Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Living in Charleston, we're lucky to enjoy Planet Earth's freshest, most delicious foods. But don't we love gourmet treats in other towns? Try a close-to-home culinary journey in Tallahassee, Fla.
At Kool Beanz Café in downtown Tallahassee, the coffee's perfect as we relax on the airy patio. Chef Keith Baxter offers an unusual Sunday Brunch. How about banana rum French toast, topped with plantains and walnuts? Or grilled andouille sausage, fried grit cake, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce? I devoured my delicate seared sea scallops, mango-jalapeno salsa, yucca and coconut black bean sauce. This lively café goes way beyond scrambled eggs and toast with jam.
Another fabulous spot is Paisley Café. Owner Kiersten Woorell segued from banking to baking, so lucky diners now feast on blueberry biscuits and crispy baguettes with fig preserves. In Kiersten's peaceful pretty garden, tuck into hearty smoked gouda hominy grits, apple butter smoked sausage and baked grapefruit with prosecco and Tupelo honey.
After this feast, treat yourself to hip fashions and cool jewelry at Tallahassee's chic boutique, Cole Couture.
In the city's Market District, dine at Mozaik, a festive Brasserie with photos of movie stars, colorful tiled fish and hip Italian lighting. The menu is eclectic: fried green tomato, bacon, lettuce, sandwiches, crispy eggplant gyro, deviled eggs on rye, poblano almond crusted ahi tuna. If you love crab cakes as much as I do, you've gotta have the mini crab cakes with ponzu mayo. Divine.
For a country outing, head 45 minutes north to Thomasville, Ga., for a cheese making tour at Sweet Grass Dairy. Then visit their charming Marketplace shop in Thomasville's Historic District. Sip wine while tasting artisan cheeses like tangy Black Swan or Asher Blue with a rich robust flavor. Browsing Thomasville's gift, clothing and antique shops is a pleasant way to while away the afternoon.
We dined at three of Tallahassee's most popular restaurants: Avenue, Cyprus and Liam's, where chefs regaled us with their culinary prowess.
In 2010, Chris Clark teamed up with Chef Greg Brown, to open Avenue Eat+Drink. Dedicated to serving farm to table fresh ingredients, this duo presented one of the finest tasting menus I've experienced.
Chef Brown prepared six courses, each a work of art: Heirloom tomato gazpacho inside a crunchy cucumber bowl. Grilled Gulf prawn in mango barbecue sauce. Three mini sausages-smoked, jalapeno and cheddar. Stripling sausage and cheese grits. Grilled romaine with shaved manchengo crostini. Lamb with horseradish potatoes. Bread pudding with amaretto cream. Four happy hours later, we were practically wheeled out into the evening.
At Liam's, Chef Scott Foster treated us with Arctic char, wild mushroom soup, picked beet salad and bananas foster. This friendly bistro with flickering candles and intriguing art is delightful, and owners Rhonda and Scott Foster hospitable hosts.
Chef Craig Deihl at Cypress entertained us with his favorite culinary anecdotes, presenting a memorable three course-tasting menu: Ahi tuna tartare with crispy wonton and ginger aioli. Fried okra and tomato salad, with Sweet Grass Dairy cheese. Pan seared redfish in coconut-lemongrass broth with ginger rice. Each course was highlighted with delicious wines from Spain, Oregon and Washington.
The only way to work off culinary decadence like this is to tour Tallahassee's delightful attractions, like Bradley's Country Store, Full Moon Farm and Apiary, and Monticello Vineyards. I spent a blissful afternoon at Wakulla Springs State Park, photographing alligators, turtles, and manatees.
My Tallahassee culinary adventure was much too short. But meeting passionate chefs dedicated to creating glorious meals is reason enough to visit again. Soon.