image credit: Heidi Ross
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m fortunate to be working with the Music City Food + Wine Festival again this year as a local ambassador, and as I was brainstorming topics for a blog post, I kept coming back to desserts. What began as a project to create a list of my favorite desserts in the city led to the idea of interviewing one of our best pastry chefs, Lisa Donovan of Husk.
Lisa is one of the featured talent at the festival this year, and since her Buttermilk Chess Pie is high on my list of the Best Desserts in Nashville, getting to know her a little better seemed like the perfect thing to do! I was even able to convince her to share the recipe for that amazing pie. You’re welcome.
Tell us a little about you. What’s Lisa like when not in the kitchen baking?
Ha! There isn’t much time when I’m not in the kitchen baking. But, when I do get some time it’s mostly spent with my kids, writing, and traveling. My daughter and I have started taking little exploratory trips around Tennessee to places we’ve never been. She’s a lot like me and enjoys just kind of ending up in strange, unfamiliar places. Getting lost is fun and until Maggie, I’d not met anyone who enjoys it as much as I do. My son is a full on teenager and it’s fun to watch him find his own path and interests. I’m enjoying motherhood so much these days in a way that wasn’t quite as natural to me in the past.
What inspired you to become a pastry chef?
So many things. It’s funny because, even though I watched Great Chefs of the World on PBS growing up, always eager for the final six minutes when they would go to the pastry kitchen, and would peek inside the kitchen of every little German restaurant we went into as a child so I could steal a glimpse of the cooks, I still had no inclination that being a pastry chef was a profession I could actually choose. As a young art student I read and reread artisan bread baking books like the biggest nerd in the world. I was a bit desperate to recreate the food, specifically the bread, I had in Germany as a child. Cooking and eating were my favorite things to do, but it wasn’t really like I had a community to share it with. My best friends were yoga teachers and writers and lean, world travelers who were more interested in the romanticism of being the starving, struggling artist. This was 1997 and 1998. There weren’t a lot of people cooking or, hell, EATING a lot of food in my world. We were all so skinny and “special” and, dear god, VEGAN, it makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it. So I just took it as a hobby until I took a server’s job at Margot Café in East Nashville when I was a 25 or 26 years old arts writer with two kids.
I wasn’t seeking out this community, I just needed cash and fast. But, looking back, it meant everything that I stumbled upon that place and those people. There was plenty about working there that challenged me, for better and for worse. I didn’t know that this culture existed beyond my peeks into kitchens as a child and imagining that it was almost a royalty that one had to be born into. I learned so much in my first year as a server there about food and restaurant culture and how much work and studying and technique goes into good food.
Even when it was a struggle, I slowly started to realize that all of the strange little codes I had been writing in my internal computer finally had connectivity. All the books and freelance bread I was selling and large dinner parties I wanted to have at 18 years old started to make sense to me. What had been a hobby became a full fledge addiction and I was ignited. Food became my work.
How do you come up with new ideas?
In order of importance: Traveling, reading, eating, traveling, reading, talking, traveling, reading.
Do you have any secret ingredients that you like to use?
No secrets really. I think any good cook will tell you to listen to your instinct. Remembering that cooking is both sacred and a total fluke sometimes in equal measure is important. Some of the best ideas come out of nowhere so let yourself go from the hip as much as you also follow “directions”.
image credit: Crystal De Luna Bogan
What is a typical workday for you?
Well. I’ll just tell you about today, if you want it: In at 7am, big brunch, made so many biscuits that I will be dreaming about it tonight, crackers, cakes, ice creams and restored our cookie stash (note: tweak the sorghum stack cookies), cornmeal English muffin testing was a hit and the housemade bologna eggs benedict seemed to be a success, prepped while plated a busy brunch service, finished working out details on a new dessert to be put on next week, made jams and prepped brioche for my donut plate for tomorrow’s brunch (which I’m so excited about I can’t sleep – so much for biscuit dreams), helped my assistant get mised out for dinner service, office work (worst part of my day), left early around 630pm to take my daughter school shopping and home to work on two articles to write (deadline!) and recipe writing.
