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LONG ISLAND : When music and food come together

The Next Level Band. Photo credit: http://www.gigmasters.com/Live-Band/The-Next-Level-Band/

If there’s something I say everyday, it’s that music connects.

To me, it connects people in ways words alone can’t.

Besides being a foodie (and constant tweeter/Facebooker!), I am a singer. You will find me constantly listening to music, piecing out the little things in music I love, such as when a song resolves itself.

On Facebook back in February, I learned of the passing of a truly talented, wonderful Long Island female singer.

When I heard the news, I was shocked. My mind immediately goes back to that one and only time I met her. The night I found out, I texted my friend who I went with, Alyssa, and we were both stunned.

You may remember in November of 2011 I blogged about going to Tequila Jacks in Port Jefferson village and loving the experience. Besides the food and tropical drinks, the music sealed the deal for me.

A husband and wife musical group, The Next Level Band was playing the night I went with my friend Alyssa, and while we waited for our table, I heard this woman, La Dawn Parris, singing Reggae/Calypso versions of top 40 hits while her husband, Tyrone, played the instruments (and sang some songs too!). I was mesmerized by this group, but especially La Dawn. I didn’t even introduce myself yet and found myself singing along while she was singing, and she noticed too, and smiled at me. It was a blast. La Dawn would even dance with the listeners dancing in the bar.

At the end of said night, I walked right up to La Dawn and introduced myself. I told her she has an amazing voice, how the band is awesome, and I hope to see them again soon. I took one of their cards and we were invited to come back the week after.

Well, it’s been over a year and a half later. And I STILL haven’t been back to Tequila Jacks. Not because I didn’t want to go back. I really have no excuse.

Life happens.

But, if there’s something that constantly amazes me about this beautiful life we all live, it’s how people come in and out of your life, sometimes very quickly.

So I say this. Cherish and live in your life’s moments.

While I only met La Dawn once and didn’t know anything about her beside the fact she’s an amazing singer and her warmth and positive energy glowed the time I saw her —

honestly —

that’s all I needed to know. In that moment. And now.

Rest in peace, La Dawn Parris.

Through my love of food and love of music, I met you once. I heard your song.

Your music moved me, and I will remember that for the rest of my life.

Here is just a snippet of her singing that night.

LONG ISLAND RESTAURANT WEEK — Paradise found at Tequila Jacks, Port Jefferson Village

I’m a huge believer in everything happening for a reason.

So when my friend Alyssa headed to Port Jeff (or as many Long Islanders say, ‘Down Port’), last week to experience Long Island restaurant week, it completely worked out that the first place, a very popular restaurant, was completely booked the night we came down.

Intuitively we explored the village’s other restaurants, walking up Main St. I started naming off several places we could try that night and then we stopped in front of a place I had been to a few times and loved, Tequila Jacks.

I had been to Tequila Jacks a few times with another friend, having an appetizer and dessert with her during those times. But never have I ever had a full dinner there. So Alyssa and I took the chance to head inside to what truly is Port Jeff’s paradise.

Why paradise, you ask?

This restaurant is an upscale Caribbean restaurant, packed with tropical drinks, island-themed dishes and what was the true icing on the cake: live music from an AMAZING husband-wife group: The Next Level Band.

We waited a half hour for our table, and while we waited, we got to sit at the beautiful wooden bar and listen to the beautiful stylings of La Dawn and Tyrone Parris. I even started singing along! There were classic Bob Marley songs, Reggae/Calypso songs, R&B, and even some of the amazing top 40 hits on the radio right now, made into a Reggae/Calypso version, such as “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5,Mr. Saxobeat” by Alexandra Stan, and more. We had a blast the entire night listening to these two, not only for their amazing voices and excellent guitar and steel drum playing, but because these two were so much fun. La Dawn was dancing with listeners who were dancing in the bar.

The cocktail menu.

That night there was a special at the bar: $4 mojitos and margaritas. While Alyssa and I didn’t get those, we did opt for the special hand-muddled fruit drinks that we kept seeing being made in front of our eyes with a big, dark wooden muddling device.

Alyssa started out with a Reggae Punch: a blend of Cabernet, Zinfandel and fresh muddled fruits. This was delicious, an island sangria with a sweet, fruity taste.

