Archive for the category “Locally Sourced”

Superior Service & Delicious Dining at Urban Farmer, Cleveland, OH

Over Labor Day weekend, I visited my family in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. As is our routine, my brother chose a few restaurants for me to pick from. Our family always enjoys a meal out when I visit. Lately, we’ve been trying to head into the city to try some new places (new to our family, anyhow).

This time, one of the restaurants on Adam’s list was Urban Farmer Steakhouse in downtown Cleveland. It only took me seeing that this is a farm-to-table concept restaurant to decide it was the one I was voting to check out. (You probably know of my love for farm-to-table, and specifically Braise here in Milwaukee.)

Urban Farmer

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We entered the rustic, yet elegant restaurant, adjacent to the Westin Hotel, and sat down in a cozy rounded booth. We were greeted by our server, Ashley. Now, I’m just going to say this right now: Ashley is quite possibly the most knowledgeable and impressive servers I have ever encountered. Absolutely top-notch. More on that later.

Ashley walked us through the concept described above – two kitchens (one for cooking, and one with a butchery and bakery), a below-level garden which supplies most of the herbs and vegetables for the restaurant, the relationships with local farms, etc. Then, she walked us through the different cuts of meat, the differences in how the cattle were raised and the impact of their diets on the flavors of the steaks, and the differences in how they are aged to affect tenderness and flavor. Ashley didn’t require any cheat sheets, and she made everyone feel comfortable (and impressed!). On top of her knowledge, she wasn’t the least bit stuffy or dry; she let her sense of humor come through as she inserted jokes and color commentary during her descriptions (“don’t mess with my meat” – she doesn’t believe in sauces or toppings).

When I gave her my card and advised her that she would be choosing my meal, she asked “seriously?”. Yes. “Okay, I know what I’m serving you!” – without hesitation. These are the types of meals I get really excited about because I know the server is going to choose really well.

We opted to get a few side dishes, which Ashley recommended sharing between two or three people. Ashley chose mine as well.

As it turns, out my entire dinner was shared. By far the best entree at our table; the vote was unanimous. That being said, everyone was very pleased with his/her meals.

So, what did Ashley choose, you ask? Wait no longer…

We started off with fresh baked bread (rolls and ah-mazing cast-iron cooked cornbread) and salted butter (which makes all the difference, in my opinion!). Ashley chose the special salad for me: yellow watermelon over Burrata and topped with olives, tomatoes, balsamic and served with two slices of prosciutto. It was light and flavorful – a nice change up to one of my other favorite watermelon salads (watermelon with goat cheese, balsamic and greens and herbs). We were off to a great start!

Next came the entree and side dish.

Wanting to share her favorite with me, Ashley chose the 14 ounce (FOURTEEN OUNCE!!) twenty-one day dry aged bone-in strip steak. It was perfection! Luckily, everyone at the table wanted to try this cut, so I didn’t feel completely overwhelmed or as though I’d have to try to finish it on my own. The plate was clean by the end of the meal though! The steak was really tender and had terrific flavor. It’s a spoiler for any other cut moving forward.

Ashley chose to bring foraged mushrooms as the side. A very nice compliment to the steak, and enough to feed at least four people! At the table we also ordered: potato puree (though my brother wouldn’t share!), asparagus (with cured farm egg yolk and chili), and twice-baked fingerling potato tart with bacon and aged cheddar. Everything was delicious!

Pro tip: you won’t go home hungry from Urban Farmer Steakhouse. Bring an appetite! 

Ashley asked if she should choose a dessert for me. Where to put it?!? Ultimately, since there was a gluten-free option for my brother and my uncle, my parents and I decided to share whatever Ashley decided to bring so we would all enjoy a bit of decadence.

My brother and uncle tried the lemon olive oil cake with kale ice cream (it’s much better than it sounds!), and pepper crisps.

If I were choosing my own, I’d have either gone for the lemon cake or the strawberry rhubarb cobbler with pistachio, buttermilk frozen yogurt and basil, because I generally like citrus or fruit desserts more than chocolate (but, not always!).

