I’ve gotten three speeding tickets in my life—one on the way to get my braces off (I mean, can you blame me?), one in a company car, and my most recently in a Prius. That’s right … I got a freaking speeding ticket in a Prius. Whoever thinks these babies don’t have any get up and go, is wrong.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to drive a Toyota Prius Prime Plus for 10 days, and it’s the second time I haven’t wanted to give the car back after a media loan. It was much more exciting than expected. (Yes, I had a little bias against the Prius before experiencing one myself.) The car had a luxe feel without sacrificing the looks. I mean … the non-hatchback version is so much nicer.
The plug-in hybrid vehicle had the usual trappings of the 90s hipster-before-we-knew-what-they-were favorite, especially the incredible fuel efficiency. Not only did I not have to fuel up the entire time it was in my possession, but I had a bit of fuel left when they collected it!
The interior was delightfully roomy, and the seats were comfortable (enough so to enjoy the short road trip I took it on) and cradled my body nicely. The standard 11.6″ media and navigation display was so big that I felt, at times, like I was driving a spaceship. However, it was incredibly nice to have such a large map to keep me on track and the display was very intuitive and user-friendly.
Beyond being a lovely car, it handled like a dream … if your dream is a seriously responsive, nimble car with some nice pickup. I felt in control every second driving it. As previously mentioned, the TPP wasn’t slow, though it took a bit of time to accelerate.
For the price tag, it seems a bit of steal for this luxe hybrid. So, if anyone wants to gift me one of these babies, I’m all in.
TOYOTA PRIUS PRIME PLUS Starting at $27,100 Seating capacity: 4 Range: 25 mi battery-only Horsepower: 121 hp
Let’s press pause for just a second on all the talk about great cocktails, new pubs in town, and all the other great things that revolve around … well, libations, and talk about cars.
I drive a 2003 Pontiac Vibe. The sister of the Toyota Matrix produced by a company that’s not even around anymore. It’s maroon with gray plastic trim and rear bumper. It does have a sunroof, which is hardly ever opened except in tilt mode when parked, and only to vent the horrific Dallas summer heat. Super-sexy right? Yeah … not so much.
So when you receive an email that says, “Do you want to drive a brand new Toyota for a week?” Sign.Me.Up. Such a cool opportunity, and one I had never driven one before. Little did I know, they weren’t assigning me a specific car, Toyota allowed me to pick between 6(!) of their models.
This is the 2017 Toyota 86. I have never been much for orange, but I love this color Toyota calls “Hot Lava”. I’ll get in much more detail, but it comes standard with 17-inch twisted spoke alloy wheels and front fender-mounted vortex generators. With its mean looking LED headlights and sleek, compact design, this is one sexy car.
Toyota also invited us to attend a BBQ meal and grilling lesson with chef Matt Pittman of TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” and the owner of Meat Church. We started the day by picking out our own cuts of meat, too. (And I thought it couldn’t get much better.)
We started at Rudolph’s Market in Deep Ellum where we learned about different cuts of meat and were given the choice between a 6 week aged ribeye or a filet. I chose the ribeye but had a twinge of regret when this guy started cutting the filets. The meat was so tender, it actually appeared to split open before the knife even touched it.
Once the meat was wrapped we all got in our Toyotas and headed down to Waxahachie. That is where Matt Pittman lives and runs his company, Meat Church, where he makes and fulfills orders for his amazing seasonings and teaches classes. His outdoor kitchen is as big as the house that I moved out of about a year ago. It has 3 Green Eggs, a giant smoker, and what seemed like eight other kinds of grills. He also has more Yeti products than I have ever seen in one place outside of a sporting goods store. Above it all … is a Big Ass Fan. (Thank God.)
Matt showed and allowed us to taste the difference between 3 different methods of cooking a steak on our own: traditional (just throwing it on the grill), sous vide, and the reverse sear method. I have to say, I had reservations about eating a steak which most of the process of cooking involved water (sous vide), but out of the three, it was my favorite (by an extremely close margin).
Much of the class was spent describing the Reverse Sear Method. I won’t go into all the details here because you can find the entire process in detail on his website.
