Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Entrepreneur to Table - this year's Slow Living Summit June 1-2

Goodness!  Where has the time gone?  Just as I've been digging around in our yard, I supposed I'd better get busy digging around in our local food scene again.

So here it is darlings! Our very own local food summit:
http://www.slowlivingsummit.org



Our local food and business entrepreneurs need all the support we can give them, so this summit has been produced to allow them to network among themselves and with people who can provide the expertise they need to keep their businesses on track and to provide us with the best products.

Even if you don't think you'll attend the summit, go to the page and take a look at all the things that are important for todays food and ag businesses.

If you think about all the time and energy it takes to produce the food we enjoy, you'll also want to celebrate our farmers at the Strolling of the Heifers festival in Brattleboro, June 2-4, which follows the summit over the weekend.  Get out and meet our farm business people!  Tell the farmers and other business people involved in our food how much you appreciate what they do in person!





Tuesday, February 14, 2017

BBQ, Pizza and Wings: The Stuff that Makes Good Times



When I found out that Hazel serves some of my favorite foods, I made it a point to go to Elliot Street in Brattleboro and find out what was going on. Yes, BBQ, pizza and wings are casual food or pub food, but countless digital space has been used to discuss these seemingly inconsequential dishes. So many of us love them and celebrate fun times with them in very large groups. Some of the difficulty with our familiarity and casual consumption of these foods is that people get lax, as in:  Oh - it's just wings. Well, I want to be wowed by food.  I want really really good wings and pizza, not something that has been tossed inconsiderately out of the kitchen. I want the pub to care about these casual foods to the point that they enhance whatever party or game or office lunch, rather than just remain at the "meh" level.

At first I thought I'd dry the BBQ, so I ordered a rack of ribs. When I dived into my first bites I couldn't believe what had happened. The probably nice and tender and juicy smoked rack had been put under some hellish flash grill or something of the kind and burned to the point that it was like biting into toothpicks, the meat had been so dried and charred. What little barbequed meat flavor was left was barely discernable, so I knew at one time these ribs had probably been tasty. Perhaps a young inexperienced cook thought that drying them into crisp charred sticks was the way to go.  I was a bit bewildered. I ordered the cole slaw and mac'n'cheese sides. The cole slaw was delicious. This is not an insignificant comment. Cole slaw is particularly difficult for restaurants to get right, so most restaurants serve awful cole slaw.  Not Hazel!  It was very well balanced with fresh flavors and not too much dressing. I wish I could say the same about the mac'n'cheese, which was a very sour/bitter concoction that looked like milk poured over little oily pasta shells and not stirred.

The service staff, consistently polite and efficient, handled the return of the mac'n'cheese and ribs well. I was comped a slice of very lovely and delightful cheesecake.

On another visit I tried the wings, which were actually small drumsticks. I always wonder why people call a food by a name that isn't correct. Am I too literal minded? Hazel has a choice of Asian, Buffalo, Sweet BBQ, Spicy BBQ, and  Szechuan flavors, so I chose the Buffalo, wanting to know how they would prepare this classic wing style.  I've lived in upstate New York long enough to know that in that area one would not call what I was served a "Buffalo" wing.  It doesn't have the right sauce, which is Frank's hot sauce with butter. Frank's is chocked full of peppers and vinegar. The wings I got had a mild, vaguely BBQ sauce and were good. I'm sure we're far enough from New York for this not to matter. Sort of. I ordered the slaw again, which was delicious. I wanted to try the cornbread, and it was a standard sweet style.  I love cornbread, so I relished the perfect crumb and it complemented the wings and slaw beautifully.

I haven't tried the pizza yet and people say that Hazel has good pizza.  I'm eager to try all their great-looking combinations.  The menu has several other items such as poutine and other BBQ choices beyond the ribs. The bar looks like a great place to enjoy drinks and food, and they have live music. 

Although I've had hit and miss experiences I think Hazel is capable of making really good food. I'm hoping to enjoy some there soon.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What's in a Name?

The Restless Rooster is a breakfast spot, cafe and coffee lounge at the corner of Elliot Street and Elm Street. They are just a couple more steps beyond what might be considered the business end of Elliot Street.  But people are discovering the yummy breakfast offerings, and the most recent time I was there for breakfast the place was filled up by 9am.

I have to have a discussion of the name, which strikes me as the kind of oddball thing that must have a story behind it.  But I don't particularly want to hear the story.  Restless Rooster leaves me flat. All the connotations are wrong for me and they don't seem at all to fit the clean, well-lighted place that is this lovely little cafe.


Beautifully clean interior of the RR

And now that I have made several trips out Elliot Street to taste their wares, I'm able to get past the name and just enjoy the food and nice service.

It's obvious that they specialize in breakfast and coffee. I've sampled the biscuits and gravy [which stand up admirably to any I've had south of the Mason Dixon line] and the corn waffle with maple and bacon from the specials menu. I could see right away why the place fills in the mornings. 

I also passed over the special breakfast burrito for the every day menu breakfast burrito and was very very glad I did. It's a build your own style, and you can even have it as a bowl without the wrap.  I got the wrap on the side, and managed to get a fantastic combination of 4 out of the dozen or so ingredient selections.

I've had mixed reactions to the coffees, enjoying the regular old coffee coffee and having a difficult time getting past the grossly over-sugared Almond Joy speciality coffee drink. Perhaps almond milk and coconut milk would not overpower like the almond and coconut syrups do.

I asked my friend Wolfie to go with me on the most recent visit because I wanted to try lunch. We both looked over the menu, which Wolfie noted was mostly variations on the same sandwich.  I saw a sandwich Cubano, so I was intrigued.  I later found out that the kitchen staff has some Cuban connections, and so this sandwich comes from direct experience in the milieu.

The menu has variety, but it's not overly ambitious.  There's something for everyone, but it's tight enough so that the kitchen staff can hone in on getting all the details right.

I found the balance in my Cubano to be delicious.  Nothing too much.  The thin ham and the moist, tender shredded pork were perfectly  complemented with the cheese and pickle, and the roll was substantive enough to hold everything together without being too tough or hard from grilling.

Since the couple who own the restuarant have had experience in Florida [the website provides an introduction and some background],  I'm presuming they had to get the sandwich down cold.  I appreciated it immensely. I want to see a few more of these sandwiches before I pass on to the next life.



Wolfie's idea was to try something very basic, to see how they treated a classic. He ordered a BLT.  He reported that it was a solid entry, if perhaps a bit dry.  No signature flash, but it fulfilled all expectations. He wondered if the price might be a bit high because of the ordinariness.  That made me notice that the sandwiches are accompanied by a sole dill pickle spear, no chips or fries or anything.  For me it made a satisfying lunch.  The Cubano was on a nice size bread.  For larger appetites one may wish to explore the offerings from the list of sides.


Putting the name aside, this cafe is well worth traveling the extra block, and they have several off-street parking spaces. I have always experienced very polite and cheerful service.  There have been a couple mistakes, but that is inevitable and no harm was done. 


LorreBob sez: check it out the next time you're in town and you want a great breakfast or nice lunch in a clean, bright location out of the fray.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dine on Nine: Chelsea Royal Diner

This is my opening serve for a series of reviews I will be calling Dine on Nine.  Route 9 goes all across the south of Vermont and is lined with several communities between Bennington and Brattleboro.  People from all walks of life end up on this little stretch of highway, and there are not just fun diners, drive ins and dives, but fine dining establishments offering up classic as well as innovative fare.  Some may be a few hundred yards off the highway, up a little lane, and those may end up providing the best meal you or I have ever had.

Determined to become knowledgable regarding most of all food in southern Vermont, I want to review it all.

Having stopped at the Chelsea Royal Diner now and then for around 20 years, I think it's a good beginner for the series. It's along rt. 9 just west of Brattleboro, at the base of the hill that descends from Marlboro. The  building is based on a vintage 1938 Worcester Diner.

[from their website]


These days the diner sources quite a bit of their menu locally, and some even as locally as their own garden. I have to admit that I have a bias toward this sort of thing. They also do their own smoking and they enjoy making their own hard ice cream. They also prefer grass fed beef.

The menus have many of the classic diner dishes, lists of half dozen or so daily specials and a special for each day of the week. And their prices are moderate. They have a Mexican menu a couple nights each week as well.

My most recent lunch was a sandwich of pulled pork BBQ that was smoked in house, with cole slaw and baked beans.  The pork was perfectly tender and plentiful on a buttered and grilled bun, but a bit more heavily sauced than I prefer. A very minor complaint, and a matter of taste.  The cole slaw had flavor - even GOOD flavor, which is more than I can say for 85% of diners. The beans were a nice constituent of this classic trio. For a ten dollar platter it was a very good lunch. Having tasted my way through the menu for all these years I'm not recollecting a meal I didn't like.

I haven't had many of their desserts, and I noticed that there were 13 on the desserts chalk board as I was enjoying my pulled pork. For some reason my vision has always been diverted from the ice cream, and it may have something to do with the ample portions of the dishes. Once the season comes around in the spring I'm sure I'll be working my way to the Royal Madness - several dozen flavors that range from Aztec Mocha to Toasted Coconut.

Service hasn't always been as snappy as I like it, but it has always been very friendly and helpful.

LorreBob sez: check it out.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Farmers Are In Town! Brattleboro Winter Farmers' Market


Dear Reader, as you may guess, I love farmers' markets.  There is not a lot of opportunity to get to know all the people who produce our food, so I feel when the farmers come to town, I want to take the time to schmooze and taste and see what they have in those big coolers under the table. It's usually worth it.

My companion and I reached the Brattleboro Winter Farmers' Market a little bit after noon on Saturday and were met with a comfortable scene in the River Garden. We immediately headed to the back to see the prepared foods and were met with a couple very tasty choices.  One thing that impressed me right away was the minimum of paper and plastic - people were having lunch with reusable bowls and plates, spoons and forks.  My delight increased!



Soon our little cafe table was crowded with dishes and we were eager to taste - Thai Hut and Cai's Dim Sum provided a nice variety of dishes for us, so we relaxed and listened to the live music while we scarfed the peanut sauce. I was impressed that Cai's took the time to list the locally sourced ingredients in their offerings.  I like local food!



Once I was no longer famished, I was ready to browse the tables to see what was on offer. The goat table had a cheese board that my companion had just sampled and wanted me to see. As I was looking, the wise and generous person behind the table asked if I would like to try the goat stew. I had the knee jerk reaction that most of us have when we are offered a meat we've never tasted, and so she gently loaded a teensy spoon and held it out, beckoning me into new territory. Just as I guessed, it tasted much like lamb, and due to the expertly combined veggies and savory herbs it was delicious!  I want more! Luckily now I know where to get it.


Cruising further up the aisle I encountered the brightly colored Vermont Quince table and proceeded to taste all things quince, which I find difficult to describe.  It needs more study.  Pass the chutney, please! There are experiments underway with currants, so I tried to be as encouraging as possible after trying a sample that was divine. I came away with an orange red vinegar, which I can imagine will dress some field greens beautifully, the chutney and the quince paste. I want to sprinkle and schmeer them over everything right now, but I'll probably calm down.  I'm seeing a blog post about quince looming in the future, and Vermont Quince in the starring role. They are creating this world of quince goodness in Newfane, just down the road.

The best part is that I get to go back to the market every week and try more.  And in the spring the market will move back outside with more vendors! There were a couple dozen tables I didn't even cruise.  And at least that many farmers and food producers that I haven't met yet!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Home gastronomy - er, brewing

Back in New York, while I was able to write for years about food, for the most part I wrote restaurant reviews. Since I now live in rural Vermont, meaning the kind of rural where you have bears wandering around in your yard, there aren't going to be a lot of restaurants to review.

One thing that rural Vermonters do a lot is make things at home.

I'll be doing a lot more of this than I ever have done in my life since there seems to be an extra helping of local food enthusiasts here in the southern region of the state. I'm looking forward to working with my neighbors to create some of the most delicious food and drink to be had anywhere.  Apparently there are a lot of us with those aspirations around in these here hills, so I'm hoping to introduce as many producers, cooks and chefs as possible here in the blog as I get to know the local pop.



The eight gallon pot for boiling



This weekend housemates put up another carboy of mead - a citrus cardamom brew. They get the honey locally and tend to purchase in five gallon buckets, so it's not very romantic.  Mostly on this end of things it's all about boiling the gallon or so of honey with the five gallons or so of water in the evening and processing any flavoring elements, then getting it all into the carboy once it has cooled the next day.  This brew's flavor elements consist of  citrus zest, cardamom seeds and cardamom pods. The type of yeast, which will determine whether it is sweet or dry is put in after boiling too. For this weekend's batch it will be the white wine yeast, which produces a dry crisp flavor - perfect with the citrus and cardamom.

A notebook is dedicated to carefully recording relevant details of the brew at all points along the way.  Currently there are 25 gallons in progress in the little meadery here. A notebook becomes extremely important when there are that many brews going on. The in-progress mead is divided between the rack that holds all the carboys just inside our cabin front door and the newly-constructed-today shelving that holds all the bottles in the basement.


I love the burbling carboys *bloop* *blip*

Once the yeast does its work the mead is  bottled and we keep it in the basement for a year or two as a minimum, doing an occasional tasting to insure that we don't provide green mead for our guests. The tasting part is very important over these long winter nights.  There's nothing that will perk up a winter evening quite like a little mead tasting.


A DIY corker - essential for any mead brewer.


And some of it wins ribbons at the local fair!


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Is this thing on?

Greetings from gastronomique vermont!

Six months ago I ceased writing for Albany Dish, a blog about food in the Capital District of New York state and its environs.  Now I've moved to Vermont and I can't stop writing about food!  I hope you will enjoy tales of my adventures in gastronomy as I travel the Green Mountain State.