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31 Days of Louisville Love: Crawfish Boils at Selena's

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We’re about to move to a city where fresh seafood is readily available. We already ate a fantastic lobster sandwich during our quick visit, and I plan to try many more. But I’m still going to miss Selena’s crawfish boils. 

Louisville is the first place where I ate whole crawfish. I grew up in Texas and spent half a year in New Orleans, where I worked with at least one shrimper. I got invited to a pig roast and a shrimper’s ball, I ate plenty of crawfish étouffée, but I never went to a crawfish boil until Selena’s. 

A few times a year, Selena’s Restaurant at Willow Lake Tavern flies in a bunch of crawfish and shrimp (and supposedly blue crab, but I haven’t seen a notice for that yet). Since last spring, I’ve been to three of their boils and split a bucket of mudbugs with a NOLA expat, who’s a crawfish-eating-pro. She taught me how to separate the head and body (I’m not a head sucker; it’s a little salty for me), pull off the first few shell segments from the tail, and get to the tail meat. We’ve only attempted three pounds (except for the nine pounds we had with our Mardi Gras group), but I think we could probably each eat our own three-pound bucket. 

Selena’s is a out of the way, and the last two times I’ve been, the weather’s been unkind (snow and then blinding rain). But a crawfish boil’s the best way to celebrate Mardi Gras, there’s always Abita, and if you can fit it in after the crawfish, their bread pudding is fantastic. I think I should unsubscribe from their mailing list so their reminders don’t make me homesick. In the meantime, what kind of seafood-eating should I get into in Boston besides lobster rolls and clam bakes? And how do you get invited to a clam bake? 


31 Days of Louisville Love: Garage Bar

I thought I would move out of the .2-mile radius of my apartment today (trust me, we’ll be back). 

Between late March and May of 2012, we were at Garage Bar almost every weekend. Around this time, someone bought their groceries in North Carolina with my credit card, and I had to verify transactions with the bank. It went something like this: 

“$48 at Garage Bar?” 

“Yes.” 

“26.50 at Garage Bar?” 

“Yes.” 

“Another transaction at Garage Bar?” 

“Yes, I really like it.”

 Wedding champagne at Garage Bar } Photo by Michelle Jones

Wedding champagne at Garage Bar } Photo by Michelle Jones

We started spacing our visits soon after, but Garage Bar is always a solid choice for a meal or a drink. We’ve had special occasions there — our one wedding planning dinner, our post-wedding ceremony champagne, birthday drinks, Oaks drinks. We’ve had just as many casual evenings and afternoons at Garage, reading the paper at the bar and playing ping-pong over beers.  

I love their food. The pizza, beet salad, pickled vegetables, turkey wings, the bialy at brunch, the ham bar (which I have yet to try) — it’s all good. It’s equally difficult to go wrong with the cocktails. That one little corner of the beverage menu offers so much happiness. The District 8, the Basil Gimlet, the High Heat, the Ginger Shandy (with bourbon)… delicious Instagram fodder. I don't know if it’s the bar set-up or the pretty drinks, but I get asked what I’m drinking at Garage Bar more than anywhere else in town. 

 High Heat and District 8

High Heat and District 8

Garage Bar, I love everything about you. Your picnic tables, the Astro-turf pods, the weird “public school” chairs inside, the cars slowly crushing each other on the corner (those are really coming along). I will miss you. 

The Louisville Hotel Bar Crawl

Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, once an achievable six bars, now comprises 26 bars and restaurants. I once thought about doing the original, and even had a partially-stamped passport. Then they let any bar with ample bourbon offerings join, and I lost interest. Instead, my husband and I came up with our own trail through the bars in hotels downtown.

All hotel bars are not equal. I can drink at Marriotts and Hiltons anywhere. For this excursion, I was interested in the historic hotels — the Brown, the Seelbach, the Galt House, and 21c, a hotel voted one of the top ten in the world by Condé Nast readers (for the record, the Seelbach is a Hilton hotel). 

We talked up this hotel bar crawl idea for a while and likely would never have done it. Fortunately (unfortunately?), we talked about it with enough people that a couple friends latched on and made us set a date. On May 24th, we took a bus downtown and started at the Brown Hotel… 

… where the lobby bar didn’t open for 45 minutes. Luckily, the J. Graham Cafe on the ground floor is open for lunch on Saturdays. We added their bar to our list and started with a round of Old Fashioneds. 

