Culinary Confessions, Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week
From Austin to Atlanta and Chicago to Charleston, you will find many variations of “restaurant week,” all based upon an original 1992 event in New York City, credited with the title of being the first ever of its kind. During this period of time, participating restaurants generally lure both regular and new customers to their doors by offering prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus that have been carefully crafted, and are oftentimes 3-course arrangements. Some cities have taken on a few interesting approaches with different twists: New York City is currently hosting the first Filipino Restaurant Week; Houston asks that participating restaurants make donations to the Houston Food Bank based upon the number of meals they sell during the promotion; and some cities even offer supplemental items/options such as a dinner series or cooking courses.
So, if you haven’t heard, this week kicks-off Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week here in Tallahassee (May 14–26). Since we’re big fans of the local food scene here at Compass, we thought that we would take some time to talk about some of our food experiences and local favorites in case you aren’t sure about where to start your 13-day eating adventure – or where to end it. Share what you experience at Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week – Eat and Tweet!
Our selections are based upon the participating restaurants listed at this time (except Daryl, but agency directors get to do things like that), and we asked everyone to answer the following:
1) List the restaurant that you would like to lay claim to
2) Give an explanation of why this place is so special (is it the service, location, food, tradition, owner, etc.?)
3) Is there a specific menu item that you recommend? Or an insider tip?
And here we/you go:
Being a huge fan of vegan and soul food, I was immediately inclined to check out Nefetari’s as soon as they opened their doors. The establishment is owned by clinical psychologists, Sharon and Dana Dennard, and was previously called Amen-Ra’s Bookshop. The owners stuck with the Egyptian theme and opened a restaurant that caters to any type of diet, as well as world food enthusiasts. The vegan scene in Tallahassee is a small one, but what sets Nefetari’s apart from other local vegan restaurants is its guarantee of “a royal experience” and its expansive menu of world cuisine. The royal experience literally starts at the foyer of the restaurant, which is home to a giant, stuffed lion named Maliki and altars that are filled with fresh water every day. The walls of the restaurant are painted purple and gold and decked out in Egyptian and other African décor. There’s even a large “Queen’s Table” that is flanked by two thrones – one for King Tut and the other for Queen Sitamun. Lastly, another one of my favorite facets of Nefetari’s atmosphere is their house jazz band that plays most nights.
For brunch, I order à la carte: organic stone-ground cheese grits, vegan breakfast steak (seitan), and their home fries. They also offer amazing vegan pancakes as a breakfast entrée. For dinner, I always order their samosas as an appetizer. They are served with a couple of their house-made chutneys. For my dinner entrée, I’m usually torn between ordering the Ethiopian Stew Platter (their most popular entrée) and their Buddha’s Delight. The Ethiopian Stew platter is served on their house injera bread and is encouraged to be eaten with your hands. The stew comes with two sides. I definitely recommend going with the vegan collard greens and vegan mac and cheese. The Buddha’s Delight entrée can be ordered vegan (with seitan and tofu), or it could be ordered with chicken or shrimp. Your choice of meat, or lack thereof, is sautéed with seasonal vegetables in a brown sauce and served on a bed of Chinese black and white rice. For dessert, you cannot go wrong with ordering either the plantain or the pistachio cheesecake (but I totally order both).
I enjoy Lofty Pursuits because of the excellent ice cream, the variety and overall atmosphere. Lofty Pursuits is definitely a one-of-a-kind place here in Tallahassee. They went for a very vintage and retro style ice cream parlor, and they nailed it, for sure. The staff is always friendly, and I have never had a bad experience or anything negative to say. I would recommend Lofty Pursuits over any other place to get ice cream here in Tallahassee.
A good recommendation is to try their floats. With over 200 flavors, they rotate through seemingly endless options, and there’s no doubt that whatever you choose – you will surely enjoy it.
The Root Cellar was one of the first farm-to-table style restaurants that I knew of in Tallahassee, and I’m a big supporter of that initiative. Nearly all of their ingredients are locally sourced, and from my experience, they seem really dedicated to that concept. The last time I was there, they even had Swamp Head Brewery out of Gainesville on draught. It’s worth mentioning that they have a really cool atmosphere as well. Lots of interesting wood work and art – it’s a cozy little dining room, and they make great use of the space. They even have a stage for live music, which they’ll frequently host.
