Central Florida restaurant focused on southern cuisine with modern twist

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

The Tennessee Truffle in Historic Downtown Sanford, Florida

Breakfast at The Tennessee Truffle (125 west 1st street, Sanford, Florida 32771, thetennesseetruffle.com, +1 407-942-3977) in Historic Downtown Sanford, Florida was fun and tasty. We were among the first patrons to arrive on a low season Saturday morning. It was quiet inside the 2,000 square foot restaurant established in 2016 by Nat Russell, owner and chef, as “a family restaurant using sustainable ingredients to make southern cuisine with a modern twist.”

Inside the 2,000 square foot restaurant

Art on the walls of The Tennessee Truffle

From the breakfast mains we had Biscuits & Gravy and French Toast. Both were well prepared and presented. They were worth ordering on a second visit should I return to Sanford and recommending to friends who like southern cuisine. The smoked maple syrup in the French Toast gave the dish a pleasant if unexpected savory flavor. From the sides menu we ordered Grits with sorghum and crushed pecans; and pan seared Duroc Bacon, a 12-day house-cured bacon, which was more like ham. While grits are not a favorite dish in general I enjoyed those. To wrap it all we shared an order of Popcorn Brulee made with three forms of popcorn, ice cream, powder and brulee.

Plants grew next to the window in elevated wood planters

Our server was patient, friendly and helpful. When she didn’t know the answer to a question she found out and returned with the information.

Biscuits & Gravy

Partway through our meal when the chef came out to bring a dish he graciously answered questions and posed for photos. “We are a restaurant using as much local produce and protein as possible,” Russell, said by email later when asked about sourcing for the restaurant. “I believe in using the best product. If that’s from Sanford great but I won’t compromise flavor or freshness just to be local. If it’s from the area all the better!”

Grits with sorghum and crushed pecans

He went on to explain that everything they use is organic, about 50 percent of produce is from Florida, about 80 percent of the fish served is local, and 100 percent of the beef and beer is from Florida. A Culinary Institute of America graduate Russell, Memphis born, is former executive chef of Winter Park’s Café de France in Florida.

Smoked maple syrup on our French Toast gave the dish a savory flavor

When asked about the name of the restaurant he said, “ In the Appalachian mountains the first thing to pop out of the ground in the spring is the ramp. They call this the Tennessee Truffle I love this story. So, I stole the name and the rest is history!”

Duroc Bacon, a 12-day house-cured bacon

I liked the chef’s light touch. The dishes I sampled had seasoning that allowed the ingredient’s natural taste to shine. I appreciated his flair for surprising and unexpected flavors and textures such as the smoked maple syrup in his French Toast, the crunchy pecans in the grits and the three textures of popcorn, (powder, creamy brulee and ice cream) in the Popcorn Brulee.

Nat Russell, owner and chef

The restaurant’s light filled dining room was inviting and relaxed, the chairs comfortable. I wondered if the chef had used any of the herbs growing in pots between our table and the street facing window in our breakfast. The pleasant setting, warm and efficient service and lovingly prepared dishes made me want to return.

Why I especially liked central Florida restaurant

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Josh Oakley, co-owner, The Smiling Bison restaurant and bar, holding the House Charcuterie and Cheese board

During a weekend visit to Sanford, Florida I had dinner with three colleagues at The Smiling Bison restaurant and bar (107 S Magnolia Avenue, Sanford Florida, 32771, +407 915-6086, www.smilingbison.com), a locavore venue. My dinner that night was tasty, well prepared and well presented. I loved that the restaurant staff made virtually all of the dishes from scratch using fresh (not frozen) ingredients, that 100 percent of the produce was domestic and mostly organic, and that meats were almost all free of added chemicals, according to Josh Oakley, co-owner.

He said by email later, “We make all pasta dough, sauces, cured and smoked meats/ sausages, etc. from scratch on premises. We source primarily from several local farms and their availability is the main force behind our weekly menu changes. All farms we source from use 100 percent organic practices, but getting and official organic certification is a tedious and expensive process which not all of them have gotten.”

