Friday, May 23, 2014

The Thursday RePort

Tea Party weekend is rapidly approaching.  This iconic festival has been a staple of Kent County's Memorial Day holiday since its inception in the late 60's, bringing colonial rabble rousing to new heights.  The assorted food stands surrounding Fountain Park are operated solely by local non-profits, who more than likely find this influx of hungry tourists to be one of their main fundraising gambits of the year.  (The line-up of organizations you can support with your food dollars can be found at the bottom of this page.)   One of the perennial classics is the fried clam booth, operated by the Optimists(?).  Someone last night told me that their favorite has been the Strawberry Shortcake, sold by the Order of the Eastern Star.  Whatever your idea is of festival food, there will be an abundance of choices, and while the lines may be long, you can always pass the time with a beer in hand.  All of your friends and most of your neighbors will be among the throngs, so there will be no lack of conversation.  Plus you will see people you only see on this yearly basis.  It is truly a "local" event, despite the mass of tourists who support it as well. 

That being said, there are some detractors.  The crowds!  No one buys anything in the shops - they just want to use the restrooms.  It's the "same old, same old".  The block party started out free, now it costs 20 bucks!  The lines!  The crowds!  The streets are blocked off!  People drink in the street! The crowds!

So what.  It's still a blast, if you don't mind lines and crowds and porta-potties.  There is people watching out the wazoo, and gossip parties on every corner.  The food is forbidden on a daily basis, which makes it all the more special this one weekend of the year. There's beer and wine for walking around, passing the time.  And don't forget there's the always hysterical raft race on Sunday.  So, go already, and have fun. And when you are ready for a sit-down meal, with real silverware and glassware and china, brought to you by a server in an air-conditioned dining room, you know where we are.

We had fun Wednesday night, mostly because Mallory was working her first dinner as a server.  I should have documented it with a photo, but I didn't want to make her any more nervous than she already was.  She's worked a few lunches before, so the learning curve was not overly steep, but it is a bit more involved; there are a few additional duties that she had yet to experience.  By the time she was specialing her third table I could tell she was relaxing into the groove.  She did fine.  And now we have a back-up server!

The prix-fixe menu she was describing included toasts of smoked bluefish, as a starter, followed by stuffed catfish.  We weren't very busy - pre-holiday perhaps? - but with Mallory being slightly new on the floor and the sudden walk-out of the relatively new busser, we all had plenty to do.

I'm not really sure what the guests thought about the bluefish mousse - mostly they mentioned the supporting asparagus salad - but I thought it was quite tasty, being smoky enough to give the fish something to talk about.

The catfish was stuffed with spinach and Smithfield ham, and sauced with a little lemon butter sauce.
Dessert was a white chocolate panna cotta.  One customer described it as bland, and "not really very good", so I'm not sure it was that big a hit.  Perhaps with some additional garnish - raspberries or strawberries maybe - it would be a bit more flavorful.  The recipe Kevin used was similar in some ways to the original Claudia Fleming panna cotta recipe we've followed since the beginning, orchestrated with very little input from me.  The end result promised a subtle sweetness from the white chocolate, with a perfect "panna cotta" texture (meaning "not rubbery"), but maybe it was just a little too subtle.  More tweaking, if there is a next time.  (I have been trying to steer clear of most of the dessert duties, except for making the Caramel Slice or occasional cheesecake as needed, because I know if I give "him" an inch, he will have me in for the mile.)  

Best news coming out of the kitchen last week was the return of the CrabCake!  Finally Kevin was able to secure enough Maryland meat to support the demand for his take on the Eastern Shore favorite.  The only letdown so far is that it is not 100% jumbo lump, because the brand he likes best is mixing the backfin with the lump in the same pound.  Still, it is 100% Maryland Blue Crab sweet meat, with as little binder as needed, and gluten-free.  It is a very welcome addition to the specials list, and eventually it will appear back on the regular menu.  Along with its big cousin, the CrabSteak.

This was the look of the "Mixed Grill" we've been offering lately, featuring that scrumptious white sausage served on last week's prix-fixe, accompanied by a skewer of SBF calves liver and a slice or two of house-smoked pork belly.  A little mustard sauce on the side please.  What a great plate!

Here's Dashan, trying to stay out of trouble...

Also finally back on the menu - lamb!  This is leg of lamb with a roasted tomato and olive sauce, on top of chickpea feta pancakes.  It's been awhile since we've had any lamb available, so it has been receiving a very warm welcome.  Hey Mac, are you listening??

Kevin made a few changes to the dinner menu this week, including changing the rainbow trout from that immense fish taco to this more debonair approach - with shrimp, house-cured bacon and creamy polenta.  A bit more manageable than the previous rendition, I would say.

And, speaking of cured, here is another example of charcuterie from Chef Kevin - duck ham.  I know that sounds sort of contrary - who knew that ducks had hams??  This stuff is incredible.  Partnered with some very good cheddar cheese on a slice of toasted bread with a side of (house made) cherry catsup = a winning small plate that we hope to see again.

Kevin and I - and everyone on the day crew, really - want to send a big shout-out to Bob Sipes, head of Chestertown Utilities, and his crew.  They saved lunch yesterday.  The problems started around 10:30 when Tiffany noticed that the water filling the pot sinks was a suspicious brown color. A call into the Town Utilities office alerted Mr. Sipes to the issue, and he sent someone to start flushing hydrants.  Apparently the work on the traffic circle involved dealing with some water pipes and the result was a build up of iron and other undesirable minerals in our water supply.  Flushing the hydrants - first up stream at Coventry and then the one right in our parking lot - would flush the pipes and clear the water.  At 11:15 they started flushing the hydrant in our lot.  At 11:30 our first lunch guests arrived, with the water still streaming brownly out of the hydrant.  We knew we really couldn't open without a clean water supply available, but we were hoping things were on the mend, so we welcomed the two ladies with one caveat - we could only offer ice tea to drink.  We couldn't make coffee or pour soft drinks, and least of all, no glasses of tap water.  (Not to mention the fact that the toilets were looking a little shaky as well...)  But, by the time the party of 8 arrived (and ordered water all around) we were "in the clear".  So lucky!  And so thankful to the Chestertown Utilities crew for their very prompt attendance to our needs.  We're just one little business, down here on our corner of High Street, and for them to pretty much drop everything and help us out was a tremendous thing.  Thank you Mr. Sipes!

Hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend, full of hot dogs and lawn chairs.

Peace out!

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