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.

Tomatoes and Flames…Mt. Sterling, KY

 

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You better cut the pizza into four pieces because I am not hungry enough to eat six—Yogi Berra

 

I love pizza.

I know many of the few who read this blog will say the same thing.

Lately the lovely missus and I have been trying to make good pizzas at home.  So inevitably we go out to find good pizzas.  Not that we are totally incompetent in the kitchen, we just haven’t gotten the final result we want just yet. The only way I can get the pizza dough to cook at 800 degrees is to stick it in a pile of burning leaves and that just leaves it a little too smokey.

So we decided to go to the old country to find good pizza.

Now for us the “old country” turns out to be Mt. Sterling, KY. This picturesque small city was established in 1792 and if you know your Kentucky history, you will remember that this was the same year Kentucky became a state.  Mt. Sterling is one of the oldest towns in Kentucky.

A friend of mine told me about the pizza he and his wife had eaten at Tomatoes and Flames in Mt. Sterling.  Since I valued his opinion very much, we decided the hour drive would be worth it for good pizza.

 Tomatoes and Flames  is in a small intimate setting in an old building with bright yellow paint.  Most of downtown Mt. Sterling buildings are old, or historic if you prefer that term.  Just like the “old country”.

We had the Pizza Margherita.  We loved our pizza.  The Margherita pizza is simple in its ingredients and complex in its flavor.  It is so good when done right.  Let me tell you, this was done right.  It looked like the same thing we ate in Rome and it’s taste was the closest to the pizza in Italy we have had anywhere in the US.

The dough was wonderfully thin and crusty and the sauce was so good.  So simple, yet so remarkably delicious.

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The Pizza Margherita is a classic Neopolitan pizza and prepared to perfection at Tomatoes and Flames.

The bonus was being able to eat Crank and Boom ice cream that was sold in the restaurant…the icing on the pizza.

Pizza Margherita has a history that dates back to 1889 when King Umberto I and his Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples shortly after the unification and formation of Italy.  Legend has it they were tired of hoity-toity French cuisine and asked the most famous pizza maker for some common street food.  He provided a pizza made from tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves, which just happened to be the colors of the newly formed Italian flag (red, white and green).

The alternative theory is it was named after the Italian word for “daisy” which is margherita.  Evidently the shape of the pizza with the toppings resembled a daisy.  I’m going with the first theory.  That is what was told to us in Rome when we had our first Margherita pizza.

I am so thankful that we can get old world pizza within an hour drive at Tomatoes and Flames.

Mt. Sterling’s downtown is very picturesque and I enjoyed strolling through the streets.

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The brick oven at Tomatoes and Flames.

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You order at the counter.

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Cool door with windows.

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We never pass up Crank and Boom ice cream.

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I had a wonderful chocolate latte here at Spoonful of Sugar.

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Louisville,KY…A Good Eatin’ Weekend

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A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty, has wasted thirty years of his life.—Muhammad Ali

This quote, from one of my favorite Louisvillians, sums up my approach to food over the past few years.  All my life, I was eating good food…I just didn’t know it.

My wife was developing into a superb cook, my mom fixed delicious food all my life and my mother-in-law fed me like a king. My two grandmothers were really good cooks but in different ways. I didn’t appreciate what all they did in the kitchen until lately when I started enjoying cooking.

I didn’t appreciate restaurant food until the last twenty years or so.  It was more about eating out at for a reasonable price than dining for enjoyment.

As I started my journey in the kitchen, I started paying attention more to restaurant food.  Now I tell my friends “food and cooking have become my new sport” since my knees don’t allow me to participate in a lot of sports anymore.

Well if sports have become my new metaphor for cooking, then Louisville, KY is the playing field.  Louisville has become a food destination in the culinary scene.  It has been this way for many years but is now starting to get recognized for the many fine restaurants in this wonderful city on the Ohio River.

My wife and I spent a rainy weekend in Louisville recently.  I was limited in my time, as I was in classes for two days, and it was too wet for outdoor activities, but we still got to eat.  We took every opportunity to visit some really good restaurants, some of them are not particularly well-known, but very good nonetheless.

This blog is all about the food…

First up was Whiskey Dry on a Thursday night.  This is Chef Ed Lee’s newest Louisville restaurant.  He has 610 Magnolia and Milkwood. Incidentally my wife and I agree that our favorite dish we have eaten in Louisville over the years has been Chef Lee’s pork shoulder with black barbecue sauce over coconut rice, with edamame and curry oil.  This is a staple at Milkwood.

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Whiskey Dry is the only locally owned restaurant on 4th Street Live in downtown Louisville.  It specializes in burgers paired with bourbon, very Kentucky.

