Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

Sonoma Cider stands out in heart of wine country

The 20 or so downtown wine-tasting rooms in Healdsburg are almost an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes there’s just too much of a good thing. That’s what the folks at Sonoma Cider thought when they opened Taproom (44F Mill Street, Healdsburg, 707-723-7018, sonomacider.com) in a former warehouse about a block south of the plaza last October.

There’s a no-nonsense air to the building that houses several 3,000-gallon and 6,000-gallon fermentation tanks, a bar with a giant screen TV, and a casual restaurant. Father/son duo David and Robert Cordtz launched Sonoma Cider in 2013. They take their cider seriously, but Taproom is free of pretense.

Cider on tap at Sonoma Cider Taproom“This is less upscale than wine-tasting,” says Taproom manager Kole Christen. “People can try something crisp and fresh. This is a place where people can cut loose. And,” he adds with a smile, “we’re open later than wine-tasting rooms.”

Many customers opt for a six-cider flight (shown at top of post) from the multitude of choices. Sonoma Cider’s basic hard cider starts with a blend of five apples grown organically in Washington State. Simply fermented, it’s called The Hatchet. It’s clean, refreshing, and apple-y. The same juice is blended with bourbon flavoring and fermented in bourbon barrels to produce The Anvil. It can also be sweetened with eucalyptus honey and fermented in whiskey barrels for six months to produce The Imperial. (At 10.3 percent alcohol, The Imperial could be classified as apple wine or apple mead.) The cider makers also blend the fermented juice with selected flavors (like blackberry juice) to create flavored ciders.

Delving into nuances


Cider glass at Sonoma Cider taproomHard cider is traditionally made from a blend of apples, but the folks at Sonoma Cider have been exploring the possibilities of single-varietal ciders. Their Gravenstein is tart and fresh, their Winter Banana light and spicy, and their Dry Golden Delicious bone dry and a little tart. With such distinct characters, they offer real potential for food pairings.

The single varietals are often made with Sonoma County apples. One of our favorites of this group was an old-fashioned orchard blend called Westcider. The orchard sits on Westside Road, southwest of Healdsburg. Fermented from a mix of Pink Permain, Winter Banana, Macintosh, Mystery, Crispin, and Baldwin Striped Gentlemen, Westcider has a balance of sweetness, fruitiness, and slightly ashen bitterness characteristic of good French ciders.

In addition to the taps of standard ciders, reserve ciders, and micro-releases, Taproom also crafts cocktails, many of them using Sonoma Cidery Apple Brandy. This 85 proof barrel-aged spirit is distilled from the same base blend of apples used in The Hatchet. Since the production facility had just received a fresh batch of juice, we did a taste test of juice, hard cider, and brandy—sort of vertical tasting of rising alcohol levels. The flavor is remarkably consistent in all three. It makes a good base spirit for cocktails, but it’s also smooth enough to drink neat or on ice. Unlike “applejack,” it has no added neutral spirit so the apple flavor is very pronounced.

Cider with food


Chef Josh Schauert at Sonoma Cider TaproomExecutive chef Josh Schauert has devised a menu to complement the ciders. “When I’m designing dishes, I keep the ciders in mind,” he says. “But this is not your typical bar food.”

He points out that pairing cider with meals is new territory in the restaurant industry, but relishes the challenge. Compared to wine, he says, “cider has a broader flavor structure.” That opens the door for more pairing options beyond the usual “red meat calls for red wine” mindset. Moreover, there are fewer preconceptions about what might be appropriate.

Schauert also finds lots of opportunity to cook with cider. “Cider has a very similar flavor profile to vinaigrette,” he says. “That makes it easier to cook with.”

His menu during our visit was Exhibit A. The seafood ceviche of shrimp, octopus, and salmon was marinated in Crowbar cider, which is flavored with habañero peppers and organic limes. The green beans accompanying baby back ribs are sauteed in garlic butter and deglazed with Apple Cider Brandy.