However, I was in the most capable hands, and I knew it! Ashley chose the butterscotch sundae with a warm brown butter blondie and toffee chip ice cream. AKA: heaven in a jar!

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Butterscotch sundae with warm brown butter blondie and toffee ice cream

My parents and I kept passing this jar around, taking one delicious bite at a time. The brownie and ice cream were melting into each other, combining incredible flavors together.

While we all walked out of Urban Farmer Steakhouse absolutely full, we walked out feeling like we had just had one of the best meals in a long time. And, we all agreed that Ashley set the bar for outstanding service! In fact, my uncle made it a point to seek her out so he could inform her that she was so impressive that she truly did elevate our experience that evening.

I definitely recommend a visit to Urban Farmer Steakhouse if you’re in Cleveland. I’d love to go back and take a tour of the kitchens and garden  (if the management allows it). Of course, I’d have to stay for dinner again! 🙂

What is your most memorable dining experience? Where were you? I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers!

Ker

Girls’ Night Out at La Masa – Empanadas and empathy!

After weeks of planning, and waiting, my girlfriend and I finally found time to catch up over dinner. Shannon, you can tell your mom I called you my girlfriend – even though it doesn’t mean what she might think it means!

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Shannon writes a blog about the “fun” of dating in Milwaukee, and I LOVE reading it! Though I can’t relate to everything (mostly because I don’t date enough), some of her stories strike a big chord with me. Most just make me laugh and / or shake my head as I picture the scenarios Shannon describes.

Naturally, our conversation turned to the latest goings on in our personal lives, which made for a funny (and at times frustrating) couple of hours of conversation.

The biggest take-away, men: we just want to be a priority some of the time! It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but it feels like it must be. 😦

Anyhow, on to the dinner portion of this post.

La Masa is an empanadas bar on Brady Street. It’s casual, cute, and full of friendly service! Plus, we each had City Tin coasters, making it a perfect chance to try out a new place.

The menu is full of options. How does one choose?

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We started off with an appetizer of aji queso dip with apple slices, sliced red pepper,  jicama stick, and toasted bread. We could have eaten that all night long, but thankfully, we were wise enough to ask that it be removed from the table before we finished the pot! So delicious!

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Shannon then asked me if I was going to use one of my blog cards or if I would actually order. Um…I pulled out a card, and Alicia was more than happy to choose my meal for me. I did give her a bit of guidance: I’d go with the La Masa Trio and I’d like smokey blue cheese sauce on the side, please.

I was delivered three very cutely branded empanadas along with jicama slaw. Alicia chose the black bean and chorizo (BB), the Wisco corn (W) and the mushroom truffle parmesan (M) empanadas. They were all very tasty, and the mushroom was a very close second, but the black bean and chorizo was my favorite of the trio.

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The jicama slaw was a refreshing side (though the serving was way too big for me!), and the sauces provided nice additional flavor.

I’m glad I purchased City Tin coasters because I’m not sure I would have stopped into La Masa without the prompt. It just wasn’t on my radar. However, I’d certainly go back. Shannon and I agreed that we wouldn’t wait ten months for another girls’ night out. Perhaps we’ll even have more positive and inspiring stories to exchange next time! Fingers crossed!

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Cheers!

Ker

 

Braise! A fabulous in-home dining experience to support Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA)

Though this post strays a bit from my normal theme, I wanted to share this special experience with everyone that reads this blog!

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am generally tied into community events and that I was raised to be charitable with my time and money.

Several months ago, in an effort to help support and promote restaurant supported agriculture (RSA), I purchased an in-home dining experience for eight people. This dinner would be prepared by the owner and chef of Braise, Dave Swanson, and would include four courses plus wine pairings.

I was beyond excited to invite some friends over to enjoy some great food – that I wasn’t going to have to cook!

Fast forward a few weeks and know that Becky (general events manager at Braise) was absolutely wonderful to work with during the planning process. And, when the date finally came to have everyone over, Dave and a bonus chef, Jarid were extraordinary!

