Brews, Bites & Bottles

Current Favorites: Brunch Spot

Bites, Comfort Food, Local, Coffee, Brunch, St. PaulNatalie Wright
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Brunch. One of my favorites. Basic? Perhaps. #noregrets I get to sleep in and then eat breakfast food.

The French Hen in St. Paul has been on my “to blog about” list for awhile now (I’d estimate about a year), and now I am finally doing it. We decided to go to the French Hen on our day off of work a couple weeks ago. Though, I must admit, this was not our first time there. The first time we went to this cafe, I was so excited about all the food that I forgot to take photos and do any sort of documentation. That’s how good it was.

This time around, my fiancé was so kind as to remind me to take pictures before I dug in, so you can thank him for this post.

The French Hen is located off of Selby Avenue in St. Paul, conveniently located across the street from Revival so you can roll your full belly right on over after brunch to get some fried chicken.

Why we love it? This is a bright and cozy spot to spend your morning, with huge windows and greenery that complements the flower shop next door. The French Hen serves up delicious French & Creole-inspired foods. What’s not to love?

What did we order? To drink, I got a coffee while Pharaoh got a hot tea. To eat, he ordered the “Hungry Hen” that came with Apple Cinnamon pancakes, hash browns, eggs your way as well as your choice of breakfast meat (bacon, obviously). Needless to say, it satisfied his hunger. I decided to go with biscuits and gravy that was served with hash browns and eggs your way. I’ve been drooling about it ever since.

If you are looking for a delicious brunch spot in St. Paul, I highly recommend the French Hen. Be mindful that it is a fairly small cafe, so be prepared for a wait if it’s a weekend morning. But trust me, it is worth it.

A Grand Catch

Bites, Comfort Food, Local, SpiritsNatalie Wright
Grand Catch St. Paul

This last weekend we celebrated Pharaoh’s birthday. Birthday celebrations for us aren’t complete until we have had a fantastic meal. As of late, we’ve stayed true to celebrating special occasions at Revival, but this time around we decided to change it up and we went to Grand Catch in St. Paul. This was a spot we’d been meaning go to for awhile, and man, are we glad we did. 


The ambiance of the restaurant has a simple, modern Southern vibe with a cleverly incorporated instagram wall of greenery that includes a neon sign that reads “What’s Crackin.” In today’s day and age, having something unique that people will want to post on social media is ideal.


We enjoyed the music, the style, the atmosphere, the drinks, and definitely the FOOD. Let’s get to what we ordered, shall we?


Here’s a breakdown of what we got:

  • Cornmeal Fried Shrimp - not joking, the best shrimp I’ve had. I loved that this was coated with cornmeal and an amazing spice mixture (what they call Number 9 Seasoning. BRB, going to Google what that is). Perfectly crunchy with such interesting and delicious flavors. I could eat this everyday.

  • Cajun Battered Fries - perfectly crisp fries coated with the best cajun style flavor.

  • Grand Sauce - a delicious sauce that was served with the shrimp and the fries.

  • Pharaoh ordered the Crawfish Boil which came with a pound of crawfish, red potato and corn on the cob. It was so good, he did not share with me.


To go with all this deliciousness, we enjoyed the Vieux Carre cocktail, a glass of L’Agnostique Pinot Noir, and an Abita To-Gose (a New Orleans Brewery that we were so excited to see they had on tap).

Overall, we loved this place and have already ordered takeout from there since our first visit. If you live in the area or are visiting, we highly recommend!

Simple No Bake Protein Balls

Bites, Snacks, VeganNatalie Wright
Simple No Bake Protein Balls

Snack time. One of my favorite meals of the day (yes, I do consider snack a meal). Snack rarely occurs at home, so when I find something that is portable, it gets bonus points. Combine that with something that is healthy and actually tastes good... we have a winner.

Exhibit A: protein balls. These little guys are so easy to make for meal prep, or just to make in the morning if you have an extra 20 minutes or so and access to a refrigerator to let them set.

The awesome thing is how much you can customize them with different mix-ins: protein powder flavors, chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, butters, seeds... the list goes on and on. All you need to do is focus on the consistency when you mix. You want to be sure the dough is sticky enough to be able to stay in the shape you form it into.

Today I'm sharing my favorite recipe I've made yet. If you know anything about me, you probably know about my obsession with chocolate and peanut butter. These protein balls curb that craving in a healthier way, and I love that. 

