Eating in Barcelona

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Estava bonissim!!

 

The above phrase is Catalan that translates to “that was delicious”.

This would have been an oft repeated phrase while we were in Barcelona, if I would have known it then.

My family and I recently visited Barcelona in January, six adults and four children under four.  Now some people would admire our courage and fortitude to attempt this traveling high wire act without a net, others would call it lunacy. When you have grandchildren that live in a foreign country, you do what you can to see them.  We were able to meet them for a week in Barcelona and it was wonderful.

Now I don’t have to tell those of you with small children and grandchildren that eating with a large group with four small children is a challenge at home, much less in a large restaurant, and even more in a small European cafe.  Just trying to find places to store the strollers is hard enough.  We had a double stroller, about the size of some European cars, that was like parallel parking a car between two cramped tables. The Barcelonans, to their credit, were very nice about it in the restaurants and went out of their way to accommodate us.

But, be that as it may, this blog is about the food we ate in Barcelona.  We were not able to eat a lot of meals together as you can imagine. Most meals we carried into our rental house in El Masnou, a beach town outside of Barcelona (that will be another blog). However, the food we ate in Barcelona was so good.

Our first meal was in the morning after we all met in the Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona.  We found chocolate croissants and coffee at Forn de Sant Jaume.

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Forn de Sant Jaume in Eixample.

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We loved the chocolate croissants and coffee at Forn de Sant Jaume.

 

Our only meal in the evening was at Set de Born. We rode the train into Barcelona and walked through the El Born neighborhood and found Set de Born.  This was a very good choice. We ate too early in the evening for the Barcelonans so we had the restaurant to ourselves and the staff was very accepting of our group. This was the one meal the little ones weren’t on top of their table manners, just on top of the table. Nonetheless, the staff was very kind and patient and we appreciated that.

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I loved the intimate setting of Set de Born, tucked into a narrow street in El Born.

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We started with some marinated olives…very, very good.

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I loved the anchovies on tomato at Set de Born.

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The meat plate with homemade sausages and Iberian ham was the hit of the meal, with very good reason.

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This is how our typical table looked in Barcelona, lots of food to choose from. The cheese plate was delicious, so was the tomato bread, and the goat cheese salad.

 

We visited the Santa Caterina Market two times. I got some more marinated olives that were a treat while walking the streets of Barcelona.

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I highly advise a foray into the many booths and stalls of this market.  It can be overwhelming, but keep in mind, there are no bad choices in here.

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The shaved ham cone was a big hit in our group, one of our purchases in the Santa Caterina Market. Why are there not any of these in the U.S.?

 

A highlight of our eating experience in Barcelona was churros!!!  I can’t express how good this treat is.  Our churro consumption was in Churreria Laietana in El Born. I don’t have any way to compare churros, but I do know this, these would be hard to beat.

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This lady that served up churros at Churreria Laietana was very impressive.  She could handle English and Spanish with ease, in a very busy and chaotic setting, while handing out little plates of love, all the while with a smile on her face.  I think she was also doing air traffic control in the back.

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CHURROS! CHURROS! CHURROS!  at Churreria Laietana

 

Our last meal together in Barcelona was a real treat. We had an afternoon meal at

El Quatre Gats (the Four Cats), one of the more famous restaurants in Barcelona.  It has a lot of history and is noted for being one of the hangouts of Picasso in his younger days.  It is located in the Barri Gotic  (Gothic quarter of Barcelona). I enjoyed this meal most of all.  The children were well-behaved and the staff was so nice and agreeable to our wishes.  Again, we ate at an earlier time than most of the Barcelonans, so it wasn’t very crowded.  This was a good plan on our part so as not to be too disruptive.  I think this is my best advice with those traveling with small children in Barcelona, eat early so as not to find the restaurants and cafes too crowded.  Keep in mind that a lot of restaurants in Barcelona do not even start serving food in the evening till about 8:00 PM.

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The 4 Cats entrance is inviting.

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The classic look of the historic 4 Cats.

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Just chunks of parmesan cheese to nibble on before the meal at 4Cats. Why don’t we ever think of these things?

