One of my favorite places to visit is Italy. The first time I visited was also my very first time traveling to Europe. Being cautious, I chose to visit the major cities of Rome, Florence and Venice. It was a wonderful experience and I have no regrets, but now I know sometimes the road less traveled can be far more rewarding.
Lucky for me, I was able to visit the province of Pavia as a guest of the Chamber of Commerce of Pavia. I instantly fell in love with the charming little towns, cobblestone roads and the welcoming people. If Italy is on your bucket list of travel destinations, then Pavia is worth a visit.
The town of Pavia is about an hour drive from Milan or a 30-minute train ride from Milan Centrale. Pavia is located in the Lombardy region and known for agricultural products such as rice and wine. The three main areas within the province of Pavia are Pavese, Lomellina and Oltrepo (aptly named as it literally means across from the Po River). The main towns to visit are Voghera, Vigevano and of course, Pavia.
The best way to enjoy Pavia is by foot, but the city does have taxis as well as buses. Many monuments from Pavia’s Medieval past can be seen throughout town as well as a plethora of beautiful churches and cathedrals. The 15th century Cathedral of Pavia boasts the third largest duomo in Italy. The Visconti Castle and the University of Pavia are also worth visiting. I was particularly enthralled by the statue of Minerva by Italian sculptor Francesco Messina. She stands tall and strong guarding the city with her shield and wisdom. However, Pavian lore has it that students who stare her in the eyes will never graduate.
The Lombardy region is famous for its cultivation of rice, especially Carnaroli (the king of rice) used for making delicious risottos. Sausage production is well-known in the area especially rich salami made from pork, duck and even goose. Restaurants typically serve farm-to-table cuisine and showcase products that are in season. Weekly farmer’s markets can be found around town and it’s a great way to peruse the local fare and gaze upon the myriad of colorful fruits and vegetables, stand in line for a taste of pancetta or grab a sample of fresh cheese.
If you happen to travel to Pavia in the fall, make plans to attend Autunno Pavese. This long-running annual event is the largest food and wine showcase in the province. For four days, guests can sample the best culinary offerings of the region. There are seminars as well as a full-service restaurant offering a multi-course menu accompanied by Oltrepo wines for just 25 Euros.
There are many hotels to choose from in Pavia in varying price ranges, but you won’t find any big chains. I stayed in the Hotel Moderno, which was a lovely boutique hotel in close proximity to the train station and within walking distance of the town center. One thing to note for those that love their air-conditioning like I do, many European hotels either do not have A/C or turn it off after a certain time of year when the weather is cool.
The Chamber of Commerce of Pavia has developed an interactive website to help promote the rich heritage of Pavia. To learn more about this hidden gem visit, buonoasapersipavia.it
December 5, 1933 - otherwise known as Repeal Day, marked the end of the 13 years of Prohibition. The dark days were over and Americans were once again free to legally consume alcohol. In Houston, you can party like it's 1933 at these Repeal Day parties.
One Armed Scissor, 208 Travis
Owners of Not Too Sweet Ventures, Patrick Abalos and Justin Ware, will be holding their 2nd Annual Repeal Day Bar Takeover from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. with live Jazz music by The 3rd Rail Band. Expect a menu of modern classics and cocktails riffs with names inspired by Texas history.
The Oyster Bar at Prohibition, 1010 Prairie
Celebrate Repeal Day in style with Prohibition era costumes and music. There will cocktails featuring Bulleit and 50 cent raw Gulf oysters. The party starts at 4 p.m., but prime time will be from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
Whiskey Cake, Multiple Locations
This annual Repeal Day party will feature $10 cocktails from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Starting at 9 p.m. drinks will only be $5! Save The Barrel whiskey flights will be offered for $19.33 and includes four pours of any Whiskey Cake barrel select whiskeys. Feel free to dress up in your favorite 20's attire and don't forget the speakeasy word of the night. Mention "Roosevelt" to your server and upgrade your Old Forester Old Fashioned to Woodford Reserve.
Prohibition Texas, 26420 Preston
This speakeasy-style bar in Old Town Spring celebrates the Prohibition era everyday, but on Repeal Day they are putting on the swankiest party in town starting at 7 p.m. There will be live music, build your own Old Fashioned, Flapper Girl shots and $1.933 Well Drinks (1 per customer). Costumes are highly encouraged.
