When in Door County, WI, act like a Bier Zot

A what?

from B.C., Johnny Hart

No, not that Zot.

Translated from the Flemish: Bier = Beer   Zot = Idiot or Crazy :  To be a Beer Idiot or someone Crazy for Beer who goes to the Bier Zot Beer Cafe in Sister Bay, Door County, Wisconsin.

Bier Zot front door ( that space in the right side of picture is Wild Tomato 2 Restaurant) , Menu pic

We discovered this fun place last Friday but it has been there since 2014. We’re a bit slow sometimes. The Bier Zot is a Belgian style Beer Cafe that serves 11 drafts, one cask and 100 bottles of craft and Belgian beers. Couple this with a “European inspired” menu and you’ve got a tasty combination. The restaurant has casual pub style decor with outdoor seating as well.

Now the only way we found this place was through another restaurant, Wild Tomato, owned by the same people, Britt & Sara Unkefer. That restaurant in Fish Creek (further down on the peninsula) serves really great wood fired pizza. We did a short post on it in 2010. Last year the owners decided to open Wild Tomato 2 alongside their Bier Zot so while stopping for pizza at the new location we discovered it (the entrances share a hallway.) On this latest trip our destination was definitely Bier Zot, no pizza distraction.

Once seated the Beer Board offered an interesting selection. The waitress helped us navigate through it. There were full descriptions of the beers in the menu as well.

Curt went with the Ommegang Rosetta, a sour beer that I find hard to take by itself but it goes very well with food. I wanted something in the pale ale range and she suggested Boulevard Tropical Pale (half pour please). On both of these we were allowed a sample before committing to a glass. Our friend Carol was with us and she went with the Ommegang as well.

Ommegang Rosetta and Boulevard Tropical Pale

Next up, food. Now Bier Zot describes itself as a European inspired cafe and for the most part that is true. I saw a lot of German influence ( Thursday night was actually German Night) but there was French influence and some just creative cuisine as well. Find their menu here.

I went with the Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich. Schnitzel is just a pounded, seasoned and breaded meat that is fried. I am sure you are familiar with Wiener Schnitzel which is a breaded veal cutlet. My Chicken Schnitzel was served on a pretzel bun with greens, a yellow heirloom tomato and Dijon horseradish sauce. I liked it.Carol chose the Bier Zot Bratwurst. This was their house recipe brat on pretzel bun accompanied by sauerkraut and Dijon mustard. We can only assume they make these on the premises because it was extra long and it fit the bun, sort of. It had a taste and found it milder than many Wisconsin brats, more like a veal sausage.  I am ordering that next time. Finally Curt started out with a half-dozen Washington State oysters, which seems to be a new addition to the menu, pending availability. He followed that with the Aubergine Zacusca. This was grilled eggplant with tomato, greens, shallots, basil chevré and ground cumin on Naan. Our server told us this was concocted by a former staff member who is Muslim and had a hard time finding anything Halal in the kitchen.  It was a success and  found a permanent home on the menu.  It was excellent.

You can tell we passed our dishes around so everyone could get a taste. Hmm, maybe I’ll have this one next time.All in all it was a very enjoyable lunch and we will return.

One more thing. It took us a minute to figure out what the wooden tables were constructed from…..can you see it? Bleachers. Sturdy and a good reuse. In case you don’t feel like an idiot, Zot can also be translated from Albanian as “god”.  Beer idiot?  Beer god?  Maybe there’s not much difference between the two.

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Oysters on Chuckanut

view3Oysters on Chuckanut?  Is that a variation on the famous hors-d’oeuvre, Angels on Horseback?  Or, maybe some obscure British pub savory like Toad in the Hole.  Or, possibly a dessert even more obscure than Spotted Dick?

More precisely, it’s The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive in Bow, Washington where we had more great food, more great views and more time with friends. But first, a bit about The Oyster Bar because I did a little homework.

During the Great Depression, the Rockpoint Oyster Company built an oyster shack between a cliff and Washington State’s first scenic highway, Chuckanut Drive. Here, oysters were sold by the plant manager, Mr. Maekawa, to the travelers that passed by. The little stand did so well a lunch counter was added and the Rockpoint Oyster Restaurant was born. But Maekawa’s family was interned during World War II and the restaurant sat empty from 1942-1946.

