Lots of Exciting Things in Store for November!

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Admin, Columbus, Events, Restaurant Week, Travel

First off, an apology for not posting lately. It’s not for lack of drafts. When Bloglines announced they were discontinuing service,  what should have been easy (importing my subscriptions), turned into a nightmare. Since I subscribe to over 7,000 feeds, the file was too big to be imported, and I’ve had to resubscribe to them by hand in Google Reader. So I got really distracted by work in the back end, but have let a bit of time elapse since my last point).

But that will have to wait until Monday, Because I’ve caught the travel bug, folks. 24 hours from now I’ll be in San Francisco, chowing down on street foods at a welcome reception for those of us who are attending the 2nd Annual Foodbuzz Festival. I bought the ticket on a whim, even though I don’t know any of the people attending on a personal level. I always love meeting new people, so if you see me there, please say hi.  don’t bite, I promise. So I’ll be blogging regularly while I’m in San Francisco, about the things and bites I’ll experience over the weekend. I’m trying to tuck a couple extra experiences into the limited free time I have – like going to Japantown for a bowl of ramen that uses real homemade noodles and a broth that has been concentrated for 36 hours. I can’t wait! Also in the plans is a trip to the Ferry Market and it’s farmers market. I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed by BART and the Muni, so hopefully one or the other will take me where I want to go. I’m planning on documenting my experiences as I go along.

As soon as I return, Monday is the beginning of Dine Originals Week – a great opportunity to get a good deal,  (all meals are prix fixe at $10, $20, or $30 with several courses)  visit a restaurant that you love, or take this opportunity to try a new one. I’ve gone and written about it a few times  a while back, and for the most part, had an amazing experience. Visit their website (linked above) for more information.

One of the Dine Originals board members was kind enough to donate $30 in Dine Original Dollars, good at any of their member restaurants) to one of my readers. All you need to enter is to look at the menus, and decide which restaurant has a menu that makes your mouth water the most, and comment about it below. The contest runs until the 15th at noon, and will randomly pick a winner.Although I’m not going to go whole hog like I did with my posts on last year’s Dine Originals. Most likely going for lunches, to places I’ve never been to/reviewed before.  But next week, my restaurant experiences will be front and center.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I’ll be going back to my hometowns (Vineland/Millville, MJ) to attend my 20 year high school reunion. I cannot believe that time has flown so much.

But while I’m there, I’m also going to be spending time with friends I haven’t seen years, my father who I likewise haven’t seen in years, and isn’t that what makes going home for the holidays worth it? Sad that I’m going to miss out on eating Thanksgiving dinner, but super psyched about exploring the area.

I swear, though – I need to spread out a bit. Vineland is the land of chains, and those that are not chains are places that have lots of fried food, pasta, pizza, subs, cheesesteaks, seafood (which unfortunately get ruined when they’re battered and fries.

So, inevitably there will be a few local pics, but I’ll end up somewhere else. Like Philadelphia, where I can get a cheesesteak at Jim’s Steaks, a romp through the Reading Terminal Market, somewhere at/near the shore – will see. The good news about Millville in winter is that Jim’s Lunch is open so I can get my burger fix.

Farm Fresh & Local Produce – 9/19/09

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Eating Local, Farmer's Market, Travel

Since September 19th was Market Days at the Worthington Farmers Market (which usually means that none of the regular farmers are there), we decided instead to make another trip down to Athens to hit their farmers market again – we had so enjoyed the baked goods at the first one we went to, that we’ve been dreaming about getting some more of that Crumbs Bakery veggie pizza.

Athens Farmers Market Sign 9/19/09

We got there a few minutes before market opening, and used to our markets here, started talking to some farmers, only to be approached and yelled at by a yellow-shirted Market Manager – yikes. You would have thought that we had held someone up at gunpoint. We may not have Avalanche Pizza here, but give me our laid back farmers markets any day of the week.

One of the things I love about that market, though, are the things that you see grown locally that you never see at our farmers markets here in Columbus – like this bitter gourd.

Bitter Gourd at Athens Farmers Market 9/19/09

And something we’ve been looking for up here in any form for ages – single clove garlic, which is absolutely wonderful sliced razor thin and then sauteed up with some broccolini.

