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Posts from the ‘Chef Craig Hartman’ Category

Brunswick Stew.

I’m a creature of habit. When it’s hot out I reach for a tomato sandwich slathered in Duke’s mayo, salt and pepper. When it’s spring, I want to eat new potatoes with local green onions, sweet like candy when sautéed with butter. And at the first hint of cold, when it’s 40 degrees and raining, the worst weather ever in the history of man, weather where it feels like the finger of Winter is reaching down from the gray clouds and tapping you so hard on the shoulder you want to crawl back under the covers forever, I get a taste for Brunswick Stew.

Growing up in Richmond, Virginia we’d have a Fall festival in the parking lot of my elementary school every year. Old-fashioned cake walks, pony rides, games where you tried to bust the balloons with darts, yes, actual pointy darts. The fair itself was pretty low-rent, a lot of tables hauled out from the cafeteria with makeshift tarps over them, but I loved it because it meant our Saturday would be filled with something other than household chores or running to The Imp Peddler for clothing discounts. We’d play games, try to win a cake (and lose), get our faces painted, and look at the ponies because they cost too much to ride.

Then we’d wander over to where guys were stirring Brunswick Stew with paddles in big iron pots, breathing in the peppery, meaty smell, warming ourselves against the cold by standing in the steam being carried off by the wind. At least this is what I see in my rosy-colored nostalgia mind’s eye. We choose what we want to remember. In fact it was probably tired volunteer parents ladling already made stew into to-go containers for other tired, harried parents. Mom would buy quarts and quarts of the stuff and she’d serve it up for the next two weeks, stashing the rest in the freezer. Or at least it seemed that long. Three days feels like two weeks to an 8-year-old.

Just one problem. I HATED Brunswick Stew. I’m not sure if it was the taste or the fact between the ages of 5 and 11 I was served stew every night like some enormous Thanksgiving bird that wouldn’t die, but each time Momma waltzed over to the Stew Tent with her wallet out, I’d sigh and make a stank face. Great. More fucking stew. I remember one year she put two quarts on the roof of our car then drove off. They spilled into the road and I cheered. But no dice, she just gave me a look before putting the car in park and going back to the tent. In our house if it was Fall, we were eating stew. And I got a spanking for cheering.

For the uninitiated, Brunswick Stew is a Virginia tradition, although Georgians would argue against it. There are even arguments about “proper” ingredients. The stew I grew up eating was on the thin side, tomato-based, with pulled chicken, sometimes pork, lima beans, tomatoes, corn, and spices. Lots of peppery spices.

For many years I ate no stew. Left home and ate none. Was proud of the fact every Fall I didn’t have to stuff my face with stew. I’d see the canned variety in my International Safeway in their bright yellow cans trimmed in red and walk proudly past, opting for just about anything else. No stew for me.

Did I see it as poor people food? Too much like the homespun “vittles” enjoyed by my ancestors in their farm-based Shenandoah Valley community when all I wanted was to eat foie gras and just once try caviar with real blinis like I’d seen on “Great Chefs of San Francisco”? A reminder of my supposed “imprisonment” in my often dictatorial childhood where I never had a say and very seldom could voice an opinion? Did I just not like lima beans? It couldn’t be that because I longed for Muddy’s fresh-from-the-garden limas slathered in butter all winter long. So what was it? What fueled the stew disdain?

Even in adulthood, when I’d fully embraced my family’s Nelson 151 roots and began to enjoy homespun comfort food and disdain tweezer food my Brunswick Stew dislike endured. The Hubby and I went to the Apple Festival at Albemarle Ciderworks a few years ago, and they WERE stirring the stew with large wooden paddles. In large iron vats. But I argued the line was too long and why don’t we just get some goat burgers instead. They sounded delicious and exotic and I’d never tried them. Brunswick Stew loses again.

It wasn’t until this year that I found myself craving it. One Saturday afternoon, the very first cold one of October, I was closing out my garden for the season, pulling out all the dead plants and putting away the pots. The wind picked up suddenly and ran through the trees making the dead leaves rattle. I knew it would rain soon. And the chill from the wind cut through my hoodie and I thought out of the blue, “Sure wish I had some Brunswick Stew.” Just like that.

