Travel Eats, Wedding Edition: Best bites from four fall weddings

This fall was my busiest wedding season ever: in six weeks, I attended four weddings across three states! Here’s a round-up of my favorite tastes from each trip.

Madison, WI

Falafel platter from Banzo in Madison
Falafel platter from Banzo in Madison

OK, technically this wasn’t at the wedding, but it was falafel that the bride claimed was the best she’d ever had, anywhere, so I made it a priority to try some for lunch. The texture of each sesame-heavy falafel ball was completely perfect, and each of the accompaniments were bright and flavorful. It’s a little off the beaten path, but Banzo is worth a stop if you’re in Madison.

Pie and mini Glazed and Infused donuts as the wedding dessert in Madison
Pie and mini Glazed and Infused donuts as the wedding dessert in Madison

From the wedding reception at Nakoma Golf Club, I adored the creative desserts. Several tempting varieties of pie were available alongside towers of petite donuts from Chicago’s own Glazed and Infused. Miniature versions of apple fritters and old-fashioneds? Yes, please.

Chapel Hill, NC

Fried green tomato wedding appetizer at Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill, NC
Fried green tomato wedding appetizer at Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill, NC

This wedding was held at Top of the Hill, a brewpub in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill. Out of several tasty appetizers, my favorite were the crispy fried green tomato wedges topped with sour cream and a bit of caviar – and they also felt fitting for my first time in the area!

Wedding dessert pairing of sweet potato cake and "black & blue" beer
Wedding dessert pairing of sweet potato cake and “black & blue” beer

I also couldn’t get enough of my dessert duo: Southern-style sweet potato cake paired with a Black and Blue that the bartender made with equal parts of Lewis Black Imperial Stout and the Blueridge Blueberry Wheat, both brewed on-site. The beer combination alone was outrageously good, but the fruit and chocolate flavors were enhanced even further by the spiced cake.

Chicago, IL

I was grateful that this wedding was only a cab ride away! I filled up on hefty ham and cheese empanadas during cocktail hour, their flaky crusts worth risking stray crumbs on my dress (sadly, my hands were too full to snap a photo). Both the appetizers and family-style main courses stayed in line with the Argentine and Venezuelan influences of the venue, Ravenswood’s ARTango. The sweetest part, though, was the array of sizable Molly’s Cupcakes that appeared as we hit the dance floor.

Lake Geneva, WI

Pulled pork on a pretzel bun with mashed potatoes
Pulled pork on a pretzel bun with cheesy mashed potatoes

Held at the Riviera, with gorgeous lake views as its backdrop, the reception’s highlight was hearty pulled pork sandwiches on pretzel buns with a tangy barbecue sauce. The mashed potatoes on the side (topped with cheese – it’s Wisconsin, after all) upped the comfort quotient, and dainty root-beer and orange-soda floats rounded out the meal as drinkable dessert.

Congratulations to all four newlywed couples! And yes, I’m done with weddings until 2014.

Delicious (and adorable) event: guest-speaking and cupcake-tasting with second graders

Discussing each cupcake flavor with the class
Discussing each cupcake flavor with the class

A few weeks ago, I received an enthusiastic voicemail from a close friend who is a second-grade teacher for Chicago Public Schools. She told me she was starting a unit about persuasive writing and reviews, and had been scrolling through this little blog for inspiration, but then had a better idea: for me to come in person and talk about how to write about food. I agreed to do it, and thus my very first public appearance as a food blogger!

For the first part of my visit, my blog was projected onto the screen in front of three classes of second-graders. As I scrolled through the posts and photos, they asked questions. Lots of questions. “Do you take notes about what you eat?” “How do you decide where to go?” “How can you afford to go to all those places?” “What’s your favorite pizza?” “How do you get the pictures onto the website?” I tried to field them as honestly as possible, which turned out to be a great exercise to reflecting on my process and breaking down what I do into a simpler explanation.

Showing my blog to the class – this was when I asked "who's had octopus before?"
Showing my blog to the class – this was when an octopus photo came up, and I asked “have any of you ever eaten octopus?”

Back in my friend’s classroom, all the students got to taste each of four different kinds of cupcakes from Molly’s Cupcakes, and then had to describe each one on their worksheet. I had a blast going around to each group of desks and hearing about their reactions to the different cupcakes. Their palates were amazingly sophisticated: some students picked up on subtle coffee flavors in the cookies ‘n’ cream cupcake, while others objected that the filling in the cake batter cupcake was too runny and the flavor was off. In our group discussion at the end, one main trend emerged: the ones who liked the chocolate decadence cupcake best liked the cake batter cupcake least, and vice versa. I guess you can chalk it up to the age-old vanilla/chocolate divide. (Side note: try explaining what decadence means in second-grade terms…my first attempt was to use the word “lavish,” but that didn’t really help.)

While I don’t think a full-time career of shaping young minds is in my future, it was rewarding to see the students thoughtfully engage with the activity and get excited about what I was there to share with them. The morning concluded with the whole class swarming around me for a huge group hug, and one student asked if their class would get to be on my blog. I’ll make sure their teacher passes this along!

Four kinds of cupcakes: chocolate decadence, cake batter, cookies 'n' cream, and cookie monster
Four kinds of cupcakes: chocolate decadence, cake batter, cookies ‘n’ cream, and cookie monster
Tasting worksheet for students to draw, describe, and rate each cupcake
Tasting worksheet for students to draw, describe, and rate each cupcake

Thanks to Ms. Ardam for taking all the photos!