The 12th Annual Zest in the West returns to Château Crystale, 2517 S. Gessner Rd., on Wednesday, October 16 from 6 to 10 p.m. This event brings together over 25 of West Houston's best chefs and restaurants in order to raise money and compete for the coveted "Best of Zest" Culinary Award. The decadent evening includes gourmet bites, over 150 wines, craft beer and three stages featuring live music. There will be a silent auction and wine pull with proceeds benefiting scholarships for the West Houston Leadership Institute.
The 2019 Special “Guest of Zest” is Chef Marcus Paslay, the executive chef & owner of Piattello Italian Kitchen and Clay Pigeon in Fort Worth, Texas. Since opening his own restaurants, Paslay has garnered critical and commercial acclaim and has been featured in local and national media, including: CBS This Morning Saturday, Food & Wine, USA Today, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Good Day Fox 4, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Monthly, Fort Worth Texas Magazine, D Magazine and more.
Two ticket options are available for Zest in the West and can be purchased at: zestinthewest.com
The Champagne Experience – 6 to 10 p.m.
Enjoy a VIP evening arriving first to “A Sparkling Affair” VIP reception hour being greeted with effervescent Piper Sonoma, passed hors d'oeuvres, a champagne bar and live music from Brenda Guy. The Grand Zesting opens at 7pm where guests will find 150+ fine wines, craft beer and culinary fare from West Houston's best restaurants. Unique experiences and items can be found at the West Houston Leadership Institute auction. Held in the Château Crystale courtyard and ballroom. Tickets $100.
Champagne & Caviar VVIP Experience – 6 to 10 p.m.
Champagne & Caviar guests enjoy all the elements offered in The Champagne Experience, but they also indulge at The Ultimate VIP Luxury Lounge which includes lounge seating, premium wine selections, caviar tastings and Champagne Flights, plus the Spirits Patio, presented by Tippit Dental, with premium spirits and the sultry sounds of live music by Gabe Montoya. Special Guest of Zest, internationally acclaimed Chef, Marcus Paslay will conduct a cooking presentation of his award-winning dishes in The Ultimate VIP Luxury Lounge. Tickets $200.
Zest in the West is a community celebration hosted by the Houston West Chamber of Commerce and produced by Food & Vine Time Productions. Since its inception, Zest in the West has raised nearly $300,000 to benefit the West Houston Leadership Institute and Houston West Chamber of Commerce.
Labor Day marks the end of the summer for most people, but in Texas it means that it's time for the best craft beer festival in the U.S. This year marks the tenth anniversary for the Brewmasters festival at the Moody Gardens Hotel on Galveston Island. The three-day event offers beer lovers the chance to sample hundreds of the world's best brews including several "Taste It First" selections.
Reflecting on the past ten years, Clifton McDerby, Executive Director of Food & Vine Time Productions, Inc. said, "We were the first beer festival in the region and our goal was then and is now to offer an immersive learning and tasting experience. We think we've been successful in staying true to our original mission. Be the leader in craft beer education."
The foam-filled festivities begin on Friday with the Nach-Yo Ordinary Tequila tasting from 7 to 10 p.m. Sample a range of high-quality tequilas while noshing on nachos. Tickets are $30. The fun continues on Saturday with the BrewHaHa Grand Tasting from 3 to 6:30 p.m. In addition to hundreds of beer samples, guests can attend seminars and speak with experts in the Texas brewing industry. Tickets are $35. VIP tickets are $85 and include entry at 2 p.m., a private lounge area, light bites and premium samples.
Make it a beer-tastic weekend by attending all three events. A Weekender pass is available for $165 and the Moody Gardens Hotel is offering special hotel rates for Labor Day weekend. For more information and to purchase tickets visit BrewmastersBeerFest.com
Häagen-Dazs new indulgent Spirit Collection is the perfect boozy summer treat. I am a long time HD fan (me and Rocky Road go way back). When I heard that they had combined two of my favorite pastimes - drinking and eating ice cream, I was ecstatic. The collection consists of five ice cream flavors, a cookie square and a non-dairy option. Don't worry, you don't need to be 21 to buy it. The alcohol amount is below 0.5%, giving you all of the flavor without the buzz.
According to flavor developer Aaron Butterworth, the flavors for the collection were carefully chosen to keep in line with Häagen-Dazs commitment to creating rich and indulging desserts. The ice cream is designed to be enjoyed on its own or paired with a cocktail. Bourbon was a natural pairing with vanilla and is showcased in both the Bourbon Vanilla Bean Truffle and the Bourbon Praline Pecan. The latter is great with an Old Fashioned, whereas I enjoyed the Vanilla Bean Truffle as a milkshake blended with more bourbon.
