Bowling Green, the third-largest city in Kentucky, is best known known for Corvettes, caves and cakes—after all, it is the birthplace of Duncan Hines, one of the original road warriors who wrote a column and numerous books about where to eat when traveling. All that is well and good, but Bowling Green is a worthy destination for other reasons as well.
Wait! We know what you’re thinking: “Summer in Kentucky? Are you crazy?” But as my friend Mallory Furry likes to say, “Don’t let a Southern summer be a bummer.”
And luckily Bowling Green offers many ways to beat the heat and that doesn’t mean staying indoors all the time with air conditioning set on Arctic High.
So slather on some sunscreen and grab your brimmed hat as here’s a roundup of favorite ways to keep it cool when the weather starts to heat up:
Exploring Down Under
Natural caves maintain a steady temperature, making them a great activity for a warm summer’s day. Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest cave system and is half an hour outside of Bowling Green. Advanced tour reservations are strongly recommended in the summer months and you can enjoy a refreshing 54-degree stroll through the cave system while learning about the science and history of Mammoth Cave.
A more local option is Lost River Cave, which offers the only natural underground boat cave tours in Kentucky. After cooling off in the 57-degree cave during the tour, you can explore Lost River’s nature trails and butterfly habitat, or try your hand at geocaching.
Take Me Out to a Ballgame (Minor league-style that is)
Contrary to the name, a Hot Rods minor league game offers plenty of options for fans to stay cool! Things may heat up on the field, but the baseball-themed splash pad is always a home run for a kiddo cool-down. If you bring a furry friend for Turbo Tailwaggin’ Tuesdays, there will be plenty of refreshing water bowls around the stadium for Fido while you cheer on the Hot Rods.
Admission to Beech Bend Amusement Park also grants you access to their water park, Splash Lagoon. Whether you want to zip down a water slide, catch some waves in the wave pool or just float down the lazy river, Splash Lagoon is a great way to keep cool on a summer day.
Enjoying Ice Cream and a Moovie
The logical and ultimate cool-down solution on a warm day is ice cream, of course. Head over to Chaney’s Dairy Barn, where you can choose from dozens of creamy and delicious ice cream flavors. Unlike your standard ice cream, in which the butterfat content is 14%, Chaney’s ice cream uses 16% butterfat … making it ultra-creamy, rich, and (in our not-so-humble-opinion) better than the competition. On Friday and Saturdays starting in May, they host Ice Cream and a Moovie nights. Enjoy the cozy Kentucky night with a family-favorite movie on the big screen and a drippy, yet thoroughly enjoyable, ice cream cone in your hand. It’s the ultimate summer memory maker!
Lisa Kingsley quotes the French gastronome Jean Antheime Brillat-Savarin who famously wrote “Just tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” in the introduction to her new book, Smithsonian American Table: The Foods, People, and Innovations That FeedUsthat culls the vast archives of the Smithsonian Institute where just the word “food” yields tens of thousands of results. The Smithsonian, which opened over 175 years ago, is the nation’s museum, and it’s not a stretch to say that food is the nation’s passion. What Kingsley, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute, has accomplished is to provide snapshots of how our environment, availability of foods, and migration have played an important part in what our ancestors ate and what we eat now.
Trying a variety of foods is often called grazing, and Kingsley, who has been writing about food for more than three decades and is currently the editorial director of Waterbury Publications, a company in Des Moines, Iowa that produces and packages books for publishers, authors, personalities, and corporate brands, has created the literary equivalency in presenting a history of foods for our reading pleasure.
“The long history of hot sauce began about 7000 years ago in Bolivia, where chile peppers grew wild,” writes Kingsley in her chapter, “Food Fads & Trends,” which also includes the history of not only our addiction to fiery sauces but also explores snacking, fermentation, the craft beer movement, fad diets, the backyard cookout, and, among others, community cookbooks and sushi. The latter had a much shorter trajectory to fame and availability than one would ever expect of a dish consisting of raw fish and rice often accompanied by wasabi paste and fresh ginger.
“Propelled by an economic boom in Japan and bolstered by American hipster culture, what started as a street snack almost 200 years ago is now as likely to get as a hamburger or hot dog,” writes Kingsley who describes sushi spreading from California where it appeared in a restaurant right next to a Century 21st Century Fox studio to everywhere. That includes your local grocery store.
Trends are fascinating, but so are the other subjects in this book that are highlighted in such chapters as “Innovators & Creators.” That list would have to include Irving Naxon who applied for a patent on a slow cooker he invented in 1936. Now, out of almost 123 million households in the U.S., approximately 100 million have a slow cooker tucked away in a cabinet or pantry or even on the counter. On the opposite side of slow cooking was Percy Spencer whose application of microwave technology to cooking led to the Radarange, the first microwave oven, which was both the size of a conventional oven and sold at a costly $1295 in 1955.
In Chapter Five, we meet the “Tastemakers,” such as early cookbook authors Fannie Farmer, Lizzie Kander, and Irma S. Rombauer as well as chefs who would be the early innovators for the boom in the cult of television chef celebrities of today. Lena Richard, the host of the Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book show that aired in 1948, was the author of the New Orleans Cook Book said to be the first Creole cookbook by a person of color. She would be followed by now better-known names of those early cooking shows like James Beard and Julia Child.
