Sweet potato hash, buttery salmon benedict, and messy donuts bites at Jelly Cafe in Denver, CO

There are few things that will happily lure me out of bed at 7:00 in the morning – snagging a table at Jelly Café early enough to avoid waiting in an epic queue of hungry hipsters is one of those things.

I was first introduced to the edible bliss of Jelly Café through my then-housemate, McGoo. He’s the ultimate source for the best eats around, and his recommendations are the kind I always follow. Any time he gets excited about taking me somewhere to eat, I can pretty much guarantee that I’m in for a treat.

Walk up to this breakfast haven sitting on the corner of Pearl Street and 13th Avenue any time after 9:30 AM, and you’re guaranteed to be in for a wait. I waited almost two hours once – and I would so do it again in exchange for what I’ll dub the best breakfast diner in Colorado, possibly the entire country.

Before you even attempt to survey the menu, request an order of their famous donut bites – and make sure you get a mix of all the tantalizing varieties. Each fresh puff of crispy dough represents one of four creamy concoctions: crème anglaise, homemade jelly, chocolate anglaise, or cinnamon sugar. Taking the first bite into any given beignet guarantees a dripping mess all over your chin – just let it happen.

Another pre-breakfast treat I love is the selection of funky adult beverages to make your day a bit more pleasant. I’m partial to the Parnold Almer with sweet tea infused vodka and lemonade, but you really can’t go wrong with options like hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, bloody marys topped with shrimp and celery, or the “S’mores,” a Bailey’s brew with fluffed marshmallow vodka, Ghiradeli hot chocolate, and whipped cream.

During one visit to Jelly, I was meeting up with two Floridian friends who were considering moving up to Denver (check out her post on Jelly Cafe about What Tasty Food). My buddy ordered one of the specials, a fizzy libation that listed a Bing energy drink as one of the ingredients. As it happened, the kitchen had just run out of Bing – but fear not, Jelly sent someone sprinting across the street to a convenience store to grab him another. Now that’s service, folks.

The clear stars of this morning extravaganza are the heaping plates of breakfast delight that make it nearly impossible to settle on just one platter. There are temptress dishes like french toast stuffed with bananas and cream cheese, mini sliders stacked thick with pepper pesto sausage frittatas, and bacon pancakes – but I’m loyal to a trio of this restaurant’s finest meals.

The sweet potato hash was the first thing I ever sampled at Jelly Café. The overflowing plate presented to me was loaded with crumbly Mexican chorizo, onions, celery, roasted poblano pepper, cubed sweet potatoes, and red skinned potatoes – all topped with two eggs, toast, and fruity jelly. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, and it’s absolutely amazing.

My second favorite dish is the roasted turkey hash piled high with shredded lean turkey, tender chopped apple, onion, red potatoes, and a sprinkling of tarragon. It’s like a Thanksgiving feast in breakfast form. The third best plate was a more recent discovery, the salmon benedict with peasant potatoes. I had never tried poached eggs before, but Jelly Café converted me into a fan. They serve two poached eggs draped over a perfectly pink filet of seared salmon balanced on artisan sourdough. The entire creation is slathered in their signature dill cream cheese hollandaise – perfection.

Their corned beef hash also deserves an honorable mention for its perfect balance of savory meat and sweet caramelized onion. Really, anything you can fork into your mouth will treat you well.

I hear there’s also a lunch menu – but I’ve never quite made it past the breakfast. 

Need more Jelly? You can connect with them through Facebook,
follow them on Twitter, and check out other satisfied diners’ rave reviews on Yelp!

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.

The five best joints to grab a great meal while visiting Vail, Colorado

There is only one thing I do better than exploring the outdoors, and that’s stuffing my face with tantalizing food. I’m partial to local eateries, but can easily be swayed by any savory wafting scent.

During my visit to Vail, CO, I honestly spent more time gorging my gut than I did burning off those calories on the slopes. My skiing may have only made it to the bunny slopes, but my dining experiences were certainly epic adventures.

Here’s a look at the best places to grab a bite while visiting the luscious mountainside at Vail:

Pazzo’s Pizzeria

Don’t let the restaurant name fool you; I munched on nary a thin-crust nor pepperoni during my visit to Pazzo’s Pizzeria. My mother and I stumbled upon this gem while wandering through Vail Village very, very early in the morning. I had worked up an appetite, so we randomly stumbled into this shop since the idea of a slice of pizza before 10:00 AM somehow sounded fantastic to me.

