#BTReads: ‘Cuban Flavor’
One of the most effective ways to evoke a travel memory or sense of place is to learn to cook some of the dishes that are popular in a favorite destination. And although this is true of regions all over the U.S. and, indeed, the world, bringing home a taste of Cuba may be the most evocative of all.
TASTES OF CUBA
“Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine,” by award-winning food, lifestyle, and travel photographer Liza Gershman, makes a beautiful case for Cuba’s enduring appeal. Gershman’s photography and snappy, clear writing deliver not only the classic tastes of Cuba, such as Ropa Vieja and Arroz con Leche, but also the visual juxtapositions that characterize the island’s architecture, fashion, nightlife, and natural beauty. She immerses us in every sensory experience Cuba offers visitors.
Of course, the recipes ultimately dominate, and they will keep home cooks happy and busy, with simple ingredients and super-clear steps. After devouring the history, culture, music, and stunning visual impact of the island in Gershman’s scrapbook-style pages, I settled into tackling Roast Pork with Mango Glaze. It’s cooking in my kitchen as I write this, and the aroma, like “Cuban Flavor,” is intoxicating.
Take an Eating (and Drinking!) Tour of Georgia
It’s no secret that Georgia’s cities boast some of America’s tastiest plates, with cool multicultural riffs on traditional favorites and fresh, locally sourced ingredients. But we’re here to tell you that you’ll also find good eats in the mountains, along the coast, and in small towns you’ll love discovering along the way. Here, your road map to discovering the best foodie finds in Georgia. SAVANNAH There may be no city in Georgia more “foodie” than Savannah, with soul food, seafood, Asian, Italian, and more - including the distinctive local “red rice.” - cooking in kitchens across the city, especially the revitalized River Street warehouse district. Start your day at B. Mathews for their great breakfast sandwich, and basically keep eating all day long. We love Old Pink House for shrimp and grits, especially the “Southern sushi,” which is smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted nori seaweed. Head to Pacci for contemporary riffs on Italian recipes and its gorgeous interior design. Bernie’s is the place when you just want fresh oysters and shrimp in a laid-back environment; and Collins Quarter serves up some of the city’s finest hamburgers. When evening rolls around, wet your whistle at Savannah Taphouse and tuck into their sweet tea fried chicken (yes, marinated in the iconic summer beverage - it doesn’t get any more Southern than that), or raise a glass and take in some live blues at Bayou Cafe. If you have room for dessert, you won’t regret a stop at Savannah’s candy Kitchen for a candy-dipped apple boasting indulgent ribbons of chocolate. THE COAST Remember, as good as the food in Savannah is, a visit to the nearby coast will deliver a dose of unforgettable dishes you shouldn’t miss. On St. Simons Island, Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill has been family-owned for 30 years, delivering a welcoming ambience and fantastic food like shrimp and grits, the day’s catch, or great steak. Also on St. Simons Island, ECHO is renowned for its shrimp and grits, and the Public House offers succulent pork chops. On Tybee Island, the Crab Shack is a consistent favorite among Budget Travelers for its great prices and for its super-fresh seafood - try the steamed oysters or the extremely filling “Low Country boil,” which includes shrimp, sausage, and potatoes. ATLANTA It comes as no surprise that Georgia’s capital city is a must-eat destination for traveling foodies. Chef Wendy Chang’s Herban Fix serves Asian-inspired vegan dishes such as soy beef and soy chicken that even carnivores love. Atlanta is home to so many top-notch eateries, it deserves an eating tour all its own. Some highlights include seafood-centric Italian meals such as shrimp and lemon linguine at Saltyard and “black spaghetti at Boccalupo (psst, the color comes, of course, from squid ink). You’ll also want to head outside the city to some of the Atlanta metro area’s most delicious communities, including pimento cheese fritters at Chicken and the Egg in Marietta, and perfect buttermilk fried chicken at Food 101 in Sandy Springs. And we especially love the Iberian Pig in Decatur, where an array of, you guessed it, pork takes center stage, including incredible tacos with grilled corn salsa and avocado crema. ATHENS Ready to get beyond the big cities and beaches? Try something different: A cool college town. Granted, Athens is no ordinary college town, with a major university and incredibly diverse population that craves, in addition to great indie music and intellectual pursuits, the finest local food. Start with classic Southern fare at Weaver D’s, including fried chicken, mac and cheese, and apple cobbler, and grab a local cocktail like the bourbon and ginger ale at the Manhattan Cafe, then move on to some unique (and uniquely delicious) joints like Big City Bread Cafe for a spicy lamb burger or Mama Jewel’s Kitchen where the fried chicken and biscuits are given an imaginative upgrade thanks to jalapeno peach jelly and melted brie. THE MOUNTAINS A trip to Georgia’s mountains yields an entirely new world of good eating, with smaller towns grabbing the spotlight with delightful, imaginative culinary offerings. Those who know the state’s mountains know that two major fresh local ingredients are pecans and trout. Lake Rabun Hotel & Restaurant in Lakemont makes it easy to enjoy both with its pecan-encrusted mountain trout. Because no trip to the Georgia countryside would be complete without savoring some BBQ, drop by Jim’s Smokin’ Que in Blairsville for baby back ribs and smoked chicken smothered in the restaurant’s house-made sauce. And if you haven’t tried fried green tomatoes yet, there’s not better place to give them a try than Tam’s Tupelo in Cumming, where the BLT sliders are topped with the tasty Southern favorite, not to mention upscale fixins’ that include pepper-crusted bacon, arugula, and tomato jam. Learn more about everything there is to eat and drink in Georgia at exploregeorgia.org.