What type of mix-ins would you use for this recipe?

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Protein Balls

  • Ingredients:
    • 1 cup oats
    • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
    • 1/2 cup peanut butter
    • 1/4 cup chia seeds
    • 1/4 cup honey
    • 2 tbsp almond milk
    • 1/4 cup cacao nibs
  • Directions:
    • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
    • Consistency Check: if it's too dry, add more peanut butter and/or almond milk; if it's too wet, add more oats.
    • Once the dough is the right consistency, form into balls and place on a cookie sheet.
    • Let protein balls set for at least 1 hour.
    • Enjoy!

Cheers to 1 Year of Brews, Bites & Bottles!

Bites, Coffee, Culture, VeganNatalie Wright
Happy Birthday Brews Bites Bottles

HBD, BBB!

Today marks one year since I started this journey with Brews, Bites and Bottles.

I initially started this process to combine my love of writing with my love of food, wine and coffee. It just made sense to put the two together and document the things that I try, the things I love and the things I can do without.

I’ve started many blogs in the past, I can think of three right off the top of my head but I can guarantee there are more. You could call me a serial blogger, of sorts. I was very good at starting them. Not so good on the follow through.

BBB is my longest blogger relationship yet, and I’d say that’s a good sign. I’m not sure exactly what is to come, but I do know that I want to keep writing, keep eating and keep drinking.

I want to take a minute to thank YOU — you who are reading this. I don't know who all the people are that read my blog, but I am so thankful that you do. That you take the time out of your busy day to read something I wrote about things I enjoy. I hope that throughout this process, it has inspired you to try something new.

To take a walk down memory lane, here’s a little roundup of the most popular posts to date on BBB. Or, if you missed one, here’s your chance to check it out!

  1. Adventures in White Wine
  2. Trader Joe’s Gems
  3. On Being Vegan
  4. Bulletproof Coffee Bandwagon: On or Off

Cheers to the first year of BBB and to an even greater year 2!

Tasty's 27 Layer Chocolate Croissants: A Review

Bites, Comfort Food, PastryNatalie Wright
Tasty's 27 Layer Croissant

A few month's ago, Tasty's Chocolate Croissant recipe popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. As a chocolate croissant fan, I was intrigued. They made it look easy, although I knew "easy" was way too good to be true.

After watching (and drooling over) the video several times, we decided to give it a shot. How hard could a homemade, 27 layered, chocolate filled, croissant be, right?

Right. (insert giant eye roll)

Let me start with the fact that, from the photo above and photos below, you can tell they turned out. They looked like croissants. They tasted like croissants. Ab.So.Lutely.Delicious. THANK GOODNESS. We ate them on the day we pulled them out of the oven. It was the perfect pro-baker flakiness with melt in your mouth sugary goodness and gooey chocolate.

The thing that distracts from how freaking delicious these things turned out is the fact that it took us nearly 24 hours from start to finish. 24 HOURS. Who has time for that? (apparently we did)

That really is my only complaint: how much of labor of love these are, and that the 24 hours is not a set it and forget it type of thing, but a hands on type of thing where you cannot leave your house for 24 hours. I do realize this is a croissant complaint rather than a recipe complaint.

My Verdict: so delicious that they are worth making at least once in your life. Or more than once if you have a lot of time on your hands and/or many hands to help. Tasty breaks down the recipe really simply, and having a video to reference is really helpful. If you are going to make homemade croissants for the first time, watching someone do it at the same time can't hurt.

Have you tried making croissants at home before? How did it go?

3 Popcorn Recipes to Make on Movie Night

Bites, Comfort Food, Vegan, SnacksNatalie Wright
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With the Oscars coming up this weekend, I thought I'd share 3 tasty popcorn recipes you can make for your next movie night. And by recipes I mean flavor combinations because, let's be real, I did not measure anything. Nor should I be the one to determine how much seasoning you want on your popcorn!

We made all of these (vegan) recipes with our Whirly Pop and vegetable oil. You can also use coconut oil or olive oil if you'd like.

Flavor #1: Everything But The Bagel

Everything But the Bagel Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • Oil of Choice
  • Trader Joe's Organic Popping Corn
  • Everything But The Bagel seasoning from Trader Joes

I've been really obsessed with this seasoning from Trader Joe's as of late, so of course I had to try it in popcorn and I actually really enjoyed it. True to an everything bagel, the aroma is potent so I would not recommend this for a first date.

Flavor #2: Cinnamon Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • Oil of Choice
  • Trader Joe's Organic Popping Corn
  • Cinnamon
  • Sugar

This combination really reminded me of French Toast Crunch cereal. So if you like that, this combo is right up your alley! It was delicious and probably my favorite of the three recipes we made. A perfect treat if you're looking for something sweet after dinner.

Flavor #3: Cheesy Garlic

Cheesy Garlic Vegan Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • Oil of Choice
  • Trader Joe's Organic Popping Corn
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning 
  • Garlic Powder

Again, not a great one for a first date (because garlic), but definitely delicious (because garlic). I've been looking for a way to use nutritional yeast that actually tastes good. I've found that having it plain on popcorn is pretty bland, but this combo kept it interesting and still "cheesy."

And there you have it! 3 easy recipes you can try for your next batch of popcorn.

What's your favorite flavoring for homemade popcorn?

A+ Moroccan Vegetable Bowl

Bites, Comfort Food, VeganNatalie Wright
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Winter time. In Minnesota, that means snow, wind and freezing temperatures. All I want to eat this time of year is soups and other things that scream WARMTH.

We recently tried a new recipe that turned out to be a winner: Moroccan Veggie Bowls. 

I decided to try this out because I've heard so much about turmeric, but to be honest, I had never tried it. SO. Cue my Amazon order for turmeric. This recipe has an epic balance of soul soothing ingredients that is perfect for a winter night at home. 

Essentially, this recipe is made like a stir fry with a delicious sauce that makes it unique to anything I've made before. A perfect blend of chickpeas, diced tomatoes, bell pepper, carrots and onion spiced with turmeric, cinnamon (YES), cayenne, garlic, cumin, salt and tomato paste. Toss this all over some brown rice and you have a tasty and warming dish that's sure to please.

The only thing I'd change next time? I'd make more.

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A Thug Kitchen Fall Recipe

Bites, Comfort Food, VeganNatalie Wright

Today’s review is going to be a little different than what I’ve traditionally done. This is not a critique of someone else’s work, but rather, a critique of my own in combination with someone else.

We recently received the book “Thug Kitchen” as a gift. There are many recipes in this book that we are excited to try, but one in particular is perfect for this time of year: Pumpkin Chili. The crisp fall in the air made this recipe irresistible to me. So I tried it. Twice. The first time, it was good. I’d give it a solid B. The second time, I changed things up and it was an A and now a winter staple for us.

Here’s the scoop. This chili is full of vibrant flavor and is the perfect vegan recipe if you’re looking for some comfort food during the cold months. I’ve made this two different ways, once in the slow cooker, and once on the stove. I think no matter which heat method of choice you go with, it’s going to turn out well (the recipe itself calls for the stove) but the secret is in the ingredient alterations:

  1. Add less vegetable stock
  2. Add more veggies
  3. Add more beans
  4. Add more pumpkin puree
  5. Definitely serve with tortilla chips or cornbread and avocado

Though yes, I am a vegan, I have to say that this is a recipe even non-vegans would enjoy because it is both filling and full of delicious flavor. If you are really missing the meat, I’m sure adding chicken to this would also turn out well, but hey. You know where I stand.

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On Being Vegan

Bites, Vegan, CultureNatalie Wright
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3 months ago, my boyfriend and I decided to try going vegan. This was a big decision for us, as we utilized animal proteins at every meal. But, like many millennials, we watched a documentary on Neflix that inspired us to make the change. Our thought process was: we might as well try it, it can’t hurt us! If we didn’t end up liking it, we would just incorporate animal products back into our diet.

When starting out on this journey, we were curious about a few things:

  1. Would we feel any different?
  2. Would we save money?
  3. Would we always be hungry?
  4. Would we lose weight?
  5. How long would we actually stick with this?

FEELING: I speak for myself when I say that I’ve noticed a huge difference in my energy levels since changing to a plant based diet. I find that after I eat, I feel lighter and energized rather than heavy and sluggish. I’ve also noticed that my sleep cycle has been more normal than it used to (which could be related to many factors, but I feel that this may be one of them).

