Food Critic in Training
United States Travel Blog› entry 1 of 7 › view all entries
My niece Haley is not allowed to travel internationally since her mom thinks the world is a dangerous place. So, we go everywhere we can in the US. At the ripe old age of 11, she has been to more States more frequently than I when I was 21, or even 31.
She was visiting me in Florida for the winter holidays in 2008 and we were having a great time as usual. We always try to find something new and different and since she's from a small town in Ohio, it's usually not hard to do. We stopped by one of my favorite hangouts in Gulfport, Florida, the Peninsula Inn & Spa on Beach Boulevard.
What cream? she said. She'd had cream of wheat and heard of coffee with cream, but creme brulee was a new one. So, we ordered one. I thought it was ok - not particularly the best or worst I'd ever had, just normal creme brulee. Haley, however, thought she had died and gone to heaven. She ordered a second (after dinner and the first), which I figured was ok 'cause it gave me time to have a second margarita. Little did I know I had started an ongoing adventure between just the two of us.
Months later, I was visiting the family home in Ohio. Each kid always gets a special date with me during these visits and they get to pick what we do. I took Brooke shopping, Alex and I went for a hike with the dogs, but Haley wanted to have a creme brulee fest.
She had a notepad with the names of 10 restaurants on it that her mom had researched that served creme brulee. They were all within 30 minutes drive of the family home, so I figured a couple of hours would get us through the list - kind of like bar hopping but with more calories. So, we began.
First we went to a little cafe in our own town, the French Cafe in Warren, Ohio.
So on we went to the second locale, Alberini's in the neighboring town of Niles. All of you travbuddies will need to add Alberini's in Niles, Ohio to your list of dream destinations if you like creme brulee, because after tasting creme brulee in 2 states, 5 towns, and 5 restaurants, Haley declared Alberini's to be the best - a 10 on a scale of 9-10. It was creamy, with a perfect caramel crust and attractively served with fruit and whipped topping. Haley called the owner over to show him her list and her rating.
We then moved on to Canfield & Boardman, Ohio, which are larger and more upscale towns. There were several restaurants in this area, a suburb of Youngstown, that had creme brulee, so we let GPS take us to the first, Harry & Jeans in Canfield. At Harry & Jeans, Haley decided to also order a mocha frappuccino with her creme brulee. By now quite confident in her knowledge of exotic food (frappuccino and creme brulee are exotic if you're used to hot dogs with fries), she explained to the bartender how to make the frappuccino. The final verdict on the frap was not good - but the creme brulee ranked pretty high - with a score of 9.9. Careful note of this score was made, the requisite photo taken and off we went to the next place.
By now, I was feeling the need for real food, so when we arrived at Caffe Capri in Boardman, I suggested we order dinner, then creme brulee. After an Italian feast, we told the waitress we were conducting a taste test of area creme brulee and told her the Caffe was our 4th place on the list. When she brought out the product, Haley gravely told her that the caramelized crust was not thick enough to rank highest (ranking only 9.8), but after a taste, she decided that IF the crust were thicker, this creme brulee would rank equal to Alberini's in top place. The waitress told us to come back and make sure we told the chef to make the crust thicker - so Haley wrote that down on her notepad and off we went.
By now, Aunt Kelly is feeling sick and it's Haley's bedtime, so we decide to return home, forgoing the rest of the list for another visit, to share the 9 and 10 rated creme brulee with Brooke and Alex.
In Travelling Auntie tradition, I returned to Ohio several months later to take my 'kids' on another date. This time I was squeezing them in between a trip to Egypt, so time was short. Alex got a date at Chuck E. Cheese, Brooke got shopping - again, and Haley wanted creme brulee.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time for another fest and could only choose one restaurant. What to do? Try a new one from her mother's list? Try the ultimate favorite and see if it still holds its ranking? Since Haley only gets creme brulee every 6 months or so, this was an important decision. She decided to go back to Caffe Capri to see if they could improve their crust and tie with Alberini's for first place.
A different waitress this time, but we let her know about our test and gave her the directions to improve the crust. After dinner, the creme brulee came - as you wait for the results in anticipation, make sure you add Niles, Ohio to your list of dream destinations, because Caffe Capri in Boardman did not make the grade. No fruit, no sauce, no spray of herbs, no doily .... what a disappointment. Still a 9.8, so Alberini's wins with the only 10 (on a scale of 9-10).
Haley gets to pick where we go for her 12th birthday trip in June - maybe Chicago maybe New York ~ the US is her oyster ~ so we'll get to try more creme brulee soon. Big city creme brulee this time.
The adventure continues...stay tuned.