Taste of Boca

Taste of Boca

■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE

Another February is about to come around, and with it comes the ever-popular Taste of Boca Grande. This year 17 restaurants will be setting up their tables under the big tent at the Boca Bay Pass Club, many from right here on the island and more than a few from the immediate area off-island. Don’t forget, the tasting starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m., with dancing in between to music provided by the Brett Foreman Band.

Tickets are $125 and can be purchased online at hcfb.yapsody.com or by contacting the BRC Group (located in the old Bike n Beach building on Park Avenue) at 964-8180, the Boca Beacon at 964-2995 (Park Avenue above Gasparilla Outfitters), The Boca Bay Pass Club (south end of island on Gulf Blvd.) at 964-0769, the Boca Grande Club (north end of the island, 5800 Gasparilla Rd.) at 964-2211, Michael Saunders & Co. (420 E. Railroad Ave.) at 964-2000 or at Prime Time Steak & Spirits (off island on Placida Road at Rotonda West Blvd.)

Let’s jump right into some scrumptious descriptions of the fare provided by six of our restaurants. This will be the first installment of three surrounding the “Taste” menu so if you’re favorite restaurant isn’t listed here you’ll have to keep reading in the weeks to come. Here we go.

Coral Creek Club

Chef Timothy Fain

(941) 697-1683

Short Ribs and Crab Cakes

Chef Timothy will be coming at you live at Taste with some real goodies this year. His short ribs will be bourbon apple cider braised and served with a homemade whipped, roasted, garlic mashed potato, and served with veal jus. He will also be bringing colossal lump crab cakes to the party, complete with homemade lemon Cajun aioli.

Ribs and apples go together like Valium and marriage, in case you didn’t know. In fact by the turn of the 18th century New England was producing more than 300,000 gallons of cider a year, and you can bet your bottom short rib some of that liquid goodness was being poured over some sort of meat, as the cost of sugar was too prohibitive and apple cider seemed to perform the same task. Pig and cattle farmers have used rotten apples as pig slops for years as well, and if the pigs or cows roamed freely in the wild apples were their favorite food next to acorns. Apples are ripe in the fall, which is also when food animals were culled by farmers to put on ice for enjoyment during the winter months, and it was widely believed that animals having apples as their last meal seemed to sweeten the meat and give it a hint of apple taste.

Germans have braised their pork with German cider, also known as Apfelwein (apple wine) for many years and they have perfected using it with sauerkraut and roast pork.

Because a majority of the meat on many food animals can be dry (unless you’re getting the primo cuts), many people have even used applesauce to slather their mountains of meaty pleasure, and apple cider is also used to combat that dryness during the cooking process.

Garlic whipped potatoes with a bit of veal jus will be complementing Chef Timothy’s ribs as well, and who in their right mind doesn’t love a nice mashed potato? In fact, though, the history of the mashed potato is murky at best. Some trace the practice of tuber smashing back to the Inca Indians in Peru way back in 5,000 B.C., but it is easy to imagine that the mashing might have just been a logical way to use up every bit of one’s potato stock … even the mushy ones.

The first mashed potatoes as we know them today showed up in print in the mid-18th century when Hannah Glasse wrote her book “The Art of Cookery.” There are others who claim that Antoine Parmentier promoted the use of potatoes in France in the late 1700s.

When you hear the term “colossal lump crab cakes,” do you hear it in an echo-y, monster truck announcer type of voice? OK, maybe that’s just me. I digress.

If you’ve ever wondered the difference between your plain, run-of-the-mill crab meat and the colossal crab meat, here it is: The colossal crab meat is taken from the two largest muscles connected to the back of the swimming legs of a crab (you can tell by the fact they’re the shaven ones, and are very well defined). The lumps in colossal grade crab meat are bigger than those in the jumbo lump category, and this is one of those times when big lumps in food are a good thing. Chef Timothy’s crab cakes are served with homemade lemon Cajun aioli, which is a sauce made with garlic, egg yolk, olive and vegetable oil, Creole mustard, vinegar, pepper and salt.

