Monday, May 25, 2009

The Not-So-Fast Food Solution

The Crow's Nest Cafe
138 E Main St
Glendale, KY 42740
(270) 369-9444‎
Tuesday - Saturday, 5-9 pm Eastern
Reservations strongly recommended

There is a little place about 20 minutes from my home that Fey and I love to frequent. It's a restaurant called The Crow's Nest Cafe in the small town of Glendale, KY, just about an hour south of Louisville. The Crow's Nest is a tiny place--not more than ten tables on a generous estimate. Quite often, there are only two employees working--the cook and the server. If you can get in at all without a reservation, you're probably going to wait for your meal.

Now you probably think you know where this is going--a dietribe on restaurants that understaff, that cannot handle the volume of customers, blah blah blah. Well, you're wrong, I say. Wrong. My official statement on The Crow's Nest is, if you don't have the time to wait for the food, come back when you do have time, sit down, shut up, and enjoy yourself.

So what is this miraculous food served up by the good people in Glendale? What is this culinary delight that makes a limited menu and long wait seem like such a small price to pay?

Pizza, dudes. I kid you not. Hand to heart, voice to the gods, pizza.

The Crow's Nest is a mom and pop pizza joint, five-course prix-fixe delight nestled in this little hickup of a quaint old downtown. The restaurant is situated in an old home, with a tiny dining room dominated by a view of the kitchen and wood-fire stove. Almost everything they serve, from the crusty bread to the wood-fired vegetables to the pizza all the way to the cookie that comes with dessert, makes its way through that wood-fire stove. And every bit of it is fantastic--so worth the wait.

Now a place this small would be a nightmare without the right people running it, and The Crow' Nest is lucky enough (or smart enough) to know that. Owner Dick Franklin is in the back, cooking the pizzas and bread and veggies. There are usually one or two servers covering the small room, preparing salads, filling drinks, and being generally as friendly as your best friend's mom (the cool one--not the mom who thinks you're a bad influence).

Everything is pretty cozy, so it isn't uncommon to have conversations cross from table to table over to the kitchen. We've been there several times, and they never seem to forget about my cheese and meat thing. They are completely open to working with me on getting it right; consequently, I do not have any trouble leaving this joint full and happy. Also, Dick seems perfectly content to answer questions and crack jokes while he cooks the food. It's like visiting the home of a friend who makes really fantastic pizza.

Okay, so we've covered decor, service--what about the food?

Oh, man. If I could, I would go there just for the bread and the wood-fired vegetables. The bread is of the French persuasion, crusty and perfect and hot out of the oven. The small loaf comes sliced to your table with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and pesto.

A salad follows--one selection here, this is the house salad and it changes regularly. The last time we went, our salad was green leaf lettuce, pineapple, a fried onion ring, and dried cranberries, drizzled with a raspberry walnut vinaigrette. Sure, they would work with you if, for instance, you hated dried cranberries, but the delight of trying it as is can be a reward in itself. Sometimes I'm generous and give Fey my onion rings. Sometimes I'm greedy and only stop short of licking the plate due to some misplaced sense of propriety. (My grandmother would be so relieved.)

The salad leads into my favorite course--the veggie plate. A variety of vegetables -- the usual suspects, including carrots, broccoli, etc., plus rarer choices like sweet potato, Brussel sprouts and radish - are dusted in flavored bread crumbs and cooked in the fire. The regular veggie plate also comes with genoa salami and a bite of cheese (which the good people in the kitchen always replace with extra veggies for me!). I can't speak to the cheese and meat (although Fey swears it's delicious), but I can tell you I'd travel all the way to Nashville just for a plate of those veggies.

There are five different pizzas to choose from, each namd in honor of Dick's family. With the prix-fixe menu, you can either get one pizza per person ($19/person) or two people can share a pizza ($16/person). There is enough food for two people to happily share one pizza--even if the two people are Fey and me! (Yeah, no cheese or meat on that side. No, seriously. Put all my cheese and meat on her side, please.) The Fun with Dick and Jane is my personal poison--roma tomatoes, baby spinach, and mozzarella (which they held without even blinking, adding onions instead at my request). Other choices include The Ben Franklin - a white pizza with Kentucky country ham, pineapple and mozzarella - and the incredibly popular Burn Lady - ground beef, jalapeno peppers, five cheeses and tortilla strips. Oh, and did I mention they set the Burn Lady on fire? Yeah, it's that kind of place.