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I had the Big Ed burger, a take-off of the Big Mac.  Instead of a middle bun, there is a fried green tomato.  I can’t impart the degree of deliciousness I experienced with this burger and fries.

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Our very tasty appetizer at Whiskey Dry was Pimento Cheese Curds with Chile Romesco sauce.

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This adult chocolate milkshake may have had a little bourbon in it.  This was dessert.

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Cool bar at Whiskey Dry.

 

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Friday afternoon lunch at NamNam Cafe for wonderful Vietnamese cuisine.

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Very cool table top at NamNam Cafe.

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My new culinary romance is pho. The NamNam Cafe pho is real real good.

 

 

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We had a Friday dinner at Louvino on Bardstown Road.  This is a small plate eatery in the heart of Louisville’s restaurant and hipster section.   You can literally walk up and down Bardstown Road and find a great place to eat. We met my cousin and her husband for a lively and enjoyable meal.  Lots of good dishes were enjoyed here.

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The bacon-wrapped dates are a must for a starter at Louvino.

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The Port wine brisket with zucchini cornbread was so tender and delicious at Louvino.

 

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Lee’s Korean Restaurant was our choice for a Saturday lunch. Lee’s is on the first floor of what looks like an office building, so don’t give up looking if you drive by it the first time.  If you have a hankering for Korean, this is the place.

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Deep fried won ton was a great choice for our starter.

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Mrs. Big Surf and I shared the beef bibimbap with the Korean vegetables.  Our waitress/hostess was so nice and pleasant as she demonstrated the way to eat this Korean traditional dish.  She was happy to show us a little of her home country.  I was glad she did.

 

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The Come Back Inn was recommended to us for our Saturday night meal.  Word of mouth is a wonderful thing for we had a wonderful meal.  This is a small neighborhood Italian eatery in a humble building in the Smoketown/Germantown/Highlands area.  I really don’t know my neighborhoods in Louisville.

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We started with a chef’s special appetizer for the night of Smoked Salmon Crostini. This was pretty special.  Capers are one of God’s little blessings that let me know He knew what He was doing.

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The waiter told us the specialty at Come Back Inn is the Bolognese.  I was going to get something else, but he said this would bring me back.  He was right.  I will come back (now I get it).  My wife had the chef special of the evening of lobster ravioli in a saffron cream sauce.  This dish was very tasty but the lobster may have been lost in the sauce.  The sauce was so good, we didn’t mind too much not to get all of the lobster taste.

 

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Our last meal was breakfast on Sunday morning before heading home.  After some research, I found Gralehaus.  This is actually a bed and breakfast with rooms upstairs.  I loved this place.  It is very small and was hard to find.  It is on Baxter Avenue right behind the Holy Grale that is on Bardstown Road.  Our GPS took us to the Holy Grale.

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The coffee alone was worth braving the rain and not having room service, also we got to drink out of these nifty mugs.

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This was the best dish I ate all weekend, Biscuit & Duck Gravy, made with a black pepper biscuit in duck sausage gravy with a maple sauce drizzle and duck cracklin’.  I will be thinking about this for a long time.  I may take up duck hunting just to try to duplicate this.

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My wife had Lamb & Grits, a sausage of Middle Eastern origin with lamb and pork. The grits were very good, topped with an egg and cilantro and mint.  This was very enjoyable also.

 

 

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I mentioned earlier my favorite dish I have ever eaten in Louisville. This is Milkwood’s Pork Shoulder with black barbeque sauce from Chef Ed Lee.

 

They say the most exciting two minutes in sports is the Kentucky Derby (also in Louisville). But set one of these dishes from a Louisville restaurant in front of me and I will give this phrase a run for the money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blaze BBQ and Wings… Fannin’s Market

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Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start—Anthony Bourdain

I love good barbecue.

In the past few years I have associated good barbecue with going on vacation.  I would seek out the best barbecue joints on the way to the beach or wherever we were going.  Sometimes this took a lot of research and extra drive time, much to the exasperation of Mrs. Big Surf.

Now I just have to cross the bridge from West Liberty into Index, for the barbecue gods have looked down on Morgan County, KY with big messy, saucy grins.

Larry Lewis and his wife Julie have opened Blaze BBQ & Wings.  This is a small food trailer.  They will be set up at Fannin’s Market in Index..The days of operation will be Saturdays. I think the menu may vary from week to week.  This past Saturday was the opening of this new venture. There hasn’t been this much buzz about town since the Freezer Fresh reopened after the tornado. Consequently, so many folks came to Index that the food was consumed too quickly.  This was a great testament to Larry’s reputation in our small community.