When Otto Amos bought the restaurant in 1946 his wife renamed it the Oyster Bar and they coined the slogan “The oysters that we serve today slept last night in Samish Bay.” The menu consisted of deep fried oysters and a ham dish. It was sold in 1954, major renovations were made, and the menu now included prawns, scallops, fish and chips and clam chowder.oldoyster barSince 1970 it has been bought and sold a couple of times and given a makeover in structure, the menu and the wine selections.

The Oyster Bar (2015)

The Oyster Bar (2015)

We were introduced to The Oyster Bar about 5 years ago when we were visiting our friends, Pam and Kenn, in Bellingham. As an afternoon diversion with our Green Bay foodie friends, Barb and Micheal, they suggested that we take a drive down Chuckanut Drive and have lunch at The Oyster Bar.  Well, the drive was spectacular, in part because of the view of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands; in part, because of the breath-taking, sometimes white knuckle, curving road; and, in part, because of the precipitous, densely forested rise on the inland side and an equally precipitous and attention getting drop-off on the Bay side of the road.  About halfway between Fairhaven and Bow, The Oyster Bar is delicately perched on a steep cliff at a wide spot in the road with barely enough room to park a car between the roadway and the restaurant.

On this trip, because it is one of her favorite restaurants, Pam made reservations for all of us to go there for dinner. Once inside the restaurant you feel like you’re dining in a tree house because the view out the windows is nothing but trees and bay.  Here is a peek of the view from our table, that’s our friend Kenn in the corner enjoying the evening.

View from The Oyster Bar

View from The Oyster Bar

Once we pulled ourselves away from the view, we concentrated on the menu. Our waiter was very knowledgeable and steered us to a nice German Reisling to start things off. Not to dry, not too sweet. Something for every taste at the table.

A German Reisling

This was followed by appetizers all around.

row 1: crab cakes, gravlax row 2: raw oysters, mixed seasonal greens

row 1: crab cakes, gravlax
row 2: raw oysters, mixed seasonal greens

Curt, of course, had the oysters which he thoroughly enjoyed.  The high point of the oyster presentation was that little cup of a hard cider mignonette granita.  It was so refreshing and unexpected that, even though he normally takes his shellfish au naturale, he actually added some of the mignonette to his oysters this time.  I thought the salad, a combination of greens, toasted walnuts, blue cheese, red onions, gala apples, red grapes and a maple cider viniagrette, was fabulous. The gravlax disappointed. The salmon was very good but there was just too much goat cheese which overpowered the fish and most of which went uneaten. More on the crab cakes later.

After much laughter and talk and more wine being ordering, our entrees arrived. First up, Fresh Alaskan Halibut.

Halibut

Halibut

Pam and Barbara ordered this dish and found it delicate and perfectly cooked. The braised rhubarb and rosemary gastrique on top was a special addition. Going around the table, Kenn was next with Steak and Maine Lobster Tail.

Surf & Turf a la The Oyster Bar

Surf & Turf a la The Oyster Bar

I thought the presentation was interesting. This little tower didn’t last long once Kenn started to eat. I am not sure of the topping. From the picture it looks like pine nuts and maybe onion?

Michael ordered the special, Rockfish.

Rockfish

Rockfish

He described it as a very firm fleshed fish. As you can see by this picture and others, the vegetable of the evening was small new potatoes, steamed carrot, brussel sprouts and squash. Each entree also came with a starter of watermelon sorbet and a cheese souffle, see it up there above the rockfish?

Curt was next with, what else…the Fresh Local Oyster Fry!fried oysters?Not as pretty as the other dishes but he said they were great. They had a crispy parmesan breadcrumb crust and the dipping sauce was a creamy sour apple aoili.

Lastly, I had the Oyster Bar Crab Cakes ( from the entree menu). crabcakesPretty much the same as the appetizer, but a little bigger: Dungeness crab, Jonah crab, celery and onion cakes with a mango chutney. The chutney was a nice sweet addition along with the curried aoili.  And of course the vegetables of the day.

So if you are in Washington State, up near Bellingham, and someone says, “Let’s have oysters on Chuckanut”, run, don’t walk, to The Oyster Bar. Make sure you have good friends with you.

Small Plates

We don’t normally do restaurant reviews per se, but we recently ate at one that we think is worth mention.  We were in Chicago on a short holiday and, as is our want, we sought out someplace interesting to eat. The concierge at our hotel had several recommendations.  One choice, Girl and the Goat, had no openings (Girl and the Goat is a destination restaurant and we obviously hadn’t planned ahead) and some of the others sounded pedestrian even though they have generally good reputations (Italian Village?). But one, sounded right up our alley – Tavernita, a Mediterranean/Latin restaurant the features small plates (and we later found out, named one of the top 20 new restaurants for 2012).

