The CHOW Blog rss

Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Loveless Indeed

Florence, Alabama, to Nashville, Tennessee, to Bardstown, Kentucky

This was a big traveling day. In God-knows-where Alabama, I passed and fell in love with this place:

As with most of my trip, I was (obviously) taking a minor road. I discovered to my delight that you can go 60 miles per hour on lots of secondary and even tertiary roads down here. There’s just no reason to take freeways. Well, that’s not true. I walked around Florence for a day and a half before realizing my watch was an hour ahead, because they don’t announce the time zone switch on the smaller roads!

Finally I got on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a hip, lesser known scenic southern highway (compared with the more famous—yet strangely deserted—Blue Ridge Parkway).

The Natchez Trace connects Alabama and Mississippi with Nashville, and the cool thing is that while many highways were built on trails blazed by Native Americans or pioneers, this one was established by migrating animals. Tens of thousands of years ago, it seems, buffalo plied this route. Back then, presumably, the food at Loveless Cafe (8400 Highway 100, Nashville, Tennessee; 615-646-9700) had some life to it.

Not anymore. Positioned at the northern terminus of the parkway, choked with tourists, and metastasized into a spate of grotesque spin-off businesses, the Loveless Cafe is just grinding out plate after spiritually inert plate.

Ought not a dish called “home fry casserole” be innately delicious, simply on principle? Alas, it was just a mute cheesy lump.

The food looked more or less right, but there’s just no “there” there. You can tell that, 17 chefs and 400 corner cuttings ago, this was a worthy joint. But now the only remaining deliciousness is in the simplest of simplicities: The biscuits may not be very good anymore, but dip them in sorghum molasses (which comes with), and possibilities start to arise.

+ + +

At long last, Bardstown: ground zero for the bourbon industry, and site of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival. This little-reported event has occupied my imagination for years. My friends and I have fantasized about attending en masse to pay our respect to the friendliest drink ever. Finally, I’ve made it! And my lazy-ass friends couldn’t get it together to join in … except my longtime bourbon-drinking buddy J.B., who’s taking the red-eye tomorrow (you’ll meet him at breakfast).

I got into Bardstown late and rushed to the very first event of the festival: a “balloon glow” at the Bluegrass Motor Speedway. What, you ask, is a balloon glow? Well, you’ve just got to see it to believe it. I can only pray that I’ve done justice to this exciting spectacle in the following video: Movie file

Bringing the Bee to Its Knees

Bringing the Bee to Its Knees

Think every squeeze bear is filled with the same sweet golden goo? READ MORE

And I’d Like to Thank …

Play Video

The Vendy Awards give New York street vendors their night to shine. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

Carry Wine Back from Old Virginny

New York magazine has a story this week about Virginia wine country, adding to the growing perception that 2006 is the year of the surprising wine pedigree.

For the first time in more than a century, there are more wineries outside of California than within the state, and this Virginia wine write-up attempts to harness some of that non-canonical excitement. Among the fun facts spewed forth within the article’s first few paragraphs:

• Virginia boasts roughly 100 wineries.

• Folks have been cultivating grapes in state since Thomas Jefferson’s era.

• Honoring a regional tradition, wine dwarfs (or “little people”) still personally stomp most of the region’s grapes.

• Touring the Monticello Wine Trail is a well-accepted way to browse the state’s finest offerings.

Note: One of those bullet points was fabricated for your enjoyment. At any rate, New York magazine deserves some praise for reaching past its turf and more thoroughly exploring all the crazy stuff going on in the East Coast wine scene. And in Virginia, that includes Tannat, Chambourcin, and a “damn good” Petit Verdot.

A Blog Post a Day …

It’s National Blog Posting Month, and a number of food bloggers have joined the fray. Bloggers participating in NaBloPoMo have committed to posting every day for a month; that’s a whole lotta blogging going on.

NaBloPoMo is inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), during which participants commit to writing a novel in a month. The call to arms has been taken up by a number of food bloggers. Life Begins at 30, Eggbeater, Gluten-free Girl, Candy Blog, Cake Face, Feisty Foodie, and Welcome to My Pantry are just some of the food-oriented bloggers who have joined the campaign, which is being sponsored by the blog Fussy.