The brandy is also a key component in Schauert’s take on French Onion Soup. He caramelizes the onions in butter, then deglazes the pan with brandy before adding a housemade bone-broth beef stock. The sweetness of the onions and the fruity richness of the brandy make this winter warmer an surprisingly elegant soup for a casual tavern. By substituting large croutons for the conventional toasted baguette slice on top, he makes the soup much easier to eat. Schauert generously shared the recipe.

SONOMA CIDER FRENCH ONION SOUP


Makes 1 gallon
Prep and cooking time 1 hour

Ingredients


1/4 cup butter
3 lb yellow onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled/chopped
2 bay leaves
1 quart Sonoma Cider Apple Brandy
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 quarts fresh beef stock
2 quarts water
salt/pepper to taste
croutons, toasted light brown in 425°F oven
2 cups mixed shredded Gruyère, cheddar, and jack cheese

Directions


Melt butter in stock pot. Add sliced onions and cook down to caramelize (about 15 minutes). Add garlic and bay leaf, cook until aromatic.

Deglaze pot with Sonoma Cider Apple Brandy, scraping fond (black bits) off of bottom of pot. Add herbs and cook until aromatic. Add Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, and water. Bring to low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes until reduced about 20 percent.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with toasted croutons topped with mixed cheeses. Enjoy!

10

12 2017

Comstock embodies Sonoma wine country living

Merlot vineyards at Comstock Wines

The success of the 2004 film Sideways made California Merlot unpopular for a while. But the dip in that red’s reputation might have made helped clear the way for the winery and tasting room at Comstock Wines (1290 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-723-3011, comstockwines.com, tastings $20-$50). The photo above looks out the back of Comstock’s tasting room to old Merlot vineyards. (That’s a blue heron flying over the vines.) Many more vines were sacrificed to clear ground to build the winery, tasting room facility, and wine club residence. But not too many. Founded in 2012 using much older vineyards, Comstock still makes an outstanding Merlot that shows the restraint of the cooler Dry Creek Valley climate but bursts with black currant and violets.

pouring tasting at Comstock WinesCurrently producing about 6,000 cases per year, Comstock sells all but a few cases at the winery or to the 500 members of its wine club. (A small allotment goes to a few area restaurants.) By the way, all proceeds from the sale of the remaining stock of Comstock’s excellent 2012 Zinfandel ($42) go to aid the victims of the Sonoma wildfires.

Comstock offers a lot of tasting options. On the first Sunday of each month, visitors can opt for the Sunday Brunch White Flight ($40). Sips of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are paired with your seasonal brunch bites. We caught the Wine and Pizza Pairing, offered the second Saturday of May and July-October or by appointment ($50, or $40 for wine club members.)

Pairing wine and pizza


We had always thought that pairing wine and pizza was our own little secret, not to be divulged in the polite company of wine folk. But Comstock is full-on Sonoma casual—and Healdsburg-based pizza oven company Mugnaini (mugnaini.com) has elevated the simple pie to high culinary art. The cooks at Comstock have come up with some inventive toppings that help bring out the characteristics of the wines.

pear pizza at Comstock WinesOur favorite combination was the 2015 Russian River Valley Viognier with a restrained pizza brushed lightly with peach-bourbon sauce and slices of ginger-soaked pears and topped with crumbled chevre. The Viognier shows orange blossoms and candied peach on the nose, and the slight tartness of the wine cut through any sweetness of the toppings.

Another outstanding pairing brought together a red pepper and prosciutto pizza with a glass of 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. The salty notes of the prosciutto were an especially good complement to the dark bramble fruit that dominates this Zin. The sweet red peppers accentuated the coriander, clove, and toasted spice notes of the mid-palate.

That’s definitely our idea of a pizza party! Visitors electing the pizza pairing, by the way, are invited to play on the winery’s bocce court after lunch.

