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The Lancaster Smokehouse

This past winter, after taking a web coding course, we both felt a hankering for Southern BBQ.  Luckily enough, we were a town over from a restaurant we had heard of which supposedly had amazing Southern fried chicken and, something we always wanted to try, hog tails. The Lancaster Smokehouse, in Kitchener Ontario, is deceivingly bare on the outside, so much so that we almost passed it completely, but since we never judge a restaurant by it’s storefront, we weren’t concerned in the least.

smoke house outside

The inside of the restaurant took us straight to the South with wood from floor to ceiling and the smell of BBQ permeating the air. The casual, rustic dining space was larger than we expected and featured a fairly centrally located bar. We arrived close to 5 and it was already starting to fill up. By 5:30 the place was pretty packed and we were glad we had already ordered our meal.

smoke house bar area

 

Since they don’t accept reservations on Fridays or Saturdays, we would suggest getting there early if you plan on having dinner on either of those days.  As incentive for braving the crowds, there is usually live Blues music on these days which most certainly would intensify the Southern soulful, and soul food, vibe.

smoke house food

The menu offered a vast assortment of Southern, often Cajun, meals and sides. We opted for ordering what we had been craving all along, Southern fried chicken as our one dish and thought we’d try the beef brisket as our second. Since hog tails seemed to be a theme of the restaurant, it only seemed right to get a hog tail to try.  We found the sauce on the hog tail to be a little over sweet for the meat and was a little overpowering but we’d like to give it a second shot as we weren’t sure what to expect our first time tasting it.

smoke house brisket

Texas Beef Brisket with molasses baked beans, Waterloo County potato salad and sweet honey cornbread – $18.00 CDN

The beef brisket was tender and while neither of us found the sauce to be our favourite, it was still a good pairing to the 12 hour smoked meat. The potato salad was the highlight of this dish, neither too salty nor too bland, and a perfect blend of flavours. The baked beans were also good and all together, the trio worked well.

smoke house fried chicken

The General’s Southern Fried Chicken with fries, braised collard greens and sweet honey cornbread – $17.00 CDN

The fried chicken we were craving on the way to the restaurant was, in our minds, crispy, juicy, and seasoned to perfection. What we got met those cravings exactly. Crunchy and seasoned well on the outside, moist on the inside, the fried chicken is definitely a recommended dish. The collard greens were good, if a bit bland, the fries were delicious and the sweet honey cornbread tasted fresh and home baked.

If you are looking for a Southern, bluesy restaurant to satisfy your Cajun and fried chicken cravings, this is a great restaurant. Even though it was crowded and noisy by the time we finished our meal, we found the fried chicken more than made up for it. A word of advice: choose your sides wisely as the perfect combination can greatly enhance the meal, while the wrong ones can detract from the overall experience.

The Lancaster Smokehouse

574 Lancaster St W

Kitchener, ON

N2K 1M3

519-743-4331

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Review Of The Melia Marina Varadero

At the Melia Las Dunas in Santa Maria we were travelling as a couple but on our second trip to Cuba we travelled with our family in a group of 8 adults and 2 children. It wasn’t intentional that we stayed at a Melia resort our second trip to Cuba but we were glad we did. The resort was perfect for us as a large group and offered many opportunities for all the couples and smaller families to have time on their own.

We definitely think this is a place for families or groups of friends looking for a vacation destination, but more than that we really think it is a perfect romantic destination. If you’re looking to plan a romantic trip, we’ve put together some other amazing anniversary trip ideas that are great for any couples getaway!

Initial Impressions – Enter Paradise

varadero beach view from snack bar

 

On our second visit to Cuba, we stayed at the Melia Marina Varadero. The resort is only about 45 minutes from the airport via shuttle through local areas which provides a very brief, but fascinating, glimpse of Cuban living.  We were told when we booked the trip that the resort was still under some construction but when we arrived there was very little evidence of any construction left to be done to the main portion of the resort. The bulk of the remaining work was on the areas surrounding the hotel where non-inclusive shops, cafés and a bowling alley are being built.

Once again, when we first walked into the lobby, we were immediately embraced with a tropical island oasis feel.  The only issue we had was with regards to check-in. We unfortunately had to wait 2 hours after the listed check-in time to receive our room keys. Since we had gotten to the resort 2 hours prior to this time, we were pretty tired but it’s hard to complain when you can check your luggage at the front desk, grab a drink and sit on a gorgeous beach to wait.

The Room – A Great Marina View

hotel room melia marina varadero

Unlike the Melia Las Dunas, this resort had one main building of hotel rooms around which the rest of the resort was built.  The room we received was large, bright and clean, as was the bathroom which had both a bathtub and a large shower stall. We also had a balcony with a beautiful view of the marina.