Each of the chapters is illustrated not only with historic and current photos of people, foods, and products but also full color photos of the 40 plus iconic recipes included in the book such as Beard’s Cocktail Canapes and Child’s Smoked Salmon & Dill Souffle. Of special interest are the sidebars such as “The Black Brewmaster of Monticello,” a reference to Peter Hemings, the enslaved chef of Thomas Jefferson.
Kingsley’s preparation, research, and organization of this book is a wonderful account of the foodways of America and how they came about, and it can easily be read from front to back or delved into according to the reader’s interest. Either way, it’s our history and after reading this you can now look at a chunk of artisan cheese, a photo of the Harvey Girls, or a plate of Korean Fried Chicken and know how they—and so many others—became part of our national food conversation.
The following are from Smithsonian American Table.
Southeast Michigan is home to the country’s largest Arab American population. The first influx of immigrants began in the early 1900s, when — according to local legend — there was a chance encounter between a Yemeni sailor and Henry Ford, who told the sailor that his automobile factory was paying $5 a day. The sailor took word back to Yemen, where it spread. For decades, as people fled conflicts in the Middle East, many sought economic opportunities near Dearborn, bringing their food traditions with them. This recipe comes from Patty Darwish of Dearborn, whose great-grandfather immigrated from Lebanon in the late 1800s. Note: You want the texture to be somewhere between couscous and a paste. If you don’t grind the chickpeas enough, the falafel won’t hold together, but if you overgrind, you will wind up with hummus. This recipe must be made in advance.
From “Smithsonian American Table,” by Lisa Kingsley in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution (Harvest, 2023).
For the falafel:
2 c. dried chickpeas
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 of a green bell pepper
1 serrano chile, seeded and coarsely chopped, optional
Soak the chickpeas in 3 cups of water at least 12 hours or overnight. (Be sure chickpeas are always covered with water. If necessary, add more.) Drain and rinse.
In a blender or food processor, grind beans in batches until almost smooth (see Note). Transfer to a large bowl. Add parsley, cilantro, onion, green pepper and chile (if using) to the blender. Blend until almost smooth. Add to bowl with chickpeas and stir until well combined. Add the cumin, garam masala, chili powder and salt and black pepper to taste. Stir until well combined.
No more than 15 minutes before you cook the falafel, add the baking powder and stir well to combine. Form into patties, using about 2 tablespoons of the mixture per falafel.
In a large deep skillet, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook falafel 5 or 6 at a time until golden brown on both sides. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Meanwhile, prepare the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, water and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more water if necessary to achieve desired consistency.
To serve, place falafel in the middle of a pita bread. Add desired toppings and drizzle with tahini sauce. Fold and serve.
Lena Richard’s Crab a la King
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. light cream or half-and-half
1 c. whole milk
8 oz. lump crabmeat
1/2 c. sliced mushrooms
3 tbsp. finely chopped green pepper
3 tbsp. chopped pimiento
1 tsp. Coleman’s dry mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg yolks, beaten
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. dry sherry (optional)
4 puff pastry shells, baked according to package directions
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk until combined. Slowly whisk in cream and milk. Add crabmeat, mushrooms, green pepper, and pimiento. Add dry mustard and salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
Add eggs and lemon juice. Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in sherry, if desired.
My friends at Mindy Bianca Public Relations tell me they love representing Bowling Green, Kentucky for many reasons, but at the top of their list is the fact it’s the hometown of Duncan Hines. Most of us know his name from boxed cake mixes sitting on the grocery shelves, but that’s just part of his story as Mindy would say. Here’s a big wedge of American pop culture for you … perhaps best served with a tall glass of milk.
Let’s start close to where Duncan Hines himself did … right near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Boyce’s General Store is a foodie heaven, serving as the kitchen and retail shop for two phenomenal dessert bakers, The Pie Queen and The Cake Shop. Though the dynamic duo who bake the cakes create all sorts of flavors – the display case simply makes your mouth water – we’re most intrigued by the bundt cakes. No matter which flavor you get, you can expect a cake that’s moist and rich and covered in a cream cheese glaze. If you don’t need to serve 10 to 12 of your closest friends, go for the mini sampler, which features one each of chocolate, apple spice, snickerdoodle and red velvet.
For years, Caroline’s Cakes has been sending its delicacies out through their successful mail-order service. Last year, though, the bakers finally opened a storefront along Beaumont Avenue in Spartanburg, meaning that visitors to this town along the northern border of South Carolina can finally walk into a shop for an immediate taste of one of the city’s most delicious exports. The 7-Layer Caramel Cake features – surprise! – seven layers of moist yellow cake crowned by melt-in-your-mouth caramel icing. It’s a Southern classic that has achieved ultimate success: making it to Oprah’s list of favorite things! (It’s on our list of favorite things, too, but we know that doesn’t carry nearly as much prestige as Oprah’s.)
