The Kitchen Shoppe offers hundreds of hands-on, demonstration cooking classes for adults, children and groups, as well as a wide selection of bakeware, cookware, housewares and cutlery.

Review: Courthouse Commons, Carlisle PA

Saturday, October 24, 2009 · 0 comments

Courthouse Common Espresso Bar & Bistro
1 S. Hanover Street
Carlisle, PA 17013
(717) 243-8899

Spring/Summer Hours
Monday-Wednesday 7:00am – 7:00pm
Thursday – Friday: 7:00am-9:00pm
Saturday – Sunday: 8:00am-2:00pm

Fall/Winter Hours
Monday-Wednesday 7:00am –4:00pm
Thursday – Friday: 7:00am-9:00pm
Saturday – Sunday: 8:00am-2:00pm

Cost: Reasonable (I do not have the cost information off-hand as it is not posted on the website or phonebook. I will be updating soon.)

So, since the Courthouse Commons moved across Hanover Street I was very excited to see what changes they would make to their restaurant and menu. Their restaurant is self-described as the “Cheers” of Carlisle. I’m not so sure about that… I don’t ever remember a heavy metal rock band playing in Cheers during an Open Mic Night.

Now, I might be a little crazy... but when I think of an “Espresso Bar & Bistro” I think of a place of relative quiet respite. A place I could go, order a coffee and relax with a book. I don’t picture myself walking up to the counter and saying: “Hi, can I have a half-calf caramel soy macchiato, no foam, with a side of Pantera please”.

That aside, I rather like their new location and décor. Their menu, however, remains pretty unchanged. Their website claims that the location is open 7 days a week because coffee is their true passion. Their hours have always bothered me. You’re never 100% sure when they are open. I understand Sunday, but why close at 2PM Saturday and limit your hours in the fall/winter? Silly. If people aren’t sure when you’re open, they won’t come.

I’ve spent a decent amount of time in this Bistro, more so than most of the other restaurants I review. While the restaurant itself got quite the facelift the menu is almost exactly the same.

The whole menu is Courthouse themed. Items on the menu are named after local judges, court terms and various exhibits. They take this theme a little too far in my mind.

We ate the following:

Raspberry Scone
I’d eat this scone any day of the week. Their recipe is far superior to Starbucks.

Large Mocha
Strong coffee, but very well balanced in flavor. Great for the morning when you’re on the go.

Mango Smoothie
Ice and pumped Da Vinci mango flavoring. Seriously? After about three sips of this we were done.

2x Honey Dijon Chicken Panini
One of the worst panini’s I’ve ever had. First off, it’s served on a flatbread. Not on something good, like a Ciabatta bread. The honey Dijon on the sandwich was really a huge turnoff. It was too sweet and did not complement the rest of the sandwich.

I was really disappointed in the food. I’ve always stuck to their pastries in the past, but this visit happened to be during lunch. I won’t be making that mistake again. Even though our bill for lunch was only around $17.00, it felt like a complete waste of my money.

A majority of the non-breakfast business The Courthouse Commons get, I’m assuming, is from its prime location near the square. Note that the picture in this review is from their re-grand opening and is during an open mic night.

Bottom Line: Don’t come here for the food… it’s too inconsistent. What's good is good and what's bad is really bad. If you do decide to try out their food (I’ve heard their soup is great… so great in fact that they were out of it when I went to order) do not go during an open mic (Thursday and Friday Night). Come in the morning, grab a coffee and a pastry and go about your day.

Review: Torchbearer Sauces -- Mechanicsburg, PA

Friday, October 23, 2009 · 0 comments

Spicy food is probably one of my favorite things to eat in the world. I was absolutely thrilled when I ran across a Pennsylvania Preferred local purveyor of hot sauce.

Torchbearer Sauces, LLC is based out of Mechanicsburg, PA and is run by three local guys who were bored and had a bunch of extra Habanero peppers in their garden. They messed around and made their own sauce. Once they tasted it, they realized they had something that was not only unique – but better than anything else on the market.
They were correct.

The sauce I’m focusing on today is the Torchbearer Ultimate Annihilation Sauce. It isn’t an extract sauce like many others on the market… meaning its ingredients are used whole and not as processed. This is one of the hottest natural hot sauce in the world. Also one of the best tasting.

Cost: $20.00

Bhut Jolokia, Chocolate Habanero Peppers, Carrots, Mandarin Oranges, Tomatoes, Vinegar, Garlic, Sugar, and other all-natural spices.

The Bhut Jolokia pepper – also known as the Ghost Pepper in India, has a rating of roughly 1,000,000 Scoville units. It is certified by the Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chile pepper.

Most hot sauces – especially the ones that are this hot are not enjoyable to eat. I’m very pleased to announce that the Ultimate Annihilation sauce is delicious. Good for my tastebuds, perhaps not as fantastic for my stomach the next morning.