Hotel We Love: Eastwind Hotel & Bar, Windham, NY
While it’s only a two-hour drive from New York City, in southeastern New York state's mountainous Catskills region, the idyllic town of Windham feels a world away. Once a thriving vacation spot known as the Borscht Belt, thanks to the lively Jewish culture that flourished there in the 1950s and '60s, the Catskills lost a bit of its luster as younger generations looked toward hipper, more exotic locales. Today, however, it’s experiencing a renaissance. “There’s a large movement into more nature and adventure-driven destinations,” says Bjorn Boyer, who opened Eastwind Hotel & Bar in Windham in June. “More people are coming here now and trying to build simpler life up here, yet it’s a place that still has a New York character and all the finesse and qualities of any big city.” The hotel, which he owns with three others, fits that same bill, capturing the simplicity one seeks when escaping to nature while still offering sophistication and luxury alongside playfulness and style. THE STORY Bjorn and his wife, Julija Stoliarova, are two of Eastwind’s four owners. A native of Germany who previously worked in both finance and hospitality, Bjorn says he was drawn to the Catskills because its rolling hills and small-town communities reminded him of Thuringia, a state in the east-central region of the country where he spent his childhood summers. In September 2017, Bjorn and his partners purchased the building, which dates to 1928 and was originally used by fishermen and hunters when they came to the area to work in the wilderness. The down-to-the-studs gut renovation involved new bathrooms, new plumbing, new electricity, and then some. Then Julija brought it to life with décor they describe as "Scandinavian electric,” all clean lines and elevated comforts. The place has a countryside soul with heavy measures of urban style, the result of months she spent hunting down everything from furniture to fixtures, like doorknobs and bookends, at Brimfield, the massive, long-running antique flea market in Western Massachusetts, and other antique markets and vintage stores. The salon, anchored by a mighty iron Malm fireplace, exemplifies the sleek yet idyllic style, with huge windows delivering sweeping views, blond wood tables and bar, Turkish rugs, and shelves lined with vintage books and games. THE QUARTERS The floors in each of the 11 minimalist rooms in the Bunk House, the main building, are made of wood reclaimed from the original building, giving the quarters a cabin-like feel. Each is uniquely accented with Julija's vintage finds, from macramé wall hangings to typewriters to old wood desks and chairs. (Request one of the two “writer’s rooms” if you’re looking to plug into your creative outlet.) Amenities, though, are modern, even lavish. To whit: indulgent Frette linens, sleek Otis & Eleanor speakers, free high-speed internet, and bathrooms with rainheads in the walk-in showers. The Hill House, situated slightly up the hill from the Bunk House, will open later this year and features accommodations for larger groups. Those seeking something more rustic can book one of the three Lushna Cabins, standalone A-frame units that are like tents, if tents were made of wood and had insulation, a window for a wall, a queen-size bed, and a private bathroom with a mirrored wall. (Courtesy Jordan Layton) THE FOOD With the hotel being so new, the food and drink programs are still being hammered out. As of now, a European breakfast spread that includes yogurt, granola, fruit, cheese, meats, and hot items is available Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m. ($20 per person.) The bar in the airy salon serves beer, wine, and cocktails Friday through Sunday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. Expanded hours are coming soon, and with that will come a bar menu that includes charcuterie, crudité, and dessert plates. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The Catskills have long been a destination for outdoor sporty types, and Windham’s location offers easy access to ski slopes, hiking trails, golf courses, adventure attractions, and streams for fly-fishing. A nearby spruce forest is a mellow wilderness paradise for hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders. Windham Mountain, a popular ski destination, is a five-minute drive away, while Hunter Mountain, which hosts music events and other festivals when it’s not ski season, is about twenty minutes away. A mile from Eastwind is downtown Windham, established in 1798 and known as the Gem of the Catskills, with a collection of cozy restaurants, from French to Italian to hip American brewpubs, shops, and spas, many set in historic buildings. It’s the kind of enclave that Edward Hopper would have been quite comfortable painting. And speaking of painters, the galleries here are a crash course in the Hudson River School, an American art movement of Romanticism-influenced landscape painters that was largely originated by Thomas Cole, who resided here. His home is open for tours. RATES & DEETS Starting at $159 for rooms and $179 for Lushna Cabins. Eastwind Hotel & Bar5088 Route 23 Windham, NY 12496(518) 734-0553 / eastwindnewyork.com
Locals Know Best: San Antonio, Texas
