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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Restaurants

Standout Sofra Bakery

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Ana Sortun's Oleana restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been one of my favorite New England stops for years—I'd put her carrot jam on practically anything, and pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick's coconut–passion fruit baked Alaska remains at the top of my most-adored-desserts list. So I can't say I was surprised when I fell hard for Sortun's new Middle Eastern bakery and café, called Sofra, while visiting Boston last weekend.

Sortun's Lebanese-style hummus, (which turns out to be just some lovely roasted chickpeas)—served with creamy avocado puree, sweet flecks of shredded beets and spicy arugula (from Sortun's husband's farm) alongside fried pita—is the sort of dish I could have every day. Same goes for the flaky, spiced spanakopita and bread-pudding-like cheesy borek that was sprinkled with smoky nigella seeds.

My only regret is that I didn't try one the any of the stuffed breads—or an orange-blossom-glazed morning bun, or a za'atar-feta brioche wheel. That said, I thankfully did buy a container of muhammara (a hummus-like red pepper–and–walnut puree) to bring back to New York, and I am just waiting for the perfect pita to come along to go with it.

Farms

Day 3: Dinner at Lantern

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Dinner at Lantern

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Dinner at Lantern

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

Once back in Chapel Hill, we headed straight for Lantern to taste Andrea's food for ourselves.

Lantern is widely known for marrying a farm-to-table philosophy to impeccably produced Pacific Rim cuisine, and Cane Creek is just one of many local farms and fisheries that Andrea features on her seasonally-driven menu. Local shrimp, sea trout, soft shell crab, flounder, mackerel, sea scallops, and a wide array of local vegetables all made it onto our table that night.

Over the course of the meal we also got a chance to see Cane Creek pork deployed in many forms. There was a lemongrass barbecued pork dish, a pork chop with a fried farm egg and spicy local cucumber mint salad, pork belly with 5-spice and pickled pumpkin, and lest any part of the pig be excluded, a head-to-tail pork terrine served with hakurei turnips.

Chefs

Watching LeBron, Eating Michael Symon Burgers

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© Ben Fink
The Lola Burger.

Since the New York Knicks aren’t doing so well these days, I’ve decided that I’m (at least temporarily) a Cleveland Cavaliers fan—especially when I can stop at the B-Spot near the Cavs team store at the Quicken Arena for ridiculously good burgers from Michael Symon (an F&W Best New Chef 1998). Symon specializes in “meat on meat” burgers—like patties topped with fried bologna—and next Monday, I’ll have another place to try them when he opens B-Spot Burgers in Woodmere, Ohio. Maybe I can convince Cavs forward LeBron James to come with me; although he’s a fan of the rib eye at Symon’s signature restaurant, Lola, he hasn’t been to B-Spot yet. “When we’re open, he’s pretty busy,” says Symon.

Until I get to Cleveland, my best shot at a Symon burger is to make one from his cool new Live to Cook book. The Lola Burger is indeed meat-on-meat (bacon) with a fried egg, cheddar and dill pickle slices, all served on a big, fat English muffin.

Farms

Day 3: Visiting Cane Creek Farm

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Visiting Cane Creek Farm

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Visiting Cane Creek Farm

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

Once we had eaten our fill of BBQ we headed an hour west to Snow Camp, NC to pay a visit to Cane Creek Farm. When I knew we were going to be driving through North Carolina I got in touch with Andrea Reusing, the chef/owner of Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill. Andrea is highly regarded for both her skills in the kitchen and her commitment to local sourcing, so I knew she would have great ideas about who was worth a visit. She suggested Cane Creek Farm right off the bat, and offered to meet us there.

Eliza Maclean is the proprietor of Cane Creek, and it's an understatement to say that she's a busy woman. The farm is maybe best know for its pigs (Ossabaws, Old Spot Gloucestershires, Farmers Hybrids, and an Ossabaw/Farmers Hybrid mix that Eliza has named a Crossabaw), but Eliza also raises Black Angus and Red Devon cows, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and turkeys, as well as two children. The cattle and much of the farm's sprawling 570 acres came as a result of a merger between Cane Creek and Braeburn Farms in 2007.

