Eating local in Tallahassee is easier (and tastier) than it may seem

Call it ignorance or naivety, but I always carried a stigma that Tallahassee simply wasn’t the place to indulge in a locally-minded lifestyle. Places like Chattanooga and Boulder are rampant with the local mentality, but Florida just doesn’t seem to have hopped on that train yet.

After checking out the Locavore Index 2012, a chart that ranks states based on commitment to locally-sourced foods, I was disappointed to see that Florida not only ranked poorly – we were at the very bottom of the list. Not cool, Sunshine State. So, to further my adventures in local eating, I journeyed to three different places this week that showcased some of the best locally grown and owned destinations in town. Check ‘em out:

The Cool Cow

The vacant space next to Fat Sandwich on Railroad Avenue has seen many eatery ideas, but it wasn’t until an ice creamery popped up that the void was finally filled. Walking into this joint isn’t exactly impressive – but the simplicity is part of the experience.

The Cool Cow offers six flavors daily. Chocolate and vanilla are always on the menu, but the four other varieties are swapped out every two days – a total of 200 flavors rotate through the soft serve machines. On the day of our visit, we were offered Georgia orange, kiwi frozen yogurt, berry sorbet, and mocha hazelnut.

I went for the mocha hazelnut – and it was outrageous.

Topped with rainbow sprinkles and marshmallows, my cup teeming with creamy mocha ice cream was beyond tasty, but Niko’s treat took the cake. He ordered a banana split, and got everything on it – which was a solid decision. His chocolate, vanilla, and mocha hazelnut ice cream plops were layered thick with hot fudge, caramel drizzle, waffle cone bits, fat dollops of whipped cream, and even a cherry on top. It was pure perfection.

The mocha oreo milkshake my buddy ordered also deserved an honorable mention, but the part of our cool experience that deserves the biggest ovation is the service we received. Our ice cream guru was not only a wizard with a can of whipped cream, he handled everything with the best attitude I have ever encountered in the food industry. He was kind, courteous, and complimented Niko’s choices of toppings. He’s the kind of guy you leave a 40% tip for. Kudos, Cool Cow – we’ll be back.

The Tallahassee Farmers Market

I am a huge fan of produce markets – so much so that I am dedicating a portion of the 2013 trip to exploring as many as I can. Niko and I have made a few trips out to the Thomasville Farmers Market in Georgia, but we had never taken the quick trip to the convenient one located in Market Square.

After a few weeks of failed Saturday morning attempts, we finally made it out to explore the covered pavilion loaded with local goods. Some of my favorite farms were in attendance, including Turkey Hill and Orchard Pond Organics. The pavilion wasn’t huge, but it was certainly big enough to hold every bit of produce I needed.

We strolled around the stands before making our final selections, feasting our eyes on a huge assortment of goods. There were plump peaches, thickly husked corncobs, freshly cut sunflower stalks, ripe heirloom tomatoes, and more. My bounty was a harvest of ripe blueberries, Japanese eggplant, okra, lemon and lime, and more tomatoes than I know what to do with – plus a little rosemary plant!
 Hands down, this is the best fresh produce market in town, with friendly farmers, great edible offerings, and unbelievably reasonable prices. Whoever said eating healthy and local is expensive clearly never stopped by a farmers market. [Read more…]

The foodie gods answer my edible prayers with Pho 7 and Latin Xpress in Tallahassee

Living in Denver introduced me to a lot of things, but the biggest culinary revolution I experienced was being exposed to the liquid paradise that is pho. A Vietnamese tradition, pho is arguably one of the best dishes of all time that combines broth and noodles. Returning to Tallahassee after indulging in the rich cultural offerings of Denver brought disdain to my tummy, until I happened upon a sign advertising for Pho 7.

I was instantly intrigued.

Niko and I vowed to try it out, but we weren’t fully committed or convinced until our foodie climbing friends Barbara and Andrew tested the waters. Their report on Pho 7? It was authentic, and it was delicious. Delighted by their positive feedback, I made a dinner date with some friends for the next day.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Pho 7 is their walls; they’re painted my favorite shade of marigold. The casual seating is reminiscent of an adult cafeteria, and I appreciated the no-frills layout of the restaurant – plus, each table is adorned with enormous bottles of sriracha and hoisin sauce, my favorites. It took our group a few minutes to survey the menu, and then we ordered a true feast.

