Mardi Gras Party 101

Let’s start here … Mardi Gras isn’t just a big party.  There’s a lot more to the holiday than strong drinks and a good great reason to party on a Tuesday.  Let’s start with some basics …

  • Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French
  • It’s celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday as a last hurrah before Lent begins (this year, that’s February 9)
  • The first Mardi Gras celebration can be traced back to medieval Europe to the House of the Bourbons (I won’t go into all of the history, but if you want to read it all … check it out here.)
  • The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold–purple for justice, gold for power, green for faith.

I have an unexplained love for Mardi Gras. (I think it comes from my dad receiving a King Cake each year from a friend in New Orleans.  Since my dad had a job that took him to New Orleans during the week for a few years, I apparently attended parades before I could walk.)  Each year, I try to bring the spirit of the Big Easy to Dallas in a small way for some friends.  Here’s how I do it …

DRINKS … you can’t miss hurricanes, the quintessential Mardi Gras drink originally created by Pat O’Brien’s in NOLA.  This year I borrowed a recipe from a NOLA-born chef, John Russ of Lüke San Antonio that he demonstrated at his seminar at the SACC this year.  For my group of heavy-hitters, I made the recipe x10.  I also like to add a little pineapple juice and just a bit of cherry juice or grenadine to add a red hue.  They’re quite strong, so make sure to warn your guests and provide something to dilute it a bit like soda or Sprite.  I also use an orange slice and cherry for garnish.

Katrina’s Folly (Recipe from Chef John Russ of Lüke San Antonio)
2 oz Bacardi light
1 oz 151 Bacardi
2 oz Kraken spiced dark rum
2 oz orange juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz lime juice
2 oz passion fruit juice
crushed ice

Combine and stir. Serve chilled, preferably in a tall glass or red Solo cup.

Since a party cannot exist on a single drink alone, I laid out a bevy of usual suspects so people can make their own drinks.  BUT … I also offered shots of Pinnacle King Cake Vodka (the best of the king cake vodkas I’ve tried–which is a lot … dedication, y’all) and Abita Beer (brewed an hour from New Orleans in Covington).  The kind cake vodka is surprisingly easy to drink and it has a nice sweetness without being overpowering.  The party shared many a round of shots to toast the night.  I chose two Abita brews–their most popular Purple Haze and their seasonal Mardi Gras Bock.

Sustenance at these parties is key.  This year I made homemade jambalaya, Zapp’s Potato Chips, hushpuppies, a King Cake, Pokey O’s iced sugar cookies from Pokey O’s, and Cafe Du Monde beignets.  Each has some significance …

  • Venison and Chicken Jambalaya – because … yum.  I’ve adapted the recipe so it can be made ahead of time and cooked in a crock pot.  (Send me an email if you’d like the recipe!)
  • Zapp’s Potato Chips – they’re made in Gramercy, Louisiana, they’re New Orleans kettle-style chips. I got individual bags from Potbelly along with their Voodoo flavor (nice and spicy) from Tom Thumb
  • Hushpuppies – sometimes it’s important to know your limits when hosting a party.  I haven’t ever made hushpuppies … so I left it to the experts and had three dozen delivered by Favor from Dodie’s Reef complete with remoulade sauce.  I should have gotten four dozen because they were the first thing to run out!
  • King Cake – the aforementioned friend in New Orleans sends my dad a cake each year–for years they have been shipped to us from Manny Randazzo’s and are always the traditional flavor that tastes just like a cinnamon roll … only 5x better.  This year, my good friend Meryl’s family also sent me cakes from Caluda’s.  Many bakeries in NOLA will ship their cakes, by my favorite has been the maple bacon praline version from Caluda’s (it was a flavor of the week option and isn’t available all the time).
    The tradition says that a small, plastic baby is placed in the cake and the person who gets it in his piece is “King for the Day”.  It’s also said that they have to bring the cake to the next year’s party!
  • Pokey O’s Iced Sugar Cookies – because they’re delicious and festive.  (I added the little, plastic babies myself to add a bit more fun.)  Call ahead to make sure they have them or to preorder.
  • Cafe Du Monde Beignets – it has been a goal each year to make beignets for this party and this year, I finally did it!  The mix that you can get in most stores made it quite easy to throw them together and they were freaking delicious.

Other fun touches I like to add are handing out beads (earned or not) and adding a little fun decor.  (My deer head is always festive at my parties …).  In past years when I’ve lived in apartment complexes, we’d make sure to throw beads from the balcony, but now that I’ve moved we didn’t have anyone to throw them at … but do that, because it’s a blast.