Buy top foodstuffs at SHED, or sit and be served

exterior of SHED in Healdsburg

“This is a chef’s dream,” Perry Hoffman said as he surveyed the busy scene in SHED (25 North Street, Healdsburg, 707-431-7433, healdsburgshed.com), the self-described “market, cafe, and community gathering space” that opened in Healdsburg in 2013.

Perry Hoffman of SHED in HealdsburgHoffman knows what he’s talking about. His grandparents founded The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville. Hoffman grew up working beside his grandparents and parents in the family business. After Thomas Keller purchased the restaurant in 1994, Hoffman worked in several other kitchens until he became chef at étoile restaurant at Domaine Chandon in Yountville in 2007. Three years later, he was awarded his first Michelin star. When étoile closed in 2014, SHED was just gathering steam. Hoffman jumped at the chance to embrace the more casual side of California cuisine.

That same year, the James Beard Foundation honored SHED with an award for restaurant design. Much has been made of the architect’s use of steel and glass to create the dramatic, light-filled space and of the clever use of denim as insulation. But design is only a starting point. Within those glass walls, SHED celebrates all things edible and the power of food to bring people together.

DIY or chef-made food


Coffee bar at SHED in Healdsburg It’s safe to say that a foodie can find everything he or she could need or want at SHED. There’s a coffee and juice bar (right), produce from 20 farms, a pantry with products from about 600 makers, a small flour mill, a bakery, a housewares department, and a larder with cheeses, smoked fish, charcuterie, and housemade pickles. Cooking classes and other events take place on the second floor.

We weren’t able to sign up for a cooking class, but we got plenty of new ideas simply by grabbing a table in the cafe and ordering lunch. Food is prepared in a big open kitchen with a wood-fired oven. The menu changes daily and always emphasizes the best of the season. In mid-November, that meant such dishes as Brussel Sprout Gratin with pickled cauliflower; Golden Acorn Squash Salad with cranberries, bee pollen and honey; and Petrale Sole with shiitake mushrooms, eggplant and greens.

“This is different from fine dining,” Hoffman acknowledged, “but we can do good food.” That’s an understatement.

Hoffman kindly shared the recipe for one of our favorite dishes, Wood Oven Roasted San Marzano Tomatoes with goat cheese, rosemary, and roasted oranges. (The recipe calls for tangerines, but a thin-skinned sweet orange like Cara Cara also works.) Now we have to find an acceptable substitute for the dense, crusty olive bread that was served on the side. You can order the olive powder—a favorite vegan umami punch—from SHED Pantry. Or you can make your own by dehydrating well-drained Kalamata or Niçoise olives on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven. It takes three hours or a little more for the olives to become dry, crispy, and ready for pulverizing.

roasted San Marzano tomatoes at SHED in Healdsburg

ROASTED SAN MARZANO TOMATOES
WITH TANGERINES AND DRIED OLIVES


Serves 6

Ingredients


2 lbs fresh San Marzano tomatoes, each cut into 3 rounds
4 tangerines, seeded and sliced into half moons retaining skin
10 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 cups of chopped yellow onions
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of goat cheese
1 tablespoon olive powder (from SHED Pantry or homemade)
sweet alyssum and fennel flowers to garnish

Directions


Set oven to 450°F.

In an ovenproof dish (SHED uses ceramic cazuelas), add tomatoes, tangerines, garlic, onions, rosemary, bay leaves, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake 40 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with goat cheese, Return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and garnish with olive powder, sweet alyssum, and fennel flowers and serve with toasted bread!

06

12 2017

Portage House crafts riverside heartland cuisine

Portage House in Jeffersonville, IN

Chef Paul Skulas may not hail from Southern Indiana, but he grew up close enough in northwest Ohio. Post-Marine Corps, he honed his Southern chops by training at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, North Carolina, and working with “Big Bad Chef” John Currence in Oxford, Mississippi.

