A month ago my wife and I treated ourselves to a night on the town without the kids. After checking in to the Cincinnatian we walked up  Vine Street toward Over-the-Rhine to check out some of the recently opened establishments we had yet to visit. Though before getting too far north we decided to stop into Scotti’s Italian Restaurant, a place we had both wanted to try for quite some time.

Outside

Outside

Scotti’s has been a family-owned and family-run establishment since 1911. Inside was like nothing I have ever seen before. The quaint dining room walls are completely covered with random tiles along with old pictures and memorabilia.

Inside

Inside

Old Italian wine bottles hang from the ceiling, while other bottles can be found on each table holding a candle resting on a sometimes massive pile of old dripped wax. There is certainly a lot of charm inside.

Dripping Wax

Dripping Wax

Most entrées include a cup of soup, an Italian salad, along with bread and butter. Garlic bread can also be ordered with fresh garlic, parsley, and olive oil for $2.50 per order. I’m not much of a soup person, but the minestrone style soup was actually very good. It was rich on flavor and had a ton of pasta rings floating throughout.

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

The salad was our second course and it was also delicious. Most of the vegetables were shredded giving it a somewhat coleslaw vibe, while the dressing was an overall sweet vinaigrette style dressing but it had an awesome tartness that I really loved.

Salad

Salad

For dinner I enjoyed the manicotti speciale ($21 including the above). The ricotta cheese was outstanding and the tomato sauce was of pure Italian style. The serving size was manageable, though I still have to stuff myself pretty good to conquer all three courses.

Manicotti Speciale

Manicotti Speciale

My wife went with the eggplant ala rusticana ($23.50 including the above and a side of pasta). The eggplant was a generously thick slice and was so soft it nearly melted in my mouth. While both meals were great, I think the eggplant stole the show.

Eggplant ala Rusticana

Eggplant ala Rusticana

The dining room is small, so reservations are recommended. Though if there is room they will definitely do their best to seat any walk-ins like ourselves. Service can be very direct and to the point, but don’t be surprised at the occasional grin and chuckle. The only thing that needs to change are the restrooms downstairs, which are in desperate need for a renovation.

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A couple of month’s ago I took a business trip back to my former stomping grounds of Denver, Colorado. It was the last week before my company would be moving offices from the far southern suburbs to a new office downtown. Therefore I didn’t have many dining experiences worth sharing, as most eateries out by our old office are of the nationwide chain variety. I did make it closer to downtown one evening to meet with some friends at the newer Atomic Cowboy on South Broadway.

Inside Atomic Cowboy

Inside Atomic Cowboy

The Atomic Cowboy on East Colfax was a favorite of mine years ago, though I never tried their in-house pizza from Fat Sully’s. This time I was quick to grab a slice of their massive New York style pizza ($3.50 per slice plus toppings). The pizza was great, with a little spice to the sauce and plenty of toppings on a perfectly cooked crust.

Massive New York Style Pizza

Massive New York Style Pizza

One slice was enough for me, though I probably could have finished another though I would have been too stuffed to enjoy the Cowboys great selection of craft beers. Two slices are definitely the most you would want to eat, making Fat Sully’s a pretty cheap place for some excellent pizza and beers.

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Last night I saw The Lone Bellow perform for the fourth time in a year and a half. First was their very intimate performance at Mayday in May 2013. I saw them later that year in November at the 20th Century Theater. Finally was their performance at this past summer’s Buckle Up Festival. It seems their appearance at Buckle Up helped to double the crowd at 20th Century last night compared to what it was a year ago. I really enjoy seeing them in this intimate theater so I hope it is not the last time, but I fear that they will soon outgrow the limited capacity.

Fake Roses

Fake Roses

Last night’s setlist was a very solid mix of tunes from their self titled debut album and the soon to be released Then Came The Morning, due out January 27. “Working with producer Aaron Dessner of the National, the Lone Bellow has created a sound that mixes folk sincerity, gospel fervor, even heavy metal thunder, but the heart of the band is harmony: three voices united in a lone bellow.” The new songs that I heard have definitely evolved from their debut material, but I still feel that they are at their best in their stripped down acoustic numbers where their incredible voices truly can unite.

Shared Mic

Shared Mic

As my friend Will said on his instagram, it was another passionate and spiritual show, which is what I’ve come to expect from this band. I look forward to seeing them perform more of their catalog in future performances. For now, enjoy this live recording of “Then Came The Morning,” which could very easily be my favorite track off the new album and I’m saying that after only hearing a handful of songs.