Once you've gorged yourself on pizza, salad, veggies and bread, you'd probably think that was the end of it. But no--they give you ice cream and a home made chocolate chip cookie. Because they can, that's why!

Now, the menu offers blackened or sesame-ginger salmon as an alternative to pizza ($22/blackened; $25/center-cut sesame-ginger), but I can't see why you would do that. I'm sure it's delicious--everything else is. But the pizzas are the crowning glory, and if you're coming all this way, you might as well go with the specialty.

As I said earlier, Fey and I can split one of their pizzas (and her cheese and meat never touch my pristine slices) and leave as happy as if we had sense for between $35-$40 (including drinks, tip and tax). Of course, this is not the place to go when you're in a hurry. Even when they are not busy, this is not fast food. This is good food, and face it--some things are so worth the wait. So block out some time. Prepare for a leisurely meal. Slow down and enjoy yourself. Oh, and make reservations. Seriously--the only thing worse than not being able to get in is not being able to get in after you've smelled the food.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ohhhhhh, Mama!

It is a well-known fact that some moms are better cooks than other moms. My mom is a classic. Growing up, she was just about the best cook I knew--and I knew a few good ones. Her repertoire changed with the wind--after a trip to Greece, we had stuffed grape leaves and the like forever. Her cookbook collection was the envy of all, and her culinary skills were just amazing.

Me, I kinda fell into the role of sous chef. I had two things going for me--one, I was the youngest and sort of a mama's girl. I loved hanging around the kitchen, and spent a great deal of time chopping onions, peeling carrots, and stirring so many pots of roux that I can make them in my sleep now.

The second thing going for me was that I just loved watching people cook...not to mention eating the bits and bobs that fell into my mouth during the process. Yeah, my love for food and my love for cooking were indelibly connected.

The down side to this equation--and yes, there is a downside--is that I still show and understand love in terms of food. We made a reservation at August Moon yesterday for Mother's Day--because that is how we express love to Fey's mom. When Fey is feeling blue or hormonal or just plain grumpy, my immediate first thought is "What kind of chocolate can I get her?"

My mom showed me love last week by sending me a care package of her homemade peanut butter fudge and some Point Coupee roasted pecans. I need these things like I need a hole in my head, but oh, the love I felt opening that package! My mom's peanut butter fudge is a thing of beauty--the only fudge I will eat, usually. I can't stand the stuff most of the time, not even other types of fudge my mom makes. It tastes disgusting to me, and I just can't swallow most of it. But for some reason, my mom's peanut butter fudge is amazing--I can eat an entire pan of it on my own. Of course, that may have something to do with the sugar, peanut butter, marshmallow creme and other low-fat, low-cal ingredients. Or it may have something to do with the fact that, when we were kids, Mama would let us stir the pot, or the lucky one of us would get to lick the stirring spoon after fudge was poured (while the rest contented themselves with regular spoonfuls scraped from the side of the pot.)

I'm forty pounds lighter now than when I started this whole "eating right and exercising" mad science experiement, and I'm trying to find a way to equate love and acceptance and just plain feeling good with something besides food. I'm finding that I enjoy being outdoors a little more now, and that I have more energy to just be with the people I love, rather than eat with the people I love. Fey and I have discovered the joys of sharing a dessert at a restaurant (more on Equus' unbelievable S'mores in a future post), and there's a secret pleasure I've found in having to pack up leftovers and take them home for lunch.

I don't know. I think I'm evolving. I hope I'm evolving. I'm hoping that those pants I tried on for giggles last night will actually fit me in a few weeks (I didn't think they'd fit over my thighs, and they went all the way on--except really tight).

But just in case I don't evolve completely, I have two bags of Mama's fudge in my freezer for emergencies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Enter as Strangers, Leave as blankety-blank!

Eating German food for me is an act of love. Not because my mother's family was German, or that German cuisine very much influenced the food I grew up with. Eating German food is an act of love for me because my Baby loves German food.

Considering the basic menu at most German restaurants, you can imagine how poorly I fare with my meat- and cheese-restricted diet. Before I broke down and started eating fish again, the best I could hope for was home fries and a half-decent salad. What I usually get in the vegetable offerings is overcooked green beans (usually "flavored" with meat products), mushy, vinegar-laden cucumber-carrot-onion salad, or German style potato salad (which I loathe).