Ran inside to look up a recipe, but every one I found had about 1600 steps and 450 different ingredients. Blerg. It’s cold. It’s Saturday………my Sabbath. Maybe somebody in town? This is where having a blog comes in handy. All I had to do was ask the question. Someone mentioned the stew at the Apple Festival, but that wouldn’t happen for weeks. Then one helpful fan said those fateful words that changed my life, “Barbecue Exchange makes Brunswick Stew every day of the year.”

Um, wut? I mean seriously. . . What. The. Hell!? How did I miss this? I eat there quite a bit, drive past the place every time I go to Richmond, and I missed that Barbecue Exchange has Brunswick Stew? Every day of the year? Now I know I’m a BBQ Exchange addict. Admittedly. I’ve written about them a lot. But hell, when something’s good! So here I am again, recommending the Brunswick Stew at Barbecue Exchange. Yes you can order it in quarts. And yes, you can get it with cornbread. In fact, I highly recommend it.

What was that first taste like after so many years? Did I regress to my childhood self and make a stank face? Quite the opposite. Chef Hartman’s stew is thicker than what my Momma served up, full of big chunks of chicken, pork, and vegetables. What I love most is that first taste, an extreme sweetness followed by a deep tomato flavor which envelops your mouth before descending into a spicy, fiery afterburn. Really spicy, but not so much it prevents you from diving in again. This is the kind of spicy food I can get behind, even at my age. That sweet-to-fire flavor is so unique, and dare I say it? This Brunswick Stew is better than what I ate as a child. Much much better. Granted back then I despised all things stew, but imagine my adult self tasting my childhood stew. Yeah, I know, weird, but cut me some slack here. This stew beats that one all to pieces.

So yes, back then not a fan. But something came along my life’s timeline and flipped a switch. Sometimes all it takes is for the wind to change. Who knows, maybe I’m just a fan of memories. Nostalgia’s a funny thing. Tastes of food, scents in the air can instantly transport us. I still can’t walk into September twilight, smelling the sharp snap of cold and the wet dew that’s fallen on the grass, without thinking of Tuesday night band practice. And I can’t eat Brunswick Stew without thinking of elementary school and festivals. Even if there weren’t any vats or big wooden paddles.

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Best of 2013.

Yep, about this time each year I pull out my golden fork and spoon awards for my “Best of” post. Not the best restaurants, but the best food I ate. The most memorable. I sit down with coffee and a notepad, and brainstorm the 13 best foods I ate in the Charlottesville area in 2013. From off the top of my head. Because in this brain with its vastly diminishing capacity (thanks middle age and Lyme Disease) if I can remember it right away, it was probably pretty outstanding. And worthy of an award, however small. I’m just one broad, but I’ve got a good palate and know when something has skipped past the boundaries of delicious into the stratosphere of, “Hey remember when we ate that?”

Here are my picks in alphabetical order by establishment. Go eat them. A few are seasonal, but I bet if you wait until the appropriate season and ask real nice, they’ll make it for you. Especially when you tell them it won a major award! Congratulations to all, and good eats in 2014!*

Smoked Turkey. At BBQ Exchange.
This is the second year in a row Chef Hartman’s smoked turkey has won a golden fork and for good reason. It’s incredible. Melt-in-your-mouth-smoke-meets-sweet-meets-meat incredible. Only available at Thanksgiving. Sad face. This was the third time The Hubby and I ordered our turkey from The Exchange and if I can help it, I will never cook turkey again. Because it won’t be as good. The first year we got the dinner with sides, but I like leftovers. LOTS of leftovers, so the next year we got an entire bird. Repeated this year. And between the two of us, managed to finish off a 15-20 pounder. Boom!

Fried Green Tomato, Smoked Salmon, and Mozzarella Salad with Basil Crema. At Bizou Restaurant.
A fancy take on a BLT. The crunchy fat and acid of the tomato pairs well with the soft cheese and the creamy greenness of the crema, which was like the best Green Goddess dressing I’ve ever had. I couldn’t eaten five of these salads without saying Boo!