P.S. Upon walking into my living room this morning … I came upon this scene.  It must have been a good party.


Tokyo Joe’s Review & GIVEAWAY

I don’t enjoy being poked (hello, flirting on Facebook in 2006), but Denver QSR Tokyo Joe’s changed my tune last night.  I was invited in last night to try some of their goodies at the restaurant (I had some of their items delivered when they opened) including their new Poke Bowls and quite enjoyed the experience.

I started my night with a Lucky Buddha beer while waiting for my friend.  (I’d liken it most to a Heineken.)  Tokyo Joe’s offers a couple imported beers and a few Shiner options (CHEER?!?!?!), along with some of the usual suspects.  It being a Tuesday, I opted for a single beer and my friend went for their tea bar, which they stock with two of their five tea options at all times.


I sipped and ordered a few little bites–the Gyoza (steamed pork dumplings with Joe’s dipping sauce), Miso Soup, and white chicken Spring Rolls.  I was delighted to see three options of spring rolls–white chicken, tiger shrimp, and organic tofu.  The basil in them was refreshing and I nearly guzzled the peanut dipping sauce on its own.

We were encouraged to try the new (launching today, 2/3) Poke bowls (ok … they say that it’s actually pronounced pok-ay)–one tuna and one salmon.  The fish was fresh and incredibly tender and the avocado was perfectly ripe.  My favorite part?  They added chopped Macadamia nuts on my tuna bowl.  Hell to the yes.

Tokyo Joe’s offers much more than just the poke bowls–made-to-order sushi rolls, bento boxes (also launching 2/3), salads, additional bowls, and more.  And, if you’re like me, you feel empowered when you make decisions, but hate to do it at the same time.  Enter: TJ’s bowls.  Each bowl gives you limited (but generous) options with your choice of five proteins, three carbs, 11 sauces, and 13 vegetables.

Surprisingly, they also offer made-to-order sushi using fresh fish and REAL crab.  The CaliTartare Roll we enjoyed had a serious and unexpected kick to it and the lemongrass aioli was seriously delicious.

Don’t just take my word for this place … try it yourself!  In fact, they offered me a $50 gift card to give to one of you!  Check out the giveaway below to see how you can enter to win.  Good luck!

Facebook | Twitter
Richardson: 300 W Campbell Rd #140 | (214) 484-5211
McKinney: 7645 Custer Rd | (972) 332-8896

****I was treated to a meal at Tokyo Joe’s and they donated the $50 gift card for me to give to one of you!****

.Contests by Rewards Fuel


Product Review: Pickle Juice Chaser

Written by: Anna Tomczyk

Designed with the trendy “pickleback” shot in mind, The Pickle Juice Company has announced their brand new product, The Pickle Juice Chaser. What is the big “dill”, you might ask? (Yeah, I made the pun … whatever.) The chaser provides 10 times the electrolytes, vitamins, and zinc and is ready to easily pour out of a bottle (forget making a mess with old fashioned pickle jars).

The Pickle Juice Company boasts 15+ years in the pickle juice arena, but up until now their primary focus remained in the innumerable health benefits in this powerful beverage. The juice is a big hit for pickle-lovers nationwide and those looking for a 100% natural, healthy thirst quencher. Pickle juice is proven to prevent dehydration and muscle cramping, which has also made it a great choice for athletes of all levels. (Yes, drinking can be considered a sport.)

As a pickle lover myself, I was eager to give The Pickle Juice Chaser a shot … a literal shot, by trying the infamous pickleback shot first. I found the chaser a satisfying balance of savory and salty. To my surprise, it completely took away the harsh sting that can follow a shot of whiskey. The aftertaste was as if I bit into a juicy dill pickle, slightly salty with full pickle flavor.

63034ae01b041240dbc5cd88853c38cbThe Pickleback
1 shot Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 shot Pickle Juice Chaser

Pour each shot into separate shot glasses. Drink the whiskey shot immediately followed by the shot of Pickle Juice Chaser.

If you aren’t into shots but want to try the chaser, The Pickle Juice Chaser works great in cocktails and martinis as well.

The Dirty Pickle Martini
8 oz gin or vodka
½ teaspoon dry vermouth
2 tablespoons Pickle Juice Chaser
2 pickled okra spears for garnish

Add ice halfway up the cocktail shaker. Add gin, vermouth and pickle juice. Shake well and strain into 2 martini glasses. Garnish with a pickled okra spears.

The Pickle Juice Chaser by The Pickle Juice Company
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Available for purchase online or at Kroger, Academy, and HEB.

