Hungry for Valentine’s Day gift ideas? Try these 6 edible treats.

Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr.
Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr.

What sad lives we lead if they are, indeed, like boxes of chocolate.

It’s true that, like life, you never know what you’re going to get when you tear through that red cellophane. But is life also full of disappointment coated in sugary promise?

Boxes of chocolate are the most discouraging Valentine’s Day gift. When someone mistakenly gives me one, I try to activate my dormant X-ray vision to find the two caramel-filled chocolates that are hidden in every box. Even with a little help from the Rosetta Stone of a guide that’s sometimes included in the lid, I still end up biting through ghastly coconut and raspberry filling. Yuck.

There are other edible presents I’d rather see this Valentine’s Day. Consider these when picking out something for your sweetie.

  • An Edible ArrangementNo one in the office is upset when their coworker gets an Edible Arrangement. This bouquet of fruit (and sometimes chocolate) is meant to be shared, not envied like a traditional bunch of flowers.
  • A Panera bagel. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that my love for the cinnamon crunch bagel at Panera runs deep. Real deep. A warm, chewy bite of the pastry along with a cup of coffee would start Valentine’s Day off right.
  • Twix/Take 5. Stick with one or two types that your significant other loves if you insist on giving something from the candy aisle. My favorites are Twix and Take 5.
  • Cookies. Specifically, two cookies, a rose and a mixtape from the coffee shop/record store Please and Thank You.
  • Pizza. Rob and I have done the heart-shaped pizza for Valentine’s Day, but that isn’t even essential. Order me some Bearno’s and reserve your judgement when I eat half of a large pizza.
  • Cellar Door ChocolatesThis isn’t the stale variety you find in your neighborhood drugstore. This local business offers a variety of fresh, decadent chocolate treats.

What do you think is the best edible Valentine’s Day present?

Treat Yo’ Self: Jazz Concert at Varanese, Nov. 27

Photo courtesy Soaptree via Flickr.

Do you enjoy jazz music? You’re officially a grown up.

There’s something about a seductive saxophone and thumping bass line that screams “adult.” I’m not fighting this label — I’ll embrace it with open arms and a Ron Burgundy-style jazz flute solo (for real, my husband and I both play the flute).

Fellow grown ups can celebrate the genre at an intimate jazz show at the Varanese restaurant in Clifton next week. Musician Jeff Sherman and his students will perform at the restaurant on Thursday, Nov. 27. The concert is free, but reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (502) 899-9904.

I put this event under the Treat Yo’ Self category because Varanese is fancy, y’all. The entrees will set you back between $17 and $28. But if you’re on a budget and love some jazz, I suggest you eat dinner at home and order a dessert like the chocolate lava cake or mocha creme brulee, which are all $7 or less. Add a $3.50 cup of espresso, and you have yourself a nice evening.

Jazz concert with musician Jeff Sherman and his students

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 27

Where: Varanese, 2106 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville

Cost: Free, but reservations recommended

Treat Yo’ Self: Brunch at BLU Italian Grille (and a giveaway)

(Blogger’s note: I’m giving away a brunch for two at BLU. Read this post for more info.)
A portion of the brunch buffet at BLU.

I got the chance to celebrate brunch last week at BLU Italian Grille in the Marriott in downtown Louisville. The restaurant is promoting its new brunch concept and invited me to try it out on the house.

The brunch buffet at BLU is $22.95 per person, which puts the BLU buffet firmly in Treat Yo’ Self territory. But the upscale atmosphere, attentive wait staff and wide variety of delicious food choices are worth scrimping during the week to have a nice Sunday brunch, especially if you have some hard-to-please guests to entertain.

BLU offers a variety of dishes to satisfy urges for breakfast, lunch or both. The buffet provides a satisfying preview of what the regular BLU menu offers. Here are some of the foods that were available during my visit:

  • Omelet station
  • Egg benedict station
  • Carving station (a chef carved slices of beef at your request)
  • Antipasto platters
  • Selection of fresh fruit
  • Continental breakfast selections (yogurt, cereal, pastries, etc.)
  • Hot breakfast offerings (eggs, sausage, bacon, waffles, etc.)
  • Premium entreés
  • Desserts
My first two plates at the BLU buffet.