Eagle Grille and Miller’s Dockside

Chef Antonio Olivero

(941) 964-8000

Blue Mussels Sauté with Heirloom beans & Cantinpalo Chorizo

Gasparilla Shrimp & Grits

Ah, the mighty mussel. Chef Olivero will be cooking them up at Taste, and boy are they good for you. High in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, mussels have been consumed since people began. The Romans called them “musculus,” which is kind of creepy because that means “little mouse” … but don’t let that throw you. Italians call them “muscolos” for the simple reason that when you’re eating mussels, you’re really eating muscles. Would you believe an Irishman created the first mussel farm in France in 1235? Patrick Walton was his name, and he had a never-ending series of misfortune events that has placed him in the annals of history. As soon as his farm was established he became highly unpopular with the French police of the area, so much so that he had to flee in a boat … which wrecked … and he had to try to catch sea birds to feed himself while he was stranded in the boat’s wreckage. While he wasn’t the first to corner the mussel market, he is the best remembered by the French who really didn’t like him at all, and for the fact he also was the creator of the flat-bottomed boat named an acon, used to harvest the mussels he so lovingly nourished prior to his abrupt departure from France.

Served with Chef Olivero’s blue mussels will be heirloom beans, another amazing source of fiber and protein. While they were first cultivated in North America about 2,500 years ago, people are just now beginning to find out their value with the rise in interest in vegan diets.

Heirloom beans really are different than your average bean. The yield to a crop is far less than regular beans, which means their value is greater. Some of the original bean crops found through archeological research were in tombs of ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Fava beans date back to 10,000 years ago in the Mediterranean.

The mussels dish will be topped with cantimpalo chorizo, which means “sausage made in Cantimpalo, Spain” (it always sounds more intriguing when you don’t break it down into English). This dish has a meaty, smoky flavor that seriously melds well with any meat dish.

But we’re not done yet. Chef Olivero also will be serving something he calls “Gasparilla Shrimp & Grits,” which includes Andouille, sweet peppers, corn grits and a homemade Creole sauce. One of the first people to glamorize the process of eating tiny sea monsters was Marco Polo, and in 1280 he realized the Chinese had it going on in the taste category when it came to seafood. He loved him some shrimp and frequently wrote about the many ways they were prepared in China. Now in the United States we harvest more than 650 million pounds of shrimp a year, more than any other country in the world.

Shrimp and grits somehow got together with Muskogee Native American tribesmen who would use corn pone, or grits, to bulk up their meals. Americans in the southern states from the Carolinas to Louisiana who live in the “grit belt” of the country are very proud of this dish, and it changes from region to region as you travel. Now we are proud to say we have our very own shrimp and grits entrée, thanks to Chef Olivero.

Howard’s Restaurant

Chef Cyndi Sterling

(941) 473-0171

Mini Paella, mini creme brulee cheesecake

Chef Cyndi Sterling will have one of the most popular booths at Taste with her mini paella this year, I can guarantee it. Utilizing lots of seafood like wild Atlantic haddock, shrimp, clams and mussels and incorporating chorizo cooked in a saffron-flavored rice, many people will love everything about this dish.

Paella is another one of those foods that was created by starving people who had very little food, but is now considered a delicacy. It was created in Valencia, Spain centuries ago by peasants who gave it its name because it’s cooked in a pan (also known as a paella in Valencia). Once rice was being grown in Spain, people realized they could do just about anything with it. Cook it with rabbit, cook it with duck, cook it with snails or seafood and it all tastes fabulous. Not to mention, rice is an excellent source of fiber so it creates a “stick to your ribs” meal.

The people of Valencia made their paella a community effort, often standing around an open fire on Sundays and having everyone contribute a little something to the pan. When it was done the custom was to eat it directly from the pan, with everyone having their own spoon.

Saffron is an important ingredient in paella, as it gives the dish a nice taste and a deep yellow color. It is also very expensive now, but was quite prevalent in Spain in its hayday.

So many countries have laid claim to inventing crème brûlée, one would think it was the world’s favorite dessert. The recipe showed up in written documentation in France in 1691, but England, Spain and France have all claimed to have invented the custard dish. Burnt crème was a very popular dessert in 17th century England, served as an egg custard and flavored with a lemon peel and cinnamon. It was also topped with a thick layer of sugar that was seared and caramelized with a tool called a salamander, which is a flat disk made of iron on the end of a long handle and heated in a fire. In America the dessert turned up in 1824 in Mary Randolph’s cookbook. In 1985, the New York Times wrote, “If there were a New York dessert of the year award, the 1985 ribbon would go to crème brûlée, or burnt cream, which has appeared on countless menus in both French and American restaurants. I am not sure how a dish that has been consumed for centuries in Europe without great fanfare… has suddenly achieved such fame in America, but it has.”