Like I said—I love my Fey, so I eat the stuff now and then.

Recently, we've fed Fey's German food needs in a very predictable way – we schlep over to Vine Grove/Flaherty and eat at Caroline's Schnitzel Barn. I always order the same thing—the fish sandwich with home fries. Fey goes wild with schnitzel and spaetzl and all those other things she likes that I don't eat.

The restaurant itself is small—just a few tables, and we go often enough that the staff knows us well. Recently, though, we've noticed a few trends that we don't like—so much so that our dinner there last night is probably going to be our last for a long time.

One benefit of small, independently-owned restaurants is that they reflect the personality of the management. In some cases, this is also a detriment. We've been to Schnitzel Barn many times and have had perfectly acceptable service—sometimes even great.

And then, we've gone in there and come out so furious that we raved all the way home. Usually it's me raving. I don't know—I find the fact that I'm ignored and treated like an intruder to be highly insulting when piled on top of the fact that I can only order one thing on the menu.

Last night, it was so bad even Fey was raving. We got there at approximately ten minutes to six pm, fairly advanced of any dinner crowd. We ordered, exactly, two brochen, a bowl of soup as an appetizer, a fish sandwich, and half a schnitzel sandwich.

While we sat…and sat…and sat….the restaurant filled up with people who the servers called by name and greeted as old friends. These people were buying alcohol and, (surprise, surprise!) their glasses were never empty. Several times our server passed us up to go to the other tables.

After forty minutes had passed and we'd only gotten our drinks and the brochen, I went up to the bar to ask about our soup. After all, it's soup. It's made before hand. All they have to do is scoop it up, right? I was told, in a rather impatient manner, that they were doing the best they could.

So I went back and sat down, while tables that were seated after us were getting their meals, and we were still waiting on our soup.

Finally, at about five minutes to seven, our entire meal—soup and sandwiches—arrived in one lump sum (even though we'd asked for the soup as an appetizer). To top it off, the soup was ice cold.

So at this point, we're both livid. If I had not gone to ask about the soup, or if the service had not been so obviously biased, we could have let it go as just a fluke (the restaurant was very packed). But the bottom line was that we were passed over to give preference to larger tables ordering alcohol. Our soup was completely forgotten, even after I made a special trip to the bar to ask about it. Our meal was barely edible, and we felt like gate-crashers at some bizarre country family reunion.

So of course, I go up to the owner herself, who is behind the bar, to ask her to take our cold soup away and remove it from the bill. She proceeds to give me a hundred excuses and basically calls me a liar to my face when I tell her we've been waiting for the better part of an hour to get cold food. (I was facing a huge clock for the whole meal. I know exactly how long we waited.) She then grudgingly agreed to remove the soup from the bill. I paid the bill and we left.

In the car home, we reviewed the math and realized, she had not taken the soup off at all.

Why? Because she didn't have to. There are about three restaurants in the Vine Grove/Flaherty area, which means this woman has no competition. She doesn't have to care one whit whether people who drove for thirty minutes to give her money for services actually get the service they paid for. She doesn't have to be polite and friendly and courteous to people she hasn't known since they attended Vacation Bible Camp together in second grade.

There is a big sign up at Caroline's Schnitzel Barn that reads, "Enter as strangers; leave as friends." I suppose Caroline has a different definition of the word, because I certainly don't treat my friends the way we were treated last night.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chili Music

I can't remember when I started singing. I think it was about ten seconds before I started blinking. Suffice it to say, mine is a musical life. And it has always been my belief that anybody can make music. Anybody with a pulse can understand at least the basics of rhythm. Anybody who can feel can get an inkling of volume, pitch, harmonies, and percussion.

Music is in all of us, even the deaf, the mute, and the horribly untalented.

You see, anyone can learn to make music. Not everyone can learn to make music well.

I think the same holds true for cooking. Take the noble vegetarian chili, for instance. My partner Fey has a wonderful recipe for this dish that takes about 20 minutes and (by her standards) requires the basic culinary skills of a monkey. Simpler than peeling a banana, this recipe is.


When she is not feeling well and asks me to cook, our menu inevitably returns to this chili. I go to the kitchen. I pull out the ingredients and cooking tools. I turn on the stove. She walks me through it, step by step, in order.

And it is a passable meal.

Last night, Fey made this same dish, same ingredients, same steps, same tools. And it was delicious. Maybe it's experience, maybe it's practice, or maybe it's something completely intangible.