As in Santa Clara, we were hoping to receive a swan towel. This quest for a swan towel at a hotel started before Cuba and has been an ongoing joke of ours since. Although we got some very nice curtain and bed sheet designs this time around, we were still left without a swan by the end of the trip. (You can find our first swan towel, and the excitement that ensured, at the Swiss Lanna Lodge in Thailand.)

There were also a set of apartments as an alternate room option, in which one couple in our group stayed. The two bedroom apartment came with a family room, two bathrooms, kitchenette and laundry area and was not only large but clean and comfortable. The apartments also had their own roof-top pool and fitness area.

The Beach – White Sand, Turquoise Waters

varadero beach cuba

Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Varadero beach will have you taking a moment of silent reflection as you look out over the pristine water and white sand.  From the resort, the beach is accessed by a boardwalk but it was not too far of a walk and there were staff driven golf carts for those that wanted. The other benefit of having the beach slightly off the resort was that the sand fleas (if there were any) also remained at a distance. The water was clean, calm and warm and the resort staff put on water-aerobics every morning which was actually a lot of fun and got us interacting with other guests. The beach also had plenty of cabanas and beach loungers so there was always shade if we needed.

The Pool – Family Fun

view of pool at the marina hotel in varadero cuba

There was one large pool behind the hotel with a swim up bar and a 24 hour restaurant. There was less shade by the pool but plenty of loungers. Cabanas could be rented and there was entertainment and activities throughout the day. Again, we spent more of our time by the beach, but enjoyed taking some time by the pool at the end of the day.

The Food – Another Pizza Love Affair

heart shaped pizza marina hotel varadero

Once again, the food was not what is expected of a Cuban resort. We actually looked forward to the buffet to see what new items were added and which of our favourite dishes were back again. It seems like a pattern with us in general, but the pizza was one of our favourite foods. The cook who makes it was a delight to chat with and has an obvious passion for what he does. He even made us a heart-shaped pizza with toppings of our choice. We still talk about how delicious that pizza was.

The restaurants by the pool and beach both offered a different menu and were enjoyable as well. Unfortunately, the a la carte options were limited as they were still in the process of putting together more restaurants but there were 5 to choose from. we would recommend the Latin restaurant. They were incredibly accommodating and entertaining and the food was good.

The Service – Impeccable!

suprise drinks from marina hotel varadero

For the most part the service at this resort was 5-star. The waiters and bar staff were helpful, friendly, and always going that extra step to make the guests happy. The above photo is of the marina bars “surprise”. It was recommended by one of our favourite bartenders on the first night and they remained a staple for our entire group for the rest of the trip!
The manager of the resort could be seen quite frequently interacting with guests and overseeing the staff to ensure all aspects of the resorts’ service was spot on.  The only area where we felt was lacking was the front desk. They were less helpful during the delay in check-in and less friendly when asking questions throughout the stay. As a whole however, the service was impeccable.

The Entertainment – A Must-See Every Night

dog show in the marina veradero hotel

The Melia Marina Varadero had a plethora of entertainment and activities throughout the day and into the evenings. From beach- and pool-side activities to evening shows by the marina, there was always something to do and see.  Every evening there was a different show prepared for the guests and each one was well produced and thoroughly enjoyable, including a magic show and a salsa/variety night, to name a few.

In addition to the scheduled nightly performances, there were musicians frequently playing in the lounge during the evening and random surprises throughout our stay.  On one afternoon during our stay, we decided to go to the pool after our day at the beach and were surprised to see an animal show being organized. Dogs, a monkey, a horse and a donkey were among the animals in this funny and entertaining act that had the full attention of both adults and children.

Sometimes the thought of spending a full week in one location can seem monotonous but our visit was filled with a variety of performances and activities we could choose to participate in, or forgo. For those looking for late night entertainment, there was also a disco where guests could dance into the early hours of the morning.

The Location  – Perfect for Beach Lovers and Explorers Alike

horses in varadero

The great thing about a resort in Varadero, is the ease in which you are able to venture into town. There is a bus service with stops by all the resorts, for tourists exclusively which will take you along the main road into the heart of town and back again for a few pesos.

Stepping off the bus in town was like stepping into another decade.  Classic vintage American cars, faded brick buildings, and locals sitting on front stoops chatting, were prevalent and really hit home the differences between Cuba and where we are from. Playing to the masses of tourists, market squares, street vendors and restaurants are also very common.

We would highly recommend at least one day visiting Varadero. While it is obviously a tourist destination, there are still glimpses of local lifestyle between the elements of commercialism.

Dining Out in Varadero

paella from la vicaria in varadero

Local food is also a great treat. We ended up choosing a restaurant we had passed twice, La Vicaria. We noticed that there seemed to be many locals dining there and decided that it was a good sign. We ordered an appetizer of cooked shrimp and as our mains we ordered a pork chop dish and paella.

