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Hungry in the Holy City: Upper King Street Culinary Tour in Charleston, SC {A Review}

Hungry in the Holy City: Upper King Street Culinary Tour in Charleston, SC {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com

If you're interest in culinary travel, you need to add the Upper King Street Culinary Tour to your next trip to Charleston, South Carolina.

Even as a born and raised Charlestonian, it's tough for me to keep up with what's new and exciting on the culinary scene since there are SO many new restaurants that have opened recently. I decided to partner with Charleston Culinary Tours and play tourist for a day to see what new eats and treats were hiding downtown.

So, was the tour worth it? Could even a local learn a culinary trick or two?

Yes, and yes.

I went on the Upper King Culinary Tour, which promised a visit to 3 or 4 restaurants on the historic peninsula. The exact restaurants that each tour visits aren't revealed until the start of your tour since the locations change daily based on availability and each restaurant's schedule. For our tour, we visited four places: HōM, R, Lana, and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, none of which I'd visited before (or even heard of before the tour!).

Eating Your Way Through St. Augustine, Florida

Eating Your Way Through St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

St. Augustine, Florida, is well-known for its vast array of historical offerings and beautiful beaches. What most people don't know is that the city has some incredible culinary options. While you're in town, explore these local favorites and discover the tasty side of St. Augustine!

The Ultimate Paris Food Guide: All of the Amazing Things to Eat in Paris

The Ultimate Paris Food Guide: All of the Amazing Things to Eat in Paris | CosmosMariners.com

Today, you, my awesome readers, are in for quite the treat (literally, since this post is about food), so I hope you're hungry!

 Jordan from The Hungry Traveler has been kind enough to create the ultimate Paris food guide so you can head to the City of Love with confidence for some tasty cuisine. Below, she leads us the best things to eat in Paris--and where to find them--so newcomers and foodies alike can experience the culinary delights of the City of Lights to the max.

She's very passionate about food and traveling, and has been to 30 of the states in the U.S. and over 15 countries; when she's not eating her way around the world, Jordan is a chef and culinary instructor in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Bon appetit, Cosmos Mariners!

Island Eats: Where to Dine on St. Simons Island, Georgia

When I was at St. Simons Island, it wasn't all exploring the King and Prince Resort and flying around the island on a historic plane.

I had to sample the local fare, too! (I know. It's a tough life I lead. Someone's got to do it!)

Island Eats: Where to Eat on St. Simons Island, Georgia | CosmosMariners.com

Over my few days in the area, I discovered some amazing restaurants, their owners, and their chefs. One thing that I loved about St. Simons Island was how much the locals support their own. I love to shop, stay, and eat locally on my stays, and St. Simons Island had plenty of opportunities for me to do just that.

If you've worked up an appetite playing on the beach or shopping, here are a few great places to dine on St. Simons Island.

Eating like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina Dining Picks

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The Asbury
One of the highlights of our entire trip, The Asbury surprised our taste buds and challenged us to try new things. Although the atmosphere was more formal than the other three places on this list, the staff was highly accommodating to my toddler. My dad couldn't get over his delicious crab and Benton's ham plate, while I was glad that I tried both the rabbit confit and the pea and basil orecchiette. Don't forget to leave room for dessert!

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Check out my complete review here. And then put it on your Charlotte must-visit list!

7th Street Public Market
We ate here for lunch on our first day after hearing great things from several people who live in the area. If you're looking for a one stop shop for a variety of tastes, the Public Market will be your go-to place, as there are several restaurants under one roof.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Choose from sandwiches, sushi, crepes, cheeses, and pizza, or grab a beer at the brewery area. The Market also boasts a small handicrafts shop up front, and a butcher and fresh fruits and veggies in the back. Everything is locally sourced--something I loved!--so you'll feel like you're contributing to the community even if it's your first time here.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

My dad, Britton, and I ordered from Orrman's Cheese Shop in the back after we'd done a few loops. We'd also eyed the sandwiches from the shop up front (the line was too long and very slow) and the pizza from the booth in the middle (it was closed on Sunday despite there being people everywhere). My dad and I both got the smoked mozzarella, proscuitto, and tomato grilled cheese, while Britton opted for the homemade peanut butter and blackberry jelly sandwich. Both the grilled cheese and the PB&J were crazy delicious, though, at a price tag of $25 for three simple sandwiches (including 1 bottle of water and a small bag of chips), I expected something amazing.

The Market is very convenient to Discovery Place, the Levine Museum of the New South, and several of the other places on my family-friendly guide to Charlotte. It's a little pricey and crowded during peak hours, but the food is quite delicious.