Checkered Past Urban Winery

A winemaker, farmer, and a designer walk into a bar …

Well, actually, they built the bar.  Namely, Checkered Past Winery, the newly opened urban winery nestled into a basement in South Side on Lamar in the booming Cedars neighborhood.  Partners Scott Relyea (founder and designer), Sandro DiSanto (winemaker), and Carolynne Chancellor (vineyard owner and farmer) came together in 2008 to dream up this Texas-centric “wine pub”, and their plan … succeeded.

Housed in the formerly dimly lit Absinthe Lounge location, the space is nearly unrecognizable–light, galvanized metal, and vespas fill Checkered Past now.  Who knew the space even had windows?

So … let’s talk wine now, y’all.  Checkered Past stocks wines from “their friends”–wines from other wineries around Texas that the staff loves, and from the rest of the world.  (Because it’s Texas vs. the rest of the world, right?)  They have bottles, glasses, and even draft wines available along with local beers.

They don’t stop there.  They’re making their own wine with two currently available and three more promised before the end of 2016.  (Bring it, Sandro.)


Even better than just having a damn good (local) wine list, the food at Checkered Past is perty good.  Sandro a first-generation American from his Sicilian family, and the menu reflects that.  Simple, but delicious, the items on the menu were carefully crafted using local ingredients when possible, but they won’t compromise quality for the sake of staying local.  Not to be missed: their flatbreads, namely Rudi’s Double Meat (made with meats hand-picked from the best purveyors available and no sauce — novel), the Goat Cheese Pappadew Skewers, the Smoked Salmon & Herb Goat Cheese Bruschetta (I detest smoked salmon and ate one of these … and enjoyed it), and the Kalamata Tapenade (because sometimes the most delicious things are the simplest).

To make me love this place even more … they don’t f**k around with their post-meal goodies.  I’m talking about their pairing of dessert wines with their gluten-free Warm Double Chocolate Cake.  Even if you’re not a fan of dessert wines, let them make some recommendations–my favorite was the Jacquez Maderia from Haak Winery in Galveston.  You may become a believer yet.

Stop by Checkered Past for some good local wine, good eats, and ska music.  I mean, at least stop in to see what the innards of Absinthe Lounge really looked like.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
1409 S Lamar Street, Suite 008 (South Side on Lamar, The Cedars)(214) 242-0411

Free parking can be found on the far west end of Belleview, the street that Checkered Past faces.  You’re welcome.

Side note: the lovely Pizza & Champagne sisters and I will be hosting a “singles night” on 2/12/16 at Checkered Past!  Stay tuned for more details coming soon!  (All are welcome, taken or not!)

***Checkered Past treated me and a couple buddies to an evening of trying out their wines and food.  And I got a neat t-shirt.  I love t-shirts. Check out my Snapchat to see it! (@susieosz)***

Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine

Northern suburbanites, rejoice! Chef Tre Wilcox (of Top Chef fame) and Darcy Dudley of Trendine Restaurant group have brought southern cooking to Plano.

Conveniently located at Central Expressway and West Park Boulevard in the former Allen Wickers Pub location, Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine open their doors for dinner earlier this month. Darcy Dudley described Julia Pearl (named after the family matriarchs, grannies Julia and Pearl) as his life-long dream, finally realized. Darcy wanted to bring classic southern traditions of food, family, and friends to the Plano area. His vision was a menu featuring scratch-cooked southern specialties with modern twists and surprises. To help accomplish this, in addition to Culinary Director Tre Wilcox, Chef Jermaine Brown (formerly of Abacus; Brennan’s of Houston) was brought on board as Executive Chef. I like to think Grannies Julia and Pearl would be proud as a pair of peacocks.

Julia Pearl’s menu is small but thoughtfully constructed, featuring a variety of expected southern fare, with the occasional vaguely Cajun twist. Shareable starters include Julia and Pearl’s Chicken Wings (served three ways: BBQ sauce, Hot Sauce, & Lemon Pepper) ($11)Deviled Eggs ($6)crowned with crispy chicken skin (yes, you read that right), and a crowd-pleasing Black-Eye Pea Hummus ($7), served on crostini. My personal favorite was the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake ($10), served atop a delicate lemon mustard sauce, dotted with parsley oil. The crab was tender and moist, and the sauce provided a perfectly tangy compliment. Julia Pearl boasts a house-made Gumbo ($9), prepared with shrimp, crab, and andouille sausage, served with fried okra. The gumbo, which I found to be brothier than average, received high marks from my fellow diners. I am not a Native Texan, and not a gumbo aficionado  but I have noticed you Texans take your gumbo very seriously…and therefore, color me impressed. 

