Dining in the D

Last week, I spent a pleasantly enlightening five days exploring the delights of Detroit during a Midwest Travel Writers Association conference. In the midst of an urban renaissance, the “D” is rising once again thanks to the dedicated efforts of hardworking folks who want to see the Motor City survive and thrive. And that kind of work takes fuel.

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Fortunately, as I quickly learned, Detroit is full of opportunities to eat… and eat well. More to come on my noshing journey through Eastern Market, but here’s a quick taste of a couple places I visited to whet your appetite:

Michael Symon’s Roast. I’ve long harbored a minor crush on the Iron Chef with the great laugh, and I was thrilled to dine at Symon’s Detroit outpost, an offshoot of his signature Cleveland-based eateries. Within the bespoke confines of the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, Roast is NOT the place to go if you’re a vegetarian.

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Although you could compose a non-meat meal from salads and sides (and it would be delicious), meat is really the main attraction here.

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Think beef cheek-stuffed pierogi, braised short ribs, meltingly tender lamb shanks, marrow bones and steaks for days. Hearty and delicious, the kind of food you want to stuff your face with on a chilly winter night with a sassy glass of cabernet.

Pegasus Greek Taverna. My accommodations at the lovely Greektown Casino Hotel sat right on the edge of the Greektown district, populated as you’d imagine with authentic eateries serving up souvlaki and shish kebab. Lunch at this local landmark was a three-course affair that started with bread, saganaki and salad, followed by tasty pastitsio and a honey-drenched square of baklava. Opa, indeed!

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Slows Bar-B-Q. Stopping at Slows on the Corktown strip (Detroit’s oldest residential neighborhood) is a MUST if you’re a barbecue fan. Ribs, pulled pork, chicken, brisket, soulful sides like mac and cheese — the gang’s all here. Decisions were mighty hard to make, but I finally opted for something called the “New Style,” a whopping pile of brisket bathed in sharp cheddar with onion, mushrooms and pickled jalapenos on a sub bun. Onion-laced slow-cooked green beans on the side.

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Tabletop sauces to choose from ranged from spicy and sweet to mustard and apple-based(!). Slows boasts a sweet beer and bourbon list, too. Nice.

More to come soon on my Detroit dining adventures soon…

A second helping of Paducah? Yes, please!

As good luck and fate would have it, I had an opportunity to return to Paducah last week for a few more days of fun and feasting!

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1857 Hotel made me feel like a rock star, greeting me warmly and welcoming me back with open arms. I’d barely gotten checked in when Jo, my new favorite bartender, invited me to come downstairs and try some Bird Dog Ruby Red Grapefruit Whiskey she’d just gotten in. The “Kentucky Mule” she mixed up for me was DELISH. (And, she even poured me a bonus taste of cocoa cayenne liquor I wanted to lick right out of the glass.) If I lived here, this bar would definitely be my “local.”

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For dinner my first night in town, I visited Max’s Brick Oven Café, a charming little spot with a courtyard patio that looks like something straight outta N’Awlins. My wood-fired salmon with mustard cream sauce over spinach with roasted potatoes paired perfectly with a chilly Chardonnay.

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Breakfast at G&O Pharmacy and Grill was a fun little find. Imagine a full-service pharmacy with a short-order grill and lunch counter in the corner. There ya go. The breakfast menu’s about as basic as it gets — coffee, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast and hash browns. But really, what more do you need in the morning? And tons of local color. Gotta love a place where you can sit on a stool with a counter full of regulars sharing their newspapers and discussing whether or not Earl should put new blades on his lawnmower.

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Culinary students capably staff Kitchen’s Café on the groovy little Paducah School of Art and Design campus. And imagine my surprise when I walk in and see a huge old iron engine furnace cover made in Indianapolis, IN — a fun little taste of home! The fresh hummus pita wrap I ate was darn tasty, too – nice and garlicky with snappy slices of cucumber, greens, fresh herbs and a sprinkle of feta served with a cup of fresh diced pineapple.

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Happy hour took place at Dry Ground Brewing in the currently shape-shifting retro Coca-Cola plant on Broadway, an amazing renovation work in progress. This place is sleek and contemporary, populated with a great staff and a menu of buzzy microbrews that touts offerings like Under Tow Imperial IPA, 37 Flood American IPA and Rapture Imperial Stout. The Preacher Pils I sipped was smooooooth, and I also liked the seasonal sample I tasted. Can’t remember the name, but it was made with chamomile tea?!? Ed, Andy — Help me out here, guys??

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I’d been daydreaming about revisiting the Freight House from the second I found out I’d be returning to Paducah, and chef Sara and her team did not disappoint. I sat at the bar where I was downright pampered with a Pistol Ave cocktail made with cinnamon whiskey, Fernet Branca and tamarind soda.

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My amazing tomato/plum salad with cornbread croutons and “fire and ice” tzatziki tasted like summer on a plate.

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And then there was my butcher steak entrée served with peach/potato/peanut salad and charred creamed corn. Just when I thought my dinner couldn’t get any better, the lovely couple sitting next to me paid for my meal. I. Love. This. Town. (Thanks again, David and Linda!)

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Returned to the Coke plant for breakfast at Piper’s Tea and Coffee, where I took advantage of a sweet $5 coffee and Kirchhoff’s scone deal.

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Laura, my lovely Paducah guru, met me for lunch at Starnes Bar-B-Que, a local institution that’s been around for decades. The tiny menu boasts not much more than a couple grilled white bread sandwiches filled with low-and-slow cooked meats, but there were swarms of people eating in and carrying out. To accompany, you can choose from cole slaw, potato salad and bagged chips. And no Coke vs. Pepsi debate here — Starnes is all about the iced tea and the RC Cola, baby! The sauce is a spicy, vinegary recipe not quite like any other barbecue I’ve ever had. I ordered my pulled pork with cole slaw on the sandwich itself (‘cause that’s how I roll) and gave it good dousing. Mm good.

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Other notable moments — sitting by the river watching the water and clouds drift by…

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Coloring and crafting to my heart’s content with Kristin at Ephemera in the Lower Town Arts District…

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And glimpsing two mama deer and two fawns crossing the road while cruising through the idyllic Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

See you next time, Paducah — thanks for the memories and the Southern hospitality!

Can you dig it?

If you’re a foodie like me, it’s impossible not to dig the scene at Indiana’s biggest and best annual farm-to-fork festival.

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Last weekend, Dig IN made the move from White River State to its new location in Military Park, a set up that seemed to work well. Lots of room to move around in between the six food tents, beverage stations and a couple live music stops. The only thing that seemed like an oversight was the lack of seating. My friends and I took a break from the feeding frenzy to cop a squat in the shade, but the ground was slightly muddy due to all the rain we’ve been having lately. Would have been nice to have some long tables or somewhere to sit and eat.

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And make no mistake about it. There is so, so much to eat here…. Four hours isn’t enough time to really do it justice; it’s logistically impossible to cram in samples from THIS many chefs and food stations. My friends did a much more admirable job than I did, I’m afraid. I tend to fill up quickly, especially after a pint of beer, and cried uncle way too soon.

Still, I feel like I got a good representative sampling. I strategically tried to make a meal of sorts by sampling some veg, soup, salad and meat dishes, and was mostly happy with everything I tasted. Of course… there were some favorites.

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First thing to cross my lips, a watermelon soup with pickled rind relish from the Local Eatery and Pub proved a pretty, and pretty refreshing, way to kick things off.

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Cindy Hawkins of Circle City Sweets splashed out into savory territory this year with a beautiful Dijon-forward tomato tart. Yummy, and a perfect way to highlight spectacular Indiana summer tomatoes at their peak.

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I also enjoyed the blueberry corn salad with cubes of crispy pancetta from Restauration in Lafayette, and really appreciated that the lettuce was served still chilly.

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My friend like the bison tongue misickquatash (a Native American corn succotash-style recipe, best I can tell) and fry bread from Taxman Gastropub more than I did, but I think just knowing it was tongue put me off mentally a bit more than I expected. The meat, however, was super tender…

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Madison’s from Pendleton pulled out some big stops by serving entire legs and thighs for their maple bourbon BBQ duck dish. A lot of meat for one sample, but the bite I enjoyed tasted deliciously smoky, like it had just come straight off a charcoal grill in someone’s backyard. Madison’s also seemed to have the longest lines of the day. Sadly, my friend waited it out to get hers, then accidentally dropped her duck leg in the grass after just a bite or two. #diginfail!