Nan and Byron's
On our last night, we headed over to Nan and Byron's for dinner--and I couldn't have chosen a better place to end our trip. Named after the couple in Grant Wood's American Gothic painting, Nan and Byron's is a trendy and casual restaurant with crowd-pleasing favorites. (Fun fact about the painting: Nan was actually Wood's sister, while Byron McKeeby was his dentist!)

Instead of bringing out bread (like most places do), our waiter started us off with a basket of the most amazing flavored popcorn.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

My dad and I both chose the tacos (I got half beef, half chicken, while my dad got all four of his with chicken), and I was very happy with my choice. We both decided that the chicken tacos were slightly better than the beef--it had to do with the seasoning and overall balance of flavors. The plates were gigantic and came with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream: my dad and I could've easily split one.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

They had a standard children's menu (chicken nuggets, burgers, etc.), and Britton wanted the grilled cheese with peas and carrots. I had a few bites of hers as well--no cheese product here! The grilled cheese was perfectly done on thick bread and had a creamy white cheddar inside.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The vibe was casual and fun, and there were patrons of all ages there during dinner. I would've felt equally comfortable there on a date as I did with my toddler (who is not the quietest dining partner). Our waiter was friendly and accommodating throughout the meal and made sure that we always had fresh sweet tea and plenty of ice. The building itself was nicely renovated: before it opened as Nan and Byron's, it was another restaurant, and before that, it was a service station. The renovation has kept many of the original service station elements, which adds a fun element to your dining experience.

Queen City Q
If you're looking for a casual place for Southern favorites, Queen City Q is worth a visit. My dad and I are both huge fans of barbecue, and we'd been looking forward to trying out the different sauces that the restaurant offers. It's located on the other side of the same building as the 7th Street Public Market, so the area is rife with great eating choices.

The interior was decorated in a kind of faux-country style with the televisions built into wooden barn sides. Our waitress wasn't particularly effervescent, but she was efficient, keeping our drinks refilled and promptly bring out our food.

I got the hand-pulled pork platter with two sides (the fried okra and the mac 'n' cheese). As a born and raised Southerner, I am extremely familiar with barbecue--and this was some delicious stuff. I could've eaten the pulled pork sans sauce since the spices were done so well. However, you can't put bottles of BBQ sauce in front of me and expect me to pass them up.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Thus began our tasting series--I liked that the restaurant offered up multiple sauces, but I wished they'd had a traditional vinegar sauce. The others (mostly ketchup based, though there was one mustard) were quite good. Definitely sample all of them!

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Which of these restaurants would you be most interested in trying?

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The Asbury, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Restaurant Review

The Asbury, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Restaurant Review | CosmosMariners.com

While on my trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the things I was most looking forward to was a dinner at The Asbury, the restaurant that's attached to the Dunhill Hotel (read my review of the hotel here).

I'd originally heard about the Asbury back in November 2014 when I discovered a bag of spiced popcorn in my goody bag from a travel writers' luncheon: the popcorn was spicy, a little bit sweet, and completely different than anything I'd had. I ended up fighting for pieces of it when I introduced tastes of it to my family.

I figured that if the chef could make popcorn that exciting, then he must be capable of seriously amazing things when given control of an entire menu. All of the reviews that I read online about the restaurant emphasized Executive Chef Chris Coleman's unique and inventive approach to his dishes: the bar was set high for our dinner, and I was ready to dive in.

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Walt Disney World Resort: A Review

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Walt Disney World Resort: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

Walt Disney World 2014: We came, we saw, we had a blast.

One of the goals of this trip was to try new experiences at a place that I've been to dozens of times (check out my bucket list to see what we wanted to do). And one of those experience was to carve out a date night with Landon.

Historic Hotels of American Luncheon + the Wentworth Mansion

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com

Eating and talking about travel: I really can't think of many better ways to spend a few hours!

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with about two dozen travel writers, bloggers, and hoteliers at the Historic Hotels of America regional luncheon. Not only did I get to pick the brains of several seasoned writers, I had the chance to network with some of the Historic Hotels in and around Charleston.

Networking Natalie

I don't know about you, but networking can be really fun. I love walking into a room knowing that there are people in there with whom I can make a connection. Plus, when you work as a blogger and freelance writer, any excuse to get out of the house and talk to people is welcomed! (Those four walls can bear down awfully close sometimes.)

And yes, I'm one of those crazies who actually enjoys public speaking and cocktail parties. What can I say? I guess I like to hear myself talk.

All of the attendees had the chance to mingle at the informal reception at the bar before heading into the main dining room to eat (more on that below. Spoiler: it was delicious!). The media people stayed seated while the hoteliers rotated through with each course. It was a great way to get to know all of the people there.