While my companions took their taste buds on an adventure with Vietnamese subs and meaty rice platters, I stuck with what I came here for: pho. I ordered a tofu pho, cheese and crab wontons, and vegetarian spring rolls.

Everything was amazing. 

The beefy pho broth was easily the best I have ever tasted. It was richer than any other broth I’ve tried, and offered the perfect balance of spices. My soup only came with one slice of lime, but the meaty pho hardly needed any fixings anyways. Our entire table was satisfied with their meals, and we all agreed to return soon.

 

While chatting over our scrumptious Vietnamese grub, my buddy Juan mentioned the Latin Xpress eatery that sat at the opposite corner of the strip mall. I had heard good things about the joint, and my input peaked Juan’s interest – so we decided to pop in to “just check out the menu” after pigging out at Pho 7.

Fast-forward about an hour, and you’d find our little crew slouching in another cafeteria-style booth. This time, we weren’t surrounded by chopsticks and bean sprouts. Our table was littered with tiny mugs that were once filled with sweet, strong Cuban espresso shots. We drank ten total, unable to resist continually ordering more rounds.

Displeasing my already bursting belly, I was unable to shake the temptation of Latin Xpress’s surprisingly affordable menu. Cafecito shots were just 60 cents, guava and cheese pastelitos ran under $2.00 each, and a dry-erase addition to the menu hanging over the counter lured me in with mamey shakes for only $2.50.

My stomach aches just thinking about it.

Needless to say, the strip mall that I previously knew solely as the place where Planned Parenthood resides has now taken on a new identity. Within a single visit, it was reborn as my go-to destination for cheap, tasty eats with unique cultural flair.

Tallahassee, you never cease to amaze me with your hidden gems.

Official scores and results from Tallahassee Rock Gym’s ‘Save the South’ climbing competition

What began as a 36-hour rock gym transformation overhaul commanded by a sleep-deprived staff armed with an enormous shipment new holds somehow blossomed into Tallahassee Rock Gym’s most successful Save the South climbing competitionso hats off to you, climbers.

We labored over creative new routes, celebrated the spirit of our humble climbing community, feasted on delectable Momo’s pizza, and had ourselves an amazing event.

All while raising over $1500 for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition.

Those are record numbers, folks – and we couldn’t have achieved it without you. I also recently found out from the head honcho’s at the Southeastern Climbers Coalition that our event has become one of their top fundraisers. For the staff at TRG, our goal has always been to hit $1,500 in fundraising, and we owe it all to our amazing climbers and generous community. Reaching our previously unfathomable goal means only one thing - it’s time to raise the bar for next year’s event! 

I couldn’t be more proud of the participants, staff members, spectators, and everyone who had a hand in making this fundraiser a true success. We came together to share our love for this adventurous sport, and showed our support for one of our favorite climbing organizations.

And we couldn’t have done it without our sponsors. A huge ‘thank you’ and heaps of gratitude are owed to the wonderful companies who stepped in and contributed to our cause. We deeply appreciate the support from climbing businesses like ClimbOn!, PMI Rope, Pro Balm, and the always wonderful Kurt Smith. As a local facility, we also extend many ‘thank you’s to our local community sponsors, including BagelHeads, Trail & Ski, Tasty Eats, and Momo’s Pizza.

But I know what you’re really here for – the final score listings.

In similar fashion to last year’s competition, a few of our favorite climbers from Gainesville made the drive up to the panhandle to sweep our high scores and crush our hardest routes. With tireless effort and friendly determination, they once again earned some of the highest rankings during the event – and Gator boys, I better see you back again next year!

Below are the official scores for participants who turned in score sheets at the conclusion of the competition.

WOMENS

Arieanne DeFazio – 2410
Rachel Putman – 2290
Cassie Newman – 2035
Chelsea Boetcker – 2025
Montana Napier – 1645
Barbara Ellis – 975
Maryanne Shaw – 880
Tessa Bullington – 755
Kristin Kozelsky – 635
Madeline Rosenfeldt – 635

MENS

Louie Talacay – 3185
Usman Bashir – 3150
Brian Huang – 3125
Mike Stanton – 3045
Bo Durham – 2995
Bryan Cox – 2980
David Valdivia – 2970
Thomas Bowers – 2805
Spottswood – 2705
Joshua Larsen – 2705
Max Kruse – 2710
Vinny Medina – 2680
Sam Raley – 2640
Colton Peters – 2585
Brandon Iglesias – 2370
Dakota Lundeen – 2365
Tom Patten – 2315
Jacob Stalder – 2475
Chase Pedersen – 2455
Charles Carbiener – 2265
Alex Woo – 2210
Dominic Delgado – 2130
Lucas Larson – 2085
Alex Griffel – 2060
Bob Rosenbaum – 1890
Smiley – 1860
Kris Long – 1855
Zach Stivers – 1855
Brian Drewke – 1825
Doug Walters – 1815
Ray Uzonyi – 1560
Isaac Bakan – 1425
Girish Ramachandran – 530

