Walhalla Heat

It was a beautiful fall weekend and there’s a town name Walhalla (the first L is silent if you want to say it like a native) just up the road. Wonder what they might have going on in October? Oh look it’s Oktoberfest! Yes, please.

The 43rd annual Walhalla Oktoberfest is something I was not going to pass up so head towards the foot of the foothills I did. It’s a nice festival held at a local park that has plenty of room for rides, I mean full on fair rides not something Joe Bob threw in the back of his F150 and set up in 20 minutes. Sorry went off on a tangent, in addition to rides there were vendors, informational booths, an oompah band, a beer tent and a lot of food options. I had beer and bratwurst on the brain so the other options were just points of interest. I walked the whole area just to get the lay of the land before stopping by the Knights of Columbus Kraut Haus. It won’t be a shocker at this point but the I walked away with a sauerkraut laden brat and headed to the beer tent where I got a German Oktoberfest Bier and a souvenir stein.

I was quite satisfied with my choices. It was the second best brat I’ve had in Walhalla (the one last year at the Founders Day celebration was outstanding). This was all good but the actual highlight of the day was here.

I saw the sign first and thought “This is some bold marketing right here”. I mean I figured I’m going to be cremated rather than buried but bringing out the furnace operator for a meet and greet was either genius or macabre. Well turns out it was a hot sauce tent. I was more engaged with that revelation. They had 10 or so different flavors and the proprietor made sure I tried most of them. When I walked up a couple was sampling and I got to hear this exchange.

After looking at the bottle, reading the ingredients and asking for a sample the guy looked at his wife and said, “this is pretty good even with the cantaloupe.” “Oh my God, you’re allergic to cantaloupe!” Was his ladies response. “That was 4 years ago, I’m probably better now.” Well the small taste probably wasn’t going to send him into anaphylaxis but he doubled down and bought a bottle of that particular hot sauce. There might have been some eyerolling from his wife.

My turn to try the sauces and the proprietor made sure I tried most of them. They included 3 award winners and her personal favorite, which wasn’t an award winner only because they didn’t enter it. Her samples were teeny tiny pieces of cheese on the end of a toothpick dredged through the chosen sauce.

Now while I was mulling over one of the options these two young lads walked up and after ascertaining these were hot sauces the older of the two tried one of the medium heat level sauces, his little brother though was bolder and went straight for the hottest one in the bunch and asked for a sample of that. Ms. DD asked him if he was sure, twice, and also asking me to be her witness she questioned him on it and then gave him the sample. The little kid was game I’ll say that for him. You could see it on his face, his eyes teared up and he went flush but he was going to die before he admitted it was too hot for him. His big brother was pretty cool and said “Hey let’s go get a drink” like it was a thing he just decided they needed to do.

Anyway I walked away with these three tasty sauces. I am trying to figure out the best pairings for them beside teeny tiny pieces of cheese on a stick.

I don’t know what’s next but a good friend found a Georgian restaurant in Greenville that will be featured in the not too distant future.

Boxtys, Sliders & Brats, Oh My

The trip to the NC State Fair last weekend was just the first of the food experiences of the weekend. After some intense football watching, that included channel flipping and dragging out the laptop it was time to grab dinner. The decision was we’d go to a local (Cary, NC) Irish pub named Doherty’s Irish Pub & Restaurant.

The visit started off kind of weird. Unsurprisingly, on a Saturday night they were busy and when we walked in the hostess was just walking back from seating people. She stood there and stared at us for several seconds like she was trying to figure out what her next move should be. She apparently didn’t have much luck because all she could come up with was “Did you need something?” “We thought we might get something to eat,” was my sisters reply. That was much nicer than what was going through my head but she’s nicer than I am so it was good she took the lead. It did seem to get the hostess jumpstarted and she was fast and efficient after that.

Lynn knew what she was getting, the mixed boxty app. The starter side of the menu worked for me too and I selected the pub sliders and smothered blue chips and of course a Guinness to wash everything down.

The boxty looks like street tacos made with potato pancakes. The fillings for the sampler are chicken, brisket and one with mushrooms. From all reports they are quite tasty. My sliders were also a trio of different items, all of them at least good. The chicken was a little disappointing, kind of bland, but OK. The other two were much better. The corned beef with spicy mustard was juicy, salty and very flavorful. A solid second place. The gold medal was for the Guinness braised brisket with horseradish sauce. It was just an excellent, tender slider with a ton of flavor.