When Hurricane Katrina blew through Louisiana in 2005, Keith and Nealy Frentz, who were both sous chefs at the world-famous Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans, found themselves out of work. They evacuated to Keith’s hometown of Covington and opened their own restaurant just a year later. It’s hard to decide on the very best meal at Lola – we can confirm that everything on the menu is delicious – but one thing is certain: You must end that meal with a piece of hummingbird cake. Nealy uses her grandma’s recipe to craft this moist banana cake that’s filled with chunks of juicy pineapple and a dash of cinnamon. It’s all topped off with a decadent cream cheese icing, ensuring that both the fruit and dairy food groups are beautifully represented. Hooray for Nealy’s take on the food pyramid!
Lane Cake was invented by Emma Rylander Lane more than 100 years ago as an entry in Alabama’s state fair, with its recipe being officially published in a cookbook in 1898. It entered popular culture through multiple mentions in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and it ultimately bumped hummingbird cake (sorry, Nealy!) out of the way to become Alabama’s official state dessert. The cake gets its incredible flavor from its rich icing, which is made with chopped pecans, golden raisins, coconut and Alabama whiskey and then spread between layers and layers of moist cake. Chef Jim Smith, proprietor of The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar, one of Mobile’s favorite restaurants, is the former executive chef for the State of Alabama … so we can confirm he knows his way around the state’s favorite dessert.
The MBPR team is proud to represent an array of Southern destinations, and you’ll see a running theme among them when it comes to their baked goods: moist cake, some sort of fruit or nut, cream cheese icing. Our favorite selection in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, aka “Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou,” is the Italian Cream Cake from the charming Cajun Pecan House. The place lives up to its name and tosses pecans on and in pretty much everything. Lots of folks come here looking for a pecan pie or a praline – both of which are delicious – but the bakers also put plenty of their namesake nut into a yellow cake batter that’s made extra-moist by the addition of coconut. Then they slather it in a rich cream cheese icing that’s topped with additional coconut and – you guessed it – more pecans! It feels more Southern than Italian to us, but we are NOT complaining!
Your sweet tooth will get quite a workout at the Deep South Cake Company, which is home to a dazzling array of cakes and cupcakes. But the winner by a landslide – the bakery sells at least 1,400 of them between Thanksgiving and Christmas alone – is the legendary caramel cake. Shannon Rumley and her team put a lot of time and energy into this cake, which features a burnt sugar icing that Shannon’s mother and grandmother taught her how to make when she was just a kid. Achieving the proper consistency for the icing requires constant stirring, so this cake truly is a labor of love. If you’re not into caramel – or if you’re loyal to Caroline’s Cakes (see above) and feel guilty eating a caramel cake from anywhere else – don’t fear: Shannon’s second-best seller is a strawberry cake that cuts the sweet with a little zip from the berries.
Speaking of strawberries, how about that classic romantic combo of berries and champagne? There’s a lot to love about a stay in the historic HOTEL DU PONT in downtown Wilmington, but we think that being just a few paces away from the offerings at Spark’d, the hotel’s bake shop, is one of the strongest motivators for booking a room here. The Pink Champagne Cake is the delightful merger of strawberry cake, strawberry jam and Champagne buttercream icing. With a little advance notice, the hotel’s pastry team is also happy to create a custom design to ensure that the cake you order is perfectly suited to its recipient.
A Louisiana bakery that proves that so-called seasonal cakes are amazing all year round is Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House. Locals know – and visitors are finally discovering – that gingerbread is appropriate for every season, not just Christmastime. This low-key shop, which is easily mistaken for a neighborhood home, is hidden in plain sight. But those in the know (many of whom learned about the Gingerbread House thanks to a viral TikTok video last year) can tell you that this popular establishment offers a special cake that throws one heck of a Christmas party in your mouth. Leona Guillory Johnnie, the original owner of the bakery, spent 40 years perfecting the recipe. Today her son, Kevin Ames, continues her legacy, also serving traditional tea cakes and an array of pies.
It’s not gingerbread, but some people swear that ginger is the magic ingredient in a dessert that our client resort in Jamaica turned us on to. It’s called “gizzada,” but it also goes by the nickname “Pinch Me Round.” Though it’s technically more of a tart than a cake, the fact that a guy called the “Cake Man” sells gizzadas during his rounds on the beaches of Negril convinced us that the dessert warrants a spot on our list. Each islander has their own spin on this classic Jamaican dessert, which features a pinched pastry shell filled with plenty of sweet, grated coconut. Some bakers like to add a touch of ginger to give it a little kick. The dessert is said to have originated among Portuguese Jews who came to Jamaica to escape persecution, but over the years the Jamaicans have made the dessert truly their own. In fact, they say that the shape of the treat will remind you of the shining sun you’ll see on your trip to the island.