Our neighborhood has a new pizza delivery option thanks to Romeo’s Pizza, which has taken over the spot formerly occupied by Naked Pizza. While Naked Pizza was alright, my family and I only ordered from there a couple of times. Romeo’s has only been here for a couple of month, we have already ordered from them three times.

Specialty Pizzas

Specialty Pizzas

Our personal favorites are easily Romeo’s Deluxe (pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, red onions, and mushrooms) and Dante’s Peak (same as before but banana peppers instead of green and tomatoes instead of mushrooms). With a few common ingredients these two pizzas make a great option for  combining half on each side ($18.49 for large).

Kid's Pizza

Kid’s Pizza

Romeo’s sauce is sweeter than it is spicy, and the toppings have always been piled high. They also sell pizza by the sheet (and half sheet) which are perfect for any parties. We ordered one on Halloween to share with our family members who came over to pass out candy at our house. Romeo’s is quickly becoming one of our favorite pizza delivery options.

Romeo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

My wife’s employer, American Financial Group, held their annual Christmas Party down at Music Hall on Monday night. This event has proven to be my yearly opportunity to visit Music Hall, which is a shame as the building is just beautiful. However with two kids my wife and I don’t get out often enough to explore the arts.

CHCA Choir & Band

CHCA Choir & Band

Kieth Urban was this year’s featured entertainer. Honestly, I know him better as a judge on American Idol than I do as a performer, but I was very pleasantly surprised by his performance.

Well Behaved Audience

Well Behaved Audience

Keith is one heck of a guitar player and his drummer was no slouch either. I didn’t recognize many of the songs, which shouldn’t be surprising as I very rarely listen to country music, but I found the performance to be entertaining and enjoyable.

Stage View

Stage View

Urban also was very interactive with the audience. He brought one fan onto stage for a quick conversation and a selfie after she loudly professed her love between songs. He also left the stage during one song to perform from the back of the room.

Beautiful Music Hall

Beautiful Music Hall

Previously we have seen Journey, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood (from the pit no-less), but this performance ranks up at the top with those that I’ve recently seen from this annual party. Who will it be next year?

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Just as I normally do, I headed out to a state park to celebrate with my in-laws. This time we headed for Maumee Bay State Park, where we enjoyed a couple of nights earlier this year. Again my family and I stayed in the Lodge, while some of my in-laws stayed in a couple of the twenty-four cottages available nearby.

Deer From Balcony

Deer From Balcony

We saw many deer during our stay. Some were brave enough to stand just a few feet away from us, whether it be while viewing them from our hotel room balcony or while on the two-mile boardwalk through swamp and marsh wetlands (though it was mostly dry during this winter visit).

Lake Erie

Lake Erie

We enjoyed the large indoor pool area with splash area for the kids and two whirlpools. We also spend a good chunk of time on the racquetball and wallyball courts, as well as the adjacent game room.

Model Rockets

Model Rockets

Many years ago I was an avid model rocket builder and I had forgotten just how much fun launching these rockets can be. My youngest brother-in-law is the perfect age for building these rockets and it was fun to piece together a rocket with him and send it flying high in the sky, even if one of the rockets did turn into a missile after a couple of duct tape repair jobs.

Missile

Missile

We also spent an hour or so finding a few of the parks hidden geocaches. This was my first time geocaching, a fun activity using a GPS device to find hidden containers typically with a logbook inside and sometimes even little trinkets for trading. We left an arrowhead in one of the containers for someone else to find.

Geocaching

Geocaching

We had another awesome stay at Maumee Bay and something tells me that this won’t be the last time we take a trip there.

Having just grabbed bagels our first couple mornings in NYC, I knew I wanted to sit down to breakfast to kick off our last day. Just down the street from our hotel in Murray Hill my family and I found Scotty’s Diner, a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week diner that has been open for many years. We were greeted by a friendly man who easily could have been one of the brothers who owned the place. He also was our server for breakfast, which was served fast and always with a smile.

Monte Cristo

Monte Cristo

I ordered the Monte Cristo, French toast topped with turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese ($10.95). The serving size was massive and the portion of French toast alone was what you would expect in most restaurants and it was quite good. The turkey on the other hand was very dry and lacking much of any flavor. The ham was better and the cheese was thick and plentiful. Overall I think I would skip this in the future and just go with the French toast and a side of meat.

