it’s a secret

Do you regularly eat at a restaurant with a secret menu?  I mean, everyone knows you can get a butterbeer latte at Starbucks and a double double animal style at In and Out, right?   I bet when it comes down to it every restaurant has an item(s) that were on the menu once or dreamed up on a slow day by an enterprising team member that has now gained a (cult) following. We had plans to head out for my birthday dinner a few weeks before the ‘big’ day.  A couple of days before that event I got an email from The Ravenous Pig.  It said, we have a secret menu for three days a week this summer-from Tuesday to Thursday with 48 hours notice you too can get the super secret Summer Bistro menu.  I figured why not and booked a table there.  So, now, in a grand tradition, I have begun to stretch out my celebrations of yet another birthday to multiple days and events.  We went to the restaurant expecting only a 48 hour preparation of short ribs.  I mean, honestly.  We were quickly seated at a nice window table where we had a view of the room and the rain slatting down outside.secretmenu

A gin & jam was quickly deposited for me that had a fresh preparation of nectarine jam & basil.  It was so fresh and clean tasting.  Not a bit too sweet and just right.  They brought a slip of paper folded up with a pig stamped on the front that had the ‘secret’ menu on the insides.  A frisee salad-briny with salt and lard. I’m sure there was no dressing at all-just this briny weedy salad with a swirl of pomegranate vinaigrette, huge lardons of bacon and pistachio nuts folded into the mound.  It was confusingly delicious.  If I could duplicate that secret I would.  It was followed up by the entree.  A small slab of perfectly glazed short rib perched on a swooshy mousselline potatoes, trumpet mushrooms (kinda chewy) and lightly sweet bright onion marmalade. I’m not sure marmalade shouldn’t be reserved for citrus but it was sweet against the rich potatoes and beef.  The finish was a nectarine-blueberry crisp which felt too rustic against the refined meal but tasted homey with it’s small scoop of toffee ice cream.  I was actually happier with the tiny shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche that they finished our meal with and could have been perfectly happy with just that.  So, it was all a ‘secret’ – only available to those who knew to ask in advance.  Do I feel better for it?  I’m not sure.  That’s why I’m sharing it with you.   The secret menu isn’t posted anyplace and costs about $36 per person.  Give them a call and I’m sure they’ll oblige you.  What about you?  Do you know of a secret at a restaurant that is just begging to be shared?

Wondermade presented by Art House Orlando

About a month ago I ordered tickets to an event presented by Art House Orlando to hear the founder of Wondermade Marshmallows speak about the origination behind the amazing bites that are Wondermade marshmallows.  I have purchased the marshmallows before in several incarnations – strawberry for my sister, bourbon, Guinness, and peppermint for Z on various occasions. Last time I ordered I realized they were actually a local product which was fun to know.  A couple days before the event I got an email stating that the event had been moved from the downtown venue to the founders house.  What?!  Weird.  That prompted me to google for information.  Somewhat comforted by the fact that he is the digital/online pastor of Northland Church I decided that the event was either seriously undersubscribed or that they were going to kill us.  Since I work with the fiance of Art House’s marketing person I decided to throw my normal caution to the wind and just do it.  Nevermind he lives at least 20 miles north on the toll road.  arthousewonder

We rolled up to a giant old house with a cute kids easel out front telling us we made it to the right spot.  We were welcomed inside to cold bottles of Lineage Roasters cold brewed coffees and the promise of toasted marshmallows.  These events are conceived as a way to get to know a different, maybe artistic or  slightly hipster kind of audience in a way that isn’t a bar scene.  They are billed as creative gatherings and I’m not sure they don’t harken back to the old fashion concept of a salon.  You hear creative ideas and mingle with the type of crowd that is interested in said ideas.   It was an interesting time and fascinating to hear about the extreme care that Nathan put into the conception of these treats.  He is thoughtful it seems on everything from the type of sugar to the color of his pants (always red—I caught them in the photo above!)   Everything from ingredients to packaging is carefully chosen and considered.  After he wrapped us his talk we stood around chatting while we skewered and tasted marshmallows – berry, pina colada, bourbon, s’more,  and orangesicle.  We love the bourbon but I also really liked the orangesicle.   We picked up a box of mojito and bourbon to bring home and sampled them over the next week or so.  I think there are even a couple of bourbons left.  If you want to share a sweet bite with someone you care about these would be an excellent choice.

