Shuck Shack. San Antonio, Texas

Yet another addition to the eclectic collection of restaurants from Jason Dady of San Antonio, Texas.  In addition to his more upscale, Alamo Heights establishment Tre Trattoria, his family friendly Two Bro’s Barbecue, and B & D Icehouse, Shuck Shack opened in 2015 bringing together the feel of Two Brother’s and an oyster bar.  There is a daily happy hour offering several regionally sourced selections–from Maine to Virginia to the Gulf, etc–that are shucked to order, plus a menu featuring cooked oysters, burgers from scratch, gourmet hot dogs, and delicious lobster rolls.

While prices are higher than most area restaurants offering similar menu items, there Chef Dady somehow pulls it off with just the right blend of ambiance, selection, always great service, and of course high quality, fresh ingredients.

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Where:  San Antonio, Texas       Site:  www.shuckshack.com

What Makes it Special:    The hidden gem feel of a small, roadside parking lot cum oyster shack in a semi-urban San Antonio neighborhood.  Picnic tables, play area for kids, bar, movie screen and raw oysters, beer, and good music make this a fun place to stop in and chill for a while.


 

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Seazar’s Fine Wines & Spirits–San Antonio, Texas

Not sure what’s better, the incredible staff or the selection of whisky that they offer in this tiny, non-descript shop tucked within a small strip mall in the Alamo Heights suburb of San Antonio.  You can spend all the time you want in the big Specs or (Seazar’s parent company) Gabriel’s outlets searching for hard to find bourbons and Scotch, or you can enjoy one trip to this place and come away with something you didn’t expect to find–and at a fair price.

A recent trip had me walking out with a bottle of Stagg Jr.barrel strength bourbon ($65) and a Evan Williams single barrel ($29), plus a place on their member list for when the next allocation of Pappy, Stagg or other rarities come in.

Where:  Alamo Heights, San Antonio, TX

Site: www.gabrielspirits.com/Seazars_Locations.html

What Makes it Special:  It’s the quintessential hidden gem if you’re a fan of hard to find spirits, the “hunt” and being able to spend time talking to some really, really smart wine and spirits enthusiasts.  Seazar’s is what this site is ALL about…

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Garrison Brothers, Texas Bourbon

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Texas may well become the second home to truly great bourbon whisky after Kentucky (which actually came after Pennsylvania which kicked off the great American whisky tradition back in pre-revolutionary days).  Among the three or four top Texas whisky makers–all with a very different nuances that make it worth seeking out and comparing–Garrison Brothers is certainly the most idyllic, nestled up in the Hill Country between San Antonio and Austin, TX in Hye.  It doesn’t hurt that the product itself is of a very high quality.  Using excellent water sourced out of the limestone aquifers, Texas sourced wheat grains, and a combination of Texas heat and small oak barrels, Dan Garrison and his team put a lot of love, passion and study into each and every barrel they produce.  You might not find a bottle outside of Texas, but do yourself a favor and try.

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Where:  Hye, Texas          Site: www.garrisonbros.com

What Makes it Special:  First of all, discovering a great new bourbon is always special–and discovering a region entirely that is making its mark in this space is really special.  The whisky is great, especially for people who like wheated bourbon profiles, but if you can make it out to the distillery itself, you’re in for a real treat and a great memory.

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The Meadow, West Village, NYC

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Everyone knows that salt and chocolate can go well together, but The Meadow takes it to a whole new level.  This little hole in the wall shop off of Hudson Street in NYC’s West Village sells two things–chocolate and salt.  That said, we’re talking about several hundred brands of artisan chocolate, and likely more varieties of artisan salt.  Instead of overwhelming, it’s actually welcoming, smartly laid out and staffed by passionate, friendly, and very smart employees who know their stuff.   Give yourself a good 20 minutes in this teeny 10 by 20 foot store, there’s a lot to take in and well worth the time.

Where:  West Village, NYC          Site:  www.atthemeadow.com

What Makes it Special:  We lied when we said The Meadow only sells salt and chocolate.  They also have some very cool things like artisan bitters, accessories for the gourmet foodie, and other fun odds and ends.  Don’t leave without buying your own block of salt and Salt Block cooking by Mark Bitterman and discover a whole new way of cooking.

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Cafe Genevieve, Jackson Hole, WY

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Nestled into within the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming is Cafe Genevieve.  The type of place that you may just discover early in the day for zesty Bloody Mary as you grab brunch or lunch, but then find yourself going back that same night for dinner.  You’ll also likely find a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle behind the bar, artisan cocktail blends in small oak barrels, and a menu that is impossible to choose from because everything sounds so delicious–and is.  Chef Joshua Governal blends a mix of family food traditions with an adventurous and “manly” take on classics.  Don’t miss the Bloodies or the Eggs Benedict, and take a box of their housemaid bacon brittle candy home with you.

