Dining Divas Swirl & Taste at Cellar 422

Cellar 422 Cheese and Meat Platter

Cellar 422 Cheese and Meat Platter

When Cellar 422 Wine Bar opened in September 2015 the owners/sisters, Michelle Wise & Marla Milner, wanted to offer something they felt was lacking in downtown Lafayette; a comfortable place to meet, enjoy a good glass of wine, and purchase a bottle to take home. Since then the menu has matured to include local and craft beers, appetizers and entrees, seasonal specials, and international cuisine.

For Michelle and Marla, the business is a real family effort. Ethan Wise, Michelle’s son, is the Cellar’s chef, trained in Santa Barbara at City College Culinary Program. The eclectic vintage décor and natural wood wine bar were influenced by Michelle and Marla’s parents and give the restaurant a familiar cozy feel.

Cellar 422 Diving Divas Group 2Best for small groups; the Wine Bar can seat 30, while the patio accommodates another 10 during warmer months. We chose to sit on the patio during our October visit. The exterior arched brick doorway and overhead string lights give an added charm to the space.

Our server, Colton, started us out with a large appetizer board that easily served our group of seven (Divas plus husbands Dan, Dick and Jeff). We combined the large cheese board with four cheeses, apple slices & green grapes, crackers and fig jam: $20, with the charcuterie board adding three meats and olives: $10.

  • Cheeses:

White cheddar, not too sharp; Gorgonzola camazole from Germany, with a smooth creamy blue cheese flavor; Gruyere from Wisconsin; and Butterkase from Germany, Bev’s favorite – smooth, highly pleasant cheese, soft, creamy and delish.

  • Meats:

Delaware fireball, definitely has a peppery kick said Jeff; Gin and juice (lamb persimmon orange), delightful taste, you can definitely pick up the orange; Sopressatta, a great basic next to the other two stronger flavored options.

DIning Diving Gigondas WineAfter taking Dan’s beer order, Colton lead us through an extensive wine menu offered both by the glass and bottle. It felt like a travel show with red and white wines from all over the world.

The four red wine members of our group selected one of Colton’s favorites: Fernandez Gomez (Crianza) 2013 from Rioja, Spain with red fruit, baking spices, soft tannin, balanced acidity and not overly dry. A very drinkable choice and good for a new red wine drinker. It was a great value at $20/bottle.

Our second shared bottle of red was The Ned, a New Zealand, Southern Valley, pinot noir, 2014. Bev reminisced about Eddard Stark (Ned) from Game of Thrones so she was biased to like it but it really was a good bottle of wine. Colton pointed out its flavors of “ripe cherries, and a reasonable amount of backgrounds of earth like a forest floor, kind of mushroomy and quite smooth.” Another good value at $28/bottle.

The white wine drinkers selected a South African Sauvignon Blanc- Rustenberg, “It’s a perfect drink for a warm night on the patio,” said Kay at $8/glass. Dick had the California Greystone Cellars Chardonnay at $7/glass. It was an incredible value for the experience, fairly dry and a generous pour!

With our appetizer plate emptied, we selected one last bottle of red wine to enjoy with our dinner order. Colton suggested one of their best, Gigondas, a French Rhone Valley blend, very potent, dry, with concentrated flavors at $42/bottle. This wine is slightly sweeter. “It’s a subtle, smooth and satisfying sip,” says Jeff. “I don’t like the French, but this is good,” added Brit Dick.

Salad, shrimp and tomatoes

Blackened Shrimp Salad

For dinner, Bev chose the blackened shrimp salad made up of arugula, roasted sweet corn, cherry tomato, bacon, shallots and sage dressing (gluten free) for $12. “I love the dressing– it’s inventive and refreshing,” she said.

Jo ordered the salsa verde swordfish with tomatillo salsa and sweet corn sofrito, roasted Anaheim chilies, poblano cream and toasted pumpkin seeds for $21. “It’s a beautiful presentation with the fish perfectly done,” Jo said, “and the pepper and pumpkin seeds and sauce are perfect for this dish.”

