Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta, Chicago, IL

Mario's Special Stuffed Pizza

Mario’s Special Stuffed Pizza

Many would expect that this Italian-American native Brooklynite would have a fundamental problem with Chicago pizza. Thankfully, I have an open mind and enjoy pizza in all of its forms.

There are plenty of big names in Chicago pizza, especially in and around the Loop and Magnificent Mile. None of these are particularly bad, but if you want to eat what the locals eat, you have to venture into the neighborhoods where they live.

One of the first places you’ll find on the way out of the downtown core is Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta. A true family business, Toni’s is run by Toni herself, her husband and their children out of a small corner space in River West. In warmer weather, there’s outdoor seating available. In the brutal cold of a Chicago winter, I’d advise delivery or takeout although if you’re lucky, you could find a spot at one of the two small counters inside.

Toni’s uses natural flour & tomatoes, low fat cheeses and locally made sausage to craft hearty pies loaded with flavor, yet maintain enough structural integrity to pick up a slice and eat it like a New Yorker.  While I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cheese, that idea is stretched here much like the trails of cheese stretching from the pie all the way to your plate as you take the first slice.  Anyone with an Italian grandmother would feel nostalgic over the thick and hearty tomato sauce that tops Toni’s pies.

Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta is close enough for a short cab ride from, or delivery to, hotels in the Loop and Magnificent Mile areas. If you haven’t got the appetite for a whole pie, slices are available.

Find Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta at
457 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago IL 60654
☎ 312 243 1500

FAA Rules Electronics OK

Personal Electronic Devices OK

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced that the FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with implementation guidance.

The FAA has lifted it’s requirement that airlines ban personal electronic use in certain phases of flight (full press release). Both Delta and JetBlue have committed to implementing a change in policy as soon as possible. This is great news for the traveling public. Until policy changes are implemented and communicated throughout each airline’s inflight workforce, please be kind and obedient to your inflight crews over the next several days or weeks. It is an FAA requirement that passengers comply with all crew instructions.  Note that cellular phones and any device with communication capabilities must still be put into flight/airplane mode for the duration of the flight.

In an official statement, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority notes that “CASA currently has no specific regulations governing the use of electronic devices in aircraft.” and “Currently in Australia all airlines restrict the use of electronic devices during critical phases of flight – such as take-off and landing”. CASA does acknowledge that they are “examining the US Federal Aviation Administration’s announcement on the use of electronic devices on aircraft.”

At the time of this writing (2:30 a.m. GMT) the UK Civil Aviation Authority had not responded to a request for a statement. This article will be updated when a response is received.

Jamie’s Italian, Various UK, AU

Jamie's Italian Polenta Chips

Jamie’s Italian Polenta Chips

Jamie Oliver’s chain of Italian restaurants, although each restaurant follows the same formula and serves nearly, if not completely identical menus, manages to avoid all of the flaws of a formulaic chain restaurant.  The food here is made fresh from fresh ingredients.  The staff are generally friendly and attentive, and the food is top-notch.

I’ve visited outlets in London, Cardiff, Sydney and Perth.  There are dozens of outlets in the UK, and a smattering of outlets across Australia, Ireland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey and the UAE.  Each one is as good as the next.  As an Italian-American who enjoys cooking and eating, I can say that Jamie’s team has the formula pretty well designed!  I’m just hoping for an outlet in the USA.

My particular favorites include…

Polenta chips (pictured above): Crispy on the outside, creamy in the middle, covered liberally in shredded parmigano reggiano and rosemary leaves.

Wagyu breasola salad (pictured below): Fresh, crisp, clean flavors of the salad nicely complement the rich, salty breasola served carpaccio style as a base for the mountain of salad.

If I’m in a city with a Jamie’s Italian, and I don’t have something new & unusual on my calendar for a given meal, I know I can always get some top-notch Italian food.

Jamie's Italian Wagyu Breasola Salad

Jamie’s Italian Wagyu Breasola Salad

Visit for locations in the UK and for locations elsewhere.


Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, CA

Gilroy Garlic Festival

Gilroy Garlic Festival

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is a 35-year old county-fair-style event taking place each summer in Gilroy, CA – a place known as the “Garlic Capital of the World”.  Events include a garlic cook-off with finalists this year from 6 states and Canada, a Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival contest, concerts, and as much garlic-infused food as you can handle.

Here’s just a random sampling of the items available… pesto pasta, pepper steak, Italian sausage, garlic fries, crab garlic fries, garlic steak tacos, crawfish etouffee, garlic battered catfish & shrimp, Thai BBQ.

The festival is over for this year, but if you’re in California next summer, and you’re a lover of garlic, you’ll know where to go.

Noah’s New York Bagels – Cupertino, CA

Noah's New York Bagels, Cupertino, CA

Noah’s New York Bagels, Cupertino, CA

As I sit collecting my thoughts on Noah’s, I realize that I really don’t want to write a negative review, and honestly, if you’re not a New Yorker, you’ll probably think their product is as lovely as the friendly staff.  I think what really rubs me the wrong way is that they imply through their name that the bagels they serve are similar to the ones you’ll find in New York.  This is simply not true.  Noah’s bagels are round with a hole in the middle and are a bread-like product; the similarities to a New York bagel more or less end there.