I haven’t flown the Coop – but I’ve eaten there

So, I haven’t blogged for over a month.  Variously I went to Houston for a conference–dined at the Coop (!)–went to Sarasota for Easter weekend–took a week of vacation and went on a cruise.  As for blogging?  Not so much.  I’d say I’m behind but I’m not.  I just haven’t blogged.  No. Big. Thing.  It’s not like anyone pays me for this stuff.   Anyway, the Coop.  It’s John Rivers new ode to Southern food.  His other restaurant is a stand in line brisket joint called 4Rivers (4R) that I have blogged about a handful of times for everything from buying a brisket for Thanksgiving to cooking out of his cookbook.  cooplineThis is kind the same deal but a smidgen fancier and a different foodway.  And when I say fancier–they still hand your food to you on a tray but first they put it on a plate.  The cost is between say $8 and $12 for an ‘I’m too full’ meal.  The decor at 4R is distinctly Texas with cowheads and big ole stars and such.  Here the vibe is more country kitchen with whitewashed walls and mismatched tables and chairs.   You still stand in line and in truth, the menu choices a little overwhelming.  The menu is Southern in scope and has some depth-everything from fried chicken  to pimiento cheese to hand pies and fried green tomatoes.  Pretty much all things I want to eat.  All. the. time.   We went on a drizzly Saturday morning with some friends from work, Dustin & Jonathan.  They beat us there and, full disclosure, totally let us cut in line.   We still had lots of time to peruse the menu and by the time we reached the front we had all conferred what we would order so that we could maximize trying as many items as possible.  tomatopie For starters we tried the pimiento cheese and baguettes, hush puppies and fried green tomatoes.  Best bet there is the fried green tomatoes.  Vegetal, tart and fried-delish.   I ordered a Fried Green Tomato BLT for my entree.  Fried green tomatoes, bacon, pimiento cheese on buttered Texas toast…  It got messed up somehow and ended up being delivered by none other than John Rivers.  It might have taken a while but it was so delicious I’m not sure I can fault anyone.  When he came with my sandwich we gave him some feedback about the portion size on the shrimp & grits (Dustin’s meal) and as it turns out he agreed and brought us a little more!  chickenThanks John!   Z had the fried chicken and mashed potatoes and Jonathan had the chicken and waffles.  Probably for our future dollar the win goes to the chicken and waffles and my super scrumptious sandwich.  Crunchy, full of flavor and easy to eat.  I tried a mini pecan pie for dessert and Z picked up a deep fried hand pie which he ate later on in the day after wearing off some of our giant lunch shopping.  It was caramel apple and seriously delicious, maybe the best bite of the day.

So, I’m not a restaurant critic.  Like I said earlier, no one is paying me for my random thoughts.  We eat where we want to go and love to try new things and sometimes Z tries things I’m positive he will hate.  And to be honest  I wasn’t sure if I loved the Coop.  I liked it but I wasn’t sure that it would have the lure on me that 4R has.    I wasn’t sure that I would crave it like I crave that long smoked brisket with spicy BBQ sauce.  I wasn’t sure if the menu wasn’t just a bit …much.  But, I sure wish I had that Fried Green Tomato BLT right now.  So, the Coop for the win.