Paul Skulas of Portage HouseFurther stints in Louisville led him to join restaurateur Alex Tinker in launching Portage House (117 East Riverside Drive, Jeffersonville, IN, 812-725-0435, eatportagehouse.com). We don’t usually pry so much into a chef’s background, but Skulas has a palate and an approach to Midwestern fare that seems very much his own. Southern Indiana and north central Kentucky both have rich farm country, so it’s not surprising that so many restaurants in the area draw on local sources for their provender. Portage House is no exception. About 80 percent of the beef, lamb, chicken, and pork comes from Hensley’s Homegrown. (The Broadbent country hams come from Lyon County in western Kentucky.) While oysters and some other fish have to be shipped in, Skulas also works with regionally farmed catfish.

Big Four Bridge in distance from Portage HouseThe building now occupied by Portage House was a private residence until two years ago, and it’s a safe bet that the occupants loved to sit on their front porch and watch the boats on the Ohio. The spot is literally within walking distance of the Big Four Bridge, as seen in the background of the photo at left. The location is wont to give diners of a philosophical bent thoughts, as Thomas Wolfe called it, “of time and the river.” Surrounded by the country bounty of Southern Indiana and the urban bourbon across in Louisville, the view from the patio of the Portage House is truly epic.

Ratcheting up Midwestern cuisine

watermelon and cauliflower at Portage House

It’s probably a good idea to arrive hungry for dinner at Portage since the portions are generous and the entrée prices are mostly under $20. (Steaks can push that envelope a bit.) Seasonality changes the menu often, of course, but our timing (just before Labor Day) was perfect to get the end of the lush part of summer and the first long-ripening crops of fall. Two starters prove that point. The tangy salad of cubed watermelon, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and a herb vinaigrette spoke of the summer heat in the fields. The roasted cauliflower with a lemon caper vinaigrette and chili flakes teased up with the promise of autumnal brassicas. The just-picked cauliflower was crisp and sweet—entirely devoid of the skunky quality it picks up in storage.

Trout at Portage HouseOne of the lighter entrees on the menu—amid the bratwurst, pastrami-cured duck leg, bbq chicken thighs, and ribeye steak—was a whole roasted trout, shown here. What so delighted us about the dish was the exuberant arugula, cucumber, and red onion salad that covered the fish. The crisp and piquant vegetables made a perfect counterpoint to the slight crunch of the trout’s breaded skin and soft, sweet flesh. Moreover, the fish was adeptly boned without disturbing its symmetry.

24

11 2017

NABC proves brewpub grub can be healthy, too

With its working-class-hero graphics and its no-nonsense approach to craft brewing, the New Albanian Brewing Company (NABC) has been providing the suds of choice for thirsty folks in New Albany, Indiana, since 2002. In 2009, the original pizzeria brewery, now called NABC Pizzeria & Public House (3312 Plaza Drive, 812-944-2577) was augmented by the downtown NABC Café & Brewhouse (415 Bank St., 812-944-2577, newalbanian.com).

Stacey serves meal at NABCIn 2015, Stacie Bale took over as café operations manager. Serving both lunch and dinner, the café bustles, even outside the normal evening hours when brewpubs do their biggest business. Bale’s approach to the grub has something to do with that. She aims to make brewpub fare as healthy as possible both for the customers and for the local agricultural community. With those goals in mind, Bale sources most of her raw ingredients locally, makes a point of using non-GMO corn, cornstarch, and local oil (no mean feat in corn country), and offers a range of plant-based meals. Bacon, chicken, and beef are all free range and pasture-fed from nearby Hensley Homegrown.

One of the most impressive innovations Bale introduced to the menu was greaseless air frying. She keeps an array of small air fryers lined up in the kitchen so several fried dishes can be produced at once. Most are used for crispy waffle fries, onion rings, or the occasional catfish special.