The Smothered Blue Chips were, sadly, not blue. On the other hand they were crunchy house made chips smothered with gorgonzola cream, blue cheese crumbles and green onions. They were pungent but pleasant.

The eating continued the next morning when I was on the way out of town headed home. We grabbed breakfast at a local place called Brigs. This wasn’t a new place to me as we’d had several family breakfasts here before. They have an eggs benedict Lynn enjoys. They also have specials and interesting options that I enjoy. Lynn went with her standard and I jumped on one of their seasonal Bavarian themed specials, the bratwurst basket.

The eggs benedict plate was definitely more colorful than my rather monotone plate (at least I had the yellow of butter and yolk to break the off white). I’m not going to spend a lot of time on these except to say that the food is fresh and of good quality (although light on the salt). Also brats are a very valid breakfast option if you haven’t tried them.

It was, on the whole, a good outing for the Culinary_Passport, got in unusual American food, Irish inspired food and German sausage. I know for a fact there’s another brat in my future and I’ll let you know about it next time. Sláinte

Istanbul Was the Shish

This is part 2 of a culinary weekend in Cary that started with the Pimento Cheese Festival.

After we spent some time catching up dinner time rolled around and we decided to try a place that had been on my sister’s radar but she’d never been. Istanbul Restaurant & Cafe is pretty convenient so if she liked it she’d have a new option in her dining portfolio.

When we got there it was not that promising as there was only one other car. People started rolling in though just about the time we got our menus and placed the drink order. The folks running the place, if not from Turkey, were definitely from the Mediterranean area. My sister ordered the chicken shish plate while I ordered the mixed grill because I love variety.

Warm bread and olive oil to dip it in came out first and some tzatziki we ordered as an appetizer. Both very delicious. It really got going when the entrees rolled out.

The mixed grill came with adana kabob, chicken kabob and kofta meatballs for the meats. There was also rice, vegetables, a small wedge of bread and a sauce to dip in. Honestly it was all well spiced and grilled just right. The chicken was my favorite which surprised me since I generally love the beef lamb mix of the adana and kofta. If I’d been going back to my house I’d probably have taken half of this home but instead I unwisely powered through and earned some midnight heartburn. I don’t regret it too much though, it was too good to leave. Judging by her reaction I think Lynn found a good lunch place too.

In addition to the food the folks working there were very friendly and willing to answer questions and made sure we were enjoying the meal. Highly recommend them if you’re in the Cary area.

I’m an early riser as is most of my family so we decided to grab breakfast before I left. After mulling over the slim choices of open places at that time of the morning we decided on Biscuitville. It’s a cool little place where they are constantly making biscuits (shocker) but doing it at a station right out front by the counter. It’s surrounded by plexiglass to keep the cooties at bay but you can see the biscuits getting made by hand.

As I was perusing the menu my sister pointed out the limited time only Spam biscuits and that did it for me. I love me some fried Spam.

I got it with egg and cheese so it would be a balanced meal and carry me through the journey home to Seneca. It was tasty. After 3 good dining experiences and visiting with my sister and brother-in-law and catching a glimpse of my nephew I felt like I won the weekend. That was two in a row since I spent the prior one with friends and visiting my other sister and her family.

I Gambled On Italian

Last Saturday I drove up to Cherokee, NC with plans to lose a few dollars in the Harrah’s slot machines as a tribute to my father. He enjoyed the slots quite a bit and Friday was his birthday.

I got there early and spent a few hours donating money to the Native Americans and generally having a good time playing various games. After a few hours of blinking lights, spinning wheels, and tossing the dice I got peckish and figured I’d see what the food scene was like here.

It was more potential than reality. Several of the spots located just off the casino floor are only open late or early depending on your point of view. The Gordon Ramsey food court or whatever it was called has a burger place and a pizza place that were open and had long lines. They have several other places that are being prepped but not open. It’s new and they haven’t had the grand opening yet so I’ll give them a break and not judge too harshly. I opted to go on down to the next spot which was Brio Italian Grille.

The hostess let me know that there was a 45 minute wait for the main dining area but I could get a place at the bar sooner and the bartender would seat me. Based on the number of open seats in the main dining area they were dealing with a limited staffing situation. So I walked over to the staging area for bar seating. This is where I had the worst experience of the day. The bar was pretty much full and the bartender actively avoided making eye contact with me or anyone waiting to be seated. Honestly not being acknowledged at all was starting to tick me off and that was building the more I waited. Fortunately I had my phone to distract me and a spot came open before I got really mad. When the spot came open she was all sunshine and smiles.

