Bradford Family Watermelon Tasting Menu is Oh So Sweet

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Chef Travis Myers, Nat Bradford, Chef Brent Andruzzi and the star of the show, the Bradford Watermelon

This past Sunday, Stephanie and I were invited to Willow’s Bistro to be part of (and to document via video) the Bradford Family Watermelon tasting event. Bradford Watermelons are an heirloom watermelon that has a lineage of around 170 years or so. The were once thought to be extinct but, according to Nat Bradford, they’re reintroducing the lovely melons to chefs, restaurants and foodie folk everywhere. I’ve always just been passive about watermelon; just had it if it was there, not really indulging for myself. Why?

Watermelon has just always been something that is messy (I don’t like messy food, at least when it makes a mess on me) with minimal flavor and you have to spit out a lot of seeds. I never minded that part if I was outside, I spit for distance. Let me tell you, though, there was nothing plain about this watermelon. It was very juicy, not messy, and very sweet and flavorful with a great color and not an abundance of seeds. Chef Travis Myers made sure to let us know they didn’t allow any salt on the table, it wasn’t needed. You could actually eat the rind, too. They’re related to cucumbers and for that, I think a little salt would have been good, but for the flesh of the melon, not salt.

2016-09-18-18-12-57Bradford Watermelons aren’t just about the melons, however. They have molasses, okra, toasted watermelon seed oil (that was some fine smelling and tasting stuff), ground nuts and so on. A plethora of food offerings. I couldn’t really hear much about what Nat was saying about the ground nuts, the music was a bit loud on our end, but Mr. Carroll Leggett said they reminded him of a cross between a turnip and yucca plant. I can see that, although, admittedly, I have limited exposure to either.

When we first arrived, Kelly, the fantastic bar keeper served us delicious cocktails of watermelon juice (from Bradford, of course) and Topo gin with purple basil and grated ginger. It was sweet but not too. The gin leveled that out nicely. It was bright pink and very drinkable.

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Bradford Watermelon

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Pickled watermelon rind and fresh okra

Nat Bradford then demonstrated the proper way to slice a watermelon, which one may think is rudimentary but there is a wrong way to do it. It’s all about the grain. Don’t go against the grain. Each melon has chambers, 5 of them, that you should cut along the chamber wall and always into wedges, then cut perpendicular to the wedge to create slices. Why that much thought? You’re not cutting into the seeds that way; you’re grazing the seeds and making a smoother cut. Science is great, n’est-ce pas? He then passed those wedge slices around for us to try. The best I’ve ever had, I’d say. With the wedge slices they also passed around pickled rinds made from a Bradford watermelon and fresh okra grown on the family farm. Stephanie told me that she wanted my okra if I didn’t like it. I didn’t, but she 2016-09-18-20-08-32loved it. So, it’s still a win. That was the warm up, the real courses then started.

First Course: Compressed Bradford watermelon with Tajín, micro cilantro from Fair Share Farm, ginger from Shore Farms Organics and Olinda Olives olive oil. This little morsel packed a punch. The Tajín, which is a seasoning powder made of chilies, lime juice and sea salt makes this baby pop! Overall, it’s bright and flavorful goodness packed into a 1″ cube. Delicious.

Second Course: Molasses haystack potatoes with Bradford’s light molasses, Fair Share Farm’s micro saltwort and Sea Love Sea Salt, with a load of Calavander cheese sprinkled all over it. Willow’s used to have molasses fries on the menu but it was hard for them to 2016-09-18-20-09-35keep the molasses in stock because the fries were a hit and Bradford can only make so much molasses at a time. I love the Calavander cheese, it’s tangy and light. It makes the molasses sweeter, at least to me. You can never go wrong with Sea Love Sea Salt, either. To hear Chef Travis tell the over-exaggerated story of how they extract the sea salt is always fun. He has it down, though. I like the haystacks over the sweet potato fries that Willows used to serve. I’m not a big fan of sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries.