Single Clove Garlic at Athens Farmers Market 9/19/09

Or the locally grown paw paw, which is something I personally can’t stand, but is something that seems to have a huge following around here.

Paw Paws at Athens Farmers Market 9/19/09

I’m not exactly sure what kind of nut a “butternut” is, but they had those there too.

Butternuts at Athens Farmers Market 9/19/09

Concord grapes are awesome for making jelly – we made a few jars this summer that were absolutely wonderful. Love that I can have a taste of summer when it’s so damn cold outside.

Concord Grapes at Athens Farmers Market 9/19/09

One of the discoveries we made this time around was the Avalanche Pizza stand. Oh, man, do they have a way with baked goods. We came home loaded down with pretty much one of everything, like this bread topped with tomatoes and anchovy (or was it sardines?).

Bread from Avalanche Pizza at Athens Farmers Market 9/19/09

There were even alpacas there to pet.

Alpacas at Athens Farmers Market 9/19/09

Unfortunately, as much as I love the stuff I can get at that farmers market, I didn’t care much for the overall vibe of the place. We’ll be back, for sure – but it makes us all the more appreciative of the awesome folks we have selling up here in Columbus.

SE Ohio Edition: Miller’s Chicken

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Food Porn, Restaurant Review, Travel

In advance of going back to Athens tomorrow, I wanted to talk some more about my trip to Athens last month. Let us not kid ourselves. It was ALL about the food. It always is for me. I think you can tell so much more about an area by the food you eat than by any other factor. And Athens is quite the foodie town.

I think one of the best things we ate that weekend was completely by accident. We had been stalking the Burrito Buggy unsuccessfully, and in the process of trying to find them at the county fairgrounds, got turned around on a back road and ended up at Miller’s. Miller’s Chicken is an Athens institution which honestly didn’t look like much on the outside (or the inside either, really – unless aged formica is your thing). We really didn’t hold out much hope, but decided to order a bucket of 10 thighs for the road anyway, along with some salads.

Miller's Chicken in Athens, OH

OMFG. If we hadn’t already been on our way back to Columbus when we dug into the bucket 10-15 minutes later, we would have turned the car around and gone right back and got more of everything. This, quite honestly, is THE best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Completely moist meat, with almost a dual layer of fried skin – not the way you normally think of fried chicken, but instead a cracklin’-like layer of skin, followed by another layer of fried skin underneath. It was crisp, but not by being artificially breaded. KFC, eat your hearts out. Paul said it was pure torture on that ride home – between hearing the “crunch crunch” of my teeth savoring the skin, the sound of me smacking my lips in happiness, and the way the fantastic smell filled up the car, he darn near pulled over a dozen or more times not content to let me feed him some now and then as he was driving.

Bucket of Fried Chicken from Miller's Chicken (Athens, OH)

The salads were nearly as good. If I had known how good, I would have opted for more than just a small potato salad and individual sized macaroni & cole slaw.

Potato Salad from Miller's Chicken (Athens, OH)

I’m notoriously particular about macaroni salad, but theirs was quite solid. Not cloyingly sweet like most.

Macaroni Salad from Miller's Chicken (Athens, OH)

Ditto with the cole slaw. I like my cole slaw to have a finer chopped texture rather than long shreds, and this did not disappoint.

Cole Slaw from Miller's Chicken (Athens, OH)

No matter where else we go, this *will* be a stop on our next visit. It’s even good cold.

If you’d like to go: Miller’s Chicken, 235 W. State St, Athens, OH 45701, 740-593-6544

Miller's Chicken on Urbanspoon

Farm Fresh and Local Produce 8/8/09

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Eating Local, Farmer's Market, Food Porn, Produce, Travel

If I happen to be away on vacation, or in an unfamiliar area, there are always two things I look for to get my bearings, and to get a feel for what life is like there – public markets, and farmers markets. On this particular date, we were in Logan at the Inn at Cedar Falls, so making the trek down to Athens to visit a market with a reputation for being so good that we hear about it all the way in Columbus seemed like a no-brainer.

