Orlando Bourbon

I wasn’t much looking forward to my three day trip to Orlando. I’m kinda done with traveling alone. While I would know one person at the conference at which I was presenting — my co-author — that was likely going to be it. After days on end of gray mountain skies, the promise of sunshine appealed to my vitamin D deprived self but I’ve been to central Florida often enough this time of year to know that it is never as warm as you hope it will be. And did I mention that I loathe the plastic that is Disney?  In the end, I had a lovely weekend, met some nice people, got a little sun and drank some great bourbon.

I can only aspire to be a knowledgeable bourbon taster. Jack and water was a favorite during my twenties, but after I quit drinking during my pregnancies in my early thirties, I found that I’d pretty much lost my taste for much of any kind of hard liquor. A few dates with a old-school Southern gent changed all that. We drank Manhattans in the lounge at Eseeola and Old Fashioneds at the Fowl Play Pub, and sneaked his flask of Makers Mark into the John Prine concert. Now, I’m sippin’ and mixin’ up all kinds of things and learning lots in the process.

Night one was dinner with my co-author at Ragland Road, an Irish pub near our hotel in Disney Springs (known until recently as Downtown Disney). Ragland Road promised lively music, good food, and and an array of libations.  The pub was busy and loud, and there were no seats at the bar so we opted to dine on the patio, even though it was a little chilly, which is what drove me to order a flight of bourbons and set in motion my Orlando bourbon drinking adventure.  I should have ordered Irish whisky  as we were in an Irish pub, but in my rush to get a shot of something to warm me up, I went for the Kentucky variety:

Orphan Barrel Kentucky Bourbon Series
Barterhouse 20 yr | Rhetoric 20 yr | Old Blowhard 26 yr

My flight included generous tastings, all of which I enjoyed.  I seem to have been spoiled by my favorite bottle of Michter’s though. They were all good sippin’ whiskies, but even my clear favorite of the three, the Rhetoric, didn’t thrill me as much as smoky toasted barrel Michter’s.

Night two was solo-dining at  The Rusty Spoon in downtown Orlando. Owner and Chef Kathleen Black is a semi-finalist for this year’s James Beard Best Chef: Southeast award. I’m not going to write about her fabulous food here as it deserves a post all its own!  I’d initially made a reservation for early in the evening, but cancelled because it conflicted with the conference reception — just as well as I prefer to sit at the bar when I am dining alone.  I couldn’t resist ordering this from their  great selection:

The Kentucky RedBulleitt Bourbon, Ginger Syrup, Averna, Orange Bitters & Fresh Lemon

And it was fabulous — the clear winner of the three night’s samplings. Bulleitt bourbon, one of my favorites, with ginger and orange bitters?  Yes, please.  I was not familiar with Averna, but I’ll be going out shopping for some of this divine little Italian liqueur.

Night three was dinner at Todd English’s bluezoo with a new friend.  Their cocktail menu included several tempting barrel-aged favorites.  The Moscow Mule and the Boulevardier both sounded fabulous.  Ultimately, we each ordered this:

Manhattan

circa 1870, new york. our manhattan starts with a classic recipe of four roses small batch bourbon, dolin vermouth, and bitters.  it is then aged in an oak barrel until we deem ready. the cocktail you will enjoy is one of the smoothest manhattans made.  garnished with brandied cherries.
Delicious, elegant, everything a Manhattan should be.  No regrets.

 

 

Escape to the Big City: 36 hours in Asheville

Escape to the Big City: 36 hours in Asheville

I should escape to Asheville more often.  It is about 5 times as large (population of around 87,000 compared to 18,000) and feels like a big city compared to Boone. But mostly it feels bigger to me because it has lots more great restaurants!  While there are a handful of restaurants in this area that consistently make good on the promise of wonderful food, there were as many within walking distance of my hotel in Asheville.

As the conference at which I was presenting a paper was at the Renaissance Asheville, I stayed there and was very pleased with the location.  I hadn’t had time for the kind of dining research I enjoy doing before traveling so I did a quick Yelp search on the first evening to see what might be within easy walking distance.  To my delight, I discovered that Cúrate, a tapas bar at which I’d shared several good meals, was only a few blocks away so I strolled on over.  At 7ish on a Thursday evening, a couple would likely need a reservation but my hope that a lone diner could find a seat at the bar without a wait was realized.  In the past, I’d dined at a table and ordered Sangria or a beer.  Sitting at the bar though, it was clear that a cocktail was the way to go.  I’m crushing on bourbon drinks these days — Cúrate’s Old Fashioned did not disappoint.  I befriended the traveling salesman sitting next to me, a self-proclaimed foodie who, it turned out, had grown up in Biloxi, the next town over from my hometown Pascagoula on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  His father had run Austin’s Style Center in Pascagoula in the seventies.  I think my mom’s purple hot pants suit came from there.  We’d each eaten a Cúrate a few times so shared our thoughts on what we’d enjoyed in the past and picked out some new items on the menu.  My ongoing obsession with charcuterie meant that I had no choice but to start with the tabla de jamón, a lovely selection of Spanish cured meats including jamón serrano fermín, jamón ibérico fermín and jamón ibérico de bellota. Delicioso. My dining companion then convinced me to try the pulpo a la gallega, a warm octopus dish served with yukon gold potato purée.  I finished with an old favorite, berenjenas la taberna —  wild mountain honey drizzled fried eggplant.  Better than dessert.  Great meal, fine company, with a lovely glass or two Prino Finca  Villacreces — what more could a solo diner want?