***totally forgot to take a picture …of my own food.  blogger fail. 🙂

Epcot Flower & Garden

Last weekend we hit the 2014 Epcot Flower & Garden Festival and also a long held goal of making it to Le Cellier.  Le Cellier is located in ‘the cellar’ of the chateau in the Canada pavilion at Epcot.  We had wanted to go there since eating at the Canada stop at the Annual Food & Wine Festival but had never made the effort to get the hard to get reservation until we were encouraged to go by our friend Karin’s dad.  He said, “You gotta go.  They bring that beef in from Canada!”  Based on his encouragement I sat on the Disney website and (patiently) clicked through dates until I could get a reservation.  It turned out to fall during the Flower & Garden Festival so a day trip was born.fairygarden

The festival is a fun yearly event at Epcot showcasing all things backyard.  There are extra playgrounds for kids based around Cars and Monsters Inc themes, a butterfly house filled with tiny handmade fairy houses and flickering butterflies and a TON of flowers,  topiaries of favorite Disney characters, displays on water conservation, vegetable gardening and in the last two years fresh food kiosks based on these garden grown specialties.  This is definitely not as elaborate as the Food & Wine Festival and the portions are somewhat larger-well sometimes.  We didn’t want to eat much because we knew we were in for a giant steak dinner but we did stop and pick up some cheesy stuffed pasta in Italy.  It wasn’t really anything too special although it tasted good.  We also stopped for our lunch in the American Experience at the Smokehouse for some bbq and a cupcake.  Z had some brisket with collards and cornbread.  He didn’t really comment on the beef but he did comment on the collards.  Up to now they were one of two foods I’ve heard him say he doesn’t like and wouldn’t eat.  Kraut being the other.   I don’t know why he went for this dish in light of that–but he did.  At some point while eating he said the collards were good.  So, chalk one up for Disney.  I can’t believe it.  I didn’t try them and am not all that convinced myself.  I had a Pulled Pork & Slaw Slider.  It was really big enough to be called a full size sandwich.  The pork was smokey and salty and tasty with the slaw being pretty standard but providing sweet crunch.  Random side note.  I tried to get some of the squirt-on sauce from the napkin/sauce stand and it was so slippery from millions of hands that it fell in my sandwich.  The staff gracefully traded me for a new sandwich and I skipped the sauce.  That said, it wasn’t dry or unflavorful although I didn’t dare to try the sauce again.  Sandwich trade-ins going only so far.  Anyhow, all that said and I still say I’d eat it again.  I also ordered a ‘Piggylicious’ (for Miss Piggy and the new movie) Maple Bacon Cupcake.  They weren’t joking.  A yellow cake (yum) cupcake filled with lardons of sliced cooked smoked applewood bacon.  Kind of intense.  I don’t love that baconcandonowronginallthings although I always want to.  The maple frosting was delicious and covered with a fresh (read that as crunchy) pile of pretzel chunks.   The cupcake was large enough to share and feel like you got a fair amount.piggylicious

We had fastpass+  the ride ‘Living with the Land’ in the Land Pavilion.  Seems funny but we really like this ‘ride’ where you sail through some fantastic experimental gardens where they encourage me to grow things at home.  They are growing all manner of things in a giant greenhouse and in really creative ways.  They’ve got everything from Brussels Sprouts (see the photo-they are amazing!) to 9 pound lemons to enormous suspended tomato, pumpkin and other vines.  I really want to grow more food. It’s not easy though and I need to figure out where to gain some help with that.  We have a whole empty backyard beckoning.  I think stand up beds may be in my future.theland

We took an afternoon break by riding Ellen’s Energy Adventure.  Seriously, have you ever been on this ride?  45 minutes in a giant car driving around a soundstage with dinosaurs interspersed with Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye teaching about energy.  Soo random and funny.  Somehow we never heard of this ride before.  It had kind of a fantastic dinosaur thing in the middle with fire, animatronics, water, etc.  You should ride this ride although timing is key here because it is 45 minutes and we walked in with no wait which was ideal.  Using the park daily guide would help with this.snowwhite

