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Monday, August 31, 2015

Mystified By BurgerFi's Small-Fry Burger

BURGERFI
Hot Dogs, American (Traditional), Burgers
918 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone: (785) 856-0824
Web: BurgerFi.com
Prices: $$$$


Reviews I had read were mixed, but having been out of the country since they opened, I had to give them a shot. Here is the low-down ...

Pros

1) Clean, inviting atmosphere

2) Prices seemed reasonable at first glance

3) Service was friendly and efficient 

4) Burgers, fries, and onion rings tasted great

5) Beer special, $2 for a cup of IPA, was a bargain

6) Bathrooms were clean


Cons

1) $27, not including $4 for the beer, is not exactly cheap for two burgers, a small order of fries and small onion rings

2) My $10 burger was ridiculously small, somewhere between a White Castle "Slider" and a McDonald's double cheeseburger


If you pay $10 for a burger, you should expect to need both hands to eat it. Mine was a one-hander and, other than Whitey One-Bites, the smallest hamburger I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the two cons overshadow the six pros in this case and, therefore ...


CombatCritic Gives BurgerFi A Middle Of The Road 5 Out Of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!




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Title: Mystified By BurgerFi's Small-Fry Burger

Key Words: BURGERFI, burger, fi, hamburger, french, fry, onion, rings, Massachusetts, street, Mass, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"

Lidia's Italy
101 W 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone number (816) 221-3722
Website: lidias-kc.com
Prices: $$$$


We have been going to Lidia's since we moved to Kansas City in 2008 and have never been disappointed. Whether ordering ala carte from the menu or enjoying their fabulous Sunday brunch, the food is always consistent and delicious although a bit pricey.

Antipasti (appetizers) range from $7.50 to $14.00 and include traditional favorites like "frico" (cheese crisp - $12.50), "cozze" (mussels - $12.00), "arancini" (deep fried risotto balls - $12.00), and "pappa al pomodoro" ( a Tuscan tomato and bread soup - $7.50). The frico, for example, is delicious with crispy cheese (usually a higher-fat hard cheeses like Montasio or Asiago) baked in the oven with various decadent ingredients, having originated in the Friuli region of Italy.

Insalate (salads) are normally ordered along with the main course (secondo) when dining in Italy and are not "meal size" as you will find in the United States. At Lidia's they range from $8.00 to $12.50, but I cannot comment on them as I have never ordered one because, other than the Caprese salad - one of my favorites, you should not come to restaurant like Lidia's unless you plan on focusing on pasta and meat/seafood dishes, all of which are quite filling.

Ranging from $17.00 (canneloni) to $22.00 (pasta trio), the prices for their "primi" (first courses - pastas) are Lidia's "Best Value", especially their "pasta trio" which my wife and I have had on numerous occasions. This "all you can eat" medley of three pastas changes daily and includes three different selections (fettucine, penne, ravioli, etc.), each with its own sauce (butter and sage, amatriciana, and other favorites). Servers come around with a large plate of each, giving you as much or as little as you desire so you can sample all three before deciding on which one (or three) you want more of. You can add a caesar salad and choice of dessert for an additional $13, but I would not waste my money and recommend enjoying as much pasta as you can eat instead.

The meat and seafood (secondi) dishes are not cheap at $21 for the lemon chicken to $49.50 for the bone-in rib eye steak, but if you like a traditional Italian meal with antipasto, primo and secondo, you will not be disappointed ... you will, however, be bursting at the seams! Secondi at Lidia's, unlike restaurants in Italy, are accompanied by "contorni" (vegetables and potatoes), making a full meal if you prefer meat and potatoes over pasta. My favorite used to be their "involtini di manzo", rolled beef scallops with pickle, vegetables and mustard (a Northern Italian recipe), accompanied by mashed potatoes, but it has not been on the menu lately.

Their wine list is extensive with nothing under $32 for a bottle (the "Value List" has a nice selection of reds and whites) and ranging up to as high as $495 for a bottle of Lange (2005) Gaja if that is your style. We have ordered from the value list every time we have been there and found the wines quite good and somewhat as the name implies, a "decent" value. They also have a full bar with drinks ranging from $9 to $34.

We have not been there for Sunday brunch in several years, but it used to be an excellent value at $25 (now $29.50). Served buffet style, you can help yourself to a nice selection of antipasti and dolci (desserts), ordering a selection from the wide variety of main courses, including the "Pasta Tasting Menu", frico, porchetta hash, osso buco, and lasagna Bolognese among others.

