Christmas Eve Brunch in Nola
We wandered from our hotel in the French Quarter and arrived at the iconic restaurant on Royal Street, at 10:30.
I was excited to finally visit the Royal Street restaurant. The building has been here for 132 years, but it wasn't always a restaurant.
The French, townhouse-style building was first home to the Cavalier family. In 1886 the house and street level store was purchased and two sisters from an aristocratic Creole family, opened up a fine notions shop.
When we entered the restaurant on Christmas Eve morning, it was hard to picture the space, back in the day.
Emma and Bertha would have displayed imported gowns and perfumes in their shop.
I wonder where the arched doorway would have led, before it was turned into bar seating?
I'm sure the brick fireplace kept the shop cozy on cold mornings. On pleasant days, the sisters would have escorted their special guests, back to the courtyard for cakes and tea.
It was nice to arrive before the things got too busy. The staff was cheery and relaxed, inviting us to take a look around and decide if we wanted to eat in, or out.
The famous courtyard is the largest in New Orleans. It looked inviting with its wishing well and fountains. But it was a tiny bit chilly on that December morning.
Royal Court and Grand Marquis
I found more dining areas upstairs and in the front of the building.
They weren't serving in the formal spaces, but it was fun to see all the chandeliers and white tablecloths. The Fein Family has owned and run the restaurant since 1963.
I'm how these spaces were used before then. The Sisters closed shop in the early 1900's. I believe the building has been serving food and drink since the 1920's.
Back downstairs, we peeked in the Terrace Dining Room. It looked inviting, with a jazz trio and large windows, overlooking the courtyard.
The dining room was bright and airy, but the green garden colors lured us outside.
Table by the Fountain
The air was cool, but we warmed up with coffee. Chicory! We knew we were in New Orleans.
Our waiter Mario, kept the coffee coming. He said he'd only been at The Court for 2 years, but he had worked at another famous nearby restaurant for 42 years. "You were hired as a baby?" I asked. He laughed and said he started working at Brennan's, at age 12.
It was nice to be some of the first guests to hit the buffet. What a wonderful spread!
First I took a good look at all the options in the inviting, black and white serving area. There was an Eggs Benedict station and a meat carving station.
There were Creole favorites, like turtle soup and crawfish pasta.
Best of all, there were lots of Christmas sweets and pieces of Christmas King Cake!
Feasting in the Courtyard
While Don and I feasted, I waited for the right moment to share a little something with Mario.
When there seemed to be a lull in activity, I pulled the old Ford Motor Cookbook from my bag.
"Does this recipe look familiar?" I asked. Mario took a long look at the old book from 1959. He laughed at the courtyard image, that accompanied the recipe for Shrimp Au Gratin. "Where is this from!"
Yay! I love adding a cookbook adventure to an already fun meal. It almost always gets a good reaction, but I had been a little concerned about sharing on a busy holiday. Mario showed the book to a couple other waiters, then he happily agreed to pose with us. So fun!
We finished up and wished Mario a Merry Christmas.
Instead of heading out through the old house, we exited through the back of the courtyard. We passed through a gate, that seemed to match the wrought iron in the cookbook illustration.
How have these separate buildings been used over the years? Did many buildings share the courtyard equally? I left with so many questions about this old place.
Cheers to three generations of Feins, for keeping this restaurant running on Royal Street for so many years. Cheers to Emma and Bertha! It was a fun dining adventure!
Dining Adventure in Ybor City, FL
This neon sign wasn't around in 1905, but the Columbia Cafe was!
Columbia, in St. Augustine, Florida
There are seven Columbia Restaurants, still owned and run by the original family.
We had a great time, even when we found out the restaurant was built in the 1980's. We vowed we would someday dine at the original location.
Last January, Don and I planned a visit, while in the Tampa area. We arrived before noon, to avoid a wait. The building took up an entire block.
Cuban immigrant, Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. opened a corner cafe in 1905. Workers from the nearby cigar factories, came for Cuban coffee, bean soup and Cuban sandwiches.
The humble cafe expanded over the years and now looks like a Spanish palace, with balconies, painted tile and carved doors. It is said to be the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish style restaurant in the world. I'll take their word for it.
The beautiful tile work was evidently added much later, in the 1970's. Cesar and Adela (third generation) acquired the tiles in Seville, Spain. Some of the tiles had painted images, like the wonderful Don Quixote and windmill scene. One tiled area, was covered with a painted family tree. Six generations of Hernandez-Gonzmarts were named on the tree.