NABC beerThe beers show a great range from agreeable session ales (like the one shown here) to the extremely hopped and high-alcohol Hoptimus. That’s an IPA with 10.7 percent alcohol and 100 IBU (international bitterness units). Bale uses the Community Dark (3.7 percent alcohol, 13.2 IBU) to great effect to make Beer Mac & Cheese, one of the favorite side dishes. She was kind enough to share the recipe. If you don’t have NABC handy, use your local brewery’s brown ale.

NEW ALBANIAN BEER MAC & CHEESE


NABC mac and cheeseServes 4 as main course, 8 as a side dish

Ingredients


2 cups uncooked macaroni
12 ounces NABC beer (Community Dark or 15-B)
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups shredded cheddar
2 teaspoons chili powder
cayenne to taste (start with 1/8 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper

Directions


Boil a large pot of salted water. Once boiling, cook the macaroni until tender (8-10 minutes). Stir occasionally. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, pour beer in a second large pot. Place the pot over high heat, and add the cream cheese. As the beer starts to simmer, break the cream cheese into pieces with a whisk and whisk into the beer. Add the 2 cups shredded cheddar. Warm and whisk until completely smooth.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, pour it into the cheese sauce. Reduce the heat to low, then stir and cook another 3 minutes to thicken. Add spices and mix in thoroughly.

15

11 2017

Fine distractions at Louisville’s Red Herring

Louisville's Red Herring at night

Located next door to the Silver Dollar (see our biscuit post), Red Herring (1757 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, 502-907-3800, redherringlou.com) opened in April 2017 in the 112-year-old Hilltop Theater. It might be the perfect complement to its next door neighbor. Red Herring is far from retro, despite including PBR on an otherwise stellar list of regional craft beers.

Red Herring interiorIf we lived in the neighborhood, they might have to put our names on two of the barstools. For starters, Red Herring is open from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day. You can segue seamlessly from breakfast to lunch to happy hour to dinner to evening entertainment without changing seats. The room is huge, as you might expect from a former theater, with seating downstairs and on a balcony above. The entertainers also set up on the balcony.

Crispy fried chicken skins at Red Herring in LouisvilleThe food at Red Herring exemplifies modern bar fare. On one hand, you can order Texas smoked brisket or a six-ounce burger of Black Hawk Farms beef on a housemade brioche bun. The kitchen also does a knockout charcuterie plate with chicken rillettes made in-house, as well as a vegetarian harissa hummus. The dish that made us smile widest, though, was a bowl of crispy chicken skins. The skins are brined in the house pickle juice, soaked in buttermilk, and battered with a locally milled flour. Once they’re deep-fried, the cooks drizzle them with hot sauce aged in a bourbon barrel.

“Southern calamari,” our server deadpanned.

The bar serves 100 classic cocktails and a slew of the staff’s own creations. We enjoyed the house signature Red Herring, which is yet another variation on sweetened bourbon.

RED HERRING COCKTAIL


2 ounces bourbon
1/4 ounce concentrated Demerara sugar syrup
2 dashes Bittercube Orange bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers’ Black Walnut cocktail flavoring
Orange zest

Add first four ingredients to cocktail shaker. Stir. Pour into rocks glass filled with ice cubes.
Flame the orange zest and drop it into the drink as a garnish.

With a bowl of Southern calamari and a Red Herring in hand, we were ready for the evening music. New Albany, Indiana, banjo picker Steve Cooley and some pals gave us several fun sets of bluegrass. Here’s a little sample:

13

11 2017

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

Harvest spreads local flavor across the menu

Pouring hambone broth over country ham tortellini at Harvest in Louisville

There’s no question where your food comes from at Harvest (624 East Market St., Louisville, 502-384-9090, harvestlouisville.com). This farm-to-table pioneer in the NuLu neighborhood (that’s New Louisville to us outsiders) covers the walls with joyous portraits of the restaurant’s purveyors. There’s also a map showing a 100-mile radius around the restaurant. Says partner Patrick Kuhl, “it’s our goal to get 80 percent of our food from inside that circle.”

