Friday, March 9, 2012

Albemarle CiderWorks | North Garden, VA

(From contributing writer, Terry "Smitty" Ebright)

This past holiday season marked my first since moving to Virginia, and while paying a visit with relatives, my father and I decided to stop at Albemarle CiderWorks to purchase a bottle or two to share later. We didn't intend to stay for very long, but shortly after entering, we found ourselves transfixed by the the cidery and its history. We even picked up a couple of "did you know" facts while there. Such as, did you know that Thomas Jefferson had experimented with nearly twenty varieties of apples to produce his own brand of hard apple cider? And did you know that hard apple cider was the most popular beverage of the Colonial period through to the Civil War? Unfortunately, this rural drink fell out of favor for numerous reasons including the Industrial Revolution, the increased demand for beer, and eventually Prohibition.

Lucky for us, however, traditions are timeless and have a way of returning to the popular fold. In recent years, due to small operations and the movement to preserve American heirloom foods, this refreshing beverage has been making a comeback. “Cider is a delicious and valuable part of our culinary and cultural heritage,” said Charlotte Shelton in a recent issue of Organic Gardening (October/November 2011).

Located a few miles from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, Albemarle CiderWorks is operated by the Shelton family and produces their hard cider from heritage apples. And this is not the type of hard cider one finds in the beer section at the supermarket. The four ciders that were offered this past holiday season (Jupiter’s Legacy, Old Virginia Winesap, Ragged Mountain, and Royal Pippin) were handcrafted, light, and elegant. Almost like champagne or prosecco. While my father liked the Royal Pippin, my favorite of the four was Old Virginia Winesap, which featured apples that have been grown in Virginia since Jefferson's day.

Now, for those of you not familiar with hard ciders, they are usually lower in alcohol with artisanal ciders being crisp and refreshing. Commercial ciders tend to be more dry and sweet. They are best served chilled and goes well with a variety of foods from cheese to spicy Indian food to holiday dinners. A frequent patron to Albemarle CiderWorks told me their Winesap cider was absolutely "divine" when paired with the local smoked ham. I couldn't wait to try this!

So, the next time you plan to celebrate something special, whether it's for this year's holidays or another happy occasion, look to this versatile beverage. Priced at $16.00, each bottle is reasonably priced at Albemarle CiderWorks for all to enjoy. As an added feature, each label shares a bit of history about the apples used or tells something about Virginia folklore. Many thanks to the Sheldon family, who have been preserving this piece of American heritage since 2008.

Albemarle CiderWorks
2545 Rural Ridge Lane
North Garden, VA 22959

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fat Face | Sacramento, CA

Fat Face Cafe has finally come to Sacramento!!! Well, that not entirely true. The popular cafe has actually been serving customers since opening last July as part of Bows & Arrows, a vintage clothing store owned by Olivia Coelho and Trisha Rhomberg. Not only that, the cafe's main staples, deliciously decadent sandwiches and creatively unique popsicles, have been fan favorites at area farmers markets and food festivals ever since founder, Jaymes Luu, started selling her fresh fare after moving to Davis, California in 2002. So, I don't mean to deceive you, but I'm not about to apologize for or try to contain my excitement.

So, what makes Fat Face Cafe such a regular stop for us? It's got to be the food, right? Not necessarily so, given that the storefront and cafe offer so much more than what can tantalize the taste buds. Take, for example, when you first walk into the establishment. Displays showcasing refashioned clothing and jewelry are a feast for the eyes (if not damage to one's pocketbook). With many different textures, patterns, and styles available, there's no shortage of original gift ideas to treat yourself or another. Then, there's the art gallery where the works of local artists and photographers are at the center of attention. Each image jump starts the imagination and gets the conversation going whether it's with a friend, family member, or just the stranger standing next you.

As shopkeepers Coelho and Rhomberg noted in The Sacramento Press (June 2011), "Within this multi-use building, we wanted the spaces to feel distinctly their own, but also have an open flow so you could move throughout the space. There's so much to show to people. We love having a space to do that in – to show people what we're growing here."

Part of that growth is certainly what Luu is cooking in the kitchen, and that's where Fat Face Cafe comes into play. Simple sandwiches that's nothing but simple. There's the Beer Poached Fig which consists of black mission figs that were simmered in beer and spices and served with soft goat chevre cheese, arugula, and carmelized onions on a sweet deli roll; The Salmon Pate, a rich blend of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and lemon topped with sliced cucumbers, marinated beets and seasonal greens; And then there's my choice favorite, the Braised Pork which is slowly cooked in Mexican coca cola and paired with grated cotija cheese, tomato salsa, and romaine lettuce on what's called a torpedo roll.

Very creative offerings, for sure, from a person who didn't come from a culinary background or describes herself as not a particularly imaginative person. Rather, Luu credits her success to her parents, both of whom encouraged her to reach beyond classic southern fare and Vietnamese dishes while growing up in Louisiana and Florida. It was not in their nature to shy away from trying different foods and experience something new. Luu obviously took this to heart and pushed it even further.

Remember those popsicles I mentioned earlier? Luu built her entrepreneurial stylings around these unforgettable frozen treats. She adopted a perennial kid favorite and flipped it into something that us adults can savor like a finely aged glass of wine. Using only organic ingredients, her palette of flavors include Hibiscus Mint and Grape, Lime and Avocado, Peach Mango and Ginger, Thai Tea and Sweet Potato, Heirloom Melon and Chai, and Strawberry Coconut. And, as I understand it, there are others to come such as Mango with Sweet Rice and Bacon-n-Eggs, which consists of a vanilla custard with caramel-ginger bacon.

"I get my inspirations from eating." she once said in an article featured in Sacramento News & Review (August 2011). "I make flavors that I want to try. I just don't create flavors for the novelty of it. I want things to taste good."

She's convinced us, and it's become one of the reasons that we make frequent stops through the double glass doors located on the 1800 block of 19th Street. So, I say again, Fat Face Cafe has finally come to Sacramento!!!

Fat Face
1815 19th St
Sacramento, CA 95811

Fat Face Cafe (Bows & Arrows) on Urbanspoon