Bacon Fat Popcorn. At Brookville Restaurant.
Congrats to Brookville for making my “Best of” list 2 years running! The Hubby and I love Chef Keevil’s place and eat there often for brunch or any time we need the greatest hamburger on the face of God’s green earth. But in 2014 his bacon fat popcorn sent me into the stratosphere. Imagine huge fluffy kernels with just a touch of salt. Then imagine crunching down and tasting bacon. But not a big grease-filled overpowering smoky business. A touch, a kiss. Like popcorn and bacon didn’t get married but are just making out. HEAVEN!

Chocolate Macaroon. At Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes.
Who cares if it’s gluten-free? This cookie is simply the most deeply, darkly, chocolaty, ooey, gooey confection I’ve ever eaten. Right away you can taste the high-quality chocolate. The way it just glides over your tongue into a gooey delicious chewy chocolaty mess is a gorgeous thing indeed. No way you can eat just one. It has officially replaced their Apple Harvest as my favorite cookie.

Carne Asada Tacos. At El Tako Nako.
Monday night is taco night because of this food truck on Hydraulic Road across from Stonefield. I love all the tacos on offer: Pastor, Chorizo, Lengua, but it’s the Carne Asada that gets my motor running. Charred meat with a little cilantro, onion, and lime in double-wrapped corn tortillas. Completely authentic Mexican tacos for $2 each. You can’t beat that with a stick.

Pupusa Queso Con Frijoles. At El Tepeyac.
El Tepeyac has incredible tacos, but I will always mark 2013 as the year I fell in love with pupusas. This Salvadorian style tortilla tastes like the best Hot Pocket you’ve ever eaten. Scratch that. Imagine if Hot Pockets were actually any good! That’s an El Tepeyac Pupusa. They’ve got several different styles (including an incredible one make with loroco flowers) but my favorite is the pupusa with black beans and cheese. Like you took corn pudding, stuffed cheese and black bean dip inside it then stuffed it in a panini press. I can eat pupusas until the cows come home.

Poached Duck Egg Frisee Salad With Warm Bacon Dressing, Chive Flowers, and Crispy Ramps. At GlassHaus Kitchen.
I’m very sad I won’t be able to enjoy this classic anymore while sitting on the patio with The Hubby and watching the freight trains roll by. Chef Ian Boden’s version is lovely and perfect. The creamy egg mixes with the warm fat of the bacon and the tang of the chive and the sweet of the ramps to create something awfully special. Perhaps we can persuade him to recreate this perfection at his new venture, The Shack? Hope so.

Chicken Liver Mousse. At JM Stock Provisions & Supply.
I’m a sucker for a good chicken liver mousse. Put some of that on a cracker or good piece of baguette and pour me a glass of wine and that’s dinner. The mousse at JM Stock is luscious, creamy, rich, and decadent. Priced right and presented in a small Mason jar. Yep, an entire Mason jar full of chicken liver mousse. If that’s not decadent I don’t know what is.

Tonkotsu Ramen. At Now & Zen.
Ever since I tucked into my first bowl of in Vancouver a few years back I have searched and longed for this dish. There isn’t a day goes by where I don’t long for ramen. Not the 5-for-a-dollar version in the market, but good, authentic, steaming, yummy ramen. Preferably with fatty broth, seasoned egg, and extra wakame. No matter where we travel, my first question is always, “Is there ramen here?” Now when fellow seekers ask me, I can point them to Now & Zen. Unfortunately Chef Sato only has ramen nights every so often (next one scheduled for January 19 and 20). Go early with an empty stomach (bowls are huge), and order the broth as fatty as you can.

Fried Okra With Comeback Sauce. At Pasture Charlottesville.
Oh my lord! Simply the best fried okra I’ve ever had in my life. Chef Jason Alley fries the okra whole, and the batter is so light, so crispy, I dare you not to finish off their ginormous bowl. Every time I’ve eaten this I swear I won’t possibly finish the whole thing, and every time I fail. It’s that good. The comeback sauce tastes like mayonnaise and Sriracha? Not sure, but it has kept me coming back for this appetizer again and again.

Spicy Creamed Rice Grits, Smoked Tomato Broth, Black-Eyed Peas.
At Pasture Charlottesville.