Salsa verde swordfish

Salsa verde swordfish

Dick ordered up the spicy shrimp mac & cheese which featured blackened seasoned shrimp, cavatappi, white cheddar Moran sauce, with panko crust for $12. “I don’t usually like mac and cheese but I love theirs. It’s spicy and fun to eat,” Dick said. “I’m not really keen on blackened things but it’s well done with tons of shrimp.”

Mac N Cheese

Mac N Cheese

Kay ordered the smoked salmon plate served with sliced cucumbers & cherry tomatoes, capers, garlic hummus, dill goat cheese and artisan crackers for $14. This is part of the appetizer menu but works well as an entree. The salmon is mild and tender and delicious. There are two spreads– a garlic hummus and dill goat cheese– both are good.  “That’s a hunka hunka salmon,” said Jeff.

Risotto

Pesto Orzo & Meatballs

Jeff opted for the pesto orzo & meatballs with artichoke hearts, parmesan, pine nuts and arugula for $18. “Anyone can make a meatball but these are a cut above,” said Jeff. With a crisp exterior and moist inside, Jeff was pleased by its hearty flavor. “The dish is balanced beautifully by the pesto orzo, and tender artichoke heart, with a nice crunch from the pine nuts. It’s delightful.”

Dan decided on the ginger pork gyoza featuring ginger marinated pork wonton dumplings, steamed napa cabbage and ponzu for $8. “Very tasty,” Dan said between bites. “The light noodles with the ginger sauce makes for a nice flavor. It’s excellent.”

Margy opted for the risotto alla mulligatawny including Granny Smith apples, curried, red lentils, parmesan and toasted almonds for $14. “Incredible,” Margy reports, “There is a little sweetness because of the apples but it’s also savory. The chef was not timid with the spice.” A new favorite for Margy!

“Did anyone leave room for dessert?” Colton smiled. We soon learned all the desserts are house made and include a truffle board, cheesecake of the day, and crème brulee. In the end we shared a slice of dark chocolate peanut butter cheesecake for $6. “Wonderfully creamy” said Jo. “The dark chocolate and peanut butter mix is just awesome on a very thin crust. It’s not overly sweet.  It’s fabulous.”

Dessert!

Dessert!

Altogether, it was a delightful experience. Everything was very well prepared and presented. The food prices were reasonable and in line with other restaurants in town. Our final impression? Wonderful, but next time, dessert first!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out To Lunch Divas Explore 6th Street Dive

The Lunch Bunch

The Lunch Bunch

What does comfort food mean to you? International or regional dishes? Childhood and family favorites? Or … maybe all of the above.

The Dining Divas and two guests sampled some authentic “Hoosier Texican” food recently at the 6th Street Dive Bar & Grill; corner of Salem and 6th Streets in Lafayette. What we found were two southern transplants redefining Tex-Mex comfort food with some family recipes that are sure to win you over.

New owners, Brandon Stevens and Nick Williams, are from Shreveport, Louisiana and Fort Worth, Texas respectively. But both have spent half their lives in the Hoosier state and bartending for the last 15 to 18 years. Operating in the former Varsity Clubhouse Bar since Labor Day, the revamped restaurant/bar interior is a breath of fresh air … literally. Gone are the pool tables, smoking and juke box. The retooled décor of reclaimed wood and metal, friendly service, and a menu with their unique twist of Tex-Mex and Midwestern favorites, is a winning combination with a growing following.

Queso!!

Queso!!

We kicked off lunch with an order of Dive queso fontanero for $8, a layered dip with queso, fresh pico, sour cream, fresh guacamole and your choice of chorizo or chili con carne (on top or on the side), served with made fresh to order tortilla chips hot from the deep fryer. You think the description is a mouthful? Wait until you try this dip. Dan, one of our two guests claimed, “I would come here again just for the queso!” We all wager you’ll never go back to plain chips and jar cheese dip again. Fair warning!