I was able to scramble and get my table ready for company – except that this girl who LOVES fresh flowers and purchases them almost weekly, forgot to buy flowers for the table! EEK!

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Enter Dave and Jarid:

  1. They were prompt, polite, and fully prepared with coolers, tubs, and lots of gear!
  2. They were as gracious as can be and seemed to feel right at home in my (small) kitchen.
  3. They left me feeling totally confident that the evening would be spectacular – even if I don’t have restaurant quality dishes and glassware. (But, I really like my dishes!)
  4. Even I didn’t know what my guests and I would be dining on, but Chef informed me that he decided to throw in an extra dish and we would enjoy five courses plus wine pairings. Chef Jarid was kind enough to offer to email the menu in full detail since I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it justice (keep reading; you’ll see why!).
  5. They served us, explaining each dish in detail. Sometimes, it took a bit of patience as our dinner party was very conversational – yet, never a sign of frustration from Dave or Jarid.
  6. The kicker: THEY CLEANED EVERYTHING UP!!!! I told my friends that I wanted to keep them for my own – men who cook AND clean!?! (Guys, I’m kidding…I know y’all do exist)

Now, about that food.

We started off being passed crustini appetizers (which I failed to photograph as I was greeting the final two guests to arrive).

One of the things I love about my friends is that they prefer NOT to sit next to their spouses so they can get to know others in the group, so that’s what naturally happened.

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Once seated we were served homemade wheat bread, Parmigiano sticks, and Parmigiano-cayenne sticks, with Wisconsin butter.

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Then came the Roasted Sweet Corn & Summer Squash soup with olive oil cured pepper garnish and sambal oil. (Yeah, I had to Google a few things) This lovely soup was served with Prosecco to start the evening off.

We were then served a “beets” dish. I have recently found myself loving beets – and it feels like the rest of the world was either ahead of me on this trend, or is on board the way I feel now. Our dish was a mix of yellow and red oven roasted beets served with white wine poached fennel, toasted walnuts, lemon chèvre, herb fennel vierge, and currant salt. Say that five times fast!

The beets were paired with a Cuvee white wine. It was an amazing salad dish!

Next, came the grilled Chanterelle mushrooms, Parmigiano custard (AKA: “I would put this on everything” – Christy), picked ramps, ramp jam, and ramp salt.These delights were paired with a Chardonnay.

I have to say that with each subsequent dish, my dinner guests kept updating their favorites parts of the meal!

Our fourth course was the “main dish”, I suppose. However, in my mind, each of these could stand alone as a dish I would fully enjoy!

We were served roasted airline chicken breast, seared summer squash, candied pepitas, herb creme fraiche, and preserved lemon chutney served with an Italian red wine.

I must call Christy out again, because it was so fun to see her excitement at “finally having creme fraiche; they always talk about it on Top Chef!”. I believe she then claimed to feel “very fancy”. 🙂

Up until this point, we all were fully satisfied and had enjoyed each course immensely.

When we were served dessert, we were surprised with a crazy, refreshing, and delicious dessert of Muskmelon mousse with compressed melon and served in a cucumber fennel broth with milk crumble (and, although I’ve never done drugs, I have to think this is the culinary equivalent of crack!). When paired with a sweet dessert wine, it was essentially perfection in a bowl!

I’d better NEVER learn how to make milk crumble, or I’m in serious trouble!

Because I had asked for permission, and Chef Jarid did joke about needing a photo waiver, but didn’t actually present one, I’m including a few pictures of these fabulous chefs in action.

An endeavor like this is not an inexpensive one, but if you’re anything like me, it’s totally worth every penny (plus tip). Two of my guests texted me that this was a once in a lifetime experience that they thoroughly enjoyed. I have to agree!

If I had an endless amount of discretionary income, I would do this once a month (or more frequently!).

I’m happy to report that five of the guests who had not been to Braise previously do plan to have dinner there soon! Also, by word of mouth (because I can be a big mouth), another several people in my network plan to swing by for a meal.