Before the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there was San Antonio. Established in 1718 by the Spanish, it celebrates its 300th anniversary this year (2018). And this Texas city, which clocks in as the seventh largest (still true in 2021) in the United States, has a whole lot to celebrate. Institutions along Broadway Cultural Corridor, a two-mile stretch north of downtown, have invested over $500 million in refurbishments and upgrades over the past five years. Among them is the Witte Museum, which encompasses ten acres along the river and focuses equally on nature, science and culture, all with a Texas slant. A multi-million refurbishment that transformed a total of 174,000 square feet was completed in 2017. It’s all happened under the watch of Marise McDermott, the Witte’s president and CEO for 17 years. A culture journalist from New York turned culture executive in the Lone Star State—“Once you marry a Texan, you live in Texas,” she notes—she’s called San Antonio her home since 1986, with a six-year break in the middle. She appreciates its “slower pace” and cherishes the eleven oak trees in her yard. We checked in with her to get the lowdown on the changing landscape of one of America’s oldest cities. A CULTURAL AND CULINARY MELTING POT The McNay Art Museum (Florin Seitan/Dreamstime) So, about those museums. The Broadway Cultural Corridor is a two-mile stretch just north of downtown on that runs along the San Antonio River. It includes the McNay Art Museum, a modern art hub; San Antonio Botanical Gardens; the San Antonio Museum of Art, which focuses on classical art dating back to the ancients; a 50-acre zoo; and the DoSeum, a children’s museum. It's also home to the Witte, which is devoted to telling the state’s history, from prehistoric times to recent decades. Under Marise’s watch, the Witte, which has been around since 1926, has taken great strides in elevating San Antonio’s cultural status on the international stage, bringing exhibits that hit other big cities to its galleries. A 10,000 square foot gallery that was opened as part of the $100 million transformation in 2017 as part of the $100 renovation debuted with “Whales: Giants of the Deep,” a show from New Zealand that featured a 58-foot whale sperm whale skeleton. (As an interesting footnote, Marise notes that there are 21 whale species on the Gulf Coast.) Where museums go, restaurants follow. As the institutions invested money, a culinary renaissance flourished. Longstanding restaurants upped their game and new ones opened. Marise is no stranger to the rustic, casual Smoke Shack, not least because it’s located across from the Witte. Also, their barbecue holds its own in a culture that values its grilled meats. One of the city’s standouts is located a few miles away from the Corridor in the Pearl, a revitalized old brewery that’s now a destination for its creative independent businesses.La Gloria specializes in Oaxacan street food. Its fun décor—a garage door entrance, metal furniture, and other industrial-chic touches—signals its lighthearted vibe. There’s a dog-friendly porch where you might find Marise hanging out with her two greyhounds and indulging in the fish tacos, one of chef-owner Johnnie Hernandez’s signatures. But the highlight isn’t the fillings, it’s the fixings. “The sauces are the most important part. They give you all sorts of different ones and they’re all freshly done with herbs.” And one other important thing: “No matter what time of day it is, get the sangria.” For something a bit more formal, she recommends Bliss, which is about two miles south of downtown. They offer a dependably excellent branzino dish, Marise says, and expertly paired wines. You’ll need a reservation because there aren’t many tables. MISSIONS: ACCOMPLISHED Missions Espada in San Antonio (Amanda McCadams) Back when the Spanish arrived in the 1700s, Franciscan priests built complexes known as missions to establish their rule on the frontier and convert Native Americans. Each mission contained all the necessities of daily life, from chapels to farms and granaries to workshops and acequias, their water distribution system. Today, the missions stand as an example of how craftsmen blended European and local design elements. They’re such a bedrock of regional history that the Mission Reach, which embodies five missions on nearly eight riverside miles, was established as a World Heritage Sites in 2015. Now, as Marise says, “visitors are finally finding them.” A trip to Mission Reach, however, is hardly a stroll through time-tested ruins. Many are still living places with vibrant cultures. Taquerias that have been run by the same family for generations are dotted along the riverfront park, which has seen investments of about $300 million in the past five years for public art, plantings, and chutes for kayaks. The money has also gone to upkeep of the area’s wetland space, so expect to spot all kinds of wildlife. When her teenage grandsons come to town, Marise will rent bikes from Swell Cycle (now called San Antonio Bike Share), the local bike share company, and hit as many missions as they can in a day. Along the way, they stop at roadside vendors for raspa, flavor-infused ice served by the scoop in paper cups, and paletas, Mexican ice pops made