Kay's Knucklehead Burrito

Kay’s Knucklehead Burrito

Kay, our seafood lover, fooled us and passed on the blackened fish taco special (sounds great, right?!). Instead she ordered the knucklehead burrito for $8.50. The Dive’s breakfast burrito is loaded with scrambled eggs, tater tots, cheese, fresh pico and your choice of bacon or chorizo. Why the unusual name? According to the menu, “Because breakfast is the most important meal of the day knuckleheads!” Kay rated it “Really delicious and it’s a lot of food– it’s a big breakfast.” We suggest you bring a friend.

Jo ordered the garden salad for $3 and added sour cream & house made guac for $3. “This is an ideal low carb salad. The guacamole is awesome!” Jo’s special tip of the day: add the Dive Dip on top (You know, the appetizer dip in the paragraphs above), “It makes an EXTRA good dressing.”

Margy is already a regular. Her “usual” is the veggie taco; “The best in town!!” But today she opted for the beer battered stuffed avocado for $10.  It’s a house specialty, Texas favorite and an avocado lover’s dream.  Lightly battered and fried, it’s served on a bed of lettuce so it’s almost like a salad.  It includes chicken or chorizo and black beans but because everything here is made to order, it can also be made vegetarian on request.

Deep Fried Avocado

Deep Fried Avocado

Bev's Taco Salad without Chips

Bev’s Taco Salad without Chips

Bev ordered the taco salad. Typical? Not so fast! The taco salads here can be ordered with beef or chicken for $9 or with steak or pork for $10. Bev chose hers with ground beef in taco seasoning.  Again, made with fresh to order chips, the salad includes all the usual veggies, cheese, sour cream and house made guac.  Bev added a side of queso and the homemade hot sauce to make it a really flavorful, delicious salad! “It’s huge and I won’t get through 1/2 of it.”

Dan, guest #1 and Jo’s main man, ordered fish & chips for $8.50. “Very good coating on the fish — a lot of it, there’s like six pieces here!”  The breaded catfish fillets are fried to order and served with a house-made tartar sauce. “Not a big chunk of fish but instead long strips.  The batter is light — not real heavy.” Dan gave his lunch a Hoosier two thumbs up.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips

Erin, guest #2 and hungry co-worker of Bev’s, chose the hand-spanked cheeseburger for $9.  The sandwich comes with two 4 oz patties and seasoned fries. “Love the seasoning on the fries. The burger is really juicy. It’s kinda big though!” Get Erin a to-go box, no one is leaving hungry today!

The 6th Street Dive is open seven days a week with both food and drinks available from 11 am-3 am including sandwich specials, and soup of the day (need I remind you it’s made from scratch?). Carryout is available. The Dive boasts about their house-made hot sauce and salsas including a mango infused salsa the day we were there.  The menu includes many of Brandon and Nick’s personal favorites. “… food we loved growing up from our mom’s and grandma’s kitchens. We are sharing a taste of Texas made fresh, from scratch with our friends in Yankeeland! Cheers!”

Pictures inside and outsideThe 6th Street Dive is a bar and grill serving only those 21 and over, with Nick’s favorite selection of bourbons, margaritas proudly made from scratch, daily drink specials, and an impressive beer list. Their beer selection includes your classic favorites and a rotating selection of both regional and national craft beers. Our server and seasoned bartender, Joe Wilson, says it is the widest variety of bottled beers he’s seen in town. You can follow Joe and his updates about the Dive on Facebook at Joe Wilson’s Bartender News

Are the Bar and Grill options not enough to lure you north of Union Street? Did we mention the Dive has a fun, neighborhood atmosphere we felt as soon as we walked in? Whether you go earlier for lunch, meet friends after work at the tables in front of the garage door/window on a nice day, or stick around with the late crowd to enjoy the growing live music scene of local and regional bands playing most Friday and Saturdays; you will feel right at home.  I know we did.

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out To Lunch Diving Divas Explore Sushi Don – Asian Fusion

sushi-don_25149972745_oYou can’t judge a book by its cover, but some say you can judge a restaurant by the number of cars in the parking lot. Using that method alone, the Dining Divas predict Sushi Don is a sure winner before setting foot inside. If you’ve not eaten there before, we strongly suggest going early for two reasons. First – it gets busy so you’ll want to beat the crowd; second – the menu is huge, you’ll need plenty of time to check out all your choices.