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Cerulean offered a BOLD bacon-wrapped pork belly with a dash of barbecue sauce. Seriously yummy, and seriously ballsy to serve it come-as-you-are. No bread. No garnish. Just in-your-face chunks of meltingly tender porky deliciousness.

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Easily nabbing “most fun station” honors, Revery from Greenwood parsed out samples of liquid nitrogen frozen popcorn. Genius move on a such a hot day, and super fun being able to see your breath when it’s 90 degrees.

There’s so much more of course, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even delve into anything sweet! The corn cake with peach, blueberry and corn husk cream from Vida looked beautiful (and how have I not dined here yet?!?!), and the line for coffee sugar cream pie at Bee Coffee Roasters was a mile long. Until next year, Dig IN….

 

 

Mad for Madison

Another week, another trip… and more good eats!

Spent a few days this week in Madison, hugging the banks of the Ohio River in southeast Indiana. As far as small towns go, this is about as pretty as they come. Madison takes great community pride in maintaining blocks-long stretches of gorgeously maintained historic homes, a main street of antique shops and eateries, and a ridiculously scenic riverfront.

18 Madison fountain.jpgThis is small-town Indiana, so the food scene’s heavy on familiar comfort-foodie fare, with a few surprises tucked in here and there.

Here’s what was on the menu:

Crystal & Jules is THE place to go for a romantic dinner or special occasion in Madison. The menu isn’t huge, but everything on it makes sense with a respectable selection of surf and turf choices. The housemade pastas immediately got my attention, although I hear the Costa Rican New York Strip also receives plenty of raves. In the end, I couldn’t be swayed, and was glad I went with my first instincts.

16 CJ salad.jpgMy dinner started with a simple yet delicious house salad composed of ingredients grown in the garden just out the back door — spicy lettuces, tiny jewel-like tomatoes and diced cucumber with a super tasty champagne vinaigrette.

16 CJ pasta.jpgAs for my pasta – a lemon/lime marinated chicken breast atop a luscious tangle of tender fettuccine covered in creamy tomato sauce kicked up with a whisper of poblano. So, so good.

16 CJ Creme brulee.jpgFor dessert, a textbook-perfect vanilla crème brulee adorably presented in a white coffee mug.

17 Horst donut and coffee.jpgBreakfast at Horst’s Little Bakery Haus – bringing a little taste of Bavaria to Madison with Old World décor that highlights cuckoo clocks, a collection of tiny porcelain Christmas village houses that spans an entire wall, and other kitschy German mementos. The food’s your basic breakfast grub – omelets, corned beef hash, B&G… but the baked goods seem to be the honey that lures in most of the customers. Especially the light-as-air traditional glazed donuts. A sweet way to start the day.

21 Hinkle burger fries.jpgSpeaking of loyal customers, fans have been frequenting Hinkle’s Sandwich Shop since 1933. Nothing fancy, just a tiny local burger joint that’s made a name for itself by serving up slightly-bigger-than-a-slider “Hinkleburgers” dressed with onions and pickles, along with fries and several dozen flavor options for extra-thick milkshakes. Grab a seat at the counter (if you can, there are only a handful and they fill up fast) and load up on the greasy-spoon goodness.

22 Ice cream cannoli.jpgThree words: ice cream cannoli. The Ice Cream Dessert Factory makes them, and you  know you want one. Large and small pie-crusty cylinders piped full of vanilla, strawberry or mint ice cream. If you really want to splurge, get yours dipped in chocolate. Go ahead. I won’t tell anyone.

2 me boat.jpgI’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I enjoyed the Rockin Thunder Jet Boat adventure trip I did, an idyllic day-long journey from Madison up the Kentucky River all the way to Frankfort.

9 Blue Wing.jpgPit stops included a box lunch at the bucolic Blue Wing Landing Inn in Owenton, KY and a quick tasting at Buffalo Trace Distillery.

