Just back from North Country with my Yankee accent fully reinstated. We flew up to drop one daughter off at camp in the Adirondacks and then spend several hours and several hundred dollars in a western Massachusetts Walmart to get another daughter’s off-campus college house furnished. That was fun.
But we did manage to get some good face-stuffing accomplished.
Though we traveled around a fair bit, we focused our explorations in the vicinities of Burlington, Vermont and Montreal.
In Vermont we ate so much good, wholesome hippie chow. Whole-grain breads, amazing local cheeses, kale salad, curried seitan. I was astonished by how many vegetarian options there were everywhere. We visited a popular downtown spot called Farmhouse Tap & Grill, famous for its burgers, house charcuterie and local beers. But the menu was more vegetarian than not. Vegheads had a choice of either a bean-and-barley burger with local kimchi and cheddar or an interesting soy-and-mushroom patty, which I ordered. It was a very flavorful crumble that had been compressed, wrapped in a rice paper and seared to a crisp to mimic the texture of a great, charred-to-a-crunch beef burger. I washed it down with a beer that I’ve been obsessed with ever since: Hill Farmstead Double Citra, an Imperial ale brewed with bright, sunny citra hops. Can we get Hill Farmstead beers in Atlanta?
The next night we grabbed a couple of tacos at El Cortijo, where filling choices ranged from beef tongue and carnitas to sweet potato with kale and beans with corn salsa and roasted zucchini. I really loved a special taco made with roasted kohlrabi, sliced radishes and radish greens. (The two restaurants share ownership.)
Then we drove up to Montreal, where my wife is from, and managed to undo all that good in two days flat. (We did stay out of the parks, though.) Roast duck, foie gras, big ol’ smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s.
Our one planned meal of the trip was at Joe Beef — the small but influential restaurant that has been high on North American food radar since its 2005 opening. I haven’t seen the chefs’ cookbook, “The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts” (Ten Speed Press), but have read great things about it.
The daily blackboard menu is pretty vast, with so much to choose from that everyone looks longingly at neighboring tables to get a look at the dishes almost ordered. I am still kicking myself for not getting the lobster spaghetti, which looked like the very definition of my binge-eating fantasy life.
Chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin have a keen sense for what desire looks like on a plate. Some of their dishes are fat-and-calorie-choked dives in the deep-end of food lust. Every table seemed to hold an order of the “foie gras double down” — two lobes of deep-fried foie sandwiching bacon, cheddar, maple syrup and sriracha mayonnaise, the whole wrapped in a twist of foil like a KFC snackum. There was also a lobster breakfast sandwich, with what appeared to be a sausage patty, a fried egg, some cheese and a big hunk of lobster sandwiched inside a sauce-dripping English muffin.
I truly loved the horribly photographed item above, a plateful of shaved house-cured cooked ham topped with a warm hay-infused cream, peas and pea leaves. That cream tasted strange and familiar at once, thus kind of thrilling. The student of foodways in me recognized this dish as a play on paglia e fieno — i.e., “straw and hay,” an iconic Italian pasta dish of spinach and plain fettuccine tossed with cream and prosciutto and peas. The ham-snarfer in me just ate it and rolled my eyes.
We also tried nuggets of rich smoked eel pate that had been fried in very crunchy cornflake crumbs. These needed a serious cocktail.
I would like to report back to you on the flavor of horse tenderloin that had been wrapped in bacon, covered with gorgonzola and bathed in a red-wine reduction. It was over 90 degrees outside (and not much cooler in the restaurant), and I just couldn’t face it. I got an incredibly fresh fillet of local halibut that had been dusted with cayenne seared to a crisp on one side and showered with thin shavings of summer squash and zucchini in a lip-smacking olive oil bath. Who knew halibut had that much flavor? My wife got a good steak with braised greens, tomato and a flurry of shaved horseradish root.
Great meal, but I’m still dreaming my neighbor’s lobster spaghetti. Next time.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog