The Waterford Harvest Festival: I bet you’re sorry you missed it NOW!

The Waterford Harvest Festival goes on for nine days at the beginning of each September and features many instructional sessions on subjects ranging from butter making and beekeeping to square-foot gardening and cooking demonstrations.

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I went for the last three days just to eat and learn more about the Grow It Yourself movement on Ireland. During the time, I attended an Irish beer and cheese tasting, a ten-course feast, and a day-long street market.

While in Waterford, I did eat very well indeed. The main thing I learned, however, is that the Irish seem to underestimate how good their food really is.

I believe that the real secret to Irish food lies mainly in the exceptional quality of available ingredients. That, and the ever-growing skill of local food artisans in showcasing that bounty. Nonetheless, there seems to be a sort of national low food-esteem that events like these have been organized to combat.

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At the beer tasting, for example, the presenters, Kevin Sheridan (right), a local cheesemonger, and Cormac O’Dwyer (left), founder of Dungarvan, a local brewery, were cast in the role of apparent revolutionaries addressing a surprisingly skeptical crowd.

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The basic mindset they seemed to be working to change was that foreign food and foreign ways were by definition “more proper.” They suggested this radical notion against a backdrop of some of the best cheeses, locally-made whole grain crackers, and beer I have ever encountered.

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My special favorites were the starter cheese–a delicate, almost fluffy-textured Triskell goat cheese–and the last beer we sampled–a very unusual and interesting new stout called, “Black Rock,” with far less chocolate and a bit more tobacco than most others I’ve tried. There was also a very versatile and pleasant, if somewhat typical, blond ale.

An audible grumble later echoed through the room, however, when brewer and cheese-guy suggested such fabulous beer could be paired with many foods even better than wine. Further, the presenters felt compelled to argue a person seen drinking beer with food should not be deemed lacking in refinement. From the reaction of the group, it appeared this was a radical proposition.

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The next day, at the feast, I asked my compatriots what they thought of paring beer with food. (We were all drinking it; in my case a different blonde ale from a brewer called “Metal Man.”) Almost to a man, they would favor wine for the sake appearances and even seemed a bit uncomfortable eating the cheese course while drinking beer in such a group setting.

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The feast was magnificent, though laced with foreign influence–particularly, that of the French. The starter, for example, was charcuterie. And it was fabulous with Irish pork chorizo, prosciutto, and other sausages along with a pate that reminded me of south Louisiana hog head cheese. And to finish was the aforementioned cheese course.

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But by then, I was too full to continue as in between, there had been a mixed grill featuring trout, lamb, beef burgers, bacon pork chops, and sausage. Mmmmmm. And after that, fresh berries with lovely cream. I also vaguely recall gorgeous vegetables, but as I mentioned earlier, there was this ale….

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After such a display of quality and abundance, I am firmly convinced the Irish can and will take their proper place among the great cuisines and food exporters of Europe–especially with events like as this. Rather like Louisiana’s efforts to market their food in the 1980s, first, you must convince the locals. Once that is accomplished, and the producers are ready, the right marketing will easily demonstrate to the world what I discovered last weekend–that Ireland is a great food destination!

(Oh, and a special shout-out to Boho Kitchens, which is a couple of young Floridians transplanted to Waterford who make the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever eaten! Much love.)

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Rawr!

The Sunday Market along the South Quay:

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Murphy’s Ice Cream has changed what I mean when I say “creamy”

Finding Murphy’s Ice Cream meant crossing the Liffey River from the suits and order of downtown straight into throngs of foreign tourists, religious figures, pan handlers, gypsies (pardon me: Romani), and hawkers of goods and services appealing to all of the aforementioned–then hanging a right.

Along a relatively quiet side street is a small shop serving ice cream that would change the way I defined several terms I thought I knew the meaning of. Terms like creamy, fresh, smooth, and satisfying.

An Irish food blogger, I can has cook recommended the brown bread flavor, so I had a small cup of it to start. He wasn’t wrong.

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The cream comes from Dingle, I was later told, as I’m sure, did all the dairy. That local sourcing showed in the indescribably fabulous flavor range and mouth feel of this magical stuff.

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You see, I hadn’t ever before experienced ice cream as refreshing. Cold, sure, but that’s not the same thing.

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The same with “creamy.” Apparently, I had confused that with a certain mouth coating quality. Not the same thing.

This stuff even had Haagen Das beaten, notwithstanding HD’s emphasis on simplicity and texture. As it turns out, nothing can beat Ireland at dairy. Nothing.

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As an added bonus, there was an audit going on while I was there. And audits mean free ice cream for the American blogger who chats up the corporate representative from Dingle itself.

In this instance, the young ice cream server was being tested on his ability to produce a peanut caramel sundae topped with whipped cream. OMG! I’d say he passed.

As delicious as the whole of the sundae was, this little (Read: huge) bonus also gave me the opportunity to analyze its components. The caramel was the most buttery and flavorful you can imagine; the whipped cream, light, and again, fresh.

Murphy’s Ice Cream taught me many things I never expected about how delightful dairy desserts can truly be. I may never eat American ice cream again! (Yeah, right.)

Rawr!

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Overall:
Five bones

Food:
Five bones

Ambiance:
Five bones

(Warning: little bones pics may be added later. I don’t know why that necessitates a warning but it seemed amusing at the time.)

Stones Throw Bar & Grill–an Oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Perhaps it’s unfair that Stones Throw Bar & Grill exists in the former Standard Bistro site, within fairly easy driving distance of Highland Avenue a/k/a the Birmingham Foodie District. In any other town where I’ve lived, except possibly New Orleans, this would easily be the best restaurant around.

When compared with restaurants run by perennial James Beard nominees, Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings, or even 2011 semi-finalist, Chris du Pont (a New Orleans import), however, Stones Throw pales–but only just a bit. And for Mt. Laurel, the developer-created-small-town just off Highways 41and 280 in North Shelby County, this place is an oasis in a desert of country-come-to-suburbia pizza and hamburgers.

It is fine dining in a relaxed and decidedly “unstuffy” establishment. And if you chose to dine on their patio, you will enjoy a serenity and quality of air the aforementioned places, in their very urban settings, cannot approach.

The food ain’t bad either. In fact, it’s really very good. My dining companion and I were eating a fairly restricted diet this evening so we ordered virtually the same meal–a green salad featuring local produce and a braised lamb shank on a bed of wilted spinach instead of minted risotto (the latter of which sounded amazing, BTW).

A generous selection of rustic bread preceded the salad. The hearts of baby romaine forming the salad’s foundation were perfectly light, crisp, and unblemished. It was topped by perfect proportions of blue cheese, bacon, walnuts, and cucumber with a light drizzle of blue cheese dressing, although my companion substituted balsamic vinaigrette.

The lamb shanks were also generously proportioned–think: Yabba-Dabba-Do time–without being embarrassing. The meat was tender and without a trace of “wild” flavor, which to me indicates it likely originated in New Zealand where ranchers butcher lambs smaller than their American counterparts. The spinach wilted in EVOO was tasty and perfectly textured, just as you’d expect from a chef of this caliber.

If you’d ever eaten at the Standard Bistro, you’ll find the decor not much changed. It’s a modern interpretation of an elegant dining room furnished the 1920’s, appropriately set in the retro-styled Town of Mt. Laurel. But as I really enjoyed the space before, I rather glad they kept it as it was. The service was really very good–attentive, timely, and accommodating without hovering.

All in all, if you are looking for a change of atmosphere in your fine dining or live in North Shelby, Stones Throw Bar & Grill will easily become one of your favorite haunts, if it isn’t already.

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