Don Quixote Dining Room
Once inside, Don and I were happy to see that we had beat the crowds. We were able to be seated in the Don Quixote Room.
Casamiro Jr. added this room in 1935, along with an elevated dance floor. This became the first dining room in Tampa to have air conditioning.
Besides a lot of Don Quixote themed decor, there was a crazy huge chandelier and a mighty fine stairway to the second level.
Menus and Cuban Bread
Our menus and bread came right away. We were each given our own big old hunk of hot Cuban bread, wrapped in paper! I buttered a piece and pulled out my handy Ford Treasury Cookbook. A nifty cookbook can enhance the dining adventure... or not.
Tony and the Book
Tony was very good humored. He offered to pose with me and the book... and Don Quixote in the background. That part was his idea!
I was relieved that Tony was properly amused by the vintage cookbook, which featured Columbia Restaurant in 1950. Servers under the age of 40 are often hard to impress, with kooky memorabilia.
I asked if they still served the steak recipe, (with chicken livers) like they did 69 years ago. I wasn't surprised that they didn't. Tony had very expressive eyebrows, though. He lifted them dramatically, when he noticed the book's illustration.
"That's the Patio Room and the fountain! It looks like the picture on our dessert menu!"
Half and Half!
I ordered the perfect combo, with a half Cuban sandwich and a small Columbia's Original 1905 Salad. The salad was tossed at the table with Swiss and Romano cheese, slivers of ham, Spanish olives and chunks of tomato, in a dressing with garlic and Worcestershire!
My "Smashed Cuban" (as some call it) was layered with ham, salami, pork loin, Swiss, pickle and mustard. The buttered sandwich was toasted in a hot press, before serving.
Don ordered a traditional dish from the Ybor District. His quarter baked chicken was served on yellow rice with peppers, onions, peas, tomatoes and spices. It was mouth-watering-smooth! I'm glad Don's always up for sharing.
The food was wonderful, but the activity around us was just as entertaining. There was a steady stream of casually dressed guests coming to dine.
Were any of those men, the 4th generation owners? They talked with each other and nodded and gestured... as proper as secret service men. Mostly, they added an intriguing, formal feel, that helped me pretend we were in the 1950's.. back in the day of the cookbook.
After a bit, I just had to take my cookbook into the Patio Room to compare the illustration. In the center of the space, I spotted the curiously odd, Love and Dolphins sculpture from the illustration... with the bare feet in the air!
Over by the wall, I noticed a couple more, dapper-looking gentlemen "on duty". I decided to head over and let my cookbook start a conversation. Suddenly both were studying the pages of the vintage book and laughing. "Where did you find this?" "How old is this?" The man with the purple tie was so delighted that he offered to give Don and me a tour.
Our gracious host introduced himself as Cesar. He asked if we had about 30 minutes, because there was so much to show us. If we'd been at a resort somewhere, I would have thought he was trying to sell us a timeshare.
But Cesar was just genuinely excited to share some history. He started by looking again at the illustration in our 70- year old cookbook. Then he took us to the upper level of El Patio.
The book's brief description mentioned a sliding glass roof, on the patio. Cesar mentioned something about his dad's involvement with the sliding roof construction.
He told us the courtyard had been added in 1937, but the unpredictable weather led to the addition of a retractable roof. He talked briefly about the sculpture and how it was made in Italy, to replicate a statue found in the ruins of Pompeii. That was interesting, but it didn't tell me anything about why that dolphin was wrapped around that upside down body!
The place was a confusing maze, with numerous stairways and halls. We were told there is a total of 15 dining rooms, which can seat more than 1,700.
The upstairs was quieter, with most of the private rooms, not in use. We moved from room to room and I wished that I had a notebook to take notes of all I learned.
There was so much to remember. I think this room was used as a casino at one time. I believe it was called the Siboney Room. It opened around 1955, with tapestries and glossy painted tiles. The stained glass was over 300 years old. I loved the little faces!
Stairs and Tiles
We came down another set of stairs. The marble railing and colorful tile work was stunning. Every piece of the building had a story. Marble from Italy... tiles from Cuba.
Business was hopping by the time we got back downstairs, but Cesar ushered us on through. A couple of servers jumped out of our way, to let us pass into the bar area. Did they think we were celebs or high rollers, getting a special tour? Not the way we were dressed.