Third Course: Bradford watermelon and seared ahi tuna with Bradford toasted watermelon seed oil, Bradford crispy okra, shungiku (an Asian green) from Fair Share Farm, garlic flower from Plum Granny Farm, rosé gastrique and Sea Love Sea Salt smoked salt. I think this was my favorite dish? Why? Because 2016-09-18-20-10-44there there was animal flesh on it. I love ahi tuna as it is and to have it next to the Bradford watermelon, well, it was heavenly. The okra seemed to be baby and it was crispy. There was a great seasoning on the tuna, too. The toasted seed oil gave a slightly roasted/smokey flavor to the whole dish and the melding of the sweet, savory and smokey flavors was enough to make me audibly say “mmmmm.”

Fourth Course: Bradford groundnut slivers, Goat Lady Dairy whipped cheese, Gnomestead Hollow crispy lion’s mane mushroom, crispy prosciutto, Harmony Ridge Farms sun gold tomatoes and tomato water with Fair Share Farm micro beets. The prosciutto was extra crispy and fell apart at the touch. The groundnut slivers were firm and sliced extra thin. I adore Goat Lady Dairy’s cheese products; 2016-09-18-20-12-01everything I’ve had is fantastic and tangy. I’m not much on mushrooms but Gnomestead’s wares are always spot on and they’re pretty. I enjoyed the sun gold tomatoes, too. They’re sweet and acidic and compliments the cheese perfectly. I know I’ve mentioned how much I love good microgreens and this is certainly it.

Fifth Course: Bradford okra and pickled rind syrup, Fair Share Farm collards and pot likker (pot liquor, the liquid leftover from cooking collards), Heritage Cheshire pork rind and Plum Granny Farm garlic ash. I love the things that Chef Travis does with pork skin. Be it cracklin’ or rinds, he always does it right with them. The pot likker makes it a little soft in this case and, while they already do, it makes them melt directly in your mouth. I ate the okra in this dish and I have really grown to love collards. These 2016-09-18-20-13-08were perfectly wilted and cooked, still retained all their flavor and created a wonderful jus. Good seasoning from the garlic ash made the dish delicious.

What I noticed about all the dishes was the vibrancy of the colors, the pinkish red watermelon, the emerald green okra, the deep green of the collards, the deep red of the tuna, the brilliant yellow and orange of the sun gold tomatoes. Each held their own merits on their own, but Chef Travis and his Chef de Cuisine, Chef Brent Andruzzi, made spectacularly large dishes in such remarkably smaller packages. I love what Chef Travis does in the kitchen and that’s why I call him “Wonderboy.” Taking a food like watermelon and turning it into these works of art, that’s talent.

There was a star-studded audience for this event, as well. Mary Haglund of Mary’s Gourmet Diner, Jennifer Smith, owner of Mozelle’s Southern Bistro, Curtis Hackaday, head chef of 1703 Restaurant, Margaret Norfleet Neff, Mary Lacklin of Triad Local First, Michael Hastings of the Winston-Salem Journal hosted and the list goes on. 2016-09-18-18-27-12

You can find more about Bradford Watermelons by visiting their website (HERE). Click on the links to any of the vendors mentioned above and try their products, you won’t be disappointed. Willow’s Bistro is located at 300 S Liberty St, Suite 100 in Winston-Salem.

Seats Still Available for 1703 Restaurant’s Second Sunday Dinner

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©Jackie Biggs

This Sunday, September 11, Chef Curtis Hackaday, of 1703 Restaurant, creates another scrumptious “2nd Sunday Supper: Beer vs. Wine Dinner.”  I reported on the occasion last month and this month is going to be a treat for anyone who attends. I highly recommend attending and tasting, for yourself, the awesome creations that Chef Curtis prepares.

This time around the theme is a luau. Chef Curtis has a brand new toy, a Caja China style box cooker and he’s going to be roasting a 40 lb. pig, whole. The first two courses will be served “cocktail” style where there will be stations set up for you to get your food and try it with the libations. The third and fourth courses will be “sit down” and served at your table.

The beer in the contest will be from Port City Brewing out of Alexandria, VA. The various wines will be demonstrated by Mutual Distributing Company‘s Jackie Biggs, who really knows her wines. She’s picked some good ones.

I’m giving you a glimpse of what fun you may be getting yourself into, as far as libations go, here:

First Course:
Reichsrat von Buhl Riesling Sekt Brut vs. Port City Optimal Wit Belgium Style White Ale

Second Course:
Planeta Rose vs. Port City Downright Bohemian Style Pilsner

Third Course:
Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir vs. Port City Oktoberfest Marzen Style Lager

Fourth Course:
Robert Mondavi Moscato D’Oro vs. Port City Robust Porter

That should whet your appetite and palate. There are still seats available and if you’re ready for a culinary experience that you’ll never forget, then you should contact 1703 Restaurant at (336)725-5767 and reserve yours, today!

1703 Restaurant is located at 1703 Robinhood Rd in Winston-Salem. The “beer vs. wine” dinner starts at 6:30. You won’t be disappointed.

Bon appetit!!!

Beer vs. Wine: the Debate Continues at 1703 Restaurant

On Sunday, August 14, Stephanie and I had the opportunity to sit at the blogger’s table for Chef Curtis Hackaday’s Beer vs wine dinner at 1703 Restaurant in Winston-Salem. Chef Curtis is a superb chef that creates not only delicious dishes, he creates edible works of art. I know that can get thrown around easily but it’s really true here. When the blog post comes out, you can see the pictures. It’s lovely stuff.

The purpose of this dinner, outside of having delightful food, was to answer an age old question: beer or wine? Is it beer that goes with dinner better or is it wine? We’re about to find out. There were several clusters of people in the 2016-08-23 15.20.26restaurant and since it was a small crowd, they separated us to get “groups” opinions. We would vote after each meal and see who came out on top.

Ms. Jackie Biggs of Mutual Distribution Company was our wine sommelier and Mr. Andrew Turner was our beer sommelier (yes, that’s a thing). He is a scientist and co-owner (according to his Facebook page) of Mystery Brewing which was who provided all the beer for this evening.

First Course: Grilled Avocado, Curtido Crab Shrimp Salad, Arugula and Radish Sprouts.

I didn’t know you could grill an avocado. My question to Chef Curtis, the next time I see him, is going to be how the heck did he peel them to grill them? Never mind that he grilled it and it stayed together, I can’t ever peel it without crushing it. Then again, I’m no chef. The avocado was still very tender to have been peeled and grilled, but it was definitely firm. Surprisingly, too, the crab shrimp salad was warm and not cold as everyone at the table expected it to be.  It was quite flavorful, too and the crunchy, peppery arugula was an excellent first layer topping for the salad but then add the bright stalks of the radish sprouts on top? Man… that was some great stuff. The sprouts made it pop. One of my favorite adjectives with food construction, pop. It did here.

The beer was Mystery Brewing’s Gentlemen’s Preference Belgium Blonde and the wine was Hall Sauvignon Blanc. I thought the beer went better with the overall dish. The wine brought bright things out in the food, but I was more 2016-08-23 15.21.48about the depth that the beer brought. I voted for the beer. I was the only one at the table who did so. Wine won that round, en masse.

Second course: Gigante Bean Cassoulet, Tiny Veggies, Chanterelle Focaccia & Shiso Microgreens.

To take from Wikipedia: “Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat, pork skin and white beans. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.” This was good, it had some giant beans (hence the Gigante) and itty-bitty carrots and onions in there. Two things of note here is that Stephanie has an aversion to beans and she ate nearly the whole thing and I have an aversion to onions and I ate all of the wee ones in my dish. The focaccia biscuit was very nice and helped sop up the extra cassoulet juices. And my new favorite word in food: microgreens. A bright accent on top of the hearty bean dish was an added, textural bonus. It made the dish.

The beer was Mystery’s Evangeline Rye Saison and the wine was the Susana Balboa Signature Malbec from Argentina. I believe that Stephanie and I have decided that Malbecs are our new favorite red. We like “jammy” and that’s what you get with Malbec. It’s not necessarily sweet, but it’s not dry either. Just good. This particular one was very good for that. We purchased a bottle to bring home. The Evangeline Rye saison was high in ABV (8.1% – which I love) and deep amber in color but easy to drink. I thought the wine and beer were neck and neck on what went better 2016-08-23 15.23.00with the dish. When a tie happens, it’s always beer for me. Again, I was out voted. Wine won the dish.

Third Course: Porchetta, Watermelon, Shaved Fennel, Baby Vegetable Tops, Peach Mustard Hot Sauce, Pickled Ramps, Okra Straws, Micro Basil and Peaches.

Whew, there was a lot going on in this dish. First off, porchetta is a big, fat piece of pork roast. And what a wonderful thing that is, too! The watermelon cubes, baby veggies, peaches, shaved fennel, all culminated in a bombastic finish, especially when you drag it through the peach mustard hot sauce schmear. I am not a fan of okra, but I liked the okra straws. The pickled ramps were good, too. I usually steer clear of those but not tonight. The pork center was very tender and the belly was chewy and delicious. The skin was very crunchy! We all remarked about how loud we each were chewing; it was that loud. Overall, it was my first time having porchetta, I think, and it was by far my favorite course of the evening. Then again, I’m a meat eater and this dish once had a mother.

Mystery’s beer was Lockwood’s Retreat West Coast IPA and the wine was Zaccagnini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo’s Rose di Montepulciano from Italy. Now, I have mentioned many times that I’m over IPAs and I’m hopped out. This wasn’t that kind of IPA. Sure, there was some hoppiness to it and it was definitely noticeable but it certainly did not attack my tongue. It was a smooth drink and I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the rose and thought the light fruit of it went perfectly with the pork and the watermelon and peaches. So, believe it or not, I went with the wine for the dinner. Again, surprisingly, I was outvoted. Most everyone at the table went beer, even Stephanie. Beer won that dish.

Dessert Course: Matcha Beer Pound Cake, Carrot Ganache, Macerated Cherries, Chocolate Crumble, Peach Honey Sorbet and Lacy Pistachio.

To me, and I believe to everyone at the table this was two completely different desserts. The green tea and beer cake with the cherries on top on one side and the chocolate crumble, peach-honey sorbet and lacy pistachio on the other; both on top of a schmear of carrot ganache. The cake was very moist and the green tea mixed wonderfully with the cherries and those both went quite well with the beer that I’ll mention in a bit. The chocolate crumble was rich 2016-08-23 15.24.05but not too much so. And, the deliciously sweet sorbet with a lacy pistachio “cookie” dipped in it was a mix of warm and cold; deep and tart all at the same time. I thought it paired best with the wine that I’ll mention. I liked the carrot ganache but I think it would have been okay if it wasn’t there. Not bad mouthing it, just didn’t think it was absolutely necessary for the dish to work. Or should I say ‘dishes?’

The beer was Mystery’s Papa Bois Foreign Export Stout and the wine was Gerard Bertrand Banyuls from France. The blackberry and woody taste of the wine made it a great choice for me when it came to the chocolate crumble and sorbet part. And, the deep rich coffee-esque flavor of the stout made the green tea and beer stand out in the Matcha cake and cherries. Because it was, as I said, considered two different desserts on one plate and I thought that the beverage choices were each right for one of the components, I split my vote to a tie.  That happened with several of the diners, but overall for that course, beer won out. That made the overall consensus; 2 courses for wine and 2 courses for beer.

We bought the Banyuls and the Malbec as well as Mystery’s Gentlemen’s Preference Belgium Blonde and the Papa Bois Stout. I think all were fantastic but those were our favorites.

Chef Curtis, I tip my hat to you, brother, you did a fantastic and amazing job with the courses. Your food artistry is amazing. I appreciate you having us there and we will be returning to dine with you more often. It’s added to the ‘rotation,’ if you will.

1703 Restaurant owner, Molly Curran, said that they were going to have these kinds of dinners every second Sunday of the month. If you’re interested in participating in a future pairing or just having some of Chef Curtis’ wares, you can find more on their website. They’re located at 1703 Robinhood Rd in Winston-Salem. I highly recommend you do check them out.

Kudos Chef Curtis and Molly!

Bon appetit!

The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast Episode #6

In episode #6:

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Food holidays and history for the week of August 22-28.

I also review our great experience at 1703 Restaurant and their “beer vs. wine” dinner from Chef Curtis Hackaday. There will be a blog post about that on Thursday.

Don’t forget my sponsor, Washington Perk & Provision Company. Better than a convenience store but not quite a grocery store, in the heart of Washington Park and Downtown WSNC.

Give it a listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict and TuneIn. Or you can listen here (at the bottom of the page).

Bon appetit!