I selected the portobello stuffed ravioli in a brown butter sauce.

The bread came first and oddly did not come with olive oil but the provided a lot of butter. I sampled it but didn’t want to overdo the carbs. The ravioli was very tasty. The grape tomatoes were sweet and acidic. The crimini mushrooms in the sauce added nice texture. The cheese was not parmesan but another, milder semi-hard cheese. The portobello stuffing was flavorful and hearty. My gamble paid off with a very nice lunch in spite of the rocky start.

I’ll be going back to Harrah’s Casino to try out some new craps strategies and maybe give Gordon Ramsey’s food court another shot.

Walhalla Weekend

Ok it was only lunch but Walhalla Lunch really lacks any punch.

After a looong grey wet week Saturday turned out to be sunny and warm. The nearby town of Walhalla was having The Story of Walhalla with German food, music and crafts. That sounded like just the perfect way to spend an hour or so before the Georgia vs Auburn football game.

It’s was nice drive. At one point the line of trees beside the road framed a blue green shot of the foothills that made the day a little better for seeing it.

The event was on the aptly named Short Street. There were a few vendors, the sponsor’s booth, an area for live music and tables to park while you enjoyed a brat plate.

Let me tell you that was a mighty fine bratwurst. The sausage itself was lean with a little herbs and spices giving it a nice taste to begin with but they cooked them on a smoker with hickory wood, not charcoal or gas. That smoky flavor along with the Dijon mustard made a delicious lunch. The sauerkraut was kind of disappointing in it’s plainness but the German potato salad redeemed the sides. Oh and the brat roll was fresh but firm. Definitely glad I got motivated enough to make the trip.

There are also 3 museums on the street or close enough not to matter. I only went to Patriot’s Hall.

It is the Oconee Veterans Museum. Free to enjoy with several donation boxes in case you are so moved to support them. It’s not what I’d call a very well organized museum and most of the exhibits downstairs are WW II with a smattering of other stuff strewn throughout the 3 rooms downstairs. There are 4 more rooms upstairs that looked more thematically organized. I didn’t get to go through all of them because of time but I’ll go back. The other two museums are the Museum of the Cherokee in South Carolina and the Oconee History Museum. I plan to visit them as well another weekend.

I also had one of the St John’s Lutheran church ladies in the bake sale tent try to help me find a wife. It wasn’t my wife but she was trying to be helpful. I just got a small slice of cinnamon apple cake for $1.00 instead and headed home to watch the game.

Greek Week or Maybe Weak

Passport Stamps | Greece

Friday night, food trucks, family, Greek food and music, what’s not to like? Lines. Lines are what’s not to like. Fortunately the other stuff made up for it.

It was that time of the month again at the Columbia County amphitheater for Food Truck Friday. I met my sister, brother-in-law and nephew there, all looking forward to some good food. The theme was theoretically Greek food. That was kind of thin since they only had one food vendor offering Greek food and another pizza. If you wanted deserts you had two trucks and a couple of tents to hook you up. The line for the Greek truck, The Mad Greek, was very long so we decided to find a seat and listen to the band, Pure Indigo, and hope it calmed down a bit.

We grabbed beverages prior to our seeking spots in the amphitheater. For my first drink I went with a local Savanah River Brewing beer called, No Jacket Required. It was a decent pilsner that went down easy on a warm evening.

After 45-60 minutes of chatting and listening to the music the line hadn’t noticeably eased up so we decided to bite the bullet and join the queue.

A quick aside. The conversations now are much different than 20 years ago. At one point my brother-in-law and I were enthusiastically discussing our favorite Great Courses and how Einstein’s theories can be tough to wrap your head around. Very different.

Anyway we spent a long time in line to place our orders and then another fairly long time waiting. I was number 91 and as I stepped into the crowd of waiters number 64 was called. The main benefit of all this waiting was I got to spend a lot of time with the family. Finally my number was call and I got my order of a Greek Dog and Spanakopita.

I almost hate to admit it but they were worth the wait. The Greek Dog was a pretty simple concoction of a grilled beef frank topped with olive tapenade and crumbled feta. It was a delicious but very salty combo. I like tapenade quite a bit so it was great topping for me. The spanakopita was outstanding. The pastry was flaky and crisp on the outside and the spinach and feta filling was perfectly balanced. The reports on the Greek potatoes and dolmathes were that they were also outstanding. We were hoping they had a brick and mortar location locally but turns out they are out of Marietta. I don’t think I’d drive that far but if I see them again I’ll be in the line to try some of their other fare.

