Albero Cafe

23 Aug

The rise and fall of Bocconcini at Oliver and Central has paved the way for another Italian restaurant in its place. Albero Cafe recently opened in the vacant space to give Wichitans a new option for Italian food on the east side of town.

The interior and ambiance of Albero remains similar to Bocconcini. The open floor plan and large glass windows still make the restaurant louder than most. During peak hours it can be hard to carry on a conversation. There is a small patio, but it does not offer any reprieve from the noise as it sits ten feet from Central.

 

Italian Nachos: Epic Appetizer

Italian Nachos: Epic Appetizer

The menu at Albero has everything that you would expect from a typical Italian-American  joint  including salads, flatbreads, soups, paninis, and a number of classic pasta dishes. While they offer a variety of options, the menu is not as overwhelming as other Italian places in town.

We decided to start off with an appetizer order of the intriguing sounding Italian Nachos. They were billed as fried pita chips covered with lettuce, tomatoes, pepperoncini, and a parmesan cheese sauce. What came out was a bountiful heap of indulgence. The pita chips were very crispy and resembled fried wontons. The veggies were tossed with an Italian vinaigrette and the parmesan sauce was

Parpardelle Pasta with Delicious Veggies

Parpardelle Pasta with Delicious Veggies

wonderfully addictive. This blue collar dish was amazing, but left you with a somewhat guilty feeling for having feasted on such opulence. A word of caution: This is a good sized dish and would be perfect for a party of 4 because it left Steph and I fairly satiated even before our main courses arrived.

Despite the fullness from the nachos, I enjoyed my parpardelle pasta. The ample serving of wide noodles was tossed with just the right amount of good cream sauce. The dish also included tomatoes, portabellas, and delicious whole roasted

A Little Chicken Penne Action

A Little Chicken Penne Action

garlic cloves. Steph’s chicken penne pesto was just alright. While the pesto sauce tasted fresh, there could have been more added to the dish.

Albero Cafe fills a void in the eastside Italian scene and does a decent job at it. The food is a touch upscale, but the prices are reasonable. In my opinion everyone in town should try the Italian nachos just to experience a little bliss. And for you oenophiles they have nice selection of wines.

YOLO Grill

8 Aug

There are many restaurants in town to get a burger and fries, so in order to be successful,  an establishment has to set itself apart from the others. Keeping the menu simple and not cutting many corners are two easy ways to accomplish this in my opinion. YOLO (You Only Live Once) Grill is just a simple restaurant making simple food, but they know how to do it right.

YOLO is located on West St. just north of Central in an old Sonic building. It’s conveniently painted a lovely shade of fluorescent green just in case you are having trouble finding it. There isn’t much seating inside the small eatery, so be prepared to wait for a seat during the peak lunchtime hour. The menu is pretty straightforward, but does offer some variety. The backbone of the food offerings are their hamburgers and they have several to choose from.

The YOLO burger with Fried Egg

The YOLO burger with Fried Egg

You can have your simple bacon and cheese or up the ante with a fried egg, pulled pork, hot links, or avocado. There are also fish and chips, a BLT, chicken strips, a lighter grilled chicken wrap, and a reuben sandwich. Sides include delicious fried treats such as fries, O-rings, okra, and pickles. For those preparing for an eating contest or just looking for a challenge, they offer “The Tombstone”, a six patty monster burger.

Luckily we visited YOLO on a Saturday, when the reuben is offered, so I went with it. My sister opted for a cheeseburger with a fried egg, and my son got a grilled hot dog although he was eyeing the basket of suckers on the counter intently.

As an aficionado of Reuben sandwiches, I was eager to sample YOLO’s offering as they make their own corned beef. I am rather familiar with corning beef and was impressed that a restaurant is willing to take the extra time to do this.

Reuben Perfection

Reuben Perfection

Piled high with thick cut corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and dressing it tasted like everything you could hope for in a reuben. The tender, flavorful corned beef and indulgent amounts of melted swiss made this one of the best reubens I have ever had.  My only complaint was that the bread wasn’t the traditional rye, but I am willing to overlook this. The basic thick cut fries that came with my meal were perfectly cooked and well seasoned.

