Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Cincinnati


I think steak is the ultimate comfort food, and if you are going out for one, that is not the time to scrimp on calories or quality—Tom Colicchio

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for some people to dissolve the dietary restrictions and throw off the shackles of government recommendations, it is time to eat a big ‘ole steak.

The missus and I took the 75-minute drive down I-74 to have a celebratory dinner at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio. We celebrated 37 years of me being married to this wonderful creature with sparkling blue eyes, and her hanging in there.

Jeff Ruby is a restaurateur extraordinaire. He has fine dining establishments in Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Lexington, and Columbus. He has shown this tri-state population that we too can have fine dining like those persnickity diners on each coast.

So I pulled out my gift card from Christmas, for fine dining ain’t cheap. Nevertheless…

Mrs. Big Surf and I had a lovely table outside, some very nice wine and gazed into each others eyes like we did at that altar so many years ago. (I was gazing and she was thinking, “Could I have done better?”)

Our appetizer was the delicious breads and the butter placed before us.

The staff and service was impeccable. The servers were so courteous and knowledgable.

The blue-eyed darlin’ settled on the Halibut Forte, served with King Crab, Shiitake, and Beurre Blanc. This may have been the best halibut dish I have ever tasted. She put on her big girl pants and consumed it all. I had the 14-oz Center Cut New York Strip, served with a Bèarnaise Sauce. And at the risk of repeating myself, at this stage in my life it is expected, it may have been the best steak put in front of me. I, of course, not to be outdone by the fairer partaker of swimmy things, devoured all of my medium-rare steak. We also had their award-winning Baked Mac and Cheese, made with six imported cheeses…yeah that’s right you Manhattanites, this is Mac and Cheese in the Midwest.

Jeff Ruby establishments are known for their steaks but they also can produce wonderful seafood dishes like this Halibut Forte.

The New York Strip was cooked perfectly to medium-rare. The Bèarnaise Sauce was so very delicious and complimented this steak, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were gliding effortlessly across by taste buds.

This Mac and Cheese is probably the best you will eat.

Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse in Cincinnati offers a wonderful dining experience. Tastefully decorated in old Hollywood Art-Deco, live music at the bar, wonderful service, and of course the food.

When someone wants to give me another gift card to use, I will more than happy parlay that into a great meal.

Fried Green Tomatoes from Bobby Flay

You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food—Paul Prudhomme

Have you ever fixed a dish and, not exactly wanting it to fail, but just not wanting it to be as good as your traditional way of cooking the particular dish so you could say to the uppity chef, “See our way is better.”?

Well, this happened last night.

I love fried green tomatoes and nothing says “southern cooking” to me like a good plate of fried green tomatoes. The love being doled out by the operator of the iron skillet in preparing this delicacy would fill up a number two wash tub.

Usually there is some combination of eggs, flour, and cornmeal for the coating and of course the thinly-sliced green tomatoes have to be in just the right place in the space-time continuum on its way to ripeness. I have been frying these up for years, sometimes using only the frothed egg white for adhesion or the whole egg. Sometimes I use only cornmeal for coating but never just flour. Most folks in the south have their traditional way of serving up this dish, but no matter which way you fry your green tomatoes, you always felt it was the best way…because of tradition. Your mom did it this way or your grandma, or even your great-grandma, or just a kindly neighbor.

But along comes Bobby Flay, that brash New York chef who grew up in Manhattan. What would he know about frying green tomatoes? Well evidently, a lot. I really hate to say it but these are the best fried green tomatoes I have ever eaten.

I want to apologize for that last statement to all the southern cooks who have lovingly fed me fried green tomatoes over the years and have helped guide me into maturity at your tables, of course Mrs. Big Surf is saying that is still a work in progress.

Mr. Flay uses flour, BUTTERMILK???(not any part of the egg), and PANKO???(no cornmeal…someone help me I’m feeling infirmed). The combination of flour, buttermilk, and especially the Panko elevated these fried green tomatoes to a level of Southernness, like no other.

Sorry Marita. (Who served me the first fried green tomatoes I ever ate as a young lad and until last night, the best I had ever eaten.)

Okay Bobby, just work on losing that New York attitude and accent and I will feel better when I fix these fried green tomatoes again.

Jaques Pépin’s Eggs Jeanette

You can’t escape the taste of the food you had as a child. In times of stress, what do you dream about as a child? Your mother’s clam chowder. It’s security, comfort. It brings you home—Jacques Pépin

I have a kindred connection with Jacques Pépin. He loves eggs. I love eggs. So who better to search on YouTube this Saturday morning than Jacques himself?