In about an hour, I had sampled from three plates full of food (I was researching for this blog, so I absolve myself of guilt). Some of my favorite selections were the beef filet and scalloped potatoes from the entreé section of the buffet, the scrambled eggs and the fresh fruit. A slice of moist carrot cake was a good cap to my meal.

But it wasn’t just the food that made my experience at BLU enjoyable. A jazz trio played upbeat tunes throughout the afternoon. Our waitress, Mei, was never more than a step or two away with fresh coffee or cold water. These little extras made my brunch a little more classy than what I’m used to, and I’m OK with that.

BLU Italian Grille, 280 W. Jefferson Street, Louisville

Brunch buffet, $22.95 per person

10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sundays

BLU would like to offer a brunch for two to one Ashlee Eats reader. Just answer the following question in the comments between now and next Thursday, 10.25.12, for your chance to win:

What is your favorite brunch food?

Ghyslain at Westport Village just opened, and it’s already hoppin’

A rainy first night at Ghyslain.

I ended up in front of the new Ghyslain location in Westport Village Monday night by accident.

I won’t ramble, but I’ll just say that I stood in the rain and looked inside while wearing a soaked hooded sweatshirt and knee-high blue galoshes holding a soggy paper bag with two bottles of wine. It wasn’t my best look.

Anyway, Ghyslain had just opened that day, and I was surprised at how busy this restaurant/chocolate shop had already become. There were about two dozen people enjoying dinner, which filled the small-ish location. I guess the bistro’s East Market location had built a solid fan base.

I grabbed a menu to take home. I didn’t look decent enough to be in public, let alone eat a meal at a semi-Treat Yo’ Self type of place (sandwiches, for instance, start at $11). But I’ll be back — in dry clothes.

Ghyslain at Westport Village, 1215 Herr Lane, Suite 101, Louisville

More information on Ghyslain’s website and Facebook page

Treat Yo’ Self: The Crab Shack, Tybee Island, Ga. (Part 2 of 2)

(Blogger’s note: Click here to read part one of this series highlighting a couple of blog-worthy restaurants I visited while on my honeymoon last month. Click here to read more about the new Treat Yo’ Self feature.)

Me and The Mister at The Crab Shack, Tybee Island, Ga.

Rob and I have discovered a phenomenon that happens when we share an outstanding meal.

At some point, let’s say between bites 49 and 50, we glance across the table at one another.

“Why aren’t we saying anything?” one of us will ask.

The chewing stops for a moment. Then our mouths get busy again.

The answer to the question is understood. The food is so good that conversation is unnecessary and discouraged.

The last meal of our honeymoon trip to Georgia ignited this exchange multiple times. The subject of our marvel was The Shack Specialty at The Crab Shack, a seafood outpost in Tybee Island, Ga.

Tybee Island is a beach town on the Atlantic Ocean about 30 minutes east of Savannah. The road into town is lined with equal parts gift shops and seafood joints. But when dinnertime arrived, Rob and I headed away from the ocean, into a marshland area and through a gravel parking lot to find The Crab Shack.

This restaurant began as “a sleepy little fishing camp with a boat hoist, boat storage, live bait sales and a bar in the ship’s store,” according to The Crab Shack’s website. It’s now a restaurant and bar with a live alligator pit, a gift shop and aviary. And here is what the owners have to say about it now:

The Crab Shack wasn’t a plan. It was a serendipitous happening. But, it has been carefully managed as it morphs and grows so that the ambiance of it’s creek bank location, the lushness of the hundred year old live oaks dotting the property, the freedom of dining al fresco while watching dolphin play in the creek, and the taste of seafood so fresh you want to slap it, will never be lost.

It was hard to see all of the beauty surrounding The Crab Shack for our late-dinner date. But we had ringside seats at a table next to the misty alligator pit and a TV showing Hurricane Isaac coverage.