The single patty hamburger was a solid effort, that was highlighted by the gently charred crust of the meat disk. YOLO uses an open flame grill for cooking so they can impart that flavor onto the meat as well as keep the grease in check. The burger was a touch overdone, but nothing to really complain about. The fried egg added a little flair to the basic burger.

My son seemed to enjoy his ketchup laden hot dog and fries. When ordering a hot dog you have the option of having it grilled or fried, while we went with the grilled version, I can imagine you can’t go wrong with a deep fried hot dog.

I was happy to see the pride that goes into the food at YOLO. While the menu offerings are nothing new to Wichita, if you like American comfort food done right this is a great place to check out.

 

Yolo Grill on Urbanspoon

Food Trucks at the Fountain

25 Jul

If you have always wanted to sample some of Wichita’s most popular food trucks, keep in mind the last Sunday of each month. On this day several trucks gather at the Water Walk Fountain in downtown to serve up lunch from 11:30 to 2:30.

The owners of the Flying Stove are responsible for “Food Trucks at the Fountain”, so their truck is a constant each month. There are several other trucks that round out the offerings and provide plenty of options. On our visit B. S. Sandwich Press, Park-n-Pork BBQ, The Waffle Wagon, Brick House BBQ, and Let’m Eat Brats were serving as well.

When we pulled into the parking lot nearest the food trailers it seemed that there was some sort of problem. Apparently in a frenzied rush to order caramelized waffles from the Waffle Wagon, people had simply forgotten how to use a parking lot properly. I present to you Exhibit A:

Massive Parking Lot Fail

Massive Parking Lot Fail

Once out of our car we walked up and down the row of trailers, scouting out the menus. Steph went with a Cobb salad sandwich and the famous crack-laced truffle fries from The Flying Stove. After much deliberation I went with a Carolina style pulled pork sandwich and green beans from Park-n-Pork. There was a good crowd even at 1:30, so each truck had decent queues for both ordering and picking up food.

Cobb Salad Sandwich from Flying Stove

Cobb Salad Sandwich from Flying Stove

The Cobb salad sandwich was filled with a generous serving of lemony grilled chicken, tomatoes, avocados, blue cheese, egg, lettuce, and dressing. The chicken, while somewhat overcooked, had very good flavor. The rest of the ingredients worked as well together as in a traditional Cobb salad. I was most impressed with the bun. Laden with this many ingredients it is not uncommon for buns to suffer CBF(Catastrophic Bun Failure) and render themselves a wet mass of mess, but this one held strong. The truffle fries were as delicious as usual. There is certainly no need for ketchup with these perfectly seasoned fried potatoes.

Carolina-Style Pork Sandwich

Carolina-Style Pork Sandwich

My pork sandwich featured a decent amount of pulled pork, a vinegar based BBQ sauce, and coleslaw. I was happy to see that despite sitting in a warming tray for the last several hours the pork was still fairly moist, which is no small feat. The pork had a nice smoke flavor and good rub as well. Overall I liked the sandwich, but I thought there was too much coleslaw overpowering the pork and sauce. The spicy green beans were a disappointment because they were canned and it was such a meager serving. The peppers and garlic provided a good kick, but were unable to save the bits of bean. I think if fresh or even frozen beans had been used this would have been a tasty side dish. For dessert we were hoping to get a caramelized waffle from the Waffle Wagon, but unfortunately that had sold out by then.

I was glad to see that the event was so popular, but the large crowds meant longer waits and food that started running out towards the end. Food Trucks at the Fountain is a good way to scope out the various food trucks that continue to pop up over town.

Jacky Chan Sushi

4 Jul

Just when you thought the sushi boom in Wichita had hit critical mass, along comes Jacky Chan Sushi. This tiny place opened up in the spring of 2014 at Central and Oliver, replacing the small building that formerly housed Sit@Thai Express. What caught my attention about this place was the fact that the sushi chef(who goes by Jacky Chan) had previously worked at Kwan Court, one of our most missed former restaurants.