We joined the line on Saturday for a later lunch, hoping the line would not be as long.  This strategy back-fired because the wings had already been eaten up.  However, those of us in line did get a sample.  Larry sent what was left of the wings out into the line for a sample. It was a good gesture on his part.  The wing I ate was soooo good.  The barbecue sauce was thick and sweet.  I can’t wait for the full order next time.

My other strategy was for my wife and I to order meals that came with two meats and two sides.  We would each get a pork portion and one of the three choices of wings and we could sample all four sides (this looks like one of those statistical probability problems I had in college). Since the wings were gone, we could not do that, so we split up the sides.  She got home fries and regular cole slaw.  I got the Cajun slaw and Nannie Mae’s baked beans.  All sides were really good, but I highly recommend the Cajun slaw. The pulled pork and pork loin was delicious and the sauce was sweet and tasty.

I am so glad Larry and Julie are starting out on this endeavor, boosting the food presence here in Morgan County.  I hope I can eat this wonderful food for many years.  My only advice for Larry and Julie is get a bigger trailer to hold more food, they will need it.

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Pulled pork, pork tenderloin, Cajun slaw, and Nannie Mae’s baked beans.

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Same meats with home fries and regular slaw.

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Larry Lewis served up some really good food. As David Letterman use to say, “It was a good kind of tired.”

 

I mentioned Fannin’s Market earlier.  Sarah Fannin has owned and operated Fannin’s vegetable market in Index, Ky since 1995.  She has a large vegetable farm and sells the produce in the market, she also sells vegetables from a grower in another county.  The produce is always fresh and tasty.  And it always looks appealing, which is important for me when I look for produce.

Fannin’s Market has provided a really nice place for folks to settle in and eat or mingle in a beautiful location overlooking the farm.

I stopped growing my own veggies a few years ago.  The deer and groundhogs were better fed than me.  So I let Sarah grow my vegetables for me.  I still grow some herbs and a few banana peppers, for some reason the varmints don’t like them.

We have been fortunate to have Fannin’s Market for a number of years.  So before you get in line for some good barbecue, stock up on veggies, fruits, and melons at Fannin’s Market.

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Always great produce at Fannin’s Market.

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Nicely decorated gathering area at Fannin’s, for eating or just good conversation.

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Cozy tables overlooking the farm.

 

Red River Rockhouse

 

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Never be so focused on what you are looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.—Ann Patchett

 

I have been trying to get the Missus to accompany me on a lunch date to the Red River Gorge.  I have been curious about the Red River Rockhouse since I heard about it from a friend about a year ago. I asked him what is so good about it and he said, “the cheeseburgers”.

Now I love a good burger as well as the next self-proclaimed foodie with a palate similar to eroding blacktop after a tough winter in Eastern Kentucky,  I just didn’t know if I wanted to drive the necessary forty-five minutes for the consumption. I realize most of us will drive even farther to proclaim a dining success.

The Red River Gorge is a gorg-eous place.  It draws tourists from across the country, most it seems come from Ohio.  On any given weekend, the population of Powell and Wolfe Counties is inflated with folks from north of the Ohio River.

The planets must have aligned last week because I got my lovely wife to agree to that lunch date.  We met some out-of-town friends (who amazingly were not from Ohio) through a planned consequence. Now I know you are not familiar with this term, so I will explain.  We talked about meeting for lunch the next day and I would send a text to confirm.  However my friend, who was staying in the lodge at Natural Bridge State Park, did not have cell service and did not get my text saying we would meet them at 1:00 PM that day.  The plan did not materialize, however they showed up anyway and we had really nice time.

Now the important stuff.  If you are going to the Red River Gorge to hike, camp, canoe, kayak, bird watch, or just get out of Ohio, you need to stop in at the Red River Rockhouse for a simple meal of good food.  The menu is not exhaustive, it is written on a chalkboard.  The food is simple but the taste is not. Evidently the Ohioans love a good burger or the selection of craft beers, because it was a busy place.

We started with guacamole and chips, both house-made. I highly recommend this as a starter.  One order was enough for the four of us.

Next I ordered the aptly named Heavenly Cheeseburger. The menu says it is local grass-fed beef topped with cheese made with milk from a local dairy.  I don’t know the difference in grassfed and grainfed beef as far as the taste (I refer to the previous description of my palate), I just know this is one of the best cheeseburgers I have ever eaten.  It came with a side of hand cut fries, or should I say a hillside of fries.  There were a lot of fries and all of them were good.

My wife ordered a burrito.  On the menu, it is described as “a fatty burrito”.  Hello Captain Obvious.  It was the size of a small sombrero.  It took three people two days to eat it all.

Don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you, this is high quality food served by a friendly staff in a beautiful area of Kentucky.

 

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Guacamole and chips for starters.

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Heavenly cheeseburger and fries, always a good choice here.

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Strap on an appetite to tackle the burrito.