NOTE: Through the chaos of tallying score sheets, announcing top competitors, and drawing raffle winners, a small handful of men’s beginner score sheets found their way out of the stacks – but top climbers David Miller and Andrew Young certainly earned their mention, congrats fellas!

Join me for a month-long trip down to sunny Florida and the southeast – if I can figure out how to pack…

After two cross-country climbing trips, one epic seven-week solo trip, and countless excursions around the country, you’d think I’d be a seasoned expert when it comes to packing my bags and gearing up for traveling – but this upcoming trip has me stumped. I’ve grown so accustomed to road tripping that the idea of fitting everything I need in a small suitcase and backpack is befuddling. Not to mention that this will be the first time I’m traveling via airplane in over two years.

In less than 24 hours, I’ll be boarding at plane at Denver International Airport to head south like a migrating goose escaping the cold. My first stop will be a brief layover in Atlanta, then I’ll hop another flight that will leave me in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The plan from there is to scoop drinks on the bay with my dad, then make the short drive home to Miami – to do lots of this:

I’ll be spending the first ten days of my trip in my hometown of Miami, sipping cocktails while tanning by the pool, feasting on real Cuban cuisine, hiking through the Everglades, and catching up on all the sunshine I’ve been missing. After Christmas, Niko will be driving down from Tampa to spend a few nights in Miami before whisking me away to the panhandle. We’ll make a pitstop in Tampa for a night, then it’s off to Tallahassee for two weeks of hanging with hipsters – and copious amounts of time spent at Tally Rock Gym.

Somewhere in all that Floridian exploration, Niko and I hope to find time for a climbing trip somewhere in the southeast. Chattanooga, Alabama, Georgia, who knows.

Follow my travels in real time on Twitter @themorningfresh!
and stay tuned to The Morning Fresh for adventure updates, photos, and more. [Read more…]

On spuds in the dirt, lemons from life, and rediscovering everything you thought you knew.

Well, a lot has changed since my last update on June 17, 2011, and I feel like I owe my readers an explanation before I dive back into the world of travel, photography, and adventure. I’d offer a choice between the long story or the short story, but the long version could fill a book. Here’s the spark notes version:

The last we met, I was living in Tallahassee, freshly graduated and itching to travel with my wonderful beau, Niko. The plan was to stick around Florida until he also graduated and could join me on worldly adventures. I had two jobs (amongst a million side projects), too many options, and about 2,000 photos that needed editing. We’ll use this as the before shot:

Cue the oohs and aws – aren’t we adorable? Ready for the after shot? Both were taken during the same day on my road trip in Death Valley National Park, but I think they provide a pretty damn accurate visual contrast to assist in describing the huge changes in my life. Here’s the after:

So here I am. Suddenly standing very alone in a very big sea of nothing. After almost two years of teamwork, and the most amazing trip of my life, Niko ended our relationship with no warning and a very vague explanation. With no clue and no plan, I packed up as much junk from my Tallahassee condo as I could stuff in my little Scion, and this lady promptly sped 7 hours back home to Miami.

I left and lost everything that was real to me. I scribbled ‘I love you TRG, always’ on my locker at the rock gym, grabbed my climbing shoes and filled up a mason jar with that dirty gym rubber so I could keep it close forever. I said a few goodbyes (and still owe most of you a proper one, I’m sorry!), and now it’s time for a new plan.

So here I am. The boxes and bags that cluttered my room in Miami were overwhelming, so I ditched my hometown to spend 4th of July weekend in Key West with my two closest lady friends. With a little help from tequila, fresh salty air, and Marisa’s no-nonsense attitude, I put on my big girl panties and am ready for a new plan.

So here it is: I put in my two weeks notice at my Tallahassee job, decided to purge myself of everything I left up in my condo (anyone need some furniture?), and I started dreaming of my next big adventure. I left my comfortable recluse shell, and have begun exploring everything and everyone in Miami. I’m mapping out an autumn trip to North Carolina, New York, and the rest of the eastern coast up to Maine.

