The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast Episode 74

Chef Jay Pierce (©Triad City Beat)

In Episode #74, proudly recorded at Test Pattern Studios:

  • Chef Jay Pierce is the new executive chef at Mozelle’s.
  • Texas Pete Spirits of Summer is this weekend, June 2.
  • Chef Travis Myers to host Chef Cynthia Graubart in a Sunday Supper on June 10.
  • Dave and Buster’s coming to Hanes Mall
  • Zesto Burgers and Ice Cream opens in East Winston.
  • Food Holidays.

Don’t forget our sponsors:

DiLisio’s Italian Family Restaurant Italian food like you’re sitting, eating in Naples. Wonderful Italian dishes from traditional spaghetti and lasagna to contemporary delights. Rich, flavorful sauces, a variety of pasta options, seafood, meat and more. Just south of Downtown and Business 40 (SOB40).

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

The Humble Bee Shoppe is challenging your perception of scratch made and leaving you with an experience you couldn’t possibly forget! With inventive flavor combos and a sense of artistry, The Humble Bee Shoppe isn’t your average bakery.

The Man Who Ate the Town is part of The Less Desirables Network. Give it a listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict and TuneIn, basically anywhere you can listen to podcasts. Or you can listen here (at the bottom of the post).

Bon Appetit!

Willows Bistro and Wise Man Brewing Making Wonderful Tastes Together

On Sunday, February 25, Willows Bistro‘s Chef Travis Myers and his fantastic crew and staff provided guests an opportunity to pair their culinary delights with the liquid gold that is Wise Man Brewing‘s beer.

Amuse-Bouche

Chef Travis wanted to showcase the quality of beer that is made here in Winston-Salem and what better way to do that than with one of the top chefs in the area? And, he delivered. He delivered big. What diners were treated with was a ten-course (which turned into around 12 courses) pairing with five Wise Man brews.

There was no one who left out of there not satisfied. I know of no one complaining they didn’t get enough food.

Let’s talk about the courses.

Mountain Calling Beer Cheese

Amuse-Bouche
Starting off the shindig was the pork rinds from Harmony Ridge Farms. Willows do them in-house but the skins come from the hog that they butcher. It’s deep-fried and spiced with scallion ash and micro shungiku from Fair Share Farms. When you bite into it, it’s crispy but then it melts in your mouth – and I mean melts. Delicious.

NC Coconut Shrimp and Beer Battered Onion Rings

Mountain Calling ‘Beer Cheese’ Chowder
Beautiful pancetta, monkfish from Low Country Shellfish, fingerling potatoes, micro ruby streaks and scallion ash from Fair Share Farms and this was paired with the Wise Man Dance in the Sun Kölsch and the Mountain Calling West Coast IPA. The idea was to have both beers and see which one you thought paired better with the dish. The beer cheese chowder was creamy and delicious. The monkfish, which Chef Travis calls the “poor man’s lobster,” was tender and perfectly cooked, it also nicely complemented the salty pancetta. And, since it has been a while since I have written a pairing review, let me state, right off the bat that I love any micro-green that comes from Fair Share Farms. Eliot and Em create tiny green miracles in their greenhouses. I am not the world’s biggest IPA fan so the Dance in the Sun Kölsch wins that contest.

Coconut Fried NC Shrimp & Mountain Calling Beer Battered Onion Rings
Coconut Fried NC Shrimp & Mountain Calling Beer Battered Onion Rings, Dance in the Sun-wasabi aïoli, Plum Granny Farm‘s ginger glaze, NC shrimp powder mad in-house by the Willows folk from all the leftover shells that don’t get used for stocks and other cooking needs (I think that’s clever), topped with orange zest. This too was paired with both the Dance in the Sun and Mountain Calling IPA. Again, the Kölsh wins that battle. I love when chefs take beer and incorporate it into other things like batter for the onion rings (and possibly the shrimp) and creating a wasabi aïoli. I especially like it when it’s done with the beer that you’re tasting. That’s keeping the theme. The shrimp wasn’t overcooked. Chef Travis told the secret to great shrimp during his introductions. He knows what he’s doing.

Crispy Duck

Pork Belly Croquette

Harmony Ridge Farms Crispy Duck
Crispy Duck from Isaac at Harmony Ridge Farms with Alt Acquaintance fermented mustard seeds, Fair Share Farms’ ruby streaks, fermented green tomato from Gnomestead Hollow – pickled and jus vinaigrette, pickled seed powder. This was paired w/ Alt Acquaintance – Altbier from Wise Man. I could have eaten a whole plate of the duck. That was delicious. Duck sometimes can be gamey but these ducks are exercised and allowed to roam the property at Harmony Ridge, it was tender and not at all gamey with a nice crispy shell, done to the perfect temperature. This matched perfectly with the malty Alt Acquaintance. More on that beer later. One of my favorite dishes of the evening.

Harmony Ridge Farms Pork Belly Croquette 
Ever since Stephanie and I spent time in Europe and fell in love with croquettes, we have wanted to try to make our own and we try to eat them anywhere we can find them. This pork belly and smoked risotto version of it was amazing. The risotto was creamy and the pork belly rich in flavor. The pickled mustard seed, confit pearl onion, pot likker, as well as the nasturtium & micro chard from Fair Share Farms were an ideal accompaniment. It was creamy and savory and the onions were very tender, too. This was once again paired w/ Mountain Calling IPA and that made for a fine dish. Another of my faves.

Pickled Okra

Plum Granny Farm Cajun Jewel Pickled Okra
The Cajun Jewel from the great folks at Plum Granny Farms pickled in brine, with extra virgin olive oil from Olinda Olives with micro shungiku from Fair Share Farms. I don’t like okra and I ate every bit of it. So that is telling you something, right?