Dinner.  We headed over to Canada a bit early to catch the Oh Canada 360 show featuring Canadian funny guy Martin Short.  You enter the sort of mine shaft by walking through a high walled Rocky Mountain experience of high walls and a rush of water and exit by walking out through an exhibit of more flowers similar to how they look at Butchart Gardens in BC.  I’ve been there (BC) many times and this really does have that feeling which for me is like home.  We walked into Le Cellier which is in the bottom or cellar of some French looking hotel style building.    We were shown to our table after a short wait and took some time to read over the menu.  Our Canadian (super friendly I must say) server asked if we needed help with the menu but for your average foodie it is fairly standard steakhouse/cheffy type food-the only thing I questioned was ‘poutine’, which was in quotes.  So, ‘poutine’ in quotes at Disney is fries with stuff on top.  Since I pretty much always want fries with stuff I ordered those to go with our meal and they arrived smothered with super-sharp Canadian Cheddar, shaved black truffles and a small pitcher of red wine reduction.  I actually don’t love truffles and could have done without them – but that cheese and wine sauce-delicious!!!poutine

We started out with their bread basket and butter.   The butter was super fresh and sprinkled with maple sugar.  Love that.  The basket included amazing pretzel sticks-big, soft and salt flecked-so great I wanted more! There was also a nice sourdough roll that was really sour and a multigrain roll that we skipped-I mean really. You have the draw the line somewhere.  We ordered a super porky pork belly starter.  I am getting over my …hatred of fatty textures but this one pushed me.  Super fatty.  How do you get past that chew?  Only by super taste.  My main course was short ribs and this was as good as any I’ve had, super tender and a huge portion really.  Some pearls of carrots and an unidentifiable (really) spherified whitish/yellow ball along with garlic chips and pickled veg on top.  This is one of the dishes I long to make at home but is just never as good as fine dining no matter how much work I put into it.  So good.  Z had a filet with mushroom sauce that was super rich and almost, he said, ‘too truffly.’  That’s saying something because black truffles are a flavor he likes a lot.  We were so stuffed we passed on dessert.   This was a really solid meal.  It had a pretty hefty Disney tax but they also worked it really hard.  We weren’t rushed and the service was friendly and good.   If you can get a reservation and have a couple of spare Disney Dining Plan meals (the way to go for this one!) or just want to go all out it is definitely worth while.   I suppose you could also hang a left at that great big Epcot ball and head north too but this is worth the shorter trip.  If you are local and have a chance to hit the Flower & Garden show, it runs through May 18th.shortrib

Not exactly our anniversary

nonleapyearanniversaryWe celebrated our anniversary on Friday night – February 28th.  Technically we don’t have one this year because it isn’t leap year.  We still managed to get out for an amazing dinner at our favorite, Cask & Larder: A Southern Public House.  Each bite is so good.  I know every time I blog about it I feel like you’ve already heard it but if you are in Orlando, you should eat there.  We started out with brisket hand pies and a new flavor-sorghum.  Sorghum is derived from grasses and has a whole lot of agricultural uses.  We ended up having sorghum molasses in two of the dishes last night, as a dipping sauce for the hand pies and as a sauce with Arbol chile on fried brussels sprouts.  Wow.  Carmelly and deeply flavorful and something else i can’t identify.  It was amazing in both preparations, with the bbq (maybe just smoked?) brisket and with the fatty heat of the arbol and fried sprouts.  Southern food can be so vast and exciting and complicated when you take a deep look at it.  I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface.  Z had a hanger steak with blistered tomatoes and this ridiculously sweet corn pudding.  I can’t even imagine how to make that pudding.  It was like cornmeal with a crunchy top and pieces of corn and all baked in a small cast iron dish.  I had the Nashville Hot Chicken, which is significantly different from the brunch hot chicken I’ve had here before.  This was I think a grilled and roasted/basted half a bone in chicken rather than a fried chicken breast that they have for brunch with eggs or waffles.  It was spicy with a side of creamy and mustardy Alabama white BBQ sauce and some mellow flavorful macaroni & cheese on the side.   I had a fun cocktail that was really nice for cutting through the flavors, a Jealous Monk, which included Anchor junipero gin, green chartreuse, lime juice, celery bitters and champagne vinegar-what?! so good.  It was like the freshest limeade you ever had.  Z finished off with his version of a cocktail, a malted milkshake.  I ate the rich clearly housemade cherry on top.  Cheers!