Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Vegan Feast at the City Grille and SPIDEY-NURSE is BACK!!

Well, now that we have the BIG TRIP behind us, it’s time to get back into the groove. Wanted to lead off this week’s blog with a review and recap of a vegan meal we had at the lovely City Grille here in beautiful downtown Madison MS.  There’s a bit of history here, so indulge me.

Chef Zack Athearn opened this restaurant (a long time dream) about 18 months ago and has quickly established it (and himself) as a mecca for good food.  The restaurant, located on Highway 51 in the old Blockbuster location, is open for lunch and dinner 6 days a week. On Sunday, the City Grille serves up a luscious brunch from 10-3. You can access their web page at or find them on Facebook and Twitter (@thecitygrille).

Now, about that turns out that Chef Zack’s Grandmother, the late Peggy Roberts, was a dear friend of my Daddy (Jack Patterson). AND, both Bill and Peggy lived at Deerfield Country Club where Big Solid and I got to know them as well. Isn’t that just like Mississippi—forget these 6 degrees of separation. In MS, you are usually only separated by 1 or 2 degrees.

For some reason known only to the ether, Chef Zack and I kept missin’ each other regarding the possibility of creating a vegan entrée. Well, we finally got face to face at the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Night Out and the deal was sealed.  Zack was only too happy to say he’d love to do a vegan meal for me, so plans were rollin’.

We made our reservations with our BFFs (Jesse and Mary Evelyn Dees) a few days ahead of time so Zack would have ample time to do his thing vegan-wise. And BOY DID HE EVER!!

First and foremost, when we got to the restaurant, we were immediately happy to note that it was spacious and quiet. We have become so noise aversive, that a quiet restaurant is a must for us. We enjoy the company of the Dees as well as anyone else we may be dining with, so it’s fun to actually TALK to them and not have to shout. Secondly, it does not bode well for me to be in a restaurant where you are seated within an elbow of the table next to you. At City Grille, there is room and there is peace. So, we were already off to a good start.

Justin, our server, seated us at a booth and took our drink orders…yes, City Grille has a full bar as well. Chef Zack came out to greet us and tell me that he had some ideas cooking in the back that he hoped I would enjoy. (An aside…never in MILLION BAZILLION years did I expect what he did). He did not share with me what he was preparing and so I took that as a cue NOT to ask. What fun…to be surprised. That being said, I also enjoy a chef to elaborate on what s/he is preparing. As Big Solid and the Dees were perusing the menu for appetizers, Justin brought out drinks…first big TEST of the night was Big Solid’s Manhattan. He was most pleased with the drink that was served him…no small feat for a bartender around these parts. Big Solid is a Manhattan connoisseur and this did not disappoint.
Justin!! Server of excellence

Edamame Hummus/crispy bread
Appetizers ordered were not vegan by any stretch of the imagination…Mary Evelyn got the Lobster Roll and Big Solid got the Duck Chips.  Jesse was going to order the Pork Belly but Chef Z said that the quality of late was not up to his standards so it was not on the menu. Mary Evelyn said that her Tempura Lobster Roll was one of the best appetizers she’d ever had and commented on delicious the dragon sauce was. Big Solid said the Duck Chips were incredible…unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn’t taste them or the Tempura Lobster Roll.

And THEN…MY APPETIZER was brought out. HOLY MOLY!! It could have fed the whole table. A lovely presentation AND a fantastic edamame hummus.  We all enjoyed this dish and still had enough to take home for the next day.

Heirloom Tomato Stack
As Justin was clearing the table of our appetizers and putting them in ‘doggie bags for us’, salads began to arrive. One of the delightful things around City Grille is that a house, garden or Caesar salad is included with your dinner entrée. However, I got a SALAD in the form of an heirloom tomato stack with pureed cauliflower and zucchini between the layers, topped with grilled zucchini and portabello mushroom. Sprinkled around the plate were pickled little bitty onions and radishes. Oh Lord! It was delicious.

The main courses came out next, with Justin making sure we had ample time for conversation and eating, which was appreciated. No one wants to be rushed when the food and company are so good. Jesse and Big Solid both had the Bone-in Pork Chop; Mary Evelyn selected another appetizer to be her entrée…the Colossal Crab Cake, which she thoroughly enjoyed. And then Chef Z ‘hisownself’ brought out my entrée. O.M.G!! What a dish! It was a gloriously flavored vegetable risotto topped with grilled portabello, eggplant and cauliflower; a balsamic reduction offered a nice flavor boost. I LOVE risotto and Big Solid doesn’t…so this was a special treat. AND the seasoning/flavor of the vegetable broth and therefore the body of the dish was just exquisite. I think I had a ‘tastegasm’. And once again, the presentation of the dish just added to the overall enjoyment. You know, when someone takes the time to not only make a dish good but also make it LOOK good, you’re doubly blessed. Sure is a sight better than “We can throw some sides together for you”.
Vegetable risotto with grilled portabello and cauliflower--HOLY COW IT WAS GOOD!!
Well, after that, we were so full we were all about to explode BUT Chef Z had ONE MORE SURPRISE up his very busy sleeve.  DESSERT!! And thank goodness, Justin was savvy enough to assure it did not go to waste by bringing us ALL forks and dessert plates.  So, the dessert was a Summer Berry Medley (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries filling four cinnamon biscuity thingies). I forgot what the clear sauce was but it was awesome. We jumped into that plate of lusciousness like sugar was a vitamin. That was the ONLY dish of the evening that we did not have enough left for the next day.
Summery Berry Stack...not a molecule was left!
So, I guess the moral to this ‘food-a-logue’ is that a wonderful vegan meal CAN be done in this area…we’ve already seen that to be the case and now we add another restaurant, City Grille, to our V-LIST. Chef Z commented that he is seriously considering adding items to the regular menu that can be veganized. We applaud that and hope it happens. So, thanks Chef Z for a wonderful evening and a delicious dinner. We most definitely will return!!
Chef Zack Atheran and the Elf, the HAPPY Elf!