The quick and dirty process:
1. Kosher Salt to tenderize, sit, rinse.
2.Let the meat rest.
3. Place in oven at 275º (~40 minutes for medium rare).
4. Let the meat rest.
5. Sear it on really hot open flame (grill) if you want it sexy (his words), or his preferred method, a cast iron skillet for 1 minute on either side.
The key items that Matt claims make a huge difference when grilling:
1. USDA Choice meat. He says if you can’t afford a place like Rudolph’s, Costco is where he gets most of his meat.
2. A digital thermometer. Matt said he spent $90 on the one he uses, but the price is worth it so you don’t overcooking your steak.
3. If using a grill for indirect heat or to sear, use lump charcoal (wood). The briquets we have use ? Yeah, they’re crap.
The amazing cuts of meat were seared to perfection. When it was time to eat, we were treated to an appetizer of smoked tuna dip, and the perfectly cooked steak was accompanied by grilled asparagus.
Now. Back to the car.
**Disclaimer** What follows is the ramblings of a 34-year-old man that has only driven a couple of (moderately) fun/fast cars in his life.
All I have to say is this car is bad-ass. I read the specs before I got it, but compared to the cars that I have driven in the past, this 2.0L, 205hp Boxer 16V engine with 156lb.-ft of torque made me grip the 86’s leather-trimmed steering wheel a little tighter. This thing is FAST. For you gearheads out there, the exterior is “expertly crafted to help produce wind-cheating drag coefficient of .29 Cd.” (That just means that it’s literally built for speed.)
To complement the speed and acceleration, the 86 has Front MacPherson® Strut and Real Double Wishbone Suspension, which, honestly, I had to get used to being accustomed to my loosey goosey Vibe steering. When you open it up on the freeway, you can actually feel the way the car’s exterior design actually pushes it down to grip the road and give it better aerodynamics. This is a dangerous proposition for someone to drives fast in crappy cars. (Yes. I am ashamed to say that actually is a radar detector in my windshield. C’mon guys, have you ever driven Hwy 114 in Irving?)
Moving on. The guy I took delivery from asked me if I knew how to drive a standard. “Of course!” I said. Seemed like it was a bit late to ask that question. Little did I know, the only standard that I had ever driven (albeit for 10 years) was a 5 speed, loose, crappy transmission. This short throw 6-Speed Close-Ratio transmission was INSANE. (Don’t tell anyone, but when trying to back out of my driveway, it took me 5 minutes of putting it in first gear before I finally had to pull out the owner’s manual. Turns out there is a pull-up mechanism on the shifter that puts it in reverse.)
As for the interior…
When you first sit in the car, the racing-style seats give your hips a comfortable hug. I’m a big guy (more on that in a minute), so many of the sport-style seats are too narrow for my shoulders. Not these. I could drive this thing cross country and still be comfortable.
Combine that with the Granlux (suede-like) material accents, extensive Bluetooth features (because, safety), 8-speaker Pioneer audio system, AUX and USB input ports, and 6 standard airbags to protect you, this car is (almost) as fun to ride in as it is to drive.
My friend Wes wanted to go for a ride in this impeccable machine. His statement perfectly describes the controls in the Toyota 86: “I love how simple it is. Even the touch screen display is simple to use.” As a UX designer, I was impressed. I hadn’t thought much about it because I was just using it, not trying to find all the controls.”
Oh, and the trunk is spacious enough to fit two large suitcases and a backpack, in addition to the “back seat” space. Let’s be real, to ride in the back seat would require the front passengers to be 3′ tall … the backseat passengers, too. (So use it for storage unless it’s absolutely necessary to take additional riders.) But, for real, four seat belts mean lower insurance rates, y’all.
Two things I feel I have to mention:
The Toyota 86 has a 4.9″ ground clearance and a total height of 50.6″ (4.22′). I am pushing 6’3″, but amazingly, getting into this beauty was no problem. The space inside was surprisingly roomy, even for me. However, when getting out of it in a parking lot, especially at work where most garage spots are compact car only, I felt like I needed an assist. By the end of the week, I had a system.
Again, this is a sports car. A sports car that has no overdrive. This means in 6th gear it does not operate at a lower RPM. When you push on the gas, there is no delay … it goes. That said, it is premium unleaded only and gets 21 city/28 highway.
