Los Angeles, California
I am fresh off another culinary adventure and am excited to share my travels. This time I went to Los Angeles for a business trip and decided to go in a few days early to hang with some of my favorite peeps, The Stein’s. They recently moved to the City of Angels by way of San Francisco where multiple feasts were shared, pre-blog I am sorry to say. Oh the stories that could be told…if we could only remember them clearly…you know how that fog is in the bay area.
The excitement for trip began with my March 2010 edition of Saveur. I cannot say enough about this magazine that goes far more in-depth than most and really gets to the heart of food which is what I enjoy the most. The cover shot was enough to compel me to walk to LA if necessary, thankfully this was not necessary. Until reading this edition I didn’t fully understand and or appreciate the culinary Mecca that is Los Angeles. It directed me to places like Pizzeria Mozza, in the heart of Hollywood and all that is LA however, off the beaten path holes in the wall like Philippe’s French Dip and Langer’s Deli – Home of the World’s Best Pastrami.
I knew that the few short days I had before my business began would fly by which was going to require me to kick my game up a bit. This is code for eating at least two lunches a day. I scheduled a 1:30pm reservation at Pizzeria Mozza in order to give me plenty of time based upon my flight arriving at 10:30am and the infamous LA traffic. To my surprise I found myself about 5 miles away with an hour and a half to spare. I looked at my Google Maps on my phone and to my delight I was less than a mile away from Langer’s Deli. I have to briefly digress again to fully explain the importance of Langer’s.
I spent 10 years in Hawaii and while there grew close to several of my customers however, one in particular shared a deep appreciation for the finer things in life, food, and often exchanged dining experiences with him. He was a 20 year old man trapped in an 80 year old man’s body and was a delight to dine with. We would meet at least once a month at the Halekulani on the Waikiki oceanfront in the Orchids restaurant where he had his own table and server ready and waiting. We would sit and sip Ketel One Martini’s while reminiscing through his 30 year career as an Assistant District Attorney for Beverly Hills…oh the stories…Manson Murders for example. Anyways, Mr. Korn clearly knew his grub and could not speak more highly of Langer’s Deli. You could almost see his eyes fantasizing over the pastrami as he would describe every single detail of the restaurant and sandwiches to the point where I felt like I had already been there! I hope I have adequately set the stage for the level of excitement that was pumping through me as I parked my car and walked toward the legendary home of the pastrami sandwich.
What happens next is a straight out of Seinfeld. I get to the door and there is a party of six standing outside waiting for a table. The hostess sees that I am solo and directs me to one of two seats available at the counter which is perfect to watch the action go down. When I get to the chair I notice the fellow next to it has placed his coat and bag on the chair. I then say in my most polite voice, “excuse me sir, is there someone sitting here?” to which he ever so slightly shook his head almost suggesting not to bother him. Slightly annoyed I say again, “excuse me sir, is there someone sitting here?” He again shook his head clearly stating this time…don’t f’n bother me while I am enjoying this sandwich. I got the hint and decide to take the other available seat a few seats back the other way…guess you had to be there but couldn’t in good conscience omit that little detail. Ironically, when he finished he got up and addressed each employee by name thanking them for their services.
I was quickly greeted by a waitress that had clearly been there since the opened back in 1947. The menu was a bit overwhelming with what looked to be two laminated 11X17 pieces of paper and about 100 plus things that all look too tasty to pass up. I opted for the #44 despite the pressure of several suggestions recommending the #19 (Hot Pastrami, Coleslaw, Swiss cheese with Russian dressing on Rye). The #44 is their signature hot pastrami with sauerkraut, nippy cheese on toasted rye bread. What is nippy cheese you say? Glad you asked because I wasn’t familiar and have done a bit of research. Nippy cheese is a cream cheese based spread that includes some mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, chopped onion, hot pepper sauce and horseradish. You could spread this stuff on an old boot and it would taste great!
Needless to say the sandwich was out of this world and probably was the best pastrami I have ever had. I have been told that there are a few deli’s in New York that would give Langer’s a run for the money, Katz’s and Carnegie’s of course. The bread was perfectly toasted; the pastrami soft and moist and the kraut and nippy cheese provided the perfect texture and tang. A 10 out of 10 for sure. There were so many other items I wanted to try however; I had a hot date at 1:30 with Mario Batali’s pizza palace, Pizzeria Mozza.
As mentioned earlier, it was the cover shot on my Saveur magazine that got me planning the gastro journey through LA. Pizzeria Mozza has been given some serious props by those who know and was a must hit. Having been to Biancos, Phoenix’s very own numero uno pizza joint, I had a fairly decent point of reference to which I could compare. I parked my car down by Pink’s, the famous Hollywood hotdog hangout and thought dessert? I am sorry to say that having already eaten lunch once and soon to be twice I was unable to do it. Had the line been shorter I would have probably pulled it off however, it wasn’t…just the opposite in fact.
I strolled into Pizzeria Mozza and was quickly given my table and a menu. I ordered a Tire Bite Golden Ale from Flying Dog Brewery and began reviewing the menu. My intention was to get the pizza glorified on the cover of Saveur, the squash blossom, tomato and burrata cheese pizza however, when the waiter took my order my mouth mistakenly said “bacon, salami, fennel sausage, guanciale, tomato and mozzarella”….go figure!
As detailed in my Seattle, Washington trip I hit Mario’s father’s salami mecca, Salumi, and as such knew where all of these wonderful porky products were sourced from. The guanciale (cured pork cheek) alone sealed the deal.
I was not disappointed…pure bliss. The one difference that sets Pizzeria Mozza apart from Bianco’s is the crust. Mario teamed up with La Brea bakery founder Nancy Silverton and the result is perfection. The crust had an ultra crackly crunchy exterior which gives way to a nice chewy and springy interior. I was thoroughly satisfied and happy I made the trip.
Sabatino’s Sausage Company
The following day I was in the hands of my good buddy’s wife who suggested we hit a spot minutes from their house called Sabatino’s Sausage Company, she had me at sausage.
I have to say that this place absolutely knocked my socks off. As soon as we walked it my attention was captured by the display case loaded with yards of Italian sausage ropes coiled up like a giant boa constrictor waiting for it’s prey…I happily surrendered myself.
I ordered a Budweiser and settled upon the “World Famous Sizzling Sausage Platter” and the Antipasta plate. On the table was a jar of their house made giardinara type bread accoutrement, a tangy olive, pepper, artichoke type relish that when placed upon their crusty, crunchy, chewy soft bread was absolute heaven.
We devoured the entire jar and I am ashamed to say that I dumped the majority of the second jar in our to-go container.
Before the sizzling platter arrived I was surprised with a small cup of homemade clam chowder which was straight out of left field but really hit the spot!
This is no ordinary Italian sausage that we are talking about here…this is a 1864 Sicilian Sabatino family recipe that is very lean yet infused with goat cheese imported straight from the mother land. Note the cheese oozing from the sausage on the sizzling platter. God I wish my last name was Sabatino! I am definitely going to work on a knock-off recipe and will post the results in the near future.
The antipasta plate was equally good and all things considered this was my most enjoyable meal of the entire trip.
The food, company and weather were all perfect…thanks April!
Philippe’s Orignal French Dip
The last of the restaurants was a hundred year LA mainstay, Philippe’s-Home of the French Dip Sandwich. Philippe’s is LA oldest continuously operating restaurant (since 1908).
This place is oddly located on the edge of LA’s Chinatown district and was well worth the detour. There are several stories as to how they became known for inventing the French Dip sandwich. If interested check out their story on Wikipedia.
When you walk into Philippe’s you see that there are about 8 lines all leading you to the long cafeteria style counter where several women stand ready and waiting to fill your order. The amount of labor that this restaurant employs is amazing yet they still offer 9 cent cups of coffee and lemonade. My entire order came out to less than $12. I went with friends and we decided to divide and conquer going with a French Dip Beef and a French Dip Lamb sandwich and sharing.
I was impressed by the large jars of purple pickled eggs and had to get one. I also ordered their cole slaw, a huge dill pickle and two 7ups…rough night…long story. The long line proved to be quite efficient and we were seated with our grub in two shakes of a lamb’s tail and I have to say it wasn’t baaaaaad.
Seriously though…I really enjoyed both sandwiches and the famous mustard was perfect. In fact I purchased a jar that I brought home and am just waiting for the right time to get it out. This stuff is insanely hot and can cure a stuffed up head like you wouldn’t believe. If you get a chance I strongly suggest you take this place for a test drive…you won’t regret it.
I’m back again with my tail between my legs. I cannot believe how long it took me to actually sit down and do a post. I have several things to post yet, I couldn’t seem to make the time to sit down and make it happen. I am not sure if it was the ginormous sized post that my Seattle trip is going to be or my consternation about not sticking to my original plan of working through the entire cookbook bible that is Charcuterie. I am happy to say that I have begun the process of creating my own curing chamber which is going to be necessary to complete one of the upcoming recipes (pancetta or Italian bacon) and several of the salamis towards the back of the book. I cannot wait to post the progress and design of the curing chamber. Through a fair amount of research I found the perfect design posted on The Sausage Maker. Through the grace of god I was actually able the find the exact same refrigerator the guys used on their design. Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Fern! I promise to be sending salamis your way in perpetuity for your generosity.
Enough of that and to the Seattle gastro-extravaganza that is so was. I fell in love with the city almost immediately. I am not sure if it was the break from the triple digit heat in Phoenix that put things over the top or not but could not have enjoyed myself any more than I did. The most exciting dining stop for me initially was undoubtedly the Space Needle, just kidding. It was a trip to the pork Mecca that is Salumi as in Mario Batali’s father, Armandino’s, nationally acclaimed Salumeria. After learning that they were only open Tuesday through Friday I had to actually fly in one day early in order to make it happen, and am I so glad I did! As soon as I arrived I checked into The Mediterranean Inn (which was the most economical hotel I could find on Hotels.com). It was actually pretty cool in that it was centrally located next to a Safeway grocery store and a liquor store. It didn’t have air conditioning which was weird but wasn’t really necessary, even in July!?! The best thing was their rooftop access. We had awesome views of Mount Rainer, the Space Needle and downtown Seattle. Each evening we retired on the rooftop to a sunset and a medley of Pike’s Market purchases and some booze of some form. Again I digress…lets get to my first stop Salumi.
I arrived at about 11:30am and they had been open for about 30 minutes. As you will see in the picture there were at least 20 people in front of me. I understand it is like this every single day which is always a good sign. I was in line for about 20 minutes or so while I was trying to imagine what lay inside (imagine Charlie going to the Chocolate Factory). Once I arrived to the door there was a menu hanging in the window as well as a chalk board with the daily specials written on it.
I couldn’t decide and started totally freaking out like I might freeze up in front of the soup Nazi in Seinfeld. The next thing I knew it was my turn and I order the Mufo (short for Muffuleta), a wonderful sandwich often associated with New Orleans. Actually, I have had the Muffuleta that they serve at the Central Grocery long before I started food blogging. As I started to day dream about that trip I was bummed to find out that they had sold out for the day.
. I then ordered the Salumi Salami which was a mixture of three salamis topped with their house made giardiniera and served on a ciabatta type bun.
Then thinking this may be my one only trip I decide to also order a prosciutto ham sandwich with an awesome fig spread and fat hunk of goats’ cheese served on a slightly different yet similar ciabatta type bun.
Still feeling that sinking feeling that I was about to totally miss out on something I spied a large plate of their house cured olives of which I ordered a tub. With my bounty in hand I quickly left to find an appropriate spot for the feast.
I walked all the way down to the Pike’s Market area and grabbed a Puget Sound-side table. I unwrapped the first sandwich and devoured half and then the second sandwich with a few olives here and there between bites. Both sandwiches were divine in their own right and the olives where amazing…possibly best ever. The entire time I ate I was accompanied by my friend that I snapped a photo of. This guy kept looking at me almost as if he knew where I had been and what I had. I am normally very generous however, on this day not so much.
I put my two sandwich halves back in their bag with the leftover olives and headed to Pikes Market for more.
I cannot begin to tell you about all that Pike’s Market has to offer as it would take me forever. While wandering around from place to place I encountered some of the most spectacular food experiences I have ever had and what is most remarkable is the lack of preparation necessary to enjoy them. Each produce stall has people out front luring you in with free samples. I had some Rainier cherries that blew my mind only to be topped by the sweetest peach I have ever tasted. In fact, these peaches where literally referred to as “Oh my god” peaches on the signage and after tasting I quickly remarked, Holy Shit almost unconsciously. I quickly grabbed some cash out of my pocket to make the purchase. It was after walking behind the peaches did I see on the exact same sign (other side) which read Holy Shit Peaches. I chuckled to myself as I purchased three and kept on.
I stood and watched the guys toss the fish around while chanting different songs and sayings. It was amazing how these guys could grab and toss these fish at high speeds without ever dropping a single fish. I then tried a free piece of their alder smoked salmon which was amazingly tasty and amazingly priced…ouch! I did purchase plastic cup of shelled Dungeness crab which was about $8 or $9. You had the option of a squirt of cocktail sauce and or a few lemon wedges. I took both and can honestly say this was one of two of the greatest food moments of the trip…the second involves another run in with my buddy Armandino at Salumi. The sweetness of the crab was highlighted by tanginess of the cocktail sauce and bright acid of the lemon. Simple yet fantastic.
I then moved on for some oysters on the half shell at no other than Emmet Watson’s Oyster Bar.
I also ordered an intriguing dish, smoked salmon cold plate with havarti cheese, bread and mustard sauce. While I certainly didn’t need it, I enjoyed it again in a very simple kind of way.
With my belly full I decided to find a bar seat to nestle into which didn’t take me very long. Wandering down Post Alley I found Kells Irish Pub. Ironically they had Hoegaarden on tap which is one of my favorite Belgian White brews. I had three and when I went to pay the bartender told me the first one was on him. While odd I appreciated it very much and tipped him heavily. I decided I better head back to my hotel for some rest however, on the way I made another detour.
I stopped at a place called The Frontier Room.