So what makes Cane Creek exceptional? It's sustainable agriculture at its best. Eliza practices rotational grazing, which any of you who have read a Michael Pollen book know means moving different species of animal through the same parcel of land in succession to mimic a natural ecosystem. The land stays healthy and the animals get what they need from it, which means minimal artificial inputs from we humans. Eliza's sheep, cows, and goats are all entirely grass-fed, and her pigs feast on grain-based food, supplemented by whatever they can root around for in their pasture.

All this means lots of happy animals (you can tell it just by looking at them), but also a lot of work on Eliza's part to bring each food item to market. I wish everyone who complained about the price of organic free-range eggs could see this place in action.

After seeing an operation as thorough and well-run as Cane Creek Farm, as a chef you can't help but feel like you have a responsibility to put as much care into cooking an animal as Eliza put into raising it. "Head to tail" cooking may be trendy right now, but I also think that the best way to truly honor the animal is to leave no part of it unused.

Chefs

Day 3: Lunch at The BBQ Joint

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Lunch at The BBQ Joint

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Lunch at The BBQ Joint

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

Day three, and we set out before dawn to hit Chapel Hill by lunchtime. Damon had to part ways to head out to Craft Los Angeles, but we picked up a few new travelers at the Raleigh Durham airport: Katie Grieco, my business partner in Craft Restaurants, as well as Jeffrey Zurofsky and Sisha Ortuzar, my partners in 'wichcraft.

Our first stop of the day was selected by Jeffrey, who went to school at UNC Chapel Hill and worked at the time with a guy named Damon Lapas. Now, Lapas co-owns a restaurant called The BBQ Joint, so we stopped in to get a taste of what Eastern North Carolina Barbecue was all about.

Although we were only about 200 miles as the crow flies from Big T's in Columbia, South Carolina, here the style of barbecue is totally unique from the mustard based sauce we had there. With Eastern North Carolina barbecue the pork is smoked, pulled, and coarsely chopped, and served plain except for a hint of a tangy vinegar sauce. It's unadorned, so the hardwood smoked meat has no sweet sauces to hide behind.

Damon and his partner Jeffrey Childres served up a hearty lunch, highlights of which included smoked blue fish, spare ribs, and of course the signature pulled pork served with slaw, pickles, and cornbread.

Restaurants

Xoco in Chicago

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On a recent visit to Chicago I swung by Xoco, superchef and F&W Best New Chef 1988 Rick Bayless’s new fast-food joint. I enjoyed the tortas (Mexican sandwiches)—especially the braised short ribs with caramelized onions, jack cheese and pickled jalapeños, a kind of Mexican steak-and-cheese. But I was even more impressed by the service. When my husband and I got there at noon on a Saturday, the line was out the door. But no one was grumbling, because you could help yourself to free sparkling or still water on tap. Once we got to the counter, we ordered drinks—Intelligentsia coffee for him, hot chocolate for me (made from Mexican cacao beans ground on-premises)—and waited for the OK to place our food order (you can't order until there is seating available). A host then walked us to our seats, and the tortas were delivered to our table 10 minutes later. The system wasn’t perfect—there were a lot of empty chairs around us as the kitchen scrambled to keep up—but there was no searching for a table while balancing food on a tray, and the vibe was serene. How often can you say that about a fast-food restaurant?

Farms

Day 2: Shrimp & Dinner at The Wreck

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Shrimp & Dinner at The Wreck

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Shrimp & Dinner at The Wreck

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

We left the banks of the Stono River and crossed Charleston to reach Shem Creek just in time to see Captain Magwood and his crew finish sifting through the day's catch on board his hulking shrimp trawler.

The domestic shrimp industry has really suffered in recent years as cheap imports from Asia make it hard for local fisherman to make ends meet. Whether you know it or not, much of the shrimp you've eaten in your life has been foreign, frozen and transported thousands of miles before it reaches your plate. But try eating a shrimp fresh off the boat like this and you'll taste the difference.