The menu is usually rotating. I once had a sausage and shrimp dish that was incredible, but I’d have to recommend the picnic baskets first. Not many things in life are better than a charcuterie and cheese board. Theirs is awesome. Of course it features local meats and cheeses from the likes of Sweet Grass Dairy and such.
Two words…Bubble Bread
Refer to #2!
To be fair, and at the risk of losing some of the culinary “cred” that I have amongst my friends, I have to note that I have not tried all of the restaurants on this list. For example, I have long been obsessed with anything and everything French, but never graduated beyond the introductory language course and never married Gérard Depardieu. So, I will be sure to make a visit to A La Provence very soon, as people have literally gasped after I mentioned that I’ve never had a meal here. Okay, back to my answer:
I really appreciate it when a restaurant allows for interesting menu additions and/or rotations. Paying palates might take a chance and wind-up tasting something that they’ve never had before like muscadine preserves, lavender or some spicy capicola soppressata. The food here is the big draw for me, and then I take it outside to enjoy the fresh air on the charming patio area.
I’m a big fan of the “Roasted Veggie Press”. You really don’t miss the meat, and I don’t want to think about how long it would take me to make a sandwich like that at home. The roasted veggies are layered between this fantastic artisanal bread from Tribeca Oven. More. Bread. Please. Advice? If you have a smaller appetite, split the sandwich with a friend and then each add a cup of the lobster or tomato bisque (and eat any bread that comes with that as well).
So when I was asked to write about my favorite restaurant (and dish) in Tallahassee, a flood of different places registered in my mind. There are some really great options both locally and regionally. I literally have dreams about Liam’s in Thomasville. If you have never heard Rhonda describe a cheese board before, you may want to get on that, you’ve only been living half a life. For the purposes of Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week though, I’m going to reel it back to the capital city. It honestly took a minute to catalogue and rank all of the meals that Tallahassee has to offer (that I happen to love), but it turns out, I was just overthinking things. The fact of the matter is, if you ever really needed to find me on any given Sunday (around 10:30AM), there’s a 99.9% chance that I could be located at the counter of Kool Beanz in Midtown.
It’s no secret that I am a brunch fiend! It is quite possibly the highlight of my week, and one of the few moments of Zen in my life. For me, sitting at the counter of Kool Beanz on a Sunday morning is where my week ends, and I can take a breath. I have always been very fond of sitting at a chef’s counter whenever I travel. I can improvise my way around a kitchen pretty well and have always been a huge fan of watching the good, the bad and the ugly, go down behind the bar while the masses sit quietly behind never knowing the skill, dedication, and drama that went into preparing their meal. Kool Beanz is situated perfectly to accommodate for this type of culinary spectatorship with their (very) open kitchen and long bar at the front of the restaurant. You literally feel like you are sitting right in the middle of the kitchen – because you are. Let’s just say, you are keenly aware when something gets flambéed.
Sitting at that counter on Sunday, with a cup of coffee, reading USA Today, while the chefs, servers, dishwashers, line cooks and hosts all spin around me — with ballet-like choreography on a mission to ensure every guest has an exceptional experience — is total peace to me. They all know me by now (I’ve been going for a few years). At this point, ordering is just a formality. Their servers are casual but, rival some Michelin-starred restaurants that I’ve dined in.
All this, and we haven’t even talked about the food, which is quite exceptional. Their brunch menu straddles the line between lunch and breakfast. You can have a traditional English breakfast (yes, including the beans) or something for the non-breakfast fans, like a burger or any number of pretty phenomenal seafood dishes. For me, however, the Creamed Spinach Baked Eggs is a must. The seven- year-old me, that hated spinach growing up, cries out in protest, while the adult version stuffs his face. Think Kool Beanz creamed spinach (which is legendary on its own), with a homemade tomato sauce, two cracked eggs and jack cheese roasted and served with toast points.
Pro Tip: Kool Beanz has house-made hot sauce. They don’t announce it or advertise, but you will never look at your sad, bottled hot sauce the same again. They change it up a little from week to week (depending on what peppers they are playing with). Some of these concoctions are not for the meek (I fondly remember the Ghost Pepper version a few months back), but if you liberally dolloped some on the spinach-egg concoction above – the results are amazing.
This is why Kool Beanz is my choice. I encourage everyone to participate in Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week and find their own experience. There are so many exceptional local places to eat in Tallahassee, so take the time to discover something new and you might just be surprised at what you find.
…..and if you need to find me – you know where I’ll be.