Are we crazy? Probably. Are we hungry? Always.

Behind every piece of cheesecake there is a story. Riples, layers, and swirls give testament to the nurturing and love forged into every slice of heaven that leaves The Cheesecake Factory. Currently, 36 flavors reside in the mammoth halls of the nationwide chain.

Our mission, to devour all 36 flavors. Reviews will be produced once a month. One piece of cake every thirty days. Why once a month? We want to take our sweet time with the beloved caloric monster. Delve into every curve and fixture. Each review will center on one individual flavor of cheesecake. Fate dictates the flavor, one roll of a 36 sided dice, the number on the dice corresponding to the number on the dessert menu.

Three select categories will be ranked from 0 to 5 stars along with the review.

  1. Overall Taste & Texture
  2. Toppings & Appendages
  3. Does the menu description sustain the hype?

 

Tune in next week for the full review of The Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake!

 

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Monday Motivation: Share & Engage

This morning I woke craving some Monday Motivation. Eventually, I found it hidden among the ancient archives of my Senior Project from 2011. Every senior from my graduating class had the last six weeks of the school year to create a project custom made to fit their specific learning objectives and desires. My unquenchable curiosity for learning about other people and their experiences, led me to create The Voices of Lawrenceville Project. This multifaceted project involved researching clients in the community, facilitating in-depth interviews, and creating narrative pieces like the article shown below. I learned the power of sharing stories and that sometimes, all we need is for someone to stop and listen.

Voices of Lawrenceville: Village Barber Shop

Joe Guido talks about his life and how he came to own the Village Barber Shop in Lawrenceville.


Voices of Lawrenceville: Village Barber Shop

Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” blares in the Village Barber Shop. Joe Guido, dressed in a tan work shirt and pants, ushers me in with a hug. The 66-year-old Chambersburg, Trenton, native greets every customer with a smile and a sunny demeanor.  Leans up on the counter, eyes sparkling.

“You know what I’ll tell ya, this place here is really the local butcher market, and we just scalp people up. I don’t have a side job; I’m really just lazy. I cut hair, and then go home and give my wife a hard time. I’m 66 right now, old enough to retire, so now we kid about it. I say I just come here to socialize. You used to come here and get lollipops remember? And the bazooka gum. Best gum in town, I would like to  to say.”

He launches into story mode, and absent-mindedly turns down Summer Wind so he can keep his thoughts clear.

“My father was a barber. When I was 16 he said I should get my barber’s license. He said jobs come and go, but a trade they could never take away from you. But at the time, I thought he was over the hill. What did he know?  But to make him happy I got it when I was 17 years old. But it didn’t appeal to me.”

“You know when you’re in a restaurant and you see you have hair in your food it gives you the chills doesn’t it? Well imagine your hands in hair all day! I wanted no part of that. No one wants to do what their fathers do anyway. I wanted to be a big shot accountant. I went to Mercer County Community College for one semester for Accounting, but then realized that college wasn’t my bag. I took a job as an accountant at McGraw Hill accounting. And here I am at this accounting firm, 18 years old. And I think I’m a big shot. Pressed shirts and nice pants every day. I loved it because of the prestige. Accounting had a nice ring to it.”

“But then I began to notice some things. I saw people walking around all nervous biting their nails. Guys staying from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., day in and day out. Three months in on the job and  I saw a 43-year-old male sobbing because he was let go.  And I thought wow; maybe this isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. These people aren’t as happy as I thought they would be. But I always knew in the back of my mind that I had the barbering license to fall back on. So I went to ask for a raise. I was told I would have to wait at least six months before they could evaluate me. I had to wait through the bureaucracy. At that point I realized I didn’t need all that noise. So I took a job in Princeton cutting hair. But  I didn’t really like it. I got drafted into the army at age 19, and I was honestly pretty excited to leave the barbering behind for a while. I served in the Coast Guard for nine months, and guess what I wound up doing? Cutting hair.”

 

“I was making 75 cents a haircut, which was pretty good money in the Coast Guard. After the Coast Guard I came home to Chambersburg,  Trenton, and got a job at a factory. I was working with my brother, and we were both single at the time so it was a great gig. Good money and good company. Then I got put on the midnight shift. That wasn’t so great because I always thought the nights were for sleeping, not for working. It just so happened at that same time my Uncle Sammy was looking for a new hire in the Public Service business. I decided to give that a try to get away from this midnight shift business. I stayed with Public Service reading  meters for seven years.  But all the while I had an edge. I had an independence none of the other guys had. I wasn’t stuck.  I knew if I didn’t like what I was doing I always had the barbers license to fall back on. It was an ace in the hole.”

“I was 23 and about to get married when I really started to rethink things. I realized I didn’t have a future in Public Service, at least not a bright one. I noticed this barbershop in Lawrenceville  was open; I passed it every day when I did my rounds. I started working here one day a week. Soon after that, Jerry, the original owner wanted to sell it, but nobody was buying it. I thought I might have a future here; I could be my own boss. My dad and I worked together at this shop  until he passed away. Then I took over.  I opened it up in November 1970 and here I am forty years later.  The atmosphere is great, and the people in Lawrenceville are phenomenal.”

