Hillstone Awakening

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Do any of you have a restaurant that feels like home?  I do – it’s Hillstone (formerly Houston’s).  Anytime I visit any location I feel as though I’m walking into the den of my youth (well, ok, a fancy den) and sitting down on my couch for a comfy meal with friends.  Sort of like when everyone used to come home from college around Thanksgiving and we’d get together at the same friend’s home and hang out like no time had passed at all.  This most likely has to do with the fact that I worked for the company for about 4 years after graduating college-but still – it has been MANY years since then.  It’s the kind of experience where you know what to expect and you love it.  You have no expectations of anything extraordinary happening…but sometimes it does…and that, my NYC Soda Girl readers, is what happened during the last meal I enjoyed at Hillstone.

It had been a long and tiring weekend so I took a little mommy “time out” and took a trip to Hillstone.  When I got there the wait was 20 minutes, but I was seated in about 15.  My table was by the bar, which usually isn’t my favorite since it can get a little noisy and sometimes the bartenders get busy serving the bar crowd and don’t check in on the tables as much, but this day service was amazing.  I think the bartender could read my mind.  To start I ordered a Diet Coke, a Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (doesn’t everyone order a soda and a glass of wine at the same time?) and their, to die for, Chicago Style Spinach & Artichoke Dip.  That is my usual first round order and I was mindlessly checking email and Facebook when it arrived.  I don’t even think I was looking as I took my first sip of soda, but one second into drinking it all that changed. I stared wide eyed at the glass – how could this drink, that I drink all day everyday jolt me into consciousness this way?  I wasn’t even interested in eating the dip – which happens to be at the top of my indulgent food list. It’s like all of a sudden, parts of my brain that hadn’t seen the light of day were awakened, I felt somehow empowered, enlightened, I don’t know…it raised my spirits and I just wanted to keep drinking it…which I did.  Hillstone used to serve fountain soda and recently changed to serving individual 12 oz. bottles with a glass of ice, which I had been disappointed about – but not tonight – what was different?  Then it struck me.


The glass seemed to have a slight frost on it.  My bartender/server magically appeared at that moment and I asked her if the glass had been chilled.  She said ‘YES”! She didn’t think the bottle was cold enough, so she brought me a chilled glass with ice instead of the standard glass. Ummm…this seriously changed everything.  I will forever have to order my Diet Coke from Hillstone – if not from everywhere – in a chilled glass. It’s never even crossed my mind to do that before!

I got back to the business of ordering my dinner and eating my spinach dip. That dip is ridiculously good.  It’s probably the best way to get me to eat that many green vegetables in a sitting. The cheese is always creamy and perfect and the homemade chips are warmed and salted to perfection.  I personally don’t eat the picante sauce and sour cream, but my daughter does and loves it.


I ordered the Dutch Country Chicken without the apricot glaze and substituted whipped potatoes as the side (yes, I’m one of those long list modifying patrons).  It was cooked to perfection; it sliced beautifully and was full of flavor.  Right when I was finishing my wine, my mind reading server arrived to see if I needed another drink and without hesitation I asked for another Diet Coke in a chilled glass. I needed to see if the magic could be replicated.  It was.

I finished my meal with a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae.  It’s my favorite dessert there. You get a full boat of chocolate to pour on your vanilla ice cream (it usually comes with whipped cream and pecans, but I don’t love whipped cream and my son is allergic to nuts, so I just pass on both of them).  The Ghirardelli chocolate makes this sundae stand out to me.  It is thick and indulgent.


I always expect quality at Hillstone, but I never expected such a wonderful soda experience.  That first sip really got to me – even sitting at a loud bar table it made me take pause. How could it be? In a 12oz plastic bottle? For $3.50? With no free refills?  It’s something you want to hate – but it elevated my whole dining experience and that is what I want to expect from a soda because I know it’s possible – it should make whatever you’re doing only that much better.  I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but I am giving this CHIlLLED glass, 12 oz. bottle (not fountain) with ice, Diet Coke a top 5 cup rating!