Our Duck Lovers Pizza fresh from the open kitchen

When asked what percent of animal products in the restaurant are free of added antibiotics and added hormones he replied, “I’d say about 95. We do a chicken wing night once a month and the wings are pretty much the only commodity meat you’ll find on our menu.”

Our Duck Lovers Pizza Duck Lovers Pizza starter with duck ham, duck sausage, duck confit, jack cheese and a duck egg

I tasted the following dishes shared at our table: Smoked Fish Dip starter of trout roe, house made saltines and dill; and Duck Lovers Pizza starter with duck ham, duck sausage, duck confit, jack cheese and a duck egg; and House Charcuterie and Cheese with chicken liver mousse, summer sausage, kielbasa, garlic beef salami, pepperoni, grafton two year cheddar from Vermont, rogue Oregon blue cheese, house sourdough bread and pickles. For mains we had Spaghetti & Meatballs made with beef and pork meatballs (a favorite). Because our transport arrived before we had a chance to order our final course we missed dessert.

Our four stools at the Chef’s Table provided us front row seating over the cook’s work space, which faced the dining room. Despite it being the busiest night of the week Oakley made time to answer questions and describe dish preparation. Joel Serrer, our friendly server, likewise answered questions about the menu and beverages. 

Spaghetti & Meatballs made with beef and pork meatballs

The 3,000 square foot restaurant, owned by Ron Thomas and Oakley, dated to 2013. The building was built in 1912. Originally it was the headquarters of The Sanford Herald newspaper it also served as home to a chapter of The International Order of Oddfellows prior to being converted into a restaurant space.

The name of the restaurant was a nod to the Oakley, who was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. A self taught cook who never attended culinary school he credits his early interest in food and cooking to his grandmothers.

The restaurant was centrally located in Historic Downtown Sanford, the food was well prepared from scratch using fresh and wholesome ingredients and the service was warm and attentive. My only beef? As the evening progressed and the restaurant filled up the noise level rose until I could barely hear the person in the stool next to mine. Should I find myself in Sanford again The Smiling Bison will be at the top of my list.

Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

A typical dreary day during our visit

A typical dreary day by Lake Titisee during our visit

We planned our week long trip to the Black Forest Highlands in Germany months in advance with the expectation that a spring itinerary would reward us with dry and sunny weather. Instead it our visit in June 2016 was far wetter, colder and foggier than we had anticipated. It rained on and off most of the day every day during our whole stay in the area, forcing us to revise our plans entirely. In lieu of trekking on mountain tops and cable cars we spent our days in our hotel room waiting for the rain to stop or remained indoors, dining, in museums, and churches for the duration of our visit.

The clock museum featured displays of clock history

The clock museum featured displays of clock history

Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured

Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured

We replaced nearly all our outdoor activities with indoor ones. The two lane mountain roads, slick from the rain and filled with impatient drivers, did nothing to improve the situation. In the end, we made the most of the situation, exploring as best as possible in moments of respite from the constant showers. We seldom encountered English speakers or materials in English, making it necessary for us to rely on our guide frequently to translate menus at restaurants and information sheets at attractions.

The Parkhotel Adler

The Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten was a favorite for its luxury facilities and spa

From the airport we drove to the Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten. It was the most luxurious of the properties we visited that trip. I spent time at Hoffmann Beaute & Physiontherapie, its serene spa. Because of the cool temperatures and showers I was thankful for the property's underground hallways that connected its facilities and provided us indoor access to the hotel spa and restaurants in adjacent buildings.

Seecafé in Schluchsee

The lake fronting Seecafé in Schluchsee

Black forest cake, strudel cake and cappucinno

We had Black Forest cake, strudel cake and cappuccino by the lake

The first attraction we visited was the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum at Robert-Gerwig-Platz d-78120 Furtwangen, +49 7723-920 2800, deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de) northeast of Freiburg. It was a fun way to spend the morning and learn about the history of clock making in Germany.

Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

We spent the weekend at the popular Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

One afternoon, to satisfy our sweet tooth we stopped at the Seecafé (Im Wolfsgrund 26, 79859, Schluchsee, +49 76 56/98 88 97), where we indulged in hot beverages and huge slices of regional specialties such as Black Forest chocolate cake. Despite the chilly temperatures we enjoyed the Schluchsee lakeside setting and terrace seating until a steady flow of raindrops forced us to leave.

Our first sunny afternoon from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof

We were delighted with our first sunny hour from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof

In the Lake Titisee area we stayed at two family owned properties. We spent the weekend at the popular, lake fronting Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel (see Our weekend stay at Black Forest lake front hotel with spa) with a spa in the highly touristy town of Titisee. When our rental apartment plans fell through the friendly owners and staff at the charming and lovingly built Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof squeezed us in at the last minute without hesitation. The hotel, the Drubba Monument Shopping stores on the pedestrian street in Titisee, and the Hofgut Sternen hotel and adjacent shops were the property of the enterprising Drubba Family. It was at one of their shops where we watched a demonstration about the making of the famous cuckoo clocks. At another we caught the end of a glassblowing demonstration. Their hillside property was a favorite for its Lake Titisee views and foodie orientation.

hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler

One of the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler in Grafenhausen

In Grafenhausen, we liked the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler (see Black Forest shop carried on with wood carved mask tradition). In Grafenhausen-Rothaus, we visited Hüsli or small house (79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, Am Hüsli 1 im Naturpark Südschwarzwald, + 49 77 48/212, www.hüsli-museum.de), a folk art museum dating back to 1912 when actress Helene Siegfried built a summer home from second-hand materials. We also toured the Rothaus (Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG, Rothaus 1, 79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, +49 7748/522-0, www.rothaus.de, info@rothaus.de) brewery museum, a modern facility with self-guided tours, where we sampled locally produced beer and bought souvenirs at the small shop.

St. Blasien Cathedral

St. Blasien Cathedral, a lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high

The cupola in St. Blasien Cathedral

The interior of St. Blasien Cathedral

The cupola in St. Blasien Cathedral

The St. Blasien Cathedral cupola

We visited several churches while in the Black Forest Highlands. Salient among them for sheer size and the determination of its builders was St. Blasien Cathedral, a pretty and lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high. The early classical cupola is the largest of its kind north of the Alps.

Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our last afternoon in the Black Forest got sunny

The sun made an appearance on our last afternoon in the Black Forest

Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern, where we dined at the hotel's gourmet restaurant (see Dinner at Black Forest Highlands gourmet restaurant). We would recommend the Black Forest Highlands to friends who speak German or don't mind seeking translations, like moderate luxury in a heavily touristy area with authentic regional cuisine, enjoy mountainous landscapes and the outdoors, and are able to change plans in a hurry if the weather turns ugly.

Our lunch at Guy Savoy Paris Latin Quarter restaurant

Our lunch at Guy Savoy Paris Latin Quarter restaurant

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Les Bouquiniste side entrance

Les Bouquinistes side entrance

In a touristy neighborhood chock full of dining options like the Latin Quarter in Paris, France Les Bouquinistes (53, quai des Grands Augustins, 75006, Paris, France, +33 1 43 25 45 94, www.lesbouquinistes.com, bouquinistes@guysavoy.com) offered several features we liked. Before we arrived it already had the advantage that it was a short walk from our central accommodations. Having dined at Guy Savoy restaurants, including that one, in the past we were confident our experience would be positive. Stéphane Perraud, chef, and Cedric Jossot, restaurant manager, were in charge the day we had lunch at the eatery.