“Most people look at my business as an entrepreneurship not as just some white-collar gig. I don’t have a traveling job, and everyday I’m home having dinner with my family and my daughter.  When my daughter was in plays, I would put a note up at that night and say sorry closed until three or so.  I would always go home in a decent mood everyday. To this day and I am 66 I have never let my job interfere with my home life. If I had something to do or somewhere to go, I would always close. But people always come back. I think everyone is entitled to a day off. If someone has a problem with me being off they take their business down the street.  A lot of people admire our business.  I’m here in the barbershop being a motor mouth and I think people come in here to escape the real world. Every once in awhile people come back in 15 to 20 years. It’s so nice, seeing people coming back. So many customers who move and come visit their old neighbors  make it a point to come back just to see us. It makes us feel good. The people here are just great. It makes you enjoy it. If you can say you love what you do, you are the happiest person on earth.”

“Of course the barbering keeps a roof over my head, and there are many more pressing issues in life than just work. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t count my blessings. This is probably one of the best moves I have made in my whole life. And I will say it again, if you like what you’re doing you will always be happy.”

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A Cure-All For The Ages: Pho Pho Pho. Noodle Kitchen + Bar

“It works every time. Trust me.” Mary has never steered me wrong. Over the past five years of our friendship, her advice and guidance has always been straight forward and to the point. Today was no exception.

I had been sick for the past week. The general fatigue and clogged sinuses that always seem to grip me every time the weather decides to take an unpleasant turn from sunny and welcoming to chilly and obtuse. So here I am, at Pho Pho Pho Noodle Kitchen & Bar, heeding Mary’s insistent instructions that Pho, was a cure-all for everything from leaky sinuses to post election anxiety.

Setting foot in Pho Pho Pho I was immediately engulfed by the smells pervading the eatery. Fresh cilantro, roasting meat, and the poignant tinge of Sake hung in the air like heavy mist. The restaurant was a buzz at 2pm in the afternoon on a Saturday. Staff all clad in smart black attire danced and weaved their way through the open tables and lobby, shouting orders and catering to customer’s whims. img_2888I was seated in an industrial designed metal chair, adjacent to a quaint oak table by two spacious glass windows overlooking Glenwood Street in downtown Raleigh. Handling the thick card stock menu placed in front of me I was surprised to see the presentation was interactive for the customer. The menu acted as a small card when presented flat on the table. Upon opening the card the front page folded out at an angle to reveal the luscious linear text outlining the myriad of lunch and dinner options. Pondering the Pho, salads, sandwiches, rice dishes, and a litany of Sake to choose from, I told my waitress I might need another moment with the menu. Just in the Pho section alone there are 12 options ranging from the traditional House Pho which details rare beef, beef balls, beef shank, beef tripe, and beef tendon, to my choice for the afternoon which was the Pho Ga.

For the vegetarians in this circle, there is always a place for you at this table. Pho boasts a veggie ramen dish complete with tofu, mushrooms, soft boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, corn, kale, and seaweed for an even $12. A tofu sandwich is also available containing fried tofu, jalapeño peppers, pickled vegetables, scallions, and cilantro for $6.

Although the variety of the menu is vast, Pho Kitchen seems very intentional about keeping its Vietnamese roots wound deep into the edible fare as well as occupying the physical space of the restaurant. The deep crimson walls are decorated with black and white framed snapshots depicting the old country. A worn, solitary man riding a rickshaw into a village. A beaming family of four standing with a panoramic view of an endless rice field in the background. In addition to these photographic pieces scattered throughout, five massive chalkboards embellish the rest of the restaurant. The first four boards encompassed gorgeous artistic renderings of dragons, hills, and creative depictions of menu items. The last chalkboard was fully devoted to displaying even more cocktail options with a drooling promise of a Saturday and a Sunday brunch experience coming soon.

My meal arrived to me in a steaming white cauldron of broth, red onions, succulent cilantro, and of course, full to the brim with delicious noodles. The broth was perfectly seasoned, with just a hint of salt accompanying the oil from the generous chunks of melt in your mouth chicken. Along side this gargantuan pot came a small plate of the traditional greens, hot peppers, and bean sprouts for the customer to use at his or her disposal during the course of the meal. One of the highlights anchoring the lunch was how beautifully each facet worked in tandem to complete the full Pho experience. The crunch of the red onion paired with the silky texture of the noodles created a perfect balance, all the while the sophistication of the broth was never lost. After attacking my meal for over 45 minutes I was defeated. Peering into my bowl I was floored that it appeared I had only put a small dent in the armored tank that is Pho Ga. Scooping up my to go cup I leisurely walked out into the sunshine. Sinuses cleared from the delectable fare I texted Mary, “You were right. Pho does cure all.”