We would highly recommend the paella which came as an assortment of meats, fish and wonderfully seasoned rice and had us wishing we had ordered two bowls. It was a great chance to taste some of the local cuisine and only cost us about $20 CDN for the entire meal, including an appetizer and drinks.

Overall, both our experiences at Melia resorts were memorable. If you are looking for 5-star dining, then you may want to look outside of Cuba, but we can’t complain about the quality of meals we received. With the differences in locations, each resort offered a slightly different atmosphere.

The Melia Las Dunas in Santa Clara felt more isolated, family-oriented and laid-back, whereas the Melia Marina Varadero had a faster-paced feel with loads of entertainment. The ease of travel to Varadero was also a bonus with the Melia Marina as you are able to escape the confines of the resort and explore Cuban culture.

Either way, our experience with the Melia chain has been fantastic and we look forward to comparing more Melia resorts, as well as other chains, in the future.

 

Looking for a different resort in Cuba? See our previous review of our first all-inclusive Cuba vacation at the Melia Las Dunas, Santa Clara.

 

We had amazing experiences in Cuba but we know there are other great destinations out there. Comment below and tell us about your favourite vacation destination!

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Breakfast in Montreal – L’Avenue Restaurant

It was early, we were tired and we were very hungry. We were in Montreal and looking for a place to eat breakfast. We searched online for “the best place to eat breakfast in Montreal” and decided on L’Avenue.  The reviews warned us about long lines and advised us to get there before opening and although it was already 9am, we were now set on trying this restaurant.

Breakfast in MOntreal - Lavenue Restaurant Front

It wasn’t hard to find the restaurant’s location since we could see the lineup as we turned onto the street.  (At the point when the picture above was taken, we were still by the light post on the left-hand side of the photo.) By the one hour mark, we contemplated leaving but by then, we were committed. If you do happen to try this restaurant we, like the rest of the reviews, recommend you get there as early as possible but if you don’t, we recommend you stick around and wait – It’ll be worth it.

Lavenue Front of Restaurant

A Meal At One of the Best Places to Eat Breakfast in Montreal

Approximately an hour and a half after we first stepped in line we were ushered into a completely packed, narrow dining area. The décor was colourful and fun, the menus and waiters were predominantly French, and the smells emanating from the kitchen were tantalizing. We were waited on fairly quickly and although it was early, it was the weekend and the bar was open and drinks seemed to be flowing. We managed to get by on the minimal French we know and as per usual, ordered two different meals: pancakes and French toast.

Lavenue Bacon and Cheese Pancakes breakfast in Montreal

Crepes Bacon et Cheddar: Pancakes with bacon, cheddar cheese, sautéed apples and maple syrup – $12.89 CDN

At first we were conflicted. Bacon, cheese and apples on pancakes sounded both brilliant and crazy at the same time.  When we tried it, we found that it was a great blend of sweet and savoury. We would never have thought to put those ingredients together but they worked wonderfully. The syrup may have made it a little too sweet by the end, but it was delicious overall.

Lavenue Peach and Granola French Toast

Pain Grillé Français, Peches et Granola: French Toast with peaches, granola and a peach reduction syrup – $13.98 CDN

We were a little more confident with this choice and it turned out to be just as good as the pancakes. The different textures of the peaches and granola were a perfect contrast and while there was little  that was savoury about this dish, the sweetness was not overpowering, even with the syrup.

Somehow, the combinations of ingredients in both dishes created explosions of perfectly blended flavours that left us both wanting more long after we had demolished our breakfasts. The meal left us satiated and we were glad we had waited in line.

Lavenue Dining Room

If you are not sitting in a booth, the tables themselves are only inches apart and while this may lead to some people feeling crowded, we happened to strike up a pleasant conversation with the couple next to us and were glad for the chance to meet new people and discuss their experiences as Montreal residents.

We had an amazing overall experience and would highly recommend eating here at least once for breakfast/brunch. We would love to try dishes from the rest of the menu, for lunch or dinner, and have added this to our list of places to try again should we have the opportunity.

We also found out L’Avenue was featured on at least one TV show, and if you know us, we always enjoy learning about and hunting down restaurants on shows like “You Gotta Eat Here” or “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” and determining for ourselves just how good they are! We’ve already stopped by Stoney’s Bread Company in Oakville, Ontario and 11th Street Diner in Miami so we can add L’Avenue to this list and keep on the hunt for more!

Have you been to L’Avenue or any other “As Seen on TV” restaurant? If so, comment below and tell us about your experience!

 

You Can Do It Too

Looking for a great place to eat breakfast in Montreal? Here’s all the info you’ll need to find amazing food to satisfy your morning cravings:

 

L’Avenue

922 Avenue du Mont Royal Est

Montreal, QC

H2J 1X1

514-523-8780