According to Wikipedia, “The New York bagel contains salt and malt and is boiled in water prior to baking in a standard oven. The resulting New York bagel is puffy with a moist crust”.  I did not see a bagel boiling kettle in the shop, which partly accounts for the lack of New York-ness.  Noah’s bagels lack the thick, moist crust and are far less dense than a true New York bagel.  Their “schmears” also don’t stack up against New York cream cheese spreads.  Comparatively, Noah’s schmears are thin and watery. While one should never toast a true New York bagel, toasting improves the structure of Noah’s bagels.

The bagels at Noah’s are comparable to what you’ll find at other chains like Einstein Bros. or Dunkin’ Donuts.  They certainly make a good breakfast, and they have quite a bit of variety including things I’ve never seen before, like dutch apple bagels and caraway seeds on everything bagels.

If you’re a New Yorker and/or a New York bagel purist, you’ll be disappointed.  Otherwise, you can have quite a nice breakfast here.

20520 Stevens Creek Blvd Cupertino, CA 95014
Next to Starbucks and behind the Chevron on the corner of DeAnza Boulevard

New York Restaurant Week

NYC Restaurant Week is on now through Friday, August 16th. Participating restaurants, including some of New York’s best eateries, are offering set 3-course menus for lunch ($25) and dinner ($38). See the list of restaurants at Register your American Express card at to receive a $5 statement credit for every $25 or greater purchase at each participating restaurant through August 16th.

St. John Bread and Wine, London

St. John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

St. John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

A cute, rustic venue, St. John Bread & Wine is acclaimed chef and author Fergus Henderson’s dining room specializing in simple classic british foods that may have been in danger of being forgotten amongst the celebrity chef emporiums and guerrilla popup restaurants that are common in today’s London.

Open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper, the menu changes as the day wears on.  You can enjoy a simple bacon sandwich for breakfast (easily big enough for two unless you’re in training or manual labor), amongst other simple options, at a reasonable price.  If you like, and your morning commute/wander will take you past St. John, you can phone ahead the night before to order your bacon sandwich for take away the next morning.  Lunch and supper dishes often include organ meats and offal, which stands to reason seeing as Henderson is the author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating (Amazon affiliate link).  Daily menus vary, but are known to include items such as foie gras and duck liver toast, bone marrow, and my personal favorite, the super-rich blood cake.  If you like black pudding or other blood sausages, it’s a must!  The blood cake is so rich that a fried egg with its runny yolk is used to cut through the richness.

Another favorite and British regional specialty that Henderson is reintroducing to London foodies to is Eccles cake.  Similar to a mincemeat pie (Aussies, it’s not meat, but fruit – ask a Brit or American), and named for the town of Eccles where they were creates and are still served in small bake shops.  Eccles cakes are a flaky pastry dome with a spiced and brandied filling of currants. The cake is usually paired with another hard-to-find-outside-of-England-item, Lancashire cheese – sort of similar to Cheshire or Wensleydale, but unique in its own right.

Of course, as the name suggests, you should absolutely try the breads and wine.  The bakery produces all manner of baked goods, which may just make you want to include St. John in your grocery shopping routine.  Aside from Eccles cakes, St. John has crusty rustic loaves and fresh madelines on offer.

The restaurant sits opposite Old Spitalfields Market and makes for a glorious pre-or post shopping meal or snack.  The address is 94-96 Commercial Street London E1 6LZ.

Breakfast dishes will set you back about £5.  Entrees (appetizers to my fellow Americans) tend to run about £9 and mains £18.  Order ahead for a whole suckling pig that will set you back £420 and feed 50 people.  If you want to put together a suckling pig party, call me anytime!

Ferdydurke & Section 8, Melbourne, VIC, AU


Inside Ferdydurke

Amongst my favorite Melbourne hangouts are these two Melbourne laneway bars. Ostensibly separate establishments, they share owners, a kitchen, and by extension, a menu. I discovered this(ese) place(s) a few months ago, during Melbourne’s summer. They’re even better in winter.

The indoor venue, Ferdydurke, evokes a run-down, maybe postwar or even mid-war Eastern European watering hole with its minimalist furnishings in bare wood, brick & metal, the working brick fireplace, and the communist propaganda decor.  The bar has everything needed to prepare classic cocktails as well as their own classically grounded twists – I recommend the Ferdydurke if you’re looking for something light and refreshing. Polish vodkas and beers are well represented and if you go in on a cold winter’s day you may get to have a cup of piwo grzane – “mulled beer” fortified with brandy, liqueur, spices and raspberries.

Out back, Section 8 is the container bar/beer garden.  The outdoor venue continues the run-down/postwar/postindustrial/postapocalyptic theme with the bar and toilets made from (separate) shipping containers, tables/seating made from shipping palettes & steel drums and a not-quite-complete corrugated plastic roof.  Decorations include mismatched bits of statuary, paper lanterns, industrial detritus and the odd shopping trolley (cart, to my fellow Americans). For those who feel the chill in winter, gas heaters are placed liberally around the place.  The bar is well stocked, offers a bit more casual menu of tropical themed cocktails, and just as good a selection of single malt scotch as you’ll find inside.