This place looked awesome from the sidewalk and featured an upscale yet edgy Barbecue menu. This place made me feel comfortable almost instantly so I saddled up again for a few more Hoegaardens while perused the menu. Having done some research prior to departing Phoenix I was familiar with a local line of sausages, Uli’s Famous Sausage, which they were featuring. I actually saw their stall at Pike’s Market and made a mental “must-hit” note. I am never one to stand in the way of killing two birds (well actually three more Hoegartens and a sausage) with one stone. I ordered their Cajun Chicken Andouille sausage which was the happy hour special and only $3.00! This sausage rocked so hard that I then realized I haven’t even scratched the surface with refining my chicken sausage recipes.
At this point I new food coma was around the corner and grabbed the check to find out that again my first beer was on the bartender. I am not sure if I was emitting some weird mojo vibe or what but I am not used to having a bartender pick up on of my brews let alone twice in one day. It was official…I was in love with Seattle. I rumbled back home, refrigerated my two sandwich halves and fruit and can assure you I wasn’t sleepless…in fact I was out like a light.
I am happy to reflect on that day as one of the best days of the trip however, not easily out done by the others. I will forgo the pleasantries a bit and share a few more restaurant highlights that I strongly suggest if in the area and then fast forward to my previously mentioned food moment number # 2…it involves a pig…again…hmmm…more later.
The great book Charcuterie also pays homage to a neat little restaurant called Le Pichet.
The head chef is Jim Drohman and his inspiration was a small neighbor hood style restaurant like you would find in France. Ruhlman and Polcyn actually include a recipe in Charcuterie (pages 265-265) based upon Jim’s Pork Belly Confit (deep fried fat) and I of course am obligated to indulge. A group of five of us went to Le Pichet that evening which was an awesome opportunity to try a little bit of everything. We started out with a plate of their charcuterie which included; Pâté albigeois-a country style pork pate, Saucisse au jambon-a large sausage of smoked ham, pork forcemeat and herbs, Saucisse Lyonnais-a Lyon-style sausage with pork and pistachios, Rillette de porc-a Slow cooked pork, mixed with spices and its own fat and Langue de boeuf-a Beef tongue, spice brined, simmered in stock and pressed.
We then ordered a plate of the infamous Pork Belly Confit which was served on a celeriac style cole slaw of sorts. The acid in the slaw helped cut the unctuous fat to make the perfect appetizer.
Then we moved on to the entrees which included;
Semi boneless quail, roasted with mustard and bread crumbs, on a red pepper-cocoa coulis, escarole, olives and fried potatoes.
A grilled tuna steak served on a leek and Yukon gold potato cream sauce.
I got the hand chopped natural beef sirloin and hanger steak, with croutons, and parsley-pickled shallot-radish salad
A lamb and veal sausage served in a cream sauce of fava beans and pasta ribbons
Everyone agreed the night was a success and I really wanted to try and get back to Le Pichet one more time before I flew out and am sad to report it didn’t happen.
Another amazing meal was enjoyed the following morning for breakfast. We decided to hit Lola’s, one of Tom Douglass’ many restaurants in the Seattle area.
This place had a solid half hour wait for breakfast and based upon the reviews and smell we gladly obliged. Many of us started the meal off with the breakfast classic Bloody Mary which was the first sign that we were in store for a great experience. Lola’s makes their own pepper infused vodka for their bloody’s and they are spectacular. This is actually pretty easy to do and will certainly be a future post. You may have seen the Food Network’s special on Lola’s as one of Giada De Laurentiis’s favorite fried foods, made to order doughnuts. We ordered a batch which are shaken in a bag tableside with sugar and cinnamon and served along with apricot preserves and mascarpone cheese. YUMMY!!!
I am convinced we had one of the best servers that I have ever had. She knew the menu inside and out, wasn’t afraid to make recommendations and was extremely easy on the eyes, which is always nice.
I of course went with the Eggs Benedict which featured Bavarian Meats Ham (a cool little meat shop over by Emmet Watsons), house made English muffins (are you kidding me!?!) and their dill hollandaise sauce. This breakfast was ridiculously perfect!
The others ordered; A lamb sausage omelet with feta cheese, asparagus and the much beloved smashed (literally) garlic fried potatoes
Tom’s big breakfast featuring octopus (yes octopus…takes me back to my Hawaii days), green beans, sweet corn, sumac yogurt, poached egg and bacon salt
This place couldn’t be any better and is a 100% must hit breakfast spot.
We also hit Etta’s, another one from Tom’s restaurant dynasty and it too was very good.
I had the Etta’s “rub with love” wild king salmon from the Taku River, in Alaska; spice rubbed, cold smoked, broiled and served with asparagus, cornbread pudding and a shiitake relish. Freaking Awesome!
Another person got the classic Cioppino loaded with crab, mussels, clams, bay shrimp, salmon, halibut and calamari. I was the lucky recipient of a nearly full bowl of this and was more than happy to do my part! The crunchy crusty grilled bread sucked all of the flavorful stock like a sponge and caused me to make weird noises while enjoying.
Another ordered the long line caught halibut caught out of Sitka Sound in Alaska…not familiar with the area but they sure know how to treat their fish…simply perfect and perfectly simple.