Another good evening.

Taking It to the Haus

Germany

This weekend I met up with my friends Renee & Zack at the Augsburg Haus in Evans, GA for a bit of German fare. It’s located in a busy strip shopping center with 3 other restaurants and a cupcake shop. Odds are pretty good I’ll visit this stretch of real estate again. The parking lot looked full but there turned out to plenty of spots. The Augsburg Haus itself was not overly busy and had plenty of room for seating. We picked a spot near the back away from most of the rest of the folks so we could chat without raising out voices. This allowed us to enjoy the authentic German food that much better. As for German ambiance here’s a shot of the wall I was looking at.

I got there first and decided it wouldn’t be a good German meal without a beer so I went for a Kostritzer Black Lager. It was so smooth I could have chugged it with no problem. I didn’t.

After going over the menu and deciding there was nothing I wouldn’t like I just selected the first item, the Augsburg Special. The special consisted of schnitzel topped with sauerkraut and swiss cheese plus mashed potatoes and gravy. There was also a salad included to start.

When that plate was put in front of me the first thought I had was, “Dear Lord, that is a huge hunk of meat”. Second thought was “That’s a very pale plate.” I got over the lack of color though and dove in. I was uber happy with the results. The potatoes and gravy were nice but the schnitzel was great. It was thicker than I thought it would be with and well seasoned and breaded. The sauerkraut was tart but not too tangy like some you can find and the swiss cheese was a gooey, tasty topper that held it all together. I wound up bringing half of it home for dinner so while we paid dinner prices on Saturday the portions made it a two meal deal for me.

Renee got the Gulasch plate that was beef sirloin tips and gravy on a king sized bed of spaetzle and added a side of German potato salad.

By all reports it was delicious and worthy of a redo. Zack went for the wurst plate with some mashed potatoes and mac & cheese (substituted for the normal sauerkraut). We did appreciate the fact that the server was up front and let us know the mac & cheese was Kraft and not something house made.

Based on this trip I’ll most assuredly visit them again for my German food fix and would recommend it to others. I do have a caveat though, the lunch prices are available on the weekdays only so if you’re budget conscious take that into consideration.

While you’re considering things if you want a recipe, music and / or need to know a beer fact, check out the Tell Me More page.

Ephesian Lunch

Turkey

I grabbed the old Culinary Passport and headed to Ephesus Restaurant on Washington Rd in Augusta for a Sunday lunch. Ephesus calls itself a Greek & Turkish kabob place and I’ll buy that. For the blog though I’m calling it Turkish because a) Ephesus is in Turkey and b) the entrée I got originated in Turkey.

Observations about the restaurant. They have plenty of seating with a fair amount of spaces between the tables. The walls are a light green that I’m pretty sure has a name like Sea Foam or Fresh Mint or some such. Adorning the walls are an eclectic mix of prints, paintings and objects with a mostly Mediterranean theme. Overall the effect is a nice bright atmosphere to have a meal. The lady who waited on me fit right in as well, being pleasant and informative.

After perusing the menu I decided to try the Iskender Kabob meal.

Iskender Kabob plate

This is layers of gyro meat covered in a tomato sauce atop pita bread and yogurt with roasted pepper and tomato garnish. Here’s another shot after digging in.

Iskender plate 2

I’ve had a similar dish before served with rice and was skeptical about how it was going to be just over pita bread but I needn’t have worried. The tomato sauce is paste based with a few spices added making a rich and tasty topper to the meat. It is taken up a notch mixed with the yogurt which adds some additional depth to the whole thing. The pita is cut into bite sized pieces which conveniently meant no knife needed. I honestly thought I’d fly through this but the portion was generous and I wound up taking some home. As she was taking my plate the question of dessert was raised and I was going to pass but baklava was mentioned.

You can see it is in a to go container so I’d have snacks for later. I tried one not long after walking in the door and I’ll say it was good. I appreciate the crushed pistachio topping for the color and taste addition but it still was not as good as my sister and brother-in-law make.

I’ll definitely go back and try some of the other menu items and feel confident recommending them to other people.

For a recipe, music, and a random bit of info check out the Tell Me More page.

Tea Time pt 1

I teased (see what I did there) this on the FB page last month after the family had our post-Christmas Christmas gathering. My niece and her husband got me this bag of teas from around the world.