It’s now 11:48 pm which means I’ve got six hours before I get up and go do it again tomorrow, but this time, with yeasted, chocolate glazed peanut brittle donuts (!!!!). I seriously can’t wait.
Where (besides Husk, of course) do you like to dine in Nashville?
City House is always our go to place. Otherwise we eat a lot of ethnic food: Woodlands Indian Restaurant, Guantanamara for good Cuban, King’s Market, El Jaliciense on Gallatin Road even though it’s been “discovered” and is now overcrowded with all those crazy cool kids these days.
We’ve also just bought our first home. So, eating on our front porch with the kids on the stoop is what I like most.
Describe your most memorable food moment.
Vienna Square, my first chocolate truffle with a hazelnut cherry liquor center – the whole world stopped a little. I had never tasted anything like it either before or since. It was special because, here I was, this little wide-eyed American girl in Austria with a bad, bad haircut, doing my best to look sophisticated and not having a clue what the world really had to offer me. One of my dad’s friends, a young GI, came up to me out of the chocolate shop that I was standing in front of with this truffle in his hand. I thought, “Oh, chocolate. Nice.” and proceeded to put the whole thing in my mouth.
Then like forty-seven different things happened in my mouth in the span of eight seconds. I didn’t know what to do. I liked it so much it actually kind of scared me a little. My instinct was to spit it out, just out of the sheer intensity of it all. But it was too good, too special. I had just never had anything that special to eat before. It was really something else. I think I was 9 or 10?
If you weren’t a pastry chef, what would you be?
A writer. All day, every day.
What is your favorite thing to do in Nashville?
Sit on my front porch.
What about the Music City Food + Wine Festival are you most looking forward to?
I missed it all last year so I’m super happy to be a part of it and to see how it all goes down. It looked so wonderful last year and I’m glad we have such a thing in our city.
Mainly though: so many of my pals are coming to cook and present! I can’t wait to have everyone here for a couple of days so we can all “do Nashville”. And, by “do Nashville”, I mean, sit on my front porch together and get it nice and properly broken in.
To learn more about Lisa, head over to Husk’s website for a full profile.
As I mentioned, Lisa’s Buttermilk Chess Pie is one of my favorite desserts in Nashville. The toppings throughout the year change – roasted strawberries, blackberry sauce, lemon cream sherbet, fresh peaches – based on what’s in season, but no matter how it’s served, it’s always delicious!
image credit: Beth Sachan (me!)
Lisa Donovan's Buttermilk Chess Pie
6 eggs, room temp
3 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Flour
1 tsp Salt
1.5 cup Buttermilk (Lisa prefers Cruze's)
1/2 tsp Lemon Zest
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Butter, melted
Scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean
Combine sugar, flour and salt and whisk.
In separate bowl, whisk eggs together.
Add dry ingredients from above and then add remaining ingredients, saving butter for last. Combine well.
Fill one deep, unbaked 10" pie crust and bake at 350 for 30 minutes then turn oven down to 325 and bake for another 25 minutes until set but slightly jiggly in center. Cool for two hours and serve room temp or cold.
A couple of weeks ago, I brought up the topic of the Best Desserts in Nashville here on the blog and asked for your feedback. It’s a question that I’m asked quite often – “Where do I go for a really great dessert?” Usually the person is looking for something special, a place to celebrate a momentous occasion or impress a date. I always have some suggestions but have never actually written them down.
This year I’m once again a local blog ambassador for the Music City Food + Wine Festival (formerly Music City Eats), so I needed to come up with a topic to post on their blog, and with desserts on my mind, I decided that would be the perfect direction to go in! What started out as research for one post turned into two posts (stay tuned tomorrow for a related interview and recipe), and it truly was a fun little project. (Even if I gained 5 lbs while doing it)
If you’re wondering how I decided who to include in this list, I based it on my personal favorites combined with comments I’ve gotten from you – the readers. It would be irresponsible of me to highlight a dessert that I myself had not even sampled, so I even went out and tried a few new ones. Unfortunately I couldn’t get out to taste test ALL of your recommendations, so I still have a list to tackle over the next few months. It’s one project I’m not going to complain about! Note: for a few of the desserts I haven’t personally had a chance to try, but heard so many great things about, I’ve listed them as “Also to try:” at the end of each post.