Athens Farmers Market comes by its reputation honestly. Located in a large parking lot, the size of it is massive. Think Worthington but bigger. There are all kinds of things – prepared foods, produce, artisan cheese, baked goods, meat – the possibilities for making good, clean, and fair meals are endless. This place is Slow Food heaven.

This is just a single example of a vendor at Athens – see the beauty of that produce? Yeah, I know – I’m weird. I find produce beautiful. Think that it’s one of the best things to photograph, think that the nuances that nature puts in each type of fruit or vegetable are what macro photography is made for. The beauty was overabundant, since we were in the height of the growing season at the time.

Haulin' Hoof Farm at the Athens Farmers Market 8/8/09

But this – this will make me come back down to Athens again. If this is the only thing I get, it was worth the 90 minute trip each way. Crumbs Bakery’s Veggie Pizza, a thick crusted (for a good reason!) slab of yeast goodness, topped with all manner of veggies and cheeses. If it grew in the ground, it’s in there, and topped with cheese. Oh. My. God. We scarfed this in the car, and went back to look for more and were so sad that they had sold out that quickly, as they did with most of their goods.

Veggie Pizza from Crumbs Bakery at the Athens Farmer Market 8/8/09

Did you all know that Crum’s sells down there too? Neither did I.

Strawberries from Crum's at the Athens Farmers Market 8/8/09

One of the places I was told to absolutely not miss was Integration Acres, with their fresh goat cheeses. We got a selection to take home with us, because we were totally impressed with nearly all the samples.

Fresh Cheeses from Integration Acres at the Athens Farmers Market 8/8/09

It was here that I saw the first shell beans of the season.

Shell Beans from the Athens Farmers Market 8/8/09

One of the prepared food stands, Ali Baba’s, has absolutely wonderful beef & potato kofte. We’re planning on going again this weekend, and hope they still are selling these.

Food from Ali Baba's at the Athens Farmers Market 8/8/09

And we saw a lot of stuff that’s available to us locally here as well. Like grapes, although they seemed to have more selection there.

Grapes from the Athens Farmers Market 8/8/09

While it’s not practical for us to go to Athens every week, we were so impressed that we’ll be going at least a couple of times a season. Including tomorrow. More about that later. :)

Blogger Getaway at the Inn at Cedar Falls

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Restaurant Review, Travel

We were fortunate enough to be approached by the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls to take part in a Blogger Getaway at their facility this past weekend – essentially to be a guest of the inn and take part in events (spa treatment, overnight stay, meals and cocktails, etc) that would allow us to experience what they have to offer firsthand, and to hopefully write about it when I got home. So, in the interest of full disclosure, although our only expenses out of pocket were the transportation to get down to the Hocking Hills area and gratuities, this does not affect my final review. This was something we have been contemplating doing for a while anyway – their generosity just made it come to fruition sooner rather than later. And the timing couldn’t be much better. I was in definite need for a day or two of relaxation to decompress and ramp down the stress level.

The Inn at Cedar Falls (Logan, OH)

Since my coverage of the trip will be both picture and text intensive, I’ve decided to put it under a cut so that if it’s something that doesn’t interest you, you can keep scrolling. But I’d love for you to experience the weekend though my eyes, albeit vicariously. If you’re ready, let us begin…

Read more…

Queen City Edition: Oleg’s Tavern

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Ethnic, Restaurant Review, Travel

A few weeks ago, Paul and I made our semi-annual trip to Jungle Jim’s, that wonderful foodie destination that can beckon me to spend my whole month’s grocery budget in one fell swoop. We’ve taken to trying new restaurants in the Cincinnati area while down there, and this time was no exception.

However, what did make this trip different is that this year I own an iPhone. And the iPhone has such wonderful applications as Yelp and Urbanspoon, which make finding a restaurant close to my destination a breeze. When I saw a German restaurant listed, I knew we had to try it.

Oleg’s Tavern is a small family run restaurant set in a strip mall in a suburb north of Cincinnati proper, run by a very friendly Ukrainian couple named Oleg and Olena. When I say family run, I mean family run – Oleg mans the kitchen while Olena handles hostessing and waitressing duties. Their two daughters also pitch in to help in various ways as well.