If you can’t get to Jamaica right now, you may be able to live vicariously with a visit to Market Wego, a proper Cajun market in southeastern Louisiana. Its owner, River Shay, says her grandmother, Tricia, simply loved visiting Jamaica. On each of her trips, Tricia liked to sample the island’s rum cakes. Over the years, she took what she loved about each variation to create her very own recipe. Her cake truly pays homage to Duncan Hines, because Tricia swore by using only a Duncan Hines cake mix as the base … and then adding an extra splash of rum at the end. Her recipe is still used to this day, and patrons order the cake at all hours – breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Dolly Parton’s theme park is known for its delicious meal offerings – around here, “park food” means way more than hot dogs and funnel cakes – but during Dollywood’s annual Flower & Food Festival (this year held April 21 through June 11), the culinary team really steps up its game to make foods that are as attractive as they are tasty. One of our favorites is the collection of “flower cupcakes” available at Spotlight Bakery near the park’s entrance. Each flower cupcake is a beautiful work of art that celebrates the natural beauty of the park, which is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. And to bring it full circle, Parton recently collaborated with Duncan Hines’ namesake company, resulting in her very own line of cake, muffin and biscuit mixes.
Big Bear Mountain, set to open this spring, adds to Dollywood’s already impressive portfolio of world-class roller coasters. At $25 million, the ride is the most significant single attraction investment ever at Dollywood, while its nearly 4,000-foot length will make it the longest roller coaster at the park. Big Bear Mountain includes highly-detailed ride vehicles (resembling four-wheel-drive SUVs) that will take guests on an expedition in search of the elusive “Big Bear” in the hills just beyond Dollywood’s newest area, Wildwood Grove, which opened in 2019.
At a little more than three-quarters of a mile long, Big Bear Mountain provides park-goers with plenty of thrilling moments, including three separate launches, multiple airtime hills, high-speed carousel turns and tunnels, and a pass behind a waterfall. The minimum height requirement is 39 inches, meaning even smaller guests can enjoy the thrills, and the coaster will reach a top speed of 48 mph.
With the addition of Big Bear Mountain and the continued appeal of Dollywood’s seasonal events, Dollywood Parks & Resorts has seen an increased need for additional lodging to complement its original resort, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, which opened in 2015. Tucked away in a beautiful cove in the rolling foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the 302-room, five-story lodge is being designed to provide a space of awe and inspiration for guests around every turn. The property is set to open this fall.
From spacious accommodations to well-planned amenities, the resort will offer a variety of spaces to recharge and relax. The lodge will feature an impressive atrium with four-story, lantern-inspired windows, as well as a two-story HeartSong Event Center. Many of the guest rooms feature balconies that provide sweeping views of the resort’s vast property, as well as the surrounding beauty of the Smokies.
Both the coaster and the lodge give nods to the beauty of the natural surroundings in which the theme park exists, a tribute to the “Tennessee Mountain Home” that Dolly Parton sings about and loves so much. In addition to all the family entertainment offered by Dollywood Parks & Resorts, this area of Tennessee is home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the nation’s most visited national park.
There’s much to see and do in the region, which is part of the reason for adding the second resort. To keep up with the growing demand for even more fun at Dollywood, the park’s operating calendar is also growing this year and adding 21 more days of operation.
For more information about Dollywood Parks & Resorts, please visit Dollywood.com.
About Dollywood Parks & Resorts
The Dollywood Company consists of the 165-acre Dollywood theme park; the 35-acre Dollywood’s Splash Country; and Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa. Currently under construction, the 302-room Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort is scheduled for completion later this year. As unique as its namesake and owner Dolly Parton, Dollywood is the 2010 Applause Award winner, the theme park industry’s highest accolade; winner of 48 Golden Ticket Awards; and recipient of 28 Brass Ring Awards for Live Entertainment.
The park is located near Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was named in 2022 by Tripadvisor as the #1 theme park in the country based on actual guest reviews. It also has been recognized as a top-three U.S. theme park by USA Today on multiple occasions. Dollywood is open mid-March through early January and offers rides and attractions, shows and crafters authentic to the East Tennessee region.
Dollywood’s Splash Country, recognized by the Travel Channel and Tripadvisor as one of the country’s most beautiful water parks, operates from mid-May to Labor Day. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, a favorite of USA Today voters and Tripadvisor reviewers, provides guests with spectacular mountain views and family-friendly amenities next door to Dollywood theme park and Dollywood’s Splash Country. For more information, visit dollywood.com. Operating days and hours vary.
Facility That Sharing the Stories of the Survivors of the Last Slave ShipTo Arrive in the United States Will Open This Summer
At a February 3 event honoring the 110 survivors of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive in the United States, the page was turned for the next chapter of a story that’s been being told for more than 150 years … in secret for decades but now shared on a global stage.
To understand the magnitude of this announcement, it helps to know some history:
Under the cover of night in the summer of 1860, a ship carrying 110 Africans slipped into Mobile Bay. The Clotilda, the last known U.S. slave ship, made its illegal voyage 52 years after the international slave trade had been outlawed. (Though it was illegal to bring enslaved people into the United States, domestic slavery itself remained legal until 1865.)
Upon arrival in Alabama, the captives were offloaded into the marshes along the Mobile River. In an attempt to conceal the crime, Timothy Meaher, the man who arranged the transfer, ordered the boat burned and sunk. Some captives remained in Mobile, enslaved by the Meaher family, and others were sold to Alabama plantations north of Mobile.