The state’s “Kentucky Proud” program helps, Kuhl says. It’s been a boost to former tobacco farmers “because it provides incentive for farmers to grow food and for restaurants to buy it.” Animal proteins are pretty easy, he notes. But to have local produce year-round requires planning and preserving. The kitchen relies heavily on a vacuum sealer and a big freezer. And in keeping with the farm-country ethos, the restaurant also does a lot of pickling.

We visited Harvest on a Mint Julep Tours (502-583-1433, mintjuleptours.com) culinary tour to sample the imaginative food and drink. We were blown away by a purely Kentucky adaptation of an Italian classic: tortellini en brodo (at the top of the post). The tortellini were filled with shaved country ham, while the egg-white-clarified broth was made with the ham bone. Country ham was the perfect Kentucky analog to Italian prosciutto.

Pickled chicken thigh at Harvest in Louisvile

Pucker up for cooking with heart


Pickling is central to the cuisine at Harvest. Barrel-fermented chow chow, pickled slaw, and a house pickle plate are always on the menu.

Jeff Dailey brings board to table at Harvest in LouisvilleAnd sometimes all that spice and sour finds its way into dishes like the next one we tried. The protein star was a chicken thigh pickled and brined and fried up crisp, served on perfectly braised greens with bacon and a hint of bourbon in the pot likker. Next to it was a hot and sweet sauce of beets and blueberries! As a contrast, the dish also included a nice fluffy biscuit smeared with that Southern classic, pimento cheese. That’s sous chef Jeff Dailey bringing it to our table, with chef de cuisine Ryan Smith behind him.

Pickle even creeps onto the drink menu. Pickled peaches are a Southern classic. They’re usually served with ham or fried chicken. But the bar found another use for the leftover pickle juice. It goes into a drink called Peter Piper’s Peaches. Here’s the recipe:

PETER PIPER’S PEACHES


1.5 ounces Michter’s Rye
3/4 ounce simple syrup infused with serrano pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and clove to taste
1 ounce peach pickle brine
two dashes bitters

Combine ingredients and pour over ice in a lowball glass with a sugared rim. Drink. Repeat.

11

11 2017

Swank cocktails on two sides of the Ohio

Bartender mixes Remember the Maine at Mr. Lee's Lounge in Louisville

When we walked up to the plain, brick-fronted building on a residential stretch of Goss Avenue in Louisville’s Germantown, we were dubious that we’d come to the right spot. But sure enough, a tiny brass plaque announced the structure as “Mr. Lee’s.”

exterior of Mr. Lee's in LouisvilleWe opened the door and stepped through the portal of a time machine. As our vision slowly returned in the all-enveloping darkness, we found ourselves in a film-noir world. We half expected to see Nick and Nora of The Thin Man trading snappy bon mots between sips in the corner booth. The brightest spot in the place was the center of the horseshoe-shaped bar. The brass and glass and steel gleamed. The bartender’s white shirt seemed to glow. Welcome to Mr. Lee’s Lounge (935 Goss Ave., Louisville, 502-450-5368, mrleeslounge.com). The Coen brothers couldn’t have staged it better.

Every bar and every lounge is peddling a fantasy narrative—whether it’s the good-ol’-boy, shot-and-a-beer watering hole or a snazzy lounge with velvet drapes and leather banquettes. But Mr. Lee’s is the only place we know in Louisville that aims for and hits the mark of “sophisticated with just a whiff of danger.” It has a speakeasy vibe that feels like just the place where a guy might loosen his tie, unbutton his collar, roll up his sleeves and contemplate the state of the universe. That would be over a house-smoked Old Fashioned made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, smoked black tea, and bitters. It’s not all retro, though—many drinks use spirits from Copper & Kings. (See previous post.)

Be sure to visit after dark. Otherwise, it hurts your eyes to come out into the sunlight.