Owner Gumdon Kang (Don for short) started in the food industry as a restaurant manager in Bloomington, Indiana. Soon he wanted his own business, came to Lafayette in 2013 and opened Sushi Don in its current location, 3338 Main Street, Lafayette.

Diana

Diana May sharing her sushi wisdom!

Today guest diva and sushi guide, Diana May, joins us having more experience eating swimmy things like Kay. While deciding what to have for lunch we share a bowl of edamame, blanched and lightly salted. “The dipping sauce, a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili oil and sesame seeds, made it,” says Jo. “Spicy and lively,” says Bev. “The edamame was nice and crunchy and not overcooked,” adds Diana.

Lunches come with miso and a salad. Margy likes the lightly sweet dressing on the salad and miso on this cold day. To start our lunch we order three appetizers:

Shumai- Japanese style fried shrimp dumplings, 7 PC $6. They may LOOK like a tater tot but they’re way better with shrimp and lots of green onion.

Gyoza fried vegetable dumplings, 6 PC $5. The dumplings are a nice addition to the meal for our vegetarian friends.

Seafood shunner - eel

Seafood shunner – eel

Kay suggests a Sashimi Sampler, 9 slices of 3 kinds of fresh fish including salmon and tuna for $14. Gorgeous! Served on a bed of julienned daikon radish noodles, the dish is really fresh! The white tuna is incredible. Delicious, yummy, nice texture and no fish taste or smell. Carb free.

As lunch gets underway, Kay orders eel tempura – $10. Beautiful presentation, crispy and flavorful. Even Bev tries it! Sauces and very finely julienned vegetables make it a delight to see and taste!

Diana decides on haemul hot stone – $13.  Diana is happy with the spicy seafood mix, of octopus, mussels, shrimp, vegetables, rice and egg in a sizzling hot stone bowl. When they say spicy, they mean spicy but it’s not over the top. Very edible.

Jap Che Set

Jap Che Set

Bev chooses jap che set – $8.  Jap che is stir-fried glass potato noodles with your choice of topping and vegetables with Don’s sweet soy sauce. Toppings include bulgogi (marinated beef), pork, chicken, seafood, vegetable, kimchi (fermented cabbage), kimchi & bulgogi plus one maki (a type of sushi roll that includes toasted seaweed nori rolled around vinegar-flavored rice). Bev picks bulgogi and an avocado maki. The bulgogi is tasty and familiar. Warm noodles work in any country!

Bev points out the amount of prep work that must happen before the restaurant opens each day. Incredible! Our server Marilyn has worked at Sushi Don for two years. She explains that most of the prep work is done by hand and the chefs normally come in at 9am, two hours early but on Tuesdays and Thursdays they are in by 7am because those are the busiest days.

The menu has a list they call “Don’s special roll” which is two pages long! The well being – $9 is a delightful vegetarian option, with avocado, cucumber, Japanese pickle, carrot, cabbage, lettuce with Don’s orange ginger dipping sauce. The sauce is sweet and we REALLY like it. We share the beautifully prepared roll with its minced vegetables, along with our entrees.

Sushi rolls

Sushi rolls

Margy orders from the pick 2 maki (rolls) set for $8. From the nine options, asparagus tempura and shitaki maki win. The asparagus tempura has tiny, tender spears fried in tempura batter and then put in a sushi roll. The asparagus inside the roll is still crunchy, very fresh. Shitaki maki, aside from being really fun to say, tastes very mushroomy (yes, that is a word). Both choices are a hit!

Seaweed and avocado salad

Seaweed and avocado salad

Jo opts for the Seaweed and avocado salad. $5. Very fresh and not what she was expecting.  The fresh seaweed, avocado, sesame seeds and a light dressing make a fresh and tasty salad. Something you might expect on a beach at a resort.