French Broad Chocolate

French Broad Chocolates

On Friday, I had plans to go with my lovely friend Brenda to hear some music at the Altamont later in the evening. With time to kill after the conference and despite the storm clouds brewing overhead, I went wandering around the area, making stops at French Broad Chocolates and the Asheville Wine Market.  Boone and Blowing Rock both have nice little wine stores, but nothing with the selection, including some great deals, of this place. Then the bottom fell out of those storm clouds. I slogged through the rain with my bags of wine and chocolates, ducking into every available doorway, and made my way back down the street to Rhubarb.  My friend Elizabeth at my1stwordwaschocolate had recommended Rhubarb and Yelp concurred.  Again, a reservation would likely be need for a party of two or more but the Chef’s bar was an excellent option for an early dinner for one.

Enjoying an Old Fashioned at Rhubarb's Chef's Bar

Enjoying an Old Fashioned at Rhubarb’s Chef’s Bar

Indulging my two preoccupations, I immediately ordered an Old Fashioned and Rhubarb’s chacuterie plate, the House Cure, along with their Preserved Plate of pickled vegetables.  Pickles, pig and whiskey — a divine combination.

Charcuterie at Rhubarb

Charcuterie at Rhubarb

The bar was quiet so I entertained myself idly chatting up the kitchen staff and watching them prep for the dinner rush while I dried out from the drenching.

I was intrigued by the name of this dish — LG Pack Square Cheese — so had to order it. It turns out that LG is  short for Looking Glass Creamery and Pack Square is their creamy brie style cheese.  I thought that it would somehow resemble a fancy grilled cheese sandwich.

LG Pack Square Cheese

LG Pack Square Cheese

The warm cheese, served with apples, pickled kumquats and a sweet vinaigrette, was a dainty little treat which in no way resembled a grilled cheese.  I finished my glass of wine — a Monticello Vineyards Cab — and savored a small piece from my chocolate stash.  It was a pretty close to perfect rainy Spring evening.

My final meal of the trip was Saturday morning brunch at Limones, a low-key restaurant with jazzed up traditional Mexican food, recommended by my friend Rebecca. Everyone else in the restaurant was enjoying a cocktail so I ordered up a Blood Orange Margarita made with Herradura Silver Tequila and Grand Marnier.  It was, ummm, very refreshing. Limones Huevos Rancheros April 2015

After my series of small plates over the last couple of days, I decided to dive in and order a big plate of Huevos Rancheros. I loved that my perfectly fried sunny side up eggs were served with all kinds of goodies on the side — guacamole and sour cream, salsa, a little slaw, some black beans, and fried potatoes.  I did not have a hangover, but if I had, this would have been the cure.

I’m up for another trip sometime soon.

Lunch at Phoenicia Gourmet

A couple of weeks ago while on the Gulf coast, I had a lovely lunch with a friend at  Phoenicia Gourmet, a Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Ocean Springs, Mississippi which my sister had suggested.  Had I known how good it was going to be I would have taken pictures, made note of our charming waiter’s name, and brought along a bottle of wine to share as the restaurant does not serve alcohol.

Ours was a late lunch and the restaurant was empty save for a few lingering diners. The dining room was sunny and bright with a classic look –white table cloths, mirrors, a black and white tile floor and cobalt blue accents.  My friend Jan and I both ordered salads — Greek for her and fattouch for me.   I also ordered the falafel — a wise decision.  It was some of the best falafel I’ve ever eaten!  Nicely seasoned and fried with a good crust, it was perfect with my salad.  The meal also included pita bread and baba ghanuj.  Sometimes ordering a salad for lunch can be a bit dispiriting to me. This was not one of those times.

I will absolutely go back.  The prices are reasonable.  The corkage fee is $5.  Go and enjoy!

See this review on Urbanspoon.