During the luncheon, I had the chance to talk with representatives from the King and Prince (St. Simons Island, GA), the Fulton Lane Inn (Charleston, SC), the Francis Marion (Charleston, SC) and the Dunhill Hotel (Charlotte, NC). I even got to see my contact at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel (Jekyll Island, GA) who helped me arrange my history-packed, amazing trip back in September.

Each property is unique, and each has a ton of history. (Duh, Natalie.) If you've been reading this blog even for just a post or two, you know that I'm obsessed with all things historical. To know that there's so much to explore right here in the Southeast makes me so excited for my 2015 travels! I certainly hope I'll be able to visit several of these properties in the coming year.

Exception Eating

So, the gorgeous Wentworth Mansion (one of the Historic Hotels!) hosted the event--and I got to fulfill something on my Charleston bucket list: eating at Circa 1886, the onsite restaurant.

{photo courtesy of Circa 1886}

I'd heard it was great, but just saying it was "great" is the understatement of the century. We started off with shrimp and grits soup--minus the shrimp for shellfish-intolerant me. Yum, yum, yum. It was basically like the creamiest grits I'd ever had: combine grits and a cream-based soup, and that's what you'd get in this dish. It was hands-down my favorite part of the meal.

The second course was a choice of salmon or chicken, and I went with the chicken. It had this delicious balsamic reduction on the top, and was so tender, I didn't really even need my knife.

The third course was a key lime tart. I have a weakness for all things key lime, and this dessert didn't disappoint. I think I could make myself sick off of key lime pie!

After the meal was finished, Chef Marc Collins came out to talk with us about his inspiration behind the food. He said that he likes reinventing traditional Southern foods without turning people away from the basics that made them love the foods to begin with.

Tour Time!

After we'd all eaten to our absolute max, we were invited on a tour of the Wentworth Mansion, which is just across the parking lot from Circa 1886.

{photo courtesy of the Historic Hotels of America}
About six of us were led around the stunning hotel, and we were shown one of the small rooms.

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
Yes, this is one of the "small" rooms!
There are 21 rooms in the hotel in all--and rumor has it, even a few (friendly) ghosts!

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
The stained glass over the front entryway. It's original to the house, and each of the sparrows represents one of the owner's children (he ultimately had 13!).

Staying here (and at pretty much all of the other Historic Hotels of America) is high on the bucket list, so maybe my husband will get the hint and plan a fun weekend for us at some point.

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
The business center: I could get some work done in this quiet, cozy room.
All in all, the luncheon was a wild success in my book. I got out of the house for a few hours (even sans toddler, who was with my mom!), and I was inspired by the other writers in attendance. Some of them have been in the travel industry longer than I've been alive, which reminds me how much I still have left to learn and explore.

Have you ever stayed in one of the Historic Hotels of America? Do you enjoy networking events?

SeeWee Restaurant

Who doesn't love a little roadside diner?

I certainly do. 

To me, traveling means trying to understand the region, the people, the culture of wherever you're visiting. And that means bypassing the chains and sampling some of the area's restaurants. If the locals are eating somewhere, that's where I want to be as well.

Fuel Restaurant (Downtown Charleston)

Fuel Cantina Charleston
As I'm typing this post up, I'm so full that I can barely move. Luckily, typing doesn't require much physical activity, so I might survive.

My stomach is fat and happy right now because of a very successful (and an unusual!) Sisters' Night. Each week, my sister and I get together for a dinner, movie, exercise, or just to talk. Usually, we don't invite anyone else because GIRLS ONLY. 

However, we made an exception this week since Amber's boyfriend has the world's worst work schedule and one of his current days off is Tuesday. I couldn't ask her to leave him on one of his two nights off, so we decided to do Sisters' Night Plus this week. Landon and Andrew and even Britton got to come on our adventure. 

For this unprecedented event, we headed downtown to one of my new favorite restaurants: Fuel.

Cookes of Dublin

No, that's not a typo. It's CookEs of Dublin.

Not Cooks.

But CookES.
Cookes of Dublin

Because it's not authentically British/ Irish/ English unless you add that extra, completely unnecessary 'e.' 

Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney

If you haven't noticed by now, this week's posts focus on the places my sister and I stayed and where we ate while on our recent Disney World trip. A comfy bed and tasty food is what makes a vacation, right?

While the afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian was definitely tops in the gastronomic offerings during out trip, we did try several new places as well. 

One of those places was Wolfgang Puck Express in Downtown Disney's Marketplace. Hidden away to the right of the Disney Christmas shop, this quick service restaurant offers up pasta, pizza, and salads.

Warning: reading the rest of this post may cause intense carb cravings!

Wolfgang Puck Express