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The Marys’ Annual Drive-By Trip

By Mary Ann Fitzmorris

Part One

Sitting on the tarmac at ATL, the first sounds of thrust came. (Is it just me or does anyone else snap to attention at that sound?)

But this time I started giggling. ML giggled too when I told her what I was thinking. It was the lyrics to the Eighties sitcom “Laverne and Shirley. “

“Schlemiel, Schlemazel, Hasenfpeffer incorporated . . .”
It sounded like our itinerary for the Marys’ crazy girl trip 2018.
Slovakia, Slovenia, Bratislava, Ljubljana. And a few others. In fact, eight countries. In six days. We had planned for seven nights until the night we slept in the car finished me off. But I get ahead of myself.

After a sleepless night crossing the ocean to Munich, I was ill-prepared for a four hour drive to Vienna. Hertz assigned us a Citroen van which I rejected. (Too bad too, it would have come in so handy when our car became our hotel! )

Choosing a red Jeep Renegade was the dumber choice because : this car is not made for 100 plus mph, AND, more important, stalking an Eastern European prime minister’s house until guns are drawn is inadvisable in a car that stands out. But again, ahead of myself.

Four hours to Vienna was grueling. Driving is my jam. I am in complete control even past 100mph. But on no sleep it’s harder to react when a regular glance in my rear view mirror always reveals a sleek black sedan I can only assume is a Mercedes. The car is so close the hood emblem is not visible. And at these speeds! My guardian angels live exhausted.

We arrived at around two p.m.. and the sleepiness had passed. We dropped our things at the Ritz Carlton and took to the streets. Within minutes I realized we were in far greater danger from speeding cyclers everywhere than cars on the Autobahn.

Vienna is a fantastic city! Fantastic. Oozing culture. It was intoxicating to know we walked the same cobblestones that Mozart , Beethoven, Haydn, Freud, Klimt, and even Trotsky did in their time. (And countless others) Too bad we would be here only 24 hours.

I know this is supposed to be about food, but the Marys don’t eat in Europe. We like fake American food, and there is too much to see. It behooved me to have some Wiener Schnitzel, though, right? After all, it was Wien!

I went on Aerin Lauder’s recommendation to Zum Schwarzen Kameel. I just had to eat something here. The place has been around since 1612. 1612!!! And the logo is the most adorable camel. I don’t eat veal for the same reasons I don’t eat foie gras. And ML doesn’t eat anything in Europe. Period.

But we do eat chocolate. We dropped in on the hometown favorite shop, Demel, but didn’t see anything we wanted. They don’t share our passion for dark chocolate here.

Vienna is also the home of the famous Sacher Torte pastry. We went to the Sacher Hotel cafe and took a table outside. After waiting fifteen minutes without even a nod from a waiter, we left. For a few minutes.

After buying a small cheese bread and a brownie at a pastry shop across the street, we resumed the cake quest.

A young lady sat next to us and was immediately approached by a waiter. When he brought her strudel, he couldn’t ignore us any longer. We got the torte which we knew by looking was not potent enough for us.

Our new friend was from Santa Monica, having just quit her job to roam Europe. Great idea for someone young, brave and solvent. Her itinerary closely mirrored ours, and I expected to run into her again. (We didn’t)

The Sacher torte was pretty ordinary – how do such things become “things”? I was astounded to hear the surly waiter who ignored us remind me that the tip was not included.

Wien Zentrum Panorama (Vienna)

We went to Mozart’s house, the Vienna Naschmarkt, and the Secession House to see Klimt’s Beethovenfries (bizarre even for him) It was my intention to take in a concert at the Opera House but I knew I had to sleep. We did that at six.

The next morning’s breakfast was downright exciting because the Sacher Torte was all we had eaten since the really excellent gumbo in the Delta club in New Orleans. The croissants were irresistible. American hotel-American bacon (at least here thankfully) Also present was the reliable bread assortment and toasters which is a diet staple on these trips. I have to remember real butter is so much richer than in America. We didn’t need nearly as much.