I found an old PBS clip of “American Masters at Home” and he was cooking a dish that he ate as a child prepared by his mére (mother). This is my clumsy attempt to duplicate that dish for Mrs. Big Surf and myself on this rainy Indiana morning.

Now I can eat eggs cooked almost anyway with almost anything. The blue-eyed darlin’ not so much. In fact it was presented to me earlier this year that she doesn’t always like the way I have prepared some breakfast eggs, but she ate them and didn’t complain because…you know…I fixed breakfast for her and she didn’t have to.

There is a question asked of Julia Roberts’ character in “Runaway Bride”, “How do you like your eggs?”. Now after some thirty-six plus years of marriage, Mrs. Big Surf finally let me know. And you can see how each new egg dish is prepared with a little gun-shyness.

THIS MORNING WAS A SUCCESS!!

We both enjoyed this dish. The tastes were there even if the techniques were a bit clunky. The big questions in preparing this dish the first time, and maybe some of you can answer this question. Is there a difference in times of boiling a small egg vs. a large egg? We didn’t cover this in high school or college physics. The thermodynamic properties of the egg may be different than copper.

Also peeling an egg always is an adventure for me. My advice is to watch this video and not listen to my kitchen consternations.

This dish has garlic, fresh parsley, eggs, milk, water, olive oil, dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and a little red wine vinegar.

Listen to Jacques Pépin’s tribute to his mother, Jeanette…he’s such a good egg.

July 4th in Waldron, Indiana

If our Founding Fathers wanted us to care about the rest of the world, they wouldn’t have declared their independence from it—Stephen Colbert

To me nothing says “America” like small town celebrations. And Waldron, Indiana puts on a beaut. They call theirs “Freedom Fest”.

As soon as you drive into this small town in southeast Indiana you see what seems like all of the townspeople assembled out on their front yards and the rest of southeast Indiana looking for a parking spot. People dressed in the red, white, and blue are everywhere. Cars are everywhere. There are food trucks and vendors. There is a live band and a dunking booth. There is even a hot-air balloon giving rides to the extent of the length of the tether. But everyone is there for one thing…FIREWORKS!!!

So our mission was to somehow find a place to park, eat some food and leave before the fireworks. We knew how difficult it would be to try to leave this congestion after the fireworks with two small grandchildren and a granddad who is always an intestinal twitch away from a public spectacle.

So we parked about two miles out of town on the road by a cornfield. This is something we couldn’t do for previous fireworks shows in eastern Kentucky, big hills and all. Flat land is great for fireworks and avoiding traffic.

When there are two food trucks serving BBQ, it was hard to decide. So…of course I started eating one serving of rib tips from one truck while waiting in line to get a brisket sandwich from another. This was an excellent plan.

The rib tips from Mel’s Catering were very tasty and tender. When you can eat them with a plastic fork, you know they are very tender.

Mel’s Catering had a great menu for festival eating.

My second BBQ meal was from Dave’s Double Barrel BBQ. This was my second time eating Dave’s food and it was just as good this time. The brisket sandwich was really good and the cole slaw may have been some of the best I have eaten as a BBQ side dish. I loved the sweetness of the dressing.

The brisket sandwich from Dave’s Double Barrel BBQ is so good, especially with Dave’s sauce.

I was very impressed by this cole slaw from Dave’s. Even my grandson loved it.

Check out this line for the pineapple whip.

Most of the festival was set up at the Waldron High School athletic complex.

A large crowd awaited the fireworks.

I hope they stopped the balloon rides when the fireworks started.

Some of the fireworks pictures that were taken outside of town.

The “pinwheel”.

I know some folks were unhappy with America this 4th of July but I didn’t find any in Waldron, Indiana.
And Big Surf had the freedom to eat as much BBQ as he could handle.

Let freedom ring!!

Big Surf Daddy’s Lemon, Butter, Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles

Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti—Sophia Loren

I love spaghetti, always have, always will. However, I can’t make the same claim as Sophia Loren. In fact, I would never draw attention purposefully to my physical attributes. And since I am approaching the time in my life when metabolism slows to a slug-like pace, I need to make changes.

I was traveling through the internet yesterday and came upon a Bob and Brad episode. These are physical therapists who are quite helpful and entertaining. They were talking about getting rid of body and belly fat. One of the first life changes was reducing pasta…I immediately suffered a mild catatonic event. I love pasta.

