Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Midwest Chowdown

Chris and I just returned from a lovely road trip to the Midwest.  We stayed in a few Frank Lloyd Wright homes, ate some lovely meals and just enjoyed the scenery of farm after farm. The homes were gorgeous and it was thrilling to be able to live in works of art, but I of course, am focusing on our food adventures.

When we arrived at The Louis Penfield House in Willoughby, OH, we unpacked, toured the amazing house and grounds and made a snack. I had packed crackers, olive tapenade, pita bread, baby carrots, dried fruit, beef jerky and mixed nuts. We brought along a few bottles of wine as well, and so we had the makings for a nice picnic, which was much needed. (Somehow, in the 9-hour drive, we failed to stop for lunch... I think it's because we were distracted by having Snoop Dogg as the voice of our GPS.)
Later, for dinner, we went out to a cute martini bar/restaurant in historical, downtown Willoughby Hills, called "Olivor Twist." We had a couple martinis (there were about 40 different kinds to choose from) and side salads, and Chris had an 8 oz. Angus burger with apple wood smoked bacon and white cheddar and I had a crab, basil pesto, tomato, artichoke and red pepper pizza. Our meal was tasty and after all those hours in the car, it was nice to get out and have a strong drink (or two).
The next morning after a restful sleep in an amazing piece of art, we had some tasty, pre-packaged chocolate-filled croissants, Kona coffee and a couple handfuls of dried fruit. Then, after a lazy morning, watching some young deer have their own breakfast in the backyard, we headed off to Cleveland, OH, for lunch (more eating!) and a visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

After some shopping, we headed over to celebrity chef Michael Symon's Lola bistro for lunch. It was amazing, and Chris and I decided right then and there that we'd have lunch out together more often, when traveling. We usually focus on dinners out, but lunch is just as, if not more, fun!

The restaurant was packed, warm and inviting on a misty, rainy afternoon. Since we were on vacation, we decided to get some drinks to start. Chris went for a cocktail our waiter had thought up -- made of peach vodka, ginger beer and lime,  and I had a flute of Prosecco.  He started with a bowl of Spicy Tomato Bisque with bleu cheese which was a lively, bright version of a soup we both love. I chose the Beef Cheek Pierogi.  There were two lovely dumplings filled with tender, shredded beef cheek in a red-wine/cinnamon/mushroom-type sauce and drizzled with horseradish cream. They were so good, I think I gave Chris order envy, and I had to stop myself from licking the plate. (I also had the occasion to joke later in the day that I had "some cheek in my teeth." Har har.)
For our main courses, Chris had the "Fried Bologna" sandwich.  It was a stack of mortadella, frisee, pickled red onion (he tried a few), a poached egg and cheddar with herb aioli on an English muffin, and it was lovely.  I had the Lola Burger which was also on an English muffin and had bacon, onion, aged cheddar and a special sauce which I think was mayo, ketchup and something fruity/zingy. Yum.

After a couple hours well spent at the Rock & Roll Hall of fame, we traveled across town to the West Side Market, only to discover it had closed for the day about 15 mins before we arrived.  Bummer. My hopes for snatching up some lovely farm stand produce and fresh-baked bread for our dinner were dashed.

So, we headed back to Willoughby and stopped at the corner "grocery" store, which was basically a   7-Eleven with a basket of wilty onions and potatoes sitting in a corner next to stacks of Cheez-Its and Four Loko.  I was determined to find something for dinner anyway. I brought along two boxes of whole grain pasta and a jar of sauce with us, planning to cook at least one night of our trip, so I thought a hodgepodge version of Pasta Primavera could be a possibility. I grabbed a bag of frozen Italian mixed vegetables (carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, cauliflower, green beans) and a box of Stouffer's stuffed peppers as a side dish (I was desperate). Chris smartly grabbed a bottle of red wine and some chocolate for dessert.

When we got back to the house, I thawed the veggies then sautéed them in olive oil and some garlic powder/Italian seasonings I found in the cupboard until they had browned a bit. I boiled the pasta and heated the sauce, then tossed that and the veggies together.  The peppers went into the microwave (no oven in the house), and I served them on the side with the pasta for a bit more substance.  Along with the bottle of red wine, and a roaring fire (thanks to Chris), it turned out to be a lovely dinner. It was so cool to be cooking in a Frank Lloyd Wright kitchen, by the way!
The next morning, we sadly packed up and had our croissants and coffee before heading off to Indiana where our next FLW house was waiting.  Along the way, we stopped in Shipshewana, IN for some shopping and lunch. Shipshewana is the heart of northern Indiana Amish country, and it was so neat to drive through the towns and farms on a lazy, sunny morning.  We were pleasantly surprised to see a lot of the Amish kids riding bikes, and we drove our speedy Mazda carefully behind a line of horse and buggy drivers. For lunch, we stopped at the Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery, where we were treated to complementary fresh-baked bread and a homemade peanut butter spread (it was the consistency of molasses and tasted like a Bit-O-Honey) that was delightful.  We almost bought a jar of it to bring home, but seeing that we are both in a wedding in a few weeks, our waistlines thought best not to do so. So we made up for it with our lunch orders instead.