Loose Caboose Restaurant

Chef Jacques Boudreau

(941) 964-0440

Jerk chicken with rice and peas, bread pudding with cinnamon brandy glaze

No, the chicken will not be cross with you and angrily throw his cigarette butt in your convertible. Chef Jacques would never his poultry to act in such a way.

When we say “jerk” chicken in this manner, it means it is flavor infused in a style that comes from the country of Jamaica. Typically the chef would use a marinade or paste that includes some spice and hot peppers, and holes are poked in the meat to give it a fuller flavor. Chef Jacques has perfected his technique, no question about it.

The word “charqui,” a Spanish term for jerked or dried meat, is the origin of the term. In pre-slavery days of Cormantee hunters of West Africa, through the Maroons, this technique was learned. This was sometime around 1655, but could have been earlier.

In jerk cooking timing is everything. The slower the meat is cooked, the more flavor infused it becomes.

In year’s past we have recapped exactly how bread pudding came into existence, but let’s refresh. This dish came from a time when it was a sin to throw away stale bread. They would soak it in milk, add some sort of sweetening, then baking the whole thing.

Of course, Chef Jacques Boudreau will create an amazing homage to this traditional dish, with his signature touches that include cinnamon brandy glaze.

PJ’s Seagrille

Chef JT Turner

(941) 964-0806

Chef JT’s special seafood chowder

Chef JT Turner has been known far and wide as a truly great Boca Grande chef, a fact his patrons at PJ’s Seagrille can attest to. He can turn something as simple as grouper corn chowder into something that can transform your taste buds and leave you talking about it for days.

Chowder is an interesting dish that has fed the poorer folks of this nation for centuries. While many people first think of New England when they hear the word, it was actually created in the fishing culture of Newfoundland. Hundreds of years ago Breton fishermen returned home to Bordeaux or Brittany with their catch to find their wives sitting at home with the kids. When they asked what was for dinner, the wives shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Just make something with what you have.”

That last part isn’t exactly true. The wives would actually mix up huge pots of hot food for the fishermen who returned, but because pickings were slim they had to find a way to make the odds and ends of food that they had into something tasty. With a milk base (or water and flour paste) they could slow-cook vegetables and meat bits and turn it into something rib-sticking for the men who hadn’t had a hot meal in a long time.

New England’s culinary history is marked by a varying array of chowders. Early forms were thick and layered, but the adaptability of this beloved recipe has allowed for a multitude of tasty preparations to emerge. Thick or thin, brimming with fish or clams or corn, chowder springs up throughout the region in as many distinctive varieties as there are ports of call yet always remains the quintessential expression of New England cuisine. Food writers and chowder connoisseurs Robert S. Cox and Jacob Walker dish out the history, flavors and significance of every New Englander’s favorite comfort food.

The word “chowder” originated from the Latin word “calderia,” which meant “a place to warm food.” Later it was used as the word for a cooking pot, and then became “caldron.” The French made the word “chaudiere,” and the Old English culture took it a step further and called it a “jowter.”

Maybe chowder was a simple poor man’s food centuries ago, but it has been taken to magical heights since then.

While chowder frequently has a seafood component, there are always those vegetarians out there who want something hearty as well, and corn chowder is just the ticket.

Of course, when you add grouper and other seafood to the mix it turns into something otherwordly.

Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro

Chef Carson Shiro

(941) 474-9500

Seafood cocktail, pork belly,  goat cheese panna cotta

The word “cocktail” was coined in New Orleans many decades ago by an apothecary called Peychaud, after they served a mixed brandy drink in a French eggcup. The French word for egg cup is “coquetier.” Still don’t see the correlation? Eventually the drink name was shortened to “cocktay” and eventually became cocktail as we know it today.