Hot and Sour Soup: Can't Complain About Free Soup

Hot and Sour Soup: Can’t Complain About Free Soup

This is an intimate setting with only a few tables in the small dining area. It is a nice change of pace from other sushi joints in town that rely on loud music and an open seating area for ambiance. The menu features a lot of options, but is not as overwhelming as some sushi menus that take several hours to fully comprehend. Jacky Chan also does not go overboard with the crazy deep fried rolls. While there are certainly some creative dishes, there is also a respect for the simplicity of traditional sushi. If someone in your group is not into sushi there are several fried rice dishes, noodle bowls, and even Pho for them.

During our lunch time visit we could not pass up the Kansas roll. This sushi roll was one of our favorites at Kwan Court so we were pleased to see Jacky was offering it. We also ordered both the A and B Sushi lunch options to get a good sampler of what they had to offer.

Nothing Says Kansas Like Steak Sushi

Nothing Says Kansas Like Steak Sushi

While waiting for our meals to come out, our waitress brought us each a sample of their Hot and Sour soup. I am not one to complain about free soup, so I happily consumed this impressive bowl of sliced bamboo, eggs, mushrooms,tofu, and carrots with a nice gingery kick. Next out was the Kansas Maki Roll which consisted of grilled steak, crab,and  lettuce. While the steak was overdone(which seems strange to say at a sushi place), the maki roll was still as good as the Kwan Court version. After we polished off the Kansan our lunch specials came out. Both featured two different maki rolls, several pieces of nigiri(thinly sliced raw fish and a ball of rice), and large ball of sushi rice with some fish roe. My favorites were the unagi(freshwater eel) with a sweet glaze and the Philly maki. The most

Lunch Sushi Combo B

Lunch Sushi Combo B

interesting offering was the egg sushi. It was basically a Japanese omelet, which is denser and sweeter than the American version, perched atop sushi rice. The texture was a bit odd, but I enjoyed trying something new. I thought the raw fish samples where about as good as you can find here in Wichita. For $10 the sushi lunch was a good deal for some basic and simple sushi. Next time I would like to try some of the other specialty rolls that looked interesting.

As we were leaving the restaurant, I happened to notice Jacky Chan himself was out in the back of the building scaling a fine looking fish. Although I’m sure the health department wouldn’t be too impressed, I was. I’m sure that same scene takes place every day in Japan. There is plenty of competition in Wichita when it comes to sushi and I think I will have to give Jacky’s another try before I pass ultimate judgement.

Jacky Chan Sushi on Urbanspoon

Taste and See The Restaurant

13 Jun

Taste and See started off with humble beginnings tucked inside of the old Wichita Mall on East Harry. At this outpost Chef Jason Febres made a name for himself with his open kitchen restaurant design, creative South American fusion cuisine, and elaborate intimate dinners. I had my doubts whether such an audacious venture would be able to sustain itself in South Wichita, but things appear do be going well since there is now a Taste and See in Old Town as well as at McConnell. Since the opening last year of Taste and See The Restaurant in Old Town, the original building is now known as the Venue where cooking classes, private dining, and special events are held.

Cheviche with Plantain Chips

Cheviche with Plantain Chips

The Old Town location offers a large and open dining area with less emphasis on the whole stadium kitchen concept that was prevalent at the original location. There is still a large projector screen although it was turned off on our visit. The interior is decorated with vibrant colors and plenty of pictures of food porn.

Taste and See bills itself as serving global cuisine and the menu certainly backs that up. The dinner menu features everything from pho to steak and potatoes making it one of the more eclectic and trendy you will find in Wichita. If you are looking for an upscale dining adventure this is the place to come, if you

Mmmmm Dates Wrapped in Cured Meat

Mmmmm Dates Wrapped in Cured Meat

want plain old chicken fingers look elsewhere. So many of the dishes looked great; from the Chicken and Waffles to the Duck Pad Thai, but ultimately we opted to do some tapas.