The black and white decor evokes the printed page

The black and white decor was designed to evoke the printed page

Les Bouquinistes occupied a corner on quai des Grands Augustins on the south side of the Seine River between the Pont Saint-Michel and the Pont Neuf. The two bridges linked the Left Bank with the Ile de la Cite, an island best known for being the home of Notre Dame Cathedral. Large glass windows took maximum advantage of the restaurant's location facing north toward the busy street, the river and the island beyond it.

The transparent wine rack makes the space feel more open

The central section of the restaurant featured a wine rack.

Our early arrival won us a choice of seats. We selected a table near the entrance, which afforded us partial views of the street. My lunch partner sat at a leather black bench and I selected an armless wood chair in front of a bare white round table with a round black place mat for each of us. The clean lines, understated décor, gray carpet and black ceiling helped draw our eyes outward beyond the oversize glass walls and windows toward the quai des Grands Augustins to the north and the much quieter rue des Grands Augustins to the east.

A simple but classic starter

A simple yet classic starter

Our multi-course lunch began with a satisfying bite of foie gras atop a thin toast sprinkled with sea salt and touch of black pepper to stimulate our appetite. Our friendly English speaking server brought a wicker basket with crunchy epi bread (no butter or oil) and a bottle of the house sparkling water. Stainless steel cutlery, glassware and dinnerware were the only adornments to our table.

Legumes maraichers a l'oeuf parfait,

Legumes maraichers a l'oeuf parfait

Blanc de cabillaud, asperges et pommes de terres confites, jus aux algues

Blanc de cabillaud, asperges et pommes de terres confites, jus aux algues

We each had two different first courses followed by identical mains and desserts, a good sample of the chef's cuisine. For my first course I had Legumes maraichers a l'oeuf parfait, a vegetable dish with a lightly cooked egg. My lunch mate had Nacre de merlan, vinaigreette d'huitre, petits pois et fromage frais, white fish served on a bed of peas with a cheese and oyster sauce. Blanc de cabillaud, asperges et pommes de terres confites, jus aux algues, beautifully prepared barely cooked codfish served with a wonderful light sauce that complemented the fish and thin crunchy green asparagus; and Homard en bouillon, potimarron et sarrasin torrefie, lobster with sarrazin seed (from Brittany) sauce, pumpkin and black tuile baked wafers colored with squid ink, followed. Noix de carre de veau rotie, oignons grilles, puree de pommes de terre, Veal with a brown sauce, delicate mushrooms, baby onions and mashed potatoes, hit the comfort food funny bone just right. Our server was kind enough to assist us with a selection of Bordeaux wines, including a 2011 Chateaux Dutruch, to match our meal.

Homard en bouillon, potimarron et sarrasin torrefie

Homard en bouillon, potimarron et sarrasin torrefie

carre de veau rotie, oignons grilles, puree de pommes de terre

Carre de veau rotie, oignons grilles, puree de pommes de terre

Chef Perraud and the team

Staff members Alexandra Chabauty and Steve Fabre next to Stéphane Perraud, chef, and Cédric Jossot, restaurant manager

Dessert was a duo. One half was Cafe-chocolat lacte biskelia-cardamone blanche, a mix of coffee flavored bits, and the other was a Sable breton-menthe-coriandre, a “Gin and Tonic” mint coriander dish served with a cookie and a microwave sponge cake. By the time we left, the restaurant was at the peak of lunch hour and staff members were rushing to look after last minute arrivals. Our meal was satisfying, well served and in an attractive setting within a convenient location. We would return and recommend it to friends seeking a casual dining experience in the Latin Quarter within a stone's throw of the river.

 

Dinner at Black Forest Highlands gourmet restaurant

Dinner at Black Forest Highlands gourmet restaurant

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

One of our first sunny days in the Black Forest

While at the Hotel Adler we had our only sunny afternoon in the Black Forest

During a trip to the Black Forest Highlands of southwestern Germany, we stayed at the Hotel Adler and had dinner at the hotel's Restaurant Adler (Hotel Adler, St. Fridolinstrasse 15, 79837 Häusern, Germany, +49 7672 4170, fax +49 7672 417150, www.adler-schwarzwald.de, info@adler-schwarzwald.de). We liked the well presented and colorful regional food with international influences and wine pairings prepared by Florian Zumkeller, the restaurant's chef, owner and manager.

