do billions of dollars a year. Other than low prices and impressive consistency on both food and service, there are some serious menu item stand outs. The "high brow" foodies of the world may hate to admit it but I don't know anyone that doesn't dig Red Lobsters Cheddar Bay Biscuits (hello foodgasam!) or a juicy burger from Ruby Tuesdays (and a salad bar!). Below is my list of the top 5 chain restos you hate to love and the never fail items on their menus...Enjoy!

5.) Johnny Carinos - http://www.carinos.com
Italian Nachos

Photo Credit-Carinos.com

Johnny Carino's is a fairly large Italian restaurant chain with locations all over the US. They provide a comparable menu to Olive Garden with decent dry pasta dishes, tasty fried apps and pretty good desserts. Their Italian Nachos, however, are one of my all time favorite appetizers... anywhere! They are the JAM. They use crispy fried pasta chips (like wontons), top them with olives, tomatoes, parmesan, peppers, mozzarella and a creamy Alfredo sauce. If that wasn't enough you then get to add chicken or sausage - I add both! At around $5 for a half order and $9 for a whole, I'd say we have a serious winner on all fronts. This dish is a must try. YUMMY!

4.)  Chili's - http://www.chilis.com 
Southwestern Eggrolls

Photo Credit-Chilis.com

I've always liked the food at Chili's. I think they actually have several menu items that are pretty good including their burgers, chicken crispers and their molten chocolate cake dessert. Their Southwestern Eggrolls are their most impressive and honestly a very creative idea. I know many other chains make an attempt to copy the recipe but no one ever comes close. These little pockets of goodness are filled with smoked chicken, black beans, corn, jalapeño jack cheese and spinach. They're also served with a side of avocado ranch...yes a mix of avocado and ranch dressing. Seriously? 
Freakin' genius...

3.) Olive Garden - http://www.olivegarden.com
House Salad (bonus: bread sticks)

Photo Credit-Olivegarden.com

I'm sure most of you have been to an Olive Garden. I like the salad for the following reasons- 
It's FREE! Well...not free, but it comes with your meal and that's awesome. It's always fresh. I've never had soggy lettuce or a bad tomato in an Olive Garden salad. The dressing! It's so good they bottle it up and sell it. The breadsticks are pretty tasty too, especially when they come our fresh so be sure and ask for fresh ones. Now go and eat your veggies!

2.) The Aforementioned Red Lobster - http://www.redlobster.com
Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Photo Credit-Redlobster.com

These are so good. I mean, just so good. Garlicky, cheesy, buttery goodness. These little guys also come with your meal and keep on coming. You can have as many as you like. 
WARNING-they're super addictive. There are a lot of recipes out there that claim to be the same but honestly I have yet to find it. I have, however, gotten pretty close. I'll be sharing that recipe very soon so keep up the reading;-) Now I really want a biscuit... 

1.) Outback Steakhouse - http://www.outback.com 
Bloomin' Onion

Photo Credit-Outback.com

Everyone loves this signature appetizer. Outback cranks out about a million of these a night and they are always perfect. The consistency astounds me. The breading is perfectly seasoned and the onion nice and hearty. And that sauce! I could put that sauce on and/or in everything. So good. P.S. This is also one of the worst appetizers for you as far as fat and calories so be sure to share the wealth 
(aka. fat). It's totally worth it. 

***Honorable mention-Pizza Hut- http://www.pizzahut.com
Deep Dish Crust

Photo Credit-Pizzahut.com

Who doesn't love this crispy, buttery crust? I know, I know-I live in NYC and can get the "best" pizza in the world, blah, blah, blah. I don't care what anyone says, Pizza Hut's pan crust is still amazeballs.  

Don't be a hater-if the food is good, it's good. Regardless of where it comes from. Eat Up!