Need more to convince you to try Sushi Don? Consider this … every day has a 30% off dine-in only special; daily lunch specials from 11-4pm are good on both dine-in and take-out orders; and on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, sushi rolls are 50% off. And if you need someone to help you navigate the menu, we highly recommend Diana!!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out To Lunch Diving Divas Explore Lemongrass and Ah-Z

Lemongrass and Ah-Z.13Ever feel like getting away from it all to someplace completely outside your normal routine? Step into the Union Commons on the ground floor of the Purdue Memorial Union and you’ll feel like you’re in another world—if campus isn’t your usual hangout.

We entered the hustle and bustle for lunch at two sister restaurants, Lemongrass and Ah-Z. Step up to any line and pay at any register and they’ll sort it out for you, no worries. Lemongrass features wok-fired entrees and a variety of appetizers, emphasizing vegetables, sauces and spices found primarily in Thailand and Vietnam.

Miso Soup

Miso Soup

Jo dove into a bowl of miso soup (she was a big spender at $1.50!) and said it was “very tasty and just the right spiciness as I added a little Sriracha sauce that was available at the counter.” She found it filling and great for a cold day—savory and authentic tasting.

Vegetarian Margy enjoyed the broccoli stir fry ($6.05). The stir-fry lunches come in three sizes. Small comes with rice (plain or fried) and one entrée; medium has rice and two entrees; large has rice and three entrees. There were eight entrée choices, two were veggie friendly. The medium-sized lunch with fried-rice, Chinese broccoli and tofu was more than enough food. Ask for optional free sauces– sweet chili and peanut– at the register.  We managed to talk Margy out of taking a quart of the sweet chili sauce home! We figured that would push the “free sauce” issue, but it was that tasty!

Broccoli Stir Fry

Broccoli Stir Fry

Ah-Z Roll

Ah-Z Roll

Kay and Bev headed for the Ah-Z sushi line where their lunches became works of art. Ah-Z features handmade sushi rolls, sushi wraps, sushi bowls and noodle bowls. The 29 different menu items are made to order and always fresh. Kay enjoyed the Ah-Z roll ($11) which was filled with fresh tuna, fresh salmon, cream cheese, avocado, shrimp tempura, mayo sauce, unagi sauce, masago and green onion. The tempura shrimp caught her by surprise and she found it a delectable treat for a seafood lover.

There is a series of sushi rolls named after the schools in the Big Ten. Bev stops by here for lunch on a somewhat regular basis and, with limited interest in seafood, always has the Purdue Roll ($8) with avocado, cucumber, crab, spicy mayo, wasabi mayo, unagi sauce, topped with her favorite part—the crunch batter. Often, sushi rolls with crunch on top have pretty soggy crunch and if that’s not an oxymoron, we aren’t sure what is. But since Ah-Z makes these rolls to order, the crunch is… drumroll… crunchy! And delish.

Purdue Roll

Purdue Roll

This time, in an effort to expand her horizon, she chose the Indiana roll (also $8). She didn’t feel traitorous at all (largely because her money goes to IU to cover her son’s tuition) and enjoyed the avocado, cucumber, crab, sweet potato, spicy chili sauce and, you guessed it, crunch mix. Adding bits of ginger and clearing her sinuses with wasabi, she was a happy dining diva.

The Union Commons restaurants (there are more!) cater to the campus crowd so they’re open from 10:30 AM-6:30 PM on Monday-Thursday and 10:30 AM-3:30 PM on Friday. They’re closed on weekends. It feels a bit like being in a high-energy, crowded international market so if you’re intimidated by campus, you might choose to go during an off-peak time. On the flipside, if you’re intimidated by campus, get over it and step into the energy and commotion or you’ll be missing some good sushi!

The creation of

The creation of these delicious food items!