Of course, there was no pizza to be had. Apparently this place cooks up breakfast, and since I was starving, I decided to nix my early bird pizza fantasies and ordered a breakfast burrito. Holy mother of tortillas – this thing was unreal. I can’t even imagine how large the flour tortilla really was, nor do I understand how all the fillings fit inside the perfectly wrapped giant. The monster was stuffed with scrambled eggs, green pepper, onion, tomato, ham, and refried beans – then slathered with a spicy red chili, salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese.

I think the picture speaks for itself, but this was hands down the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever had in my entire life. I would drive back to Vail solely to munch on it again – and I’m dying to try their pizza, because it must be phenomenal if their breakfast is this good.

The Little Diner

I already blogged about my adoration for The Little Diner, but this quaint spot deserves mention while talking about the best places to eat in Vail.

The tiny countertop seating area is jam-packed by 8:30 AM, a testament to this little joint’s big servings of awesome. You watch the cooks prepare each meal in the very small kitchen area, and I didn’t see a single thing roll out of there that I didn’t want to dig my face into.

On any other day, the bursting amount of food consumed during a visit to The Little Diner would have left me napping all afternoon with a seriously bloated belly, but it’s the perfect way to begin your day when you’re planning to spend an entire day traversing a mountain with two skis strapped to your feet.

My advice? They open up shop at 7:30 – so set your alarm early if you want to snag a seat without waiting.

Vail Chop House

Sitting directly across from the gondola at the bottom of the mountain, the Vail Chop House provides pristine views of the slopes, and offers a great outdoor patio that is surprisingly pleasant during a sunny day – even if it’s only 30 degrees outside.

My mother and I set up shop at one of the outdoor tables while we waited for my dad to finish up his morning ski runs. At first, we decided to only order drinks. We each ordered an ‘adult’ butterscotch hot chocolate – and it was lip-licking, belly-warming, sticky fingers wonderful. Topped with a dollop of whipped cream, and with liquor perfectly masked by the sweetest of butterscotch liquor combined with the smooth taste of chocolate and Bailey’s; this beverage was divine.

My father finally showed up at the bottom of the run an hour, and four hot chocolates, later. At that point, my belly had digested the massive breakfast burrito from earlier, and was ready to gorge again. We sampled the miniature sliders with a side of fries, and weren’t disappointed.

This place is slightly pricey, but still doesn’t even compare to the majority of expensive eateries found in sophisticated Vail.

Sushi Oka

With two drunk parents leaving dinner plans up to me, I did my usual research on Yelp before deciding to venture to Sushi Oka for our last night’s dinner. I’ve been on a bit of a sushi kick lately, so I wanted to see what Vail had to offer.

We made our way to Vail Village from our Marriott Lodge room via the complimentary shuttle service that runs throughout the vicinity, and quickly found the sushi shop, which I had noticed earlier in the day. We started the meal with edamame and sake, score.

I must admit, while I am smitten with sushi, I’m not the biggest raw fish fan – blasphemy, I know. I ordered a fat roll topped with baked halibut and stuffed with all manner of tasty ingredients like fresh crab and creamy avocado. It was fantastic, as was my mother’s order of pad thai. Unlike the traditional flavors of pad thai, this batch had a unique hint of tomato sauce that we all enjoyed – but be warned, it is extremely spicy.

Moe’s Original BBQ

This place deserves an honorable mention, not so much for their food, but for the atmosphere.

We sauntered over to Moe’s after the first day of skiing, totally exhausted, pretty drunk, and very hungry. Much to my delight, there was an excellent bluegrass band jamming out near the bar. +100 points for the banjo music.

I’ve eaten at a Moe’s BBQ in Denver once, but never got the chance to try their version of my two favorite barbeque stapes: mac-n-cheese and baked beans. Hats off to this joint for totally satisfying my taste buds with thick, sweet beans and hearty mac that filled my belly.

Another +100 for the Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys. My parents and I had a blast munching on ribs, sipping our tall boys, and taking in the great music.

This is admittedly not the most amazing place to eat while you’re in Vail – but if you’re looking for comfort food, no-frills service, and a hospitable atmosphere, you’re in the right place.

I didn’t come to Vail for the food, but the tasty eats I enjoyed before and after my skiing quickly became some of the highlights of the trip. Where’s the joy in spending a day burning calories if you can’t refuel afterwards?