I did find this dish on YouTube, can’t remember who the home chef was, but I did make a few changes. So full disclosure box checked.

So that was the backdrop of my new favorite dish…zucchini noodles with lemon, butter, garlic shrimp in a sauce kicked up with a little sriracha sauce. I wanted to fix a dish that would leave my little glycogen molecules standing at the bus stop waiting for the Bad Carb Wild Ride bus line.

If there is a way I can get good carbs in my system and not give up flavor, I will do that. This is a dish that allows me to do that. The zucchini noodles had basically the same texture as pasta noodles and I couldn’t taste much of a difference in flavor. Of course my taste buds may not be as refined as Sophia Loren’s or any others with pasta-based genetics. I will repeat, I love pasta and I will not allow myself to stop eating it, just slow down my consumption.

I used a Julienne peeler to make the zucchini noodles, sauteed the shrimp in butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper, Italian seasoning, and a few red pepper flakes. I then added garlic. I removed the shrimp to a plate. I made the sauce by adding lemon juice, lemon zest, butter, vegetable broth, and some sriracha sauce for a little kick and let it thicken.

After the sauce thickened, I added the zucchini noodles to the sauce for about 2 minutes while stirring and then added back the shrimp to reheat. I topped it off with chopped basil and served.

The best thing about this dish…you can still slurp the noodles like Sophia Loren.

Taste of Shelby County, Indiana

The more street food we have, the more it’s embraced by every income strata, the better world we have—Anthony Bourdain

I love festival food.

Mrs. Big Surf and I took to the streets of Shelbyville, Indiana, our new hometown recently. No not to voice our dismay or celebrate anything but to eat, which is my favorite new pastime.

We partook of the Taste of Shelby County 2022. Incidentally, this is part of Shelby County’s Bicentennial celebration. In 1822 the president of the US was James Monroe and future presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes were born. Matthew Brady, known for his civil war photos, was also born in 1822.

OK, enough history.

Shelbyville is a picturesque small town in southeast Indiana, about thirty minutes SE of Indianapolis. It has a pretty center circle or actually more of an ovate shape. The buildings in the town center have lots of character and flowers abound. Also on the this day the aroma of festival food was rousing my senses.

Now I know that man does not live on festival food alone since we usually can’t get breakfast at festivals. However, festivals usually provide good tasting food in a community setting where people are generally happy to be there. And Taste of Shelby County was no exception.

After perusing the layout of food, the missus and I settled on Dave’s Double Barrel BBQ. It was a very good choice. I had smoked ribs and the blue-eyed darlin’ had pork nachos. We sampled other treats and my apologies to the other vendors but I can’t remember their names. I was too focused on maximizing my food-to-time-to-ticket ratio. I do have pictures though.

The ribs and pork nachos were very good from Dave’s Double Barrel BBQ. He has a food truck, lives in Shelbyville and caters.

I maximized my tasting by buying a half of two different sausage dogs.

Taste of Shelby County is an annual event and I hope you can be there next year, you will see me with a smile on my face hiding a mouthful of something grilled.

Cholula Mexican Restaurant, Shelbyville, Indiana

When you roll something this good, it’s usually illegal…Anonymous burrito shop sign

I was a late-comer to the Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine, only having the occasional drive-thru taco or just ordering tacos in some of the finest Mexican restaurants of Houston when I lived there. I wish I could go back to my early twenties self and slap him in the face with a seafood enchilada and say, “What is wrong with you?”

Now I love foods from Mexico and whatever Tex-Mex is.

We visited Cholula Mexican Restaurant in Shelbyville, Indiana (now my home) for a Sunday lunch with some family. This was the first visit to this establishment and I loved the festive atmosphere. The menu was filled with dishes I want to try and the staff was very friendly and service-oriented.

Now I don’t mean to sound derogatory to the country of Mexico and its chefs, but I consider the appetizer of chips and salsa the best part of the Mexican eating experience. Let me explain…the salsa can tell me a lot about what is to come and heighten my expectation. Everyone is excited to see the chips and salsa and they usually start digging in and the conversation starts. These chips were warm and crunchy and the salsa was delicious.

I ordered the Burrito California, filled with chicken, beans, rice, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and cheese. And let me emphasize the cheese here, because there was a lot and if you don’t like melted, gooey, delicious cheese, I suggest you look elsewhere on the menu. I loved this burrito.

Everyone at the table loved their food and I will be back.