All that said, neither of these would prevent me from purchasing this vehicle were I able. These are negligible to how much I absolutely loved driving it. The morning the car was scheduled for pickup, I got up early, (which I never do). I took it out for one last drive, grabbed some breakfast tacos, and received the call that it was time … they were about 2 minutes out from my house. I won’t admit to tears, but a hard sniff may have happened.
Now that I have tasted the sweetness of the Toyota 86, I kinda want to die when I get in my Pontiac. It is what I can only imagine it would be like to drive a school bus with donut tires meant for a compact car.
Toyota 86 2 door sports car
2.0 liter, 4-cylinder 205 horsepower Boxer 16V engine Short-throw 6-speed close-ratio manual transmission
Front-mid engine, Rear-wheel drive 136mph top speed 0-60 in 6.4 seconds
Disclosure: We were provided use of Toyota 86 free of charge. Opinions all my own.
Being a food, drink and travel blogger, I often eat and drink … a lot. And a lot of it isn’t healthy. (“Yes, I’ll try all four desserts. Thanks much.”) That said, after returning from a two week tour of England and Ireland, I needed some extra help righting myself after all of the fish & chips and Indian food before heading to Kauai for a week.
Enter: Buda Juice’s cleanse
Since a lot of the foods we eat “contain additives made from petroleum products, pesticides, and other toxins”, sometimes it’s nice to flush your system and get rid of all of that ick. Their cleanse helps to do just that. Other pluses? It can help you lose weight, boost your energy level, brighten your skin, think clearer, sleep better, improve your immunity, and even increase your … ya know … desires. (Bingo.)
Buda Juice’s products are all certified organic, cold-pressed at 35º, pesticide-free, and not pasteurized, so they all bare an exacting expiration date that should be respected. They bottle everything in glass bottles to avoid potentially harmful plastics, and you can return the bottles for a $1 credit per bottle.
I chose to do a three-day cleanse to give myself a couple days to sweat it out at Camp Gladiator before starting my juice-only diet. (You’re not meant to work out while doing the cleanse, so I just walked for the three days.) Each day was the same six juices, and each flavor was unique and purposeful.
– Breakfast: No 01 Green Juice (spinach, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon, ginger, kale, parsley) – this was a great way to start the day and gave me a little boost of energy daily veggies + vitamins, detox + alkalizing agent, gut soother – Mid-morning: No 04 Blue Lemonade (apple, cucumber, lemon) – this was my favorite of the juices, which is great because I got to drink it twice a day! post workout electrolytes, alkalizing energy elixir, hangover cure – Lunch: No 02 Red Juice (celery, apple, beet, ginger, parsley) – a filling option as a lunch substitute and it happens to be an absolutely gorgeous color stamina booster, stress reliever, blood purifier – Mid-afternoon: another Blue Lemonade – Dinner: No S1 Basilato Soup (tomato, cucumber, sea salt, basil, olive oil) – This was a treat every day of the cleanse. I warmed mine and added a bit of pepper a couple of the nights. (And it was nice to have something to chew!) healthy heart lover, kidney flusher, detox + digestive aid – Dessert: No M1 Almond Milk (water, almond, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom) – sweet and definitely as good a nightcap as you can get without adding booze …this was a real treat each evening. I added a bit of cinnamon to mine. healthy cholesterol support, balanced vegan protein, smart hunger quencher
All in all, I felt refreshed and a bit lighter (both physically and spiritually) after three days of (albeit delicious) juices. But I was ready to eat all the pineapple, mai tais and fish Kauai had to offer … not because I was hungry (the juices give you enough calories for a healthy daily intake and I never heard a grumble from my stomach), but because I just wanted to chew something!
1 day cleanse: $65 (6 juices, 16oz each)
3 days cleanse: $195 (18 juices, 16oz each)
5 days cleanse: $325 (30 juices, 16oz each)
Pictures courtesy of Buda Juice
They do warn you that, as with any detox, there are some potential side effects. While ridding your body of toxins, you could “experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, skin blemishes, constipation, as well as other digestive issues. All should be temporary …”
The holidays have come and gone, and that means the one gift you agonized over has been given. So … what can your go-to gift for the year be? You know … for the person who has everything. Do your friends like to cook? Or as a minimum … do they like to eat? I have the perfect (read: delicious) solution for you: give the gift of a culinary education, with a little help from Chef Tre Wilcox and American Kitchen Cookware.
