Some people compare my reports to Scotch-that it’s an acquired taste- Well, anyway, hope you will watch this one on selecting the right Scotch! (Bonus points if you can tell me who said that quote)
There are certain sights, smells and tastes that are indicative of a certain place. I’m not necessary talking about only a physical place but also a place in time. These tastes and scents from the past emerge from the smallest of places, but can generate the strongest memories. They exist only in specific places. The koláče from The Village Bakery in my hometown of West, TX is one of those foods and one of those places.
I lived in West from the time I was 2 years old until I graduated high school at the age of 18. Now, I’m the first to admit that I left town as soon as I could and have seldom looked back. But certain memories always lingered. Like the memory of walking everyday from my father’s grocery store, down the ally and around the corner to The Village Bakery and buying a cherry koláče.
The koláče (pronounced Ko-la-che) is a simple, fruit or cheese filled pastry with a light, buttery bread base. Not a doughnut, not a Danish, the kolache is a uniquely Czech creation and nobody; I mean nobody, makes them better than The Village Bakery.
Established in 1952 by Wendel and Georgia Montgomery, the bakery is one of the cities oldest businesses. They established a tradition of making their offerings completely from scratch. No canned fillings, no pre-made dough. Everything you buy there was made on the spot that day, sometimes-just minutes before you eat it.
I have a special fondness for this place not just as a customer, but for another reason. When I was in 7th grade I did my first camera interview with Mr. Montgomery as part of an assignment for my English class. I shot it on Super 8mm film and used a cassette tape recorder to capture the sound. These were the days before home video cameras, but no, the camera was not hand-cranked. I don’t remember how the project turned out or what grade I received. It must have been ok because I did eventually graduate.
If you find yourself anywhere near West, TX, I urge you with all seriousness to drive past the roadside touristy koláče store on the highway and venture into my home town to visit The Village Bakery. Accept nothing less than the authentic kolace experience.
The koláče is on of those foods that feeds the soul. They remind us of that past. They remind us where we come from. They remind us of home.
At one time, food trucks were synonymous with construction workers and plastic-wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches. Well no longer. There is a food truck revolution in full swing offering upscale menus expertly prepared by dedicated chefs.
This boom is fantastic for tourists who need a quick, inexpensive dining option, but don’t want to stop at a restaurant or, God forbid, a restaurant chain.
The attraction here is specialization. Each truck has a limited menu of items that they do fresh and very well. Think fast street food with a high quality twist.
I went to DC’s Farragut Square to discover what it was all about.
Ask any NYC foodie (and I hate that word) where to find the best burger in the City and they might just lower their voice, draw you in close and say “I know this place hidden away in the Parker Meridian Hotel.” The place they are talking about is Burger Joint and it is indeed, hidden away in the lobby of the four star hotel. It’s one of those places that has no sign-but a place that everyone knows about. On any given afternoon at lunchtime you will find people lining up one of the best burgers in Midtown-if not all of Manhattan.
Burger Joint’s interior is also what the name would suggest. A rustic, small space with community seating at a series of benches and tables. I think more people take out than eat in. They offer a simple menu of burgers and fries and they do it right. You can also get a milkshake, or if you are having a late lunch, you can get a beer or wine after 1:30pm.
For a ‘hidden’ place, this place is always very busy, so try to avoid between 12 and 1:30.
There is an old saying about the food in Great Britain: “… to eat well in England, you should have breakfast three times a day.” Now with the globalization of London, this is no longer really true, but it did give rise to the legendary “Full English Breakfast.” Along with bacon, eggs and sausage, there are up to 30 other not-so-familiar foods for Americans such as black pudding, white pudding, fried bread and sautéed mushrooms. There are a couple of standard items that must be included, in my opinion, for a breakfast to qualify as a “Full English.”
Bacon: English and uncured
Sausage: English bangers, sagey and mild
Beans: always Heinz Baked Beans
Eggs: poached to over easy, although you don’t actually turn them over. The egg is cooked in oil on one side only, with the hot oil being spread over the top of the egg, so as to leave a beautifully cooked, semi-soft yoke, surrounded by completely cooked white.
Lastly, there must be black pudding. Black pudding is a sausage made by cooking blood with filler and spices until it is thick, then congealed as it cools. It is then sliced into two-inch portions and quickly grilled to a crispy finish on the same grill as the rest of the meats. It is delicious when done right…horrific when done badly.
So what’s the first thing I did when I hit London? I went in search of this legendary feast.
I got to my hotel early in the morning and my room wouldn’t be ready for a few hours so I began my search at a restaurant close to the hotel. Everywhere you look in London you see pubs offering the traditional Full English. The restaurant I chose was The Yeats. When it was served I began to understand the interpretations of term where very loose. The Yeats, located near Piccadilly Circus, served up a dumbed-down version consisting only of rashers of bacon, poached eggs and beans. I should have known better than to pick a restaurant in a tourist district.
Next morning, I ventured deeply into the Covent Garden area, looking for Diana’s Diner. I know I just said in the previous paragraph that you should avoid tourist restaurants, but Diana’s Diner came very highly recommended. Di’s has a very homey atmosphere and serves up a better, if abbreviated breakfast that was still missing the black pudding.
Now it was time to get serious. I had heard about a place called “The Cock Tavern,” located in the bowels of London’s famous Central Market. The Central Market, also known as Smithfield’s Market, is home to London’s Meat suppliers and some sort of market has been there for the past 800 years and is steeped in Victorian atmosphere. Sounds like a great place for a meat-centric meal. The Cock Tavern has been serving a butchers breakfast to the workers at Smithfield’s Market for over 50 years so don’t come expecting tourist-pub décor. It is a workman’s pub.
I decided to visit on morning at 6:30am. It did not disappoint. Perfect bacon, perfect sausage and a perfect black pudding was presented along with beans, kidney’s calves liver and sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. All this washed down with a pint of Guinness. Yes, Guinness at 7:00am. For most of the workers here, it was lunch, so a beer was perfectly normal. My only disappointment was no fried bread.
The Full English is not something I would recommend nor even want to have every morning. It evolved during a time when people needed a lot of fat and a lot of calories because they worked at hard manual labor. Throwing sides of beef and pig, hacking away with a meat saw and cleaver, the workers of old didn’t worry about their waistlines or cholesterol count. But enjoying the occasional fat-laden breakfast is sort of honoring these workers of the past. At least, that is my rationalization.