While Americans have been eating shrimp for hundreds of years, it wasn’t an easy treat to find until shrimp became available in cans, just after the Civil War. Mention of the word “cocktail” in correlation to food in a glass was first recorded officially in 1905, in the Fitchburg, Massachusetts Sentinel when it was written, “The shrimp and the cocktail made of small California oysters are novelties to most visitors. Here no meal is properly begun without them.” Another reference was made in the San Antonio Light and Gazette in 1910 that said, “A silent toast was drunk standing to the honored dead of the association. There was also a toast to the ladies and to the absent members. The following menu was served: Fresh shrimp cocktail …”

According to some lore, the seafood cocktail became very popular in Boston in 1941, but it wasn’t really quite the same as the cocktail we know. Back then, though, to order a seafood cocktail was more of a hazing ritual than anything else, as Bostonians took leftover seafood and added whatever leftover bits and pieces of herbs and spices that were in the kitchen, then threw in some vodka. Because, why not, apparently.

In Great Britain the prawn cocktail was very popular in the 1960s, and that popularity carried back over to the United States at that time (possibly because of the “British Invasion,” when everyone in America wanted to be British again). Now it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have this standard tried-and-true appetizer, particularly when living in Florida.

Ironically, one English food writer named Nigel Slater described the seafood cocktail as having “spent most of its life see-sawing from the height of fashion to the laughably passé,” and since then it has been served in Great Britain with a bit of hang-doggedness and irony.

If you walk up to a pig and give it a good rub on its tummy, you have just rubbed the pork belly. This is vastly different than rubbing Buddha’s belly, for while one will smile serenely at you and promise you good luck, the other could get you in a world of hurt that is complete with razor-tusked porcine nightmares.

That being said, the relationship between pigs and humans predates almost every other when it comes to food animals. While many thought that pigs (and dogs, believe it or not) were too unclean for table or hearth there is still evidence that poor people throughout the world have been eating pigs as far back as 9000 B.C. There is evidence that our cave-dwelling genetic predecessors were pigging out on some swine as far back as 13,000 B.C.

Pig consumption seemed to have begun in Asia, branched out to the Near East and then, eventually, on to Europe. We can thank the Spaniards for introducing pigs to our neck of the woods, and since this country was first populated people have been keeping a pig or two around their cabin. They were usually turned loose to fatten up in a feral manner during the warmer months, then collected in the late fall to eventually end up on the dinner table.

Pliny himself has mentioned in his Natural History that pigs “have almost 50 flavors, whereas all other meats have one each.”

If you’re a fan of the Little House on the Prairie books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder like I am, you might remember how Laura described pig butchering time. Not one scrap of that pig was put to waste, and almost every part can be consumed. They even used the dried bladder as a balloon they batted around at playtime, and could scarcely wait for their parents to crisp the severed tail over the fire so they could taste its fatty goodness.

The pork belly, as we said earlier, comes from the underside of the pig but not necessarily just the stomach. It is the flesh that runs along the entire underside of the pig, to be exact. It may sound just like bacon to you, but while most bacon is cured, smoked and sliced the pork belly meat doesn’t conform as much as that.

Chefs actually consider pork belly to be preferable to bacon when cooking. Pork belly has awesome, juicy layers of fat wrapped around the meat and usually melts in your mouth if prepared correctly.

What is goat cheese panna cotta? Chef Shiro will be handing it out at Taste this year, and it’s definitely worth a try if you’ve never had it. Panna cotta is actually an Italian dessert made of sweetened cream, thickened with gelatin. Often times the cream used is flavored, sweetened or aromatized, but when you’re dealing with goat cheese panna cotta you barely need to mess with it.

The next logical question one would ask is, “How do you milk a goat?” These somewhat- surly-seeming creatures don’t seem like they would stand complacently by and let someone grab their body appendages and start yanking, so we looked it up. The first step the experts list is to “get the goat on a milking stand and secure it to a stanchion, then give it some grain to eat.”

Immediately after reading this I could visualize things heading south on the farm. Goats spit, and quite often use epithets as a weapon. They eat hair, and they kick people. This is a sport for the manliest of men, I would think.

The description of how to milk a goat goes on for nine more steps, including one step that says, “promptly milk the goat into a sanitized bucket, being careful not to pull on the teats.” I thought the pulling was the whole point, which is why I decided after reading that that I wouldn’t be going anywhere near a goat teat any time in the near future. But then I read this, further down: “If you take too long to milk, the goat may start dancing or causing other mischief.” Well if that’s not a gauntlet thrown down I don’t know what is. If you need me, you can find me somewhere around Arcadia, trying to silently creep into a goat pasture to try to make ‘em dance. Wish me luck.