Julia Pearl’s featured entrees include Cornmeal Crusted Catfish, served with whipped potatoes, green beans, and a caper lemon butter sauce ($15), Marinated Jumbo Texas Shrimp with Spicy Cheese Grits, served with broccoli saluted and a smoked red pepper sauce ($20), and a Grilled Bone-In Pork Chop  served with bacon cheddar grits, collard greens, and a ham hock maple glaze ($18). My preferred dish of the evening was Julia Pearl’s Southern Fried Chicken, served with a homemade biscuit (whole cut-up bird $21/ half bird $11). The breading was thin and crispy, with a notable lack of grease, and the chicken was moist and meaty.

Julia Pearl’s cozy bar area features a cocktail menu with eight southern-inspired cocktails. To name a few: the mild-mannered Pearl’s Old Fashioned- Jacob’s Ghost (Jim Beam) White Bourbon, Bitters, Orange; the sweet and fruity  Jazzy Belle- Strawberry, Pineapple, & Tito’s; and my personal favorite, the particularly potent Julia’s Berry Mint Julep- Blackberry, Old Smoky Moonshine, and Fresh Mint (all cocktails $10). Julia Pearl features seven local drafts on tap, in addition to a carefully appointed wine list.

Reservations are encouraged; stretchy pants strongly suggested.

Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine
Facebook | Twitter: @jpsouthernfood | Instagram: @jpsouthernfood
(972) 422-1519
2301 N. Central Expressway, Ste 195, Plano, TX 75070

***A huge thank you to Julia Pearl for having me in to enjoy a delightful media sneak peak, and a subsequent food coma.***

Product Review: Willa Vodka

Low-cal vodka? Don’t mind if I do. Willa vodka is touted as a “natural, healthier, lighter premium craft vodka”, and it being low in calories means it’s lower in alcohol content than other vodkas (70 proof compared to the industry standard 80 proof).

01_willa_bottleEven better that the lower calorie count? Willa is all about advertising to women. (Even though it was created by two men!) “Independent spirits for independent women” is their tag line that scrolls across the top of their website … but don’t let that fool you, guys. (You won’t lose your man card for buying this.) Anyone who is looking for a more health-conscious vodka, this is the one. I let some guy friends visiting my boyfriend try it … and let’s just say it wasn’t just me who liked the taste.

It was awarded the silver medal for best “Small Batch Craft Vodka” at the New York International Spirits Competition in 2012. In 2013, Willa brought home the gold medal for both taste and bottle design at the SIP Awards.

This non GMO vodka has a smooth taste and a great price. It’s made with 100% organic Italian wheat and the water used for distilling is from the Nantucket Aquifer. The nose has a bit of citrus and just a slight bit of charcoal. The taste was smooth (thanks to the lower proof) and had the same citrus notes, but was incredibly clean.

The Willa brand is in the process of expanding. They have started a Fundable page looking for investors to help expand into flavored vodka, gin, and rum. I look forward to what is to come for this new brand.

Lemon Drop
Lemon Drop

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
~$29 for 750mL

Here are a couple of the recipes that Willa suggests:

Lemon Drop
2 parts Willa Vodka
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1/4 part stevia simple syrup

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.


3 parts Willa Vodka
1 part cranberry juice
3/4 part fresh lime juice
1/4 part fresh orange juice
1 barspoon of light simple syrup

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a an orange twist.


***Willa gave our team a bottle to try out.***

Product Review: Collingwood Canadian Whisky

Right before Christmas, I received a small sample bottle of Collingwood Canadian Whisky to review. As one who generally defaults to Crown, if I even dip a toe into the great White North, the bar was high(though Susie chastises me regularly for my lack of imagination).  Once I read that Collingwood boasts a “toasted Maplewood finish”, apprehension set in. I’m not sure if they are doing this in Texas, but Rhode Island bars are heavily pushing the flavored whiskies these days, to the point where my post-work happy hour spot proudly serves a Triple Crown (maple, apple, original) and there are way more maple-flavored options in the dark section of the liquor store than God and Booker Noe intended.

Despite the initial cringe at my sweet, syrupy trigger word, the end result is good. For Collingwood “maplewood finish” is more a process to mellow the harshness of the drink then a sweetener, and it works. I meant to just take a sip neat and then make a cocktail or two, but, since the bottle was small and the taste was smooth, I simply put the whole thing over the ice and enjoyed as we opened presents. (What?)