This is one of those dishes I want to magically appear on my counter every time I have a crappy day. Or the weather is crappy. Or I’m just feeling crappy. Comfort in a bowl. They serve this as a small plate, but trust me, after inhaling this unctuous blend of smoky, creamy goodness you’ll want more. A whole lot more. Tastes like a big ol’ nap! Which is a compliment of the highest order.

Charcuterie Plate. Pippin Hill Vineyard.
We had a miserable spring and summer full of rain and gray skies. So when we finally hit a warm patch The Hubby and I had a lovely “All Summer in a Day” moment at Pippin Hill. Cured meats, olives, arugula pesto and grape must mustard paired with a nice Cabernet Franc can cure every form of seasonal disorder. I’m convinced of it. And I’m counting the days when I can lounge on their sumptuous deck once again.

Anson Mills Sea Island Peas with House Bacon and Appalachian Star Farm Spring Onions. At The Whiskey Jar.
This dish was prepared as a side for the Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium opening dinner. The beans tasted like tiny black-eyed peas, but with better texture and flavor: sweet, meaty, and hearty. The bacon added a fatty, smoky flavor while the spring onions provided sweetness. This dish was by far the hit of the night; everyone raved. I even bought my own bag for New Year’s Hoppin’ John. To say I can’t wait to dig in would be an understatement. Here’s hoping Sea Island Peas are rediscovered and relished in 2014. They need to be.

Peach Trifle. At The Whiskey Jar.
Congratulations to Rachel Pennington on creating a dessert I devoured without a second thought. Let me explain. Usually I’m so enamored of appetizers by the time the dessert comes, I can’t take more than a bite. Not here. This trifle with its layers of fresh peach, feather-light cake, fresh cream, and vanilla custard is simply one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. Decadent, yet light as a Spring cloud in May. It should be a staple on their summer menu. And they should give Chef Pennington a raise. Yum!

*You’ll notice I actually included my “Best 14 for 2013”. Whatever. I love it when my town makes it hard to stay within parameters ;)

Yard Sale Pie. Thanksgiving Edition!

It’s the week after Thanksgiving and my feeds are full of gripers and whiners tired of leftovers. Are they insane? Completely mental? Not me honey, pile up my plate! I’ve been scarfing leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for almost a week. Honestly, I could go another week without getting bored. My stomach is growling for leftovers right now! Turkey sandwiches and “sliders” (turkey piled on potato rolls with Duke’s and cranberry sauce) are my favorite things in the world. Yes ma’am.

But as I was pulling out the Tupperwares and piling it on for the fourteen hundredth time last night I had an epiphany. How would all this stuff taste. . . in a pie?!

The geniuses at Mad Mex in Pittsburgh are credited with creating the heavenly, monstrous construction that is The Gobblerito (an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a burrito) but what about a Thanksgiving pie? I’d already made Yard Sale Quiche hundreds of times, but I’d never attempted layer upon layer of yummy Thanksgiving flavors all piled on top of each other in a pie crust. This could be fun. Like Shepherd’s Pie on steroids fun.

I blind-baked a store bought deep-dish pie crust (this broad’s saving her December baking energy for cookies) and started layering. Stuffing on the bottom, then ham-hock-cooked collards with vinegar, turkey, gravy, then a half and half topping of garlic mashed potatoes and plain sweet potatoes left over from the Eggnog Sweet Potato Pie. More on *THAT* later. Sprinkled some brown sugar on the sweet potatoes and baked the whole thing at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes until it was hot, bubbly, and browned. Unfortunately there wasn’t room in the deep dish for “Crack” Corn Pudding (called such because it tastes like crack). No worries. It’s good on its own. Like crack. More on that later too ;)

Verdict on the pie? Oh yeah. It’s good. Real, real, real good. So quit whining! Do as you should and make a pie!

p.s. A HUGE shout out, hug, and sloppy wet kiss to Chef Hartman, Jaclyn Conlogue and all the staff of BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville. This is the 3rd year we’ve eaten their smoked turkey for the holidays and oh my lordy lordy is it freaking good! I may never roast another bird. I’d be ashamed.

p.s.s. I apologize for the absolutely HORRIBLE quality of this picture. I blame hunger. Ravenous hunger.

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