Finally, during our dinner, our group of eight talked about taking cooking classes at Braise’s Culinary School as another fun outing. I have since learned that both Chefs Dave and Jarid are focused on this aspect of the business more so than the restaurant (which allowed other talented chefs to run the restaurant while they were graciously hosting my friends and me to a fantastic dinner!). Definitely something to explore further!

Have you ever had an in-home experience with professional chefs preparing meals? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Cheers!

Ker

Lunch & Brunch, Milwaukee Style…

I have been SO BAD about finding time to write, so I’m grateful for a day off, college football on the tube (thankfully, my Clemson Tigers pulled off a huge win yesterday so the rest of the bowl games are just gravy), and a comfy spot to sit with my laptop.

I have some photos from a meal in Vegas, but I think my disdain for that city has prevented me from posting about the excellent Beef Wellington I had at Mon Ami Gabi. I have more upcoming travel (San Antonio, I’m looking at you!), so I look forward to hitting my “She Ordered What?” stride again in 2016.

In the meantime, I have recently tried a few restaurants right here in Milwaukee. They’ve been on my list of places to try, but it took me 2 1/2+ years to check them off the list!

First up was Engine Company 3 in Walker’s Point. My brother was in town for Doors Open Milwaukee and I convinced him to venture out to a new, and very cool joint. The Polenta Con Gamberi e Uovo is not on the current menu, but dear gosh…it was GOOD! Excellent, really! It gave me a sense of good southern shrimp and grits from back in the college days in South Carolina. 😉

I’ve recommended this spot to others, always with satisfied feedback!

Next up is Story Hill BKC in Milwaukee.  Our server – if I recall correctly, Beth – was energetic, funny, and on top of her game. She was lovely, and was totally amped when I handed her my card. She showed no hesitation, though my friend did. It was her rookie outing with me during a “She Ordered What?” meal! I have been known to make dining dates uncomfortable by surrendering the decision to our server. It’s not on purpose, I promise!

I was served a flavorful dish which is a standard on the menu – the Shakshouka. The dish consists of two Local Eggs Baked in Cumin-Spiced Tomato Sauce, Smoked Lentils, Cilantro, Goat Cheese, Sumac Mayonnaise, with Flatbread on the side and our server added avocado because that’s how she likes the dish to be enjoyed.

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I admit that I don’t think I ever would have ordered this dish on my own accord, but that’s the beauty of trusting servers to introduce me to new dishes. The Shakshouka was deliciously full of flavor. It was also a healthy portion, but not overwhelming large. When my friend took a bite, she agreed that Beth had chosen a winner for me!

And, let me say that I love having servers who get so excited about reading the card and choosing a meal for me. Beth wasn’t the only one… Next up: Blue’s Egg (a sister restaurant of Story Hill BKC).

Upon arrival, my friend and I decided to take the opportunity to snag two open stools at the counter rather than wait for a table. We both agree that counter service is usually quite good, and there’s just something fun about being close to the action.  Cory was our server that morning.

When I handed him my card, he admitted that he had been wondering what I had sitting on my menu and then gave it a read, gave me a wink, and said he was “on it”.  Frankly, there were so many interesting dishes on the menu, so I knew there was no way I could choose. I also had heard nothing but praise for Blue’s Egg, so I was confident I would be in for a treat. And, I was! I was served the Blue’s Classic Benedict with a helping of stuffed hash browns.

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A huge serving of poached eggs, pulled ham, english muffin, hollandaise and goat cheese stuffed hash-browns. Hello decadence!

I’m not normally a huge fan of ham, but this shredded ham was off the charts good! Admittedly, I had to have half of the meal boxed up – only because it was such a large portion, not because I didn’t enjoy every bite. In fact, at one point, our server overheard me mention that “holy hell this is GOOD”. That definitely put a smile on his face!

This time, my friend was familiar with my routine and knew to wait to eat until I got a picture of his crab cake and poached eggs as well as his Bloody Mary.

 

In addition to the places I’ve detailed here, I’ve also enjoyed breakfast pizza at Wolf Peach (for three meals!), had many great breakfast dishes at Hotel Metro, and yet I feel like there are a million treasures I still need to visit in Milwaukee. We’re so fortunate to have a great culinary scene here!