Shauna, the blogger behind Gluten-free Girl, describes it as “an international insanity of an event, in which hundreds of bloggers agree to post something every single day on their blog.” Jen, of Life Begins at 30, says she is participating “as a way to give myself a blogging kick-in-the-pants.”

While it must be said that some of the NaBloPoMo bloggers have already faltered in their commitment to daily posting, many are hanging in there (though we suspect there may be some photo-heavy, text-light blog posts being generated toward the end of the month). Follow along and see how well your favorite bloggers do.

Brunch at O’Reilly’s Holy Grail

San Francisco’s other Irish bars don’t come close to competing with O’Reilly’s, says waterboy. Try the smoked trout on a potato pancake–the potato pancake is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, the way it’s supposed to be but rarely is. And the trout is like smoked love. Rich coffee and great mimosas round out a great brunch experience.

And as for dinner, the peat-smoked pork shank “puts almost any piece of meat to shame after you eat it,” says Doodleboomer.

O’Reilly’s Holy Grail [Van Ness Corridor]
1233 Polk St., San Francisco
415-928-1233
Locater

Board Links
O’Reilly’s Holy Grail

Chapulines at Karina’s

Chapulines–a kind of dried Oaxacan dried grasshopper–are available in bags at Karina’s Mexican Bakery. They remind Melanie Wong of dried shrimp, but with a spicy, salty dusting of chile powder.

Karina’s appears to have gone through some changes recently. The tlayuda has improved, served with chunky pork, imported Oaxacan string cheese, guajillo-based chili sauce, and a fresh, crackly giant tortilla base. However, the tres leches cake has gone downhill and is now at a sub-Safeway level of quality. Two layers of coarse, dense, dry, crumbly yellow cake are barely moistened at all by the milks, there’s no custard, and the frosting tastes like chemicals.

The tamales are still good, though.

Karina’s Mexican Bakery [Sonoma County]
827 Petaluma Blvd N., Petaluma
707-765-2772
Locater

Board Links
Update on Karina’s in Petaluma (Tlayudas, Pan de Muertos, Chapulines, Tres Leches, Tamales)

Marmara: Pleasures of the Turkish Grill in Manalapan

It’s all good at Marmara, but the best stuff comes from the grill. This Turkish restaurant, which opened in September in a hard-luck location in Manalapan, turns out meaty, beautifully cooked lamb chops and chicken or lamb kebabs. The mixed grill, a lamb festival on a plate, is a good way to go. Sea bass is fresh and delicious, too. Grilled plates come with first-rate rice pilaf and a mess of vegetables, including excellent pickled cabbage.

Off the grill, hounds like babaganoush, pida bread, sigara boregi (feta-stuffed filo scrolls), and exceptionally good baklava for dessert. “What a delight! Everything we had was amazing!” raves Angelina. Especially recommended: their tasty, generous hot appetizer combination (falafel, calf’s liver, fried calamari, spinach pie).

Servers are green, but the accommodating owners are in the house and working the room. And the room is nice, much more appealing than its strip-mall setting might suggest.

Marmara Mediterranean Turkish Cuisine [Monmouth County]
339 Rte. 9 S, in Summerton Plaza shopping center, Manalapan, NJ
732-780-9990
Map

Board Links
RGR, I went to Marmara last night! :)
Marmara Turkish on Route 9 Manalapan

Sweet Treats for Grown-Ups

Caf

From Apizz, a Soul-Satisfying Spin on Meatballs

The meatballs rock at Apizz.

Look for polpette e pomodori on the menu at this Italian hound haunt. They’re made of veal, pork, and beef, and served with fresh ricotta and deep-flavored tomato gravy. “Best ever,” declares livetotravel. “Absolutely mouth-wateringly great.”

Apizz [Lower East Side]
217 Eldridge St., between Stanton and Rivington, Manhattan, NY
212-253-9199
Locater

Board Links
The Very Best Meatballs