Monday, September 16, 2013

Delightful Dining in Columbus, Georgia

On a recent trip to Georgia with good pal, Judy Wells, we did some great dining in the city of Columbus. That's Columbus in Georgia, near the state border with Alabama!

Cannon Brewpub Salad
First stop was the military themed Cannon Brewpub  for lunch of salad and beer. The chicken-topped spinach salads were fresh, tangy and had just the right amount of salad dressing. We discovered local Red Jacket beer with its malty taste and mild hop quite to our liking.

After a stormy late afternoon, we chose Downstairs at the Loft- an uptown kind of place located downtown. We started with fried artichoke hearts in lemon basil butter - rather sensuous. I ordered salmon over sautéed spinach and Judy had unstuffed chicken with vegetables. Both meals were decadently delightful.
Downstairs at the Loft

The next morning started the day at Iron Bank Coffee, an old bank building converted into an eclectic coffee shop. If you desire, sit at a table inside the vault. I desired a cinnamon roll and had it heated until the glaze oozed down the sides.  Perfect with a cappuccino!

Following breakfast, we checked out the rapids along the white water rafting course and then toured the Oxbow Environmental Center. Don't miss the surprising treetop walkway.

Then we toured the Last 100 Yards in the National Infantry Museum, a very emotional experience . Afterward we felt deeply indebted to the military who have served our country. To lighten the mood, we decided to try on uniforms and hats, then shoot rifles on a simulated humvee course. We highly recommend this very fun high-tech experience.

Country's on Broadway
We ran a little late for lunch, but no worries. Country's on Broadway prepared mouth watering barbecue in a flash. Drinks came in quart size mason jars and sides were southern specialties like collards, black eyed peas and skillet apples.

After lunch we zipped over the bridge to Whitewater Express for rafting.  Thrills but thankfully no spills, this urban whitewater course is very cool.  We enjoyed a  little down time and a shower  and were once again prepped for the evening.  This time it was a splurge on fine dining. We picked
Meritage on 1st Avenue, a locally owned and operated dinner restaurant, wine and martini bar and lunch time deli cafe.  

Sea Bass at Meritage
Faye Simmons, the owner greeted us, making us feel like we were dinner guests in her own home.  She suggested a few wines and let me assure you, Faye knows wine; she's a Certified Sommelier (2010) with the Court of Master Sommeliers and Certified Specialist of Wine (2011) with the Society of Wine Educators. I was impressed that one could order some very pricey choices by the ounce.  How clever to experience the taste a renowned vintage when one could never afford to buy the entire bottle.

Faye's daughter, Ashley Simmons Parsi-Garciana, is the executive chef and indeed, an excellent one.

My meal began with baby spinach, crumbled Goat Cheese, sliced oven roasted golden beets, candied pecans, grape tomatoes and a house citrus vinaigrette.
Fine dining at Meritage

The entree of seared and oven roasted Chilean Sea bass was exquisite- moist, flakey and over the top with a dollop of peach chutney and sweet potato hay- the thinnest crunchiest strands of fried sweet potato.  (My guess is they cook these for only a few seconds.) We couldn't pass up dessert: steamed lemon pudding cake with colorful blueberry coulis. 

Meritage  is a grand addition to the walkable city of Columbus and after that meal I needed a walk. I meandered through the historic house district and along the RiverWalk, which couldn't be a nicer way to end an evening.  

Display Cast at Bitter Brick
Off to Warm Springs the next morning, but not before we stopped at Bitter Brick for breakfast. They call the restaurant a cocoa, coffee and wine retreat. I call it my kind of place!  I devoured fresh peach French toast which was tasty enough to make me say, "Bazinga."  Judy enjoyed an egg and bacon biscuit. I am positive we left Columbus about two pounds heavier but very satisfied.  

Thanks to the Columbus Convention and Visitor's Bureau for hosting us in their city. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

South Beach Diet Vegetable Moussaka

Every once in a while I get a mood to cook something a little more involved and decided to try this recipe from a South Beach Diet cookbook.  Nothing about the preparation is difficult or tricky, just requires some time.  Little did I realize I would end up washing a cookie sheet, frying pan, saucepan and lid, large measuring cup, cutting board, cheese grater, nutmeg grinder, the garlic peeler and slicer, a whisk, assorted knives and stirring spoons.  My kitchen was disaster by the time I put the casserole in the over, but the results were worth it.  This recipe makes a hearty dish, layered with flavors and great for leftovers.  Yes, I'll make it again someday. 

Vegetable Moussaka

South Beach Diet Vegetable Moussaka

From The South Beach Diet Super Charged Cookbook
For Phase One


1 large eggplant (about 1 1/4 lbs), ends trimmed, cut widthwise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-oz) can lentils, drained- I used dried lentils and cooked them according to the package directions.
1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes, with juices
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half
2 large eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg


Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Lightly coat eggplant slices with cooking spray and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake until softened and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add lentils, tomatoes, and their juices, parsley, oregano, cinnamon, salt, and a pinch of pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 20 minutes.

While eggplant and lentils are cooking, in a medium bowl, whisk together half-and-half, eggs, 2 tblsp of the cheese, and nutmeg.

Lightly coat an 8- by 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange one-third of the eggplant slices in a single layer in the dish. Spread half of the lentil mixture over the top. Repeat with remaining eggplant and lentil mixture, ending with a layer of eggplant. Pour half-and-half mixture over vegetables and sprinkle with remaining 2 tblsp cheese. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake moussaka, covered, 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until heated through and golden on top. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm.

Moussaka prior to baking