Reggae Punch

My first drink of the night was the orange-honeydew melon mojito: Bacardi Melon Rum, muddled with sugar, fresh mint, limes, oranges and honeydew melon, served shaken. Ever since I tried honeydew flavored bubble tea up at Syracuse last year, I’ve especially become a huge fan of honeydew, in drinks. I had a good feeling about this one, and I was right: the light and sweet honeydew chunks mixed with the tangy orange chunks mixed with the melon rum and refreshing mint…It’s definitely a must try cocktail if you’re there! And check out the cool sugar cane garnish that came with it:

Orange-Honeydew Melon Mojito (with sugar cane and orange garnishes!)

After finishing those, we both decided we’d get one more before we were seated at our table. I decided to get another mojito, this time getting my coconut on with the pineapple-coconut mojito: Bacardi Coco Rum, muddled with sugar, fresh mint, limes and pineapple, served shaken. This one was amazing too: think a lightened pina colada with fresh mint mixed in. Refreshing.

Pineapple-Coconut Mojito

Alyssa decided to go coconut too and try the B.V.I. Painkiller: Dark rum, white rum, 151 rum, coconut milk and pineapple juice topped with shaved nutmeg. The painkiller was very good too: it was also like a pina colada, no mint. Definitely a must try too.

B.V.I. Painkiller

After awhile of cocktailing, chatting and singing/grooving to the live tunes, we were finally seated.

For Long Island Restaurant Week, there was a three course menu at Tequila Jack’s for $24.95.

The menu

Before I speak about the meals, however, every time you go to Tequila Jacks, the server brings over a basket of fresh plaintain and yuca chips, along with warm coconut-banana bread. These are outstanding, and come with two accompaniments: a creamy butter with spice in it (we thought it was pepper) for the bread, and a spicy tomato salsa for the chips. We loved the combination of the sweet, warm, melt-in-your-mouth bread with the savory butter. We also loved the sweet and salty chips with the spicy, tangy salsa. Great start to a wonderful meal:

Basket of Plantain/Yuca chips and Banana-Coconut Bread
The butter / salsa to go with the bread / chips

As an appetizer, I started out with Jack’s Crab Cakes & Sauce Two Ways (which I added $2 to my meal price for). These were amazing: crispy, crunchy crab cakes with a creamy filling. The sauces were excellent: one was a roasted red pepper remoulade which was a sweet, spicy, creamy pepper/tomato tasting sauce. The other was an island tartar which reminded me of a creamy mayo-based sauce filled with herbs.

Jack's Crab Cakes and Sauce Two Ways (and one of Alyssa's skewers on the plate too) 🙂

Alyssa started out with the marinated beef skewers with pineapple (which added $2 to her meal as well). These were amazing as well: think of filet mignon pieces on a skewer stick with fresh, juicy papaya on the ends, with a sesame dipping sauce to add to the amazing flavors already. These were outstanding.

Marinated Beef Skewers with Pineapple (and dipping sauce)

For our main course, we each got the coconut crusted chicken breast. This was a huge piece of boneless chicken breast covered in a sweet, crunchy coconut breading. There was a coconut chili sauce surrounding the chicken, which to me was like an upscale sweet and sour sauce. The spinach and candied sweet potatoes underneath the chicken were delicious too, the spinach balancing the sweet dish. I also loved the fresh mango salsa on top, giving it the extra kick:

Coconut Crusted Chicken Breast

The desserts at Tequila Jacks are incredible too, and house-made! Me being the chocolate-lover I got the flourless chocolate cake. This was amazing: a warm, rich, fudgy chocolate cake that was just the right size after the big meal we had.

Flourless chocolate cake

Alyssa had the coconut cheesecake, which was light and creamy and delicious too. It has just the right amount of coconut, not overwhelming, and was just the right size. The one thing we both agreed on, however, was the fruit that came with the desserts was not good that night. But please do not let that deter you from eating the desserts and all the food at Tequila Jacks.

Coconut cheesecake.

We had a great time that night at Tequila Jacks. It was truly a paradise found in Port Jeff: delicious tropical fresh-fruit drinks, live music by a passionate husband-and-wife band, and amazing food and desserts. The portion sizes were amazing for the amount of money we paid, nice large portions.

Our receipt...We paid about $30 each...Not bad!

And guess what? While the “official” restaurant week is over with, I just read on Tequila Jack’s Facebook page that the restaurant is extending its restaurant week menu until Nov. 24, so you can still get over there and try out the menu!