I wish I'd gotten a better picture of the bar, which was a beauty. Cesar pointed out the original brass foot rail and reminded us that it had been a standing bar, only. No stools and no women... back in the day. He laughed about those days long ago, when Ybor City was in the middle of swamp land.
"Leaving late in the dark of night, workers had to worry about alligators..."
Hard to imagine!
And More Tile!
I could have studied the patterns all day. I have no idea how many different designs can be spotted throughout the restaurant.
Just on the bar floor, there were numerous styles. Cesar pointed out how worn the tiles looked in the heavy traffic areas.
I'm a big fan of interesting doors and there were so many. I didn't get the stories behind these, but I loved comparing them.
Without diners, it was easier to picture a different era, when people once dressed up in suits and pearls to dine. It made me want to return at night, to see if the crowds looked different.
As we wound our way back to the kitchen, we headed down hallways, with photo displays. This image showed the original and much smaller, kitchen. It's now another dining room.
I was thrilled to see the new kitchen, with all its good smells and cheery activity. We didn't just peek in the door. Cesar guided us right on in and gave us a tour, while the kitchen bustled around us. He even introduced us to a few, who had stopped to greet him.
Again, I was confused as to how we earned this tour. I never spoke of a blog... I just showed my cookbook. I kept thinking of the movie, "Waiting For Guffman" and hoping Cesar wouldn't suddenly realize we were NOT the important people he expected that day.
Much to See
We wandered around, dodging a few servers with food. The cooks and staff seemed very efficient as they worked. I noticed a few playful interactions. We surprised one exiting worker when Cesar opened the door of the walk-in freezer. "Well hello!" She laughed, as we almost collided.
No one seemed a bit bothered that we were intruding. I started to feel comfortable enough that I was tempted to grab myself a little flan dessert... or more bread!I
History in the Hall
Cesar pointed to one of the men in the photo and said it was his father, who had been a concert violinist.
The handsome young man in the ruffles was Cesar Gonzmart. I had seen his name in the family tree, but I was a little confused. So our gracious guide Cesar, was the son of the Cesar (in ruffles) who married Adela (the granddaughter of Casimiro Senior). I so hope I'm getting this right, but I believe the elder Cesar and Adela, first traveled with their music, before taking over the restaurant in the fifties. Family businesses are complicated.
Off We Go
We eventually ended up near the front door and Cesar shook our hands and thanked us so much for coming. Our tour had been much longer than 30 minutes and we had enjoyed every minute.
The Family Tree
I took a photo of the family tree before we headed to the car and I studied it as we headed out of town.
Maybe Don and I will need to return for another visit. This time we can dress up and drink Sangria and take in one of the evening Flamenco shows... and ask a few more questions!
Cookbook Dining Adventure!
Don and I spent one night in Bend last summer. We could have missed this wonderful little tavern, at the foot of Oregon Avenue... but our cookbook reminded us.
Traveling with Cookbooks
The old tavern was still in business after 80+ years! We pulled up and grinned to see that little had changed with the building, over the years. It was July so we saw no, icicles and snow, like this old photo. But we saw lots of pine trees.
Bend was a logging town, when the tavern opened in 1936. The tavern got its name, for the 2 gigantic Ponderosa Pines, just in back. A patio was built around the beautiful trees. In the old photo and the book illustration, it looks like one tree is growing right through the roof.
We stepped inside and felt the mix of old and new. We could see a few reminders of the past. There was a little knotty pine here and a few retro booths there.
Lots of displayed photos helped us imagine how the tavern looked over the years. In 1936, the place opened as a lunch counter, serving local timber workers and their families.
Two women, Marne Gribskov and Eleanor Bechen began the business, during a time when the country was just recovering from the Great Depression. The coffee shop/tavern/dining room, changed and grew over the years.
It wasn't yet 5, so Don and I stepped over to the bar to enjoy the end of Happy Hour. We had a good chat with a few local couples who raved about Bend and made us want to move.
I hopped up a few times to look at the old photos on the wall. There were pictures of the original lunch counter and photos of famous guests who have dined... Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagan, President and Jackie Kennedy. I love it when restaurants display old photos!
Just past the bar, was a spacious dining room that was added in 1957. I passed a few booths with curtains and that seemed very retro. Then I spotted the two trees, growing through the center of the room!
DJ and the Cookbook
DJ was suddenly the best guide ever. He told me that the Garden Room was added in 1957. It was built right around the two trees that had been on the patio. He took me closer, to study the tree trunks. One was about 300 years old and still thriving. The other was killed by mountain pine beetles over 30 years ago, but the trunk was preserved.
