Bifecta Finds

Holland, MI--03/13/12 New Holland Brewing Co.

It is a wonderful thing to be on the same page as your travel partner.

When Hoosband and I recently visited Holland, MI, we both knew where we’d be doing lunch as soon as we saw the words “Brewing Co.”
Upon being greeted by our waitress, the first words out of our mouths were “beer sampler.”
We both knew we wanted salads as entrees, but deciding on an appetizer to share was much more contentious.
Hoosband wanted the Queso Fundido, made with local goat cheese and chipotle salsa, but I insisted on the Cellarman’s Plate, featuring apples, whiskey beer cheese, garlic sourdough, marinated olives, Toscana salami, artisanal cheddar, and Benton’s smoked Tennessee prosciutto (!)—you know I can’t say no to all that.

Perhaps we’ll try the Queso if and when we make it back to the brewing company, but even Hoosband agreed we made the right choice with the half-portion of the Cellarman’s assortment (perfect for two). The whiskey beer cheese (also available on its own) was definitely a highlight, and the tart apples were an unexpected delight, especially when rolled up inside a piece of prosciutto with a cube of cheddar.
Hoosband said his Brew House Salad, a mix of greens, tomatoes, egg, scallions, blue cheese, and Michigan-raised turkey, would have been better had he not selected the slightly overpowering chipotle ranch dressing.
But my salad, The Black and Blue, was absolutely perfect.

Gorgonzola, scallions, flank steak (ordered rare), piquillo peppers, and garbanzos over a delicate mix of greens, tossed with charred tomato vinaigrette—they may have crafted the perfect salad.
But this is not just a restaurant. It is a brewery. And brew they do.

We sampled six beers and a cider and were pleased with most and intrigued by many.
Our favorites were the Hopivore, a hoppy (as the name would suggest) but pleasantly crisp and well-balanced ale made with local Michigan hops; the Sundog, an amber ale with very slight notes of honey in the not-overly-sweet malt; and Cabin Fever, a brown ale with definite roasty notes.
The cider, made with local Michigan apples, was sweet but crisp and not at all cloying.
The Imperial Hatter IPA was a bit too astringent for our tastes, while the Charkoota Rye, a smoked dopplebock porter, and the Blue Sunday Sour, a barrel-soured beer, had us scratching our heads until the very last sips.
I determined that the Charkoota, with its complex blend of malts and curious smoky flavor, would make an excellent beef marinade for a jerky-making endeavor.
The Sour, however, I’d probably have to try again, as it reminds me of everything and nothing all at once, and I just can’t make up my mind.
One thing I am certain of is that the New Holland Brewing Co. is worth a stop if you ever find yourself in or near Holland, MI.
I hope to make it back soon!

Brentwood, TN--10/20/11
Local Taco

Local Taco presents a Tennessee take on Mexican favorites.

The two locations (4501 Murphy Rd in Nashville and 146 Pewitt Dr in Brentwood) differ slightly—Brentwood offers separate Lunch and Dinner menus—but both feature locally sourced ingredients and organic produce when possible.

Tacos, offered with your choice of locally made flour or corn tortillas, compose the majority of the menu and come in a variety of flavors from classic to exotic to truly Tennessee.

While the Tequila Lime Chicken taco is tasty, the Korean BBQ taco, staring succulent seared beef and Asian slaw, and the Portabella Taco, featuring sage goat cheese, zucchini slaw, and fried onions, are worth ordering in bulk.

On my next trip I will try tacos sporting such Southern staples as smoked brisket, buttermilk-fried chicken and spicy shrimp.

Today I devoured the Mexi Tater Tots (fried mashed potatoes), the Shrimp and 3 Chili Enchiladas with earthy pumpkin seed pesto, and the Beet Salad with fried-sunflower-seed-encrusted goat cheese and Agave Tabasco vinaigrette.

Be sure to ask your server about the desserts, which, as best as I could tell, are printed nowhere. The brownie, served with delicious vanilla ice cream, is fudgy and dense with a kick of cinnamon, and the sopapilla, also served with vanilla ice cream, elevates fried dough and honey to Southern haute cuisine.

This is not your standard, cheapo Tex-Mex. It is fresh, it is innovative, and the prices reflect this. Do not expect a one-dollar taco. Still, $10 for two tacos and two sides [choice of Mexi Tater Tots, Hot Sauce Turnip Greens, Vegetarian Black Beans, Ham Hock Pinto Beans, Queso Cauliflower, Mexican Rice, Roasted Tabasco Agave Beets, Jalapeno Cole Slaw, Cuban Corn (roasted on the cob), or Sautéed Veggies] is not bad.