Roasted Carrots

Roasted Local Carrot Variations
As the name implies, this is a group of roasted local carrot variations. I saw them peeling and prepping them earlier in the day. Take those carrots, roast them and top them with Fair Share Farms’ micro carrot tops, Bertie County Peanuts, red curry, seed oil and Sea Love Sea Salt‘s garlic salt, then shave a bit of Goat Lady Dairy‘s Providence cheese and you have some flavor bursts here.  If you’ve not had Goat Lady Dairy’s Providence, it’s earthy, nutty, creamy and a little bit umami. I can eat that on its own. This course was paired with the Alt Acquaintance and the malty altbier mixed fabulously with that Providence cheese.

Hen Roulade

Joyce Farms Hen Roulade
Hen from Joyce Farms with a Shiitake soubise from Myers Mushroom with Harmony Ridge Farms celery root and Fair Share Farms pea shoots all in a broth made from Miso Master miso and Plum Granny Farms’ ginger. This is paired with Noble Alchemy, Farmhouse/Saison. Rolled and filled hen was earthy and meaty. Doused in the miso-ginger broth, the savory saltiness lends a good dichotomy to the earthiness of the mushrooms and micro greens.

Bone Marrow

Bone Marrow
Southern Food’s bone marrow (in-bone) with Myers Mushrooms’ shiitake mushrooms fried in pork fat from Yellow Wolf Farm, creole-miso aïoli from Miso Master, ponzu, zest, Fair Share Farm’s micro cilantro and Sea Love’s citrus salt. This, too, was paired with Noble Alchemy Farmhouse/Saison. Perhaps the scariest plate of the night. Really, it was just imposing. It was a half bone with the marrow right in there. Chef Travis had us scoop it out with a spoon. This was a bit pasty but that was just how you wanted it. Chef Travis loves charred bread and he highly recommended that you put the marrow on the bread. When you spread it and tasted it, it was kind of like butter. Earthy, umami-like which was very nice with the shiitake. I heard some people around me moaning; that’s how well it was liked. I preferred it without the bread because I don’t like hard bread. It tears up the roof of my mouth. The high malt/low hop profile of the Noble Alchemy was good with the buttery umami of the marrow. I also know that several folks took the bones home to their dogs.

Porchetta

Yellow Wolf Farms Porchetta
Kune Kune Porchetta from Yellow Wolf Farms with Moss Farms‘ Mutsu apple mostarda, Lusty Munk Mustard‘s Original Sin, Mountain Foods‘ butternut squash, golden beet from Harmony Ridge Farms, Fair Share Farms’ micro beet, seed & pancetta powder, apple cider and 3-day pork demi. This was paired with Dancing Problems English Brown from Wise Man. Absolutely my favorite dish of the night. I love porchetta. I love the top cut with the belly rolled up into a delicious bundle just waiting for me to bite into it. And, what goes better with pork but apples and mustard, right? Man, this was the pièce de résistance. The English Brown and its chocolatey maltiness also lent to this dish being so fantastic. That porchetta, though…

Beer Float

Satisfy My Soul Beer Float
Wise Man’s Satisfy My Soul Stout with salted caramel, vanilla ice cream, nuts turtle style! Scott from Wise Man said, “just stir it all up and drink it!” The salted caramel with the salty nuts and this chocolatey stout, well, that’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. You needed a spoon and then you just chugged it, nuts and all. Rich and creamy but delicious.

Macaroon

The Humblebee German Chocolate Macaroon
The Man Who Ate the Town official sponsor, The Humblebee Shoppe, and our dear friend Brittany McGee, created a magical cookie sandwich with a ganache that makes you say “oh my gosh.” Yeah, that’s cheesy, but it’s true. I can’t tell you or describe in words how good this was. This is paired w/ Alt Acquaintance – Altbier and Satisfy My Soul Stout. Macaroons aren’t easy to make and Brittany is a macaroon maven. I loved both the altbier and the stout but the stout won the contest.

Apple Tart

Apple Tart
In probably the absolute most perfect beer pairing of the night, in my opinion, this apple tart, made with custard, spiced crumb, a variety of apples from Moss Farms and cheddar cheese-laced crust, was paired with the Mountain Calling – West Coast IPA. I know I talk that I don’t really care for IPAs but, wow. In this case, however, the spices and the cheddar cheese were made to marry the flavors in this IPA. I was darn-near stuffed when I had this put in front of me. I am not a fan of apples, either, but the flavors in this dessert popped and popped hard. The porchetta was my favorite dish but this was my favorite pairing. 

The Beer
Wise Man, since arriving on the scene just over a year ago, has taken this town by storm with their flavors and their mastery of the brew. Sam Victory, the head brewer, is the Wizard of Hops if you ask me.

Mountain Calling West Coast IPA – Dry-hopped with a pound and a half per barrel of Citra, this clean and crisp IPA resonates with strong citrus and floral qualities. It’s hoppy but it’s not offensive to the tongue. It’s pretty easy to drink, especially with its pairings (and extra especially with the apple tart). 

Dance In the Sun Kölsch – The Kolsch is a delicate and elegant, crisp and quaffable brew originating in the city of Cologne. A tantalizing touch of sweet apple on the front leads into a light base of German pilsner malt, with Noble Saaz overtones. I love when I can taste “hay” in the beer. That crispness, especially with the apple notes, that’s just splendid and I preferred it with its pairings over the IPA.

Alt Acquaintance Altbier – A rich and clean malt profile is balanced with wonderful German hop character. Toast, nuttiness, and a hint of cherry mark the palate, while a smooth finish concludes this cup of kindness. The nuttiness and hints of cherry were fantastic and, again, paired perfectly with that crispy duck!

Noble Alchemy Saison / Farmhouse Ale – Dry-hopping adds a blast of orange to a rustic base of fruit, herbs, and spice. The beer transcends its roots, awash with gold and nutmeg spice, and presents a mid-palate pop of bubblegum ester, banana, and a dozen other impressions. Low impact but formidable in flavor, nonetheless. Sam and pals did a good job with this one.

Dancing Problems English Brown Ale – Get on the good foot with this Northern English brown ale. Rich mocha and brown sugar slide in with each sip, while almonds and spice linger to dance on your tongue. Put that with the porchetta and you have a dream in your mouth and in your belly!