We have never been there for lunch, but looking at the menu it appears to be a decent value with meal selections reduced by $5 or so compared to the dinner menu and with sandwiches in the $12 to $13 range. 

Expect to pay a $100 to $125 for dinner for two, including antipasti and either a primo (pasta) or secondo, a bottle of wine from the value list, and a shared dessert (tip and tax included). We cannot afford to spend that kind of money every time we go out to eat, but for special occasions Lidia's Italy - Kansas City is a decent value with exceptional food, excellent service, and moderate prices.

CombatCritic Gives Lidia's Italy - Kansas City 7 out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!


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Title: Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"

Key Words: Lidia's Italy, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Lidia's, Italy, Lidia, Bastianich, crossroads, Missouri, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

Café Italia
160 English Landing Dr
Parkville, MO 64152
Phone: (816) 584-0607
Prices: $$$$

With a shortage of non-chain Italian restaurants in the Northland, Cafe Italia in Parkville did not let us down. The atmosphere is sparse, but modern with a touch of elegance as opposed to their old location on North Oak. The menu was missing one of my favorites from the old location, vitello (veal) saltimbocca. We started with wine, Canyon Road Cabernet ($22/bottle) from the limited wine list. Prices by the glass are reasonable, from $6-$7.50/glass.

We ordered a stuffed artichoke, while tasty, and hot, was too "cheesy" and drenched in olive oil. It was a bit disappointing, but my standards are very high because I learned an excellent stuffed artichoke recipe form my grandmother who was born in the Irpino region of Italy. We both had the caesar salad which was excellent, the only problem being the very large (but delicious) croutons that had to be eaten by hand because they were too hard to cut into pieces. My wife, a native Italian, had ravioli con funghi, stuffed with chicken, prosciutto, and capocollo in a mushroom sauce. The taste was excellent, but the pasta was too "al dente" (undercooked). Being Italian, my wife is hard to please when it comes to Italian food, but she enjoyed her meal very much. I had the vitello alla parmigiana which was tasty, but a little tough for "milk-fed veal" which was advertised on the menu. The color and texture seemed more like sliced beef to me, but it was tasty and reasonably priced, veal or beef.

The size of the portions were overly generous, so we had to pass on dessert. The owners stopped by to talk and one had family from the same area of Sicily where my wife was born, so they were able to speak in Italian about their shared heritage. Overall, we had a nice meal, the service was very good, and we will return soon to see if any of the problems noted above have been taken care of.

CombatCritic Gives Cafe Italia 6 out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!





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Title: "Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

Key Words: Cafe Italia, cafe, café, Italia, pasta, wine, Parkville, Missouri, MO, Kansas, City, restaurant, Italian, Italy, menu, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, food, definitive, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of "The Prato You Do Not Expect"

That's Prato
Phone: +39 328 00 21 009
Web: ThatsPrato.com
Prices: € € € € 

Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano
Across the piazza from Chiesa Santa Maria Novella, a free bus will take from Florence's Santa Maria Novella train station to various itineraries in and around Prato, a town between Florence and Pistoia heading toward Lucca and Pisa. You pay only for the entrance to museums (if applicable) and your lunch.
Monastery of St. Nicholas -Courtyard