The restaurant also claims on its Facebook page it’s the only restaurant in Port Jeff with an “extended” happy hour until 8 p.m. Another reason to go check out paradise.

I know I’ll be back there soon.

Tequila Jacks

201D Main St.
Port Jefferson, N.Y. 11777

OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK:  12 P. M. -11 P.M.
LUNCH STARTS AT 12 P.M. – 4 P.M. AND
DINNER STARTS AT 4 P.M. -11 P.M.

LONG ISLAND — Coming soon- Port Jeff Brewing Co.!

While walking around Chandler Square in Port Jeff, I came across the former Once upon a Christmas store site. This site had been completely empty when I left for Syracuse. Now, I’ve returned to see signs on the windows (pictured above). Port Jeff Brewing Company. A brewing company? In Port Jeff? Cool! It’ll definitely bring in a huge draw of customers, for sure.

Here’s the scoop, according to its website: the brewery will feature a “7 barrel system which is capable of producing 217 gallons (about 86 cases) per brew. Beers will be packaged in both keg and 22 ounce bottle formats for distribution throughout Long Island and New York City bars, restaurants, and other retail beer outlets.”

According to its website, the facility will be open for beer production, purchases and public tours in “mid 2011.” It hasn’t opened yet, friends, but when it does, I’ll let you know. The website also says it’ll have a tasting room!

So I bet you’re wondering who came up with this brilliant local idea.

It’s local Port Jeff resident Mike Philbrick, who from his bio on the website, homebrewed for about a decade before graduating from The World Brewing Academy at Siebel Institute in Chicago.

I look forward to seeing what comes of this new development. Beer drinkers, get ready!

LONG ISLAND — eatPIADA one of many newcomers to Main St. in Port Jeff!

eatPIADA

104 Main St.

Port Jefferson, N.Y.

631.509.5759

After returning to Long Island from being away for a year, you notice changes quickly. Especially in restaurants.

Whether it be the economy, or lack of customers, or well, both, restaurants can come and go in a snap. The key is, having the right all-around package to lure customers in time and time again, while having reasonable prices.

Which brings me to today’s food-venture: lunch in Port Jefferson.

My town (or as Wikipedia calls it, a “hamlet”) is situated right next to Port Jefferson (a.k.a. Port Jeff) village: a beautiful vacation / harbor port destination right on the Long Island Sound. Many people know Port Jefferson because its where the ferry from Bridgeport, C.T. comes in and out every day. But if you look closer, its more than just tourists and the ferry. Year-round locals such as myself are always on the streets of Port Jeff, whether it be at one of the local boutique clothing stores or many of the fun restaurants with delicious foods.

Main St. is its central hub. Since I’ve returned I noticed many comings and goings on this street alone. Two to note are the additions of fro-yo shops, one across the street from the other: Red Mango (similar to Pinkberry), and Yogo Delish (a local self serve fro-yo shop, very similar to the fro-yo shops I discussed in my “Tour de Fro-Yo” in Charleston). I’ll write a separate post about the fro-yo shops later.

But the new vibrant eatery that I discovered today was unexpected. Before I left for Syracuse, this corner location was originally taken by a bakery called “Long Island’s Best Desserts.”  I looked up and discovered it was now “eatPIADA.” It was just what I was looking for today: a sandwich cafe.

eatPIADA has a great outdoor patio to sit at during a warm day like today!

Long Islanders: this is no ordinary sandwich cafe. Some of you may already know eatMOSAIC in St. James, a restaurant that’s created a lot of great buzz (my cousin’s talk about this place all the time, I need to try it!), including high ranks from Zagat. eatPIADA is eatMOSAIC’s newest venture! The location is perfect for this type of cafe: it’s right next to the shopping areas and the ferry terminal. When I discovered eatPIADA was related to eatMOSAIC about halfway through my meal (through finding the Zagat rating posted in a little cupboard it had on one of the walls), I was even more excited to be there.

The atmosphere was warm, welcoming, and most of all, vibrant. It had an overall energetic, mod feel to it. I loved the eye-catching lime green walls mixed with the different hints of striped colors. The tables and chairs were black, with the exception of the adorable window nook booth/table seat (which I sat in).  The nook was one of my favorite parts of the experience: sitting on a very comfortable cushion looking out the window at the Port Jeff people! I especially loved the extra touches on the walls, including a painting of what I believe was the ferry, and what looked like was a strip on the wall with magnets that people could move around any play with. As I saw people of different ages in eatPIADA, including families with young children, its definitely an all-ages, friendly place to stop by!