Satisfy My Soul Stout – A less-attenuative English ale yeast allows the beer to keep a hint of residual sweetness that expresses bready, chocolatey, and lightly roasted notes from the complex malt bill. I think it was like a roasted marshmallow and was perfect with the ice cream float.

Of course, the food offerings were special but you can find culinary delights at Willows Bistro in form of daily specials or even on their everyday menu. You can find them at 300 S Liberty Street.

Wise Man produces beer year-round and their taproom is open 7 days a week.

I highly recommend you try both of them because it will certainly be worth your time.

Thank you to Chef Travis, Chef Brent, Chef Terrell, the rest of the kitchen staff, Lele, Erica, Jamie and, of course, Ryan for all you always do at Willows and thank you Scott for bring the beer to us and making us happy!

The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast Episode #28

In Episode #28, proudly recorded from Test Pattern Studios:

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.

The Man Who Ate the Town is part of The Less Desirables Network. Give it a listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict and TuneIn, basically anywhere you can listen to podcasts. Or you can listen here (at the bottom of the post).

Slàinte mhath!

Triad Local First’s Community Table: the Menu

So, here it is. The menu review for Triad Local First‘s Community Table event from October 2, 2016. Mary Lacklen called on Chef Travis Myers, of Willow’s Bistro to gather his culinary family together from both Winston-Salem and Greensboro to make this fantastic feast a reality. Here is what we had…

The Appetizers

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The appetizers were every bit as plentiful and as filling as any of the supper menu’s items.

Seafood Paella

Chef Jeff Bannister made a great seafood paella. It was prepared on an open flame in a large paella pan that had to have been 3 feet in diameter. Gorgeous pieces of shrimp, mussels and chorizo mixed with green beans, tomatoes, peas and other veggies resting on and in a bed of rice. Great flavor. I’m trying to think the last time I had paella that was this good; and I love paella. The whole thing was topped with a specially made saffron sauce. That was delicious.

Hay Roasted Oysters

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Chef Jordan Keiper, of The Tavern in Old Salem, manned the hay roasted oysters, smoke billowing from the dampened hay laying on the hot fire to roast these delicate morsels of mollusky goodness. It was fun to watch him prepare these, but it was even more fun to eat them. They were topped with a milky tomato foam, which I believe was Chef Travis’ concoction. The smells and flavors, between the hay and the oysters were a lot to take in and oh, Stephanie and I took them in.

The Supper Menu

The supper menu started with a glass of wine, either the Clos du Gaimont Vouvray 2015 chenin blanc or Mazzocco Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2013.

Kettle Brunswick Stew2016-11-01-17-33-22

A large cauldron was pitched on a chain and tripod with the beautiful soupy bounty inside, stewing away. It had rabbit, pit pork, butter beans, corn and okra. The broth was think yet still very liquid-like. I like thicker stews and soups and this one was right on the money. I like rabbit and pork and the two meats with the veggies and the tangy tomato-based liquid, was a very, very hearty start, once we sat down. Delicious.

Panzanella

2016-11-01-17-34-18Soaked charred bread topped with heirloom tomatoes, shaved red onion, pea shoots, olives from Olinda Olives, what I believe were cucumbers, and a vinaigrette. If you’re wondering, yes, I ate the onions; at least a few of them. Even though it was October, the heat was still with us and traditionally panzanella is a summer salad. It fit here, for sure. I have mentioned many times how I love pea shoots and microgreens, good bright crunch and mixed well with the acidic tomatoes and olives.

Border Springs Pit-Cooked Lamb

Very lovely lamb from Border Springs Farm that was prepared with a rosemary mop sauce on a black-eyed peas and rice combo, sometimes called “Hoppin’ John,” a natural jus and microgreens on the top. The lamb was “pulled” and was tender 2016-11-01-17-36-09and the mop sauce was great. The microgreens on top were, once again, the secret star of the dish. Mixed with the rosemary in the mop, the greens meshed and brought bright life to the Hoppin’ John. Yummy.

Heirloom Tomato and Flat Bean Salad

Chef Jeff Bacon, from Providence Restaurant and Triad Community Kitchen, and his lovely wife sat next to Stephanie and me and he was the one that portioned our end of the table’s plates for the next course. He did a fine job, like he’d done it before. It had, obviously, heirloom tomatoes, haricot vert, wax beans, micro beet greens, Olinda olive oil, and Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese with scallion ash. The bright red beet greens were 2016-11-01-17-37-26fantastic, both in presentation and in flavor; not earthy like their name would suggest. The deep colored greens and richly colored tomatoes were a great departure from the heavier lamb we had the previous course. I am and will always be a sucker for goat cheese, especially that what comes from Goad Lady Dairy. That stuff is the best goad cheese out there, in my opinion.

Heritage Farms Lexington-style Pit Cooked Hog2016-11-01-17-38-20

Heritage Farms pit cooked hog. It was served on top of Old Mill of Guilford’s yellow grits and on a kale salad with croutons and red onions (and perhaps shallots?). I’ll admit, I’m not one for kale or onions, as we know. But, I ate most of this, I believe. Honestly, it’s the dish that I remember the least about. I think the onions and kale threw me off.

Three Hour Braised Short Ribs

2016-11-01-17-39-29The meat was topped with leather britches beans and microgreens and sat on a bed of mashed potatoes with some jus spooned on. This was a huge block of beef that just fell apart when you put your fork to it; no knife required. The beans and microgreens added a brighter flavor to the savory meat. It was juicy, tender, succulent and delicious. And what is a slab of beef without potatoes to go with it? The mashed potatoes were creamy and the perfect companion to the chuck of beef. One of my favorite dishes. But, I was about full. We’d had a lot by then.

Orange Creamsicle Mousse Cake

But, that wasn’t all… Next, or finally, came the orange creamsicle mousse cake made by Chef Lucia Bobby of Greensboro Country Club. It was served with 2016-11-01-17-40-46charred citrus confit and had a small shortcake cookie on the top. This was paired with a fantastic dessert wine: Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaume-de-Venise 2012. There was a lot of sweet in that course, and that’s just fine to me. The whole thing, sweet wine, dessert, citrus, all what would top this festival off. Bring it all to a close, if you will.

A very special thank you goes out to Mary Lacklen and Chef Travis, as well as all those involved in making this a memorable evening. I don’t think anyone walked away that night, disappointed. From the start to the finish, it was classy, elegant and delicious. I mean, even the port-a-potties had mood lighting and flowers. Class act right there.

Triad Local First’s Community Table: It’s Not Just for Greensboro, Anymore

The Community Table event for Triad Local First happened last month, on October 2, and it was a very well-planned2016-11-01-17-32-14 and successful event. Committee chair, Mary Lacklen, pulled her secret weapon out for the event, too. That would be one super chef, Chef Travis Myers of Willow’s Bistro, taking the reins of Executive Chef. In doing so, he unleashed a master plan that would help take the event, held at Hidden Lane Farm in Summerfield, from a traditionally Greensboro restaurant focus to a true “Triad” event.

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Mary Lacklen (©KristiMaier)

In the past, the event featured mostly (or only) Greensboro restaurants and chefs. Chef Travis wanted to bridge that gap with this event, saying, “What I wanted to do was intertwine Greensboro and Winston. Winston restaurants have a lot of events, like John Bobby (Executive Chef of Roosters: A Noble Grille) has events that get Winston restaurants together, he’ll have a crawfish boil or something. Greensboro doesn’t do that. They’re too spread out. A lot of great restaurants but they’re stretched out. So, I wanted to leave the door open for communication. I invited them to work with me.”

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Chef Travis Myers

Some of Triad Local First’s board members were kind of doubtful of Chef Travis’ ambitions and his ability to gather the chefs and restaurants he needed to pull off something this grand. He continues, “out of the twenty that I wanted to get to help me (including chefs, staff and help), twenty-six showed up. That’s six more than I wanted.” So, soon the board realized they were in good hands. Chef Travis certainly didn’t let them down, either. The event, at least to those sitting at the tables and taking in all the food involved, was nearly flawless.

One thing Chef Travis was adamant about was getting Triad Community Kitchen involved. Getting students and members of Chef Jeff Bacon’s tutelage (and watchful eye of Chef Janis Karathanis) was important because he felt it was in the scope of the organization’s goal: to create community. It was two fold, however, as it 1) served as a networking opportunity for the students to get to know some of the restaurateurs and chefs and perhaps finding work and 2) gave Chef Travis extra hands around the “kitchen.” It was a lot of work for him and having TCK there helped with the workload.

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Chef Brent Andruzzi

A lot of the prep and actual cooking was done beforehand, most of it at Willow’s Bistro, Chef Travis’ home base. Of course, the final touches were done at Hidden Lane Farm. Some of the top level chefs that were out to help Chef Travis’ cause were Chef Tim Thompson of Greensboro Country Club, Chef John Bobby, Chef Jay Pierce of Traveled Farmer in Greensboro, Chef John Jones, Chef Brent Andruzzi -the Chef de Cuisine at Willow’s Bistro, Chef Richard Miller of Graze in Winston-Salem, Chef James Patterson of Sedgefield Country Club, Chef Jared Keiper of the Tavern in Old Salem, and pastry chef, Chef Lucia Bobby of Greensboro Country Club. That list is probably truncated but it’s a good start. Chef Travis was reeling them in and dedicating a lot of time for this event, wanting to not only show that he could do it, but that he could with flair and style. That meant extra time from home, from his wife and kids, including his newborn daughter. It was, however, worth it. He threw a party. The party was good. But, no matter how good all the participation was, the event would have been nothing if the food hadn’t been extraordinary. It was, and all of it was locally sourced. To keep the posts to a minimum, I’m going to do the actual food review in another post, later this week, so keep on the lookout.

I would totally be remiss to forget to mention the awesome Esteban McMahan from TOPO Organic Spirits, who offered NC Whiskey Punch, Blood Orange Collins and Spicy Cucumber Lemonade as drink specials in addition to their special reserve that he’d give upon request. The special reserve is my favorite, but the drinks were all great, too. At one time there was one of each of the mixed drinks on my table in front of my courses.

Chef Jared Keiper

Chef Jared Keiper

Also, Pig Pounder Brewery was on hand and had four of their delicious brews on tap. And, Zero Wine and Cheese Shop were the wine curators for the event, which included Grove Vineyards’ Viognier (2015) and Malbec (2014) and Weathervane Winery’s Cirrus White and Nor’easter Chambourcin. Afterwards, The Grinder Cafe Coffee Truck was there to keep any of the diners that had gotten a little chilly warm with their lovely wares.

You can look at this menu and immediately know that Chef Travis Myers poured his heart and soul into creating a fantastic menu for Triad Local First’s annual fall spectacular. I think Mary Lacklen and her organization had a true winner here. Chef Travis said he’s already signed up for next year’s event. I, for one, cannot wait. And, from what I can tell from the (I’m guessing and this is a guesstimate) 100+ diners that sat, enjoyed and absorbed this fine feast, everyone else can’t wait for it, either. Bravo, Chef Travis Myers and Mary Lacklen; to you and all you had involved in this soiree!

Esteban McMahan of TOPO Organic Spirits

Triad Local First is a non-profit membership organization that is based out of Greensboro. They have over 280 members, including farmers, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, all the things you’d expect to be included in something that deals with community. But, it also includes dentists, realtors, retail shops, marketing firms and other industries that you may not think to remember. For more information, visit their website.

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.