Tapas, a wonderful Spanish invention, are simply small appetizer dishes that are shared amongst the group. Usually several different tapas are enough to make a meal. Traditionally in Spain the tapas are free as long as you are ordering alcohol, unfortunately that has not caught on in the US. Taste and See has a long list of tapas options and we had difficulty narrowing it down to four. After some thought we ordered a ceviche cocktail, dates mignon, duck springrolls, and the fromaggio and prosciutto plate.

Our first dish was the eye grabbing ceviche, which came out in a martini glass. Instead of the typical tortilla chips, fried plantains were used as dipping devices. The plantains were non-greasy, had plenty of crunch, and provided a neutral base for enjoying the ceviche. The ceviche itself was a solid effort. Chickpeas added another

Meat, Cheese, and Fruit: What Else Do You Need?

Meat, Cheese, and Fruit: What Else Do You Need?

texture dimension to what was otherwise your typical ceviche with shrimp, cilantro, avocado, and lime. Next out were the Dates Mignon and at the risk of sounding blasphemous I would put them up against their beef counterparts any day. The warm and tender dates were wrapped in a sweet and salty blanket of  pancetta, goat cheese, and a balsamic glaze to create a pleasurable experience in your mouth. The fromaggio and prosciutto tray consisted of five different types of cheese, strawberries, mango, a date,  buttery toast points,  a bit of prosciutto, and sweet sauce drizzled across the plate. The cheese types consisted of feta, goat cheese, Gorgonzola, and Gouda I believe.  While each was good, I was hoping for some more exotic selections. The best combination we found was spreading goat cheese on the toast and then soaking

Duck Spring Rolls

Duck Spring Rolls

up some the syrup with the toast as well. I did wish that more than two slices of prosciutto came with the meal, but then again I can never get enough dry-cured pig. Our last tapa were the dusk spring rolls, which proved to be a nice riff on a traditional Asian treat. The thinly sliced duck went well with the crisp veggies and herbs. The peanut dipping sauce was underwhelming, but the sweet and spicy orange sauce was a great foil to the cooling spring roll.

Taste and See offers a somewhat daunting selection of upscale fusion food, but it’s nice place for people to experience new flavor combinations. The restaurant is also one of the more vegetarian and vegan friendly places in town.

Taste & See on Urbanspoon

Marrakech Cafe(Trending Now In My Stomach: Moroccan Food)

17 May

Wichita can tack on another cuisine to our diverse restaurant scene and this time it’s Moroccan. Marrakech Cafe opened up in early 2014 and specializes in food from the owner’s native Morocco. This small eatery is a bit tricky to find, as it’s tucked behind the gas station on the SW corner of 21st and Woodlawn, but your search will be rewarded with a delightful meal.

Inside Marrakech are a number of small two and four top tables, so if you have a large group pushing some tables together will be your best option. They also have a glass case full of alluring desserts, which I’m sure would be great if you can manage to save room after your meal.

Zaalouk Salad: Your Tummy Will Thank You

Zaalouk Salad: Your Tummy Will Thank You

Since it was our first visit, our waitress kindly walked us through the menu. The highlights of the small menu are the tangine dishes which feature chicken, beef, or lamb cooked with vegetables or fruit in a traditional earthenware pot called a tangine. There is also a chicken pie called a pastilla(or bastilla, depending on translation), which is a phyllo dough pie filled with chicken, onions, and eggs. There are several salads including one with roasted eggplants and tomatoes and the ubiquitous fattoush.  Rounding out the menu are some shawarma wraps. On Fridays in Morocco nearly everyone enjoys a couscous  meal and the same is true at Marrakech. Every Friday you can enjoy Moroccan couscous layered with meat and veggies.