When slavery was abolished in 1865, the survivors dreamed of returning to Africa, but they didn’t have the financial means to make that happen. Instead, many of them pooled their limited resources to purchase land from the Meahers and turned it into the independent community known as “Africatown.” There they maintained their African identities, continued to speak their own languages, established their own set of laws and – in the early years – even had a chief. They built churches, schools and businesses based on what they knew from their homeland, and they effectively created their own world on the northern end of Mobile.
In 2019, it was verified that the shipwreck of the Clotilda rested at the bottom of the Mobile River, providing a tangible link to the names and stories that have been passed down through generations of descendants.
Africatown Heritage House
Africatown Heritage House is a community building that will house “Clotilda: The Exhibition,” to share this long-untold story. The facility was built by the Mobile County Commission but is a collaborative project that involves several entities working in partnership with the community. This includes the Alabama Historical Commission, which is leading the scientific efforts surrounding the search for, authentication and protection of the ship Clotilda and related artifacts, and the History Museum of Mobile, which curated, constructed and funded “Clotilda: The Exhibition” with generous support from other local organizations. The museum will operate Africatown Heritage House when it opens this summer.
The exhibition is especially focused on the people – their individuality, their perseverance and the extraordinary community they established. It will introduce the world to 110 remarkable men, women and children, from their beginnings in West Africa, to their enslavement, to their building the community of Africatown. Their stories will be shared through a combination of interpretive text panels, documents and artifacts, including some pieces of the sunken ship scientifically verified to be the Clotilda.
Africatown Heritage House and “Clotilda: The Exhibition” will open to the public on Saturday, July 8. Called “The Landing” by the descendants of the Clotilda’s survivors, this date marks 163 years since their ancestors arrived on American soil, forced against their will. Events and activities in acknowledgment of the date’s significance are being planned by the Clotilda Descendants Association and other local entities.
Africatown Heritage House will be open from Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition will have limited capacity, so tickets should be purchased in advance. Tickets will likely become available online in early summer.
For more information about the facility and the exhibition, please visit Clotilda.com, which is operated by the History Museum of Mobile. The latest details will be shared as they become available.
Little did we know that when we dined at the corner restaurant near our hotel in Paris we were eating at a place where for decades a family divided had fought over the secret sauce served with their steaks.
Maybe it’s a French thing.
For some background. My husband and I were on our honeymoon and had booked a Viking River Cruise on the Seine and then added some before and after stays in Amsterdam where it is more easy to get run over by a bicyclist then a car and Paris where we stayed at a little hotel near the metro in the 17th arrondissement, known as Batignolles-Monceau,so we could visit other parts of the city without spending a fortune on cabs. Though we didn’t plan it this way, Hotel 10 Le Bis, our hotel was near numerous little cafes and a little grocery store where we could easily—and cheaply–buy food for quick meals and snacks.
One intriguing café was Le Relais de Venise (the name translates to Venetian Inn) where every night we would see long lines of people waiting to eat either in their dining room or on their outdoor patio. The interior of the restaurant looked so French bistro with its polished dark wood, tiny tables with crisp white table cloths, and servers dressed in black uniforms, the outdoor section was right on a busy corner filled with traffic and pedestrians, noise, and the rumbled of trucks and sounds of horns honking. So depending upon your mood you could choose where to dine.
What could be so great that people would wait for hours for a table when there were so many great cafes and restaurants around? And so we didn’t go until one evening, after ascending from the metro station and seeing there was no line, we decided to give it a try. The only tables available were outdoors and so we sat at a very small table next to another small table where a single woman sat, smoking a cigarette. That turned out to be a very lucky thing.
When our server arrived I asked to see a menu and she (we would find out later her name was Gertrude) abruptly told us she was the menu. Well, what’s on the menu? Steak frites, she replied. “bloody or well done.”
We told her “bloody”, and she gave us an approving look. But we were a little baffled. Was there really only one dish on the menu? As it turns out, there is no menu and only one entree, one salad with one dressing, steak frites (French fries), and bread. Do not expect butter, ketcup, mayonaaise, or any other condiment. They do only one thing but they do it very well. That’s how it was when Le Relais de Venise opened in 1959 and that’s the way it is now at all the restaurants throughout the world–New York City, London Marylebone, London City, Mexico City
When Gertrude returned with a salad topped with walnuts (no one inquired whether we had a nut allergy—which fortunately we don’t) and a crusty French baguette, I saw there wasn’t butter on our table and asked for some. Oops, one would think I had tried to order a Big Mac.
“No butter,” Gertrude told us.
“There’s no butter?” I asked.
“No butter,” she replied.
“How about olive oil?”
“No olive oil,” she told us.
Now, I knew that in a French restaurant there had to be both in the kitchen, but I guess neither butter nor olive oil was allowed to be carried into the dining area, so we ate the bread—which was very good—without either.
This is when the woman at the table next to us decided to intervene. She lived in Paris she told us but had spent years in the United States working as a publicist for musicians in New York. Le Relais de Venise de Entrecote was unique, she continued, because they only served one dish—steak with French fries and their famed green sauce called Le Venise’s Sauce de Entrecote. I guess that makes decided what to order for dinner super easy. If you’re wondering what entrecote is, as I was, it’s a cut of meat like a New York strip or strip steak. Or at least in it is in Paris.