We didn’t get to so many tempting menu items like crab Rangoon, chicken satay, bao, pad thai, sesame peanut noodles and vegetable lo mein so return trips are in order. We invite you to get caught up in the spirit of the Union restaurants!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out to Lunch Dining Divas Visit the Sunset Grill

Hungry for some Mexican food to warm our souls, the Dining Divas ventured to the Sunset Grill located at 1904 US 52W west of Morehouse Road.  This place caught our attention during the summer when they sold tacos out of a very busy tent in the parking lot. Now that it’s winter, you can take out tacos by going inside to a window on your right. But we were in the mood for some sit-down dining so we headed to a table in the warm, friendly restaurant. The well-stocked bar was within eyesight which we noted for another day.

Sunset Burrito

Sunset Burrito

Sunset Grill is a family business, now owned and operated by Gabrielle and Vilma Pedder.  Their original Baja California-style favorites have been incorporated into a more traditional Mexican menu which includes a buffet with daily specials. Today’s buffet consists of steak burritos, pork chile rojo, and all the freshly made cheese quesadillas you can eat. Our server, Mark, was enthusiastic and attentive.  He is a frequent customer there and loves the food so much, he wrangled himself a job as a server!  Vilma got us off to a good start with a refreshing and light appetizer of ceviche, made from fresh raw fish cured in lime or lemon juice and flavored with chiles.  This version was served with avocados and cucumber slices with a very spicy red sauce.

Taco Sampler

Taco Sampler

Bev ordered the taco sampler for $8.95.  It consisted of 7 small tacos filled with steak, roast pork, marinated pork, barbacoa, chicken, ground beef, and Mexican sausage.  This was a really fun meal and showed off some of the culinary talent coming from the kitchen. She tasted each one of them (it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it) but would consider sharing this dish next time. It was a generous amount of food! Her favorites were the ground beef which was seasoned in an interesting manner and the marinated pork which had pineapple in it.  They were both divine!

Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos

Kay ordered fish tacos for $9.95.  There were 3 tacos filled with grilled tilapia, shredded lettuce, tomato, and cheese served with a chunky guacamole and salsa, a side of rice and bowl of black beans.  Everything was delicious, fresh, and beautifully presented.  A whole grilled tilapia flavored with chipotle served with vegetables is also available on the menu.

Margy had the sunset burrito without meat for $10.95.  It is huge and she ended up taking the leftovers home for dinner.  There is some heat in the cheese sauce and she could really taste all the components inside the burrito–sweet peppers, rice, onions, cheese.  The burrito was accompanied by chips and a small salad of lettuce and tomato.  Margy also tried the horchata which she declared one of the best in town.

Chilequiles

Chilequiles

For Jo, chilequiles with two eggs were calling her name.  It was served on a green sauce with rice and beans and salad on the side.  It also came with a smoky, not hot, red sauce and was covered with grated cheese.  Another huge portion and another tasty dish.

A note on the sauces–all are made in house.  Red chile sauce and green tomatillo sauce are on the tables.  If you want something hotter—or maybe MUCH hotter–, you can get ghost chile salsa, South Carolina reaper salsa, or habanero salsa. Just ask your server.

Dining Divas

Dining Divas

One interesting menu offering is Molcajete for $19.95.  It boasts authentic Mexican flavors served in a hot stone bowl-chicken, steak, Mexican sausage, shrimp, cactus, cheese, onion, rice, and beans.  A traditional dish with flour or corn tortillas on the side.  We didn’t save room, but maybe next time!

After we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, Vilma brought us plates of two desserts made in-house: churros stuffed with chocolate or vanilla, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and a dollop of whipped cream, and bananas sliced the long way drizzled with condensed milk and strawberry sauce.  A great way to end the meal!

Churros

Churros

The menu is more unusual and creative than you typically see in a Mexican restaurant so we’re excited about exploring it further. Gabrielle and Vilma are relatively recent owners so we invite you to revisit the Sunset Grill if you haven’t been in the past year or so. Their enthusiasm for their business and food is contagious and now, so is ours!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Fried Banana Dessert

Fried Banana Dessert

Out to Lunch Divas Visit Mama Ines Mexican Bakery

Mamas inside 4If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the wonderful scent of baked goods that greet you at the front door of Mama Ines Mexican Bakery should be worth five thousand or more.