Shannon aka SPIDEY-NURSE
As you will recall, a few weeks back, we introduced you to Shannon Hall; my buddy, my colleague (we were like joined at the hip for many years on the road and in the air working together) and my initial introduction to being vegetarian (see the entry of 5/28 titled “Counting Calories…Or Not”).  Facing some fairly significant health issues, Shannon lost 70 lbs by becoming vegetarian and incorporating exercise into her daily routine…and she did it as a road/air warrior. When you travel for work, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a challenge...

Well, life intervened with many changes (you know those top stressors) at once and a lot of the ground that was lost was regained. So SPIDEY-NURSE has embarked on a vegan and cleansing journey. And let me tell you, for a Wisconsin girl who loves her cheese…this is indeed a commitment. Shannon agreed to share her journey with us in hopes it would provide everyone who struggles daily with temptations and stress-relief eating the knowledge that they are not alone. Her first post was in our July 30 blog “Cooking My Ass Off and Lovin’ It” where she talks about the challenges of ‘getting it back’. We here at ToV hope to have posts from her frequently…you never know who this may help get something going for ‘theirownselves’!  BTW, the moniker SPIDEY-NURSE came from Shan's preternatural ability to sense care delivery issues and turn them into 'teaching moments' for care givers.

 So, thanks SPIDEY-NURSE and very dear pal. Here’s Shannon in her own words:
Two months down this gentler road has left me so much happier, and well slept! I must say, one of the most amazing things about the vegan lifestyle is how much better I sleep! I cannot explain the rationale for that, but after a healthy 9 hour nap like last night the whys don't seem to matter much. Lessons learned in the last two months?
  • You can serve carnivores a lot of things if you don't tell them it's vegan. Attending yet another golf party and finding myself not wanting to bring a container of hummus again, I dug around in Roberto Martin's "Vegan Cooking for Carnivores" and found a recipe for Beluga lentil caviar. I served this up on a pretty platter with vegan sour cream (vegan Mayo and lemon-I couldn't find the real thing!) and whole wheat pita pieces and a la kazaam! It was a hit!
  • Fresh garbanzo beans...fry/steam 'em, season 'em & shell 'em as you go! Awesome healthy I just have to find a consistent supplier!
  • Vegan or not, there are healthy choices and unhealthy choices and veganism can very well become "carbism" without a lot of conscious effort.
  • Gardein is far and away the best meat substitute I have ever tasted! I have given this to several carnivores who simply thought I was duping them. Again, this is a processed food, and so a conscious effort at moderation is necessary to avoid all the salts and other by-products used to make this taste SO good, but WOW! It is simply amazing. 
Am closing this blog entry on a sad note. Libby "Babalooie" Swearengen, rescued off the means streets of a major city and adopted by us in May 2009 at the age of 9 crossed that Rainbow Bridge Saturday September 13. It took her about 5 minutes to fix herself in our hearts that May and now we are dealing with that gaping hole her absence leaves. We knew nothing of her history but her personality did shed some light.  She was not affectionate in the usual sense of wanting to be held or petted. In fact, she hated that. She did not know how to play; she was not aggressive toward other dogs because frankly, my dear, she just didn't give a damn about them. She took FOREVER to eat because she had to think about what she was doing and she LOVED barking at the school bus. She adored her pink 'sweater' harness because it meant 'walk' but we never ever saw her wag her tail. Her MOST favorite spot in the world was on an old suitcase made into a window seat AND if one of the other rescues we had was in it, she would paw at my leg and whine until I made them get down and she could regain her rightful and most hallowed spot. She ws the most 'orneriest' dog EVER to try to give medicine to and she had her share of meds as she got older and older and frailer and frailer. But she always knew where I was and was in that space with me. Last night, I was awakened from my sleep by (and I could have SWORN it to be true) the sound Libby made when she scratched on the back door to be let in.  My heart went to my throat and tears pricked the backs of my eyes but I knew better. I prefer to think that she was tellin' me "Mom, I'm ok and well now. Thanks for those 5 years."
Libby, her pink 'sweater' and me--2012

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