The Brown, built in 1923, is home to the artery-clogging Hot Brown Sandwich, which the bartender offered us when we sat down (we passed). She made a perfect Old Fashioned, but the buffet brunch and Bee Movie on the bar TV ruined any historic atmosphere. There was plenty at our next stop, the lobby bar, which opens at 3 on Saturdays. Hand-painted ceilings, gold, mahogany, Oriental vases, deep couches, thick carpet, and a drink menu that includes a page of specialty cocktails. I had a Kentucky Cocktail, which is an unspecial mix of ginger ale and bourbon. 

Next stop, the Seelbach Hotel, former F. Scott Fitzgerald hang-out. The Old Seelbach Bar, with its gold rail and dark green marble pillars, is slightly less opulent than the Brown lobby (no hand-painted ceilings), but feels equally historic. After our Seelbach Cocktails, we took a detour downstairs to the Rathskeller, a creepy event space best suited for vampire balls. 


 The Rathskeller -- creepiest event space available? 

The Rathskeller -- creepiest event space available? 

Our next drink should not have happened. While I’m sure Sway, the Hyatt bar, has good drinks, “The Ghost of Sway,” a white-bourbon and orange-flavored concoction, is not one of them. The Hyatt is also not that historic, nor is this location one of the top ten hotels in the world.

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We walked off the Ghost on our way to 21C, where I had a pretty drink named Sprung in the shadow of the golden David. I misread (did not read) all the articles about the screening of this documentary and thought there was a Kehinde Wiley exhibit in the museum. I wandered around looking for it. I did not find it. I did find some pigeons. 

Our final hotel, the Galt House, involved two bars, Jockey Silks and Al J’s (there are more, but seven drinks are more than enough). This was my first visit to Jockey Silks. Instead of bar stools, you sit in chairs with arm rests around a bar with a lowered floor. We drank our bourbon Sidecars and pulled up Patsy, Dolly, and Cher on the digital jukebox. We asked for snacks and got a wine glass of Goldfish crackers, then visited the real fish in Al J’s Lounge.

Al J’s, or the “fish bar,” sits in the middle of the skywalk connecting the two Galt House towers. The bar is an aquarium (fish bar!), and sitting at it, you look out over the Ohio River. There’s also an aviary, home to sad birds. I’ve had good bourbon drinks at Al J’s in the past, but for my final hotel bar crawl drink, I strayed from bourbon to a rum specialty cocktail, Summertime in a Glass. A sprinkles-rimmed glass full of sugary juice — this was the sign that it was time to go home (we didn’t, we went to a cigar shop and had cigars, which is the best way to counter a drink with sprinkles on it).

 I like Mardi Gras as much as the next person, but these sprinkles are ridiculous.

I like Mardi Gras as much as the next person, but these sprinkles are ridiculous.

Halfway through our endeavor, someone said, “This was a great idea. This was a terrible idea. “ Both are true. I’m glad we did it, but I’ll never do it again.  

What's your favorite hotel bar? Are there any other Louisville hotel bars worth a visit?  

Hot Chicken, Round 3

"An immediate onset of hiccups.

Throat coated, feels like it might close? 

Stomach feels like it’s going to be punched through (from the inside).

Nose sweating.

Eardrums feel like popping." 

These are notes from our most recent hot chicken foray in Nashville, again at Hattie B’s. After last summer's tango with the restaurant’s "Damn Hot" heat level left me feeling as though I’d burned off a layer of my esophagus, I thought it wise to back down. Unfortunately, I got confused and now realize that I thought we got the highest heat level ("Shut the Cluck Up") last time. So our attempts to scale back failed, and we actually just ordered the "Damn Hot" again. While I'm heartened by the realization that all those feelings weren't caused by the mere "Hot!" chicken, I’m also doubting the possibility (or just my ability) to “eat through” the heat. 

The first time we had hot chicken, it hurt. Then the burn subsided, and in my memory, my taste buds and other senses opened. Everything was clearer. After two times of only painful heat at Hattie B’s, I’m starting to think the first time, I just ate all the spicy skin and the rest of the food was less hot. My husband swears "eating through” is a real thing and has experienced it with spicy duck in Las Vegas.  

I like feeling like my food is going to punch through my stomach. When I ask for extra-spicy, most restaurants disappoint. Hot chicken never does. Still, when that food keeps burning a hole in my stomach four hours later, it’s too much. So next time, Hattie B’s, I’ll take it “Hot!” (really, this time). Or maybe I’ll revisit Bolton’s. 

Are you a hot chicken fan? What’s your favorite hot chicken place in Nashville?  