We set out in the car right after breakfast and found free parking everywhere (another reason to love Vienna!) We went to Mozart’s house and Beethoven’s house and Cafe Sperl and Cafe Central (where the famous intelligentsia and anarchists of the early 20th century hung out.) After riding the Ringstrasse and gawking at the beautiful buildings, we had to move on, taking the back roads to Bratislava on the way to Budapest.

ML and I are perfect traveling companions. We have the same energy level and obsess about the same things. Cool buildings are high on our list. We found a neighborhood that was the Bratislava version of the Hollywood Hills. But that was after we got on a first name basis with the prime minister’s security team.

His house is just so beautiful! And right in town. We don’t speak whatever it is they speak there-how did we know? I just kept circling around to look at it. It wasn’t until I pulled up in the driveway that one guard rushed the car while the other reached for her gun. I would have left but I had to explain myself. “This is the Prime Minister’s house,” the guard announced. I couldn’t back out fast enough. “Very beautiful,” I smiled nervously. ML made sure none of bot girl’s routes took us past there again.

We arrived in Budapest just as the lights went on. The city is dazzling in the dark with the bridges lit. It was 8:30 when we let the valets take the car at the Four Seasons. Our red Renegade was out of place amid the sleek Bentleys and ubiquitous Mercedes, Porsches and BMWs.

We dropped our stuff and went out walking. So fun! It’s a clean city that buzzes with activity until . . .who knows when? Certainly past our bedtime. At about 11 we sat outside in the hotel bar to people watch. I don’t know what it is about hotels like this but eating bar food at the hotel is almost impossible. Limited and unappealing menus. We had some nuts and a very nice local beer (Dreher) and went to bed.

Breakfast is a meal I usually ignore except in Europe, where it becomes critical to our survival. More American bacon and toasty breads. I had a hard boiled egg and a lot of watermelon for its water content.

ML wanted to be adventurous and and try some Hungarian cheesy bread but only made it through one bite. The croissants were even more divine here than Vienna. I am too embarrassed to admit how many made their way to our table. The grapefruit juice here returned to my thoughts a few times after we left. It had a flotilla of tiny seeds on top, and was such a welcome fluid, it couldn’t have been as good as it seemed.

Eastern European sausages are gross to me, with higher gross values on the redder and whiter ends of the spectrum. I was distressed when a dining neighbor in the too-close table range cut into a red one and I got a whiff. I had to get up before gagging.

We took the car out for awhile after breakfast. First stop was the market, mostly to marvel at this exquisite building. The Marys need to start exercising some restraint in their architectural ipursuits. Getting a closer look at a very interesting building brought us down a deserted road beside Budapest Josefvaron, an abandoned Jewish something that I am more curious about every time it comes to mind. There is nothing about it on the internet, but I do know this: it’s another place where two snooping Americans should not be driving a bright red car. If anyone knows where this place is, please email Tom.

Fenicular in Budapest

We drove past everything that looked especially interesting, poked our heads into the Gellert baths, drove along the Danube, and passed through the Buda side of Budapest a bit. ML wanted to go into District VI to see the ruin pubs that are happening there now. A ruin pub is a bar that takes over a whole vacant building, like an abandoned department store or bank.

We left the car at the hotel and set out on foot, across the beautiful pedestrian bridge at the meadow in from of the hotel’s entrance doors. Once on the Buda side, the funicular called to me, so we took it to a citadel? Castle? Well, it had turrets.

What was more interesting was Mesterseqek Unnepe, an annual folk arts festival held on the holiday weekend celebrating St. Stephen. (Does anyone else dig serendipity as a do?) We would miss fireworks over the bridge the following evening. This set my FOMO meter haywire. My FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is like that of a sinister puppet, its poor hapless tool.