At the end of 2016, Julia Pearl‘s Chef Tre Wilcox (you may also recognize him from Bravo’s “Top Chef”, or impressively taking down Iron Chef Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America”) opened Tre Wilcox Cooking Concepts: a beautiful event venue in Plano, featuring a state of the art demonstration kitchen with four cooking stations. Cooking Concepts offers everything from themed cooking classes, to team building events, to catering services. Cooking Concepts’ partnership with American Kitchen Cookware is a match made in culinary heaven, giving would-be Wolfgangs and Giadas the opportunity to experiment with some beautiful cookware that is actually affordable.
I had the opportunity to participate in a cooking class with Chef Tre and his crew, and here are a few things I can share:
This is not one of those “cooking classes” where you sit back and watch someone else do all of the heavy lifting while you half-watch amidst socializing with your friends and sipping mediocre wine from a plastic cup. Oh, no. I have very few pictures from this event, and this is because I was constantly chopping, stirring, sautéing, or pan-searing something. You are going to earn your dang dinner.
That said … you will not be thrown to the wolves. Each of the four demo stations were staffed with one of Chef Tre’s kitchen minions, who were A) extremely talented, B) extremely helpful, and C) REALLY INTO FOOD … kind of like that Central Market deep voice guy but remarkably less annoying.
You may learn that you’re doing everything wrong in the kitchen. Just accept this heading into the experience. There can’t really be a “wrong” way to chop an onion, right? Oh, on the contrary. There is, and it’s the way you’ve been doing it all along. Get ready to make some adjustments, and you will learn some time saving (and injury saving and perhaps even watery eye saving … ) hacks you will want to use at home.
You can cook a delicious, impressive, restaurant quality meal. Ok, so maybe it’s under the watchful eye of someone who is slightly more well versed in the kitchen than you are, but that’s a technicality. Shrimp and grits … pan seared scallops … Thai coconut salmon … yeah, I created all of these dishes. (Me, the UberEats Queen.)
Here is a list of upcoming cooking classes, with themes running the gamut from sushi, to Southern cooking, to knife safety. Note: Cooking Concepts is offering a couples’ cooking class for Valentine’s Day, which is coming up quickly. So, make your plans! Online registration is available. Classes are small, and will fill up quickly!
If you’re going to surprise the aspiring chef in your life with a Tre Wilcox cooking class, you may as well give them the right tools to be successful once the class is in the books. Check out American Kitchen Cookware to peruse some of the cookware Chef Tre uses in his demo kitchen. You’ll want to take some home with you.
Smashburger, the quality-obsessed, Colorado-based, “better burger” chain, is spreading like wildfire. In November, they opened their most recent Dallas-Fort Worth location in The Colony on State Hwy 121, just east of Josey Lane.
If you’ve never experienced Smashburger before, you’re not doing it right. Smashburger’s commitment to building a “better burger” starts out with high-quality ingredients. Fresh, never frozen, natural Certified Angus beef is “smashed” for exactly ten seconds on a 385º buttered grill top. The burger perfectionists at Smashburger have the “smashing” down to a science; this time and temperature has proven to be the secret to locking in that juicy goodness, while crisping the bottom of the burger to a crispy, caramelized shell. Hungry yet? Your burger is then nestled between a soft, buttery artisan bun, and topped with fresh, high-quality ingredients.
What kind of ingredients, you might ask? Well, that’s up to you. With burger offerings that include spinach & goat cheese, spicy jalapeño Baja, and buffalo blue cheese, the sky is (more or less) the limit. Feeling inventive? Take your shot at BYOB (that’s building your own burger), instead.