BUDGET: As far as saving money goes, there’s no denying that purchasing a can of beans is more affordable than buying chicken or beef. Our grocery bills are more frequent eating vegan because we’re eating out less, which overall, saves us money. We found that eating vegan at home was 100x easier than trying to eat out because society doesn’t really cater to vegans. I will say, there are good options available (looking at you, J Selby), you just have to look for them.

HANGRY: Surprisingly, I don’t find that I am hungry all the time. I eat until I’m satisfied and that tides me over until my next meal. It’s really helped to find a plant based protein powder, as well as protein bars, that we can use to help stay fuller longer throughout the day.

WEIGHT: The verdict is out on whether we’ve lost weight as we don’t own a scale, but I’d say we are about the same. #VegansEatCarbs

TIME COMMITMENT: 3 months after we started, we still eat a largely plant based diet. We aren't as strict as we were when we first began, but nearly all the groceries we buy are still vegan. Every so often we’ll have animal products when we’re at an event or a restaurant, because sometimes that’s just easier. You gotta pick your battles. 

Overall, I enjoy being vegan way more than I thought I would, and crave cheese way less than I expected. I don’t doubt that we’ll incorporate quality animal products back into our diet one day, but for now, we’re sticking with the plants.

J Selby's: it's not just for vegans

Bites, Coffee, Local, VeganNatalie Wright
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About a month ago, I decided to change my diet (in my opinion) drastically and go vegan. Getting rid of animal products completely while cooking at home turned out to be easier than I thought. The difficult part has been sticking to the diet when out and about, whether that be a restaurant or special occasion.

That’s where J Selby’s in St. Paul is a lifesaver. This restaurant is a vegan/vegetarian friendly spot that actually tastes delicious.

There are many cool things about this place other than that it is entirely plant based. They provide something called a “Community Bowl,” which is essentially an option where people can pay what they can (even if it’s just $2) and still get a healthy plant based meal. They also provide options to cater to many dietary restrictions whether that be gluten free, soy free, etc, and they have a pretty nice wine and beer selection, too.

We went for brunch over the weekend and it was great from start to finish. To drink, we tried their Peach Kombucha, as well as their Nitro Cold Press Coffee with almond & coconut milk creamer, both were on tap. To eat, we got a Breakfast Sandwich with Tempeh Bacon and Breakfast Potatoes, and Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes. Honestly, everything we tried that day was awesome and we left feeling very satisfied and wanting to go back. 

Even if you are not vegan, I would still recommend checking out J Selby’s.

Choose Your Adventure: Mojo Monkey Donuts

Bites, Coffee, Local, DonutsNatalie Wright

There's nothing that completes your neighborhood quite like a delicious donut shop. Although Mojo Monkey is 2 miles from our apartment so it's not exactly our neighborhood, I would still walk, drive, run, skip or even swim to get their donuts. Because they are GOOD.

Mojo Monkey prides themselves on using quality ingredients and making their donuts on a daily basis to ensure that customers get the freshest treats possible. And it shows. 

Here's a little rundown of what we chose for our half dozen:

  1. Tres Leches: this was my favorite "breakfast" donut - sweet (but not too sweet, in my opinion), light and moist with a delectable, fluffy frosting
  2. Cookie Dough: rich and delicious, I loved the gooey cookie dough in the center - this is definitely a dessert donut rather than a breakfast donut (i.e. I ate the other half after dinner tonight with a glass of wine)
  3. French Toast: tasty, more of a "classic" donut with a crispy top and moist cake on the inside 
  4. Mexican Coco Bismark: this wins the award for most messy - definitely a nice pairing of chocolate, almond flavoring in the frosting and cinnamon in the filing
  5. Classic: a yummy, yet unique, version of a classic raised donut
  6. Chocolate Ganache: richer chocolate frosting than your average chocolate frosted raised donut

All of these were paired with Mojo Monkey's light roast, which was pretty damn good, too (except for that half donut I ate with my wine - more on that later).

Needless to say, I think we've found a gem. Any donut places you think I should try next?

Spotted: the perfect croissant.

Bites, Local, PastryNatalie WrightComment

If there's one thing pastry fans love to find, it's the perfect croissant. Friends, look no further. Behold Trung Nam French Bakery

Nestled off University Avenue in St. Paul, Trung Nam truly is a gem. Open since 1989, they provide a variety of offerings, from baguettes to banh mi sandwiches. 