Chris had the Amish Country Sampler, which was a sampling of fried chicken, ham, roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and green beans. He was so delighted to have gravy...I know, I am a bad wife because I only make it every so often, but at least I make it from scratch (just like the Amish).
I had the famous grilled meatloaf sandwich, which came on fresh-baked sourdough bread and was about as big as my face. The tomato sauce was smoky, nutty and sweet -- it tasted like it had a bit of the peanut butter spread in it -- which wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

For dessert we had pie, of course.  A huge slab of Indiana State Pie (Sugar Cream Pie) and house-made cinnamon ice cream for me, and their special Peanut Butter pie for Chris.

We walked our full bellies around town for awhile and stopped in at an Amish Bulk Foods store, where I couldn't resist loading up on quinoa, bay leaves, vanilla beans, dates, vanilla peaches, veggie chips handmade wheat pasta and grape tomatoes. Quite the bargain!

A few hours later and we were in Fort Wayne, IN at the John D. Haynes House.  Another FLW gem!
For dinner, we journeyed over to a highly recommended pizza place called 800 degrees. Owned by an up-and-coming chef who focuses on using local ingredients, it was wood-fired pizza at its best. Dee-lish. The pizzas were only 10" so we chose two. We got the "800 degrees" (tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, housemade HOT sausage, fire-roasted red pepper, parsley and chili oil) and the "Rocket" (tomato sauce, fontina cheese, prosciutto, arugula, sliced garlic and olive oil) pizzas.  We had a drink at the bar while we waited for our pizzas. We took them home as fast as we could. (Is there anything better than sitting with a hot pizza box on your lap?) They were awesome and I hope someday Chef Rogers makes it to the East Coast.
The next morning, after another restful sleep in a FLW creation, we had the last of the croissants and coffee and headed over to West Lafayette, IN, where we toured a house called Samara, which is one of the few Frank Lloyd Wright homes left with the original owner still living there. It was a beautiful property, and Dr. Christian, the owner, was one of those sweet old men you could sit and talk with all day.

But, we were on a mission. A pork tenderloin sandwich mission.  Apparently, Indiana is known for its "Tenderloin Trail" -- think Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but you're sampling a fried pork sandwich at each stop instead of whiskey. Whoa! We only stopped at one spot for tenderloin, and believe me, one is enough for anyone.  Two would probably require a call for an ambulance.

A tenderloin sandwich is basically a lovely buttered bun, lettuce, tomato, onion, and dill pickle accompanying the main event -- a huge, fried piece of pork tenderloin. Think pork schnitzel hamburger-style. The crispy breading, the sweet pork, the sour pickles -- a bit of mayo and mustard -- and you're in heaven. Grease-laden heaven, but who's complaining?
We wanted to eat at Nick's Kitchen, which is where the tenderloin supposedly was invented, but it was closed, so I did a bit of iPhone magic and we ended up in the cute town of Zionsville, IN at The Friendly Tavern.  The staff was indeed very friendly and the tenderloin was great. We decided to go all out and ended with a piece of homemade peanut butter cheesecake that was so huge and so good, I could have cried.

We walked around historical downtown Zionsville and stopped in a wine shop.  I bought a wedge of goat cheese and a packet of Puttanesca seasoning so that I could whip up some dinner later -- if we somehow became hungry after all the pork.

We made it home, opened a bottle of wine and watched rabbits and squirrels chase each other around the property.  A few hours later, I put on some water for our whole wheat spaghetti and then chopped up the grape tomatoes from the bulk store, sizzled them in some extra olive oil from our Rocket pizza and stirred in the rest of the olive tapenade from our snack stash.  I stirred in the seasoning packet and a bit of water and simmered everything until I had a lovely Puttanesca sauce. I tossed with the pasta, added a few spoonfuls of goat cheese and the leftover arugula (also from the pizza).  Can you say, "Awesome-last-minute-way-to-use-up-all-the-ingredients-so-you-don't-have-to-lug-them back home-pasta?"

Another cool kitchen experience!
We woke up early the next day with a 12-hour drive back home in front of us and a Cherokee red, Frank Lloyd Wright door behind us.  We stopped for coffee and munched on granola bars and peanut butter-filled pretzels until we couldn't stand it anymore.  We were thinking a veggie sub at Subway would be smart, but we soon saw the sign for Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, "Home of the World's Largest Hamburger Challenges" and we couldn't resist. After all, what good is a road trip if you can't indulge a little at the finale?
15-lb Belly Buster
We did not order the 15-lb. Beer Barrel Belly Buster, but we did order burgers, and split half of each. I went for the Smithwich's Irish Ale Burger (1/2 Lb of Prime Angus beef, onions, mushrooms, smoked apple wood bacon, sautéed in Smithwick’s Irish Ale, topped with cheddar cheese on an onion roll) and Chris had the Road Stop Burger (1/2 Lb. Angus Chuck, topped with smoked bacon, “award-winning” black bean chili, thick sliced onion, and American cheese on Texas Toast). And yes, he picked all the onions off. We rolled ourselves back to the car, promising to go on a soup cleanse this week...

What can I say? We love to be/travel/eat...together.

xoxo

P.S. This was an actual exit on our trip -- I thought it was hilariously appropriate:




Note:  I refuse to take pictures of my food in restaurants unless absolutely necessary. (I think it's terribly rude.) Thus, the Martini, Pierogi, Amish Sampler, Pizza, Tenderloin and Belly Buster photos are not mine -- they were borrowed from Google Images. Many thanks and all rights reserved to the respective photographers.

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