Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Five Guys II and "trade ya"

You have been warned!

Anyone who read my post on Five Guys knows I am a sucker for their chow. But, please. How many franchises do we really need? Why ruin a special thing by making it mainstream? Look how successful Sonic is. I have heard of people making pilgrimages to Sonic. Every drive-in slot is full.

It got me thinking about school lunches. Remember trades? Mom would spend hours shopping, preparing and packing lunches, and then kids would just trade their goodies away. So, using that strategy, can I trade one of the Five Guys franchises for a pet store on Southside Bethlehem? How about a bread and cheese shop on Main Street Bethlehem instead of one of the 14 gift shops? Can I trade one of the 13 hair salons in West Side Bethlehem for a coffee shop? I'll trade you one of the 3 cigarette shops on Northampton Street in Easton for a music store!

(Anyone who thinks I'm exaggerating, Google it. Those are exact numbers. Yes, we really do have 13 hair salons on Broad Street between First and Fifteenth Ave.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Best of the Valley

I just cast my votes for Lehigh Valley Magazine's Best of the Valley. When I worked at Morgan Hill, it was a huge deal when we were selected by the magazine to be the best public course in the region. So for old time's sake, despite the fact that Colleen and I only played there once last year, I voted for them again. I still think the course is impeccably maintained, and if you think the views from Riverview are impressive... try a birds-eye view of downtown Phillipsburg and the surrounding farms from the 9th green. Gorgeous. Plus, at Vintage, the food is incredible (from ingredients to preparation, Mike and his team are the best) and service atmosphere (friendly, sincere, capable, knowledgeable and not at all stuffy) are as good, if not better, than any restaurant's in the Valley.

It was easy to pick my favorite BBQ (Conway's), dentist (Dr. James Falco), vet (Dr. Kristen Reis from Wright Veterinary Hospital ) and breakfast (Billy's), but I was torn on the categories of Italian restaurant (Mama Nina's or Taste of Italy?) and sushi (Sogo, Teppan, Kome?).

So after you vote, come back and report - what was the hardest category for you to choose a winner? Were there any you left blank because you couldn't decide (or because you have no idea -- best podiatrist)? Or did you fill in the blanks on a business you've never visited (did you feel compelled to pick a favorite dog groomer and you don't even have a dog)? Do you feel like there are "gimme" categories like Festival, Bridal Boutique and Independent Movie Theater?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Christmas Tree Shops

When Retail Watch announced the arrival of a store called Christmas Tree Shops, I ignorantly assumed this was one of those seasonal stores that evolves from a retailer of Halloween costumes to holiday decorations to flea market. Turns out, I was sort of right. Courtney explained that it was "like a cheaper Bed Bath and Beyond," which makes sense, because I did a little research, and BBAB owns them. I still can't figure out why it's not called Christmas Tree Shop (singular). If anyone knows, please explain. Has anyone been to the new store on Airport Road?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rios Brazilian Steak House

Guest blogger alert!! Thank you for letting me add one of my own fun local adventures to the blog!

After I spent a great day with the girls traveling the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail for March Madness, my parents came to visit me and Brad at our new apartment in Nazareth on Saturday night. To give them a little local flavor, we walked to the newest hot spot: Rios Brazilian Steak House. This little gem (it is small - be sure to call ahead for reservations!) is located in the old Broad Street Tavern on, you guessed it, Broad Street in Nazareth (127 South Broad Street). The restaurant has been open for about a year now and is run by two Brazilian couples and their families. Rios offers a very unique and authentically Brazilian barbecue experience, also known as the churrasco.

Rather than an al a carte menu, dining is all-you-can-eat, so come hungry! A buffet provides salads and sides like rice and beans, pickled vegetables and more, and meat runners constantly circle the restaurant with skewers, bringing diners choice cuts including beef ribs, pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon, chicken legs and much (MUCH) more. Every night chefs prepare at least five to ten different cuts of meat on the huge grill located at the front of the restaurant.

It was great watching Brad's eyes light up every time a new skewer passed our table. I'd also recommend the Brazilian style sangria, which definitely helps quench your thirst after all the meat! For four dinners, plus sangria and a round of coffee, the bill totaled about $120, but we were not hungry for days!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taste of Italy

We'd read that one place had won "Best Italian" in the Lehigh Valley for three years running in LVStyle. We'd short-listed it for a carb-feast prior to last year's St. Patty's Day crawl in Allentown, but opted for Buca di Beppo instead, since it was closer to the direction we were headed.