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Tomato bread is a favorite tapas dish in Barcelona.  We ordered it everywhere we ate. I think the best I had was at 4Cats.

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The prettiest dish we ate all week was the roasted eggplant at 4Cats. It was as delicious as it was beautiful.

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These pork cannellonis were really good at 4Cats.

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One of my favorite dishes of the week…seafood rice at 4Cats.

 

If you are in these areas of Barcelona, I would highly recommend these eating establishments.

Barcelona, estava bonissim!

 

 

 

 

Ode to the Shrimp

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The USA and USSR will only agree when shrimps learn to fly—Nikita Khrushchev

My love affair with the shrimp as a delectable treat started when I was a wee lad.

I first had this delicious little crustacean on my plate on our family trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the early sixties, when our family took a few  beach vacations. This was before Myrtle Beach became MYRTLE BEACH, the beach destination for all of Appalachia and the golf mecca of, well, just about anyone who could swing a club and felt justified to spend a weeks pay on a green fee so they could shoot 120.

At that time my pre-pubescent taste buds only desired the little shrimpies fried and dipped in ketchup. When we stopped taking beach vacations, these little decapods didn’t show up on my plate very often since eastern Kentucky did not employ an abundance of shrimpers.  However I was still able to sample them at Red Lobster or Long John Silvers when they started dotting the roadways of Kentucky.

My love affair intensified with the little delicacies when I lived in Houston, Texas and I realized you could have them fixed all kinds of different ways. My favorite way turned out to be the peel-and-eat-variety with cocktail sauce.

Since we, as lowly and destitute students had no money to sample some of the finer restaurants in Houston, we were always looking for cheap food.  We found the peel-and-eat mother lode at a restaurant on the shipping channel of East Houston…Shanghai Reds. On Friday night it was all the shrimp you could eat during happy hour. So for two hours we would show up and gorge ourselves like the Romans before they visited the vomitoriums.  Now this may have been a myth in ancient Rome but to many of my mates at the University of Houston, it very easily could have been more fact than myth.

As many love affairs come to an end, so did mine.  I thought I developed an allergy to my true food love. My lovely wife, who always  is so attentive and in tune to my whims and vagaries kept telling me it was all in my head.

So not paying attention to said lovely wife, I was without them for many years…until…my lack of attention to detail finally paid off.

I had been taking glucosamine for joint pain for about 6 months, probably at the request of my lovely wife.  I never knew what glucosamine was made from and one day I read on the bottle in bold print “IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO SHRIMP OR SHELLFISH, DO NOT TAKE THIS PRODUCT.” It was probably her way of proving that I was not allergic to shrimp.

Nevertheless, I was finally released from my pseudo somatic shrimp uncoupling!  Since then, I have been on such an amorous affair with  my favorite half-pint, salty, invertebrate it would make E.L. James blush, for I have found at least fifty ways I can eat this delicacy (Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba comes to mind).

Shrimp can live for 1-7 years, usually spending their lives near the ocean floor, or river or lake floors if they are fresh-water shrimp. They are omnivores, eating tiny helpings of plant and meat, like me if you substitute tiny with washtub-size.

They are the food source of many fish and whales and larger shrimp, when times are tough.  Their main defense mechanism is to quickly swim backward or sometimes hide in the sediment. So coupled with their sometimes propensity to feast on their own kind and backpedal rapidly, I envision they all are desiring to serve in the Congress of Oceania.

I say all that to say this, shrimp probably live a difficult life, but don’t realize it until they are in the midst of a big net with all their relatives, or in the belly of a larger marine creature or larger shrimp.  They live a sacrificial life, providing us with much happiness as when they are occupying a plate in front of us, such as the shrimp scampi dish I prepared in the above picture.

I hope God in His infinite wisdom has provided an eternal reward for shrimp, where they can live and swim freely and not have to hide in the muck of the ocean floor and can dine on the best algae and plankton. And all of their elections are fair and free of muck.

Louisville, KY (Another Eating Weekend)

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I never met a Kentuckian who wasn’t either thinking about going home or actually going home.— A.B. (Happy) Chandler

 

We all have fantasies.