I’m still trying to find peace without Niko, but eventually I’ll have to come to terms with the fact that we’re all just spuds in the dirt. I’m learning how to roll with the punches, and am enjoying suddenly not having a plan. I’m just going, and it’s been working out so far. I even had the pleasure of being approached by a fan during an open mic event – Lori, you really have no idea how much it meant to me for you to introduce yourself that night, you may have saved the fate of this blog.

Enough rambling. Ha, that was the short version too. Told ya the long one could fill a book. Folks, I am back. No more pity parties, no more sulking in bed – life is calling. I only have my job with LivingSocial now, and my unedited photo count is pushing past 5,000 images. I’m back on my grind, and vow to pleasure your eyes with plenty of photos and daily updates.

And while we’re at it: ADD ME ON TWITTER! @themorningfresh – I’m twitter-tarded, but why not? Keep calm, and carry on my friends.

Photo Preview: Tally Rock Gym’s Potluck & Climbing Party

Last Monday, May 2, Rich graciously allowed me to coordinate a little summertime celebration for the members of Tallahassee Rock Gym. The concept was simple – the rock gym is always closed on Mondays, so to give climbers something to do on this lame day, we opened up the gym for members under one condition: you had to contribute something to the potluck.

Not too shabby, eh? There was also a crowded refrigerator full of bratwursts, hummus, veggie patties and more. We did a bit of grilling, a bit of climbing, some slack-lining, and a whole lot of sitting around in front of the gym. Our faithful members brought more to the table than any group of humans could possibly consume in one sitting, which resulted in us attempting to stuff our face with as much as we could. Things got messy, and I quickly got lazy.

Have I mentioned lately how wonderful it is to have a chef as a friend? Raul cooks some of the meanest dishes I have ever tasted, he’s a true culinary artist. His risotto is to die for, mmm. For the potluck, he cooked up a batch of chicken wings doused in sour orange marinade and Adobo seasoning – my kind of man! Speaking of men I love, check out this great shot I got of Nick Seale arriving at the festivities.

We ended the day with juggling lessons from AJ on the slackline, and a surprise cameo by Anthea, who proved herself to be the world’s best dog for playing catch.

Great day overall, and a big thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate a day of climbing, food, sunshine and Tally Rock Gym love. I’m going to miss the gym so much during my trip, even though I’ll be out in some of the best crags in America – nothing compares to home!

Oh, hey – I’M GRADUATING IN FOUR HOURS! Photos and live video galore.

Wow, how did that happen? Fast-forward through four years of Florida State University, and suddenly I have a cap and gown sitting in my room, waiting for my 7:30 graduation ceremony. I spent the morning as usual, munched on bacon and avocado sammies for lunch, and now just four hours away from graduating, I’m totally losing my mind.

My parents are opening up a bottle of prosecco, and while I celebrate, I’ll share a few of my favorite graduation photos that I have taken over the past week. For all my fans (haha) that couldn’t make it to the ceremony, you can watch the Florida State University Commencement Ceremony online! Anyways, enjoy.

Thank you for all the kind words, letters, comments and love. The biggest thank you as I graduate belongs to my parents, the most amazing people on this planet. Without them, I would be no where. I am so blessed. Next time you see me, I’ll have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, baby!

Congratulations to all my fellow graduates, and to the class of 2011. After four years of all-nighters at All Saints, chugging watery beer at The Strip, and having to be on time to class even after the FSU Alert commands you to stay inside – WE DID IT!

It’s time to go local, and you should to! Support local businesses to support your community.

I’ll admit, pinching pennies at Walmart has been a budgeting tactic of mine for the past four years. It’s simply too easy to save money at Wally World, but the time has come to ditch my selfish habits. Yes, shopping locally doesn’t always bring the deep discounts presented by big corporations like Walmart, but spending a few extra bucks on groceries will benefit my community and my health.

Do you really think that Walmart is concerned about the quality of their produce? It’s cheap, but it’s also laden with chemicals, and probably came from a corrupt field of genetically mutated garbage picked by underpaid, unappreciated workers.

Produce is the first area where I plan on making the switch – and I invite you to join me. Farmers markets are popping up all over the place, and it’s a trend train that everyone should hop aboard. Get your fruits and vegetables from a local farm; this produce will be handled with love, and you’ll be able to see exactly where your money is going. Did I mention how much better local produce tastes? Plus, shopping in an open air market beats the overbearing fluorescent lights of Walmart any day.

