Category Archives: Reviews and Giveaways

Sand Lot by Spike Gjerde

Is the coolest pop-up in Baltimore a home run or a ground out to second? We’re adding our review of Sand Lot by Spike Gjerde to the lineup so that you don’t miss it before it closes this season. 

I love Baltimore. There, I said it. 

History, art, sports, sailing, the food scene, there is just so much to dig about B’more.  J’dore! 

Sand Lot by local culinary heavy-hitter, Spike Gjerde,  is the hottest pop-up eatery in Baltimore this summer. Naturally, that meant we had to go check it out.

The name is an homage to the baseball history of the town that birthed The Great Bambino and the best damn sports flick ever – The Sand Lot!  

The Lot (venue)

Gaint Jenga, bocce ball courts, sidewalk chalk, beach chairs, strings of lights, hammocks, and SAND. The vibe is decidedly summer and certainly cool. 

From the shiny Airstream serving as the bar to the cargo container kitchens, the laid-back feel is fun and inviting. Hip menials, cocktails in hand,  toss cornhole bean bags. The high chair crew climbs through cargo nets waiting for their corn dog delivery and it works! 

The Lineup (menu) 

Don’t expect Woodberry Kitchen. The summer vibe extends to the menu which I can best describe as ballpark chic. While some dishes are certainly elevated it is still pretty much street food –  which I don’t mind but wasn’t expecting. 

Corndogs with Ranch – Strike

They weren’t impressive at all and serving them in a pool of ranch didn’t help. Even the 10-year-old was unimpressed… with a corndog! 

Pulled Pork Nachos – Walk-Off Double

The meat had a deep layer of flavor, owing no doubt to being smoked. The sauce was flavorful but not a huge wow. Combining the meaty favorite with crispy chips was a texture win.

Crab and Corn Fritters with Pepper Jam – Sacrifice Fly 

 Spike is well-known for keeping it local at all of his restaurants. Makes sense that crab would make the lineup at the lot. These fritters showcased very little of our iconic blue crab. Maybe understandably so since they were very small. The saving play here was an outstanding pepper jam that was the perfect pitch of sweet and spicy.

Smoked Meatballs – Home Run! 

OMG! Seriously, my mouth is watering at the mere mention. Mr. Gjerde, I’m not sure what you did to these but they are good enough to kick a vegetarian off the wagon.  

 

The Scorecard 

Food = Hit or miss but for the most part it is a solid Double 

Location = It isn’t the easiest place to find but I feel that sort of works in their favor. I’d say this is a 1 Run Single to Left. 

Atmosphere = Between the cool reclaimed vibe, the unique seating options and free activities (hello, bocce on the beach!) they get a Walk Off Homer. 

Family Friendly Score = Grand Slam! Pets welcome, lots of free activities, finger foods, and the best place to catch a Charm City Sunset, it’s a total win! 

Sand Lot Baltimore vs Pizza Delivery on a Friday Night – 10 to 0 

 

 

 

Review: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited

Sometimes it is best to start by saying the nicest things first. When it comes to the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited my highest praise is that it is built by a car company we love. In fact, we currently own two Hyundai vehicles.  There is more to say, though. 

The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited found its way into our driveway for an extended test drive through my continued collaboration with Drive Shop USA. We put it through the paces and found that some of the upgrades and features were rather impressive.   Others, a bit lacking. 

In keeping with the “nice things first,”  motif I will start by saying that the extended seating and panoramic sunroof were both super-cool. In addition to that, there are some other impressive features; 

things to like about the 2017 hyundai santa fe limited
  • safety features: multiview parking camera, lane departure warning*, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and adaptive headlights. 
  • seating: the model we drove had 3-row seating for 7. The second row of seats included captain’s chairs. These are a nice change from the typical bench seating in many crossovers. 
  • tech integration: the available Android Auto Phone is fantastic. It allows you to use almost all the features of your android-based phone within safety parameters. Programing road-trip tunes, listening to emails, finding a place to eat, all doable. 
  • touchscreen display: you might not think this is a big deal, but for me it is. I am not a huge fan of cars that are using the turn-dial or mouse-type control mechanisms for the vehicle tech suite. To me, these can be distracting and possibly a tad unsafe. 
  • style: the retooling of the exterior on the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited gives it a sleeker profile that echoes some of the higher-end crossovers out there. Optional woodgrain trip for the interior (which the model I tested, had) is a nice little luxe touch.