Rum Tres Leches combines white rum ice cream with ribbons of dulce de leche and chunks of Tres Leches cake. When I think of indulgent, this flavor is what comes to mind. This ice cream was heavenly all on its own, but a little rum made it even better.
Häagen-Dazs Irish Cream is a long time fan favorite, but it has been elevated and reinvented into two new forms. The Irish Cream Brownie has Irish Cream infused ice cream with chocolate brownie pieces and a decadent fudge swirl. The Irish Cream Cookie Squares are my personal favorite with just the right amount of ice cream in a portable package. Both of these pair well with an Irish Coffee.
I've loved chocolate stout ice cream since my first bite at Fat Cat Creamery, so I was very excited about Häagen-Dazs Stout Chocolate Pretzel Crunch. The malty flavor of the ice cream with a pop of fudge and a hint of salt from the pretzels was the perfect combination of flavors. I paired it with the equally indulgent 11 Below Negative Space Milk Stout.
The biggest surprise of the entire collection was the non-dairy Amaretto Black Cherry Almond Toffee. Black cherry jam and almond toffee pieces are folded into the creamy Amaretto-infused frozen dessert. "The special thing about our Häagen-Dazs non-dairy Amaretto Black Cherry Almond Toffee is that we use a rich and creamy almond butter base (not almond milk)," explains Butterworth. "We are able to achieve a super rich and creamy taste and mouthfeel that almost makes you forget you are eating non-dairy." Indeed it does. I found myself enjoying it way more than I expected, especially with a drizzle of Amaretto on top.
The Häagen-Dazs Spirit Collection is available at stores nationwide and retails for around $5.29. The ice cream comes in 14 oz. cartons and the cookie squares are sold in a 3 count package.
Disclosure: I am the spouse of a Nestle employee. Product was provided for me to sample, but all opinions and photos remain my own.
Wine & Food Week in The Woodlands, is one of my favorite times of the year. Running June 3 - 9, this week long culinary celebration has events for every taste and budget. Take a stroll through Market Street with your friends while sipping wine and noshing on bites or get glamorous for the Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase. Here's a quick guide to some of the week's must attend events.
It's A Guy Thing, June 4 from 7 - 9 p.m.
Enjoy the perfect guys night out with big bold wines, craft beer and man grub from featured restaurants like Kirby’s, the Silver Whisk, JJ Watt’s personal Chef, Kobe Beef and more. Sit down for a shoeshine, puff on a cigar or soak in the live music. Meet Master Sommelier and 2018 Wine Wizard, Guy Stout and Master of wine and founder of MyVinoType.com, Tim Hanni. Tickets are $30 per person.
Dirt-y Talk Seminar, June 5 at 5:30 p.m.
This structured wine tasting with Oregon Wine Person of the Year, Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estates takes place at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center. Learn about Biodynamic and organic farming, and sustainable wine making. Guests will also get a tasting profile done by Tim Hanni author of “Why You Like the Wines You Like.” Tickets are $45 per person.
HEB Wine Walk, June 6 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Market Street rolls out the red carpet for the H-E-B Wine Walk with savory bites, wine and craft beer and live music by Mango Punch in Market Street’s Central Park. Features include a craft beer garden, VIP room, H-E-B Anchor areas, GOYA Food’s Chef Pantry and over 25+ food tasting stations. Tickets start at $40. VIP tickets are $75 per person. VIP tickets include early entry, specialty wines and a private tasting area.
Sips, Suds & Tacos, June 7 from 6 - 9 p.m.
It’s a taco take-down where tacos of all shapes and sizes are served up with all the fixings and one taco takes all the glory and the trophy. Over 20 top contenders will compete in the challenge and there will be plenty of suds to wash them down with. Grab your friends and get the weekend started at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center. Tickets are $30 per person.
The Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase, June 8 from 7 – 10 p.m.
The last night of Wine & Food Week ends with the ultimate wine and food tasting featuring hundreds of wines and more than 60 culinary teams from the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America all in one elegant ballroom vying for the title of GOYA Foods Chef of Chefs. Hall of Fame lifetime achievement inductees and Houston icons Michael Cordúa, and Carmelo Mauro will return to see who takes the coveted trophy and $5,000 cash prize. Tickets for the Grand Tasting are $125 per person.
Visit WineandFoodWeek.com to purchase tickets and see exclusive hotel deals. Make it a staycation and enjoy all the Wine & Food Week events!