The frozen margarita, made with fresh lime juice and agave, is the best I’ve had anywhere.

Sunday Brunch brings farm-fresh eggs, stone-ground grits, potato hash, and mimosas to the mix.

I Cannot wait to go back.

Hollywood Beach, FL--03/19/11
La Brochetterie

I woke up this morning with an intense hunger for a beach-side breakfast and realized that in the nearly two years Hoosband and I have lived in South Florida we have never once attempted to find a breakfast spot on the beach.

We did a little online looking and found an acceptable spot on the Hollywood Broadwalk. When we grabbed a table, however, the prices on the menu were almost triple what had been advertised online. So we headed back down the Broadwalk to La Brochetterie, where a sign flaunted "Spring Breakfast Specials."

The "Chef's Special" featured 2 eggs any style, 2 pancakes, 2 oz. ham, bacon, or sausage, and home fries for $3.95. I added a side of sliced tomatoes for an extra 99 cents and scarfed down my breakfast, confident that I had found the best deal on the beach and happy to have found a place that serves a side of sliced tomatoes for breakfast (Waffle House does not, in case you were wondering).

The pancakes could never win a throw down with those of, say, Cracker Barrel, but the home fries, crispy,  perfectly seasoned new-potato quarters and bits, were the best I've had in quite a while, and the bacon was thick and substantial, not the skinny little reject-strips you get at some places.

After our meal Hoosband expressed both his disbelief that we had never done this before and his firm intentions to make breakfast on the Broadwalk a regular part of our routine.

For a satisfying and affordable breakfast with an ocean view, I'm pretty sure we can make that happen.

Santa Rosa Beach, FL--03/15/11
Cafe Thrity-A

A hug and a peck past two years have gone by since Hoosband and I were last in my second home of Destin, FL, and it's good to be back!

We last appeared at Cafe Thrity-A minutes after Hoosband popped the question on the deck of my family's Destin condo, so the restaurant holds a sentimental and celebratory place in our culinary-destination files.

When Hoosband suggested we revisit the scene of post-proposal to celebrate six months of pregnancy, I was giddy with excitement but hesitant to build up the menu too much in my mind.

It had been more than two years, after all. What if the quality and culinary creativity were not what I remembered?

We arrived at 5 p.m. to capitalize on two-for-one entrees--a hell of a good deal if your tastes run to the pricey side as ours do.

As we were on the early side of the dinner rush, service was impeccable and food came out quite fast.

We started with "Grilled Georgia Quail" served with creamy grits and a sage fritter ($13) and a "Crabmeat and Tomato Stack" composed of sauteed lump crabmeat, mixed greens, fried green tomatoes and roasted garlic aioli ($16).

We were in heaven.

If I had to pick one of the two to eat every day for the rest of my life, it would certainly be the crab and tomato stack with its (yes, it's an overused word, but there is no better one) luscious lump crabmeat and crunchy, cornmeal-crusted tart tomatoes. I usually avoid aiolis on a menu, as I despise mayonnaise, but the delicate creaminess and subtle sweetness of the roasted garlic in this particular aioli were a perfect foil to the crispy-tangy-juicy tomatoes, and a finishing drizzle of what I believe to be balsamic reduction added a final note of sweet-tart merriment, along with a welcome splash of color.

The quail was tender and tasty but not a flavor revolution. The grits, however, could probably be used as currency in most countries and definitely in the Bank of Crumm.

My best guess is that mascarpone may have been blended in for creaminess and bulk, although it may have just been a double whammy of butter and heavy cream. I believe the grits were flecked with pancetta, though it may have been bacon, and a thin sauce/pan gravy over the top sent it, well, over the top.

Entrees (two-for-one!!) were "Wood Oven Roasted Wild Salmon" with English peas, artichokes, saffron pasta pearls (Israeli couscous) and horseradish broth ($31) for me and "Pan Roasted Lamb Rack" with truffled polenta, spring vegetable ratatouille and a port reduction ($36) for Hoosband.

Mine was incredible. His was better.

Dessert, a rich, smooth "Chocolate Panna Cotta" with macerated berries, caramel sauce, spiced almond brittle, and a sort of crumbly chocolate sand on the plate was what Hoosband deemed, "everything I always hope chocolate mousse will be that it never actually is."

I love chocolate mousse, but even I agreed. I foresee a lot of at-home panna-cotta-making in our future.

After dinner our only complaint was that with no wait for food (a good thing), and no pre- or post-dinner martinis or champagne to drag out the dining (a pregnancy thing), the whole experience seemed to go too fast.

Maybe we'll take longer next time. I just hope it doesn't take so long next time to make it back!