things you need to know about the 2017 hyundai santa fe limited
  • handling: this car was equipped with drive-mode select options; Sport, Eco, and Normal.I’d have expected that Sport mode would have meant better handling but I can’t say that I noticed a difference in any of the modes.
  • console: While I appreciated the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment controller the console is clunky and feels like they put too much into a small space. 
  • seating: captain’s chairs are a great edition, but configuring the seating is confusing and not very user-friendly. 
  • cargo: with all seven seats in use the cargo space in negligible. 

Our affinity for the quality and versatility that Hyundai brings to moderately priced, standard-option packed cars that are great for first-time drivers as well as families, has not diminished. That said, the 2017 Sante Fe Limited didn’t earn a permanent spot in our driveway. 

 

Beyond the use of the vehicle, I haven’t been compensated for this post. Like all my reviews of cars (or anything) all opinions are my own. 

2017 Mazda CX9 Grand Touring: A Driver’s Dream?

I like to drive. You might have deduced this from the number of car reviews you find here on The Nuggets or the years that I contributed to automotive publications. Every once in a while a car comes along that makes that love deepen. The 2017 Mazda CX9 Grand Touring might just be The One. 

Through my continued collaboration with the folks at DriveShop, I was able to spend a week with the 2017 Mazda CX9 Grand Touring AWD. I would like to thank Mazda USA for also allowing us to give back to the Assateague Island Alliance.

The alliance is a charity we support that helps preserve the wild horse population of Assateague Island as well as its unique environment. Part of our extended test drive included a visit to the island that you can see in the video below.


 

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front… I love this car. Typically any car review I write comes with a robust list of pros and cons because really all cars have their faults. Or rather I feel that were I designing them I could have done a much better job, duh!  So, I prepare you in advance that is review will have a very small list of cons. 

5 Things Reasons to Love the 2017 Mazda CX9 Grand Touring (AWD) 

Handling – Crossovers aren’t as clunky as mini-vans when it comes to handling but it’s a close second in most cases. While this car doesn’t quite reach the performance levels of the limited edition Corvette I zoomed around South Florida in a few years back, it still handles like a sports car. Acceleration is seamless, steering smooth and breaking a breeze. 

Tech – From audio app integration (hello, Pandora!) to both iOS and Android carplay compatibility, this car is a techie dream. MAZDA CONNECT – their proprietary the infotainment system – lets you own the road and still be connected. Really if you’re at all the road tripping type this is the ultimate. 

Safety – Advanced blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and smart break support are just the little things in the safety package. Mazda steps up their game with the addition of smart break support just for city driving (we break more in traffic), lane assist (stay in your own lane, bud!), distance recognition support (no riding tails anymore), roll stability and even automatic emergency notification. Top all that off with a camera system that essentially gives you a 360 view and even lousy parallel parkers like me are safe and sound.  

Room (SO. MUCH. ROOM) – Most cars with third-row seating either come with only enough leg room for passengers born with disproportionally short legs or just enough cargo space for a sack of potatoes. With the CX9 Grand Touring Mazda has cracked the code and given you both. 

Easy one-handed controls allow you to configure seating with ease giving extra cargo space when needed and a comfortable amount of space when using all seating options.

Style – This car is sexy! The driver’s side feels like a cockpit. Leather wrapped steering wheel, dual lighting for the vanity mirrors, a center console that feels like a lounge, all contribute to a sense of style that is echoed in the lines of the body. 

This car is packed with pros but it has a few cons too, starting with the navigation. While I love all the tech offered, and especially the heads up display that projects speed and directions onto the windshield,  the navigation system is not intuitive. We spent a week with this car and failed to fully figure it out.  

The fuel efficiency is great on the highway but could be better in the city. It isn’t bad though by any stretch. Price point is a bit of sticker-shock. The average cost for the base model of the grand touring awd comes in around $40,500. I will say though that after our drive was over and I went back to our car, I quickly resigned that I’d be more than willing to pay that be driving the Mazda again. 

Beyond the use of the vehicle and a gift card for the charity, I haven’t been compensated for this post. Like all my reviews of cars (or anything) all opinions are my own. 

Chrysler Pacifica: A Minivan for Anti-Minivan People?

This post is sponsored by FCA US; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

I am not a minivan person. This is exactly what I said when I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing the Chrysler Pacifica. To me minivans are clunky, chunky, boxy and just don’t get me excited about driving. I like to drive. I like a car that has some oomph, style, and maybe just a touch of sexy.  So, not a minivan.

I also like a challenge and after learning that Car and Driver ranked the 2017 Pacifica as the number one pick in the category I thought I’d take this one on.  After a week-long test drive I hoped to answer this question;

Is Chrysler Pacifica a minivan for anti-minivan people?

Minivans do rise to the top of the list in one really important category; safety. The Pacific holds the crown in this category with somewhere around 100 safety features including lane departure warnings, a very impressive surround-view camera, forward-collision alert, and parking assist (perfect for lousy parallel parkers like ME!) Does it make me a bad mom that safety isn’t my only consideration?  I get that it should be, but… I want to enjoy the ride too! 

The Fun Factor

If I could design a family crest it would half to have some sort of road trip reference. We’ve gone from beach houses to cabins atop mountains, hotels big cities to tents the middle of nowhere, and four wheels took us most of those places. Keeping everyone entertained is key to a successful road trip and Pacifica truly has something for everyone in this category.

Any car, in fact most cars these days, can have a DVD player. Chrysler’s Pacifica goes far beyond this with a suite of interactive games (no wifi needed), wireless and USB port compatibility with nearly any device, available satellite radio and more.   

Our family put Pacifica through the paces on our annual Holiday Hot Cocoa Rally. Every year we pile into the car with full thermoses, fresh cookies, and wrapped gifts for charity. After stops to drop off gifts, it’s a marathon of holiday lights, tunes, and memory making. After all it is the most wonderful time of the year, right? 

The Pacifica did a great job setting the mood with a really impressive sound system, heated seats and steering wheel. Where the car truly stood out was in its ability to allow you to configure the seating with one-hand operation stow-and-go in the second row seats. That feature turned the car into a cafe, theater, and arcade all in the space of one evening!

Even this non-minivan person was impressed with how this was so much more than a ride. I will say that with all the tech and features included in model we test drove, I can see it taking some time to learn how to optimize these options. I’m not sure if Chrysler dealers offer an in-house “How To” session but if they do I’d highly recommend availing yourself of this education. 

Bonus Smart Features

When it comes to life in cars, my kids have what I can only think is destructive power on par with a tornado. I can leave the car wash with a sparkling clean ride and within an hour of picking them up it looks like a band of gypsies have taken up residence in the back seat. That’s on an average day. The force is increased immeasurably when we’re on an epic eighteen hour jaunt from Maryland to Louisiana.   Add to that our new furry family member; Gordon the Frenchie (who has white fur, what was I thinking?!) and keeping a clean car is a pipe dream.

Then came Pacifica’s built-in vacuum cleaner. Pure BRILLIANCE!

Some other great bonus features to the model we drove, included;

  • a panoramic roof
  • touch-free trunk door operation
  • second level rear storage
  • heads-up display for navigation, trip tracking, systems alerts and more

Plus, it makes for a pretty sweet break room when you’re working events on the go… or trying to get five minutes of kid-free time in your day.

Final Analysis

There is no denying that the Chrysler Pacifica has some really amazing features. You’d be hard pressed to find a car that offers more in terms of being family-friendly and offering cutting edge safety features. The tech integration makes a mobile lifestyle both fun and productive.  As a family ride, the adaptability is unbeatable.

So, did the Pacifica make a minivan person out of me? Not-so-much.