The menu is mostly German (with a few other European specialties thrown in here and there), chock full of such regional delicacies as Goetta (think scrapple, but made with oats instead of corn) and such German/Austrian dishes such as roladen, sausages, pork and sauerkraut, etc.

We started with a bowl of German Potato soup ($5.25), which was thick and hearty and smoky with bits of sausage in it. A really satisfying start to what promised to be a big meal.

German Potato Soup from Oleg's Tavern

We also shared a side as an appetizer, one of their Potato Pancakes with Applesauce ($1.99), which was just like Oma used to make, perfectly golden and crispy on the outside.

Potato Pancake and Apple Sauce from Oleg's Tavern

Paul went with an entree of braised pork and sauerkraut ($14.95), which paired tender pork with an Austrian-style kraut (more sweet than sour, with chunks of apple and seasoned with paprika) and a side of spaetzle in place of potatoes. While he was thrilled with the pork and the spaetzle, he was expecting a more traditional style sauerkraut and found the sweet kraut a bit offputting. This is purely a matter of personal taste: I, who am just as fond of sweet kraut as I am of sour, thought it was a great example of the dish.

Braised Pork and Sauerkraut from Oleg's Tavern

He did, however, really like the Hot German Potato Salad ($2.99), which consisted of chunks of potato covered in a thick and slightly sweet bacon dressing.

Hot German Potato Salad from Oleg's Tavern

I went with the Austrian Meatloaf ($13.95 for a dinner entree), which was a multiple-meat (I want to say beef, pork and veal – although it may be just beef and pork), heavy with mushrooms, very light textured meatloaf that is thinly sliced and served with a delicious mushroom gravy. I also chose spaetzle and sauerkraut, and both paired wonderfully with my choice of meat.

Austrian Meatloaf from Oleg's Tavern

The best part about eating in a place like this is that you get to interact with the people who make and serve your food. Since this was during the mid-afternoon slow period, we had an opportunity to talk to both Oleg and Olena for quite a while. I wondered aloud how it came to be that a Ukrainian man would be so good at cooking German food. It turns out he trained in Germany, which explains the authenticity and skill with which the food is prepared. Olena, his wife, also explained that they will make special off-menu dishes (including Ukrainian/Russian classics) as a special order given enough notice in advance. Good thing to remember.

Needless to say, if we lived in Cincinnati, we’d be regulars at this comfy, casual place. Instead, we’ll have to settle on making sure we visit when we’re in the area. To someone with a German background who misses her grandmother’s cooking, it’s the closest I’ve come in restaurant form in quite a while.

By the way, it wasn’t until I was doing this review that I noticed that all of their food is organic/natural. Nice touch that makes me love them even more.

If you’d like to go: Oleg’s Tavern, 11929 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, OH 45249, 513.774.0700

Oleg's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Kissing the Ground

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Life, Travel, Weight Loss Surgery

Well, I’ve clicked my heels three times (figuratively, of course), and I’m back in the grand ‘ole USA. It was a tough trip (with all the flight delays, other issues, and the joy of being randomly selected for secondary inspection by the TSA’s – how farking violating!), but I made it back in one piece and it seems to have been exactly the medicine I needed to start on the road to a full recovery.

Much of my capacity is back (yay – I’m still down to about a third of what I used to eat, but at least it’s more than one or two bites), and the familiar flavors of Ohio food sit so comfortably in my stomach, that I went out today to sate some cravings.

I went to the North Market, where I visited with friends/vendors and picked up some deviled eggs from Heil’s, some cassoulet and meatloaf from NMPG, some pho from Lac Viet, and some cheese from Curds and Whey – all high protein meals/snacks that should help do the trick for the next couple of days foodwise.

And then a trip to Thurn’s, where they haven’t seen me since before the Dispatch article and were wondering what I was up to. We stocked up on lots of meaty goodness (since, of course, it’s protein first from now on).

I’m so glad to be home, and I never realized how dear Columbus is to my heart until I had to be separated from it for three weeks. Now that I’m back in familiar surroundings (and my own kitchen), I have no doubt that things will go back to normal with this blog as well. Stay tuned in the next couple of days for some leftover posts about Brazil, and what I’m eating now. And again, a heartfelt thank you to anyone who emailed or left comments during my absence. I’ve got tons of emails to catch up on, and will be getting back to you soon.