Last but certainly not least was the desert highlight of the trip; a maple ice cream slathered in a house made bacon caramel sauce. I got so excited I hugged the waiter and he was a dude which was weird but it was a heat of the moment type thing…you had to be there.
My final restaurant review was a fun little lunch we had at a little Italian inspired spot called Tulio’s Ristorante. The three of us had a fun lunch and again I am more than confident in giving a strong review.
I had the smoked salmon ravioli which was served in a lemon cream sauce with asparagus. Excellent!
Another ordered the pizza pancetta featuring what else, crispy pancetta, marinara, parmesan cheese, and a sunny-side up fried egg. The crust was perfectly crunchy and the egg made the pizza.
The last person had the Orecchiette pasta with spicy Italian sausage, rapini, a light tomato sauce and Reggiano cheese. Enough said, killer classic done perfectly.
Okay, I think I have built the suspense long enough…the borderline religious/food experience which I may or may not have seen god during. The conference I was attending concluded a bit earlier than I had anticipated and as such figured that if I sprinted straight to Salumi I could grab some salamis for flight as well as a sandwich or two for lunch. Upon arrival I see a person order a gigantic hot sandwich called the Porchetta and it is at this point I know it was meant to be. I got the exact same thing and it was the very last one. As such the stuffed every last bit of slow cooked pork shoulder into a perfectly crusty yet chewy sub style sandwich bun and handed it over. The sheer weight of this big daddy made my knees buckle (small amount of embellishment here). I grabbed some Guanciale (cured pork jowel – Carbonara post to follow), logs of Finocchiona salami, hot Sopressatta and some pepperoni to take home and share. I grab my bags and get back to my hotel and prepare for “the experience”.
I unwrap this pork missile and proceed to attack from all angles whilst getting pork juices all over the table in the lobby of the hotel. I am normally one to worry about how I must look when partaking in an act such as this. I would never ever eat a smoked turkey leg in public but I can honestly say I had pork behind my ear and I didn’t care a bit. I hate to think what I would do to get my hands on another Porchetta sandwich. I might get a dog and name it Porchetta, is that weird? Go to Seattle…trust me on this one folks. I leave you with a few pics from the Space Needle and the roof deck of our hotel.
Kentucky – Bourbon Country
Let me begin by saying Kentucky is one of the most beautiful states that I have had the opportunity to visit. The rolling green hills, winding creeks, sprawling horse stables and most importantly home of the finest bourbon whiskeys in the world. We traveled to Kentucky for the sole purpose of touring bourbon distilleries, three to be specific, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve and the mother of all bourbons, Maker’s Mark. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect however, after a brief phone call to the gift shop at Buffalo Trace, I knew I was in store for some good ‘ol southern style hospitality. The guy on the telephone couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful and was genuinely excited that I was traveling from Phoenix, AZ to tour their distillery. I had done some preliminary research and based upon a couple blog reviews I decided to rule out the giant Jim Beam as well as Wild Turkey. It was amazing how much I learned while on the trip that which I will share with you here. For some, this may be waaaay too much information on Bourbon but I found it fascinating and would like to share it all.
First some basic things about bourbon; all bourbons are whiskeys, however not all whiskeys are bourbon. Herein are the details that make this much true. In order for whiskey to be considered bourbon a few things must be in order. I borrowed the information below from Wikipedia which does an excellent job explaining the requirements.
On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress recognized Bourbon Whiskey as a “distinctive product of the United States.” The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5.22) state that bourbon must meet these requirements:
• Bourbon must be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
• Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
• Neither coloring nor flavoring may be added.
• Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. 
• Bourbon must be entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
• Bourbon, like other whiskeys, may not be bottled at less than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume.)
• Bourbon which meets the above requirements and has been aged for a minimum of two years, may (but is not required to) be called Straight Bourbon.
• Straight Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.
• If an age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.
So what do they do with all those barrels after they drain the bourbon you ask? Scotland is the largest purchaser of the barrels and use them in their production of Scotch. The barrels sell for about $200 a piece while a very small amount are chipped and used for smoking. Bradley Smokers sells their version which is a Jim Beam brand of smoker puck. I have some but haven’t had the chance to use it.
Another very interesting tidbit is why Kentucky is the perfect place on the planet for bourbon production. Kentucky has four very distinct seasons; spring, summer, winter and fall. It is these changes in weather or more importantly the temperatures that make the aging process work so well. In fact they measure the temperature changes in the upper, middle and lower levels. The higher levels stay warmer and the lower cooler while the middle sees smaller fluctuations in temperature all day long. When the whiskey warms up it expands and penetrates through the charred white oak barrel and steals the subtle flavors that is associated with bourbon. When the whiskey cools it exits the wood. Therefore the middle floors move the bourbon in and out of the wood all day long. This is why the best bourbons come from the middle floors of the aging facility. Some distillers actually rotate their barrels while some don’t. Some blend barrels from the higher floors with the lower floors as well.