One last thing — all of these desserts are from sit-down restaurants. I didn’t list ice cream/gelato shops, bakeries, or confectionery shops. There are lots of those that are incredible too but my list would have gotten overwhelming. That said, the pics in my header above are a few of the sweet treats I’ve enjoyed around town from shops not included in this round up. We’ll save those for another post down the line, okay?
Mason’s GA Peach & Blackberry Pie with Sweet Corn Ice Cream and Candy Corn Husk
A pastry star has been born over at Mason’s. Recently I had the BEST fruit pie I’ve ever eaten in my life, a fresh peach and blackberry beauty with sweet corn ice cream and candy corn husk. Candy Corn Husk. Mind blown, and tastebuds in heaven. The crust on this pie was complete perfection too.
So who is this star on the pastry scene? Ashley Jent is not only the brand new pastry chef at Mason’s, but she is also a very recent graduate of the culinary arts program at the Art Institute of Nashville. Color me impressed. And I’m not the only one impressed – she just took home top honors at Nashville Scene’s Sugar Rush last week when her treats won the competition for Nashville Jam Company.
Also to try: Goat’s Milk Panna Cotta with housemade walnut granola and macerated cherries
Mason’s at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel
2100 West End Ave
Nashville, TN 37203
Husk’s Buttermilk Chess Pie with fresh Peaches
From the moment Husk Nashville opened its doors, one comment I heard over and over again was how incredible Lisa Donovan’s Buttermilk Chess Pie was, and those comments are spot on. It has actually become one of my favorite desserts in Nashville. The toppings throughout the year change – roasted strawberries, blackberry sauce, lemon cream sherbet, fresh peaches – based on what’s in season, but no matter how it’s served, it’s always delicious!
Come back tomorrow for more on Lisa and her recipe for this amazing pie!
Also to try: Crema Coffee Cream Cake
37 Rutledge Street
Nashville, TN 37210
“Sugar” plate in the lounge at Sinema
image credit: ANTONYMATULA
Take my advice: go to the cocktail lounge at Sinema and simply say, “I want Sugar.”
The Sugar Plate is only available on Sinema’s concessions menu, which is in their upper level lounge. It’s the perfect ending for an evening with a group of friends, because you have several small bites to share; a variety of miniature baked, frosted & spun desserts (including cotton candy!) The selection pictured above is Creme Brûlée, Grasshopper, Blackberry Cream Puffs, Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies, Chocolate Bouchon, Blueberry muffin, Lemon Meringue Tart, and Passion Fruit Bars, but that might not be exactly what you get when you order. You see, the plate constantly changes, which I think adds to the fun!
The Melrose Theater Building
2600 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37204
Chocolate Pretzel Bar at Etch – pretzel shortbread, dark chocolate ganache, chocolate caramel mousse, malted milk cream, caramel sauce
I might love Etch just a little bit. Have you noticed? I know, I talk about it a lot. But what I probably haven’t talked about enough is Etch’s pastry chef, Megan Williams. Megan is definitely one of Nashville’s best, and her personality is as sweet as the desserts she creates. Etch is the one restaurant I go to where I always order dessert. My current favorite is the Chocolate Pretzel bar with pretzel shortbread, dark chocolate ganache, chocolate caramel mousse, malted milk cream and caramel sauce. Before I tried it the first time I thought that it might be a little too sweet for my taste, but nope. That salty sweet combo is perfectly balanced, making it impossible for me not to get it over and over again.