When All Else Fails…

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Admin, Life, Oma, Travel, Weight Loss Surgery

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As I’ve suffered through the worst of the last week, some words of wisdom from my Oma, tucked away years and years ago, echoed in my head. “There will come a time in your life, Rebecca, when you’ll try to eat and be unable to tolerate any food at all. When that time comes, the only thing you can eat and tolerate will be saltines.”

Apparently, when she came over on a big ship from Germany in the 1940′s, she got one hell of a case of seasickness, and had said the only thing she ate for 3 weeks (and would stay down) was saltines and water. How right she was.

Having an iron stomach, I never thought I would see the day where it would revolt on me, rejecting pretty much anything I gave it, even water. But apparently, one of the side effects of migraine medication was severe nausea, so in addition to feeling like I was hit by a baseball bat, I got sick as a dog whenever I tried to eat or drink anything.

I’m happy to say things are much better now. The headache (other than some minor ache behind the eyes that feels a bit like eye strain) has been gone for about 2 days now, and the nausea has been gone for about the same amount of time. I have been able to eat little things other than saltines now, like scrambled eggs, cream of wheat, soup, etc. with no problem.

I’ve had serious buyers remorse in the past week. After my first weight loss surgery (a RNY in 2001), I never had the level of restriction that was supposed to come with it. In the end, I was happy about that – even though I didn’t lose all my weight, I had kept off over 100 lbs. And was able to eat like a normal person who hadn’t had weight loss surgery. This surgery was supposed to be completely malabsorptive – he wasn’t touching my pouch at all, and it was supposed to be an easy recovery – I just had to let the intestines rest for a couple of weeks, and would be back up to eating to my previous capacity, just not absorbing it all.

I hadn’t bargained on the hernia repair and the mesh that comes with it bringing a level of restriction that I didn’t even have with the first surgery. Everything in my abdomen is so tight at the moment (and add to it the fact I’m pretty much corseted in a binder for the next 3 months), that my actual capacity is 2-4 oz. at a time. Think of a meal for me as ordering a cup (not bowl) of soup, and only being able to eat half of it before I’m uncomfortably full. I know this level of restriction won’t last forever, but for the time being, it sucks.

I’ve compared it to that episode of The Twighlight Zone where after a nuclear war, the person had all the time in the world to read, their passion in life, only to break their glasses and be unable to read at all. In a way, I had this surgery so I could live to enjoy food on a more healthy level for the rest of my life – at least at the moment, I feel as if I’ve broken my stomach. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony – finally getting to a healthy weight, but unable to ever enjoy food again? If it turns out that way, I think I would have rather been fat and happy.

But things are on an upswing. We’re leaving Brazil for home on Tuesday. I’m finally reading and enjoying food blogs again. I’ve been able to branch out a little bit food-wise (will be posting about the wonderful soup we got here soon), and I should be back to normal, at least blog-wise, in the next week or so. Thank you all for your well wishes, and for bearing with me during the hiatus where food was the last thing I wanted to think about.

Brazilian Edition: Traditional Brazilian Fare

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Ethnic, Food Porn, Travel

Well, today is the big day for surgery! :) And I am prepared to go under the knife having one of the best meals I’ve had in ages. Here’s the story.

I’ve been bugging Gilberto, our driver/guide/translator/friend, to recommend a place that has good feijoada. I had found a frozen brand that I found quite delicious. Here’s a picture of it mixed with a LOT of rice (so we could stretch it to feed both of us):

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When we expressed a desire to find traditional Brazilian simple dishes in the restaurants, he was kind enough to invite us into his home, not once, but twice to feed us tradtional Brazilian food.