Now, restaurants that feature small plates are like tapas bars; there are fewer but more complex choices (some tapas menus can be overwhelming), the plates are a bit larger and the menus are a bit more organized.  The key ideas, though, are you share and the orders come out of the kitchen as they are ready (i.e. they don’t come out in any structured sequence).  The dishes are put in the center of the table and everyone digs in.  This works well for couples or small groups but can be a problem for larger groups.  The obvious advantage for the diner is that you don’t have one plate of a single entree and you don’t have to beg your table partners for a taste off their plate – everyone shares.   The unspoken advantage is you don’t get stuck with a plate full of food that sounded good on the menu but leaves something to be desired when it’s on the plate in front of you.  However, if you choose really well, it’s quickly gone and you have to move on to the next plate having only had a bite or two.

Our menu choices started out with something we didn’t order.  An amuse bouche compliments of our concierge (I guess it pays to tip the concierge).  Shooters of a cold cream of corn soup and a truffled corn fritter.  The soup was rich, dense and luscious – almost in the realm of a dessert between its creaminess and the sweetness of the corn.

Kumamoto Oysters • Guajillo chile sauce

I ordered some Kumamoto oysters which were served with a Guajillo chile sauce.  I’ve had Kumamoto’s in Washington state and they are wonderful.  These, although very fresh and tasty, were pretty small – maybe in keeping with the small plates theme.

Escalivada • eggplant, red peppers, hazelnut romesco, goat cheese, crostini

Next up was Escalivada, fire roasted eggplant and red pepper, hazelnut romesco and goat cheese (not specified beyond that) and crostini.  The eggplant and romesco, smokey, sweet and nutty, were terrific together but I thought the cheese was a bit strong and overwhelmed the other flavors.  Jeanne on the other hand liked the cheese.  On the whole, a great combination.

Prawns a la plancha • Castillo EVOO

The Prawns a la plancha arrived next.  I thought they smelled a bit “ripe” but the flavor of the seafood was rich with a bath of Spanish extra virgin olive oil.  Because the prawns were served with head and shell on, they were a bit messy to eat but our waiter arrived with perfect timing to deliver steamed towels (no Wet-Wipes here) for us to use to clean up a bit.

Patatas • potatoes, chorizo, fried egg, brava sauce

One of our standard orders at Spanish restaurants is patatas bravas (fierce potatoes) an anchor of any respectable tapas bar.  It’s our benchmark for the authenticity and skill of the kitchen.  Patatas bravas should be oven roasted so they’re slightly crispy on the outside but creamy on the inside.  They’re dressed with a spicy tomato based sauce.  Tavernita’s Patatas (they’re just listed as patatas, no bravas, although bravas sauce is listed as a part of the ingredients) came with chucks of Spanish chorizo and a fried egg on top.  The potatoes lacked the crispiness we expected but the chorizo and egg were nice additions.  The bravas sauce, however, was fairly tame.  One, surprising, complaint we had about this dish was that there was just too much of it, although it would have been a good portion for a larger party.

Pork Belly Bocadillo • fruit jam, pickled red onions, brioche bun

Bocadillos are small sandwich-like snacks, usually served on a split loaf of bread like a baugette or small chibatta.  Tavernita serves Pork Belly Bocadillos on small brioche buns with a fruit jam and pickled red onions.  While looking more like the ubiquitous sliders found in many bars and restaurants, these we infinitely better.  The pork belly was fatty with a crisp edge and the fruit jam and onions were nice foils to it’s richness.  We were told that the Bocadillos are the best selling item on Tavernita’s menu and I can see why.

House-made Lamb Sausage • chickpeas, spicy giardiniera

Our last dish was a House-made Lamb Sausage served with chickpeas and giardiniera.  The sausage was savory and didn’t have a very pronounced lamby flavor (not that I would have minded that) but it went well with the spicy giardiniera.  At first we though the kitchen had forgotten the chickpeas until we realized that it was a puree under the sausage.  Although tasty (not unlike a mild hummus) I would have liked more of it or the addition of some whole chickpeas.

One point to note – Tavernita is loud.  Unlike some restaurants, like Graham Elliot, that pipe in high octane music, Tavernita’s background sound was modest and unobtrusive.  The sound level comes from the generally hard surfaces and the lively crowd.  It’s a happening place, people are having a good time with great food and they’re not holding back.