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Six Scoops Ice Cream Parlor: A Frozen Menagerie of Flavor & Budget

Nestled between Just For You Gifts and Pat’s Flower Shop on Main Street in Gibsonville, North Carolina sits Six Scoops Ice Cream Parlor. Exuding old city charm, Six Scoops opened in 2012 and is owned and operated by Justin and Samantha Donley, both North Carolina natives. Amid my initial research I was thrilled to discover all of the ice cream sold at Six Scoops is produced at the local processing plant in Gibsonville and is available wholesale to local restaurants in the Triad and at Lowe’s Foods.

 

I had the privilege of visiting Six Scoops on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. First stepping onto the sidewalk, I was greeted by a host of udderly quaint outdoor seating, flanking the front door of the shop. Two metal high top tables joined whimsically by mismatching seating. Including, hand painted cow print stools complete with udders on the bottom of the seats.

 

This particular Sunday, Six Scoops was boasting 12 tempting flavors filling the large white buckets underneath the protective glass covers. The flavors ranged from classic Butter Pecan and Vanilla to more indulgent flavors like Cookie Dough and Chocolate Reese’s. One pivotal part of this experience for me was to discover that Six Scoops not only serves ice cream but has a lunch and dinner menu on hand as well. Embellishing the walls of the shop are handwritten chalk announcements, displaying the lunch and dinner specials of the day. An electric yellow sign immediately grabbed my wandering eyes. The sign exclaimed, detailing a weekly Wednesday lunch BBQ Sandwich special for only $2.19. I mentally noted it was imperative I return later to try that sandwich on for size. Now back to the ice cream.

 

Arriving at the squeaky clean counter, my server politely inquired as to which flavors I would like to have. After much consideration, I chose Cookie Dough and Chocolate Reese’s. Waiting for my purchase, I stood in awe at the development before me. The method of constructing the two-scoop behemoth I was going to indulge was one I had never encountered before. My server mashed the first flavor in the bottom of the Styrofoam cup as a pristinely flat base. He then plopped the second flavor on top, molding it into the crowning element atop the sugary masterpiece. Each scoop was $2.75, leaving my wallet only four dollars lighter at the end of the exchange.

 

Digging into the frozen dessert was an absolute joy. The Cookie Dough scoop was exceptionally velvety on the tongue. Each nibble was peppered with subtle hints of the doughy chunks lurking within the gargantuan vanilla base. Next, the Chocolate Reese’s flavor was a game changer. At first taste I was inundated with a delightful combination of milk and dark chocolate notes. These silky flavors were then divinely centered by a timely explosion of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, generously supplied in every bite.

 

I set up camp a few paces away from the shop, in a small courtyard area adjacent to a forest green military cannon. A gun. 57 MM to be exact. Upon further inspection, I discovered this piece of machinery weighed a whopping 752 pounds! A very similar weight to how my body was feeling after devouring the scrumptious two-scoop special at Six Scoops Ice Cream Parlor in Gibsonville, North Carolina.

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Going Solo

 

I could taste the bitterness in my mouth like a pungent, sour grape. It was my second time lounging in the pleather chairs of the Firestone Auto Center in four days.

On this occasion, I had struck a nail while driving on the highway, and as it turns out, needed three brand new tires replaced that day. A bubbly woman, born and bred in Canada chatted aimlessly in the dimly lit space, informing the whole enclave of auto-shop dwellers about how much more sophisticated the healthcare profession was in Canada, as more anti-Obamacare rhetoric splashed across the mounted flat screens.

Only silence volleyed back at her, so I instinctively piped up, “That’s interesting, how long have you been working in the Healthcare field?” Our conversation tossed back and forth, until it landed back to her side of the court. She extended a glance towards my open laptop and notebook marred with mysterious acronyms and numbers resting in my lap.

 

“Are you studying?”

 

“No, actually, I’m working.”

 

I launched into my everyday explanation on how through my position as an Editorial Assistant for a peer review management company, I am allowed to work remotely two days each week. Hence, why I was finishing my assignments in the auto-shop. I continued, the only thing I needed to fulfill my livelihood was a laptop and an Internet connection.

Her wrinkled eyes widened, “So you can have two whole days to blow!? You can travel the world! Don’t waste that opportunity.”

And there it was. A single line of motivational energy, to rattle the dour perspective that had been so recently clouding my mind. This complete stranger had just bestowed upon me a key to an opportunity that I was too stubborn and unaware to realize the journeys that were waiting right under my nose. This small gesture set my mind ablaze to the endless travel possibilities I could be jetting towards with only a laptop and an Internet connection needed for work, and two whole days, a total of 48 hours to fill with experiences. She was right, I could not waste this opportunity to see the world. I furiously scribbled on the next blank page the top ten places in North Carolina I would want to explore and the Going Solo project was hatched.

The title of this project may seem jaded, but I assure you it is not. Since I am not currently in a relationship and have no pets, this venture is about celebrating the pathways and experiences that being untethered and unhindered can allow the individual to have. The aim and mission of this project is to bring awareness to the local and wondrous places in North Carolina and beyond. The short trips I will be embarking on will encompass restaurant reviews and tales of adventure through museums and whatever local haunts I discover along the way. I hope you will join me in exploring what makes the South a beautiful and diverse place to live and enjoy.

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