Our first meal with his family was on Sunday, when they invited us to a traditional Brazilian churasco, a feast of grilled meat, what seemed like American style potato salad, seasoned manioc (which they called “flavor”), veggies, and a couple of desserts they called “nut stroganoff” – everything was so very delicious, and even though there was a significant language barrier, with my tiny grasp of Portugese (it surprises me just how much I’ve picked up in 4 days, though) and their tiny grasp of English, we still found a way to bridge the communication gap and had quite a nice conversation. Of course, being foreigners, we were quite concerned about following Brazilian dining etiquette, and figured that it would have been rude on my part to either take pictures or ask to take pictures, even though I would have loved to share the spread with you through my eyes.

Yesterday afternoon, Gilberto picked us up at the hotel, and after stopping at the grocery to get flan (it is customary in Brazil to bring something when you are invited to someone’s home), we went over to the family house. We could smell it as we were driving up, the smell of the stew and bacon filling the hot summer air as we pulled into the driveway. After being greeted warmly again by the extended family, we sat down for a fabulous meal.

We had a traditional pink bean stew with meat, similar to feijoada over white rice, served with fried eggs (I wish I knew how they got them so crispy and flavorful), and spring greens with bacon. From what I understand, this is the Brazilian equivalent of “soul food”, and is usually served on Saturdays and sometimes Wednesdays. This means that they went out of their way to make this for us, and it was so very appreciated.

Is it sad that I use Tony Bourdain as my benchmark on how to act in an unfamiliar dining situation? I’ve always found him to be so humble and gracious in the way that he approaches other cultures that I try to be the same way when put in the same position. Gilberto’s family is a bit less formal than most, and we all had a good laugh on Brazilian vs. US dining etiquette.

I am so appreciative of and honored by the way his family has taken us under their wing while we’ve been here. It somehow makes this whole country seem a lot less foreign, and a lot more like home. I couldn’t have asked for a better “last ” meal.

Brazilian Edition: Caffe Milano Express

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Food Porn, Restaurant Review, Travel

On our first night here, we were out and out exhausted. I took a nap in the afternoon that brought me from delirious and darn near hallucinating from sleep deprivation to a somewhat more sane state, and we decided to go to the hotel restaurant downstairs rather than wander out to eat that evening.

The restaurant that is attached to our hotel is an “express” spot for the restaurant Caffe Milano. Italian food is VERY popular here (as Curitiba is a mix of many other different cultures), but it is quite unlike the Italian food we’re used to in the US – it’s VERY heavy, full of sauces and cheeses. The Express restaurant next to the hotel doesn’t even carry a fraction of what the main restaurant does, so our choices were a bit limited.

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My husband went for the filet mignon with mushrooms over cheese risotto (25,00R, approx. $14.25US), which was quite delicious. There’s something special about beef here in Brazil, it tastes like grass fed beef does in the US, a bit more “beefy” than farm raised meat. The cheese risotto had nice balance, and the sauce they used wasn’t overpowering at all.

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I, on the other hand, went with a pasta sampler, that had three kinds of different pasta (one meat filled, one filled with ham and cheese, the other just filled with cheese, covered with more cheese, and bechamel sauce) (21,00 real, or approx $12US). I ate it, but didn’t really care for it, both because of the flavor of the cheese was odd to my American palate, and because it was far, far, far too rich. This coming from someone who likes rich foods. I could feel my arteries clogging as I ate it.

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For dessert, Paul and I shared an order of Brazilian Milk Pudding (5,00 real, or $2.85US), which for all the world, is flan or creme caramel. Delicious!

For convenience, you can’t beat this restaurant – especially since they bill it directly to our hotel bill. They have a pretty nice buffet for breakfast that is included in our room rate. However, like most hotel food, it suffers the same fate – it ends up being good, but overall, pretty uninspired. Don’t look for cutting edge gastronomy here, you won’t find it. But for filling you up when you’re fresh off the plane and near starving, there’s not much better.

By the way, a quick cultural note – here in Brazil, a 10% tip is automatically added to the bill – and from what local sources tell me, you aren’t expected to tip additionally. Somehow, even though this is local custom, my American sensibilities make me feel as if I’m shortchanging the waitstaff a bit. Perhaps this is just a cultural difference?

If you’d like to go: Caffe Milano Express (attached to the Mercure Sete de Setembre), Av. Sete de Setembro, 5.368, Batel, Curitiba. 41.3343.4344