Farm 2 Fourth Harvest Dinner a Success for Downtown WSNC

I recorded a podcast of this this past Tuesday (see previous post). 14095926_10154296661620490_1926267465363315423_nThis past Sunday, Stephanie and I were lucky enough to get tickets to the very first “Farm 2 Fourth Harvest Dinner” event hosted by the Winston-Salem Journal’s own, food editor, Michael Hastings. The event was a highlighting of local chefs using only local ingredients from local farms and making basically, a seven course feast for 140 diners to enjoy. Before I talk about the food, I do want to say that there were RayLen and Childress wines and port and, of course, the official “liquid reward” of The Man Who Walked the Town, as well as Presenting Sponsor of The Beer Dads, Hoots Roller Bar and Beer Company brews on hand. We had plenty of that, too. Now, on to the food!

The hors d’oeuvres were from Chef Lucas McGill, of Hutch & Harris. It was crostini with country ham, farmers’ cheese and radish sprouts. I had two of them and Stephanie one, at the insistence of one of the service captains; they had two left they needed rid of. Very good, not overly salty and the microgreens were right on spot. Good stuff. 14079830_10154302032545490_2702548163340851777_nQuaint but delicious. Chef McGill does great stuff over at Hutch & Harris.

Next came a very colorful and flavor-packed morsel of cherry bomb compressed watermelon with balsamic-basil syrup prepared by Chef Jeff Bacon of Providence Restaurant and Catering. The color was vibrant red, almost glowingly so and the bright greens on top with the darker balsamic-basil syrup created an almost mind-blowingly beautiful square of wonderful. The flavor of the greens disappeared mostly but the crunch they left behind was what the melon needed to balance the soft texture and spiced vinegar glaze. If I’m not mistaken there were tiny chunks of walnuts and feta or some other soft cheese to accompany the dish. Chef Bacon loves his watermelons and this was his pièce de résistance.

Chefs Christian Froelich of The Hearth at Sanders Ridge and Richard Miller of Graze prepared a fantastic veggie 14102433_10154302082135490_840297715253272217_nbaba ghanoush with red onion and cucumber relish and homemade naan. Baba Ghanoush (or ghanouj) is generally eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. I can only suppose that was what was in there. I do believe I tasted the eggplant, so I figure they stayed true to form on it. Yes, for those of you wondering, I did eat the pickled red onion and cucumber relish. There were also beets and microgreens on top. The naan was firm but not leathery or tough, it was still soft and delicious. Michael Hastings of the Journal made sure to get a picture of me eating the onions as anyone who knows me knows that I hate onions. But, for the benefit and integrity of the dish and festivities, I ate them. Pickled, they’re not that bad. Not something I’d want all the time but in this dish, it was definitely outshined by the baba ghanoush. Chef Christian couldn’t be there because of another commitment but Chef Richard Miller handled it quite nicely. It was delicious.

14192188_10154302097210490_4766992602351391198_nNext up, Chef Jared Keiper of the Tavern in Old Salem provided us with basil marinated goat cheese, charred red onion and heirloom green tomato pie. Now, again, with the onions, I ate them because they weren’t prevalent. And, neither was the green tomatoes. I’m not a huge fan of those either. But, don’t hear me wrong; I loved this dish. I’d have this dish again and again. The Tavern in Old Salem is always a fantastic place to dine and the wit and skills of Chef Jared are what makes it so. That combined with his brother, Jordan creating some of the best craft cocktails, made from the best local and regional spirits he (or we) can find. The Tavern is tough to beat. The crust of the pie was flaky, yet firm, great tasting and when topped with the heirloom cherry/grape tomatoes and microgreens (you know I love me some microgreens) and the tangy, tangy goat cheese (I also love me some goat cheese)? Holy smokes. Another winner!

Chef Harrison Littell of Honey Pot provided the sides for the night. This was a roasted potato hash (which I didn’t get14141643_10154302122435490_3872696077436112559_n a picture of because it was already being passed around before I could get to it) and Hoots braised greens and green bean salad with feta cheese. The seasoning on the potatoes were perfect. It was salty without being overbearing. The seasoning on the bean salad was kicked up a few notches. It was some spicy stuff. Not too spicy for me, but when you’re not expecting it, it can be a surprise. The cauliflower was from my pal Niki Farrington’s Niki’s Pickles. I am quite sure that’s where the spicy came from. Chef Littell held nothing back on this dish. Vibrant colors, punchy taste, smiling faces afterward. I’d say it was a hit. The “greens” came after as well and I had it with the next dish.

The main course for the evening was a combo dish from Chef Travis Myers (my buddy) of Willow’s Bistro and Chef John Bobby of Rooster’s: A Noble Grille. 14100398_10154302174700490_353053953512636586_nChef Travis smoked a porchetta and the meat was banging. I don’t usually use that word with food, but it was. Tender with the meaty middle and the crisp skin on the outside. The flavor was right on point; hearty. Chef Bobby made smoked lamb with chimichurri. He made it both in slices and in “pulled’ style. Both were great and seasoned just right. Both Chefs Travis and John shared the smoker and it is always fun watching Chef Travis use his knife skills. It was also fun watching Michael Hastings come around getting “privilege tastes” of everything. This, of course, was my favorite dish. Why? Because this food had a mother. Kudos to both Chef Travis and Chef John Bobby.

Then it was time for dessert. Dessert was also a tag-team effort. Chef Janis Karathanas of Providence Restaurant made a mascarpone cheesecake with a port wine reduction. She told us all what she made this of and I had no time to write it down. Plus, I was too busy tasting it. Even though I don’t know exactly what was in it, I can tell you it melted 14088459_10154302224620490_649515975873410144_nin your mouth and if you have it, you won’t care what was in it. I promise. Also on the plate was a sea-salt caramel stuffed fig dipped in dark chocolate and a honey ganache truffle prepared by Chef Tirra Cowen of Black Mountain Chocolate. The sea-salt caramel was that sweet, salty deliciousness that you knew you were going to get and the honey ganache truffle was perfect. To see these two desserts on the same plate lined 140 en masse on the old Community Arts Café bar? That was a thing of beauty. And the flavors were even more beautiful than the taste. Hat tip to Chef Janis and Chef Tirra.