I’m working on a few recipes to use this sauce in… but I’ll tell you flat out. Put it on everything. You’ll love it.

Bottom Line: They have many other sauces and I’ve tried a few of them. While all of them taste great, if you really want to light a fire in your mouth, go with the Ultimate Annihilation. It's a little pricy at $20.00 a 5oz bottle, but those 5oz really have legs. Since it is so potent, you use a lot less.


Review: Pakha's Thai House

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 · 0 comments

Pakha’s Thai House
3 US Route 15
Dillsburg, PA 17019
Monday – Saturday 11am – 10pm, Sunday - 11am-9pm
Place an Order: 717-502-8717
Pakha's Thai House Restaurant

Average Lunch Entrée: $7.00
Average Appetizer: $5.95
Average Soup: $5.00
Average Entrée: $10.00
Average Dessert: $4.50

Cost for two: $35.02 (Price of an appetizer, two entrees and shared dessert -- excluding drinks and including a 15% tip)

Pakha’s Thai House is a tiny little restaurant in Dillsburg right off of route 15. It’s a very unassuming restaurant that if you didn’t really know it was there, you’d pass it.

Once you enter, you can split off to the left to order lunch from the counter, or you can go through the doors into the dining area. After walking through the doors, you are immediately greeted by a ton of authentic Thai culture – from the décor to the music, the atmosphere is great.

Sadly, at the time we went, we were the only patrons there.

I didn’t have to look at the menu, I already knew what I wanted. But, in the spirit of adventure, I looked anyways. LOTS of options. None of their food is canned, it’s all fresh.

I ordered my favorite Thai dish, Chicken Panang (A curry/chicken/coconut milk dish with fresh lime leaves) and my wife ordered Chicken with Vegetables (Chicken and steamed vegetables in a brown liquid). Both entrees are served with jasmine rice.

I asked for my dish to be prepared Thai Spicy, as I absolutely love spicy food.

Chicken Panang
Wonderful… as soon as the bowl of golden curried coconut milk hits the table, it fills the booth with its aroma. Thai hot is spicy, thanks to the curry and Thai Chilies added. Through the heat, you can taste the saltiness of the Nam Pla (Fish sauce), sweet and tartness of Kaffir lime leaves and the peppery Thai basil. Quintessential Thai flavor, exploding on my tastebuds. My only complaint is that the serving of rice is too small and it forced me to leave a lot of the curry in the bowl…at least until I realized I had a spoon.

Chicken with Vegetables
Tender chicken mixed with all sorts of seasonal vegetables… squash, mushrooms, bok choy, snap peas, green beans and carrots. Very healthy. The broth that the chicken and vegetables came in was incredibly flavorful. My only complaint was that two of the chunks of chicken was a little pink inside – enough to place it to the side.

At the end of the meal our bill was presented along with several Thai-imported sweet tamarind candies. Perfect end to a great lunch. As we were leaving, I grabbed a couple of the tamarind candies to go.

Bottom line: If you want delectable, authentic Thai food with a great atmosphere, head over to Pakha’s. It’s priced right, the food is delicious and once you try it…you’ll be back.

Review: Visaggio's Ristorante - Enola, PA

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Visaggio’s Ristorante
6990 Wertzville Road || Enola, PA 17025
Monday – Saturday 5pm – 9pm
Reservations: 717-697-8082
Visaggio's Ristorante

Average Appetizer Price: $11.21
Average Soup Price: $7.50
Average Salad Price: $7.95
Average Entrée: $27.67
Average Dessert Price: $7.68
Cost for two: $85.36 (Price of an appetizer, two entrees and shared dessert -- excluding drinks and including a 15% tip)

Editor note: Beware pay per refill sodas/teas.

Upon first pulling into Visaggio’s, we weren’t 100% sure where to go next, as there wasn’t one clear entrance, since they also dabble in hotel and banquet services.

After finding the entrance, we found ourselves in a very drab olive green/gray room cluttered with all sorts of knickknacks and pink accents. It reminded me more of a Nashville funeral parlor than an upscale fine dining reception area. Greeting you at the reception desk (make sure to dodge the piano on your way there) is a gigantic portrait of Chefs Rosemary Visaggio-Lumadue and her two sons. Unfortunately the food that is splayed out in front of them in the portrait is a none-too appetizing glimpse of what’s to come.

After being left by the host out in the parlor for a few minutes, he finally comes back and takes us to our seat. The actual interior of the restaurant is different, but nice.

Once we’re inside and seated the rest of the service goes pretty well, aside from the astronomical prices and food. Which I guess is important to some customers. Our bill came to about $115.00 with drinks and a tip.