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Where:  Jackson Hole, Wyoming         Site:  www.genevievejh.com

What Makes it Special:  In a world-class destination packed with every type of bar, restaurant and nearby resorts, the combination of local feel, no frills yet comfortable bar and dining room, and insanely good food and drink makes this a world-class Hidden Gem. Don’t miss it.

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La Estacion. Fajardo, Puerto Rico

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Chef Kevin Roth, CIA trained and following a diverse career as chef de cuisine in numerous New York restaurants and then personal chef to Ron Perelman and Ellen Barkin, turned an old gas station near the El Conquistador hotel into one of the Caribbean’s best hidden gem dining spots.

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Everything is wood-fired, almost nothing is fried, and the majority of his ingredients are sourced locally, or even grown on the hill behind the restaurant. The entire menu is an oasis of creative dishes that seem to combine barbecue, Asian and Caribbean influences with standouts being the New York strip, simply grilled to perfection, the Barbecue Combo, remarkably meaty and slow smoked ribs and impossibly tender grilled chicken breast, and the catch of the day, sourced from local waters and always a quick sell out. Don’t pass up the Pinchon appetizers—kabobs featuring chorizo, shrimp, pork or chicken, and for a taste of home try the New Yorican Hot Dog—a bacon wrapped Nathan’s frank that is as tasty as it is odd. The place is packed nightly, and parking can be nearly impossible—unless you don’t mind finding a spot along the busy, curvy road and walking a bit.

Where:  Fajardo, Puerto Rico USA     Site: www.laestacionpr.com

What Makes it Special:  The total package.  If you’re visiting PR, call ahead to make a reservation, arrive early to get parking and a drink at the bar, and then order as much as you can and sample the different flavors.  You’ll be back.

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Club Soda, Block Island (Rhode Island)

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While Block Island itself is somewhat of a hidden gem in the landscape of New England vacation spots, Club Soda is the uncut, unpolished diamond in the rough.

Nestled beneath a flop house/hotel of sorts, Club Soda is where the locals go for pool, good music, great beers, and even better chicken wings. Be sure to visit on Mondays when they do 30 cent wings from 4pm until they run out, and then Trivia night which starts at 9pm. On an island that is known for its low key, chill-factor (especially when compared to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard), Club Soda takes it to a whole new level.

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Where:  Block Island, RI     Site:  www.clubsodabi.net

What Makes it Special:  It’s the real thing.  Off the beaten path, mostly locals, Monday Trivia Night, Monday 30 cents wings special (go early before they run out), nice beer selection, and fantastic weekend bands at 10pm.

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Cafe Panino, West Village, New York

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Nothing like a neighborhood go-to spot that serves no frills cafe latte, cappucino, coffee and tea and a short but solid menu of sandwiches, bagels and pannini’s. Cafe Panino does just that on Hudson between Charles & Perry. The whole place might be 250 square feet, with one old country kitchen table and three bistro tables to sit at amidst a unique mix of local artists, business folks on their way to work, stay home mom’s with their young ones out for a walk, etc.

Where:  New York’s West Village     Site:   Cafe Panino Mucho Gusto

What Makes it Special:  Try the salmon special for breakfast.  It’s not cheap, at over $9 for what it is, but it does taste great.  Salmon on a toasted bagel with cream cheese, capers, onion and tomato.  If you don’t like tomato, you’ll have to remind them several times to leave it off…and you still might find it tucked in there.  It’s quirks like these that are endearing (after the fourth time, at least).

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Orient Express, West Village, New York City

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Amidst so many hole in the wall bars and restaurants in the West Village, Orient Express stands out because it’s never crowded, always dark and comfortable, and totally laid back.  They are into mixology and artisan cocktails, but it’s not over the top trendy like so many places these days.  Designed like an old train car of its namesake, and right next door to sister establishment Frogs & Turks, Orient Express is the perfect place to frequent for a leisurely drink, light snack, and read a few chapters of a good book or work on your laptop during a late night in the city.

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Where: New York City’s West Village     Site:  www.orientexpressnyc.com

What Makes it Special: You know when you find a place and you keep coming back because it’s just so darn comfortable, welcoming…like a good pair of shoes you hope never wear out? That’s what this place is like. An easy default for a great drink, some good music to talk, read or work by, and maybe a light snack of hummus and pita.

 

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Aria. West Village, NYC

Tucked away on a side street and under scaffolding, Aria is literally hidden and truly a gem of a restaurant.  Great cured meats and cheeses, wonderful small plate Italian food, nice wine list and comfortable ambiance.  It gets crowded but there always seems a place to sit at a small table or at the bar.  Get there early or get there late, and if you’re looking to host a larger party there is a very cool room downstairs that they might open up for you.

Where:  New York, City

What makes it special:  The cocktails are all very good, but ask for the Moscow Mule.  This vodka and lime juice drink is served frothy in an iced down, frosted copper mug and hits the spot.

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