The shared menu is a selection of quality hotdogs offered with interesting toppings. The presentations are attractive, considering you’re dealing with a hot dog, and they use quality products.  The buns are tasty, but soft, light and not big on structure. Make sure you tuck and hold the bun tightly around the dog and toppings to avoid making a mess. You can choose one of their creations or mix & match toppings to create your own. During Pierogi Pierogi, originally a one time promotion but now a semi-regular event, Polish soups and pierogi replace the hot dog menu.  The next Pierogi Pierogi event will be on the 21st of July.

The prices are comparable to what you might pay in a New York or London venue.  Aside from the $5 Coopers Lights, beer will set you back $9-15.  Specialty cocktails range from $12-20 inside Ferdydurke and $17-20 outside at Section 8.  Hot dogs are $3 plain or $5 for the menu creations, though Ferdydurke offers a $3 happy hour special on all hot dogs.  Wifi is free inside Ferdydurke;  see the menu board for the password. The signal doesn’t extend to Section 8.

Ferdydurke hosts live bands and/or DJs most nights and Section 8 usually has a DJ.

You’ll find these spots in Tattersalls Lane between Lonsdale and Little Bourke Streets, convenient to QV, Melbourne Central, next to Chinatown and a short walk from several hotels.

What’s All The Ruckus? JFK T4 Delta Sky Club

Over the past several months leading up to the opening of Delta’s new Terminal 4 Sky Club, travel blogs have been going nuts about it.  Reading some of these blogs, one might expect that this club would be the greatest thing to happen to air travel in New York City since the jet engine.

Today was my first flight leaving from terminal 4 since the Sky Club’s opening.  While it’s nice, I really don’t see what all the hubub is about. The club is much bigger than any Sky Club I’ve been in, except maybe in Atlanta.  While it has the fresh styling of recently-renovated Sky Clubs, such as the one at LAX, it offers nearly the same exact amenities that are already offered at every other Sky Club.

One item I’ve not seen in Sky Clubs elsewhere is the menu of for-purchase meals and snacks.  I’ve often complained about Delta’s “no outside food” policy seeing as how the don’t sell any food.  This offering is somewhat self-service.  There are iPad-powered stations where you make your selections, swipe your credit card, take a theme-restaurant-style pager, and then wait for a runner to bring your order.

The other differentiator, the Sky Deck, is an interesting novelty, but you can’t catch a breeze thanks to what I suspect are FAA-mandated solid barriers around the outdoor space.  If you could (which can be accomplished by standing near the small gaps between the barriers), that breeze would be (and is) pregnant with jet exhaust.

In short, the Delta Sky Club at JFK’s Terminal 4 is very nice when compared to other US domestic airline lounges, but pales in comparison to just about any non-US lounge, domestic or international.  The Air New Zealand lounge at SYD (which Delta is a client airline of), for example, blows this new Sky Club out of the water with plentiful power outlets more than adequate seating, complimentary bar and complimentary buffet-style full meal service.

Artisinal Gelato Artistry in Sydney

Royale W' Cheese

Royale W’ Cheese

The queue for Gelato Messina spills out the door where employees hand out menus and try to maneuver the mob into something a bit less traffic-blocking.  There is hardly room to move once inside the shop as patrons jostle for position at the long display case full of the creamy confections.

Flavors range from the standards – chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut and tiramisu; to the complex – pannacotta with fig jam and ameretti; to the strange – “Just Waiting for a Mate” Wild Turkey & raisin.

The gelato is rich and delicious.  I tried the Italian nougat which was like frozen torrone morbido; apple pie, containing sweet baked apples and tasting like an apple pie was mixed in with the gelato (it was); finally, the pannacotta with fig jam and ameretti really couldn’t fail to please.

If the flavors weren’t good enough, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the staff at Messina make everything from scratch, gelato, the apple pie that gets mixed in, the ameretti, jams, ganaches – everything.  This commitment to freshness shows in the quality of the product, but not in the prices.  A cup or cone costs between AU$3 and $7, depending on the number of scoops.

Still not content to leave their awesomeness at that, Messina’s Laboratorio and Patisserie, a.k.a “Creative Department” occupies the shop next door, offering single portion gelato dessert sculptures such as the “Royale W’ Cheese” – a chocolate crackle gelato burger patty topped with compressed cucumber, white chocolate “cheese”, and a white chocolate and apricot gel fried egg all nestled inside a sponge cake bun.

Have you ever wanted to learn how gelato is made?  Messina can help you here too. “Gelato Appreciation Classes” are held about once a month.  If you’re interested, book early; the 2013 schedule is already completely booked!

Darlinghurst has become a foodie’s paradise.  After dinner at any one of the new and interesting restaurants, be sure to save room for gelato.

Gelato Messina
Shop 1/241 Victoria St,
Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Additional locations in Surry Hills and the Star casino, Pyrmont