Archive for the ‘grits’Category

Le Moo nails the essentials of steak and bourbon

Steer on wall of Le Moo in Louisville

Every city needs an unrestrained steakhouse. From the fiberglass steer in the parking lot to the real taxidermied longhorn on the wall inside, it’s pretty clear that Le Moo (2300 Lexington Rd, Louisville, 502-458-8888, lemoorestaurant.com) does steak without restraint.

Le Moo is a major special-occasion restaurant, and like any good over-the-top place, it has one booth of truly over-the-top seating. The upholstery comes from 17 pieces of vintage Louis Vuitton luggage. There’s a $500 minimum to reserve it, but it does seat four to five people. And Wagyu steaks with top wines will meet the minimum handily. (Actually, the domestic prime Angus is maybe even beefier and friendlier to the wallet.)

Chef Chip Lawrence at Le Moo in LouisvilleWe were visiting with Mint Julep Tours (see the Harvest post), and since it was our second meal of an already young day, we prevailed on our server to split a small steak. Executive chef Chip Lawrence (that’s him on the right) had already planned to serve a four-ounce filet for the culinary tasting, even though the smallest steak on the usual menu weighs in at twice that. But a beef filet tapers from the broad Chateaubriand through the filet mignon down to a narrow tail. By cutting closer to the tail, Lawrence could still get a super-thick steak that was a bantamweight by comparison with the rest of the menu.

Steak and grits, oh my


Steak dinner at Le Moo

Our plate might have been modest, but Lawrence certainly made it special. It was the small-plate version of a Platonic steak dinner. The filet was grilled medium rare and came with brussel sprouts, popcorn grits, and a country ham demi glacé. The grits were cooked with cheese. The distinct popcorn flavor came from popped corn ground up in a blender and added to the grits. It’s a trick we’re going to try at home for sure.

Le Moo carries more than 100 bourbons. The bartenders can make anything you can think up, but we decided to honor the beef with a Central Kentucky classic, the Bluegrass Breeze. At Le Moo, they use a marvelous Austrian liqueur for the apricot flavor. It’s made with apricot eau-de-vie and fresh apricot juice.

BLUEGRASS BREEZE


2 ounces Basil Hayden Bourbon
1 1/2 ounces Rothman and Winter Orchard Apricot
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce Demerara sugar syrup
lemon peel

Add ingredients through sugar to cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into white wine glass. Twist lemon peel over drink and wipe lightly on rim of glass. Discard peel.

Cheers!

12

11 2017

Backhouse realizes Niagara’s great potential

Ryan Campbell of Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Too bad the great French gourmand Christian Millau didn’t live long enough to visit Ryan and Bev Campbell’s Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake (242 Mary St.; 289-272-1242; backhouse.xyz). In 1968, Millau revolutionized the way the French (and, given the era, the world) regarded haute cuisine when he announced that he had discovered “the best restaurant in the world” in the provincial town of Roanne. He might have said something similar had he discovered this grill-centric, hyper-locavore restaurant in a shopping strip at the edge of this Lake Ontario resort village.

“Best restaurant in the world” is hyperbole, of course. But the comparison to Les Frères Troisgros is more than fair. Backhouse serves brilliant food far from the metropolitan restaurant scene. Asador Etxebarri in the small village of Atxondo in Spain’s Basque country might be an even closer comparison. Etxebarri’s chef Bittor Arguinzoniz cooks everything with open flame and coals. So does Ryan Campbell, one of the most talented and obsessive chefs we’ve ever met. He uses the trimmings from local peach and cherry orchards that would otherwise be burned as slash.

Light my fire


Campbell knows the appeal of the grill, and he places the five-foot cooking box front and center in the restaurant. Diners can opt to sit at conventional tables—or line up in seats along the bar facing the fire. We chose the bar for a tasting menu. We wanted to watch Campbell work the apparatus and poke the logs while wearing his heavy leather blacksmith’s apron. He is so organized and calm that his motions seemed almost meditative.

chicken liver purses at BackhouseThat’s probably because so much of the menu is prepared ahead. Locavore cooking in a cold climate means lots of smoking, drying, pickling, and even freezing products during their seasonal glut. Most of us associate open-fire cookery with quick roasting. Not Campbell. The chickens hanging in the back of the fireplace are cooking ahead for the first step in his “bird on a wire” dish. For our opener, we ate these pastry purses filled with chicken liver mousse and tomatillo chutney. He paired the dish with barrel-fermented sparkling hard cider.