Our table was in a cozy corner

Our table was in a cozy corner with padded bench seats

Chef Zumkeller

Florian Zumkeller, the restaurant's chef, owner and manager

The Black Forest fine dining venue had red tile flooring, cushioned wood bench seats, a low wood ceiling and regional décor, including a large crucifix across from our table. Salient features were tablecloths and silverware as well as glassware from Schott Zwiesel and tableware from Rosenthal. The restaurant was 250 square meters in size with a staff of 12 and capable of accommodating 80 guests. Nishan, our Sri Lankan English speaking server, was friendly and attentive.

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The colorful mackerel sashimi

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My asparagus dish

There were three types of bread on offer: onion, seeded, and baguette. Four types of butter: herb, red onion, salted and unsalted were presented on a black ceramic plate with a small fork and a spoon. The appetite teaser was a slightly sweet mackerel sashimi with an exotic flavor. To start the meal there was a veal sweetbreads appetizer with bitter salad and lemon vinaigrette (a favorite) served with 2015 Weinhaus Joachim Heger Grau Weissburgunder Cuvee. I selected an asparagus dish instead. Next there was Lobster with nectarine and pancetta served with 2014 Scherzinger Batzenberg Chardonnay Alte Reben Weingut Heinemann, Scherzinger.

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The veal sweetbreads appetizer with bitter salad and lemon vinaigrette was a favorite

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The main course was Two variations of United States beef with celery, mushroom and hazelnut

Two variations of United States beef with celery, mushroom and hazelnut, a medium rare tasty meat course, followed. We appreciated that the beef was antibiotic and hormone free. It was served with 2014 Cabernet Cuvee from Weinhaus Joachim Heger. For dessert there was Frozen tiramisu with peach and raspberry served with 2014 Durbacher Plauelrain, Traminer Auslese, Weingut Laible. After dessert there were chocolate praline balls served with Amaretto cream with almonds.

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Nishan, our Sri Lankan English speaking server, was friendly and attentive

Chef Zumkeller did an apprenticeship with Alfred Klink at the Colombi Hotel in Freiburg, Germany. Before taking the reigns of the Restaurant Adler in 2011, he worked with chefs Philippe Chevrier at Domaine de Châteauvieux and Adolfo Blokbergen at L’Auberge du Raisin.

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Lobster with nectarine and pancetta

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Frozen tiramisu with peach and raspberry

He proudly explained, when we met him at the conclusion of our meal, that for 50 continuous years, since 1966, the restaurant had received a Michelin Star. Should we be in Hausern again, the restaurant's gourmet dinner with a touch of innovation and good service in a traditional Black Forest dining room would tempt us to return.

Steps away from Notre Dame, a quiet foodie haven

Steps away from Notre Dame, a quiet foodie haven

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The front of Atelier Marie Albert

The front of Atelier Maitre Albert Restaurant avec Guy Savoy

Despite its reputation as a culinary capital Paris, France is one of those cities where picking a restaurant at random may result in a memorable find or a disaster, and the price difference might be negligible. The more touristy the area the greater the chances of disappointment, so as a general rule I make a point of not going to unfamiliar restaurants in zones popular among visitors, especially in the vicinity of tourist magnets such as the Latin Quarter, Le Marais, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, and Eiffel Tower, for example.