For lunch I was craving a sandwich, but not just my usual SUBWAY footlong. eatPIADA’s menu has “piada’s”: 12″ chilled whole wheat wraps with fresh-made ingredients inside, as well as “piada(less)”, which instead of getting a wrap, getting the fresh ingredients on a salad. A “piada” is essentially an Italian-style wrap.

For $8, there are 13 piada’s to choose from including the grilled vegetable caprese (fresh mozzarella, basil pesto and balsamic vinaigrette), poached salmon florentine (baby spinach, cucumber, feta, capers, lemon), and the roast beef tricolore (chicory, fontina, horseradish and balsamic bbq sauce). I asked the server behind the counter what her favorite piada’s were and she said it was between the chicken caesar and the chicken parmesean. Since I’m a huge chicken parm. fan, I decided to get the chicken parm piada (fresh mozzarella, ricotta, pomodoro tomato and crumbs) as my entree:

I loved its presentation: one side of the piada was wrapped in neatly folded parchment paper with an “eatPIADA” sticker on it. The piada was toasted, which you have to ask for. Normally, the piada’s come chilled unless asked. The first thing I noticed after taking a bite was the cheese. I’m a huge cheese lover, so of course I loved the juicy, creamy, mozzarella with the sweet, crumbly ricotta with a hint of tang. The two cheeses brought a balance to the piada. If you’re not a huge fan of cheese, however, I would avoid this piada, as it does take up a great deal of the wrap. There was so much cheese in the piada that the rest of the flavors (tomatoes, crumbs, and chicken) weren’t coming through as well. While too much sauce could’ve caused a big mess, just a tad more sauce could’ve helped bring this piada to outstanding-ness. I also wish the sauce was a bit more tangy. The grilled chicken was delicious, but as I said, wasn’t as apparent as the cheese.

Now at first I thought paying $8 for a 12 inch wrap was a little pricey. But then thinking of prices in this area, $8 is a fair price for a wrap. The $8 also included sales tax, making it very easy to pay (even prices).

To drink, I noticed how eatPIADA had different flavored waters, sodas and juices in its cooler. However, I was eyeing the fresh-made lemonade for $3. When the server asked if I wanted it frozen, my eyes lit up widely, “Yes, please!”

This frozen lemonade was amazing, and definitely tasted fresh-squeezed. I have to say “Goodbye” to McDonald’s new strawberry frozen lemonade that I raved about on my Twitter and Facebook pages. If you get a chance to stop in eatPIADA, definitely try this frozen drink. It’s not too tart, not too sweet and is very light and bubbly. Once you finish drinking the lemonade part, there will be some frozen ice leftover in the cup. Unlike a good deal of slushie-type drinks though, this frozen lemonade actually seeps into the ice, meaning that the ice you’ll be opening your lid to eat won’t just be lemon flavored ice, it’ll taste like frozen lemonade. Amen to that.

I loved the first two things I tried, but I couldn’t resist having chocolate with my meal. While one half of eatPIADAs huge chilled food case was filled with the piada ingredients, the other half was filled with fresh-made baked goods, including chocolates, pastries and what I got, truffles.

The $2 truffle I got was no regular truffle. It was a huge, fudgey, amazing ball of chocolate. The server told me the “cookies and cream” one that I got was her favorite as well and she called it something to the likes of  “chocolately goodness.”

For $2, what chocolate lover wouldn’t want to test out one of these truffles? After taking one bite, I was hooked. Oreo crumbs on the outside, rich, chocolate fudginess on the inside. One of the best desserts I’ve ever had thus far in life, hands down.

eatPIADA opened about a month ago, according to its website. Its website also notes that it uses organic and local products whenever possible, which is exciting! As eatMOSAIC is known for its daily changing 5-course menu, I’m curious as to whether eatPIADA will do something of the same sort. We shall see. But for now, Long Islanders, I most definitely recommend eatPIADA if you’re looking for a quick bite in Port Jeff.  It has the full package I was speaking of earlier: reasonable prices, great atmosphere, fresh, delicious food and drinks. And vegetarians, you’ll definitely love this place too as it has great veggie piada options.

Mangia!

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