 
Phoenicia Gourmet Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Stops Along the Way: Cork & Bean, Bryson City, NC

A few weeks ago I took a Saturday afternoon paddling trip down the Tuckaseegee River* in a canoe   It was a gorgeous day, warm in the sun and chilly in the shade.  My friend and his daughter are both experienced whitewater paddlers. I have mostly flat water kayaking experience on lakes, bayous and creeks so was pretty much just along for the ride.  After my initial horror that I would be spending the afternoon on my knees in the front of the canoe, my leg muscles and I relaxed and enjoyed the trip, picking up some paddling pointers and lingo along the way.  We spent the night at a group camping area in the Nantahala National Forest and had a fun time sitting around the campfire sipping red wine and listening to the kids tell jokes.

corkandbean1

  On Sunday morning, the weather was cool and drizzly so I headed for home early.  By mid-morning, I was starving so pulled off at the Bryson City exit, just outside the Smoky Mountain National Park, in the hopes of finding something good to eat.   I parked and spotted the Cork & Bean, but the restaurant didn’t start serving for another twenty minutes or so. Wandering down the street and over the bridge, I found a place that looked promising, but had a long line of people waiting to eat.  I’d rather spend my time window shopping than waiting so headed back up to the Cork & Bean, and am really happy that I did!photo-12

The Cork and Bean is located at the corner of Main and Everett street in the former Bryson City Bank building. It’s ambience is perfect for Sunday morning brunch — casual, a little bit of elegance combined with a little bit of funk:  Cabin-style wood paneling, moose folk art, fabulous old dark wood arched top windows and very cool wrought iron chandeliers.  The front room of the restaurant, where the bar is located is furnished with small tables as well as a cozy sitting area.  In addition to a good selection of wines and seasonal beers, the bar serves organic, free trade coffee and espresso,  mimosas and bloody marys.

The back room, the main eatery, is a little less less so, but still interesting and pleasant.  I was seated at a table in the corner by the window — a great spot for dining alone.  After ordering an ice coffee and some fresh orange juice, I turned my attention to the menu.  The restaurant prides itself on serving as much organic and locally-sourced foods as possible.  They are known for their crepes — both breakfast and dessert.  There were a number of enticing dishes on the brunch menu, but I only had eyes for one…

158 I had stopped in the pottery shop across the street to kill some time while waiting for  it to open.  The artist working there recommended the Eggs Benedict.  I didn’t need to be told twice!  Mine arrived with a side of stone ground grits.

Cork and Bean’s Eggs Benedict is slightly untraditional — a toasted english muffin topped with well poached eggs and rich hollandaise sauce served over a bed of fresh spinach with slices of bacon, ripe avocado and tomatoes on the side.  So much goodness!  It was a beautiful plate of food.  And I loved that the dish included more than token good-for-you fruits and vegetables to alleviate my guilt (just a little) about the poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.  I relished every bite.

I am not sure if I had been to Bryson City before that day.  I had in my mind that the town was one of the little tacky tourist traps that dot the Smoky Mountains.  And while there may be some of that in the summertime, the town itself is quite charming. With its many inns, lodges and B&Bs, it would be a lovely spot for a little romantic weekend getaway in the spring and fall.  And if it were my romantic getaway, I’d definitely plan on making more than one stop at the Cork and Bean.

*That is not me in the kayak, but the video gives you an idea about the scenery and water hazards!

Cork & Bean on Urbanspoon

My unofficial review of knife & fork

knifeandforklogomenuI didn’t take any pictures.  I don’t have a copy of the menu, although it changes daily so would only be illustrative anyway. I can’t remember the name of our charming and knowledgeable server.   I do know that I’ve been to Knife & Fork twice in the past couple of months, once for dinner and once for brunch, and that  most every morsel that I’ve put into my mouth has been divine.

The Spruce Pine, NC restaurant is owned by Nate Allen, the chef, and his wife Wendy.  I first heard of it a couple of years ago at the Asheville Food & Wine Festival where the finals of the WNC Chef Challenge, which Nate won, were being held.  A month or so later, I read about the chef and his restaurant  in Cooking Light magazine when he was given their Small-town Chef Award for 2011.  I’d been wanting to visit the restaurant and try his very inventive, farm-to-table food since.

Chef Nate clearly shares my fascination with charcuterie.  At Sunday’s brunch, I couldn’t help but order his confit chicken neck with asparagus, poached egg and grainy mustard. Everything about the dish was done well — the confit was meltingly tender and finished so that there were plenty of crispy bits.  The split stalks of asparagus were cooked perfectly, bright green and tender, sauced with the yolk of the poached egg.  With a slice of grilled bread and some grainy mustard, I was one happy diner.

On both visits, I’ve ordered the excellent house made charcuterie which comes with three varieties, a little salad and some grilled bread with spicy honey mustard.  I can’t decide which was my favorite — the  grilled rabbit liver or the pork terrine.  Both the pork rillettes and the rabbit rillettes were also heavenly.

The restaurant’s wine list has a carefully chosen selection of reasonably-priced bottles as well as a nice selection of wines by the glass.  You can’t order alcohol before noon on Sunday in Spruce Pine, but the charcuterie platter arrived just in time for a glass of a nice red blend of Paso Robles varietals, Troublemaker Blend 6.

I am looking forward to visiting this place often.  Hopefully my next trip —  during which I’ll order a number of new dishes, take lots of pictures and try another glass of wine or two so that I can write my official review — will be soon!

 
Knife & Fork on Urbanspoon
 

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