My latest fantasy is to be able to eat three meals a day in Louisville, KY until I go through the entire menu of Louisville restaurants, which of last count has over 2,500 of them. This should take me about three years taking into consideration I may have to leave to go see grandchildren.

Bon Appetite magazine has called Louisville,”One of the best foodie small towns in America.”  Now to  me, coming from a small town of about 2,000, Louisville is a big city.  However I am not going quibble over a few hundred thousand residents at this time. My goal is to tell you about some good food in Louisville. You can find a previous blog written, by yours truly last year, about another eatin’ weekend in Louisville.

Our strategy this particular weekend was to pick restaurants that we had not visited in past trips to Louisville.  Believe me this was no easy task, because we have loved a lot of restaurants in this city that were hard to pass up.

Our first stop was lunch on a Friday afternoon, a very interesting choice, if only for the name alone…Mussel and Burger Bar .  Guess what?  We had mussels and a burger.

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The seafood burger at Mussel and Burger Bar was tremendous.

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This was one of the best mussel dishes I have eaten.

 

The next meal was our evening meal. We met some cousins at Havana Rumba in the Highlands, one of three restaurants of the same name in Louisville.

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This seafood stew, served with fried plantains and rice and beans was so tasty.  It was a chef’s special that night, along with shrimp ceviche that was very enjoyable.

 

On Saturday, we ventured out for some Vietnamese pho.  We found Pho Phi in St. Matthews. I love pho.  Mrs. Big Surf allows me to have this one food romance.  She tolerates it and actually likes it well enough to eat with me when I have a cravin’.

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Pho at Pho Phi satiated my pho yearnings.

 

Our evening meal on Saturday night was very special.  We dined outside at Couvillion, (pronounced  coo-ve-ohn).  Couvillion has a Cajun menu that was hard to work our way through, meaning we had a hard time making a decision about what to eat.  It all looked and sounded really good.

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At Couvillion, we began with roasted cauliflower, described in the menu as “slathered with cajun mustard vinaigrette” with capers and chili flakes.  This was the best tasting dish of the weekend.

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Mrs. Big Surf ordered the duck creole with ricotta dumplings.  This was so savory and delicious, I almost put my face in and bobbed for the dumplings.

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I had the catfish couvillion, which is a rich, red fish stew usually with catfish. It was also very good.

 

 

We had one more meal in Louisville, breakfast on Sunday morning, before heading up to Indiana to babysit grandchildren.  A friend of mine had read about, and urged us to visit  Biscuit Belly

I read about this new spot downtown and realized we could be standing in line outside.  We must have timed it right. There was a short line inside that moved quickly. However, by the time we left it was stretched outside.

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We had the fried chicken with gravy and cheese biscuit.  I see why there is a line outside.  We were more than happy when we left.

 

My advise to anyone looking for some really good food, go to Louisville, KY and feed your belly as they say at Biscuit Belly.

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Great Food in Athens, Greece

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Everything’s betta with a little feta—El Greco

 

Mrs. Big Surf and I make our travel plans based on what food we like to eat.  We love Greek food…so you can do the math.

We spent four days in Athens and I ate about two weeks worth of food.  This was the best Greek food I have ever eaten, tasted so authentic…oh.

If you can get past most menus looking like a fraternity/sorority talent show lineup, ordering food wasn’t too difficult. Most menus have English sub titles and most of the waiters and waitresses speak English. Of course if you don’t speak Greek or English I don’t have any advice for you.

We began our foraging through Athens on our arrival at the Acropolis Museum Boutique Hotel.  We arrived late and we asked the desk clerk for a recommendation and he steered us to a very close 24 hour restaurant, called 24oro .  He said it was good Greek food and he was right.  My advice here— don’t go by the names as we do in America where a 24- hour joint is probably not the best choice unless you are hungry at 3:00 AM.

Since it was late, we split a moussaka and we also began our four day love affair with fried feta drizzled in honey.

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Moussaka at 24oro.

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The fried feta, drizzled with honey and sesame seeds was our go-to appetizer in Athens.

 

I began the next morning with a short walk to the Acropolis Museum to get tickets for the day. I stopped by Terra Carpo for a cup of Americana coffee.  This may have been the best coffee I have ever had. This was my coffee stop for the next three days.