We had a tough time deciding what to order, but after some deliberation we went with an order of Zaalouk salad, lamb tangine, and a bastilla. The “salad” was the first dish to come out and was more dip-like in nature, at least from an American perspective. Nonetheless it was pure deliciousness. The dip consisted of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers, and various spices, namely cumin. It was served cold with soft pita chips. Move over hummus because I have found Zaalouk.  Next up was the lamb

Tender Lamb Tangine

Tender Lamb Tangine

tangine, which got extra points for presentation as it came out steaming hot in the clay tangine. The waitress pulled back the cover to reveal a nice hunk of lamb shank surrounded by dates and slivered almonds. The lamb was tender and flavorful and was nice change of pace from beef and chicken dishes.  The warm dried dates added some sweetness to the dish. Soft baguette bread came with the meal and aided in soaking up some of the juices in the tangine. The final piece of our trilogy of Moroccan delights was the bastilla. The menu describes this dish as a “plate from heaven” and I would say that is not far from the truth. I could see the god of your choice putting his stamp of approval on this concoction.

Bastilla: A Plate From Heaven Indeed

Bastilla: A Plate From Heaven Indeed

The phyllo dough pie was filled with shredded chicken, scrambled eggs, onions, and various spices. Sprinkled on top of the pie was a light dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon.  It was a sublime pie that could be enjoyed for breakfast, brunch, lunch,  dinner, or a drunken snack. While it may seem odd, the sweet and savory combination of egg, chicken, sugar, and cinnamon was disturbingly addictive.

Marrakech also has a glass cooler full of desserts that looked good, but we failed to save any room after out meal.

This was my first experience with Moroccan food, but it will not be my last. A visit on Couscous Friday is definitely in the cards. The simple and fairly healthy preparations of flavorful food are sure to appease. Just don’t go there and order a plate of hummus and a shawarma, while I’m sure they are good, you can order that stuff at nearly 42.7% of restaurants in Wichita.

 

Marrakech Cafe

6257 E. 21st.

https://www.facebook.com/marrakech.cafe

Watermark Cafe

24 Apr

What’s better than sitting down to begin a new book? How about enjoying a tasty sandwich or salad while enjoying your book? Watermark Books and Cafe, located at Oliver and Douglas,  is the place where you can make this happen. Watermark is one of the few remaining independent book stores in Wichita and perhaps some of their success can be attributed to the popular cafe that is housed inside.

The Great Expectations: Could Dickens Describe it in Less Than 500 words?

The Great Expectations: Could Dickens Describe it in Less Than 500 words?

The scope of the cafe’s offerings is impressive for a small place and includes dine-in or carryout options for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, fresh baked pastries and breads, and catering. The menu consists of various sandwiches and salads cleverly named with book titles, soups, several breakfast offerings, daily desserts, and a number of specialty drinks.

On our visit I went with the Great Expectations, a Dickinsonian delight that consisted of turkey, apricot-curry mayo, lettuce, and chopped walnuts. It was a sandwich that even Pip would have been pleased with. The apricot-curry mayo and walnuts were a nice combination that livened up this sandwich. Steph ordered the Catcher in the Rye, which included turkey, salami, swiss cheese, and sundried tomato mayo served on rye bread of course. This hearty and warm sandwich was quite tasty, although the rye bread was not as good as other versions in town. We also ordered a PB and J kids meal for our son, which in hindsight may not have been the best decision. Imagine a small child with PB covered hands and face running off into the kids section of the store. Lesson learned.

Watermark Cafe offers decent and unique sandwich and salad options for quick dining. They also get bonus points for having creative names for their menu items. In fact I took the liberty to come up with a few more suggestions for possible new items:

The Heart of Darkness: Baked tilapia, fried plantains, and mango salsa served on a whole wheat tortilla

A Christmas Carol: Thick sliced turkey, smoked gouda cheese, and a walnut cranberry pesto

The Grapes of Wrath: A mixed green salad with grapes, toasted pecans, and a buttermilk vinaigrette

 

Watermark Cafe on Urbanspoon

http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/329/1346128/restaurant/Watermark-Cafe-Wichita

2014 Lenten Special- Our Lady of Perpetual Help Meatless Mexican Meal

10 Apr

Ah Lent,  that special time of year when Catholics and some other Christian denominations must abstain from meaty goodness on Fridays. It also means that dining options can be somewhat limited if you are looking for something more than cheese pizza and salads. While many restaurants do a good job offering meatless specials during Lent, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help you can dine every Friday on a full menu of Mexican options sans meat.