Need advice on some great local places to pick up your veggies in Tallahassee? Consider these:

  1. Bread and Roses Food Cooperative on Railroad Avenue – Always a favorite stop for healthy munchies, I recently discovered that Bread and Roses also carries a great supply of local produce. They are entirely volunteer-run, and offer hearty discounts for members. Regular food shipments arrive on Mondays, and Thursdays are their local produce day. Plus, they’re connected to the Fermentation Market – another superb local business.
  2. New Leaf Market and the Lafayette Street Organic Growers’ Market – In addition to New Leaf’s constant supply of delicious health food, every Thursday from 3 – dusk, they host the Lafayette Street Organic Growers’ Market behind The Moon. The market supplies fruits, veggies, seafood, meat, baked goods and more. New Leaf also participates in Local Business Saturdays, offering great deals for patrons supporting local establishments!
  3. The Thomasville Farmers Market – Just a 30 minute drive to Georgia will take you to a sweet open air farmers market that comes complete with the Market Diner, which cooks up fresh food using local ingredients. Totally worth the drive, and a perfect opportunity to explore Thomasville. Check out my previous post about the market.
  4. This last one will have to be further updated in another post. While scoopin’ dinner last week with Niko at the shopping center on the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Capital Circle, we stumbled upon this newly opened produce market that appeared to be operated by a local farm. I have vowed to check it out after my Rocktown trip, and will dedicate an entire post to these guys – if it’s worthy!

The plan is to start featuring loads of locally owned markets, restaurants and shops on a frequent basis. If you’ve got any suggestions for a place I should feature, let me know and I’d be glad to check it out! I hope you all join me on this journey towards fully embracing local pride!

Stuck at the Train Tracks, Perfect.

I’ve waited years for this moment, and here I finally am: stopped by one of my train buddies waiting to cross the tracks before the rock gym. A silly thing to be thrilled about, but this moment is unlike any other of my day. I see trains roll by on a daily basis while I’m climbing at Tally Rock Gym, but I’ve never been fortunate enough to hit one on the road.

The train halts everything – or everyone trying to pass at least. You’re just sitting idly, with no where to go and nothing to do but watch the giant toy train screech and sputter by. It’s undeniably peaceful – I highly recommend the experience. You have no choice but to relax and enjoy the dull rumble of the chugging locomotive. I just wish I had my camera.

My favorite compartments belong to CSX and Union Pacific. Next time you encounter a train, keep an eye out for art along the sides of the compartments. The two best I’ve seen thus far are a giant ‘Seasons Greetings’ mural that encompassed an entire compartment, and an enormous beluga whale painting that was on the bottom half of a CSX segment. Life is just full of little surprises, eh?

On a serious note: I vow to recover from this writing hiatus I seem to have taken. Expect an exciting post from my trip to the Everglades, where I learned how to cook alligator tail from a lovely lady named Kay. And hello, Richard Stanley! Mikey says you’re a fan, I appreciate the readership.

 

Official Results and Photos from Tally Rock Gym’s Save the South Competition!

I’ve kept you waiting long enough, it’s time to unveil the complete score listings and a few of my favorite shots from Tally Rock Gym’s phenomenal Save the South benefit competition for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. It was a great event, and between all our entry fees, raffle ticket sales and other donations, we raised over $1,600 for the SCC! I am proud to have been a part of the competition. Everyone climbed hard, and we even had a collection of climbers travel to Tallahassee just for the event.

Our swag table stood impressively next to the registration counter, and we outdid our expectations for raffle sales thanks to our eager competitors who all wanted a shot at our giveaways, which included: a free shoe certificate from Evolv, complimentary stay vouchers from The Crash Pad of Chattanooga, guidebooks from Greener Grass Publishing, tasty certificates from VooDoo Dog and Bagel Heads, a free hold set from So iLL, and a load of swag from Pusher/Revolution, Mountain Khakis, Rock Candy and Kendal Jackson Bags.

The actual competition went swimmingly, with many climbers racking up impressive scores and hardcore sends. I must give a big shout out to Louie, Usman and Mike Stanton, who traveled from out of town to climb at TRG. Coming from huge gyms with impressive setups, it was a big compliment when the boys spoke highly of our walls, routes, community and the great time they had at our gym.

Enough talkin’ – here are a few of my favorite photos from the event. Check Facebook tomorrow for a complete posting of all the photography. Scroll past the photos to view the complete score listing (of competitors who turned in their score sheets, many did not).



[Read more…]