I highly recommend the California Burrito at Cholula’s.

The colorful, festive decor set the tone for an enjoyable meal.

I will compliment the chefs at Cholula, hopefully…”¡Qué rica comida”.

Voy a volver (I will return).

Ode to the Insalata Caprese

Twas on the isle of Capri that I found her, beneath the shade of an old walnut tree—Jimmy Kennedy from Isle of Capri,1934

Nothing embodies summer for the tummer (sorry I was in a lyricist frame of mind) like the Caprese Salad.

My first sign of summer in eastern Kentucky was not the oppressive heat, or the air that felt like you were wearing a wet dog, or the flowers blooming in everyone’s small gardens, or the neat rows of tobacco in the field…it was the first bite of the “garden tomato”. Nothing tastes as good as the tomatoes grown in an eastern Kentucky garden.

Now I know some may take issue with this last statement, especially the good folks I have met here in my new home in southeastern Indiana, for the tomatoes are very tasty here also. And those who grow tomatoes in southern Italy, but c’mon will any of them actually read this blog?

In the hills and hollers of eastern Kentucky, the first tomatoes were usually eaten on a bologna sandwich, or just on a plate with salt and pepper, or as my dad would just make a tomato sandwich with mayo. But for me, it’s the celebration of the first locally grown tomatoes in a Caprese Salad.

This wonderful, simple salad is believed to have originated on the beautiful island of Capri, off the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. It is probably the closest most of us will ever get to this heavenly place and as far as the taste buds are concerned that is ok.

The salad is traditionally made with only five ingredients…tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salt, and olive oil. Thankfully it can still be called a Caprese salad with variations of ingredients. I usually add olives, sometimes cucumbers and onions. I usually top it with red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar mixed with the olive oil and add pepper. I hope the Italian chefs don’t take issue with my liberties for it still has the red, green, and white colors of the Italian flag (well, other than the balsamic and kalamata olives and occasionally the purple onions and yellow tomatoes I will use).

I know this last salad is pushing the Italian envelope here with the hard boiled egg, so if you see “insalata caprese con uovo sodo” on the menu when you are in Capri, just remember where you saw it first.

Eating in Milan and Lake Como, Delizioso

L’Appetito Vien Mangiando!—Italian phrase

The above phrase basically means “appetite comes with eating” or explained, as people always want more than they already have.

This is Big Surf Daddy in a nutshell. I am always planning the next trip when I am on a trip. I think about the next meal while I am eating a meal. I’m not proud of this trait and it drives Mrs. Big Surf absolutely batty.

In Italy, I can’t wait to eat. I am always thinking about the next thing to eat or drink, while I am already eating or drinking something. Of course in Italy it is easy to do. My thoughts are constantly swimming in pasta, sauce, gelato, cheese, wine, coffee, pastries, and pizza.

As some of you know, who read this blog, we travel a lot with our family and that includes small grandchildren, five to be exact (6 yrs old and younger). Eating with this group takes more planning than the D-Day invasion and also the ability to bob-and-weave like being in the ring with Ali.

As you could imagine, the food on our recent trip to Milan and Lake Como was delicious and easier than I thought it would be.

Beginning with the best food for children…GELATO!!

This was a great spot for gelato, Dulcis In Fundo Gelateria on Piazza Garibaldi in the beautiful Lake Como town of Menaggio. I recommend the limone (lemon).

The Gelato Fatto Con Amore, near the Cadorna train station was a big hit with all of us. I thought the name was a subliminal message to us Americans, but actually it means “made with love”. I could taste the love. The lead photo is the gelato bar in this gelateria.

At Gelato Fatto Con Amore, you get a piece of waffle cone with your cup, so innovative.

Venchi is a really nice gelateria, chocolateria, coffee cafe, and crepe-ateria. This is a large chain with quite a few locations in Milan. We had wonderful gelato here one day and breakfast crepes the next morning along with wonderful coffee.

This crepe with chocolate sauce was so good at Venchi.

The coffee at Venchi was very good and notice the little square of dark chocolate served with the coffee, a nice touch.

Ok, the last image of gelato (because it is causing a great yearning for me to return to Italy). This lovely treat was from Veranda Beach in Calozzo on Lake Como.

A big part of eating in Italy for me is the quick bites that you can take away and eat on the piazzas. We found this at Panzerotti Luini, a small cafe about a block away from the Duomo in Milan.

