Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Twa-let by any other name is still a toilet

This is a beautifully painted squat toilet - co-ed, of course - that I encountered in back of a wine bar in Paris

Although we all have basically the same male-female equipment, bathrooms around the world seem to have evolved differently. Even the word bathroom varies from country to country. Washroom is the preferred term north of the border and the words loo, privy, ladies describes it elsewhere.
In  Tokyo I even experienced a toilet with a heated seat and sound effects, not unlike the facilities in a spa like bathroom I visited recently in a designer home.
In some countries there's an attendant outside collecting small change in exchange for toilet paper.
In Paris the facilities in restaurants usually are down a flight of stairs and sometimes they're uni-sex. So I thought I was being directed to an outhouse when visiting a winebar in the d'Aligre neighborhood.I don't speak French but when I  asked for  twa-let and I was motioned out back. It was a place  in the 12th arrondissment (district) not far from the LeGare train station and it seemed not to have changed in at least 50 years.   I stepped outside and saw a doorway in which another American was standing,  snapping pictures and giggling. It was what I know as a Turkish toilet because I've encountered them before in that country. It's also called a squat toilet - basically a hole in the floor with a reach up for the  pull flush. This one was painted a cheerful blue so I retrieved my camera for my own picture.
You'll be able to read more about this neighborhood on April 13 when the next Travel section comes out. I am working on it now.

Friday, March 21, 2014

King of all burgers found in St. Petersburg, FL

This modest looking burger joint in St. Pete, Fla. has an amazing menu.

With apologies to Jimmy Buffett, I had my cheeseburger in paradise in St. Petersburg, Fla. at a little spot called Engine No. 9.
It was paradise mainly because it was a warm blue-sky day and I’d come from Northeast Ohio where this winter probably holds the record for most days with single digit temperatures. It was chilly that day by Florida standards, my daughter told me, but the 60s felt fine to me. We’d just finished a visit to the Dali Museum and it was time for lunch.
“Engine No. 9 got the Best of the Bay best burger award,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go there. So how about burgers?
Setting our GPS for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Street, we quickly spotted the place. It was storefront and looked small, but was painted bright red, true to its fire department theme.
We stepped into a darkened bar, quickly realizing the place was narrow but deep. A hostess took us to a table in a bright space in back, beyond the bar, which touted its 60 beers and wines. A small tabletop juke box was attached to the wall and I flashed back to the burger joints of my girlhood.
One look at the menu and I realized why the place has become locally famous around Tampa Bay. Not only were 25 burgers listed, but it included hot dogs, several salads, along with pasta, salmon and short ribs entrees. Nearly a dozen starters and sides showed that diners could create a meal to fit any appetite. Unusual tasties included fried dill pickle spears and blue fin tuna sashimi.
The Chubby Duck has foie gras, duck cracklings and brie. Tater Tots were my side.

Always the duck lover, I  immediately glommed onto the Chubby Duck, a burger accented by caramelized onions, pancetta, brie, foie gras and duck cracklings and priced at $13.95 , near the top of the price range.  (I knew that cracklings are duck skin browned until it’s crisp and my mouth was already watering.)  The brie helped it classify as a cheeseburger. It tasted as good as it sounded, although I didn’t come close to consuming all of it.
All burgers start with eight ounches of prime Black Angus Beef, so I knew I wouldn’t be having  dinner that night.
Other tempting burger choices included Alice in Pain, with siracha hot chili sauce, roasted red pepper, grilled pineapple and sweet chili paste and Maria Laveau with crawfish tails, andouille sausage, muenster cheese, green onions and creole sauce.
Topping the price chart at $14.95 was a short rib brisket patty blend  accented by muenster cheese, bacon, beer battered chicken, crispy potato pancake and creole mustard smothered with gravy.
We agreed that they were undoubtedly the best burgers we ever tasted, even if the total cost was more like what we’d expect to pay for dinner.
Engine No. 9 is open from noon to midnight seven days a week. Visit its website at for a look at the complete menu.
Or, better yet, go there: 56 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., St. Petersburg, FL.
And be sure to catch  my story about the Dali Museum April 13 in Travel. It's quite a place!

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ever tasted horse?

This market in the Place d'Aligre neighborhood of Paris included a butcher selling horsemeat.