The Butcher at The Butcher and Brooklyn in New Albany, Indiana

A cocktail to chew on


Across the Ohio, Brooklyn and the Butcher (148 East Market St., New Albany, IN, 812-590-2646, brooklynandthebutcher.com) emphasizes small plates, big steaks, and a cocktail program that stays in touch with the urban trends. A relative newcomer (it opened in early 2016), the restaurant has become New Albany’s go-to spot for steak and tony spirits. The dining room is bright and breezy, and so is the upstairs lounge by the big windows on Market Street.

The photo here shows that upstairs lounge, where we stopped for drinks because the steakhouse restaurant side had not yet opened for dinner. The basement also contains a hideaway known as the Lantern Bar. It shares some of the speakeasy vibe of Mr. Lee’s, but plays on its cellar location with exposed brick walls, candles on the tables, and jazz on the weekends. Brooklyn and the Butcher maintains a good wine and beer list to complement its spirits, but cocktails are the focus of the beverage program.

Given the name of the place, we had to order a drink called The Butcher. (That’s it above the subhead.) Fat-washed cocktails are all the rage—or have been since the first bartender figured out how to infuse bacon into bourbon. The Butcher is a pretty sophisticated take on the science-experiment approach to cocktails. It combines fat-washed Old Forester bourbon, Malmsey Madeira, Demerara sugar, and Angostura bitters. The bar staff prepares the bourbon by infusing it with beef marrow fat for several days before chilling to separate booze and ooze. It’s a round, smooth drink with a full but not greasy mouth-feel and a sweetness quotient somewhere just north of a Manhattan. Or maybe that should be southeast, where Brooklyn is just over the bridge.

10

11 2017

Biscuits unite Louisville and Southern Indiana

biscuits define Southern taste

Humble plates spring from big ideas. Between meals in Louisville, we toured the Old Louisville historic district, visited the grave of Muhammed Ali, and checked out the Speed Art Museum (2035 South 3rd St., Louisville, 502-634-2700 speedmuseum.org). It’s probably the top art collection in the state and had mounted a great temporary exhibit called Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art. It made us think about identity and cultural cohesion. Part of the opening wall text struck a particular chord.

“The South is not so much a geographical place as an emotional idea,” it proposed. The South is “more a shared sensibility than a consistent culture.” Powerful stuff. What makes a place Southern? It has to be more than a love of gardens, firearms, and hunting dogs. Then it hit us. Biscuits—or at least biscuits of a certain style—define what it is to be Southern. And by that standard, both Louisville and the cross-river towns of SoIN are part of the South.

We started our morning on both sides of the Ohio with hot biscuits, butter, and dollops of jam. But a few places exalted the humble biscuit into gastronomic extravagance. Here are three:

Finn's Ultimate Breakfast

Finn’s Southern Kitchen


Located in a nice old Deco building, Finn’s Southern Kitchen (1318 McHenry St., Louisville, 502-708-2984, finnssouthernkitchen.com) has been a hit since it opened in the spring of 2016. The style is fast-casual but the layout of tables both indoors and out encourages communal eating. The old-fashioned Southern family meal was the inspiration for owner Steve Clements. The lightened (sometimes) Southern fare capitalizes on local products, which is to say that bacon or sausage is often involved.

The folks at Finn’s are also very proud of their biscuits. The dish above is called Finn’s Ultimate Biscuit Sandwich. It combines three of Finn’s specialties on one plate. In addition to the airy biscuit, the dish includes a fried egg, a crispy piece of boneless fried chicken, three strips of bacon, a slice of impossibly orange American cheese, and a puddle of peppery sausage cream gravy. (Pass the Lipitor, please.) Damn, it’s good.