Wine and Food Week returns this June for the 15th year. The week long celebration takes place June 3 - 9, in The Woodlands, Texas. The culinary extravaganza, under the direction of Food & Vine Time Productions, celebrates master chefs, wine makers and wine experts. Events during the week include seminars, dinners, wine tastings, casual events and the glamorous Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting and Chef Showcase.
15 Reasons Not To Miss Wine & Food Week
The Kolache Factory 5K Challenge returns to Houston for a second year. The event will take place on Saturday, March 9 in the Energy Corridor. Participants have a choice of three entry options and will be rewarded with free kolaches and a celebratory Saint Arnold beer at the finish line. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Memorial Assistance Ministries (MAM). Sign up fees range from $39.75 to $44.75 and will go up as the race date gets closer.
Challenges and Prizes
Racers have a choice of three different 5K options - Challenge, Casual or Virtual. In the "Challenge", participants must eat three sausage and cheese kolaches at the 1.5 mile mark and then complete the rest of the race in 90 minutes or less. A $100 Kolache Factory gift card will be awarded to the fastest male and female. Racers in the "Casual" 5K will eat one kolache at the 1.5 mile mark and enjoy the rest at the finish line. The fastest male and female in this category will also receive a $100 gift card. The last option (and my favorite), is the "Virtual" 5K. Kolache enthusiasts can sleep, earn their swag, donate to a great cause and eat some delicious kolaches at a later time.
Young runners (ages 12 and under) can enter the "Kolache Kids" Fun Run 1K. One parent per child may participate for free. There will be activities for participating kids at the start/finish line between 8 and 10 a.m.
Kolache Factory was founded in 1982 and is headquartered in Katy, Texas. Founders John and Jerri Banks identified the need for a high quality breakfast that could be eaten "on the run" and the rest is history.
For race information including sign up, bib pick up times, start time and course map, visit runsignup.com.
Valentine's Day is rapidly approaching and you don't want to be caught without a plan. Spending time with your Bae doesn't have to be all wine and roses (although those things are greatly appreciated). Sometimes girls just wanna have fun, so this year mix things up a little. Here are ten fun booze-centric ways to say "I Love You".
Conservatory - 1010 Prairie
Bite Me: Valentine's Day with Saint Arnold, Real Ale & Four Roses - The Conservatory is partnering with Saint Arnold, Real Ale and Four Roses Bourbon for a evening of lovely libations. Special cocktails will be available along with custom glasses. Food vendors will offer Valentine's Day dinner specials. There will be a raffle of Saint Arnold and Real Ale swag.
Eureka Heights - 941 West 18th
Steak Night Love Birds Package - Chef Daniel Ajtai, from the newly opened Yong (Finn Hall), will be cooking steaks to order. For $60 (+tax), couples will get a 12 oz Korean marinated ribeye served over kimchi fried rice with spicy crunchy pickles and a sunny side up egg. The package also includes two Eureka Heights beers and homemade chocolate truffles. Seating is open and steaks will hit the grill starting at 5:30 p.m. Pre-ordering is preferred as a limited amount of steaks will be sold that day. All orders must be picked up by 8 p.m. Guests that pre-order will receive $2 off any additional beers purchased in the taproom that evening.
Holler Brewing - 2206 Edwards
Dinner, Drinks and Dancin' - Put on your dancing shoes and head to Holler Brewing for a Triple D evening starting with dinner from Breaking Bao. A shareable meal of 5 specialty bao and gourmet fries will be served from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Then head next door to Love Dance studio for a couples two-stepping class from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Ticket price is $50 per couple and includes 2 beers redeemable anytime throughout the evening.
Ingenious Brewing - 1986 South Houston, Humble
Dessert and Beer Pairing - Spend Valentine's Day eating sweets with your sweetheart at Ingenious Brewing. The $20 (+ tax) ticket includes four 4 oz specialty beers paired with 4 mini desserts from Ape's Curious Confectionery. Guests will have the option to take home a crowler/growler of their favorite pour for an extra charge. Beers for the night include Pineapple Coconut Cake (5.2%), Smarty Strawberry Rhubarb (6.5%), Double Marshmallow Vanilla Dream (8.2%) and Southern Pecan Latte (12%). Tastings will be held at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m. Tickets are sold only in the taproom.
Johnny's Gold Brick - 2518 Yale
That's Amore - Johnny's Gold Brick will be transformed into an Italian Trattoria serving a five-course dinner with wine and cocktail pairings. The menu will feature a collaboration of items from Tony Lurhman (El Topo Truck) and Jason and Becca Kerr (Little Kitchen HTX). Tickets are $60 pp (+ tax & gratuity) Guests can choose from two dinner seatings - 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
King's Bierhaus - 2044 East TC Jester
Uncomplicated Valentine's Dinner - Enjoy a candlelit five-course dinner at King's Bierhaus for $60 per couple. Start the evening off with a shot of German Schnapps followed by your choice of soup/salad, appetizer, entree and dessert. Simple, yet delicious, because life's already complicated - Valentine's Day shouldn't be. Reservations are recommended.