My treat of choice is their chocolate croissant with a Vietnamese iced coffee. Their chocolate croissant has a delectable flakiness that just melts in your mouth, a slightly crispy crunchy top, and the perfect amount of chocolatey goodness on the inside. The Vietnamese iced coffee has a balance of strong-in-your-face coffee flavor with just a hint of sweetness. Done and done.

Side note: when you visit, be sure to bring cash! This establishment is cash only, and, I'm telling you, it is WORTH THE TRIP to the ATM.

Where's your favorite spot for a croissant?

The #1 Spot You Must Try: MSP

Bites, Local, Comfort Food, SpiritsNatalie Wright
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When visiting the Twin Cities in Minnesota (I'm sure that's not as common to say as LA, New York City, Chicago, DC, etc), there's one spot you must try, and you must go when you're feeling hungry. I mean HUNGRY. 

Revival is a local restaurant that now (thankfully for us East Side folks) has a home in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Starting out in their quaint spot in Minne, Revival recently expanded to a second St. Paul location in the Selby neighborhood.

You might be asking yourself, why on earth do I need to go here? And I will tell you why.

FRIED CHICKEN. The best fried chicken in the metro are at Revival. Their Southern Fried and Tennessee Hot are the two I've tried. The best sides: white cheddar grits, amazing biscuits, hush puppies... I could go on and on. You will go here and then you will go home in the happiest food coma.

But, as if filling your belly with the tastiest comfort food isn't enough, you have the drinks. THE DRINKS. Specifically, their Bourbon Sweet Tea. Sure to pair well with anything on the menu.  

If your mouth isn't watering yet, I dare you to set foot in their restaurant and see if that's still the case. A must go. Five stars. Did I mention they also do takeout?

The Best Birthday Waffle

Bites, Local, CoffeeNatalie Wright

You know what I really enjoy? My family and waffles. On my birthday this week, I got to combine the two. I had the honor of having breakfast with my mom to kick off the festivities. As you can tell by the photo, the day started out pretty awesome.

Groundswell's Earl Grey Waffle is one for the books. It has the perfect blend of Earl Grey and just plain awesome waffle goodness. Topped with lemon curd, fresh blackberries, and whipped cream, how can you say no.... really.

As my mom is gluten and dairy free, I think that's the only excuse I know of to say no to said waffle. But, was still able to find a sweet treat. Groundswell has some pretty tasty options for those who have dietary restrictions. Her choice was a gluten and dairy free cardamom macaroon, which was perfection as well.

Both of us paired our breakfast choices with some smooth Dogwood coffee. Unfortunately, the coffee snob in me does not know what specific kind it was, because I didn't ask. Dogwood is always a win-win-win-win for my taste buds and caffeine addiction so I didn't bother wasting my breath. BUT. Regardless, it was the perfect pair to some damn good breakfast.

Cheers to my next year and many more tasty things to come!

All the NOLA Food. & Fun.

Bites, Travel, CultureNatalie Wright
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What did I learn from my trip to New Orleans? I learned that there is a place in the United States that doesn’t quite seem like the United States. It is like a different country.

The food, the vibrant colors, vibrant people. the music, the drinking, it’s unlike any other place you will find in the United States.

It is a place that everyone should visit. It’s a place where you can relax, yet not at the same time. You can take a deep breath and take in everything. All the positivity, energy and grace that is seen. All the creativity. You soak it all in. Yet, at the same time, you come home more exhausted than when you left because of this energy.

New Orleans is a place where you feel so full. Full of delicious food and drink, obviously, but also full of life, full of love and full of color. I have yet to go to a place that makes me feel this way, and I can see why so many people enjoy it.

It can be summarized by one experience, of many, we had when we were visiting. We stopped by Frenchmen Street to see a band at a bar. We ended up stumbling across a local art market and got to chat with artists and their assistants about their inspiration, mediums, etc. followed by a brass band that had shut down the street to play. A man was selling beers from his cooler on the street for people to enjoy the show.

Where can you go to easily access so much culture and life? To just stumble across art and liveliness that cannot be faked. To create lifelong memories from a trip that was completely unintentional. That is New Orleans.

In some places, you have to look hard to find spirit, but not here. Here, you have to look hard to not find it. In New Orleans, you take one step forward, back, or side to side and you find “it.” You find something that will impact you for the rest of your life.

This is New Orleans. This is what I brought home with me (not including the beads).