Since the creation of the sauce, its exact ingredients have long been a secret and that probably worked until invention of the internet. After a family squabble resulted in a going of separate ways, the sauce itself became a battleground so complex and full of intrigue that the Wall Street Journal did a lengthy article about it all eight years ago. I guess when you serve only one dish and the sauce is a necessary part of it, feelings about who owns the recipe loom large. So large in fact that’s there was a million dollar lawsuit as to who had rights to use the name and sauce.
Anyway, after we ate our salad (no choice of dressing as it already was dressed with a vinaigrette which was very good), our steak with fries arrived—with the sauce spooned over the meat. It was delicious.
What’s in it? I asked the woman next to us.
“It’s a secret,” she said. “But I’ve been eating here for decades so I know it. But it’s really better to come here.”
She promised to give me the recipe, but she must have changed her mind because she never returned my phone calls or emailed it like she said she would. She may have been afraid Gertrude would get mad at her or maybe the restaurant owners wouldn’t allow her back in. Neither would be surprising. And believe me, you don’t want to cross Gertrude.
I noticed, as we were eating, that the servers were moving through the crowded café with platters of meat and piles of crisp, hand-cut pomme frites. Almost as soon as I had cleared my plate, Gertrude showed up again, heaping—without asking but that was okay—more frites and slices of bloody steak and then pouring the secret sauce on top. At no charge. but no ketchup or mayonnaise either for dipping the fries Gertrude informed us.
“They’ll do that until you say you don’t want anymore,” the woman told us about the second and third helpings.
“Is there a charge?”
“No, it’s all part of the meal.”
Which was a deal as the tab wasn’t very high even with the addition of a glass of the house wine produced at the family owned vineyard Chateau de Saurs in Lisle-sur-Tarn, 30 miles northeast of Toulouse. Indeed, the restaurant was opened by Paul Gineste de Saurs as a way to help market the wines but now there are at least three more restaurants—in New York City, Mexico City, and London. As for the sauce there are several stories. A rival restaurant said to serve a similar sauce says that it is not new but instead wis one of the classic sauces that are considered the backbone of French cuisine.
Of course, as soon as we got back to our room, I Googled the restaurant and the sauce. It took some digging, but I found recipes for both the secret sauce and the salad. Or so I think. I’m planning on trying them soon along with a French baguette or two from Bit of Swiss Bakery which I will be serving with butter.
Le Relais de Venise-Style Salad Dijon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar Kosher salt to taste (nutritional info based on 1/4 tsp) Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil)
Whisk or shake in a mason jar until mixture is homogenous.
Serve on a bed of mixed salad leaves topped with some chopped walnuts and shaved Parmesan.
Serving Size: 4
Le Relais de Venise’s Steak Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons mustard
1 bunch tarragon
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Peel and slice the shallots.
Peel and roughly chop the garlic.
Add the olive oil to a small pot over medium heat.
Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft and slightly colored.
Add the chicken stock. Simmer for three minutes.
Pull the tarragon leaves off of the stems and put them in a blender.
Add the remaining ingredients to the blender.
Carefully pour the chicken stock mixture into the blender.
Puree until completely smooth.
Pour back into the pan and bring to a boil. Cook for one minute. If the sauce is too thin simmer for a few more minutes.
Pour over slices of rare or as Gertrude calls it “bloody” or however you like your steak. Serve with potatoes or French fries.
Summer cottages conjure up images of restful days by the lake or in the woods, a time of family gatherings, reading a book, watching the sunset and spending time in the kitchen (at least for those of us who like to cook) preparing dishes using local and seasonal ingredients to serve at dinner time.
Taking us on a culinary road trip along the Lake Michigan coastline, Levin shows us her favorite places to eat or shop for food, collecting recipes along the way. She shares recipes for Wood Smoked Barbecue Ribs and Sweet Potato and Pineapple Salad provided by Bill Reynolds, owner of New Buffalo Bill’s in New Buffalo and a Korean Pork Bao Sandwich from Ryan Thornburg, the former culinary director for Round Barn Winery, Distillery and Brewery.
She was also inspired by local ingredients such as the spicy fennel sausage made by Pat Mullins, who with his wife Ellie, owns Patellie’s Pizza in Three Oaks and formerly owned Local, an artisan butcher shop in New Buffalo, Levin created her recipe Spicy Fennel Sausage and Peppers with Garlicky Heirloom Tomato Sauce which is a homage to a favorite popular at old school Italian restaurants in Chicago. A fan of Froehlich’s Deli, also in Three Oaks, she devised a deviled egg recipe reminiscent of the ones sold there. These she tops with caviar made by Rachel Collins, owner of Flagship Specialty Foods & Fish Market in Lakeside Michigan.
“I have a soft spot for New Buffalo and Harbor Country because I have family there,” says Levin who graduated from the University of Michigan. “I also fell in love with Fennville which is a really strong artisan food and farming area and I have recipes in the book from Kismet Cheese and Bakery, Salt of the Earth restaurant and Virtue Cider.”