Matt and Ted couldn't let us leave Charleston without trying The Wreck Of The Richard and Charlene, a quirky dive of a restaurant that they view as one of the best places to sample some of the very shrimp that we saw coming off of Captain Magwood's boat. The Wreck (named in honor of an old shrimp trawler that Hurricane Hugo put ashore on the restaurant's current site) looks like the classic fried seafood shack that you find just about anywhere up and down the eastern seaboard from Florida to Nova Scotia. It serves up fresh-caught shrimp, oysters, scallops and crab, as well as well-executed hush puppies and "hominy squares," which are sort of like a croquette made of grits.

Farms

Day 2: Crabbing with Fred Dockery

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Crabbing with Fred Dockery

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Crabbing with Fred Dockery

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

After bidding the Seans and their pigs goodbye, we followed Matt and Ted out to a dock on the Stono River. That's where we met up with Fred Dockery, a local crab fisherman who offered to take us out for a couple of hours while he pulled pots. The blue crab is a staple of the coastal diet, which makes crab fishing a traditional industry in these parts. Matt and Ted thought that one of the best ways to experience Charleston's food culture was to see a local waterman at work.

I grew up pulling hands lines for crabs on Barnegat Bay, so this was a return to familiar territory for me. As a commercial fisherman, Fred Dockery is out on the water almost every day, year round, catching crabs which he sells by the bushel to a mix of local families, distributors, and restaurants. His boat is small, just big enough to carry four or five people (and several baskets of crabs) and perfect for maneuvering from buoy to buoy as he checks his pots.

The process is straightforward: hoist the trap, dump the crabs out, toss the live ones into a bushel basket and the dead ones back into the water, bait the trap, push it into the water, move on, and repeat.

Dockery is licensed to set 400 pots at a time, but is sensitive enough to conservation and good stewardship of these waters to tailor the number of traps he sets to the market's demand. He is currently running 300 of them scattered throughout local waterways, and on any given day he catches only what he knows that he can sell.

Chefs

London's New Princi Bakery

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Princi

© Princi
Princi bakery and cafe in London.

 

I’m a compulsive researcher when I travel, so about two weeks before I flew to London I e-mailed my plugged-in chef, design and wine friends there to find out where I absolutely had to eat. Princi was at the top of everyone’s list. This chic Milanese bakery chain from prolific restaurateur Alan Yau and baker Rocco Princi (often called the Armani of bread) recently opened its first international branch on Wardour Street. Princi is like the Italian version of Belgium's Le Pain Quotidien, with a minimalist-chic interior designed by Claudio Silvestrin (the creative mind behind the design of Georgio Armani stores and the Museum of contemporary art in Turin). Like LPQ, the focus in on insanely delicious baked goods, like buttery brioches and slightly chewy, olive-studded breadsticks. Thick squares of focaccia-style pizzas, such as zucchini with parmesan and egg, get warmed up in the wood-fired oven. There's also a full bar. I'm a firm believer that a city can never have too many fantastic bakeries, so I'm hoping Princi starts to pop up around the world, just like LPQ has.

Farms

Day 2: Pigs & Produce at Thackeray Farms

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Sean Brock's happy pigs

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Sean Brock's happy pigs

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

Our first stop after brunch was meeting Sean Brock at Thackeray Farms, which is about thirty minutes from downtown Charleston on Wadmalaw Island.

Sean Thackeray originally grew flowers on his land but in the past few years has been planting a wide array of produce, and is currently transitioning to become a fully organic operation. Sean Brock grew his own produce on this land for a while, and still buys extensively from Thackeray. Walking the crop rows we stopped to sample everything from peppery French radishes to sweet turnips to lemony arugula, and I was reminded how much better things taste when you pull them out of the ground with your own two hands.

In addition to his crops, Thackeray also raises pigs. When we found Sean Thackeray, he was hard at work building a wooden chute that he would use to keep his pigs from panicking when he loads them into a truck. At the time of our visit, rooting around in a sprawling pasture were three big, fat, happy Yorkshires owned by Sean Brock, along with seven little Berkshire piglets of Thackeray's.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

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