As soon as we finished this earthy combination, we found ourselves looking at a small bowl of fresh curds and whey with just a dash of maple syrup and a beautiful viola flower floating on top. The milk came from Sheldon Creek Farms, a single-herd microdairy. The combination was ethereal and a bright counterpoint to the chicken liver starter. We thought we’d caught our breath, but immediately Campbell set out a tiny ramekin of fried egg white mousse with a confit egg yolk topped with trout caviar. We couldn’t help but think of the pintxos creativos of Spain’s San Sebastian. In effect, the liver purses, curds and whey, and “Meg’s Egg,” as Campbell calls it, formed a trio of canapes that hinted at the restaurant’s range.

Bread and veggies


After a short pause, another trio of dishes appeared in a sudden flurry. Campbell treats his sourdough breads with house-cultured butter as a course unto itself, as well he should. His sourdough starter, affectionately known as “Roxane,” has been with him for years. The bread and butter clean the palate for the intense vegetable dishes that follow.

wild leek and potato soup from BackhouseThe first was a wild leek and potato soup, thick and green, served with a sourdough brioche toast float, a dab of crème fraiche, and thin matchsticks of homemade prosciutto. (Campbell buys only whole animals and does his own butchering. Nothing goes to waste.) Since local asparagus was still in season, he completed the trio with a plate of wood-roasted Niagara asparagus, a smear of black garlic aioli and another smear of garlic mustard. (He makes his own condiments, of course.)

The meat of the matter


First Ontario shrimp at BackhouseWithout getting too precious about it, Campbell treats animal proteins with an almost religious regard for the creatures. He said it took him two years to rise to the top of the wait list to be allowed to buy First Ontario farmed shrimp. The farm only produces about 300 pounds per week, and Campbell gives each Pacific white shrimp a place of honor atop local grits in this small bowl.

bird on a wire from BackhouseOur tasting menu moved on to a variation of the “bird on a wire” dish—so called because Campbell slow roasts heritage chickens strung on a wire in the back of a firebox. He then picks the meat and presses the smoky flesh into a tubular sausage. Thick slices are quickly grilled over the open fire before he plates them with a chicken leg, wood-roasted locally foraged wild mushrooms, and homemade gnocchi. The dish might be the apotheosis of poultry. The glass of Gamay Noir from a local virtual winery (13th Street) didn’t hurt either.

Desserts at Backhouse are seasonally inspired. We were dining in late spring, and maple was Campbell’s inspiration. (We never asked if he uses sugar, but we suspect that maple is his sweetener of choice because it’s local.) He presented a sweet potato custard, a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, and a crumbly spice cake—all scented and sweetened with maple. Alas, we were too sated to try the plate of Ontario cheeses.


For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging on the Niagara Peninsula, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Lexington chefs show true grits

Mac Weisenberger with millstone
The fried oysters with cheese-sausage grits at Nick Ryan’s (157 Jefferson St., Lexington; 859-233-7900; nickryans.com) were real eye-openers, since both the batter on the bivalves and the grits had striking corn flavor. Then we tried the shrimp and grits at Coles (735 Main St., Lexington, 859-266-9000; coles735main.com), and had the same epiphany. There was really something special about the grits these Lexington, Kentucky chefs were using.

grits at Nick Ryan's and at Coles in Lexington

Few restaurants have the luxury of using freshly ground, locally grown grains with the germ intact, which gives a much more profound flavor than nationally distributed products where the germ is removed to make them more shelf-stable. The difference is comparable to fresh sweet corn as opposed to corn picked a week earlier and shipped across the country. We were so intrigued that we decided to go to the source.

Weisenberger Mill (2545 Weisenberger Mill Rd., Midway; 859-254-5282; weisenberger.com) is just a little over 11 miles northwest of downtown Lexington. We admit to taking our time to get there, as there was too much handsome horse country to ogle along the way on Route 421. But when we turned a corner and began twisting downhill to South Elkhorn Creek, we could hear the falls even before we spotted the mill.

Weisenberger Mill on SOuth Elkhorn Creek in Midway, Kentucky The Weisenberger family has been grinding corn since 1865, has been at this location since 1870, and built the current mill in 1913. It’s a towering presence beside the mill dam—a big limestone building standing three stories above the creek bank and another extending below the bank to house part of the mill machinery. Safety concerns prohibit mill tours, but the 1913 equipment is still grinding away. Some of the grains go through roller mills, but the cornmeal, grits, and whole wheat are all milled on stones, not unlike the one that Mac Weisenberger is posing with above.

Mac’s son Philip is titular head of the business now—the sixth generation of the family—but Mac is in no hurry to escape his daily grind. “I’ve been here every day since 1973,” he admits, “and off and on since I was a kid.” Mac is proud that Weisenberger Mill buys all its grains from a 100-mile radius. “We put the county where it was grown and the name of the farm on every package,” he says.