Some light bites as amuse bouche

Our light bites as amouse bouche

One way to reduce the chances of a less than stellar expensive meal is to sample restaurants owned by or part of the portfolio of a well known chef. This has been particularly true when I have sampled the cuisine at one of the restaurants already. Such was the case of the Atelier Maître Albert (1, rue Maître Albert, 75005 Paris, France, + 33 1 56 81 30 01, fax +33 1 53 10 83 23, www.ateliermaitrealbert.com, ateliermaitrealbert@guysavoy.com), part of the Guy Savoy food constellation. Prior to going there I had dined at Guy Savoy's eponymous gourmet restaurant as well as Les Bouquinistes (see Latin Quarter restaurant nice neighborhood option) and Le Chiberta (see Le Chiberta, a restaurant find near the Champs Elysees), and had sampled the products of his new bakery outlet specializing in brioche. Most of those experiences had been rewarding so I was confident my meal at the Atelier Maitre Albert would also be worthwhile.

The menu is posted outside

The menu was posted outside

Located at the beginning of a narrow street in the Left Bank across the Seine River from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral the restaurant was a pleasant surprise because while I had walked the neighborhood countless times I had no idea the restaurant was on that street, a 10 minute walk from my central accommodations. Except for the famed chef's name on the exterior wall, the modern facade revealed little of the restaurant's ambiance or its high quality comfort food.

Our seats were next to the huge fireplace

Our seats were next to a large fireplace

As soon as we entered a young man with hip bleached blond hair welcomed us warmly. Moments later, after handing over our rain gear, we were seated in armless chairs next to the unlit fireplace in the restaurant's ground floor dining room. From our seats we had a generous view of the entire dining area and across to the open kitchen and its grills. There was also window side dining near the entrance with views of the street.

Paintings from the old Guy Savoy restaurant

Paintings from the old Guy Savoy restaurant hung at Atelier Marie Albert

It took a few moments for our eyes to adjust from the bright midday exterior sunlight to the low ambient light indoors. The first decorative features we noticed were the familiar colorful clown themed paintings hanging on the back wall. Previous to that day we had last seen them at the Guy Savoy main restaurant. Since the restaurant had moved nearby and been redecorated the paintings had been transferred to their new home. Other salient decorative features were sleet gray marble tile, exposed beams, stone walls and track lights. It was pleasantly serene without being too quiet.

Soup and brioch from Guy Savoy bakeries

Artichoke soup and brioche from the Guy Savoy bakery

With our friendly English speaking waiter's help we made our selections from the menu including a glass of wine to match our choices. We both had the Velouté de l'Atelier "en verseurse," a light artichoke soup brought to the table in a pitcher and served with brioche. It reminded me of a similar soup I had tasted at the chef's gourmet restaurant. For mains, my lunch partner had the Volaille fermiére du Maine (a quarter chicken portion) for one, a free range spit-roasted fowl dish with a side of mashed potatoes. He ordered a light white from the Pays d'Oc on our server's advice.

Special ribs cut from the bone

Special ribs still on the bone

The pork ribs deboned and sliced

At my request the chef served the pork ribs deboned and sliced

I had Travers de porc "marinés," marinated pork ribs and a side of Gratin d'épinards champignons (mushroom and spinach gratin). The gratin was a favorite. Both mains were moist and tender with a broth like flavorful sauce. At my request, the kitchen staff had removed the bone from my ribs so they were ready to eat when they were served, although the server was kind enough to show us the ribs before they were deboned. I had a red from Bordeaux. For dessert, I had the Choco pralin-feuilleté, anglais-chicoré, two slabs of dark chocolate and crispy praline with a small dark chocolate ice cream ball.

The chicken was served with juice

The chicken was served with a broth like sauce

The chocolate dessert

The chocolate dessert

Overall, our comfort food style lunch experience was outstanding. Kudos to Guy Savoy and his collaborators Emmanuel Monsailler, chef, and Laurent Jacquet, manager and their staff. From the soup and salami amouse bouche to the dessert we enjoyed all our courses. The dishes were perfectly prepared and worth repeating. The service was attentive, helpful and friendly. As a bonus, the restaurant was in a central location and convenient to visitors and residents within and near the Latin Quarter. What more could we ask from a neighborhood restaurant?