DJ said he would be happy to be our server, whenever we finished up at the bar. We were lucky to get a patio table on such a lovely evening. Once seated, I looked back and was pretty amused to see the living pine, growing right through the roof.
The red umbrellas gave us shade from the evening sun.
Then when the sun got low enough, the umbrellas came down. Our view was even better. We watched a few kayaks and envied the people who lived in the homes across Mirror Pond.
After studying the menu, we dug into some warm, sourdough bread with honey butter. The relaxed, evening atmosphere made us want to slow down and enjoy every minute.
Don ordered the house meatloaf special. It came with two slabs and a zingy, hot fanny gravy! My Chicken Marsala was smothered in a thick sauce of mushrooms and Marsala wine... which I shared with my heavenly mashed potatoes!
We were just finishing, when the manager stopped by our table and introduced herself. "Are you the ones with the cookbook?" Betsy asked with much enthusiasm. Betsy told us she was curious to see the book. I think she said had worked at the Tavern for 40 years, but that seems impossible.
Betsy studied the illustration and chuckled. She remembered specific details about how the door and entrance looked when she first started working. She kept shaking her head and smiling. "Bill will be so excited to see a picture of this book." It turns out that the owner is Bill McCormick, as in the McCormick and Schmick's restaurant chain. He sold the chain a few years ago and now his focus is on Pine Tavern, alone.
Our evening at Pine Tavern ranks pretty high. The atmosphere was comfortable with a good mix of locals and tourists. The pond setting was ideal. The food was yummy and not over priced. And our people encounters were fun... with the silly cookbook!
Lake Placid, NY
In 2014, Don and I stayed at The Mirror Lake Inn. I remember eating breakfast on a screened porch, with a lovely view of the lake.
I also remember looking down at the little cottage at the bottom of the hill and wondering about it.
I don't remember exactly what I ate, sitting on that lovely screen porch. My old photo tells me that I didn't eat any flapjacks. Back then, I didn't know that Mirror Lake Inn was once known for their flapjacks.
The Cookbook and Mirror Lake Inn
Since that time, I've spotted the old hotel in our vintage cookbook. "We'll have to go back and try those pancakes." I told myself after seeing the recipe.
Last July, Don and I were back in upstate New York. This time, I packed the 1950 Ford Treasury Cookbook. We planned to stop for a meal at the inn, while passing through town. I was eager to surprise the staff with page 45, featuring the Inn's Adirondack Flapjacks recipe! Well maybe. Sometimes the cookbook doesn't excite people.
But The Inn's restaurant was not open for lunch. So we headed down the hill to have lunch in The Cottage. The Cottage is part of Mirror Lake Inn, but this was really going to stretch it a bit, with my cookbook adventure.
It was pretty delightful heading into a restaurant that looked like a little storybook house, with shutters and window boxes. Coming from Texas, it was a thrill to see open windows!
I expected to find a restaurant crowded with tourists on a weekend in July. This was the perfect place for a meal, overlooking the lake!
But the dining area was empty and we were invited to pick any table. We of course chose a spot at the window.
The dining area was empty, but the nearby bar wasn't. The drinking crowd didn't seem to care about the gorgeous view, they were missing. They were too busy socializing and enjoying the music, which didn't match the peaceful view from the window.
Danko, from Serbia
But Danko seemed curious when I showed him the illustration of the inn, up the hill. He studied the recipe for a minute. He didn't laugh or gasp, like some do when I hand over the cookbook. But he seemed politely interested and best of all he offered to pose with the book. Yay for that! I believe Danko is about the 30th cookbook poser we've had!
I was ready to eat after our cookbook encounter. I took one peek at the menu and knew I had to have the Beer Soup. It was July, but the skies were overcast and the air felt damp and chilly. (To this Texan) I practically drank down that soup. The tangy flavor had me smacking my lips after each spoonful!
Apricot Chicken Salad
Don's sandwich with pieces of white meat, dried apricots, sliced almonds and sesame ginger was yummy. The greens & tomato salad was an extra treat. Our light lunch was just what was needed.
Even with gray skies, the view was ideal. We watched a few kayaks go by and we thought about the very same lake, when we visited in 1980, during the winter Olympics. We were a lot colder then and the lake was frozen!
Cozy Dining Adventure in Lake Placid
Best of all, we ate our meal and reminisced, about visiting Lake Placid as newlyweds, almost 40 years ago!