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After coffee each morning, we would eat breakfast at the hotel.  Our usual custom when we stay at hotels in cities is to get breakfast in cafes or bakeries  to maximize our time finding good food. However our breakfast at the Acropolis Museum Boutique Hotel was included, so we took advantage of this.  These breakfasts, with Greek delicacies, gave us a good start each day as each one was so good.

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This was our typical breakfast each day.

 

After a morning at the Acropolis Museum and a walk through the charming Anafiotika neighborhood, we had lunch at Klepsidra Cafe. 

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At Klepsidra Cafe, we had our first stuffed grape leaves, tsatziki, a Greek salad and sampled some ouzo.

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Yogurt with nuts and dates and drizzled with honey was also one of our favorites at Klepsidra Cafe.

 

Later that night, we dined at Strofi which was a short walk from our hotel. Our food was good but it wasn’t our favorite meal. However my appetizer of fresh anchovies marinated with spices, olive oil, and lemon was one of my favorite dishes of the stay in Athens.

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I hope you are lucky enough to get this view at Strofi.

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The marinated anchovies were delicious at Strofi.

 

The highlight of Day three in Athens for me…lunch at Diporto.  This is a very unique experience that I found on Youtube.  It is near the central market, has no sign and is below the street.  There is home cooked Greek food, homemade wine, and an intimate atmosphere, where the owner invites you into the kitchen to see what he is cooking for the day.  Don’t let the less than pristine appearance dissuade you from dining here when you descend under the street level through graffiti-marred doors, you will love this dining experience.

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One of the two entrances into Diporto.

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Our view of the street at Diporto.

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Three dishes with bread and homemade white wine was brought to our table.

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The grilled anchovies at Diporto may have been my favorite dish in Athens.

 

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Intimate dining at Diporto.

 

We had an unforgettable view of the Acropolis at Hotel Thissio. We stopped for another fried feta with some red wine and watched the sunset turn to the night sky over Athens.

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We had a great view of the Acropolis and Athens at Hotel Thissio.

 

We headed over to souvlaki row off Monastiraki Square and split a Greek salad and souvlaki at Savvas and had an outdoor table on the busy pedestrian street.  This wasn’t the best souvlaki that we had but it was still good.

 

The following day, our last full day in Athens, we toured the Acropolis and walked over to the old neighborhood of Plaka and had lunch at Estia Taverna.

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Our lunch at Estia Taverna in the outdoor part of the cafe was very enjoyable.  It was a nice sunny day and we shared a different fried cheese, called saganaki, named for the pan it is fried in. We also had some really good french fries which are popular in Athens.  We had a nice red wine that complimented this simple meal and were refreshed for an afternoon shopping in the shops of Plaka and of course finding more things to eat.

 

A few hours later we headed over to the steps of Plaka and found a table at Anafiotika Cafe.  It was a lively time on the steps, so we partook of some more ouzo. I really encourage anyone going to Athens to find these small cafes and eat on the steps.

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Afterward, Mrs. Big Surf was in the mood for a chicken crepe and she found one at a creperie on Souvlaki Row on Ermou Street and I went into O Thanasis for a souvlaki for take-out.  We took our purchases over to Montesoriki Square and found a spot to enjoy our simple meal in the midst of this lively and entertaining gathering place.  I loved both of our dishes.

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I thought this chicken crepe was very good, Mrs. Big Surf thought less of it but still liked it.

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I loved this souvlaki from O Thanasis.

 

The final stop for the evening was a rooftop bar overlooking Athens. We found a wonderful spot atop the A for Athens Hotel. The rooftop bar for a nice glass of red wine was a perfect spot to enjoy our last night in Athens.  The view is incredible and if you can get a seat at sunset, this would be a minor coup.  We were able to accomplish this,and let me tell you, it was hard to leave this view.

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We had a beautiful view from the A for Athens rooftop bar in the late afternoon sun and into the night.

 

We had an afternoon flight scheduled for Istanbul, so this gave us some time to head back over to the shops in Plaka.  While my lovely wife shopped, I of course looked for more food and was drawn to the small cafes on the steps one last time.  I had a very nice spinach pie with some jasmine tea (see cover photo). This was a great place to reflect on my stay in Athens and enjoy my last few minutes.