Potato Tacos? Yes Please!

Who Needs Meat When You Have Potato Tacos?

This small Catholic Parish is located at 23rd and N. Market and has been serving the popular meal for years. The menu consists of cheese and onion enchiladas, potato tacos, bean tostadas, chile rellenos, and the obligatory beans and rice.  On our visit we decided to sample every item to get the full experience. The chile relleno consisted of a cheese stuffed, fried green pepper. This made for a delicious combination of flavors that I really enjoyed. The chile was rather mild as well, so those with an aversion to heat need not worry. The tostada was of the typical variety and came loaded with beans, lettuce, and cheese.

100% Lent Approved Plate

100% Lent Approved Plate

The cheese and bean enchiladas were top notch and some of the best you can get in Wichita. The tortillas were dipped in just the right amount of chile sauce to make the tortilla pliable and stuffed with plenty of cheese and onion.  The potato tacos were rather transcendent, think mashed potatoes in taco form, and were my favorite dish of the evening. Simple fried tacos were filled with a creamy potato mixture and then cheese and lettuce was heaped on top. Add a little of the homemade salsa and next thing you know you have polished off a half dozen of these guys.

The meal is served every Friday(except Good Friday) from 5 to 7:30 pm. It does attract a crowd, so the earlier the better. You also have the option of carry out in case the dining area is full. And of course you don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy this feast, as it’s open to everyone. All proceeds go to help send children from the parish to Catholic schools.

Bill’s Charcoal Grill

26 Mar

In theory the hamburger is simple, a disk of meat, a few condiments, some toppings, and a bread based cover are all that is necessary. Yet I am always surprised how restaurants find ways to screw up this pure Americana dish. The most egregious error is when restaurants opt for frozen pre-made patties and then proceed to cook the hell out of them. A burger patty should be handled with care and not require a pick axe to remove it from a frozen stack. If the aforementioned burger atrocity strikes a chord with you as well, then you will find a safe haven at Bill’s Charcoal Grill.

The Classic Cheeseburger with Sweet Potato Fries

The Classic Cheeseburger with Sweet Potato Fries

Located on the corner of 29th and Arkansas, this simple eatery knows how to make a reasonable hamburger. The new owners of Bill’s spruced up the interior and made a few minor changes, but the original concept has remained the same. Besides the typical burger options, a few pasta, seafood, and steak dishes are offered now. Side dishes include fries, sweet potato fries, O-rings, and baked beans. A condiment/topping bar is located next to the counter, so you can add all the veggies you desire. The food is reasonably priced with the basic burger and side costing around $5.

On our visit Steph tried the basic cheeseburger with sweet potato fries and I went with the exotic California burger and a side of O-rings. I was pleased and somewhat apprehensive when we were asked how we wanted the burgers cooked. Too many times I have been deceived by restaurants promising to cook burgers to order, only to discover that everything comes out well done. I know in this age of ecoli, you must be very careful when dealing with ground meat, but with proper handling and quality meat, cooking a hamburger to medium doneness is safe and acceptable.

The California in All Its Glory

The California in All Its Glory

I was quite impressed with the California burger. With the first bite I noticed that several of the qualifications for an acceptable hamburger were met; a toasted bun, plenty of melted cheese, and a juicy meat disk. Besides cheese the California comes with bacon, avocado, and a split hot link for good measure. While the hotlink was good, it provided almost too much decadence as well as grease. Next time I will order the Cali sans link. Steph’s cheeseburger  was just about all you can hope for in a basic burger. I was impressed that both of our burgers were cooked just as requested. Both the fries and onion rings were just average. The fries could have used some seasoning and the onion rings seemed like they were of the frozen variety.