Now, A Chart House Restaurant
On Christmas Eve we had reservations for dinner, at one of the nearly 30 Chart House restaurants. I wish the lovely hilltop restaurant had its original name. It kind of makes me think of Hillbillies!
At around 7 pm, our Uber driver skillfully zipped up Terwilliger Boulevard, high above Portland. At the top of the hill, we hit a traffic jam of cars, waiting to valet park. Our family of 6, happily exited, before reaching the tangle of cars. The glowing restaurant was buzzing with Christmas Eve energy.
Photo From 1930
Don and I usually avoid chain restaurants, but the Chart House is always a safe choice. We didn't want to risk some lukewarm holiday buffet, when we were feeling ridiculously lucky to be spending Christmas with our kids and their new spouses. Plus this Chart House had some great history. The property, once named Hillvilla, opened in 1921. Owner, R Simmons boasted about The View of a Million Lights. Today, the building doesn't look nearly as quaint as it did 90+ years ago, but it still has the view of lights and Mount Hood!
Busy and Festive
We were told our table wasn't quite ready and that was sort of a relief. We were in no mood to rush. We were in a festive, happy place with our kids. No one had to cook!
When we found 6 open barstools in the downstairs lounge, we were extra ready to relax.
Behind us there was a wall of windows, looking over the twinkling lights of Oregon's biggest city.
In front of us, we watched numerous bartenders (some in Santa hats) dashing, dodging, splashing, shaking and pouring! I kind of liked the cheery, rushed vibe... at least for a while. We had a nice toast, with our French 75 cocktails.
Up We Go
We were called to our table shortly after getting drinks. As we headed up the stairs I glanced over at the cozy fireplace. I wonder if that was added in 1954, when Ed Palaske bought and modernized Hillvilla.
I wonder what Mr. Palakse would think of the modern decor today. He would probably like the circular art on the wall. I'm guessing that was added when in recent years when the Chart House bought the property.
Table at the Window
When the hostess seated us at a window-side table, I wanted to cheer. We couldn't exactly see Mount Hood and the sun had set hours before, but the city lights below were mighty festive.
The whole day had been cold and cloudy, so I hadn't hoped for any stargazing. We did however get a good glimpse of the moon, now and then!
Our server introduced himself as Cole. If he was feeling a little overwhelmed with the holiday crowds, he hid it fairly well. We ordered wine and asked a few menu questions.
The Fine Cookbook
At one point I did share my silly traveling book with others at the table and I managed to get a smile from Cole, who said he had actually seen that illustration before. I asked if they stilled served "Spareribs A La Hillvilla. He said they did serve spareribs, up until a year ago. I was relieved it was no longer on the menu, since I usually feel forced to at least try whatever the cookbook has featured.
Maybe it was the wine, or the anticipation of Santa, but our gang could not have been happier. There was something so comfy-cozy about our table, as we settled in with wine and a couple baskets of warm bread.
Dining on a holiday meant we shared a little something in common with all the other diners. We were all celebrating. But even the staff seemed to add to the fun mix of energy in the place!
So Many Helpers
On a journey to the restroom, I squeezed past a few large tray-servers and I paused to look at all the foods sizzling on the grill. There were so many people giving up their own family time, to make our night special. I have to stop and appreciate that sometimes.
I tried not to laugh when I ordered Mac Nut Mahi. I felt a little like I was ordering at the drive-thru. But thoughts of McDonald's disappeared when I tasted my fish with warm peanut sauce, mango relish, soy glaze, mango sticky rice and Asian green beans!
My chopped salad with hearts of palm, cucumber, red onion... balsamic vinaigrette was a meal in itself, so I'm glad I saved room. No room for dessert, though. We were all happy and full by the time our empty plates were taken away.
While waiting on our Uber, I took advantage of a brief moment when the area near the tree was empty. A very cheery hostess offered to take our pic. This turned out to be the only photo of the 6 of us during our holidays together. Yay for family photos!
Before our ride arrived, I rushed out to get one more peek of the exterior. The 2 valet guys had a brief lull in activity, so I shared the cookbook with them. They seemed amused by the old watercolor image... or they pretended well. I dashed off to the side, to see if the shape of the of the building matched the illustration. It was too dark to tell, but I did see a 50-foot totem pole. If there had been a spotlight, I could have snapped a photo of the dramatic carving, that Palaske added in 1959!
We may have dined at a chain restaurant, but the yummy food and curious history, made for a dining adventure. Maybe next time we'll catch a sunset!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.