 

An addendum to this food story is our trip back from Turkey where we had a connecting flight out of Athens.  We had some time to kill so we headed over to the Sofitel across the street from the airport.  This turned out to be a very good decision. We shared a delicious assortment of Greek appetizers and a lemon tart with berries and a raspberry glaze.  The red wine complimented it very nicely.  This gave us a good send off from Athens.

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The plate of appetizers at Sofitel, a good choice if you have to kill some time in the Athens airport.

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The lemon tart was a nice treat also at Sofitel.

 

I look forward to the possibility of more good food in Athens if I ever get the chance again.

Athens, Greece

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How great are the dangers I face to win a good name in Athens—Alexander the Great

 

Evidently, Alexander the Great had a different experience in Athens than my wife and I.  The only dangers we faced in our four days in Athens were gluttony,  over-stimulation of the senses, and sunset fatigue.

Athens is a beautiful city that is easily navigated by foot.  We are not planners, we are plodders.  We walk a while, rest a lot and eat a while, rest a lot…you get the picture.

So when we were able to plan a side trip to Athens on our way to see some family in Turkey, we jumped at the chance.  It is an easy city to explore on foot and four days was plenty of time for us to see what we wanted in a relaxed visit.  The ancient sites and neighborhoods were an easy walk from our stay at the Acropolis Museum Boutique hotel (a 40 Euro cab ride from the airport).

We went to Athens in the middle part of April. We had some rain at times and some cool nights.  When it wasn’t raining, a tee shirt and long pants were very comfortable.  My wife wore some sleeves and we both had light rain jackets.  We still had pleasant evenings and saw some wonderful sunsets.

I will apologize for the many, many photographs.  I had a hard time editing.

The following are scenes of the Acropolis  with the Parthenon and other sites.

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I was mesmerized by these lovely ladies, possibly supermodels of ancient Athens.

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The Theater of Dionysus.

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Sunburst over the Temple of Athena Nike.

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The Parthenon.

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The Erechtheion.

 

There are some incredible views from the Acropolis looking out over the city of Athens.

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We climbed up to Mars Hill for a late afternoon view of Athens and joined the sunset seekers awaiting the show.  I think we were the oldest folks there.  Don’t despair for it is an easy climb up to Mars Hill.  I was more interested in being in the same place where the Apostle Paul introduced the Gospel of Christ to the Athenians.

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The trail up to Mars Hill was decorated with wild flowers. It is a very rustic path to the top.

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The view of the Acropolis from Mars Hill.

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Athens view from Mars Hill.

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Mt. Lycabettus seen from Mars Hill.

 

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The Panathenaic Way in the Ancient Agora.

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Ancient column top or pedestal in the Ancient Agora with the Temple of Hephaistos in the background.

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Temple of Hephaistos in the Ancient Agora.

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Columns of the Temple of Hephaistos.

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Hadrian’s Arch seen from inside the Temple of Zeus area.

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Temple of Zeus.

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Hadrian’s Arch seen on one of our night walks.

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The Panathenaic Stadium, all marble.

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Inside the Zappeion building.

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Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside of the Parliament building.

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The beginning of Ermou street, a pedestrian only shopping street beginning across from the Parliament building.

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As you walk down Ermou street, you will come upon the beautiful small church of Kapnikarea.

 

The following are scenes around Hadrian’s Library.

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Outside tables of the small cafes on the steps of Plaka.

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One of the narrow paths between houses in the Plaka neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis.

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A colorful graffitied path in the Plaka neighborhood.

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Lively Montistoriki Square.

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The market near Montistoriki Square.

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This is the terrace of the Acropolis Museum. It looks like a great place for coffee or lunch.  It was rainy this day, so it was the day we picked to go to the museum. It is a fascinating museum of sculptures and statues and to learn about the Parthenon which can be seen atop the Acropolis.

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One of the ancient sculptures in the Acropolis Museum, Hercules wrestling a sea creature.

 

The following are colorful street scenes in Athens, a great city to explore on foot.

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One last look at the sun-drenched city and I will say good-bye.