On a recent dining experience though, I also got a few bites of her goat cheese panna cotta parfait with cherry strawberry jam, poached cherries, blackberries, graham and goat cheese whipped cream, and let me tell you- I died. Okay, so maybe I didn’t die, because obviously I’m still here, but that parfait was insane. It’s not on the menu any more, but if you happen to see anything similar on the menu, order it. Trust me. (But get the Chocolate Pretzel Bar too because it’s equally mind-blowing)
Also to try: Everything Megan makes
303 Demonbreun St
Nashville, TN 37201
(in the Encore)
Lockeland Table’s Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet with vanilla gelato
image credit: Lockeland Table
Sometimes you just need good old fashioned comfort food. That’s exactly what this dessert is for me. A warm chocolate chip cookie with a scoop of ice cream (ok, gelato) on top is so simple, yet so satisfying. And as simple as it sounds, I’ve certainly had chocolate chip cookies that are completely underwhelming and disappointing. Not this one. Reader Rachel said it best: “I still dream of its rich, chocolatey goodness months later!”
Me too Rachel, me too.
1520 Woodland Street
Nashville, TN 37206
Cinnamon Sugar Donuts at The Patterson House
Image credit: James Beck
People look at me like I’m crazy when I say this, but I don’t really like donuts. Sorry, I just don’t. They’re not my thing. BUT, a few years ago when Patterson House opened, some friends of mine finally convinced me that I needed to try their donuts. You could possibly blame it on the 4 cocktails I’d consumed, but I swear I heard birds singing while I ate those little pieces of heaven for the first time. Now I get them every time I go- and I’ve ordered them even when I was drinking mocktails, so you can’t continue to blame it on the booze.
One of the original bartenders gave me a tip way back when: order a Stingy Brim to go with the donuts. Made up of Luxardo Espresso Liqueur, Barbancourt 3 Star 4 yr Rhum, Sweetened Heavy Cream, and Fees Old Fashioned Bitters, it’s perfect for dunking! This drink isn’t listed on the current menu, but if you ask for it, they’ll make it.
The Patterson House
1711 Division St
Nashville, TN 37203
Pinewood Social’s Lemon Lavender Pie made by Claire of Dozen Bakery
In May I celebrated my birthday with bowling and patio time at Pinewood Social. As the evening neared the end, we all realized I hadn’t had any birthday cake! You can’t have a birthday celebration without cake, right? Well, turns out pie is a perfectly fine substitute for cake. In fact, it’s better. Or at least it is in this case.
I love a good lemon pie in the summer, so as soon as I was presented with an option for Lemon Lavender Pie, I was all over it. Oh my gosh. I love this pie so much.
Oh, and don’t forget to order a coffee cocktail to go with your pie. I prefer Pinewood’s Southern Limerick but you really can’t go wrong with the Easy Like Sunday Morning either.
Also to try: Chocolate Cream Pie
33 Peabody Street
Nashville, TN 37210
Jackson’s Cookie Dough Egg Rolls
Image credit: Erin Wilburn
Let’s not even talk about how long I’ve been eating the cookie dough egg rolls from Jackson’s, because it would give away my age. Let’s just say it’s been a long time. Back in my single days, I hung out on Jackson’s patio quite a bit. These days, the days of motherhood and family and a demanding full time job, I’m rarely found lounging leisurely on any patio. But I still get cravings for the flash-fried chocolate chip cookie dough with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. It’s worth a visit to Jackson’s just for these.
Jackson’s Bar & Bistro
1800 21st Ave S
Nashville, TN 37212
Firefly Grill’s Coconut Cake
I’ve heard raves about the coconut cake at Firefly for years. Seriously – years. But I hadn’t tried it until very recently, and I have to say, it does not disappoint. What I didn’t realize, but have now discovered, is that it’s a cake by Anne. “Anne’s Coconut Cake” was a comment I got from several people when I asked what your favorite desserts were in Nashville, but I had no clue who Anne was!
Now I’ve put two and two together and it all makes sense. Apparently Anne’s Cakes is on Trousdale, so you can visit there too and see what else she has. But if you’re in Green Hills and looking to cap off the night was something sweet, stop by Firefly and order a slice.
Also to try: Caramel Fudge Cake made by Leland Riggin
2201 Bandywood Dr
Nashville, TN 37215
Arnold’s Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie
If I had to eat only one dessert for the rest of my life, it would probably be chocolate chess pie. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and any time it’s on a menu, I have to order it. Arnold’s Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie might not be the chocolate chess pie of my childhood, but it’s certainly just as good, if not better. I love the little bit of heat it’s packing from the addition of cayenne, and I will never step foot in Arnold’s without picking up a slice.
It might be hard not to stuff yourself silly on all the savory items from the line, but do yourself a favor and leave a little room for dessert!
605 8th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203
Last fall at the Southern C Summit here in Nashville, I had the pleasure of meeting Libbie Summers, the co-creator of Salted and Styled. Libbie had recently released her first cookbook, The Whole Hog Cookbook, which she was kind enough to give me a copy of. Within moments of meeting each other, we discovered we were kindred spirits. You see, Libbie is the granddaughter of a hog farmer, as am I. This background of shared childhood experiences gave us an instant connection, but her wit and sparkling personality were what really won me over.
Libbie (and her first cookbook) are awesome, plain and simple.
This past May we got to meet up again in Charleston for another Southern C Summit, where Libbie brought along piles of her newest cookbook, Sweet & Vicious: Baking with an Attitude. And what a stunning display that table full of cookbooks was! Everything about Libbie oozes style, including the pile of books she had beside her. Seriously, I’ve never wanted a cookbook based simply on its appearance, but I did this one! The snapshot of the cover above gives you some idea of what I’m talking about, but you truly need to devour the entire thing to understand what I mean.
As you probably know if you’ve been hanging around here for a while, I’m not much of a baker. I love to cook, but baking is a different beast – one that intimidates and frightens me. That said, Sweet & Vicious has changed me. I’m inspired. I’m enamored. I’m motivated. I want to bake every single thing in this book!
On my short list (I know, it’s not really short) to make:
Kickin’ Cornbread (skillet baked & drenched in spicy bacon butter)
Habanero Carrot Cake
Jacked-Up Ginger Cookies
Fruit Cobbler Breads-
Strawberry Cobbler Bread with Balsamic Butter
Peach Cobbler Bread with Amaretto Peach Butter
Sour Cherry Cobbler Bread with Salty Chocolate Butter
Then there are the Secret Weapons: extracts and infusions.
OMG. I can’t stand it. So much good stuff in this book.
You guys seriously need to buy it. For the record, nobody is paying me to tell you to do so; I simply feel that strongly about it. If you like to bake already, then it’s a complete no-brainer. If you’re like me and have never really desired to be a baker, it’s still a must because it will change your attitude. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it makes you feel like you can conquer the world and impress everyone with your newfound skills.
BUT…. hang tight for a sec before buying a copy, because I have one to give away to one lucky reader!
~ Contest Closed ~
And the winner is…..
To enter, all you have to do is this:
1. Leave a comment telling me what you like to bake. Do you have a secret weapon? Something that always impresses? Spill.
For up to 2 additional entries, you can do either or both of the following. Note: You must leave a separate comment for each optional entry.
2. Follow me on Twitter (@betheats) and tweet “Want to bake with attitude? Win a copy of @libbiesummers’ Sweet & Vicious cookbook from @betheats! Enter here: http://bit.ly/WW0URe ”, then leave a comment telling me you’ve done so.
3. Like Eat. Drink. Smile. on Facebook and come back and tell me you did so (or just tell me you already do if that’s the case!)
Contest ends on Friday, August 8th at noon CDT. Once the winner is chosen, I’ll make contact via email and post the name here on the blog. If they don’t respond within 48 hours, I’ll be forced to choose another, so be sure to check your email!
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Sweet & Vicious to review, but I was not compensated for this post and opinions are solely mine. The links provided to Amazon are to my Amazon store, where I can earn a small percentage on purchases I refer using that link.
I did it. This post officially gets me caught up on the tales of my summer travel eats!
Before this latest trip, it had been 3 years since my last visit to Washington D.C. Hard to believe that much time has passed because I feel like it was just yesterday that I was enjoying some amazing meals at Rasika and Zatinya. Oh, and of course that insane chocolate-laden brunch at Co Co. Sala! Certainly can’t forget that one.
This time around I was traveling for work, and because I had a seminar that would keep me busy for much of it, I didn’t really make a plan for my first night in town. Instead I figured if I felt like eating something when I was done working, I’d just grab a quick bite from a bar near my hotel. Well, turns out I didn’t have to actually go anywhere. Instead, food came to me!
When I returned to my room from my class (that was also being held in my hotel, the Loews Madison), there was a charcuterie board, crepes, and a note waiting for me on my desk. The note? An invitation to come dine at the hotel’s newly opened restaurant, Rural Society.
Now, do you think I’m going to pass up that offer? Of course not!
From the moment I walked in, I was thoroughly impressed. The decor definitely makes you forget that you are in a hotel restaurant. My favorite part of the design are the private dining nooks with vintage bars. If I was dining with a couple of friends, that’s definitely where I’d want to sit. But, I wasn’t, I was alone. Since I was solo, the perfect spot for me was obviously the Chef’s Counter, where I was front and center for all the action happening at the expansive wood burning grill.
Why the large grill? Well, Rural Society is a contemporary Argentine steakhouse. The smells wafting from that kitchen had my stomach rumbling and before long I was devouring one plate after another. Even though grilled meats are their specialty, I absolutely loved the Carpaccio de Pulpo: braised octopus, tomatao escabeche, and malbec chips. Another favorite was the braised Wagyu beef belly empanadas. And remember those crepes that were sent up to my room earlier in the evening? They were divine. As in, the best crepes I’ve ever had. Dulce de Leche crepes with blackberry gastrique and wood roasted pecans. Enough said.
1177 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
Where do I even begin when it comes to Little Serow? Plain and simple: I’m in love.
There are so many little things that I am enamored with about this entire concept. From the no frills basement location to the service staff’s clothes to the spicy hot, tear-inducing cuisine to their playlist, I can’t quit thinking about how much I want a place just like this in Nashville.
It’s a little different than your average restaurant concept, so here are some bullet points:
- They serve a set, family-style Thai dinner on a first-come, first-served walk in basis. No advance reservations. They don’t even have a phone!
- Cost is $45 per person (plus a little extra if you’re partaking in booze) for 7 courses
- They update the menu each Tuesday afternoon for that particular week. Changes or substitutions are not possible.
- They can only accommodate groups of 4 or less and there are only seats for 28 people.
- As I mentioned, it’s in a basement and there is no signage, so look for the line. Chances are there will be one unless you arrive by say, 4 pm for the first 5:30 pm seating. You may actually claim the first spot in the line if you’re willing to wait that long!
My very good friend Kandace works just a block away from Little Serow, so after my conference ended at 4 pm, I walked to her office from my hotel, grabbed her, and then we walked over to claim our place in line. Yes, I waited for 45 minutes. In the rain. And yes, it was completely worth it.
I don’t want to give away too many details, because for those of you that may actually go there yourself, I want you to feel the same way I did as I soaked it all in for the first time. All I will say is that I felt like the $45 spent on this meal was a screaming value for what I experienced.
Word of warning: the cuisine is not for anyone that doesn’t enjoy spicy food. Some are milder than others, but ALL bring some heat. Kandace and I were a little shocked at how combustible a couple of the dishes were, but thanks to the bowl of sticky rice and cold vegetables they provide at the beginning of the meal, we were able to calm down our tongue’s reaction!
I’ve eaten foods before that are so hot you can’t even taste the flavors, but that is definitely not the case with these dishes. They are SO flavorful and complex and delicious that even when my eyes were watering and my nose was running, I kept reaching for more.
Lapp pla duk chiang mai: Catfish, shallots, lanna spices
Tow hu thouk: tofu, cilantro root, peanut
si krong muu: pork ribs, mekhong whiskey, dill
If you are a fan of Thai cuisine and can handle some heat, you simply must visit Little Serow if you find yourself in D.C.!