Grits are the biggest seller for Weisenberger, with white grits outselling yellow three to one. Mac likes his prepared very simply, just boiled with salt and water and topped with a knob of sweet creamery butter. Cornmeal is another popular item, again with white leading yellow. “When I was a kid,” Mac says, “no one even ate yellow corn.” He notes, however, that white corn is not as white as it used to be either, so cornbread “has a kind of yellow tinge.”

Weisenberger mixes small Restaurants and other institutions represent the biggest part of the business for Weisenberger Mill, but the products are available in Central Kentucky at Kroger’s grocery stores and at many small independent grocers as well as on a rack in the mill’s office. In addition to cornmeal and whole wheat flour in larger sacks, Weisenberger also makes a number of packaged mixes, including fish batter, hushpuppy, spoonbread, pancake, and biscuit blends. All the products can be ordered through the web site www.weisenberger.com. We can especially endorse the white grits, which we used to make grits with black truffles and poached egg.

09

08 2015

Keeneland Track Kitchen starts the day right

Keeneland Track Kitchen Thoroughbred horses are among the most beautiful creatures to walk the earth, and few places to see them are quite as magical as Keeneland (www.keeneland.com) in Lexington, Kentucky. For us, the defining character of the track is its sheer egalitarianism. Everyone there loves horses, and when you’re in the presence of equine majesty, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a stable hand, a groom, a jockey, a trainer, an owner, or just an admirer of horses.

Keeneland horse barns That’s part of why we think breakfast at the Keeneland Track Kitchen is a must for every visitor to Lexington. There are two race seasons at the track: April and October. In fact, this fall’s schedule concludes with the 2015 Breeder’s Cup on October 30-31. But Keeneland is also the premier thoroughbred auction house, with big sales in September, November, January, and April.

Admission is charged to the auctions and races, but Keeneland is a major training center and the track is open to the public for free during the training hours of 6-10 a.m. Everyone is also welcome at the Track Kitchen, which opens at 6. We won’t make exaggerated claims for the food—it’s just good Kentucky country breakfast fare. The house special ($5) includes scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, and a choice of two sides: biscuits, grits, skillet potatoes, or spiced apples. Gravy is de rigeur.

Washing down horse after workout at Keeneland You can watch the horses work out on the track (see below) and walk past the barns where they are being curried and groomed or lovingly washed down after a workout. It brings to mind the great American writer Sherwood Anderson’s early short stories, many of which are set at small-town Kentucky tracks. The narrator of “I Want to Know Why” (1918) maybe puts it best:

“If you’ve never been crazy about thoroughbreds it’s because you’ve never been around where they are much and don’t know any better. They’re beautiful. There isn’t anything so lovely and clean and full of spunk and honest and everything as some race horses.”

Go to Keeneland and see for yourself—after breakfast. And see if you don’t agree with that unnamed narrator:

“It brings a lump up into my throat when a horse runs.”

Keeneland workout

03

08 2015

Grits with black truffle and poached eggs

grits with black truffle and poached egg
As Pat and I developed ways to use black truffles, we generally opted for the simplest and most straightforward combinations. Keeping in mind that truffles pair well with corn—and that northern Italians sometimes eat truffles on polenta—we decided to try truffles with some of the best grits we’ve been able to lay hands on. We’ll be writing shortly about our food and drink visit to central Kentucky, where we had the good fortune to drive from Lexington out to Midway to visit Weisenberger Mill. This is a truly old-fashioned mill that has been stone-grinding grain for six generations, starting in 1865. Living in Yankeeville, we have a hard time finding good white grits, but now know we can order them online from Weisenberger at www.weisenberger.com. Their grits are ground from locally grown non-GMO corn. They even put the name of the farm on the package. Ours came from the Rogers Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky.

For this truffle dish, we made the grits according to the directions on the package. It really doesn’t get any easier than that. The eggs that we poached had been stored in a sealed container with a truffle for about three days to pick up the truffle aroma. Along with being simple, it looks great on the table with sunflowers from the garden. Don’t forget to order your Australian black truffles from The Truffle and Wine Company’s USA office at truffleandwineusa.com/.

BLACK TRUFFLE GRITS

Grits

Serves 2

2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grits
salt and butter to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 eggs
10 grams black truffle

In a medium saucepan, bring water to boil and add salt. Stir water to create a swirling motion and pout in grits. Bring to boil while continuing to stir. Reduce heat and cover. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat 2 inches of water in a large, deep frying pan. (A cast iron chicken cooker is perfect.) Bring to boil, reduce heat, and cover until grits are done. When grits are ready, season to taste with additional salt and butter.

Add 1 teaspoon salt and vinegar to water in deep frying pan. Break each egg into a shallow bowl and lower into simmering water. Let cook about 3 minutes, or until whites are largely set and yolk is still runny.

Spoon grits into two serving bowls. Using a slotted spoon, lift each poached egg onto grits. Shave truffle over top and break the yolks to flow over grits.

30

07 2015