Maybe her chili is better than mine in the way two pianists can play an etude by Chopin with very different results. One pianist plays the notes, the crescendos, the decrescendos, the tempos and rhythms. The other makes music.

My partner makes music.

I make chili.

Thank goodness I can write about this stuff. Thank goodness Fey can cook it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

WhistleStop Curry Soup

I am adoring the WhistleStop Cooking blog! On the fifteenth, they posted a recipe for Curry Soup that looks divine. With Fey being sick, I have decided to take on a bit of the cooking responsibilities at home. I've never been much of a cook--but I'm a fairly good sous chef, and I take directions well. As long as it doesn't require any fancy techniques, I should be okay.

And I really want to try this soup.......MMMMMMMM...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tofu or Not Tofu

Fey and I rather adore the new Japanese restaurant in town, Kansai Japanese Steakhouse. But they changed our tofu appetizer. Now, instead of tempura fried, they are panko fried. And they...well, now they taste like tofu.

Thank god the other menu items are still amazing. After years of half-baked Japanese at The Other Place, it's nice to have options again.

Mmmmm....miso soup.....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dinner and a Movie

Well, it's another weekend and another fun-filled post at hand. Okay, maybe not such a fun-filled post, but here I am anyway.

Fey and I decided to go back for lunch at Adrienne & Co. in Jeffersonville, IN, yesterday, and we both have discovered something--since the weight loss, neither of us can eat as much food. I was downed by a double-decker PB&J on toasted wheat bread, a side salad, and half an eclair. Couldn't even touch my cupcake. (Soooo much food on the lunch special.) Fey had a chicken and avacodo sandwich on focaccia with a side of chips, and came away much less terribly stuffed than me. (Oh, and she had the other half of that eclair.)

We decided to go see "Race to Witch Mountain" in Louisville. It was actually quite exciting. Duane Johnson has pretty much left The Rock in his past and is doing very well playing himself in action movies. He was quite likable and carried the movie easily. The teens were good--close enough looking to the original kids from the 70s film to be nostalgic, but different enough to be their own characters. The effects were off the scale, and for the most part the stereotypical sci-fi conventioneers didn't make me want to hurl. (Although I was the only geek there who caught the Whitley Streiber cameo....maybe the stereotypes aren't so far off the mark?) I was distracted by Carla Gugino through the whole thing. Not that she wasn't great--I've always liked her. But with her hair done that way, she looked eerily familiar. It took a minute or two, but then I figured it out. Actress Carla Gugino and my friend, author Maya Bohnhoff, could be sisters. Check out below.

Separated at birth?

Anyway, after the movie we decided to have dinner at Queen of Sheba. A few years back, we ate there and loved it--not only for the food, but for the atmosphere. They've recently moved from their hole in the wall right off the freeway on Bardstown to a newer place on Taylorsville Road.

We didn't stay for dinner. We were ignored, left standing for a table (when a table was literally right in front of us), told they were looking for a suitable table "in the back" because they didn't want us seated "in the middle of the floor" (then why is there a table there, we ask?). The only reason we got a seat at all was because I went back to talk to the manager and convinced them that the two fat chicks would be perfectly happy to sit "in the middle of the floor" (which was coincidentally, right in view of everyone--ooh, scary--fat chicks where the Beautiful People can see them!) Of course, there was another fifteen minutes of being completely ignored before Fey decided she'd had it and we were gone. Now this wasn't a busy situation--this was seriously being ignored. I tried to make eye contact with a server who averted her eyes. I'm not sure what shit was going down, but Queen of Sheba is so not on our list at the moment. Fey gave the manager an earful before we left--and the manager didn't actually deny that the reason we were not seated up front was because we were not as attractive as the rest of the customers. I don't know. We both may have been hormonal, but it was still a very bad experience for both of us--one neither is in the mood to repeat any time soon.

We wound up at Shalimar again, and ironically got the best service we've ever gotten there. I tried the mushroom curry and was in heaven. Seriously, it was so damned good. I took half of it home (still kinda full from lunch, believe it or not), and my taste buds are just waiting for Monday at work to eat it.

Today we're going to make fried rice for lunch, and if we're up to it, I'm going to make my grandmother's corn soup for dinner. I'm not sure how that's going to work out--we may just wind upsaving the corn soup for another day if we're neither too hungry. But it's out there--still cold enough for soup, ya'll.