The Province of Prato has organized these free weekly tours available on ten consecutive Sundays from May to July, taking four routes/itineraries with both Italian and English Guides:
  • CONTEMPORARY ART AND INDUSTRIAL ARCHEOLOGY
  • WHEN THERE WERE THE ETRUSCANS / ETRUSCAN PAST
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS
I emailed That's Prato, asking for a reservation for the Path of the Pilgrims tour which was quickly accommodated with a reply the following day for the next Sunday. When we arrived at the train station on Sunday morning, the group was in front of McDonald's next to Track #1 as promised. We gave them our name, waited until everyone arrived, then made our way to the other end of the station where the bus was waiting.
Monastery of St. Nicholas - Fresco
In a modern tour bus with air conditioning and comfortable seats, we were quickly on our way to Prato, a historic city (comune) and one of Italy's newest provinces (Provincia di Prato), established in 1992 from the Province of Florence. There were about 30 tourists on the bus for The Pilgrim's Walk tour, mostly Italians and, oddly enough, from the Florence area no less.
"THE PILGRIM'S WALK:
The Prato area has a long history associated with monasteries and holy places as well as Marian devotion, Which dates to the Early Middle Ages. This tour retraces some of the stops made ​​by pilgrims as they journeyed through the Apennines."
Our first stop was the Dominican Monastery of St. Nicholas (admission € 5) in the city of Prato. Established in the 13th Century, the monastery has beautifully decorated chapels, a pharmacy, dining hall, and many other rooms with fabulous frescoes and antique furniture. One of the resident nuns accompanied us on the tour, providing details of the history and tales of the ancient building.
Small Lake - Montepiano
We then took a route through the city streets and squares of the old town, then up the winding mountain road to the top of the mountain for lunch in Montepiano, a small town in the Bisenzio Valley. After a reasonably priced (€10) two course lunch on the small lake, we hiked up the hill to Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano, a small church also from the 13th Century with a fresco of Saint Christopher which sits on what used to be the main road from Florence to Bologna for hundreds of years.
Fresco of St. Christopher - Santa Maria of Montepiano
Next, we made our way down the mountain to Vaiano and the Abbey of San Salvatore with its small, but very interesting museum. This quaint complex dates back to the 11th Century and has a serene courtyard with fountain and bell tower, halls with ancient frescoes, and a museum with historic artifacts, the abbey's original kitchen, a small chapel, and trap door that leads to a 1,000 year-old lavatory. 
Abbey of San Salvatore - Paiano
Our bus driver then took us on the 40-minute ride back to Florence by the appointed hour of 6pm as promised, leaving us at the Santa Maria Novella train station where we had started our journey.
Kitchen (Fireplace) - Abbey of San Salvatore
That's Prato recently added free tours on eight consecutive Sundays in September and October with the following itineraries:
  • ART AT THE TABLE IN THE RENAISSANCE / ART AND FOOD IN THE RENAISSANCE
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS / THE PILGRIM'S WALK
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
The only negative I can think of is the fact that for a free tour provided and paid for by the province, very little background of or information on the City or Province of Prato was disseminated during the tour. During the 40-minute bus journey from Florence to Prato (and on the return trip), for example, would have been a perfect time to explain about the city and relatively new province to their captive audience. Instead, passengers were left on our own to chat privately while the guides talked only to each other, a lost opportunity and waste of government funds from my perspective.

A trip by train to Arezzo or Siena, for example, will cost you €16 per person for train tickets alone, so for just €15 including lunch and museum entry (both optional), you will not find a better value when visiting Florence in terms of day trips.

You can email thatsprato@po.camcom.it, visit their website: http://thatsprato.com/, or call them at +39 328 00 21 009 to request your spot on the tour.

CombatCritic Gives 9 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better! 





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TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" - Tabelog - "Official Judge (Bronze)
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Title: DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of "The Prato You Do Not Expect"

Key Words: Prato, day, trip, quip, DayTripQuip, train, Santa Maria Novella, Montepiano, Vaiano, abbey, monastery, fresco, church, antique, travel, value, Firenze, Florence, Italy, free

Monday, August 24, 2015

Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort

Little Florentine Retreat
Via di Pilastri 36, Firenze, Italia
Web: Airbnb
Prices:  €  € € 


Accommodations: Apartment

Via Pilastri and Chiesa Sant'Ambrogio (Far Right)
We spent two months in Florence, one month in July 2012 and the other this past July (2015), staying in apartments both times. The first apartment was small, but nice in the Santa Croce/Sant'Ambrogio area and the cost a very reasonable $1000 a month or a little over $33 per day. It had a small kitchen and bath, living room, loft (open) bedroom, air conditioning, wireless internet, and a clothes washer.
Living Room
We tried to rent the same apartment this year, but the owner was not cooperative, so we found another place in the same area, our favorite, and are we happy we did!
Main Bedroom
This apartment, just around the corner from the Jewish Temple and down the street from Chiesa and Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, is on the top floor of a historic villa. With no elevator, the 54 steps (no elevator) to the apartment became tedious over the month, particularly with heavy bags and 100 degree temperatures practically every day, so we limited are exits and entries as much as possible. After all, who wants to spend most of the day in an apartment when in one of the most beautiful and culturally abundant cities in the world?
Main Bedroom and Wardrobe


Kitchen
The owner greeted us warmly upon arrival, explaining the intricacies of the small, but very functional two-bedroom apartment. One decent size bedroom with queen size bed and wardrobe and one smaller bedroom with a pullout bed, desk, and chair were all we needed for the two of us and the occasional guest. Entering into the small kitchen-living room area, the bedrooms and bath were readily accessible. The small bathroom has a shower and bidet as well as a skylight providing ample natural light. The bedrooms both have air conditioning, but the kitchen, living room, and bath do not. However, with the bedroom AC units on and doors open, which we used sparingly, the main living area's temperature was tolerable in the 100 degree heat. The apartment has a TV with limited English language broadcasts, fast (cable optic) wireless internet, a dishwasher and clothes washer. The furniture was modern and functional, and everything necessary to live comfortably (pots, pans, dishes, silverware, toaster, microwave, etc.) was provided.


Entry and Kitchen
The apartment has been renovated inside, but still retains some of the charm of a historic building with exposed wood beams and terra cotta tile roof. The floors were also terra cotta tile. There are windows in each room, medium sized in the main bedroom and living room with views of the pallazzo across the street and a small window with no view in the smaller bedroom. The windows have wooden shutters which can be closed to provide darkness for those who may be sensitive to light when sleeping.

There are two supermarkets (Conad and Carrefour) within a five minute walk as well as shops, restaurants, bars, hardware stores or pretty much anything else you could find elsewhere in Italy. Santa Croce is a ten minute walk, and the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and the train station are just fifteen to 20 minutes away by foot. The best pizzeria in Florence, Il Pizzaiuolo, is close by, serving delicious Neopolitan-style pizza at fairly reasonable prices. Mercato Sant'Ambrogio (open 7:30am - 2:30 pm Monday thru Saturday) is also a short stroll away where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, salami, cheese, bread or anything else you might need in the kitchen. They also have a small restaurant where you can get an inexpensive lunch for less than €10 per person. It is much smaller than the touristy Mercato San Lorenzo (a ten minute walk away), but has everything you need, is frequented mostly by locals, and has better prices.
Bathroom

The owner has recently listed the apartment on Airbnb at $106 per night, but if you plan on staying for a length of time, contact the owner to see about getting a reduced rate. As I mentioned earlier, we paid $1100 for the month of July, about 1/3 of the published daily rate, so it is worth a try!
Bedroom 2

At $106 per night, you may find better values in Florence ($75-$80 per night would probably be a more appropriate price), but for the $1100 per month that we paid, this was an exceptional value and I highly recommend it for long-term stays.


CombatCritic gives  8 Bombs Out of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!





Read more reviews of Florence restaurants, attractions and day trips as well as ways to save money in CombatCritic's "Definitive Florence (Italy)" ...

Wood Beam and Terra Cotta Celing

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Title: Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort

Key Words: Florentine, retreat, apartment, hotel, accommodation, Pilastri, Santa Croce, mercato, Sant'Ambrogio, Duomo, restaurant, Airbnb, Italy, Florence, Firenze, travel, value, definitive, review, guide, 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Il Pizzaiuolo: This "Pizza Maker" Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way ... Delicioso!

Il Pizzaiuolo
Via dei Macci 113R
50122 Florence, Italy
Near Mercato San'Ambrogio
Phone: +39 055 241171
Website: ilpizzaiuolo.it

I wrote an extensive review in 2012 on Il Pizzaiuolo, so I will not bore you with too many details or flowery prose. Leave it to say that in parts of Italy, Rome and northward, good pizza is hard to come by. Most visitors do not realize that this is authentic pizza napoletana (not "Napolean", he was the squirt of a French dictator), equaling some of the best pizzerias in Naples (Napoli), the home of pizza and the best in the world.

Just around the corner from the wonderful Mercato Sant'Ambrogio and a five minute walk from Santa Croce, Il Pizzaiuolo has only around 15 tables, so the place is small and hard to find a seat after 8pm. Beside pizza, they have starters, pasta, meat, and fish dishes, but pizza is their specialty. On this visit, one of many in the past, we decided to try their frittura (€8 - fried things), including arancini di riso (rice balls), croquette di patate (potato corquettes), and montanare (fried pizza dough with a little tomato sauce). Their were just two of each (six pieces total) and a disappointment compared to what you would get in a Naples pizzeria for the same price (€8 gets you 25 pieces of the same). They were good, but there should have been more or it should have been much cheaper (€3 to €4).