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ALWAYS happy to revisit the handsome campus here, and bourbon tasting — well, if you’ve been paying attention, you already know how I feel about that…

 

Southern living it up

Can I just say how much I love, love, fricking LOVE Kentucky? The food, the hospitality, the scenery, the bourbon… I just got back from two days in the Bluegrass State for work and pleasure, but mostly pleasure. So close to my Indiana home, but worlds away food-wise, I can totally get down with menus that boast newfangled twists on country ham, pimento cheese, hot browns and grits. Bring. On. The. Grits.

First stop, an exploratory jaunt to Paducah, new territory for me. With a sweet walkable downtown, an interesting history and a booming arts scene, this charming river city makes a lovely first impression. I had so much fun exploring the cultural attractions here (p.s. the quilt museum is seriously cool! YES – QUILTS, people!), and I loved my stay at the uber-urban 1857 Hotel.

So…. Drinks. This is Bourbon Country, after all. I think my blood alcohol content automatically rises as soon as I cross the state line. Omigosh, do these people know their way around an Old Fashioned. Now, I’ve had some good bourbon knowledge dropped on me in the past five years or so, but I always look forward to learning about and tasting something new on my trips to Kentucky.

Manhattan.jpgJo at the 1857 hotel bar in Paducah mixes up a kick-ass Manhattan that’ll knock you for a loop. At least it did me. A little Angel’s Envy was the just the thing to bring me back to life after six hours in the car. (And, as an added bonus, I also got to sample Cooper’s Craft.)

Dinner was at the Freight House in Paducah, a modern American eatery that’s just a few months old. The menu here touts farm-to-table fare with an emphasis on Kentucky farms. That means pork rinds, vinegar-pickled cucumbers and onions (which my mom made every summer, and I’m sure yours probably did, too), frog legs. Note to self: Kentucky blue snapper is something I definitely need to know more about.

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So here’s what I ate. Shrimp and — say it with me — PIMENTO CHEESE GRITS.

carrots.jpgAdorable little pan-seared carrots topped with candied pecans, blackberries and a schmear of spicy dilled ranch sauce.

appies.jpgA mustard-y deviled egg. Tomatoes from an employee’s own backyard.

 hot brown.jpgA bite of my dining companion’s non-traditional Hot Brown — an intimidating, but delicious, towering stack of thick bread, sweet tea-brined (!) chicken, creamy sauce, a vibrant red tomato slice and a piece of pork belly on top. Holy Moly. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t save room for dessert, but I was happily stuffed by this point.

Breakfast the next morning at Kirchhoff’s… currently a local institution bakery/coffeeshop/deli/dress shop that’s been in operation here since the 1800s. So many pastries, bagels, tarts, pies, cookies, brownies… so little time. I was leaning toward a Chess Bar, that is, until I spotted the “Elvis” scones atop the counter.

scone.jpgBanana, peanut butter, maple and bacon all in one treat, and somehow it works. Washed down with a large café au lait, and a snickerdoodle. Because… why not. We’re talking breakfast of champions, right here.

turkey sandwich.jpgEveryone I met talked this place up so much for lunch, I went back again at 1 p.m. and enjoyed half of a turkey sandwich on cranberry walnut bread and a bag of cheddar horseradish potato chips.

My night in Louisville pretty much revolved around my stay at the Seelbach Hilton, whose bespoke setting inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to honor the historic beauty in “The Great Gatsby.” If you’re overnighting here, or just passing through, I highly recommend sneaking a peek at the amazing lobby and the Rookwood-tiled Rathskeller in the basement.

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While you’re there, might as well grab a seat in the Old Seelbach Bar and order up a classic Seelbach Cocktail – bourbon (duh) with a splash of champagne.

In the morning, I had the supreme pleasure of breakfasting with two of my favorite travel colleagues. Stacey gets credit for introducing me to my very first bourbon cocktail when I was in Louisville for a work trip over St. Patrick’s Day six or seven years ago, and Susan has been a fantastic resource for all the fun Kentucky assignments I get to write. They took me to Gralehaus… one part B&B, one part brewpub, one part breakfast/lunch café. All good.

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I dug my pretzel croissant breakfast sammie, laden with country ham, melty cheese and a sunny-side egg.

Long live the Commonwealth, y’all.