This weekend, we resurrected the idea of checking out Taste of Italy (1860 Catasauqua Road, Allentown - in the Jack Creek Steakhouse shopping center) from the archives, and paid a visit. The place looks like nothing from the outside. Squeezed in a strip between Dollar General and D&D Furniture Warehouse (sorry I didn't take an exterior shot this time), you might miss the storefront even if you're looking for it. But inside the dining room is spacious, the service is attentive and friendly, and the food, as you might imagine, is buono. We joked that a place that's voted Best Italian three years in a row kind of sets expectations high, and the Grisafi family didn't disappoint. Three of us had stromboli, and Court ordered a "small" pizza. We knife-and-forked our way through, and there was no question we'd be taking the leftovers with us. Total for four, with a couple of drinks and soups: $53.53 before tip. When I told Eric that we should get take out sometime, he asked if the 'boli was as good as the kind shaped like elf shoes we feasted on in Siena. I'd say it's the closest I've found on this side of the Atlantic.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March Madness

It's March Madness time, and not just for those of us who are proudly sending a team to the Dance (two years in a row - that's right!). The Lehigh Valley Wine Trail is open for the season!

Wine enthusiasts can enjoy the mild weather and festivities at the region's nine participating wineries in March, that is, if they remembered to buy a passport in November. The tickets are plumb sold out. Luckily Courtney's got the hook-up, so we were able to score four at the last minute.

Wouldn't you give free wine to these friendly faces?
Above, Sarah, Courtney and Rachel belly-up to the bar at Vynecrest Winery. We loved their Riesling, dry Riesling and cherry divyne! Below, the group learns about caper buds at Clover Hill Winery. Rachel isn't buying our host's bad jokes.

Here's a peek inside the tasting room at Amore Vineyards & Winery (7054 Beth-Bath Pike, a.k.a. Route 512 just north of Hanoverville Rd., Bath).
My attempt at a filter effect... here's Dr. Amore, winemaker, aviator, and motivational speaker, through one of his wine bottles.
Here's a little souvenir I brought home. What's your favorite local wine?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

St. Patrick's Day in the Valley II

I have an update, thanks to one of my favorite local bloggers, Caitlin Stibitz, from Allentown Good News: Crave is hosting a St. Patty's Day celebration. I have still not been there! If you have been there already, can you share what it is like?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bethlehem Public Library II

Now that I'm a proud owner of a Bethlehem Public Library Card, I feel a little smarter, and greener.

Reason #1: the card is scannable (I am ashamed to admit, the last card I had, unless you count the one from the Library of Congress, was at the Nazareth Memorial Library, and it was paper), AND you can renew books online. Those of you who have had a library card for a while now will think me ignorant, but this is revolutionary for me.

Reason #2: My library has a blog. Nice.

And Reason #3, my library is hosting a fantastic, original fundraiser: mini golf in the library. I need to work on my putting anyway. I couldn't find a link, but it's Sunday, April 5, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at the library at 11 W. Church Street in Historic Bethlehem. Adults $7, Children $5, guaranteed to be less expensive and more "crazy fun" - their words - than a day on the links. To register, call 610-867-3761 x259.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bethlehem Public Library

Mom and Dad aren't going to believe this, but I don't have a library card. Since we moved to Bethlehem, I have munched on a gyro on the steps during Musikfest, driven by on the way to South Bethlehem, and donated a few boxes of books and CDs, but I have never taken the time to join the library and borrow a book. This is shocking, considering I'm the same person who would frequently "sneak" Beverly Cleary under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime.

#1 good reason: time. I didn't have much (until recently). #2 good reason: Mom and my favorite SIL Aimee give me enough good fiction/novels to fill my nightstand and for plane trips. I buy my own nonfiction primarily, so I'm usually working on a few books at the same time and always have a backlog.

I have been curious to see what's going on at the library, and an article in The Morning Call and a subsequent blog from Bryan at A Voice in the Valley reminded me again. So in order hold myself accountable, I post now and promise to report. Is anyone else a reformed library dropout?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Rita's Italian Ice

I thought I might be seeing things as I drove down Union Boulevard, but oh yes, my Rita's is open for business (at least in some places in Hellertown and Allentown). Channel 69 confirmed it.

Rita's was one of the retail establishments that the Lehigh Valley had that DC didn't (or at least not accessible by public transportation or anywhere close to the city). Sign of the Carpenter (RIP) was the other. When I lived in DC, a visit to the Valley always included a visit to these places. Now that we live here, of course we miss what DC had that we don't have here (Chipotle, DSW, Trader Joe's, Best Cellars, and Caribou Coffee... not to mention about 100 indie stores and service providers). I understand that to be a local Rita's franchise operator is to have winters off, make people smile, and haul in serious bank. Anyone know a franchisee; is it all it's cracked up to be?
Check out Rita's web site for a countdown to the first day of spring!