She was also inspired to invent her recipe for Rustic Apple Gallette with Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions and Thyme using cheese produced by Evergreen Lane Artisan Cheese in Fennville.
Starting her book—and her trip where she wandered counter-clockwise around Lake Michigan—in Door County, we learn about fish boils, those classic throw everything—chunks of red potatoes, freshly caught white fish or lake trout and sliced onions–in a pot set on coals above an open fire and Friday night perch fries.
“I have a recipe for a fish boil you can easily do at home,” says Levin, a Chicago-based food writer and chef who also works as a food consultant and recipe developer. Serve with Bavarian Dark Rye Bread, reflective of the German heritage in Door County, and Creamy Coleslaw.
There is, of course, Door County-style cherry pie though Levin points out that Northern Michigan, including Traverse City, grows the same kind of Montmorency cherries that are perfect for using in all things cherry such as the Door County Cherry French Toast served at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, Wilson Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor’s Vanilla Sundaes with Seaquist Orchard’s Cherry Topping, Cherry Poached Pears with the Mascarpone Cream in Ephraim, Wisconsin, crossing into Michigan, Levin’s take on the many recipes for cherry chicken salad found in the Traverse City area–Grilled Chicken Salad with Greens and Cherry Vinaigrette.
Spicy Fennel Sausage and Peppers with Garlicky Heirloom Tomato Sauce
For the sauce:
1 pound heirloom tomatoes
Four garlic cloves, unpeeled
For the sausage:
2 tablespoons olive oil
One pound Italian-style or fennel sausage, links or cut into four links style
One medium or sweet onion, halved and sliced
Two medium red bell peppers, halved, seeded and cut into 1 inch strips
1 tablespoon good-quality balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup of thinly sliced fresh basil
For the sauce, preheat the oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Bro the tomatoes and garlic on the baking sheet until partially blocking, turning occasionally. Remove the garlic cloves. Peel the skins from the tomatoes and transfer the tomatoes and juices to a blender by lifting the foil. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic out of the blackened peels into the blender. Puree until smooth.
For the sausage, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and brown on all sides, about five minutes. Remove the sausage from the skillet. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the onions, and cook until soft and translucent, about two minutes.
Add the peppers and cook until the onions begin to brown and the peppers begin to soften, about five minutes. Add the vinegar and cook until reduced by half, about one minutes, stirring frequently to deglaze the pan.
Return the sausages to the pan and pour the tomato pepper sauce over them. Simmer over medium heat until vegetables are tender and the sauce is thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve top with Parmesan and basil.
Door County Cherry Pie
For the Pastry:
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, cold
3–5 tablespoons ice water
For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups well-drained bottled tart Montmorency cherries in unsweetened cherry juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the Topping:
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
For the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the butter until it is the size of coarse crumbs.
Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the ice water over the top and stir with a fork. Gently knead the mixture with your hands until the dough holds together. If it is dry, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead until the dough holds together. Shape into two oval disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 40 minutes.
Roll one of the chilled dough disks on a lightly floured surface to ⅛-inch thickness and about 11 inches in diameter. Gently roll the pastry around the rolling pin and transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan or dish. Without stretching the dough, fit it into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 325º F.
For the filling, combine the sugar and flour in a large bowl. Add the cherries and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the pie shell and top with the butter.
Roll out the remaining dough disk to ⅛ inch thick and about 11 inches in diameter. Drape the dough over the cherry filling. Fold the edges under the bottom crust and flute attractively or use a fork to press down the crust. Cut several slits in the center of the pie to allow steam to escape during baking.
For the topping, brush the milk over the top and sprinkle the sugar evenly over the pie.
Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving.
Cherry Streusel Muffins
For the muffin batter:
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
⅓ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup firmly packed dark or light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup whole or 2% milk
1 cup pitted tart fresh cherries or well-drained bottled cherries, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
For the streusel topping:
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
½ cup firmly packed dark or light brown sugar
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the muffin batter, preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners or butter the cups. Combine the flour, granulated and brown sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the egg, butter, and milk. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the cherries and lemon zest. Spoon a level ¼ cup of the batter into each muffin cup.
For the streusel, combine the pecans, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and lemon zest in a medium bowl, mixing well. Add the butter and mix until crumbly. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the streusel over each muffin.
Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean and the topping is golden brown. Transfer the pan with the muffins to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and serve warm or at room temperature. Any extra muffins may be ¬frozen for up to 3 months.
There’s fool’s gold, gold dust and nuggets, and high wattage gold when fall amps up the colors in the aptly named Golden State come October and November. So forget leaf peeping along the Eastern Seaboard or in the Midwest and head along the California Gold Rush Trail in the state’s Gold Country. It’s an experience of small towns that boomed during the Gold Rush era when those hoping to strike it rich descended upon the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Stop at one of the Apple Hill Grower farms and pick your own pumpkins, sample mouth-watering baked goods and Sierra Foothill wines. Continuing south, colorful stands of dogwood trees complement the Giant Sequoias at Big Trees State Park.