And hats off to Michael Hastings, Justin Gomez and all the Winston-Salem Journal staff on hand to make this a wonderful event. And to all the chef and local growers, farmers and suppliers, thank you for all that you do for us in food fandom. You make us so very happy and we can’t thank you enough. The volunteer staff and restaurateurs were fabulous, as well. This event was a first for Winston-Salem but Michael Hastings said they were definitely doing it next year. I refuse to call anything “First Annual” because how do you know, really? You don’t. So, next year can be the “second annual” edition. I loved it.

Salute! the North Carolina Wine Festival is Here!

The wine festival that gets me going the most, Salute! the North Carolina Wine Festival, is tomorrow, June 4, from noon until 6pm in downtown Winston-Salem. I’m excited about the wine, the atmosphere, the people watching and yes, the food. I’m going to reprint the entry from the NC Food & Wine University page with some of my own stuff, if you’ll indulge me. Again, this excerpt is property of Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership and Salute! the NC Wine Festival.1045x299_fill_header

For decades it seems, the fine art of wine appreciation and selecting the proper wine to go with certain foods left many beginners a tad intimidated.  There was a sense of mystery surrounding the different varietals and a classic stereotype of “wine snobbery” that accompanied those who had solved the puzzle.  More recently, as wines have become more affordable and available from national, regional and local vineyards, many novices continue to feel unqualified to tiptoe into the world of oenophiles, the wine experts.

Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration wants to forever put aside those feelings of wine incompetence with an entertaining and educational opportunity perfect for all levels of wine-lovers.  De-mystifying the wonderful world of wine, and clarifying the art of food and wine pairings that bring out the best in our North Carolina wines is the mission of “North Carolina Food & Wine University,” back by popular demand at this year’s festival.

Five unique presentations will be held at NCF&WU every 45 minutes throughout the day.  The knowledgeable local chefs from some of the best restaurants and winemakers from some great NC wineries will help unravel the mysteries of wine, including how to swirl, sniff and savor the luscious varietals that are being produced in our state.

But the biggest lesson to learn at NCF&WU is how to relax and enjoy the experience and the experiments of mixing and matching your favorite wines with different foods.  Or maybe you are trying to find your favorite type of wine?  At this University, there are no wrong questions, and the only test will be as you rate the flavors of wines you’ll try while enjoying the festival!  Be sure you don’t skip these classes….plan to attend at least one during your day at Salute!

Schedule of Chefs Demos and Wineries:   

12:30 – 
Chef Stephanie Tyson, Sweet Potatoes and Hanover Park Vineyards 
– Cornbread Hoe Cake with collard green bruschetta & goat cheese topped with Texas Pete CHA! spiced Shrimp with caviar

Chef Stephanie is the culinary genius behind much of Sweet Potatoes’ success, along with her partner, the awesome Vivian Joiner. Hanover Park has always impressed me with their wares and I’ve had several tastings with them in restaurants in this town.

1:30 –
Chef Richard Miller, Graze Restaurant + Raylen Vineyards
– Grilled NC Shrimp and Oysters with Good Night Brothers Country Ham
      Cucumber Salad, Tossed Local Greens, Lemon mustard vinaigrette

Chef Richard is the reigning champion of the Competition Dining series and makes Graze a not-of-the-ordinary hotel restaurant. Raylen is a beautiful vineyard that produces some great wines. They have their own festival coming up in July.

 2:30 –
Chef Travis Myers, Willow’s Bistro and Jones von Drehl Vineyards
ALL LOCAL CHALLENGE featuring fresh produce from Minglewood Farms

– Duck 2ways with Harmony Ridge duck breast, pulled confit leg, duck dirty risotto, wilted Cheshire Farms dino kale, bacon jam & roasted duck jus. 

Chef Travis is one of the most talented chefs I know and there’s a reason I call him “Wonderboy.” You’ll see when you taste his food. I don’t know about Jones von Drehl but I am sure I won’t be able to say that after tomorrow.

3:30
Chef Kristina Fuller, Crafted: The Art of the Taco and Raffaldini Vineyards 

– Bahn Mi Taco Bulgogi beef, pickled daikon radishes, carrots and onions, jalapeño, white sauce, cilantro  

Former guest on The Less Desirables, Chef Kris has a way, and a vision, with the non-conventional when it comes to food. She’s a great talent and Raffaldini has to be one of the most pristine wineries in the Yadkin Valley, not to mention in the state. It’s picturesque and looks like you’re in Tuscany (at least from what I have seen that Tuscany looks like), plus the wine is fantastic.

4:30
Chef Tirra Cowan from Black Mountain Chocolate and Lake James Cellars 
– Dark Chocolate Torte with Levering Orchards Sour Cherry Compote

Another former TLD guest, Chef Tirra makes some out-of-this-world confections over at Black Mountain Chocolate. You can go by and watch her work through the glass and you can certainly see her do her magic at this event. Like Jones von Drehl, I don’t know about Lake James Cellars but I can’t wait to.

Salute! tickets are $25 in advance (you should purchase, now!) and $30 at the event. You can purchase tickets and get more info from their website. If you see me out tomorrow, please, come say hello. I love to meet my readers and friends.

Willow’s Bistro to Hold Wine Dinner with JOLO Winery & Vineyards

Willow Bistro‘s chef-extraordinaire, Chef Travis Myers is teaming up with JOLO Winery & Vineyards out of Pilot willows-logo_optMountain to present a wine dinner on Tuesday, May 31, at 7pm. This is a warmup for their presentation at the NC Food & Wine University at the Salute! Wine Festival on Saturday, June 4.

The featured menu is a four-course treat that features Chef Travis’ culinary genius with the delicious vino from JOLO. The menu is as follows:

First Course
Panzanella with Pickled Shrimp
Charred baguettes, shaved red onion, pickled ramps, fire roasted tomatoes,
local seasonal vegetables, lemon caper vinaigrette. This will be paired with the 2015 JOLO Pink.