At Luini’s you get the panzerotto. This simple Milan tradition is made from flour, cheese, and tomatoes. It costs about 2.70 Euro and it may have been the best thing I ate all week. Mrs. Big Surf and I took ours to the steps of the Duomo and ate while watching the activity in the piazza. I advise you to do the same. You can also get a glass of red wine at a vendor in the piazza. We complimented our panzerotto with one of those.

Miscusi served a wonderful pasta dish called Paccheri Tricolore. While we were debating about going in, a very nice young local couple convinced us to eat here. It was their go-to pasta and I must say it was a good piece of advice.

We had a simple lunch at La Marmora. We noticed a lot of young people eating here after school. Normally this would not be the information I would use to choose a cafe, but this is Italy and young people evidently like good food in Italy.

This panini sandwich was Italian bologna and cheese. It was so wonderful. I would put it right up there with Kentucky bologna. The Missus had a pizza panini and it also was very good.

This small pizzeria was located across the street from our AirBnB apartment in Milan. I hadn’t planned on ordering from here and that would have been a big mistake. We were only Milan for two nights and our other family got in later on the last night, so we had to decide what to eat with the kids, so pizza it was. Johnny Takeue was a great place for carry-out pizza. It was the best pizza I had this trip.

With this pizza oven at Johnny Takeue you know it had to be good.

On to Lake Como…

We had two wonderful evening meals and a really nice lunch. Our breakfasts consisted of walking to town and getting some breads, cheeses, and pastries.

Since Signore Clooney and his lovely wife did not invite us to dinner, we were on our own.

Our best meal on Lake Como was at La Baia Ristorante in Cremia. In addition to wonderful food and a lakefront setting, they went out of their way to accommodate our large group with our small children and made us feel welcome.

Risotto is a traditional dish in Milan and Lake Como. This dish, called Persicotto, served at La Baia Ristorante, with lightly-breaded, fried lake perch was so good. It was the best meal I had on the trip.

The lovely blue-eyed darlin’ went with another risotto dish, served with pesto and a creamy cheese with red prawn carpaccio. This is their best selling dish and I could see why…so good.

This plate of small lake fishes was gathered from some of our parties seafood dishes and eaten like fries. I loved them, some of us weren’t so sure…couldn’t get past the heads.

This beautiful restaurant is called Veranda Beach in Calozzo. It was mentioned earlier as a place to get gelato. We came back later for our evening meal. It is a lovely restaurant on the lake, with an Italian menu and operated by a very charming lady.

Quite the ambience at Veranda Beach.

This take on a caprese salad with burrata cheese was the star of the meal, we all had some of this.

Our last meal on Lake Como was at the Grand Hotel Menaggio, a beautiful old hotel on the lake. Most of us had the spaghetti, a truly wonderful dish and one of us had the Insalata Nizzarda, a salad with anchovies and tuna.

This was our lake view for lunch on the patio at the Grand Hotel Menaggio.

Spaghetti at the Grand Hotel Menaggio was a dish of comfort.

The Insalata Nizzarda tasted as wonderful as it appeared on the plate.

We had to fly out of Milan back to the US. We had to have a negative Covid test to get back into the states, so it was easier to stay at the Sheraton Hotel at the Milan Malpensa airport. This turned out to be a good thing. The kids and adults got to swim and we had a lovely meal at the hotel restaurant, IL Canneto.

I had the salmon poke bowl, a delicious choice.

Mrs. Big Surf was presented with a lovely leek soup. She felt the presentation was better than the flavor.

It was a whirlwind trip for us, not much planning since we didn’t decide to go till about a two weeks before departure to meet the rest our family. I left everything up to the next generation and they didn’t disappoint us.

Until next time, buon appetito.

SHORE BIRDS

 Lying in the sun, he follows the unhurried paths of seagulls and sailboats, the azure breeze, the ebb and flow of foam on the water and in the air— Eduardo Galeano

I love the above quote for it explains my mood when I am on the beach.

I recently returned from a week’s stay at the beach. I seem to experience God’s creative power, and His awesomeness, and omnipotence, and my littleness when I am on the beach. For me there is no other place on earth that I have seen that gives me that feeling, other than being in the mountains, or looking at the lake, or being in the city, or riding my bike, or drinking coffee…well God can be near everywhere. But you get my point, I love the beach.

One reason for my love of the beach, that is where the seagulls and shore birds hang out. I love watching them and I am forever trying to capture interesting pictures of them. They mesmerize me and of all the bird, they seem the most human.

Here are a few I have taken over the years.