Looking for a casual, chummy stop for an après-ski libation? Check out Garfinkle’s at the bottom of the main slope, a few shops to the right of Vail Chop House. I didn’t eat here, so it didn’t have a place on my list of the best bites in Vail – but I downed my fair share of beverages with my ski lesson buddy Kelsey after our class ended. Strong drinks, reasonable prices, and a great atmosphere for us everyday folk.

Taking a bite out of healthy, convenient fare from Fresh Fit Meals in Denver

Through a stroke of good luck, I recently won a $25 gift certificate to try Fresh Fit Meals, a Denver-based healthy food facility that cooks up convenient and wholesome meals for the on-the-go eater. Since I love to promote great local businesses, I figured I’d share my experience sampling Fresh Fit Meals.
Bon appetite! 

I’ll be the first one to admit that these pre-packaged, microwave-friendly meals don’t exactly look like a divine edible intervention – until you take a bite. Don’t let the fuss-free appearance of these meals fool you; every bite is jam-packed with flavor and spice. A bit peppery, spicy enough to require a refill on my water, and every once in a while I get a nice hint of celery.

As soon as I arrived home from Emerald City Smoothie with my aromatic package, I couldn’t resist digging into one of the containers. My first victim was the “NOLA Dirty Rice.” Looking back at it, I think this was my favorite dish. The turkey was piled generously on top of a bed of savory rice, sprinkled with peas and carrots. I could seriously nosh on this meal every single day.

The “Get Yo Mac On” dish immediately caught my eye, but I was skeptical about the brown grain macaroni; try as I might, I just can’t seem to get on good terms with non-white pastas. Fresh Fit Meals knocked the ball out of the park with this mac. The pasta was perfectly done, and didn’t have that unpleasant grainy taste most “healthy” pastas have. Once again, the ground turkey was the star of the dish, perfectly seasoned with a great kick of flavor.

Could I have added a handful of cheese to my mac? Of course. Am I also a shameless glutton? Yes. I reasoned with myself that it would be a travesty to ruin such a healthy meal with heaps of cheese, so I sliced up some fresh avocado and tossed it into the mix – a perfect idea.

The next day, I dug into the “Sweet Potato Bird” as a late afternoon meal. The thickly sliced turkey looked a bit dry out of the fridge, but as soon as I was done heating it up, the meat was dripping with juice. This dish didn’t quite have the spicy kick of the other two samplings, but it offered a perfect balance of tender turkey meat, earthy rice, and creamy sweet potatoes. Another thumbs up, though this meal wasn’t quite as dazzling as the first two.

My final samplings were the turkey and eggs breakfast tacos. I had a moment of dread when I realized that the tortillas were of the corn variety (I’m a flour snob), but after heating up my meal I was delighted to find that these were some of the best corn tortillas I’ve ever had. Once again, the turkey was perfectly seasoned and kept me coming back for more, but I was a little iffy about the eggs. I’m very fussy about my meat products, so it was a bad move on my part to wait four days to eat the eggs – oops. The tacos also came with a small side of salsa that added a great little burst of flavor to each bite.

I would highly recommend grabbing a few of these pre-made meals to keep you going throughout the week without having to worry about cooking lunch. It was great to be able to pick a dish, pop it in the microwave, and have a healthy, tasty meal at my disposal without having to fuss around in the kitchen. They were ideal for post-climbing dinners when I returned from the rock gym burnt out, famished, and lacking the energy to get down in the kitchen.

The best part?
Our friends at Fresh Fit Meals are extending an offer to the readers of The Morning Fresh:

Get 10% off your order by using the code “themorningfresh10”
now through February 28th!

Be sure to check out Fresh Fit Meals online. Survey their sweeping menu of savory selections, give them a ‘like’ on their Facebook page, and connect with them via Twitter! Trust me, all it takes is one bite, and you’ll be hooked. Finally, an eating addiction that’s actually good for me!

Take a bite out of this traditional Cuban Feast

How’s that for a Christmas Eve meal? Celebrating holidays with a bite of Cuban fare is my favorite family tradition. Tonight’s menu included my abuela’s famous black beans and rice, homemade pulled pork, fresh avocado salad, garlic yucca, sweet plantains coated with brown sugar, roasted chicken, and a platter of lime wedges.

Food like this will always keep me coming home for the holidays.