Everybody seemed to have their own process unique to them. The second thing that makes Kentucky perfect for bourbon production is their prevalence of limestone which acts as a natural filter, removing the iron and other impurities from the water. One thing that you will notice is that every distillery is located on or next to a nice lake, stream or creek.
On average it seemed like most bourbon was aged for about 7 to 8 years. An interesting fact is that as bourbon ages in the barrels some of it is lost to evaporation. This process lends itself to the amazing smells that you get when you walk into an aging facility. It is clear what is in the barrels and the smell is fantastic. The distillers refer to their loss of product due to evaporation as “The Angels Share” and I believe the happiest angels must reside in Kentucky!
Buffalo Trace is home to several great bourbons; Buffalo Trace, Blantons, Sazerac Rye, W.L . Weller (more on this one later), Eagle Rare and my very favorite, Pappy Van Winkle 12 year, 20 year and even a 23 year! It was on this tour that the guide informed us that when a 50 gallon barrel of bourbon is aged for 20 plus years you may only yield about 12 or so gallons of bourbon! The angels get their share and you end up paying for it…sometimes it’s worth it I think. We had a great tour guide for this one and he really knew his stuff. His name is Carey and I highly suggest him. Very thorough yet no Napa style pretention if not thumbing his nose to very notion. I asked him his favorite bourbon and he said 12 year Pappy Van Winkle (about $50/bottle) with a grin, but said he couldn’t really afford it. I informed him that I had recently splurged on a bottle and really enjoyed it. He told me they sell two brands of twelve year bourbon; Pappy’s and W.L. Wellers which is about $20 cheaper a bottle. He laughed when he said, “And we only have one recipe so you know what I buy!” What a great tip for any bourbon drinker and it certainly paid for the gas money it cost to drive there..and some! Carey shared some very funny stories throughout the tour. One in particular touted the fact that Buffalo Trace was one of only four distilleries in Kentucky that were allowed to remain open throughout the evil period in American history referred to as prohibition. There was a medicinal purpose clause that allowed them to continue business since opening in the 1800’s (one of only 4 distilleries). Physicians were able to prescribe a pint of bourbon per patient every 10 days and it didn’t appear to be too difficult to get a prescription. There were also a few wineries that were allowed to remain open for religious purposes of course. The guide told the joke that the best parties to attend during prohibition was the ones where the priests and physicians were at!
As mentioned, Buffalo Trace also produces bourbon by the name of Blanton’s. This brand pays homage to the great Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton. How cool of a name is that? Colonel Blanton dedicated a lifetime to working with bourbon from an office boy to the leader that took Buffalo Trace through some of the most challenging times the distillery ever experienced. Colonel Blanton was famous for his single barrel bourbon stashes that he only shared with his friends and family. He also led to pushing for the standards that Congress enacted in 1964.
The tour was great and very informative. They offered a unique view at their hand bottling side where high end bourbons such as Pappy’s, Rare Eagle and Blanton’s are labeled and bottled. The workers were super cool and genuinely appreciated your taking the tour which was nice.
The tour ended at the tasting room where we were offered several options of which we were only allowed two. I went for the Buffalo Trace and the Rare Eagle Bourbons, both of which were great. They also make a triple filtered organic vodka called Rain which I tried and was great. Lastly, a Bailey’s like liquor that used bourbon rather than Irish Whiskey. They had bourbon chocolates and glasses of their house brewed root beer called Dr. McGillicuddys. This totally hit the spot after the tasting and bourbon chocolates. I asked Carey how he drinks his bourbon and he laughs and says he mixes it with Coke. I told him I always felt bad about mixing Coke with something good as Maker’ Mark, but also enjoy it. He laughs and tells a story about the day he asked Elmer T. Lee, master distiller at Buffalo Trace what he thought about mixing good bourbon with Coke. He said Elmer grabbed his hat and dropped his head as if to say, I can’t believe you would even ask. He then lifted his head and said “you get one-helluva bourbon and Coke” and laughed. This place was awesome, education, fun and a great tasting opportunity all for FREE! Then I dropped $40 in the gift shop!
We ran over in time and realized we wouldn’t make the Maker’s Mark tour so on Carey’s recommendation at Buffalo Trace we went to Woodford Reserve. We found the facility to be very well maintained and upon entering we were informed that their tour was $5. This was kind of annoying after the great tour at Buffalo Trace which was free however; we quickly decided to pay and enter. They had a very nice gift shop with a wide variety of things to buy. I restrained myself knowing I would get something at Maker’s Mark. This tour started off with a very brief video on Woodford Reserves’ equally impressive pedigree and length of time in operation, since 1812 when Elijah Pepper founded it. Dr. James Crow is technically credited with developing the recipe that is used in Woodford Reserve today.