Mamas pastries 1Our lunch trip to Mama Ines, 518 Sagamore Parkway N in Lafayette, was not our first. Bev and her husband Jeff are regulars and she convinced us to pop in several months ago on a scouting trip. We heard all about the fresh tamales, cornbread, melt in your mouth cookies, and custom cakes. We also learned about the beautifully remodeled former Ryan’s Restaurant by architect Jose A. Roman Marquez and new retail space since moving to their new location in March of this year.

Can I just say one thing? (spoiler alert) Corn! Bread!! Yes, imagine a cornbread that will change your life. I kid you not, it is that good! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The scouting trip paid off and we agreed to come back hungry and willing to try new treats and familiar favorites. On the day we returned we started in the recently opened gift shop and party/event room while waiting for Kay, our diva photographer. When she arrived, it was down to business.The blog group2

Sidebar: I think it is important to explain, especially for someone like myself who is new to the experience, that the expression “A treat for your

Pregnant cake!

Pregnant cake!

senses” could have first been used to describe a place like Mama Ines. The fragrance the moment you walk through the door, the beautifully and authentically renovated interior, and brightly lit display cases of new and unfamiliar treats can leave you (well, me anyway) awestruck. But do not be intimidated, the staff and owner Rosa Montoya are as warm and welcoming as you can find anywhere … so back to the shopping.

Mamas pastries 3As in most authentic Mexican bakeries, the shopping trip starts with a tray and tongs at the door. Next you serve yourself from display cases full of every imaginable cookie (galetas, marranitos), roll (bolillos, cernos, and empanada) and loaf (conchas).

The choices are many and the prices very reasonable (.75-1.20 each). Experiment! Try one of something new, like the jalapeno and cheese roll; or load up on your favorites, like the previously mentioned cornbread. You may still spend less than $10. Because there were four of us, and we share well, we tried one of almost everything including dozens of baked goods, three types of tamales (prices range from 99 ChamPurradocents to $1.50) and burritos served hot and fresh at the checkout counter, a chicken and pepper sandwich, two fruit and veggie drinks ($4.50 for 16 oz., $5.25 for 20 oz. and $5.75 for 24 oz.) made to order at the juice bar, and a hot chocolate drink. In reality we had enough food for 6 or more people and only spent a minimal amount.

The one part missing from the experience was a café at the bakery to sit and eat our purchases. Luckily the conference room at Margy’s office was available and we took our order packed “to go”. The atmosphere there was as near a party as you can imagine.

Our mess at Lafayette City Hall Annex!

Our mess at Lafayette City Hall Annex!

The Dining Divas enjoyed a real cultural experience courtesy of owner Rose and Mama Ines Bakery, her mother’s namesake. And, if the mess we made of the meeting room is any measure of its success, then we can rate this dining experience a 9 out of 10 and a great way to round out our 2014 line up, see you again soon in 2015!

Our next stop is Shaukin (Indian Food), located at 138 S. River Road, West Lafayette.

Mama Ines Mexican Bakery on Urbanspoon

The Out to Lunch Bunch does C&T Market

Eggplant and potatoes

Eggplant and potatoes

There’s a hidden gem in West Lafayette tucked away in Levee Plaza (360 Brown Street) next to Hodson’s Bay.  C&T Market caters to the area’s large Asian community and all who enjoy cooking with Asian ingredients.  The Market itself is worth a trip, but walk all the way back through the market and you’ll find, in the words of Nancy Hendricks who has visited China, a restaurant “with an unassuming atmosphere so genuinely Chinese that I felt comfortable ordering anything.” There are no signs in English that tell you there’s a restaurant back there. You’ll just have to take our word for it!

The menu is surprisingly big.  Literally, it is the size of a big children’s story book, hard-backed, with listings of their varied offerings on 16 colored pages.  There are lots of pictures and the menu is in both English and Chinese.  There’s not a lot of description, but the friendly staff answered all of our questions and gave us good recommendations.  Our group decided one trip to C&T was not enough to do justice to the big selection and we took reinforcements along to sample the fare on return visits.  Menu headings include Northern Style, Szechuan Style, Homestyle, Casseroles, Seafood, Noodles, and Vegetables.

Bev, Jo & Jason

Bev, Jo & Jason

In addition to the regulars, Jo, Bev, Margy, and Kay, we had help from Jason Burks and Nancy Hendricks.  With so much to choose from, we chose to skip some adventurous dishes like Pork & Jellyfish with Snow Peas and Cilantro, Pork Intestine with Chili Oil Sauce, and Cold Three Delicacies—sea cucumber, jellyfish, and periwinkle meat.  Next time!

Our favorite appetizer was their Famous Panfried Dumplings with Chives made of a light pancake folded around chives, leeks, egg, and sweet potato noodles (chopped colorless clear noodles made from sweet potato starch).  We would have been satisfied with just a big plate of these delicious dumplings.

Pot stickers and Spicy Wonton

Pot stickers and Spicy Wonton

Potstickers with Pork and Spicy Wonton completed our appetizer sampling.  Both were very good and by the way, all the portions are large!

On our first trip, our favorite main dish was Chinese Eggplant with Szechuan Garlic Sauce. This was a mix of peppers, onions, carrots, eggplant, wonderful mushrooms, and bamboo shoots in a spicy sauce.  Great taste and texture.

Mapo Tofu was another hit. One of the dining divas said, “Melts in your mouth. Wonderfully spicy!”

Fried Hot Green Pepper with Tofu Skin rounded out our meal.  This treatment of tofu as a noodle substitute is unusual and may take some getting used to though Margy liked it right away.

On our return trip, Bev ordered Eggplant with Ground Pork, Northern Style and said, “It’s good…mild, like a home-cooked comfort meal.”

Jason had Fish Filet with Chili Oil Sauce.  The fish was swai and it was cooked with napa cabbage.  Did I mention big portions?  This was a huge piping hot bowl of fish stew.  We all sampled it, liked it, and still took enough home for another meal.

Jo had Fried Potato, Eggplant, and Peppers, Northern Style.  It was a beautiful dish, with red and green peppers.  Everything was cooked to crisp tender, nothing overcooked, and in a tasty mild sauce.  The potatoes were perfection.  We all loved this dish from the presentation to the feasting.

Shrimp

Shrimp

Kay, the designated eater of swimmy things, ordered Sauteed and Spiced Shrimp.  The shrimp came complete with heads and shells on, quickly deep fried with a spicy salt and pepper coating, served with a bit of fried onion and jalapeno.  They come with a little pile of the spice mixture on the side, in case you are squeamish and want to remove the heads and shells, but Kay found them ordinary this way.  Eating the whole thing is the way to do it—hot and crunchy, a little spicy, and delicious.  Jason said the heads were the best part.

On another day, Margy returned with Nancy Hendricks. Nancy said, “I ordered the un-Chinese-like dish of Tomatoes and Scrambled Eggs because I was first introduced to that in China.  The flavors were authentic to my memory – a taste I can’t seem to replicate (even though it’s only tomatoes and eggs and a few green onions.)  I was immediately disappointed that I had to pass up other options on the menu – especially when I tasted the sauce on Margy’s Fried Potato, Eggplant, and Peppers, Northern Style. I enjoyed all the taste sensations I have missed since my China trip. Sixteen pages of options on the menu means I already have future visits in mind, as in I’m going to become a regular.”

Nancy added, “The absolutely TOTAL charm is the grocery store– a walk through adventure.  The only thing missing was hearing gourd flutes playing in the street.”

C&T Market

C&T Market

C&T is a no frills restaurant, in terms of décor.  The frills are all saved for the food.  There is a semi-private room with a table for 8-10.  Getting together with that many friends would be a terrific way to experience C&T so you could sample many dishes on one visit.  And on the way out through the market, you can buy the ingredients to try to recreate the dishes at home!

Next up, the dining divas are going south of the border to El Maguey near Market Square.  See you again soon!

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