While it’s packed with awesome options for safety, storage, and entertainment, it still drives like a minivan in my book. The body shape is sleeker than most but still a bit boxy for my tastes and the profile sits a bit low. I like a higher ride if I’m not in a performance car.

Being that we have a big family and love us some long drives, I may have to ponder on this just a bit longer. Were I to wake up on Christmas day and find a big red bow festooned Pacifica in my driveway I wouldn’t be disappointed.  If Ryan Gosling were in the passenger’s seat… Hey Minivan Girl!

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Better (it really does matter)

If you’ve been around here a time or two you may know that I collaborate with Verizon. Most of the time that means testing out new products or services and sharing my honest thoughts here. While I always guarantee readers my unedited opinions, I also accept that not everyone buys the fact that they aren’t influenced, maybe just a little. I get it. Really, I do. I tend to wonder about “sponsored” content too.  I recently had an experience with Verizon Wireless that had nothing to do with my collaboration. It proved to me that their slogan, Better Matters really is a thing.  

The youngest of our Little Nuggets turned ten this summer. Here in the coop the traditional ten-year gift is a cell phone. Right around the same time the teen needed an upgrade (can’t have a smartphone without a functioning camera… oh the humanity!) and our household said goodbye to analog – so long answering machine, you served us well. Off to the Verizon store we went, with no little amount of trepidation.

In the past a visit to the store meant hours sucked out of our weekend. Help that was little to no help at all, and coming home with lighter pockets and befuddled brains. A few years back I even managed to get signed up for two insurance plans on the same phone.

Wait, we thought she was writing about why Verizon Wireless is, um… better.

I hear ya, and I am. I’ve since learned that not all Verizon stores are created equally. In fact, not all Verizon stores are even Verizon stores. What?!! 20160813_132532-01 Here is the deal, there are a lot of stores out there that are Verizon ‘authorized dealers’. Any number of them are great, I’m sure. I just didn’t find those. I found the one that made me dread the cellphone store. Then I found a Verizon store. (cue harp music and unicorn sparkles)

The Verizon store nearest us was a bit of a trek, but totally worth it. From the minute we walked into the store in Glen Burnie, Maryland it was evident things were going to be different. Starting with the warm welcome my phone gave me. Yep, the phone welcomed me to the store… hello, Kubrick!

Team members took our info, what we needed and gave us an actual estimate of how long it would be before we were helped. The doctor’s could take some lessons here! 

Just about everything in the store was hands-on with demos and clear pricing. That pricing thing was the teen’s least favorite feature. When mama knows not everything goes. We played, laughed and got tips from the welcome staff. It didn’t even feel like waiting.

Gerald, our Solutions Specialist (and new BFF) helped the kiddos look through phones, showed them features and put my mind at ease with some cool functions for parental controls. At no point did he push hard for upgrades or add-on items. He’d mention it once. Then accepted my answer like I actually was a human who knew what I did and didn’t want. WOW!

20160813_135510-01While we waiting for data transfers from our old to new phones, Gerald showed us some cool new products. The Nest Cam will be finding its new tree at our house sometime soon. Our current security system came with one camera that doesn’t have the motion-sensing tech an easy install that Nest features.  Plus, I can take my helicopter parenting to a whole new place with it – ha ha. 

Our new puppy doesn’t have a taste for shoes, but he did find my beloved Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones quite tasty. Gerald introduced me to the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, which were pretty awesome – not Backbeat awesome but an option for sure. Again, he didn’t try to oversell.

Since that data transfer was taking a bit longer Gerald offered to put the Zagg screen protectors on our new phones. Okay, that was beyond awesome! I’ve never been able to get one on without it looking like bubble wrap on my screen. In fact I usually hate that so much I eventually take the damn thing off and live with the scratches and eventually the cracks.

In the space of less than an hour our family was fully outfitted with sweet new phones (yes, I got me an upgrade too!) some cool and useful accessories and a newfound adore for the Verizon store. Any place can sell you the phone, the ear buds, the cases and shields, but very few places bring the customer service like an actual  Verizon store and the humans that work there. 

20160813_144957-01(This is Gerald. Helpful and adorable too!)

It comes down to people in the end and that’s when better matters.