This tour took a much more in-depth look at the actual cooking of the mash and fermenting in 90,000 gallon vats made from hundred year old cypress wood. The smell in this room is amazing…kinda like floating in a cloud of the angels share. The vats bubble away as the yeast is eating the natural sugars in the mash resulting in a release of CO2 and the creation of alcohol.
They then transfer the “beer” or mash to the most amazing copper pots I have ever seen. They sport 3 one hundred plus year old copper distills thus using a triple distillation process. This was unique to them and quite impressive. There is a beautiful box towards the front. It is hard to see however, there are two separate locks that allowed the distiller access to the white dog aka moonshine. Basically bourbon before it goes into the white charred oak barrels. It is here where the Federal tax agent and the distillery representative stood and tracked the production of every single bottle for tax purposes. At that time Bourbon was taxed before barreling however, now I believe it is taxed after aging which helps the distillery account for the angels share. They even had a nice little house outside this area for the tax man to sleep!?
After this the bourbon is sent to barreling which is shown in this photo. It was a pretty cool process where the guy stuck the nozzle in the barrel and filled it with bourbon and then whacked a bung into the bung hole (stop laughing…I’m serious). It was then rolled outside on a roller coaster style track where another guy kept it moving until they are racked in the aging houses.
The guide took a barrel that is ready for bottling and tipped it over and allowed a large glass to be filled and passed around for smelling and drinking (for some of us). The bourbon is actually poured out into the stainless steel drain which houses several filters that prevent the char from the sides of the barrel actually getting into the bottle of bourbon. One other very interesting fact that was shared is that Woodford Reserve mixes the bourbon they distill on property with bourbon that is shipped up from Lexington for bottling. I don’t believe any of the other distilleries blended their bourbon like this.
Overall, this tour was very informative and gave a much closer look at the actual distilling process which I appreciated. We then went back to the tasting area where we were given one small shot of Woodford Reserve in a plastic glass that you got to keep for the $5. I found this slightly annoying but in reality it was only $5 so what can you really say. The only other problem was before the tour. We grabbed two sandwiches that sounded great on the menu however, ended up being far short of what one might imagine for what they charged. I’m starting to sound like a whiner but I’m just saying…hehehe. Hit the tour but grab a decent lunch before you go.
I was probably a little more excited for this tour than your typical bourbon tourist and as such I couldn’t wait to get there. Plan on a very long but picturesque trip through the farm country of Kentucky. Tobacco is often growing on both sides of the road in between horse farms. We finally arrive and enter an old house where the tours begin. This place was extremely polished, organized and in general had their act together. You can tour around the old farm house and look in the replica kitchen where the husband and wife that developed the recipe still used today. They practiced for over 5 years before finally agreeing on what is today, Maker’s Mark. It was very interesting to see how active Bill Samuel‘s wife was, being the one to use Red Winter Wheat in the mash (Maker’s Mark is considered a wheated bourbon) which contributes to the soft and smooth bourbon Maker’s Mark is known for. The red wax on the top of each bottle was also her idea. Despite rumors it serves no specific purpose other than the trademark look that distinguishes it from all the rest. She was clearly a brilliant woman.
One building that was particularly cool was the “Quart House” which is considered to be the oldest remaining “retail whiskey store” where bourbon was regularly sold to the surrounding neighborhood. This would have to help your property value!
We had an opportunity to view their copper stills where they distill their bourbon two times before sending the moonshine, “white lighting” or “white dog” for barreling and its seven year rest. It is important to note that Maker’s Mark is the only distillery that routinely tastes the bourbon through the aging process and bottles to taste not to a preset amount of time. They were not hiring for tasters at the moment…I checked.
We also got to see Maker’s Mark being bottled and then the famous dip into the red wax. It is amazing to imagine that there are only three people on the line actually hand dipping every single bottle! Their slogan is, “Every drip is different, every drop is the same”, now that is cool! They also told us that every 7th bottle or so they do a “slam dunk” where the bottle is dipped deep into the red wax. Keep an eye out next time you are shopping.
We just so happened to be there for the release of a new bourbon Maker’s Mark is selling called simply, Maker’s 46. Why 46 you ask? Great question…here goes. Bill Samuels Jr is nearing retirement and is constantly encouraged by the Maker Mark inner circle, referred to as the Ambassadors, to release something with his own mark. He set out to do just that however, wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by defining the desired outcome so that they would know when they got there. He also wanted to use Maker’s Mark bourbon to begin with versus using a new recipe. He partnered up with his expert cooperage or bourbon barrel maker and shared his vision. Amazingly the expert developed a method where they took slats of white oak and instead of charring them they toast them at very high temperatures. This process imparts a much different taste to the Maker’s that I found to be slightly softer with more vanillas and caramels, which I really enjoy in my bourbon. I took a bottle hostage back to Ohio and sadly it did not survive in time to return to Arizona.