This craft festival was a fantastic cultural immersion, featuring Eastern European trades through millennia. ML couldn’t stop marveling that the handwoven rugs she kept buying for 25 E were sold by the designer she worked for in DC for $2,000!

I was more into watching them craft it-making wooden toys on a lathe. The kid’s section was enchanting. Tubs of dried corn in large vats surrounded by children who scooped and rescooped it in mindless therapeutic rhythms. A wooden merry-go-round where four kids sat in baskets resting on wooden crosses suspended by ropes. Positively medieval. And mesmerizing.

I almost tried a sausage here because they actually looked. . . good. But my cash was limited and there was too much STUFF to buy. And ML was highly suspicious of gigantic pans of idly sitting grease. Langos, though, were another matter. ML was tempted.

We tore ourselves away from this magical step back in time at dusk. I got directions to Cafe Kor where I had to try goulash and hortobagyi, (a crepe stuffed with chicken and paprika with a sour cream sauce)

Cafe Kor is a hangout for locals, who don’t notice its stifling lack of air-conditioning. The hum of fans and happy chatter of families added to the charm of this tiny space with tables crammed everywhere.

We landed a deuce table that required me to actually sit behind the open door. This environment was riveting to me!

My one shot at hortobagyi was dashed (they run it as a special), but they did have their rather upscale version of goulash. Fried potato croquettes, accompanied by delectably tender morsels of beef tenderloin in a brown sauce that was sheer perfection. I blistered my mouth with the first bite. And didn’t care.

Moving on to the ruin pubs, I laughed again, this time at a current favorite movie, “Life of the Part,” where a mother/daughter duo hits a frat party chanting, “Party with your mama, party with your mama!”

We stood in line to get into Mazeltov, a raffishly gorgeous space strewn with strings of lights. (I ask you, what ISN’T made-better by strings of lights?)

Piles of gorgeous food while we waited in line made us want to order everything, which was problematic for the obvious reasons, but also because no one wanted to take our order.

After waiting at least 20 minutes, a young lady who was talking to an adjacent table then walked off. I called to her and she came over. “Do you know who has this table?” I asked.

Cold stare.

“Me,” she replied, staring harder.

Cold stare right back. “Would you please take our order?” I asked.

ML kept shrinking in her chair.
“There’s gonna be spit in everything,” she muttered.

That was fine, because nothing was worth eating. We each had a bite of hummus, fries and pita chips and were grateful we didn’t go cray (ruin pub talk) while ordering. Such a cool space, though. Maybe the other food was good. But if you’re Mediterranean and can’t get hummus right. . .

More croissants and watermelon and bacon for breakfast. Today’s sausage was a little less red. Thankfully, no one around me cracked into one. This time it was I who left the Hungarian cheese bread after a bite.

To be continued in this week’s Dining Diary.

AlmanacSquare August 28, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Coolinary Summer Specials End: 4.

Annals Of Condiments

Today in 1837, pharmacists John Lea and William Perrins introduced the sauce that bears their name, and the generic name Worcestershire sauce. They concocted it from fermented anchovies, tamarinds, molasses, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers, cloves, and a few other things, on the orders of Lord Marcus Stanley. Stanley had just returned from many years in India, and he was trying to duplicate a sauce he’s become addicted to there. (Most likely, it was something along the lines of Southeast Asian fish sauce, variations of which are widely used in cooking there.)

The first attempt tasted horrible. Lea and Perrins left it in a barrel in their basement and forgot about it for two years. When they found it again, they discovered that it had fermented into something rather good. And the rest is history. We use it constantly in our cooking, as does most of the English-speaking world.

Food On The Air

Today is the anniversary of the first paid-for broadcast commercial. It aired on New York radio station WEAF for an apartment development, today in 1922. Until that time, everyone was excited about radio, but nobody had figured out what would pay for the costs of broadcasting. This dilemma was one of the first in which new technology steps in and shows the way. The same things is happening right now, as radio listeners explore HD Radio. My radio show on weekdays is now on HD, finding the next way to attract listeners.