If burgers aren’t your thing, Smashburger also offers delicious chicken (grilled or crispy) sandwiches, as well as a black bean burger in their lineup. If you’re inclined to ditch the bun altogether, try indulging in one of Smashbruger’s fresh, plentiful salads. If you’re looking for a little something on the side, four equally tempting varieties of fries are available: Traditional French Fries, Smash Fries (seasoned with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic- my personal recommendation), Spicy Buffalo Fries, and Sweet Potato Fries. Also available: Onion Rings and Fried Pickles. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, try the Veggie Frites- a flash-fried side of green beans and carrot strips.
If you do opt to demonstrate remarkable discipline and choose the Veggie Frites for your side, I think it’s only fair to reward your responsible decision with a delicious hand-spun milkshake. (That’s how this works, right?) Smashburger handcrafts all of their shakes with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, in a range of irresistible flavors like Nutterbutter, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate Oreo. I highly recommend stopping in for their seasonal shake offering, the Belgian Cookie Crumble- sweet cookies blended with vanilla ice cream and notes of cinnamon and caramel, topped with cookie crumbs and whipped cream. Holy yum.
Smashburger serves a variety of rotating local craft beers from the likes of Deep Ellum Brewing and Rahr and Sons, to name a few. You will want to keep this in mind, come warmer weather. Conveniently located just a stone’s throw from Lake Lewisville, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better way to conclude a day on the water than indulging in a juicy Smashburger, a piping hot stack of Smashfries, and an ice cold local craft beer on Smashburger’s new patio. Note to self: This is happening.
SMASHBURGER – The Colony smashburger.com 214-618-0880
-multiple locations- & 4940 State Highway 121, Suite 125 (The Colony)
The State Fair of Texas ends today, … didn’t get a chance to make it out there this year? (Or, you just simply weren’t in the mood to navigate a sweaty sea of humanity in the sweltering heat, intermittently pausing to open up your wallet and shake it until it’s empty?) Well, I have good news for you and your taste buds … but, bad news for your cholesterol count. A variety of deep-fried, State Fair favorites are now available, indefinitely, at none other than … Walmart. Yep, you read that correctly. It’s such a delightfully perfect pairing (and I do not think I need to elaborate as to why that is).State Fair Treats has opened up shop inside of the Coit Rd. location in Plano.
Isaac Rousso, three-time winner of the Big Tex Choice Award for “Most Creative” deep-fried offerings, is the mastermind behind this amazing marriage of commerce and culinary delights. (You can thank Rousso for the imagining of past delicacies including the Fried Pop-tart, Smoky Bacon Margarita, and Deep-Fried Cuban Rolls.) State Fair Treats features a 45 snacks and treats from the requisites like corn dogs and nachos to indulgent sweet treats like Funnel Cake Fries, Fried Oreos, and the Texas Bluebonnet (a cream cheese-stuffed, deep-fried blueberry muffin topped with whipped cream and more blueberries). I may have had one two, and it was admittedly delicious. Rousso’s award-winning Cookie Fries will join the lineup of goodies this week.
While you won’t find any livestock or midway games at State Fair Treats, it’s definitely worth stopping in for an indulgent goodie or two … and bonus: you’ll still have enough cash left to buy whatever a goodie from Walmart on the way out.
I am a Native Floridian (though this year will mark my 10th living in Texas … at what point does one become a Naturalized citizen?), and I am nothing short of delighted to discover that one of my favorite Florida lunch spots finally made its way to Dallas. In fact, Tropical Smoothie Cafe now has three locations in the Metroplex; one in Dallas, one in Frisco, and one Fort Worth along with new locations coming soon to Plano and Lewisville.
The name “Tropical Smoothie Cafe” might lead one to believe that this spot specializes in smoothies- and well, you’d be right about that. But, In addition to more than 25 smoothie creations- with an assortment of 16 supplements and add-ons you can choose to add to your sippable masterpiece- Tropical Smoothie also features a pretty awesome food menu. Tropical Smoothie’s Dallas location gave us a sneak peek to check out some new menu additions- and I was relieved to find many of my old favorites remain on the menu, as well. Whew.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe has always offered a great variety of sandwiches, wraps, and salads. Their ingredients are chef-inspired and far from mundane; for instance, wrap options include a Thai Chicken variety, with wontons, carrots, sesame seeds cilantro, scallions, and Thai peanut dressing, and a Jamaican Jerk Chicken variety, prepared with southwestern rice, corn, black, beans, asparagus, read onions, mozzarella cheese, and of course, a zesty Jamaican Jerk sauce (each $6.99). Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s best selling sandwich is the Rustic Turkey & Apple Club, which consists of turkey, cheddar, gorgonzola, bacon, dijon honey mustard, and house-made kale and apple slaw piled high on a thinly sliced seedlicious bread ($6.99).