Fish Course
Salmon & Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
Risotto, Gnomestead Hallow oyster mushroom, English peas, crispy pancetta. This will be paired with 2015 Golden Hallows.

Meat Course
Apple-wood Bacon wrapped Filet
Grilled portobello, Harmony Ridge Farms wilted dino kale, potatoes dauphinoise
Fair Share Farms micro garnet mustard, smoked tomato vin. This will be paired with 2015 Pilot Fog

Dessert Course
Lemon Pound Cake
Macerated blackberry & raspberry compote, vanilla Chantilly cream, JOLO sangria gelato. Paired with 2015 JOLO Sangria.

Tickets for this wine dinner event are $65 per person. You can purchase tickets by calling 336-293-4601.

Willow’s Bistro is located at 300 S Liberty St, Suite 100, in downtown Winston-Salem. It is part of the #SOB40 group of restaurants.

My experience with Chef Travis is that he doesn’t slouch in the kitchen and his meals are always top-notch and special. The tasting events are no exception. In fact, the tasting events allow Chef Travis to show off a bit, dig in and cook scrumptious items and then come from the back to address the Willow’s diners about the tasty art that he and his crew make. The service staff are always attentive and they do so with a warming smile. If you’ve not attended such an event with Chef Travis or at Willow’s in general, treat yourself; you will not be disappointed. The menu does look delicious.

l_joloWine making has been a lifelong dream turned reality for entrepreneurs and wine enthusiasts JW and Kristen Ray. They each left a life of working for someone else to make this dream come true. You can visit them for tastings most Thursdays through Sundays, 11:30am to 3:30pm with tapas. There are other special events happening, as well. Check out their calendar on their website. They are located 219 JOLO Winery Lane, Pilot Mountain. 1-855-JOLOWINE or 336-614-0030.

The Food Pairing Series: The Willow’s Bistro Bourbon Dinner

Within a month, we were privy to not one but two amazing bourbon dinners in our little culinary hideaway, Winston-Salem, NC or as we locals like to call it, WSNC. This time we delve into Chef Travis Myers’ bourbon wonderland event at Willow’s Bistro. These drinks and cocktails were from the Jim Beam family of bourbons and the food pairings were right on point, making it a fantastic marriage of goodness. Chef Myers has taken Chef Will Kingery’s vision of Willow’s Bistro and enhanced Will’s baby to blossom into a foodie paradise. Let’s look at this pairing dinner.

Amuse Bouche: Country-Style Cajun Gumbo

Take pork belly mix it 2016-03-17 09.38.34with seafood, scallions and a spicy gumbo broth, toss in a dollop of white rice and what do you have? Yumminess, that’s what. The salty pork with spicy broth was a great marriage of the earthy flavor. Oysters and scallions took the earthy to a lovely place in the sea with herbal essence and made the dish pop. The dish wasn’t overly spicy as Stephanie was afraid it would be since it is “Cajun.” Any self-respecting Cajun would want to pat Chef Travis on the back, I’m sure. A great starter, indeed.

This was paired with a Jim Beam Apple Mule which was fresh muddled mint, apple cider and Jim Beam Apple Whiskey all topped with ginger beer. When you take this drink and let it mix with the spicy gumbo, your tongue is at conflict with itself, but that’s a good thing. The cool crisp with the savory spice sends your taste buds into a flavor frenzy and really, what could be better?

Rabbit Rillettes

Hunter Farms mutsu apples and cherry compote, charred bread, house pickles, candied pistachio, Lusty Monk grain mustard and Fair Share Farms microgreens. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: microgreens, while usually a 2016-03-17 09.40.14minor addition, can take a relatively understated dish and turn it out like a debutante at her ball. That’s exactly what happens here, other than the dish wasn’t understated. It was a clever re-imagining of rabbit. The rabbit was ground and served pate style beneath the charred bread, covered with the compote with the pickles strategically placed between bread pieces and then dollop of mustard to the side. The microgreens, along with the pistachios, were scattered about the plate, in a controlled chaos. The rabbit wasn’t gamey but light and tasty. Take a piece of the bread, place a bit of rabbit on it, a small bit of pickle and compote and, trust me, you only need a small bit of the mustard and you have yourself a treat. Follow that up with a candied pistachio chaser and you’re in business. The mustard is delicious but if you put a lot in your mouth at one time, you’ll clear up, not only your sinuses, but any future sinus problem you may have in the next two weeks. But, that flavor is amazing, especially with that rabbit.

This was paired with a Basil Berry Martini which is fresh muddled basil and blueberries, Basil Hayden’s bourbon, fresh squeezed lime juice and simple syrup. They served it in a dainty little martini glass with a single blueberry. It was better than a lot of berry martinis that I’ve had. Understandably, you have to go light on these pairing dinners but I could have used a bit more of this one. It cooled off the mustard if you got too much. And the berry aspect went well with the rabbit, as well.

New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp, Grit Cakes and Chives

Grit cakes made from Old Mill of Guilford Stone-ground Grits covered with a pair of shrimp properly smothered in a bourbon-infused barbecue sauce and sprinkled with chives. The sauce was tangy and easy, not too heavy. The 2016-03-17 09.41.54shrimp was firm but tender and the chives have an herbal lightening-up of the glazing you had with the sauce.  The Old Mill of Guilford grit cakes offered the texture you needed with the shrimp and those cakes were delicious. I’ve only come into grit maturity in the last three or four years and I love it when I find something that rocks me like these cakes. It was on the bottom of the pile but I think it was the best supporting actor in the dish. The only bad thing about having the tails left on the shrimp is: with a dinner like this, I find it improper to pick up the tails and suck the leftover meat from it.

This was paired with Willow’s Twisted Old Fashioned made with Maker’s 46. Combine the Maker’s 46 with a crushed brown sugar cube, Crude orange & fig bitters, muddled orange slice and Bordeaux cherries topped with a splash of soda. The Old Fashioned is my absolute favorite classic cocktail and when I can get it made with new elements or with a few twists and turns in its concocting, that’s even better. This is especially true when you have it with a dish like the barbecued shrimp. Delicious.