Locals call Coulterville “the town that was too tough to die.” Once a major mining and supply town, Coulterville was named after George and Margaret Coulter who arrived in 1849 and began selling supplies after learning that miners had to travel some 30 hard miles to buy what they needed. Two years later gold was discovered. Boom is the operative word as to what happened next. The town prospered. For an interesting tidbit of local history, travel through the downtown off of Highway 49 and turn left on Kow Street to the intersection of Chinatown Main Street–yes, that’s really the name of the street. Located on the corner is what was the Sun Sun Wo Co. It’s an old adobe building, one of a handful left in California (for more, click here).
Built in 1851, it was first owned and operated by Mow Da Sun and his son, Sun Kow and run by Chinese until 1926. Said to have an opium den in the back, it was so successful as a general store that a second store ten miles away in Red Cloud. And if you’re wondering how the Chinese were treated, we can report that according to Sierra Nevada Tourism, a site developed in conjunction with National Geographic, the town’s hanging tree is where an outlaw named Leon Ruiz met his fate in 1856 after robbing and murdering two Chinese miners of $600 in gold, showing not only the money to be made in a Gold Rush town but also that the killing of Chinese did not go unpunished.
The intriguingly named Chinese Camp, once a busy mining camp with thousands of inhabitants, the town is now for all intents and purposes a ghost town. Tucked away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, its buildings are a feature in movies and television shows about the Old West.
Travel on to Sonora, another Gold Rush town. Settled by miners from Sonora, Mexico in 1848, Sonora, known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines” offers a vast historical perspective with thriving businesses and a bustling downtown housed in historic buildings dating back to the mid-1800s. Check out such beauties as St. James Episcopal Church, built in 1860 and the oldest Episcopal church in the state.
On the menu at the venerable Ahwahnee Inn for more than a quarter of a century, their Boysenberry Pie is a must try dessert. Served in the Ahwahnee Dining Room, with its 34-foot-high beamed ceiling, floor-to-ceiling mullioned windows, granite columns, Gothic-style chandeliers, an dexposed stonework, is a resplendent place to enjoy such a treat. The dining room, designed by famed architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood in a mélange of Art Deco and Arts and Crafts architectural styles and flourishes of Native American and Middle Eastern elements to attract high-end visitors, opened in 1927. Located on the first floor of The Ahwahnee Hotel, in itself a masterpiece of an opulent and gracious past, in eastern Yosemite Valley, the entire building was made using 5,000 tons of stone, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 feet of lumber.
The Ahwahnee Inn Boysenberry Pie
Makes: One 10” pie
1 ½ pounds fresh or frozen boysenberries
¾ cup sugar
1 ¼ oz clear instant gelatin
Pinch of salt
In a saucepan on a low heat add frozen boysenberries and slowly cook for 5 minutes. In a bowl combine sugar, gelatin and salt and mix. Add sugar mixture to sauce pan. Cook for another 5 minutes. Stir often to avoid burning. Set aside and let cool.
9 ounces all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
4 ½ ounces soft butter
1 ½ ounces very cold water
In a food processor add flour, salt, sugar and softened butter. Turn on and mix ingredients until they are evenly distributed. Then add water all at once. Turn off food processor as soon as the dough binds and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Divide dough into halves and roll each into a ball. Refrigerate for one hour. Roll out on doughball into a circle large enough to fit a 10-inch pie pan. Preheat oven to 350’F and bake pie shell for 5 minutes.
Roll second dough ball into a large circle and cover with a towel. Place filling in shell and cover with remaining pie dough. Use an egg wash to seal the pie rim. Cut four slits in the top of the pie and brush remaining egg wash across the top.
Place in the 350° F and bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 min. Let cool before serving.
The Ahwahnee Bar
1/2 shot tequila (we prefer Sauza Gold)
1/2 shot Creme de Cocoa Brown (we prefer DeKuyper)
2 tablespoons Firefall Hot Chocolate Mix, see recipe below
2 cups Nestle Hot Chocolate Powder
1 tablespoon pasilla chili powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Pour tequila and Creme de Cocoa Brown into an Irish coffee mug.
Add the Firefall Hot Chocolate Mix. Add boiling water and stir well. Top with whipped crème. Sprinkle whipped cream with pasilla chili and cinnamon.
Double Chocolate Bread Pudding from The Ahwahnee Dining Room
1 quart heavy whipping cream
2 pieces vanilla beans pod (split and scraped)
8 ounces granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 pieces egg yolk
2 pieces large croissants (baked and sliced crosswise)
2 ounces milk chocolate chips
2 ounces dark chocolate chips
.In a stainless mixing bowl, incorporate the egg yolk, ground cinnamon, sugar and a cup of heavy whipping cream.
Split and scrape the seed of the vanilla pods. Place pods and beans in a sauce pot and the remaining heavy whipping cream and bring to a boil. Pour the hot cream into the egg mixture and stir.
Arrange half of the croissant slices in a baking dish. Sprinkle half of the milk and dark chocolate chips over the croissants. Pour half of the hot custard mixture over the croissants to soak. Repeat the layers. Bake at 320° F degrees for 25 – 30 minutes.