NYC Soda Girl’s Rating



12 oz. Diet Coke with ice, ask for CHILLED glass, $3.50

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And the Winner Is!

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And the winner of the $25 Panera Gift Card is….

Comment #4…KAREN!

Karen, NYC Soda Girl will contact you via the email you entered when commenting to see where you would like your gift card sent!

A huge ‘THANK YOU’ to everyone who entered!

My youngest daughter, who we will call ‘Bunny’ picked the #4 from a box of numbers 1-7, while my older children, who we will call “Buddy & Beanie” observed and verified the validity of her selection.  The older 2 reminded me of the overseers of the Emmy votes…Did you all see the hilarious, if not uncomfortable introduction James Corden gave Ernst & Young this year?


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Seltzer Was the Class Parents’ Choice!

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The results are in on our Sparkling Soda Poll: 75% of NYC Soda Girl’s Readers thought Diet Coke would be the top choice and 25% thought it would be the Stew Leonard’s Lemonade…but the parents at my kids’ school showed us otherwise:

school dinner after

Vintage Seltzer was the clear winner – with a discarded empty bottle as the proof!


According to this article in the Washington Post, my parental peers are on trend 🙂

Thanks to everyone who participated in the poll – it was fun to see the votes come in!

Don’t forget – you have until 10pm EST tonight (9/25/15) to enter NYC Soda Girl’s $25 Panera Bread Giveaway Contest! Click here for details! The winner will be announced tomorrow!

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NYC Shake Shack Soda

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I spent some time near Madison Square Park this week. I’ve really come to love this park over the past few years. It has wonderful programming for children (music, book reading…), beautiful art installations and truthfully just walking through it can calm you down during a hectic day. One prominent feature of the park is Shake Shack. If you’re from (or near) the city you won’t need this explanation, but for those of you who aren’t you need to understand something…people line up and sometimes wait an HOUR just to place an order here-that doesn’t include the cooking time! Shake Shack’s website even has a live feed “Shack Cam” so you can see how long the line is – it can get pretty crazy.

While I was there this week, I noticed the line was “only” 20 people deep, so I decided to go for it and indulge my palate with a hot dog and fries. This happened to be on a day when I had a few hours of being “kid-less” and it was actually pleasant waiting in line. I was able to take some deep breaths, do some people watching and even notice this butterfly:



I actually stop at Shake Shack almost every time I pass through the park, and when I do, I take advantage of their “C-line”. The “C-line” is the line on the left:

shack line


Do you notice the big difference? No people! It’s Shake Shack’s Express line and you can order these items if you use this line:



I frequently order myself a Diet Coke and the beauty of the “C-line” is that when you just order a soda, they hand it to you right when you pay – no wait! However, this day I wanted lunch, so I waited to order and then it was only 7 minutes after, that my buzzer buzzed and my food was ready. Oddly there was plenty of seating available, so I found a spot and had my first sip of Diet Coke. It was a great first sip – full of flavor and soda sizzle. It complemented my food well. By mid-meal (and this was a short meal mind you) the soda became quite watery. I’ve noticed this before at Shake Shack. Perhaps it’s the way they make the ice…maybe it isn’t frozen enough before it’s served? But it’s a shame, because the soda experience started out great and the hot dog and fries were terrific!

So there you have it, my afternoon soda at the Shack! Have any of you noticed this about the ice? Or do you have any other Shake Shack experiences you want to share? Comment below and let us know!

NYC Soda Girl’s Rating

Shake Shack

Southeast corner of Madison Square Park, near Madison Ave. and E. 23rd St.


Large Diet Coke with ice, $2.75

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Here’s a link to their menu where you can find the complete drink selection.

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Throwback Thursday

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Who remembers these?

I could still get away using them, right?? After all… I am NYC Soda Girl 🙂

Don’t forget to enter NYC Soda Girl’s $25 Panera Bread Giveaway Contest! Click here for details!

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