What is your favorite brunch spot? Brunch dish?

Cheers!

Ker

#MKEFoodCrawl in Walker’s Point, Milwaukee, WI

This past weekend, friends and I (mostly) enjoyed a walking food tour of Walker’s Point (sometimes AKA “The Fifth Ward”), an up and coming neighborhood in Milwaukee.

photo c/o of MKEFoodies

photo courtesy of MKEFoodies

I learned about the food crawl through social media – shocking, I know!

After consulting with a friend who was supposed to still be in town visiting, I bought both a “gold” (12 small plates) and “silver” (7 small plates) ticket. The tickets weren’t necessarily inexpensive at $75 and $50, respectively, but I was excited to experience dishes from a variety of restaurants I hadn’t tried before – and one that I had. Here’s the map/menu…

menu

My friend’s plans changed, so as Stairwell Guy says, I turned to “Plan B”.  He’s very good company, and not really a “Plan B”, but I did originally buy the ticket for a visitor, so I guess he is partially correct there.  I thank him for being an enthusiastic and fun fill-in.  Several weeks earlier, I had also invited my friend Phi and her husband to join us, which they happily did!

We met at the Blue Jacket on National Avenue, which served both as the kick-off point as well as host to Bloody Marys. I was especially happy to be there to see Phi experience her first Bloody Mary – EVER!  First sip…good stuff, then…the tomato kicked in a little too far for dear Phi.  In my opinion, the Bloodys were a bit heavy on the seasoning, but were tasty enough (disclaimer: I don’t typically drink liquor drinks, so I am NOT an authority).

Bloody Mary at The Blue Jacket.

Bloody Mary at The Blue Jacket.

From The Blue Jacket, we headed on to Chez Jacques for crepes.  From the almost hour-long wait we had, I have to assume that we were not alone with the plan to start with breakfast. This was both a frustrating, and surprising start to the #MKEFoodCrawl.

Note: Throughout the day I spoke with folks on the food crawl, and to a T, every person expected a casual walk through Walker’s Point with tents or tables stocked with small plates for us to try, converse, and then move on.  Instead, we were seated at each restaurant and served the small plates – sometimes in a timely manner, and often not.

Chez Jacques staff addressed every table in the room before they even greeted our four-top, and we were the second group in the room.  It was so frustrating that we were just getting ready to leave when someone asked us if we had been attended to.  So, we placed orders and waited, and waited, and waited. When we finally were served our crepes (four choices, folks…shouldn’t the kitchen be prepared for that?), three of the four were met with positive reviews.  The chicken curry, the spinach Roquefort, and the vanilla berries crepes hit the spot.  The banana Nutella (read: Hershey’s syrup) was, sadly, a bust.

Here is my spinach Roquefort crepe:

Crepe

The dense filling of spinach and cheese along with the pine nuts were a delicious combination.  It’s just too bad the restaurant seemed more than ill-prepared to deal with the #MKEFoodCrawl crowd.

But, we were on to our next stop (finally!) by noon.  We tried to visit Circa 1880, but the line was out the door and starting to wrap around the corner!  So, we went on to Braise.

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I have written about Braise before (my first meeting with Phi!), and although Stairwell Guy was a newbie, we were all looking forward to checking out the yellow curry dal with ramp yogurt and the Grilled chorizo sope with ramp chimichurri & garlic chive crema.

We were in and out of Braise in 20 minutes, and we had really exceptional dishes in that time. There were two servings of the curry, and two of the chorizo…both dishes were met with rave reviews.  Phi and I also viewed the rooftop garden and dining area in the time we waited for our meals.  Very efficient!

Then, onto Wayward Kitchen for Pork Belly Tostada with Watermelon Rind Salsa, Queso Fresco, and Refried Black Eyed Peas w/ Jalapeno. I liked the casual atmosphere of this “off the beaten path” place.

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Again, by all accounts, service was not expedient, but the experience was a good one.