Prohibition Texas - 26420 Preston, Spring
Dinner and Live Music - Celebrate Prohibition-style in Old Town Spring. Guests can choose from steak or salmon for $24.95 a person. Each entree comes with two sides and shrimp can be added for an additional charge. Live music sets the mood from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. As an incentive for making reservations, Prohibition is offering a flower for the ladies and two free Cupid's Arrow cocktails. Reservations can be made on Open Table or by calling 832-585-1438.
Tea + Victory - 2030 East TC Jester
Valentine's Night with Saint Arnold - Show your Valentine you've got game at Tea + Victory. This fun board game cafe will be partying like a rock star with tunes from the 90's and 2000's. There will be a costume contest, Saint Arnold Beer and special entrees. The fun starts at 5 p.m. and no cover or reservation is required. There is a $5 per person game fee.
Mongoose versus Cobra - 1011 McGowen
Gin and Tonic Lab - Keep the love going by treating your sweetheart to an informative Gin and Tonic class at Mongoose versus Cobra on Saturday, February 16th from 3 to 5 p.m. For $75 a couple, you will taste four different gins and tonics including MvC's secret house recipe. Class size is limited and reservations are required.
Reserve 101 - 1201 Caroline
Chocolate and Whiskey Tasting - On Saturday, February 16th, learn how to pair whiskey and chocolate at Reserve 101's annual event. Chocolates from Cacao & Cardamom will be paired with Maker's Mark Private Select, Annasach 25 yr and Blanton's Single Barrel. The tasting is $75 a couple and two seating are available - 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
This post is sponsored by Cabernet Grill. All opinions and photos are mine.
Fredericksburg, Texas is a small, hill country town known for its wineries, wildflowers, peaches and German heritage. Located four hours Northwest of Houston, the scenic drive will take you through small towns and rolling hills. Having never been to Fredericksburg, I was excited to be invited by Cabernet Grill to visit their restaurant and lodging at Cotton Gin Village.
Cabernet Grill is about a five minute drive from downtown Fredericksburg, but once you step inside Cotton Gin Village you will feel like you are in your own little world. The grounds are adorned with waterfalls, fire pits and seven 19th century cabins that surround a central courtyard and koi pond.
Owned and operated by Chef Ross Burtwell and his wife Mariana, Cabernet Grill features a unique menu of Texas Hill Country Cuisine and an impressive all Texas wine list. In 2018, Wine Enthusiast magazine included Cabernet Grill on their list of 100 Best Wine Restaurants.
For dinner, Chef Ross curated a special tasting menu that highlighted signature hill country dishes that were expertly paired with wine chosen by beverage director, Elizabeth Rodriguez. Highlights of the evening included roasted butternut squash soup, pecan crusted crab cake, smoked quail and braised short rib. Wines for the evening showcased varietals suited for growing in Texas climates such as albarino, viognier, mourvedre and merlot.
The best part about staying at Cotton Gin Village, is that after a wonderful meal at Cabernet Grill, you're just steps away from your cabin. My 1887 cabin, the Pedernales, is from Tennessee. It still maintained its rustic charm with a tin roof and wood burning fire place, but it had modern amenities such as a jacuzzi tub, queen-sized bed, air-conditioning/heating and cable TV (if you need it). The kitchen contained all the makings for s'mores so I put my scout skills to use and built a fire.
After a cozy night's sleep, a warm breakfast was delivered to my front porch at 9 a.m. The adorable wicker basket was filled with breakfast tacos, fresh fruit and juice, warm danishes and yogurt topped with homemade granola. Not being a morning person, I appreciated being able to enjoy a delicious breakfast at my leisure.
My experience at Cabernet Grill and Cotton Gin Village made my first trip to Fredericksburg memorable and I look forward to returning. As a special treat, I was gifted a copy of Chef Burtwell's cookbook, Texas Hill Country Cuisine - Flavors from the Cabernet Grill. I can't wait to cook up something yummy and get a taste of the hill country at home. Of course, whatever I make will be paired with Texas wine.
About the Author
I like eating, traveling, and enjoying liquid libations. I'm all about great wines, signature cocktails, and local brews.