Digging into Juan’s Famous Poo Poo Plate at Morrison Inn in Morrison, CO

After a grueling day of hiking to crags, exhausting yourself with beta, and the whole propelling-yourself-up-a-boulder thing, climbers need good grub and cold drinks to help us refuel – and there ain’t nothing better than a hearty plate of Mexican food to get you back on your feet.

Thanks to Mountain Project’s description of the Morrison/Evergreen climbing area, Niko and I gained curiosity about the highly acclaimed Mexican food in the area, especially the recommended Morrison Inn. Located only a few miles away from Three Sisters Park, we figured it would be a great place to unwind after a cold day of climbs. After a day of this, we loaded up our gear and followed the winding mountain roads that led us from Evergreen to Morrison.

Always a beer man, I was surprised when Niko expressed his interest in ordering a margarita. Naturally, he maintained his manhood by ordering a house variety on the rocks, and I stayed true to my own form with a sweet frozen strawberry flavor. My favorite part of my blended drink was the sugar-coated rim, yum.

We both felt comfortable in this cozy establishment, which has some of the friendliest waitresses I have ever encountered. Our particular waitress was quick to refill our constantly emptied salsa bowl, and her quirky antics left us feeling cheerful as we slurped up our drinks and pondered our next move.

As Niko and I sipped on our tequila cocktails and shoveled tortilla chips into our mouths, we scoured the menu in search of edible conquests. Always budget-minded, we decided to order something that we could share. Fish tacos and burly burritos called out to us from the offerings, but as soon as our eyes landed on “Juan’s Famous Poo Poo Plate,” we burst into giggles and found our meal.

To be honest, neither of us had a clue what “cocktail flautas,” or “petite chili rellenos” were, but we decided to take a gamble after our bubbly waitress told us the platter was an excellent choice. Curious, but even moreso famished, we continued noshing on chips and salsa as we waited for our mystery meal to arrive. We eventually spotted our waitress rounding the corner with an enormous spread of Mexican goodness – as soon as she delivered the mound of morsels to our table, I shot Niko a doubtful concern about our ability to clear the massive plate.

Truth be told, we totally demolished every last bite. The nachos were perfectly layered, the queso dip had an ideal balance of spice, and the mysterious flautas and rellenos turned out to be the best part of it all. The flautas were basically deep-fried tortillas wrapped up and stuffed with ground beef and seasoned chicken. My favorite portion of the platter were the petite chili rellenos, little fried balls oozing with jalapeno-infused cheese.

How we managed to fit all that food in our bellies after two huge margaritas and more refills on chips and salsa than I’d like to admit, I simply don’t know. We are veritable foodie champions, conquering the realm of Mexican food so readers like you can enjoy the stories while we clutch our bloated bellies. I would highly recommend this joint as a post-climb pit stop for any climber, hiker, or adventurer in the vicinity. Two thumbs up, Morrison Inn!

Visit TheMorningFresh.com again next week for another Tasty Thursday!
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How to make easy pumpkin pie pancakes

It is the season of feasting, and what better seasonal ingredient to overdose on than pumpkin? Our household cranks out pancakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so it was only time before we started spicing up the mix – with pumpkin, of course.

I recently stumbled across this blog post on Cait’s Plate about a sinisterly simple way to transform your pancakes into pumpkin permeated treats, and my housemate Hannah and I immediately became smitten with the idea of pumpkin spiced pancakes. It really is all too easy; all we had to buy was a can of pumpkin.

So here’s the not-so-secret recipe for adding a little seasonal spice to your breakfast routine. You make your pancake mix like always; any mix will do. We got a nicer brand, simply because according to Hannah, “pancake mix is one of the places in life where you don’t go for the cheaper brand.” – I can stand by that!

Once you’ve got your pancake mix ready to go, the fun comes in. We eyeballed the canned pumpkin addition, but about 1/3 of the can seems suitable. Just plop a heap of that orange goodness into your mix, stir it in, and taste. Spices are definitely your friend for this little cookout – don’t be shy with the seasoning!

Whip it all together, season your batter to taste (we like a lot of nutmeg), then you’re ready to pour your liquid gold onto a frying pan and watch it fluff up into a perfect pancake. I’m not the most skilled pancake attendant, but I did manage to make one pancake in the shape of a mouse. I’m pretty proud of it.

This simple fall-flavored breakfast treat couldn’t be easier to make, which instantly qualifies it as a new favorite. Grab yourself a can of pumpkin, experiment a bit with different spices and tastes, and dig in.