Belgian Waffle

Belgian Waffle

The Belgian waffle was just as you would expect ($7.25) though the price was a little higher than normal. Our son requested this and though he is just three-years-old, he nearly ate the entire thing. He is fairly picky with his food these days, so that is definitely saying something.

3 Egg Omelette

3 Egg Omelette

My wife went with a three egg omelette, the California if I remember correctly with avocado, mushrooms, and cheddar, served with potatoes and toast ($10.95). She seemed to really enjoy the omelette, so add that to the list of good choices. I stole a few bites of her country-style potatoes and enjoyed them as well. Aside from the Monte Cristo, we had a great meal at Scotty’s with wonderful service and would easily recommend it.

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On our second full day in New York City, we wanted to try some New York style pizza. We were walking along 8th Avenue heading north from Times Square to Central Park and couldn’t find any suitable stops along the way. So we cut over to Broadway and immediately found 99 Cent Fresh Pizza. Yes, that is actually the name of the place.

Outside

Outside

The inside of this place is tiny and was packed full of customers waiting for their pizza orders. It seems this shop sells their pizza quicker than they can make it, but the wait was just a few minutes for my order of four slices. A slice of cheese pizza is 99 cents, but toppings can be added for a small charge.

Inside

Inside

We took our slices up to Central Park and had a little picnic with the kids. On first impression I though that I should have just stuck with cheese for all our slices, as the sausage and mushroom topping were not pretty to look at. The mushrooms were obviously from a can and not really all that warm. The sausage was slightly better, but I still enjoyed the cheese the best.

Pizza

Pizza

The slices were fairly large. The cheese pizza was actually pretty good,though I think it could have used a little more sauce. Definitely skip the toppings, but for the price it is tough to beat a couple of slices of cheese. Plus you can add a can of soda for 75 more cents to make one really cheap lunch.

99 Cents Fresh Pizza on Urbanspoon

Just around the corner from our hotel in Murray Hill we found Black Shack Burger for a late dinner during our recent stay in NYC. Black Shack sits a half story underground and it really has a basement feel to it. The somewhat limited menu is posted above the ordering counter. After placing your order you can choose from a dozen or so booths and tables and your food will be delivered when it is ready.

Inside

Inside

I went with the western chicken sandwich with crispy onions, pickles, and BBQ sauce ($7). The chicken was cooked perfectly and the toppings went well together. The BBQ sauce was especially good and at least appeared to be made from scratch.

Western Chicken Sandwich

Western Chicken Sandwich

My wife tried the special of the day, pulled pork sandwich. This was really good and came loaded with coleslaw just the way I like it. The pork was well cooked and again the sauce was very nice. We also shared an order of fries ($2.50) and onion rings ($3). The onion rings were better than the fries, which I think should be skipped. Maybe the sweet potato fries would be a better choice?

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Pulled Pork Sandwich

There is no special kids menu so our two youngins split one regular hamburger and both seemed to enjoy it ($6.25). They liked that it wasn’t too thick and was cooked to a perfect medium temperature. Overall we had a nice dinner at Black Shack Burger.

Black Shack Burger on Urbanspoon

After spending the better part of the morning and early afternoon at the amazing Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City, my family was ready for a late lunch. A friend had recommended that we check out the Hudson Eats food court inside the former World Financial Center building. Approaching from the north is a bit confusing with construction in the area, but we eventually found our way to the dining area.

Hudson Eats

Hudson Eats

My wife and I quickly decided to give Dos Toros Taqueria a try. This restaurant is very similar to Chipotle or other counter service burrito joints. They do offer quesdillas on the menu, which seemed to be the same as a burrito but without rice and beans. I really wanted to try their carnitas but I was told they were out of everything but chicken, so I went with the pollo asado burrito ($8.73).

Burrito Outside

Burrito Outside

The burrito size was very comparable to Chipotle and was wrapped in foil as you would expect. One thing I noticed right away during my burrito preparation that distinguishes Dos Toros is that they melt a slice of cheese onto the tortilla before anything else is added. I then added black beans, rice, salsa, sour cream and guacamole ($.92 extra). Overall the choices are a little more limited than I am used to at Chipotle.

Burrito Inside

Burrito Inside

The taste of the burrito was good overall. I really didn’t care for the melted cheese and would have preferred a loving scoop of shredded cheese mixed in. And I missed the fajita peppers and onions that I normally get from Chipotle. Overall I enjoyed the food at Dos Toros but I think I’d rather eat at Chipotle nearly every time.

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