(And speaking of the seats, the tables at The Crab Shack compliment a big seafood meal. A whole is cut in the middle of the large, round table with a trash can underneath to toss all your shells. Your tray of food is placed on a raised platform above the garbage can. If that’s not genius engineering, I don’t know what is.)

After a round of drinks (beer for The Mister, frozen margarita for the lady) and a chat with the waitress (a recent Tybee transplant from Kentucky), Rob and I ordered The Shack Specialty for two ($39.99), “a platter piled high with an assortment of tasty shellfish that are in season with corn, potatoes and sausage.” That night’s selection included king crab legs, shrimp, crawfish and mussels, all fresh from the water and steamed with a generous dousing of Old Bay-like seasoning.

Before.
After.

We sprang into action, devouring the poor little crustaceans while they were still steaming. Conversation stopped, but the noises picked up. We cracked shells to get to fleshy meat inside. We licked butter off our fingers. We sucked the crawfish heads, for goodness’ sake. It was the most disgusting display that I, lifetime meat-eater, had ever been a part of. And it was the most fun meal I’ve ever had.

The waitress had mentioned something about a to-go box. By the time we finished, only a few empty shells, lemon wedges and crawfish arms dotted a platter that arrived full a half hour earlier.

Rob and I eventually slid out of our chairs, washed the buttery goo from our fingers and headed toward our rental sedan. We were empty-handed and still pretty awestruck by what we just experienced. But we left The Crab Shack full, fat and happy.

 

The Crab Shack, 40 Estill Hammock Road, Tybee Island, Ga.

thecrabshack.com

 

It’s National Bourbon Heritage Month. How will you celebrate?

Louisville restaurants and bars are celebrating an adult beverage that’s pure Kentucky, through and through.

September is National Bourbon Heritage Month. Below is a list of places that are having events or food and/or drink specials to celebrate this month. Some of these are Treat Yo’ Self types of places, but everyone deserves a splurge now and then.

Bristol Bar and Grille, East location, 300 N. Hurstbourne Pkwy., Louisville

Bourbon Brunch: Brunch buffet will include Bourbon Caramel Sticky Rolls with pecans; Honey and Bourbon Glazed Fried Chicken; Bourbon Smoked Salmon; Cheddar Fondue finished with bourbon; Kentucky Bourbon Coffee Cake; and bourbon-spiked toppings at the waffle bar

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 16

Cost: $15 plus tax and gratuity; 502.426.0627 for reservations (Wait a minute, $15? For a nice buffet? Sign me up IMMEDIATELY.)

Bourbon specials: Southern Spring Rolls filled with Marksbury smoked pork with collard greens, black-eyed peas and fried cheese, served with house-made bourbon mustard ($8); Bourbon Barbecue Chicken with bacon cheddar potato salad ($14); Bourbon Glazed Shrimp and Grits ($17)

Corbett’s: An American Place, 5050 Norton Healthcare Blvd., Louisville

Bourbon and Broadway Dinner — A four-course meal inspired by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast musical and infused with Four Roses bourbon

When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27

Cost: $75 per person plus tax and gratuity; 502.327.5058 or book online at opentable.com

The English Grill in The Brown Hotel, 335 W. Broadway, Louisville

Bourbon specials in The English Grill: 

  • Rabbit salad with Bulleit bourbon soaked cherries, Treviso, and sherry mustard vinaigrette
  • Short ribs braised with Basil Hayden’s bourbon and cumin topped with celeriac puree and roasted apple and walnut gremolata
  • Kentucky spice cake with Buffalo Trace bourbon whipped cream

Bourbon special in The Brown’s lobby bar:

  • Bison burger with beer cheese, house-made pickles and a Four Roses bourbon barbeque sauce
  • Chocolate walnut pie made with Maker’s 46 and topped with vanilla bean ice cream

Equus and Jack’s Lounge, 122 Sears Ave., Louisville

Bourbon Tasting Dinner — A four-course menu of fall dishes to accompany bourbon cocktails