1511 17th St NW
Washington, DC 20036
One of the questions I get asked most often is “Where should I go for dessert?” Sometimes it’s from out-of-towners, sometimes it’s from locals. Usually people are looking for a place to go for a special dessert. Maybe they have an anniversary, or have a hot date with plans to go see a show but want to finish off the evening with a nice glass of wine and a little something sweet.
Of course I have a few suggestions, but I know I’m probably missing some places, so that’s what this post is all about.
I’ve got a project in mind, and I need your help! I need to know where your favorite desserts are. Not just where, but also, what are they? What are the best of the best here in Nashville?
Even if you think I probably already know about a certain place or specific dessert, go ahead and leave a comment about it. I would love for my fondness for a certain confection be validated by your approval of it!
Then stay tuned…I’ll be back soon with a very sweet Nashville post once I’m done researching!
I told you I am determined to catch up on my travel eating adventures! Back in late May/early June, I headed down to Atlanta for the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. While my days were work (which actually did involve lots of eating as you can see from my post on the event), my nights were free to hit the town and check out some newer Atlanta restaurants that had opened up in the past year or so.
My friend Lisa, who traveled with me to AF&WF last year, was also with me again this year. If you were reading my blog back then, then you know that we absolutely loved our visit to The Optimist on that trip. In fact, I’ve been known to say that it was perhaps the best meal I ate in 2013! So, when I saw that Ford Fry, the owner of The Optimist, had opened a restaurant called St. Cecilia in Buckhead, I felt like we had no choice but to make a reservation there.
At St. Cecilia: Hamachi, coriander, celery hearts, lemon; Charred octopus, cured tomato, Italian bean salad, oregano; Gnudi, house ricotta, basil, brown butter
From start to finish, the meal was amazing. The decor, the service (INCREDIBLE), and of course, the food. I convinced Lisa that we should get the octopus, and she doesn’t even like octopus. Well, I’ve now made her a believer. Or, I guess I should say – St. Cecilia made her a believer. She could not get over how much she loved that dish. And then there was the gnudi — also a dish she had never tried. My first experience with gnudi was at The Spotted Pig in New York, and while I’ve never found one quite as good as that one, this one was certainly a close second.
All in all, I would highly recommend you visit St. Cecilia if you find yourself in the Buckhead area of Atlanta any time soon!
3455 Peachtree Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30326
Okay, this may make it seem like I’m a Ford Fry groupie, but I promise, I’m not! It just so happens that I read a couple of articles on the opening of King + Duke last year, and I had it on my short list of Atlanta restaurants to check out. It really had nothing to do with the fact that he owns this one too. (of course, I have yet to have a bad experience at one of his spots, so….)
The focus of their menu is locally sourced ingredients and hearth cooking. Yes, cooking on a hearth, old school. Through slower cooking and the use of wood fire smoke, they bring out natural flavors in the food without fussing it up.
At King + Duke: Yorkshire pudding style popovers with butter; Pork Chop with sauerkraut, turnips, local beans, pork jus; Candied Lamb Belly, sheep’s milk feta, marinated cucumbers, warm flat breads
While the food is always the most important part of my dining experiences, the atmosphere plays a big part in drawing me back again and again. And I absolutely love the atmosphere here. From the outdoor bar area, to the lovely patio dining area where we dined, to the warm interior space, every square inch is inviting.
That said, I’d go back again just to sit outside and have a cocktail at their bar. Of course, I’d also have to order what was my favorite dish of this meal: wood roasted farm carrots & beets with whipped feta and harissa vinaigrette (photo below). Love on a platter right there.
3060 Peachtree Rd NW W Paces Ferry Rd
Atlanta, GA 30305
Crispy pig ears at Nightwood in Chicago
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m determined to catch up on blogging about all of the fantastic food and drink I encountered while traveling this summer. I already recapped Charleston, and my experience at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, but between those two trips, I also had a visit to Chicago. I can’t believe that almost 2 months has passed since I was there!