I also had the opportunity to dip my own bottle which was pretty cool. The tasting consisted of two bourbons, the Maker’s Mark and the new Maker’s 46. This was by far the fanciest tasting room and was very well organized and staffed.
We had a great time and then went down the road to the property’s restaurant called The Toll Gate Café for a quick sandwich for lunch. Their menu was pretty good and we all took their recommendation, the Bourbon BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich with Bourbon Baked Beans. The prices were reasonable and the food was tasty. Far better than the lunch served at Woodford Reserve. Maker’s Mark was by far the best tour and the one that I would most highly recommend but why hit only one when they are all so close.
The G&R Tavern – Waldo, Ohio
On my recent vacation to Ohio there were two dives I had on my “have to hit” list. The first was The G&R Tavern in Waldo, Ohio. This place has been around forever, since 1962 to be exact, and shockingly I never took the opportunity throughout the 20 plus years I lived in Ohio to visit. What a crime in retrospect.
We went on a Wednesday night to avoid any major crowds and were shocked that we would have to wait for a table. I opted for bar seating much to mother’s chagrin. We were quickly greeted by the bartender and ordered a beer.
I include this photo only to show the little glass that was served chilled upside down on top of the bottle (without request). This must be an Ohio thing and definitely brought me back to my bartending days at Ohio University…ahhhh…I digress! Anyway, I think this is cool and will most definitely serve if I am to ever own a Tavern.
We all three ordered the Bologna Sandwich, of course. What else would you get when dining at the Home of Famous Bologna Sandwich? Although, I was slightly tempted to order the Country Boy, a quarter pound cheese burger with TWO slices of bologna. Honestly that may be my only regret from the entire vacation, but am sure my heart thanks me.
It is important to note that while it may be hard to imagine gourmet bologna I am here to tell you this is no ordinary Oscar Meyer stuff. We are talking about a coarse ground house made bologna that is slightly garlicky and huge on flavor. I am confident they fry these inch thick slices on a griddle top which gives the bologna a slightly crunchy exterior while the inside is pleasantly moist. These babies come standard with a slice of Monterey Jack cheese, thick slice of raw sweet onion, and sweet pickles. Being the redneck I am, I couldn’t resist hitting my sandwich with a squirt of ketchup and mustard. I also ordered cheese sticks which came with an incredibly thick marinara sauce. I couldn’t have been more impressed with everything.
One of the most amazing things I noted was the prices that are offered by the G&R, which I am sure lends itself to waiting for a table in small town Ohio in a Wednesday night. So much so I took a picture of the menu.
For $3.75 you are getting one of the finer bologna sandwiches that I could imagine. The bartender suggested dessert which I I was definitely not in need of. However, I noticed she was a little surprised we declined. She then again suggested we consider one of their home-made cream pies. At this point I felt like we needed to explore the opportunity, for the blog of course! She brought out the biggest slice of cream pie that I have ever seen! I went with her recommendation, the chocolate peanut butter. It was as good as it looks and again only $2.75. Possibly one of the best investments I have ever made!
All in all I have to give the G& R 5 out of 5 stars for the entire experience. I had an entire meal for about $10 and couldn’t have been more satisfied.
The Tilton Hilton – Indian Lake, Ohio
The next place I had to hit was The Tilton Hilton at Indian Lake. This place is about 30 minutes from my parent’s house and is an institution for their burger. When I was a kid we used top go up to Indian Lake during the summer and go on boat rides and enjoy the wonderful Ohio summers. However, sadly we never hit the Hilton. The Tilton Hilton aka Turkey Foot Inn has been around for a very long time. So long that the old foundation on the place has since shifted. As such, there is a 35 degree lean to the floor from one side of the bar to the other. I wasn’t able to capture this on photograph so you are going to have to trust me on this one….or visit it which I strongly suggest. Another cool part of the Tilton Hilton is that they have a boat dock out back, making it convenient for boaters to grab a burger as well.
We sat down and were greeted by a feisty red haired lady and I quickly got the feeling that I better know what I want. My dad made the first mistake by ordering a hamburger with cheese. She informed him that “we call them cheeseburgers here” as she erased his mistake from the order pad. Next, he asked what kind of cheese comes on the cheeseburger to which she replied, “cheese cheese”. It probably seems like this was poor service however, it was quite fun, at the expense of my dad of course. We actually had such a fun time with that I had to take a picture with her. As you can see she is clearly ornery.
So, we all order cheeseburgers and I again ordered the cheese sticks, notice a trend? However, this batch of fried cheese was served with a horseradish laden ketchup condiment that was freaking awesome! It is hard to capture the size of these whoppers on photo but I think you get the idea. Each burger is at least a half pound of ground beef.
I again was shocked to see how cheap these half pound beauties are sold for ($4.20)!!! I took a picture of the entire menu to prove it! This place was another 5 out of 5 stars, excellent service, in a weird kind of shut up and eat it way, great food, cold beer and pretty darn good scenery.