Blood Orange & Beet braised Lamb Neck, Rice Grits, Dirty Style Barrel Aged Bourbon Gastrique

Border Springs lamb neck, succulent, delicious, tender. I don’t know how many more words I could fit in to describe this lamb. Combine that with the Anson Mills Carolina rice grits and you have a savory textured delight that is 2016-03-17 09.43.41doused in a blood orange and beet sauce. Then surround it with a bourbon gastrique and this is a party in your mouth. But, guess what makes it all spectaculicious? That’s right, microgreens. I’m telling you, if you’re not on the microgreens train, no matter the style, you’re truly missing a treat. These babies really bring everything to a head and your dishes, and those who taste them, will thank you for it. There was nothing left on my plate when I finished this dish.

Another twist on a classic cocktail, this dish was paired with “Not Your Father’s Manhattan.” This was made with Baker’s Bourbon, dry vermouth, Crude lavender bitters all shaken with a cherry and garnished with a lemon twist. This was also served in the itsy-bitsy martini glass. A thing of beauty. I think the lavender bitters was the over-the-edge push on this one. The bitter  (not the bitters) flavor of this drink was a perfectly compliment to the rice grit and lamb neck dish. A wonderful dish.

Palate Cleanser

The palate cleanser for the evening was called The Sunbeam. Gray and Jessica, Willow’s mixologists/bartenders 2016-03-17 09.44.58for the evening, took good ol’ Jim Beam and mixed it with local WSNC staple Sunshine Drink and juice from one to two limes. Light and refreshing with the patented “Pick Me Up” from the Sunshine with the grand old taste of Jim Beam’s classic bourbon and you were ripped and ready to hit the next course. It didn’t hurt that it was a delicious beverage.

Venison Loin w/Juniper Salt, Fig-Bourbon Gastrique, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Bacon Jam, Potato Pave ‘Tater Tots’ and Microgreens

When I was growing up, my father (who is still an avid deer hunter) would bring home deer meat and my mother would fry it up beyond recognition and I could never figure out why I hated it so. I steered far away from venison until way after I’d reached adulthood. When I realized that I like my steak and most other non-fowl meats at most cooked medium (I prefer most red meat to be rare/medium-rare), I decided to give venison another chance. I had it as our 2016-03-17 09.47.40wedding dinner in Edinburgh, Scotland and I loved it. Now, I try it anywhere I have say in its cooked temperature or know the chef will not steer me wrong. This venison loin was made with juniper salt and cooked just medium rare. It was drizzled with the fig-bourbon gastrique and was fantastic with the bacon jam that accompanied it. That brought an extra saltiness to the deer. The potato pavé style tater tots were very flavorful for potatoes. I think sometimes potatoes have a tendency to just be plain. These weren’t plain and weren’t typical tater tots if that’s what you are looking for. Tater tots tend to be squishy and mushy. These tots were firm. Not a huge fan of mushrooms of any kind so I can’t really comment on those but what I can comment on: microgreens from Fair Share Farms! Add them to the bacon jam and the deer and that’s earthy, salty and savory all in one package. Très magnifique!

This is paired with a Willow’s staple: The Capone. The bartenders smoke each glass individually over hickory chips then add Booker’s bourbon, maple honey simple syrup, Crude smoke & salt bitters and top it with ginger ale and peppered bacon. Holy smokes (pun intended)!! Bacon, maple, honey, smoke? All that in itself would be perfect but then add some Booker’s on top and you’ve got yourself “Amazing in a Glass.” All that with the venison? There are no words.

Olive Oil Cake, Bourbon Caramel, Buttermilk Ice Cream, Glass Pecan Soil, Fig Syrup

The big finish. Two mini olive oil muffin/cupcakes. Between them lays a scoop of buttermilk ice cream and they’re all covered with a flavorful caramel made from bourbon and a fig syrup? Oh yes. Scattered upon these treats is a soil 2016-03-17 09.49.04made of pecan glass in which Chef Travis told how they made but I was too busy eating the cake and marveling over the drink pairing to remember what he said. The cakes were moist, as you’d expect something made of olive oil to be and the caramel was buttery, again, as you’d expect. It was a little thick and sticky but the flavor was spot on. I mentioned the drink pairing:

It was a Bourbon Float. Read that again, a bourbon float. One made of Jim Beam Single Barrel Bourbon mixed with Uncle Scott’s Root Beer (non-alcoholic) and throw in a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream frothed right up as it does in a root beer float and then you get the kick of the single barrel bourbon in there, as well. Don’t forget the fluffy whipped cream garnish, either. A sweet ending to a great night of food and bourbons.

I don’t want to leave off the fact that Lele Nguyen and her staff were on top of everything and we never wanted for a new eating utensil or a water refresher or whatever our needs were. The kitchen staff were functioning like a well oiled-machine and Chef Travis and his team seemed to be having fun. Gray and Jessica, again, getting that many drinks out in such a timely manner, was a feat in and of itself. Kudos to the entire Willow’s crew for making the night memorable. And thanks to Beam Suntory Brands for having such beautiful bourbons for our entertainment. The portions of this dinner were just right; not too heavy, not too big, not too much bourbon (with all that we had). Stephanie and I felt like we left satisfied, well-fed and not over-stuffed. The food was all delicious and just shows the genius that Chef Travis Myers is. Chef Will Kingery has to be proud.

Chef Travis has a lot of ideas and plans to have a lot of themed dinners. You can visit Willow’s Facebook Page to find out more about these dinners (for some reason their website isn’t working). Willow’s Bistro is located at 300 S. Liberty Street, Suite 125 in Winston-Salem. Their phone number is (336) 293-4601. Another great resource for all things good happening at Willow’s Bistro is to follow Chef Travis on Twitter and Instagram both @Chef_Myers

One last thing, anytime you’re tagging Willow’s, Chef Travis or anything to do with the restaurants, be sure to include the hashtag: #SOB40 (South of Business 40). Bon appetit!