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Banana Peppers Fried in Almond Flour

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Gluten-free pizza elicits the same response at a Hollywood party as a pile of cocaine did in the 80’s.—Natasha Leggero

 

I want to be upfront about this, I do not have celiac disease.  I just like banana peppers fried in almond flour.

If you like fried banana peppers and can’t have flour, this may be a way for you to enjoy this southern delicacy.

We were looking for a way to fry banana peppers because Mrs. Big Surf did not really like the peppers fried in flour. On a whim, we decided to try the almond flour and we loved them.

I know there are as many opinions of ways to bread veggies for frying as there are reasons for CNN to impeach Trump (sorry, first and last political reference) but I like to keep it simple for no one ever sponsored me into that Mensa club.

I use fresh banana peppers.  These were the first of the year for us here in eastern Kentucky.  If you look closely at the above photo, you can see our little pepper patch in the center of the yard.

I like to cut them in rounds and not long as some do.  I first dredge them in almond flour and then into frothed up egg whites and a return dredge through the almond flour.  I fry them in vegetable oil in an iron skillet, because if I am using the iron skillet, Mrs. Big Surf can’t smack me with it for something stupid I did earlier in the day. (See above Mensa statement.)  The oil needs to be as hot as you get standing in line with your 4-yr old at Disney World in July waiting to see the latest Disney princess. But be careful not to let it get too hot, they should only take about 30-45 seconds on each side.

Let them dry on a paper towel and salt and pepper liberally ( oops second political reference).

Enjoy them as an appetizer in the late afternoon sun.  We do.

Honeywood…Lexington, KY

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Cooking is like painting or writing a song.  Just as there are only so many colors or notes, there are just so many flavors—it’s how you combine them that sets you apart—Wolfgang Puck

 

We have been enjoying watching this season’s episodes of  Top Chef Kentucky.

In honor of this week’s episode that featured Kentucky chef, Ouita Michel, as a guest judge, we decided to drive to Lexington, KY and eat in one of her many establishments.  Mrs. Big Surf and I have eaten at Holly Hill Inn in Midway, KY and Wallace Station in Versailles, KY and Smithtown Seafood in Lexington.

Ouita Michel is a native Kentuckian and like all good chefs, she uses ingredients that are local and makes food that tastes wonderful.  We really enjoyed our food at Honeywood.

We ate here for lunch with a friend.  All of our dishes were happy-making (to use a phrase our friend likes) and the staff was very friendly and the restaurant is nicely decorated. I can’t say enough good things about this lunch experience.

I am not a food critic, so I can’t break down the meal and analyze it like a professional critic.  But as my enzymes were breaking down this meal, they were making me happy.  This is really good food.

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For starters, we shared the FOUR O’CLOCK, a plate of wonderful Midway Bakery buttermilk biscuits with shaved Browning’s ham and apple butter, cheese salad, salt and pepper almonds, carrots, pickled vegetables, and cheese wafers.  This would be plenty of appetizer for a group of four and will get you started on the right track…good food makes for good conversation.

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We had a hard time deciding what to order for our main dish, as all the dishes on the menu sounded inviting.  I chose the most interesting item, Chef Josh’s famous BEETLOAF, a vegetarian loaf made with beets, parsnip puree, topped with tomato gravy and served on bed of mashed potatoes along with fresh Kentucky greens.  I enjoyed eating this dish so much.

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My wife had the WHITESBURG SOUP BEANS, with a rich ham broth, onions, and served with a Weisenburger Mill hoecake.  This traditional eastern Kentucky comfort dish was elevated so much and may be the best soup beans we have eaten. Incidentally, the photo above shows a reflection from the table lamp on the surface of the soup beans, so don’t try to figure out what it is.

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Our friend ordered the SHADY LANE SALAD.  It is composed of local lettuces, shaved Browning’s ham, candied Kentucky pecans, mustard vinaigrette, topped with a local deviled egg and served with Weisenburger Mill hoecakes. Our dining companion, who has the most discerning palate of the three, was very happy with his choice also.

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Chef Ouita Michel elevates Kentucky cooking to a level that is world-class.  I will return to Honeywood and try to eat my way through the rest of the menu.