#FriFotos: Tasty

 Pastries in Zurich

Pastries in Zurich

Dessert is the tastiest. I have a terrible sweet tooth, but how can you resist pastries that look so pretty? 

My grandfather and my great-aunt both seem to eat ice cream on a daily basis. They are 88 and 93, respectively, which leads me to believe I need to get some ice cream in my fridge. 

 Strawberry shortcake in Charlottesville, Virginia 

Strawberry shortcake in Charlottesville, Virginia 

 

Finally, a Cronut (or Doughssant)

A few months ago, Gabe went to New York and came back talking about croissant-doughnuts, or "cronuts" (or "cornets." Thank you, auto-correct). In July, we spent some time at the beach with our New York friends, and cronuts came up every day. Apparently, New Yorkers now pay others to stand in line to buy their cronuts for them.

In Norfolk, we saw a fauxnut at a Kroger. It was a donut in the shape of a croissant. This is what I imagined the cronut would look like, so I was surprised when we got to Wiltshire Bakery & Cafe at seven this morning and saw these:

"Doughssants"at Wiltshire. Not what I was expecting.

I didn't really think deeply about what a cronut would look like. Or, you know, look it up on the internet. 

But yes, after all the cronut build-up, when Eater Louisville reported that Wiltshire had cronuts (or "doughssants," as they're calling them) and would serve them again today, I was happy when Gabe said, "Do you want to wake up at six and walk to cronuts?" And when I say I was happy, I mean I said, "That's ridiculous. But yes." 

I got the coconut and the lemon-glaze with sprinkles. They are as delicious as you would expect fried croissant dough to be. I would eat more. And we walked 2.5 miles, so it's not like any of those cronut calories count, right? 

#FriFotos - Road Trip (and Hot Chicken, Round 2)

I'm rarely enthusiastic about the from-the-car photos I take on road trips. This one from last weekend's jaunt down to Nashville is no different. I want to share it because in the first seconds I saw this truck, I thought (hoped) it was actually a truck full of coffee. 

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Now that we've discovered hot chicken, no trip to Nashville will be complete without it. This time, we visited Hattie B's, near Vanderbilt. Hattie B's is a little fancier than Bolton's, but you still order at a counter and sit at picnic tables. They also have beer.  

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Since I survived the "hot" at Bolton's on our last visit, I thought I should see how I would handle the hottest chicken, the Damn Hot. I was nervous, and rightly so. That first bite was deceptive. I even thought Hattie B's might be faking it. When the server came around with a second dish of potato salad, her warning of, "It's a slow build," was too late. I was already there. And I never really crossed over to a place where I wasn't looking for something to eat that would ease the burn. I ate most of our four sides (pimento mac 'n' cheese!) and drank two beers in about 15 minutes. The chicken was delicious, and I ate half of Gabe's even though I said I was done before mine was gone. But when you feel like you've removed a layer of esophageal tissue, it's too hot. No more Damn Hot chicken for me. 

Just Exploring Crabbing

I feel like I got in more touch with my grandmother's side of the family last week.

I have vague memories of crabbing at a 1989 family reunion in Virginia Beach. I would have been five, almost six, and my memory of floating in a rubber dinghy, crab line in hand, is either real or derived from photos. But I know this part of family -- my grandmother and her siblings, their offspring, and their offspring -- crab. 

Photos show a grinning cousin holding up a bushel basket filled with blue crabs; my father and uncle, waist-high in the water with lines; my grandmother and great aunts and uncles sitting around a table covered in newspaper and boiled crabs.

Apart from that family reunion, I have crabbed maybe once on the Outerbanks, out of shallow, reedy ditch. We threw back everything we caught. It was based on this little experience, emailed instructions, and some YouTube videos that I lead my husband and friends on their first crabbing experience. 

I tweeted my concern about our expedition, to which my brother replied, "How hard can it be? Twine + fence post + ocean = crab."

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Turns out he was right, although that equation is missing "raw chicken" and "fishing weight." We caught 14 crabs and cooked and ate six of them that night. 

Here are a few things I learned from my first grown-up crabbing venture: 

1. 7 Elevens do not sell twine. Walgreens does. 

2. You can use kite string (on a handle or a spool) for your line. 

3. Apparently, leaving your chicken necks outside over night increases the nibbles.  

4. You can simply stand in the water with your net and line. A low dock would probably decrease the chance of a crab running across your feet. 

5. You'll know when there's a crab on your line -- there is a definite tug. 

6. Putting blue crabs in fresh water for 30 minutes doesn't drown them. 

7. A crab can crawl out of a plastic colander