Me either. But I understand it's often eaten in France and every time I get a menu on visits there, I scan it for "cheval".
Although I'm an adventurous eater, I don't know if I would eat horse even if I had the chance. Along with most other people in this country and in Britain I share a distaste for dining on this gentle giant.
Several cuts of horsemeat were displayed in  this butcher's case, including pricey filet.
 People were lined up to buy horse meat, displayed in a butcher's case at a Paris market I'm now writing about. It will be a story April 13 in Travel about my chance visit to a Paris neighborhood that seemed lost in time. I discovered the neighborhood early one Sunday morning when my overnight flight from  the U.S. had arrived in Paris hours before my hotel would permit check-in. The room I'd reserved still was occupied and I had a half dozen hours to kill before I could wash up and take a nap.
As I usually do, I'd done a Google Earth search before my trip to see what I'd find in the walking distance neighborhood of my hotel. I've discovered that a good brisk walk in the early morning sunshine clears away the cobwebs when you arrive someplace in the morning but it's still 2 a.m. at home. Not much goes on on Sundays in Paris but I'd discovered a farmers market, said to be one of the oldest in Paris, about five blocks from my hotel in the Gare de Lyon neighborhood on the city's east side.
It turned out to a wonderful experience, somewhat surreal to me, because it seemed to be a neighborhood straight from the 1950s when  Edith Piaf lived and sang on the streets of Paris.
I found an article in Time magazine that describes that taste of horse as somewhat sweet and tells about how horse is embraced by tghe French but viewed with disgust by Americans and Brits.
I would love to hear from anyone who has eaten horse and am linking here to my email since comments on my blog don't seem to take.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Provence food best thing I ever tasted

A potato pissaladiere with sardines and anchovies was one of the best things I tasted in Marseille. 

To battle this long cold winter, my daydreams turn to Provence, the scenic crossroads of Southern France, the Italian Alps and the Mediterranean. My visit last September was at harvest time and we ate some of the most delicious foods I've ever experienced.
One was a  Potato Pissaladiere, shown above,. a creation by Chef Lionel Levy when my group enjoyed a lovely luncheon on the patio of the brand new Intercontinental Hotel in Marseille. A boat visit to the Calanques, France's newest national park, followed. If you missed those stories,  click on the underlined words in this blog.
Imagine my surprise to learn that a just published book "Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living ($19.95 Agate Surrey) has Levy's  Potato Pissaladiere along with delightful stories and photos that take me back to that enchanted visit.
I'm going to make it as soon as I can find fresh sardines.  But I may just try it  with canned sardines, since I've had them on my grocery list all winter so I could rekindle in my kitchen my food memories of the south of France.
Here's the recipe:
For the onion confit:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions, quartered and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 whole star anise
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 whole cardomom seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
 For the potato gallette:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the pissaladiere:
2 small fresh sardine fillets, halved
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Juice of 1/4 lemon
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
Pinch each of unsmoked hot paprika, cayenne, pimento or Aleppo pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 anchovy file;ets in oil
2 dried tomatoes, quartyered lengthwise
1/4 cup black olives, pitted
1 fresh artichoke, quartered
 1 cup salad greens
1/4 cup edible flowers, for garnish
Prepare the confit: I a medium saute pan, warm oil over medium high heat. Add onion and cook 3 to 5 minutes until liquid is released. Add wine and continue cooking 2 minutes until alcohol has evaporated. Reduce heat to very low. Add star anise, honey ,vinegar, spices, salt and a grind of black pepper. Stir well. Cook 2 hours adding a little water if needed to prevent onions from burning. Remove from heat. Remove and discard star anise and cardomom seeds. Adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside.
For potato galette:
In medium nonstick saute pan warm oil and butter of medium high heat. Add potatoes, sprinkle with salt and black pepper and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until galette starts to brown and can easily be pulled away from side of pan. With large spatula, flip the galette and cook 7 to 8 minutes until other side is golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
Prepare the pissaladiere:
Preheat broiler  to medium and set oven rack to center position. place sardine fillets in an ovenproof dish and drizzle with two tablespoons of oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle with the parsley and ground pepper mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook under broiler 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Place potato galette on serving platter. Spread onion confit evenly over it and top with anchovy fillets and sardine halves, alternating them in fanlike manner radiating out from center. Arrange tomatoes and olives on top and add artichoke quarters. Place salad greens in middle and drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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