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 24

Cost: $65 per person plus tax and gratuity; 502.897.9721 for reservations

North End Café, 1722 Frankfort Ave. and 2116 Bardstown Road, Louisville

Bourbon drink specials: 

  • Smokey Joe: Bourbon with smoked black tea, maple syrup and bitters
  • Pecan Bourbon Sour: Bourbon with coffee and vanilla bitters
  • Right Side of the Bed: Bourbon with orange marmalade and vermouth
  • Mirabelle: Bourbon and plum with lemon and peach bitters
  • Umbrian Manhattan: Bourbon with dry vermouth and Campari

Proof on Main, 702 W. Main Street, Louisville

Buffalo Trace Distillers Dinner — A three-course dinner paired with Buffalo Trace and reception with Drew Mayville, lead chemist at Buffalo Trace

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 27

Cost: $85 per person; 502.217.6360 for reservations

Treat Yo’ Self: Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, Savannah, Ga. (Part 1 of 2)

(Blogger’s note: Click here to read more about Treat Yo’ Self, a new series of posts on Ashlee Eats.)

It took my husband and me 10 months to make it Savannah, Ga., for our honeymoon. And when we arrived, we ate our way through this great Southern city — and a nearby beach town, too.

Savannah and neighboring Tybee Island should be on all food lovers’ list of travel destinations. The food is some of the finest that the South has to offer, and the dishes represent the best parts of living in this region: simple, homegrown and full of love.

We visited nearly a dozen restaurants, dessert shops, sandwich stands and any other place that struck our fancy during our four-day stay (including a certain restaurant owned by a famous, flamboyant Southern gal and her two sons). Two places stand out as worthy of spending a few extra bucks: Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room in Savannah and The Crab Shack in Tybee Island (I’ll focus on Mrs. Wilkes’ in this post, then follow up with a separate post about The Crab Shack).

Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, 107 W. Jones St., Savannah

Three of the travel and food books I bought for this trip declared that you can’t leave Savannah without a meal at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. Sema Wilkes, the restaurant’s namesake, began running the dining room of the boarding house that was originally at this site during World War II, according to her cookbook, Mrs. Wilkes’ Famous Recipes. Mrs. Wilkes’ food eventually became more sought-after than a room for rent, and the restaurant has operated for more than 50 years. Mrs. Wilkes died in 2005.

The line outside Mrs. Wilkes’.

This cozy dining room is nestled in the historic district of downtown Savannah, an area full of beautiful architecture and breathtaking oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. It’s easy to miss until about 10:15 a.m. — that’s when a line starts to form down the sidewalk in anticipation of the 11 a.m. opening of the restaurant.

Rob and I were two of the first dozen people through the doors. Once inside, we were seated family style, meaning that we shared a 10-seat table with other hungry strangers.

The bowls of steaming side dishes were already on the table, waiting for our arrival. The menu changes each day, so I didn’t know what to expect. There were lima beans, baked beans, green beans and collard greens. Black-eyed peas and macaroni and cheese. Rutabagas, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. And at each place setting, a tall glass of sweet tea. Soon, waiters came around with platters of fried chicken stacked in precarious pyramids.

The scene inside Mrs. Wilkes’.

After Ryon Thompson, Mrs. Wilkes’ great-grandson who now operates the restaurant, prayed over the food, it was time for Rob and me to get friendly with our neighbors. Eating family-style brings out the best in folks — lots of “pleases” and “thank yous” as the bowls were passed, smiles as everyone took their first bite, and a shared appreciation for old-fashioned Southern fare.

My plate at Mrs. Wilkes’.

There’s nothing jazzy about Mrs. Wilkes’ food. No exotic flavors, culinary fusions or experimental cooking techniques. Our meals were something you could find in a church basement or a mother’s kitchen. The food was cooked with a heap of love — and a ham hock or two.

All this food, plus a dessert, is an even $18 a person. I left with a full belly and a case of the warm fuzzies from all the Southern hospitality at my table. That was 18 bucks well spent.