There’s definitely the same sweetness found in Crown and Canadian Club (think vanilla/toffee), but it wasn’t too overpowering.

The full retail size comes in an old school aftershave-looking bottle (newly revamped), reminiscent of your dad getting ready for dates with Mom 30 years ago (which will drive you to drink if you think about it too long.) I’m not ready to convert for life, but this is definitely a nice whisky to have on-hand for winter that won’t make you feel stuck in the flavored whisky/bourbon apocalypse that is slowly coming to absorb us all. (Oh, the shame.)

If you’re less of a purist and you want to create cocktails with this sweet elixir, here are some suggested recipes.  They recommend using Collingwood in “classic, lighter cocktails”.


2oz Collingwood Whisky
0.75oz simple syrup
1oz lemon juice
3oz soda water

Mix Collingwood, simple syrup and lemon juice in a highball glass with ice. Top with soda water and serve.

1oz Collingwood Whisky
3oz ginger beer
splash lime juice
garnish: lime wedge

Mix all ingredients over ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Collingwood is available in most stores across Texas and you can locate the bottle closest to you at The suggested price is around $27.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Dallas #BoozeNews: January 14, 2016

I’ll be heading to the San Antonio Cocktail Conference this evening, so stay tuned to my Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat (@SusieOz) to see what I’m learning, drinking, and doing!  (And I always appreciate words of encouragement.  It takes a lot of work to drink San Antonio.)


Vicini, Frisco’s newest eatery from duo Brian McCullough (part owner of Standard Pour) and Robert Hall (former GM of Abacus and part of the Hall family … who make wine) will open January 26 by the Cowboys development.  There’s even going to be a pasta room, y’all.  Expect classic and “progressive” American-Italian dishes from a soon-to-be-named chef and the same quality craft cocktails as TSP.  I’ll be making the drive north for this one!

Goodfriend Package opened its doors in East Dallas on Wednesday!  The purveyors of delicious burgers and some of best fries in Dallas (I mean … a pile of heaven) who also happen to own one of my favorites, The Blind Butcher, will offer 600+ craft beers, sandwiches featuring meats from TBB, and more for breakfast and lunch.

Another win for our friends up north … on January 22, Plano will see a new concept Julia Pearl which will “meld classic Southern cuisine with modern culinary techniques” with Tre Wilcox as the restaurant’s Culinary Director.  I’m looking forward to the Deviled Eggs topped with crispy chicken skin, pomegranate-red pepper glazed pork belly … because, yum.

Fried Chicken from Julia Pearl

Mudhen Meat & Greens, the much anticipated  new concept from the minds behind Meddlesome Moth and LARK on the Park has officially opened in the Dallas Farmer’s Market!  Visit for heathy food “that just tastes good, feels food, and won’t kill you.”  Sounds promising.  It opened a bit behind schedule, but better late than never!

Firebird Restaurant Group is at it again.  They’ll break ground on a development with three of their restaurants at I-30 & Highway 34 TODAY, January 14.  A brand new Snuffer’s, El Fenix, and Taqueria La Ventana will open their doors next summer.

Not really an announcement … but, while Filament, a new restaurant Downtown, opened in early December, they’ve recently gotten my attention.  After witnessing a particularly tempting photo series from lunch yesterday from various media outlets (most notably @TheDallasDiva), I know I need to make it in … soon.


Get local and delicious at the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival March 31-April 3, 2016! Tickets are now available for seminars, meals, tastings, events, and more!


Have you jumped on the Japanese whisky train yet? They’re doing some delicious things over there.  Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 was recently named “World Whisky of the Year” in Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible.  While it’s been around since 1924, the the 48% ABV spirit has recently been getting the attention it truly deserves.

Sundown at Granada is debuting 15 new seasonal menu items that were crafted to pair well with select cocktail, beer, and wine options.  Check out the Big Tex Flatbread (made with Shiner brisket … I mean) New Orleans BBQ Shrimp & Grits, and the Vegan Dulce De Leche Ice Cream and Salted Coconut Caramel Swirl.  The new menu items are now available.

PeachAustin vodka producer, Deep Eddy, recently released its newest flavor, Deep Eddy Peach.  Like their other products, it’s small batch, made with real fruit juice, and gluten-free.  So yeah … there ya go … you have another option if you’re into that sort of sweet vodka thing.


Hopdoddy‘s monthly burger special is the Ranch Hand Dan Burger (chicken patty, buttermilk ranch, bacon, field mushrooms, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, tomato, red leaf lettuce on an egg bun)!
through January 24
Cost: $9


susie knows all things boozy in dallas …