Archive for the ‘Southern food’Category

In Lexington, Kentucky, no one eats alone

sweet corn at Lexington Farmers Market
Plutarch would have loved central Kentucky. In his first-century A.D. treatise on food in Moralia, he astutely observed, “We do not sit at the table only to eat, but to eat together.”

Coles Dining Room in Lexington In Bluegrass Country, mealtime is just a phase in the ongoing party that begins with drinks and appetizers and is followed up with after-dinner drinks, snacks, and definitely lots of conversation. We spent a week in Lexington and the surrounding countryside at the end of June, and never did we taste alone. Food and drink in this corner of America are the currency of social exchange. If a Lexingtonian has anything to say about it, no visitor ever goes hungry. Or lonely.

peaches at Lexington Farmers Market The Lexington area is justly famed for thoroughbred horses and fine Kentucky bourbon, both of which owe their strong bones and muscular beauty to the limestone bedrock of the aquifer and the rich loam that grows both the grass that the horses graze on and the corn that bourbon makers mash and distill.

The conversations start even before the food is ready. The Saturday Lexington Farmers Market on West Main Street was established in 1975, and has roughly 75 members who come into the city from the surrounding counties. (There are smaller markets on several other days of the week in the growing season.) Even before you start talking to one of the farmers, you’ll know exactly where the food for sale was grown. Each vendor labels his or her produce with the county of origin. This is a byproduct of the “Kentucky Proud” program run by the state Department of Agriculture, which uses cash from the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement to promote Kentucky’s healthier agriculture.

Brandywine tomatoes at Lexington Farmers Market In fact, you’ll find the Kentucky Proud logo all over Lexington, from the menus of the most casual breakfast joints to the front door of some of the city’s toniest restaurants. Don’t even wonder if the local folks really believe they have some of the best food in the world, just ask them. It’s not just hype—they truly are Kentucky Proud.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for some of the signature tastes of Lexington.



08 2015

Montgomery’s Central reinterprets a Southern classic

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Montgomery, Alabama, likes to call itself the place where both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement started. But this historic city also looks forward as well as back. The handsome warehouses and other buildings along the riverfront have been spruced up as the Downtown Entertainment District. Central restaurant (129 Coosa St., 334-517-1121, epitomizes the style: It occupies an 1890s warehouse with high ceilings and warm, exposed-brick walls. An open kitchen brings the space to life as cooks execute the refined comfort food of tattooed and bearded executive chef Leonardo Maurelli III. Originally from Panama, Maurelli is a big proponent of Southern cuisine—as long as he can add his own innovations.

He has created a sophisticated twist on chicken and dumplings, substituting toothy potato gnocchi for the usually doughy dumplings and tossing the gnocchi with wood-roasted chicken, peas, carrots, and celery in an herbed veloute.

Chef Maurelli shared the recipe sized by single portions, and I’ve adapted it to make two servings.  The chicken, which is roasted with indirect heat from a wood fire, is brined for 24 hours in a standard brine (3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt, 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 6 cups of water). Maurelli removes the bird from the brine and lets it rest an hour before roasting.


Maurelli makes his own potato gnocchi from scratch, but I generally substitute a very good commercial version. Maurelli’s mirepoix is a standard ratio of 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, and 1 part celery. See the veloute recipe below for my take on Central’s rich veloute.
chicken and dumplings

Makes 2 servings


8 ounces of potato gnocchi (blanched)
2 tablespoons water
1 cup mirepoix
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, sliced paper thin
3 cloves of garlic, sliced paper thin
6 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast, medium dice
1/2 cup green peas (frozen hold best)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 1/4 cups fine herb chicken veloute


Flash fry the gnocchi until crisp, about 3 minutes, and place on paper towels to remove excess grease.

Place water in small frying pan and add mirepoix. Turn heat on high and cook for about 45 seconds after water boils. Drain mirepoix and set aside.

In a separate skillet, over medium heat, place olive oil with finely sliced shallot and garlic. Sauté until caramelized (about 2 minutes). Add mirepoix, chicken, and peas and sauté. Deglaze skillet with white wine and cook off alcohol (about 1 minute).

Add veloute and bring to a simmer. Once sauce is simmering add the gnocchi, quickly toss and serve immediately to make sure the gnocchi are still crisp.

Garnish with local herbs, or micro greens.


Maurelli usually uses a mix of thyme, rosemary, and parsley to season the veloute.

32 ounces chicken stock
6 tablespoons clarified butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 ounces of chopped fresh herbs

Bring stock to a simmer.

In a separate skillet, heat butter and use a wooden spoon to blend in flour start to create a roux. Be careful not to brown the roux, but cook slowly until the raw flour taste is gone.

Once roux is done, slowly whisk in the stock one-quarter cup at a time. Whisk constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 20 minutes, add fresh herbs, and let cool. I use leftover veloute as a cream sauce for dishes like chicken tetrazzini or simple sliced meat and gravy on toast or rice.


05 2014

What to eat at the airport in Little Rock

Whole Hog BBQ LIT Chain eateries (Starbucks, Burger King, Quiznos and the like) constitute the bulk of food choices at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, and Bill is probably out of luck if he’s searching for a vegan meal. But right next to Pizza Hut I discovered Whole Hog Cafe, the airport outlet of a small barbecue chain with two spots in Little Rock and one in Bentonville. Whole Hog has taken several awards in barbecue cook-offs and back when he still ate real food, Bill Clinton must have been a fan. Whole Hog claims that their serving utensils are in the presidential time capsule.

Whole Hog stall I decided on a pulled pork sandwich and the server advised me to have the meat topped with cole slaw. “That’s the way we serve it in the South,” she said. She also recommended that I douse the meat with the spicier version of the tomato-vinegar barbecue sauce. The sauce was a little too piquant for my taste, so I stuck with the milder, but still tangy version and passed the squeeze bottle to a local gentleman having a last taste of barbecue before taking off on a business trip. He allowed that the barbecue was pretty good, but that he prefers the mustard-based sauce at Sims, which opened in 1937 and now has three Little Rock locations. It’s his go-to place for ribs with sides of coleslaw and beans. For genuine barbecue, he said, ”the meat needs to be tender, the sauce needs to be tangy, and the joint needs to be off the beaten path.”