Outer bag

Selection of countries

Twelve countries and twelve teas. The packaging is utilitarian rather than fancy but that’s ok with me if it helps deliver value. I’ve tried half of the teas to this point and while I’m researching suitable restaurants in the Augusta area I thought this would be a good item to keep my blog momentum going and it certainly is in the spirit of the blog.

A quick note about my preparation that will likely appall any tea aficionados among you. I use filtered water that I microwave to boiling and then steep the tea according to the package recommendation or 5 minutes if there isn’t a recommendation. I take mine with sweetener only.

My first random pull from the bag was the tea from Israel, Wissotzky Tea.

This was a black tea in a double chamber bag with string like the majority of the teas we see here in the US. My tea palate is not refined to distinguish subtle variations within the tea types so my main gauge is strength of flavor. I found this to be a nice black tea but somewhat mild, definitely drinkable and I graded it 3 out of 5 tea bags.

Next was the Azerbaijani tea.

Another black tea, the Azercay Buket was packaged in the double chamber with string format. It was a bit stronger than the Israeli tea which suited me fine. While I said my taste buds weren’t that refined there was something a bit different with this one in addition to the strength that I liked and earned it 4 out of 5 tea bags.

Nepal was the next contestant out of the bag.

The KTE Black with Chai Spices was the first tea with additions and they were nice additions. There was no overpackage to the bag and it was a single chamber style. I like spiced tea and this one came with a very pleasant aroma and taste. I’m not sure what all spices were used but I could taste the cinnamon and cardamom complimenting the mild black tea. As I mentioned I prefer strong teas and like flavors that punch you in the face however I found this enjoyable enough to give it 4 tea bags.

Number four in the tea parade was the Russian entry.

Not a lot to say about the Maisky other than it was a moderately strong black tea with a good tannic mouthfeel. The bag was double chambered with string and no outer package. A 4 bagger on the rating scale.

England represented with a Twinings tea.

The 1706 Strong Breakfast Tea is my favorite of the lot so far. I don’t love this bag style but the tea within was as advertised. This was strong, astringent tea that was taking no prisoners. One of these for breakfast and you’d have to be dead for it not to get you going. If I was the type to add milk to my tea this would be the only one I’d consider because even diluted the tea would still be the dominant flavor. This one gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

The last one for this edition is the Indonesian entry.

The Sosro Heritage Green Tea was the first non-black out of the bag. Green tea is not my favorite as they tend to be subtle but I do enjoy one every now and then as a change of pace. This one was very pleasant. In spite of the label saying there was no roasting the tea presented with a faint smoky aroma that carried over to the flavor. I found the overall taste to be kind of grassy and mild and while that doesn’t sound great the flavor built up as I drank it. It earned a 3 out of 5 tea bags.

That’ll do it for part I. I’ll do part II once I finish the other 6 teas and I’m hoping for at least one more “punch me in the taste buds” like the Twinings in that batch. If you’ve had any of these teas let me know what you thought.

German Box Zwei

Well I didn’t cancel my German Box subscription like I meant to so in the absence of a new restaurant let me share what I put together from the most recent box. It included something I’d never had before and have become kind of a fan of even if I don’t see myself seeking it out on a regular basis.

Here are the items I used from the box to construct a meal (actually meals because there were left overs).

Fortunately for me there were English instructions on both the Bread Dumplings and the Schweinebraten mix. I couldn’t find a suitably sized pork roast so I opted for a pork loin of equivalent weight to sub for it, otherwise I cooked as instructed. I mean roast pork and gravy, how could this be bad?

The bread dumplings were the new thing for me and I was digging the packaging and ease of preparation.

Yep, those are little plastic bags with bread bits in them. I went into this with very little confidence in how these would turn out. Man was I surprised. The bags are porous and you soak them in water before you boil them. The packaging contains the growth as the bread hydrates and forms a cohesive dumpling. Once done you just free them from the plastic restraints and chow down. German engineering for the win baby.

The red cabbage and apples just needed to have the jar open. I guess you could heat them up but I liked them just fine at room temp. Once I got everything done the end result was a fine dinner.

The succulent pork loin medallions were fork tender and tasty from the gravy, the bread dumplings were a chewy, tasty vehicle for gravy distribution and the cabbage & apples added a bit of color, texture and a hint of sweetness to the meal.

I’d say the German Box folks did a nice job putting together some items that melded well together.