Bill’s Charcoal Grill should definitely be in the discussion when the topic of best burgers in Wichita comes up. Their fresh, cooked to order patties help set them apart from many other contenders. If you happen to save room for dessert head next door to one of my favorite restaurants in town, Paleteria La Reyna for some delicious homemade ice cream.

Bill's Charcoal Grill on Urbanspoon

Death By Chocolate 2014 Review

10 Mar

This is a special guest review by my friends Andrew and Kate who attended the 2014 incarnation of Death By Chocolate last weekend:

Kate and I had the pleasure of sampling chocolaty confections at the 8th annual Death By Chocolate event at Exploration Place on Saturday night, our fourth time attending the event, and once again we were far from disappointed.  The museum hosted tables representing 15 local bakeries, candy shops, and catering companies offering a variety of treats, mostly sweet but with a few savory options to help periodically reset your palate and stave off the sugar shakes.  The delicious food, the chance to wander around a kid’s museum without those pesky kids in the way, the smooth jazz provided by the Cessna Jazz band, the chance to rub shoulders with the cream of Wichita’s crop dressed to the nine’s, all made for a marvelous Saturday night.

J. Rae's Dessert Monument

J. Rae’s Dessert Monument

Undoubtedly our favorite vendor had to be J. Rae’s Bakery.  There was nothing ground-breaking or exotic about their ingredients or technique, but there was a perfect balance of frosting and cake, the cake itself had a nice, moist consistency, and the different flavors were subtle but delicious.  My favorite was probably the Oreo, but Kate preferred the cookie dough.  They also offered a simple, and scrumptious, chocolate chip cookie that earned Kate’s overall best-in-show award.  It was in very high demand – in fact, it was an extinct species by the halfway point of the night.  Cero’s Candies was a one-trick pony, but what a trick it was, a Fleur de Sel (sea salt) bacon caramel drizzled with chocolate.  The bacon grease made the confection silky smooth with just the right hint of bacon flavor.  Artisan Catering  provided a very good cheesecake and tiramisu, along with an interesting chocolate-dipped, olive-tinged biscuit called a sable.

The vendors had their choice of “exotic” ingredients this year to incorporate into their recipes.  Most went the safe route and chose bacon, but some were more adventurous.  Cake Face Bake Shop piqued my curiosity with a cake whose frosting combined bee pollen with goat cheese, liberally sprinkled with sea salt and sugar crystals.  Those disparate flavors became muddled together and didn’t necessarily add much to each other, and I found the salt crystals overpowering.  Their best-selling hunk of a Frankenstein brownie (appropriately named the Heisenberg) was much more successful, combining peanut butter, sugar, and chocolate cookie dough with brownie batter.  The Sugar Sisters Bakery brought a menagerie of experimental treats, including chocolate cornbread with a rhubarb topping and a potato chip and bacon chocolate-chip cookie.  While the cookie was good, I thought the cornbread didn’t really come together, just a bunch of ingredients coincidentally baked together.  Bob & Luigi’s  offered a chocolate-bacon pizza.  I enjoyed the smoky flavor and lack of sticky, sugary sweetness, but Kate was not impressed, finding it too dry and not flavorful enough.  The students of the Butler Community College Culinary Arts program brought a beef tenderloin on a mini-bun with goat cheese and a chocolate aioli that worked well.  W.O.W. Cakes chose Pop Rocks as their special ingredient, giving their more-than-satisfactory cupcakes a nostalgic thrill.

Strawberry Cheese Cake and Sable Cookie from Artisan Catering

Strawberry Cheese Cake and Sable Cookie from Artisan Catering

Most of the savory options were provided by Empire Catering.  It was pretty standard fare, chips and queso, beef empanadas, and the like, but I especially enjoyed the plantain chips with avocado dip.  The chips had just the right amount of crisp with no harsh fry flavor, and the avocado dip was cool, creamy, and zesty.

Tickets for Death By Chocolate aren’t cheap, but keep in mind that it’s for a good cause:  bringing more fun exhibits to Exploration Place.  And if you do decide to attend the 2015 incarnation, wear your favorite cocktail attire, and bring your appetite.  Those rich treats fill you up quick!

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