First off, they serve a complimentary spicy red pepper olive oil dipping sauce with bread which as far as complimentary dipping sauces go, was really tasty. It was quite spicy, very much harkening back to the Visaggio’s roots in Abruzzi, Italy – a region very accustomed to spicy dishes. The only problem with serving such a spicy complementary dish comes when you force your patrons to pay for refills on soda or tea. (I’m not 100% sure if this is disclosed on the menu – but it sure is on the bill. One time here, I spent about $15 on Mountain Dew, not knowing their pay-per-refill policy).

Upon looking at the menu one thing struck me as very odd. There are a high number (6) of Filet Mignon dishes and not one single lamb dish, which is strange considering Abruzzi is famous for its lamb dishes and is considered a mountainous, shepherd/fisherman town. As a side note, restaurants, please don't put advertisements for other businesses in your menu, even if your family owns them. Let us enjoy our dining experience.

So, what exactly DID we order?

Seafood Ravioli - $13.95
Crab imperial, shrimp and scallops encased in a thin pasta square ... served with a delicate sweet red pepper and white sauce
Bruschetta - $8.95
Our homemade Italian bread, topped with tomato basil sauce, portabella mushrooms napped with a cheese sauce
Italian Wedding Soup - 7.50
Chicken, tiny meatballs, cheeses, various seasonings in a perfect chicken broth
House Salad - included with entrée; Dry Bleu Cheese $2.25 extra
Elena Maria - 29.95
Medallions of prime filet mignon sautéed medium (please) and four jumbo shrimp in garlic butter. The filets and shrimp are then placed on a bed of linguine laced with garlic butter and topped with pecorino romano cheese
Arturo - 29.95
Jumbo shrimp and sea scallops and salmon with a sweet red pepper sauce served on a bed of linguine
Glass of house Chardonnay
Glass of Iced Tea

Expensive food is fine. Honestly. I know this blog is about gourmet food on the cheap, but I’m fine with paying $115 for a special occasion sort of dinner – provided the food is excellent. I’m not sure if Visaggio’s was having an off day… I did talk to one of the chefs prior to service and they had mentioned their Pasta Roller’s transmission was burnt out and they had to hand cut and roll the ravioli – but I have serious, serious doubts about taking another $115 gamble on this restaurant. I hope you seriously consider it as well.

So, starting off with the Bruschetta and Seafood Ravioli:

Bruschetta – to me, when I think of Bruschetta, I think of FRESH and VIBRANT ingredients that POP off of the bread. Their idea was a tomato based sauce. Sauce? Really? Along with Portabella mushrooms and a little bit of cheese sauce. None of this tasted fresh. The mushrooms actually stained the bread (not very appealing) and honestly the presentation of the bruschetta was atrocious. The portabella was cut into long pieces that made the bread awkward to eat. If you tried to move it or take it off, the rest of the ingredients would fall onto the plate.

SUCH a simple thing that was executed poorly.

Seafood Ravioli – I couldn’t stop eating this dish. Not because it was delicious. But because I was trying to figure out what was just plain off about it. I’m not sure if the crab was a little old or what the problem was, but it tasted overly fishy and lemony. The upside to this dish was the red pepper sauce, which was very tasty. Unfortunately the plate was also drowned in another white cream sauce.

Italian Wedding Soup – The soup was fairly standard wedding soup, although with a large amount of chicken. My portion of soup only had one miniature meatball. All in all though, coming off of the disappointing appetizers, I thought we were in an upswing.

House Salad – Very sad looking house salad… also came with several pieces of (obviously canned) citrus fruit. The citrus, which was very pale and sickly looking, really didn’t work with any element of the salad. We sent about 3/4ths of the salad back with the waitress.

Elena Maria – In the menu’s description, it begs us to order the filet medium at most. Very sad to see that the actual mignon medallions that came on my plate were Medium-Well Done. The shrimp were also overcooked and a bit tough. Aside from the overcooked beef and the shrimp losing a lot of their delicate flavor due to overcooking, the dish was fairly successful. Not $30 successful, but I would eat it if it were priced reasonably and cooked properly.

Arturo – Probably the most successful dish of the night, this pasta brought back the sweet red pepper sauce we liked from the seafood ravioli from before. Shrimp and Scallops seemed a touch overcooked, but probably because at this point our meal was so poor we were really analyzing everything put in front of us.

House Chardonnay- I feel a little strange reviewing a house chardonnay, but I was pretty disappointed with the lack of by the glass wines. Pretty much limited to their house selections.

Bottom line: Save your $100 and stay at home. Cook a family-style Italian dinner and invite a few of your friends for a lot less money and much more enjoyment. If you want to go out for a romantic Italian dinner with that special someone -- try Juliana’s, in Mechanicsburg, PA.

It will only take 115 of you to recover the money I wasted on this meal!