I struggled with my tostado because of its brittle nature – or because of user error!  Nobody else seemed to struggle like I did. So, I’ll take the blame on that one!

Pork Belly Tostada

Pork Belly Tostada

The Wayward Kitchen is also where I met up with a friend of the friend who left town early.  We had met up with Jon Thursday evening, so it was nice to see him and meet his friends out in a different part of town!  This is the friendly Midwest after all!

We then headed up to Clock Shadow Creamery for pretzels and cheese.  Well, cheese.

@SweetPhi !!

@SweetPhi !!

The first thing we heard when we walked in the door is that Clock Shadow had just run out of pretzels.  Since I’m not a fan of cheese curds (aka: squeakies), I opted to try the Basket Ricotta with lemon jam from The National Café and Take-away – another local fave! The Ricotta was quite tasty and the jam was a perfectly sour complement, but it was simply too much for any of us to finish. We were a bit bummed about not trying the pretzels, because they looked really good!

From Clock Shadow, we headed toward Ginger, with a quick stop to check out a restaurant that will be opening very soon, Morel.  It was cool to see the space in its final stages of construction and to meet the owner, sous chef and general manager.  A very friendly bunch, and very excited to be opening a new space in Walker’s Point!

Once we got to Ginger, we finally sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather of the day. Ginger has a lovely back patio. Again, the service was a bit slow, and our server forget to bring three of the plates we ordered. She apologized, quickly brought the remainder and comped the glass of wine I enjoyed with my Vietnamese Rice Noodles (chilled napa cabbage, carrot, peanuts and cilantro, soy chili dressing) and Hoison Braised Pork Shoulder on wonton chi (served with ginger carrot jicama slaw).

Vietnamese Rice Noodles

Vietnamese Rice Noodles

Hoison Pork

Hoison Pork

Everyone else tried the Passion Fruit Ceviche: scallops and shrimp in a passion fruit citrus base with plantain chips and sweet potato and enjoyed the dishes as well.

By this time, it was 2:45PM and the food crawl was to end at 3PM. We had only managed to visit half of the restaurants on the tour, and we had several tickets left. Phi and Nick needed to head home, so Stairwell Guy and I planned a quick stop at Zak’s Café for the stuffed French Toast he had been craving.

Stuffed French Toast

Stuffed French Toast

He was not disappointed, although he was served the wrong dish – are you seeing a trend here with respect to the service that day?

We hustled down the street with mere moments to spare in an attempt to finish with dessert. Jeff and I decided to divide and conquer, with him standing in the long line at Purple Door for ice cream (his favorite!) and me waiting in an equally long line at Indulgence Chocolatier (featured here).

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It was past 3PM at this point, but the local businesses were not going to turn away participants. We were able to hit the two spots at which we had planned all day to finish! Score!

Five mini-scoops of ice cream and 3 truffles to take home (for each of us!)

Five mini scoops of ice cream and 3 truffles to take home (for each of us!)

I have to give Stairwell Guy props – he knew my only criteria was “no maple!”, and he chose really well.  He ordered me mini scoops of: Lime sorbet, chocolate cinnamon, Bailey’s Irish Cream, chocolate banana and butter pecan.  A delicious sampling!

For him, I ordered orange cardamom, Thai peanut butter and milk chocolate truffles.  He ate them on the way home, and told me just how much he enjoyed them.

Indulgence Truffles

Indulgence Truffles

So, while the #MKEFoodCrawl was not exactly what we thought it would be, and the service in many venues did not seem prepared for our crowd, we really did enjoy the food, uncovering new restaurants and, of course, a lovely day with friends!

One final note: Next year, I will not order the “gold” ticket package for 12 tickets, because the schedule just does not allow for sampling at enough venues to make it worth the $75.  The “silver” package at $50 for seven small plates is absolutely sufficient.

I’d love to hear comments from others on the #MKEFoodCrawl tour of Walker’s Point, as well as those of you who live in other cities and have participated in local food crawls.  Please leave a comment below!

Cheers!

Ker

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