Wise Bean Coffee

I had a good reason to visit one of the small businesses in Bethlehem yesterday: I'm unexpectedly looking for work after being laid off by O. A friend mentioned The Wise Bean (634 North New St., Bethlehem) as a good place to meet and catch up.

I'm not sure why I haven't been to Wise Bean before. But apparently I'm not alone, because Exposed's own Queen of Coffee Lynn Olanoff didn't stop in on her tour de LV caffeine recently, either.
"Around the corner is The Wise Bean (634 N. New St.), a hard-to-miss
coffeehouse with an interesting parking predicament. There's no on-street
parking in front but a sign out front of The Wise Bean suggests people can park
in the lane of traffic for five minutes to pick up coffee. I have my doubts and
haven't wanted to risk a ticket, much less be rear-ended. Visiting The Wise Bean
is on my list once I figure out where to park."

Now having been there, I completely agree with the writer of a letter to the editor. There's a parking lot in the back, and 5-minute parking in front of the door (which I witnessed a few people taking advantage of)!

It's small - just a few stools at a counter where you can plug in your laptop and a few comfy sofas - and my latte was divine. If you read my earlier post on Java Mill, you know how I feel about foam. I will definitely be back. What with free wi-fi access, maybe Wise Bean could become Lehigh Valley Transplant Headquarters.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

St. Patrick's Day in the Valley

It's almost St. Patrick's Day... you know what that means... amateur night #1 of the year (who can guess what #2 and #3 are?!).

I'm sure there will be a thorough list of Patty's Day activities in The Morning Call and Express-Times weekend editions, but I wanted to share a couple of unusual events that I might want to check out:

1. Allentown St. Patrick's Day Parade activities in the West End.
On March 21, the Parade sponsors a Pub Crawl. $15 gets you drink specials, bus transportation if you want it, and a T-shirt. Participating pubs: Jack Callaghan’s Ale House, Ringers Roost, Volpe’s Sports Bar, Ruffinos Pizza, Mixx Lounge @ The Rose Bowl, Liberty Street Tavern, Greg’s West End Saloon, Maingate, and Stooge’s. If you're not hurting too badly the next day, join The West End 5k run, which mostly follows the parade route, kicking off at 12:30 p.m. Registration is $25. The parade starts at the Allentown Fairgrounds at 1:30 p.m.

2. Donegal Square's "Best Men's Legs in a Kilt" Contest on March 14 at 2 p.m. The postcard says "Contest open to men only. Must be wearing a kilt (at least)." 534 Main Street in Historic Bethlehem.

Festive! How will you celebrate?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Hockey in Allentown?

I posted a few days back about Easton's restaurant scene rivaling anything that's going on in Bethlehem. Well now Allentown wants to get in the game!

According to Bill White and The Morning Call, Mayor Ed Pawlowski wants hockey. The Philadelphia Phantoms minor league ice hockey team wants to build an arena in the Lehigh Valley, if area leaders can find a good site and enough public money by Aug. 1.

''They got the casino,'' says Ed Pawlowski in White's Feb. 28 column. ''We're going to get the arena.''

It's on!!!

Good news in Easton

I heard from a little red-haired birdie (insiders, you know who I mean) that some good news was going down today in Easton, so I headed east on 22 to find out what was up.

Turns out, Victory Square Brewery was ready to formally announce that they will be opening a new restaurant (they've already got one in Downingtown) with the geniuses at The Farmhouse, in the vacant-for-a-nanosecond Weller Educational Center. Here's the WFMZ coverage. The FMZ reporter pressed Mayor Panto for updates on the old Perkins site and the eyesore Hubcap Store, good stuff. What WFMZ got wrong is: there won't be 50 new jobs. It was announced that there will be the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs. Great for Lafayette College, and Easton and Pburg high school students. They also failed to point out that this project was supposed to be across the street inside the former Pomeroy's building. Good for us -- there will probably be something cool in there too (eventually)!

I bumped into Mike Pichetto (probably best-known for being chef at Vintage but he wears at least 10 other hats) at the press conference and he's playing a big role in what's happening in Easton too. The new seafood restaurant that he, his wife Rebecca, and their talented team are bringing to the former Lipkins building will open later this year or early 2010. Having seen the operation at Vintage/Morgan Hill somewhat behind-the-scenes, I can guarantee that it will be first-class. I cannot wait to check it out.

Fellow LV blogger Tracey Werner loves Easton, too. I completely agree with her assessment that Easton's restaurant scene is giving Bethlehem's a run for its money. I say - go, Easton, go! Raise the bar. I love to see a little friendly competition. I think there's room in the Valley for two amazing dining destinations.