I had a Neapolitan classic, pizza con salsiccia e friarielli (fior di latte cheese, sausage, and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic - €10) and it was wonderful. My wife's pizza quattro formaggio (four cheeses - €8) was also excellent with loads of mozzarella, gorgonzola, ricotta, and provola cheese. As is usual in pizza napoletana, the dough was thin and chewy, only crisp enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy and with little splotches of burnt crust from the fiery wood-fired oven. Perfetto!

My only complaints, other than the women's toilet being rather filthy on this visit (my wife told me, I did not see for myself) are the fact that you can only get wine by the glass or bottle, no liters or half-liters and that the prices are a little steep compared to Naples, but those are small discrepancies when you are eating un'oltima pizza napoletana (excellent Neapolitan pizza) in Northern Italy!

CombatCritic Il Pizzaiuolo 8 Out Of 10 Bombs ... Bombs Are Good!




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Title: Il Pizzaiuolo: This "Pizza Maker" Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way ... Delicioso!

Key Words: Il Pizzaiuolo, pizzaiuolo, pizza, pizzeria, Naples, napoletana, Neopolitan, Florence, Italy, Firenze, restaurant, ristorante, menu, Sant'Ambrogio, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, guide

Saturday, August 8, 2015

CombatCritic Takes You To ... The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram - Rishikesh, India

The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram Rishikesh, India
Prices: $$$$$


Sign on Wall Leading to Maharishi Mahesh Ashram
In February 1968 The Beatles came to Rishikesh and stayed at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, writing many songs for the White Album and others, including Revolution #9 in the small meditation huts you see in eight of the last ten photos.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr left in March, returning to England, but John Lennon and George Harrison remained until John had a falling-out with the yogi over a rumored sexual liaison with a young westerner, some reportedly thought was Mia Farrow, who had accompanied the Fab Four on the trip. Before leaving, the Maharishi asked Lennon if they could talk to find out what was wrong, but John stated something to the effect of: "if you're so cosmic, you'll know why" and they were off, apparently plagued by car troubles that Lennon attributed to some type of "spell" the Mahirishi had put on them before their departure.

Entrance on North Side of Ashram
The "Beatles Ashram", as it has become known, closed in 1994 and has been taken over by jungle where only the empty shells of the former glorious ashram remain. Only parrots, peacocks, monkeys, elephants, and leopards remain along the banks of the Ganges where music history was made some 46 years ago. 

Follow the path in front of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram south less than half a kilometer until it turns into a sand Jeep trail. You will see the Ganges on your right, where there happened to be a funeral pyre the day I was there, along with an old guest house and makeshift shacks. You may see the "Beatles Ashram" sign on the wall on your left if it is still there. When you reach the end of the path at the dry river crossing, make a left up the riverbed and follow the intertwined paths between the rocks. You will see a park and high wall on your right and about 150 meters further east you will find the gate to what used to be the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram.


The entrance fee will run around 100 rupees ($1.60) per person, but try to haggle. There will likely be  a "guide" waiting there to offer his services for a "donation", so feel free to partake or not. I did and it was well worth the 200 rupees ($3.20) I gave him, probably twice what he was expecting for an hour of his time.

As you meander through the dense jungle, you will go up a hill past small domed rock two-story structures that served as living and meditation quarters for ashram guests. A little further up on the right (you will see a small entry/exit gate) are three of these that the Beatles "reportedly" used for song writing during their stay. The second, bungalow "#9", I was told by the guide, is where Revolution (1 and 9) were written by Lennon.


The ashram was a small city at one time, housing up to 2,000 guests and providing banking, a post office, shops, kitchens and cafeterias, bungalows, large single-room dorms (where the Beatles and their entourage lived during their stay), meditation halls, and the quarters of the Maharishi Mahesh atop the cliff overlooking the Ganges, complete with air conditioning and a small swimming pool.

You can see everything in an hour to an hour-and-a-half or you can spend an entire day meandering through the jungle, exploring buildings, or meditating in a mecca of rock and roll ... The Beatles Ashram.

CombatCritic Gives Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (The Beatles) Ashram 9 ... Number 9, Number 9, Number 9 ... Out Of 10 Bombs ... BOMBS ARE GREAT!




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Title: The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram - Rishikesh, India

Key Words: Beatles Ashram, Beatles, ashrams, ashram, Rishikesh, rishekesh, yoga, India, White Album, The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Revolution