New menu offerings include a lineup of Tacos with creative varieties that include Korean BBQ Steak (steak, house-made cucumber & kale slaw, sweet and spicy Asian BBQ sauce) and Smoked Jalapeño Chicken (grilled chicken, bacon, cabbage, tomatoes, red onions, smoked jalapeño spread; 2 for $5.49 or 3 for $7.99). Also new to the menu are a lineup of toasted flatbreads with offerings like the Tzatziki Steak (steak, red onions, sliced tomatoes, romaine, cucumbers, tzatziki sauce) and the Chicken Pesto (grilled chicken, tomatoes, parmesan, mozzarella, pesto; $4.49).
Yes, the food menu at Tropical Smoothie Cafe is greatness, but, I can’t possibly go on without saying a bit more about the smoothies they’re serving up. TSC’s smoothie lineup includes a variety of classics (the Jetty Punch– strawberry & banana, and the Sunrise Sunset– strawberries, pineapple, mango, & OJ are two guest favorites), “Superfood” options (ingredients like açai juice, goji berries, pomegranate, kale and ginger), and “supercharged” options featuring added boosts of functional ingredients like protein, fat burner, or energizer. (Smoothies range from $4.49 to $5.49; all smoothies are 24 oz.)TSC sweetens their creations with Turbinado (a raw sugar) unless otherwise noted, and sugar substitutes are available on request.
My favorite part about Tropical Smoothie Cafe is the variety of supplements and add-ins you can toss into your smoothie creation for a small up-charge. Feel like you’re coming down with a cold? No problem; Add a shot of Vitamin C immune to your smoothie. Not enough time to sit down and eat a real lunch? Toss in a shot of whey protein, and suddenly you have a well-balanced, sippable lunch. Most importantly, I asked owner Robert Causey what he would recommend to nurse me back to health after a long night of, well, Drinking Dallas. He recommended an antioxidant rich Superfoods Smoothie like the Acai Berry Boost (acai, pomegranate, banana, blueberries, strawberries), with a shot of naturally energizing Vitamin B-12, for good measure. I will definitely be trying out his recommendation…probably sooner, than later!
Tropical Smoothie Cafe features a “Happy Hour” of their very own, with half-price smoothies from 6:00 AM-9:00 AM and 6:00 PM-8:00 PM.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe – Dallas Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
4560 W. Mockingbird Ln., Suite 118, Dallas
A great big thanks to Robert Causey and Tropical Smoothie Cafe for having me out. I’m so glad to see a little slice of Florida here in Texas!
You may remember Tre from his time on Bravo’s “Top Chef” or one of the amazing restaurants around Dallas he’s lent his expertise to over the years–ahem, Abacus, Marquee Grill, Loft 610. Oh … and he was a nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star Chef” award … twice. I mean … whatever … he’s real damn talented.
The 3,200 square foot space has a full commercial kitchen that the team will use for prep and event catering. The sleek spaces also has a wall lined with top-of-the-line ranges and ovens begging to be fired-up and used to make one of the unreal dishes dreamt up by Chef Tre. The shiny appliances will be put to good use in the group classes and even for the aforementioned team-building games–choose from the “Iron Chef Battle”, “Market Basket Challenge”, and the “Family Dinner”. Sounds like a fun way to get back at Janet in accounting who keeps eating your lunch.
Don’t enjoy the thrill of competition? Grab a spot in one of the upcoming events where Tre will team up with other local chefs or even wine experts for tastings. His casual teaching style makes the techniques feel more approachable–even perfect, homemade risotto seemed attainable after his demonstration at our media preview. (I may need a refresher before trying it again myself.)
One pro tip he gave us was, if it takes less than 20 minutes for a restaurant to bring you risotto … they’re making it wrong.