The Gralehaus


We wondered if we might be going to Aunt Martha’s for breakfast as we climbed the cement steps up to a charming Victorian house in Louisville’s residential Highlands neighborhood. The Gralehaus (1001 Baxter Ave., Louisville, 502-454-7075, gralehaus.com) is a coffee house and cafe on the ground level, and its has three cute B&B rooms upstairs. Open from 8 a.m-4 p.m., its morning coffee and breakfast segues into craft beer and lunch. (OK, this isn’t Boston. You can get beer with breakfast if you want.) When the weather cooperates, the back patio seems like a marvelous, leafy hideaway.

Chef Jen Rock knows Boston (she used to cook at City Girl in Cambridge), but she seems right at home in Louisville. She was cooking the morning we visited, though Andy Myers is the executive chef and general manager. Guy Fieri discovered Myers’s clever takes on Southern cuisine last December, and the requests keep coming for the homemade bologna sandwiches. We went instead with the truly epic breakfast shown above: The Duck Sausage Biscuit. Mind you, Gralehaus makes its own duck sausage as well. The fluffy black pepper biscuit (recipe nelow) is covered with duck sausage gravy, lightly drizzled with duck jus and maple syrup, and topped by a sunnyside-up egg to die for.

The Silver Dollar


This establishment in a former firehouse from the late 19th century definitely has a unique twist on Southern identity.

bar at Silver Dollar in LouisvilleThe proprietors describe it as a homage to a 1950s Bakersfield, California, honkytonk—the kind of place that served chicken and waffles and played country music for homesick transplanted Southerners. Of course, the Silver Dollar (1761 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, 502-259-9540, whiskeybythedrink.com) has been transplanted back to Louisville. But the Bakersfield exile might explain why the menu offers molletes next to beer can chicken.

It’s all in fun. The bar is ridiculously long and the barroom is cavernous. For those of us ready to make tans while the sun shines, there’s a comparatively small outdoor patio. That is where we had a second brunch masquerading as “dessert.” The strawberry shortcake consisted of a humongous buttermilk biscuit made on the premises. It was layered with sugared strawberries and slathered with whipped cream. Over the top? Maybe, but it sure was good with the Silver Dollar mint julep served with a straw over a tumbler of crushed ice. That’s our kind of snow cone.

GRALEHAUS BLACK PEPPER BUTTERMILK BISCUITS


Gralehaus chef Andy Myers shared this recipe for monster black-pepper biscuits. We’ve trimmed it down to make eight huge biscuits (instead of 30). These biscuits are best for savory dishes like biscuits and gravy because the black pepper flavor doesn’t play well with most jams. If you’re salt sensitive, cut the suggested salt in half. The neat trick of grating and freezing the butter lets you make biscuits that stay very cold until baked and come out huge and flaky.

Ingredients


4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 sticks (1/2 lb.) grated butter

Directions


Set oven to 425°F.

Chill the butter and grate with a cheese grater onto wax paper. Place in freezer.

Combine flour, salt, black pepper, baking soda, and baking powder. Sift.

Once butter is frozen, gently mix it into the sifted flour mixture with your hands. Do not mix for too long; otherwise your hands will begin to melt the butter. The objective is to keep the mixture as cold as possible until it goes into the oven.

Make a well in the center of the bowl as if you were making pasta dough. Pour in the cold buttermilk. Stir with a wooden spoon and start pulling the flour mixture into the buttermilk. Continue working in the flour until the mixture becomes too thick to stir. At this point you can begin using your hands to mix. Try not to overwork the dough. Mix it by hand just long enough to bring the biscuit mix together.

Once mixed, turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is aproximately 2 inches thick. Fold the dough over in half and roll it out one more time to approximately 1 1/2 inches thick.

Cut the biscuits with a 3-inch round cookie cutter or ring mold.

Arrange cut biscuits on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Once you have cut all the biscuits from the first roll-out, you can re-roll the dough one more time. These biscuits will rise a little more than the first roll but they are still great.

Once you have cut all our biscuits, immediately put them into 425°F oven for 22 minutes turning the tray once halfway through the cooking process (11 minutes).

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11 2017