While I had an enjoyable meal at Balena and had fun exploring Eataly, the standout meal on this visit to the Windy City was at Nightwood. Located in Plisen, in the lower west side, about 3 miles southwest of the Loop, it is definitely a bit off the beaten path if you’re staying in the heart of the city. But if you happen to be in Chicago for a trade show or conference being held at McCormick, and staying in the attached Hyatt, it’s super close – only 1.5 miles.
That’s part of the reason I ended up there in the first place. I was dining with a friend who was staying at that Hyatt, and it was easier for me to get closer to her than her come closer to me. Nightwood had been on my list of places to try for a while, so it was the perfect time to do it.
We immediately loved the vibe of the place – open kitchen, wine room, and a great patio to enjoy our dinner al fresco on a beautiful night. We started with incredible handcrafted cocktails (really, I’d go here for the drinks alone) before diving into the menu, which is written by hand each day after they shop the market to purchase the freshest local ingredients.
And when I say we dove into the menu, we really did. We ordered so much food!
Crispy pig ears, house cultured butter, maple, habanero, and cilantro.
Fried squid with peanut, cucumber, yogurt, chili arisol.
Hand pulled mozzarella, kilgus cream, rich olive oil, balsamic, grilled toast.
Green garlic agnolotti, PQM lonza (Publican Quality Meats cured pork loin), Wisconsin parmesan, pickled mustard seed.
Tagliatelle, smoked spring lamb, asparagus, green garlic, mint.
Flourless chocolate cake topped with potato chips, bittersweet chocolate sauce, cherries and malted vanilla ice cream.
All delicious and so fresh. No matter what part of Chicago you’re staying in, Nightwood is definitely worth the trek. And if you happen to be staying near McCormick, then it’s a MUST!
2119 South Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60608
Seems like every summer I get to a point that I’m asking myself, “What do I do with all this squash?”
Actually it’s not just squash. It’s both squash and zucchini – and don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. It’s just, well, a lot.
My parents always have some to give me when I go home for a visit, and I’m fortunate to have other friends here in Nashville that bestow their harvests on me too. While I love to slice it up, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper then top with parmesan cheese before roasting in the oven, my husband isn’t such a big fan of that simple preparation. So, I’m always on the hunt for delicious new dishes to try that contain a few more ingredients (and distract him from the fact that he’s eating zucchini).
This weekend we had a family dinner for 12 at my in-laws, and I’d volunteered to bring a side dish, so it was the perfect opportunity to test out a casserole recipe I’d clipped from Southern Living last year but hadn’t yet experimented with yet. The recipe said it contained 8-10 servings, but when looking at the measurements I thought it should be able to feed more than that since it was being served alongside a few other dishes. Turns out I was right. Even with some going back for second helpings, there was still a tiny bit leftover, so I think you could feed up to 15-16 people.
I will say, this may very well be my new favorite way to use up all that summer squash and zucchini! It garnered praise from others too, so I know it’s not just me. If you find that you have a bounty of zucchini and/or squash on your hands in the next few weeks, be sure to give this a go. You won’t be disappointed!
Squash, Zucchini, and Corn Casserole with Cheddar and Asiago
Makes 10-15 servings. Slightly adapted from Southern Living
1.5 lbs yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1.5 lbs zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/4 cup butter, divided
2 cups diced sweet onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups fresh corn kernels
1.5 cups (6 oz.) freshly shredded white Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp table salt
1.5 cups soft, fresh breadcrumbs, divided
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 350°. Bring first 2 ingredients and water to cover to a boil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and boil 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; gently press between paper towels.
Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a skillet over medium-high heat; add onion, and sauté 10 minutes or until tender. Add garlic, and sauté 2 minutes.
Stir together squash, onion mixture, corn, next 6 ingredients, and 1/2 cup each breadcrumbs and Asiago cheese just until blended. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
Melt remaining 2 Tbsp butter. Stir in remaining 1 cup breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup Asiago cheese. Sprinkle over casserole.
Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown and set. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.