To that end, the radio station is giving away HD car radios, for free. Go to one of the several locations of Mobile One and tell them you want the WWL HD-2 radio. The radio and installation are free. There may be a small parts charge if your present car’s wiring or antenna is incompatable.

Today’s Flavor

It’s National Cornbread Day. Cornbread has a distinctly country, home-cooked identity. When you start talkin’ ’bout cornbraid, ya gotta git yersef into a Southern draaaawwwwwl. I guess that’s why we only rarely see cornbread in restaurants. Or it could be that restaurants can’t buy ready-made cornbread of any quality. It must be baked on site. But why not? It’s simple enough: cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, eggs, milk, oil. Unless you want to get ambitious an add cheese and jalapeno peppers and the like. Which is not a bad idea.

Most cornbread is baked in a cast-iron pan, from the kind that has impressions of ears of corn to full-size black iron skillets. The main controversies over cornbread are over texture and sweetness. The more flour in the mix, the smoother the crumb. You use more cornmeal if you like it good and crumbly. All cornbread has at least a little sugar in it, but some recipes have quite a lot, and taste distinctly sweet. Both flavors have vocal partisans who love one and hate the other.

Cornbread may be too assertive to be served as the only bread on a dinner table, but certain dishes cry out for it. Red beans and rice, fried catfish, and barbecue come to mind. The best cornbread in New Orleans is the jalapeno cheese cornbread at K-Paul’s, followed closely by Emeril’s cornbread with whole corn kernels inside. Most of us have always had our cornbread at home, for breakfast. My mother gave it to us right out of the oven, with cane syrup to dip it in. Dat’s good stuff, yeah.

Edible Dictionary

Dressing Point is an island in the center of Matagorda Bay, an arm of the Gulf of Mexico coast of Texas. It’s ninety-one miles south of Houston, the last half-mile of it over water. That water is very shallow–you could wade out the island if you wanted to. The highest point on Dressing Island is two feet above sea level. I guess that’s where you’d make the dressing for the salad, or for the turkey. You may well be the only one there, not counting millions of birds and fish. The nearest restaurant is Sting Rae’s Waterfront Grill, nine miles up the marshy shoreline.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cream, Wisconsin is near the Mississippi River , some forty-six miles from Eau Claire, in hilly corn country. The nearest big city is Minneapolis, about 133 miles northwest. Cream is little more than a junction on State Hwy. 88, with several large barns for storing grain. The nearest restaurant is in the Waumandee House resort, about eight miles away.

Food In Medicine

Today in 1878, George H. Whipple was born. He’s the man who discovered that pernicious anemia, a problem you don’t hear about much anymore, can be addressed by feeding the patient liver. Or the essence of liver, which is how it’s done now. I’d much prefer to eat the liver, especially if it’s the Provimi veal liver at Clancy’s or Pascal’s Manale. . . Also, the Oral B trademark for dental floss was registered today in 1951. Now it’s on everyone’s lips.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Augustine, former man about town, gourmet, lover of wine, and all-around playboy who reformed and became one of the greatest early philosophers of the Church. As Bishop of Hippo, in Northern Africa, he he came to be revered by those of African descent. I was baptized in St. Augustine’s Church in the Treme section of New Orleans, and spent first and second grades in St. Augustine’s grammar school. This is probably not mere coincidence: St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest permanent European town in the United States, was founded today in 1565.

Food Namesakes

Anne “Honey” Lantree, the drummer with the British rock group The Honeycombs, was born today in 1943. . . Former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Rosemary Ginn was born today in 1912.

Words To Eat By

“If you ever have to support a flagging conversation, introduce the topic of eating.”–Leigh Hunt, British writer, who died today in 1859.

Words To Drink By

“A guy once told me I didn’t need to drink to make myself more fun to be around. I told him, I’m drinking so that you’re more fun to be around.”–Chelsea Handler.

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