with traditional flavors like hibiscus flower or tamarind. TAKE IT OUTSIDE Texas is sprawling, to be sure, but you don’t have to go far for a change of scenery. For a heavy dose of the outdoors, head ten miles outside San Antonio to Government Canyon State Natural Area, which encompasses rugged bike trails, about 40 miles of easier walking trails, and camping sites on 12,244 expansive acres. To Marise, being there “feels like you’re in Hill Country, in the middle of nowhere.” Marise likes to share the story of the time the Witte’s paleontologist uncovered prehistoric footprints of an Acrocanthosaurus there. Museum staff thought there might be 20 tracks, but this one scientist uncovered 300 footprints and molded some of them you can find on display at the museum. Today, when wandering Government Canyon, the only beast you have to look out for is coyotes. SHOP AROUND The Broadway Cultural Corridor is, to hear Marise tell it, a retail corridor as well. "I shop at all the museum stores," she says, noting that she's purchased most of her jewelry at art institutions' shops, especially the McNay, the modern art museum. The San Antonio Museum leans more toward ancient-themed item, and the stores at the Botanical Gardens offer a wide selection of books and gifts for kids as well as unique outdoorsy things like hemp-fiber picnic blankets, suitable for, well, an afternoon at the botanical gardens, or any laid-back sunny spot. But that's not to say you can't get distinctly San Antonio items elsewhere. There are fantastic boutiques in the Pearl District. She calls out Dos Carolinas, a shop known for bespoke guayaberas made with natural fibers. This Caribbean and South American style of men's summer shirts is distinct for its pleated tailoring. "Good ones are hard to come by," she says. Until, that is, you get to San Antonio.For more information on San Antonio visit their website.
Hotel We Love: Aloft Boston Seaport District, Boston
Today it seems that every city has one: a once decaying industrial neighborhood that's blossomed into a destination for shops, restaurants, breweries, museums, and all things creative. In Boston, that neighborhood is the Seaport District. The area is home to the sleek Boston Convention Center, which opened in 2004 and set off a hotel-development boom in the surrounds that continues to this day. The Aloft Boston Seaport District, which opened in February 2016, is just one of the neighborhood's many accommodation options, but it stands out for various reasons: its stylish decor, its live music performances, and its futuristic amenities. THE STORY The Aloft is a growing Marriott brand known for its tech-centric sensibility, lively vibe, and hip design. With its many technology startups and youthful population, Boston is a perfect fit as the global chain extends its national footprint. In fact, this location is an incubator where they often test some of their high-tech amenities THE QUARTERS The 330 rooms have five sizes ranging from one king-size bed to two queen-size. The brightly colored accents, from the the throw pillows to the images on the walls, are designed to look like pixelated cartoon images, giving the otherwise neutral room a jolt of energy. All rooms have Netflix streaming capabilities, a mini fridge, and Bliss bath products. Vast windows offer sweeping views; rooms that face the city fetch a higher rate, as do the ten high-tech rooms with voice-activated features. Select floors have dog-friendly rooms for pets under 60 pounds. They're each equipped with toys, food and water bowls, and more. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The Seaport District is best explained as a wide peninsula between downtown Boston and South Boston’s ever-evolving residential area. Less than 15 years ago, it was a stark patchwork of piers lined with seafood storehouses, rundown brick warehouses, and beat-up roads. The main reason for coming here was the federal courthouse. But in 2006, the Institute of Contemporary Art opened a stunning, futuristic location that cantilevers over the water, setting off a frenzy of development. Restaurants, some of which are Las Vegas–caliber in size, line the streets today. There are chophouses, Mexican cantinas, Italian eateries—from familiar names to smaller independent operations. Many offer outdoor seating in the warmer months, giving the entire neighborhood a unified pavilion-like feel. That’s good news for the countless employees who work in the startup and biotech companies that have their offices here. The hotel sits across from the Lawn on D, a lively green space that draws crowds for its food trucks, movie screenings, live music, bocce, ping pong, and various activities, like cornhole tournaments. The Seaport is about a ten-minute drive to the airport (on a good day) and a 15-minute walk to South Station, the train and bus terminal. THE FOOD The eating and drinking options perhaps best capture the hotel's fun, creative vibe. The spacious, art-adorned, sunlit lobby features WXYZ bar, which serves cocktails, beer, wine, and elevated bar bites and sandwiches. There’s no formal room service, but you can bring your food and your nightcap to your quarters. Re:fuel is a grab’n’go offering hot breakfast in the morning and artisanal snacks, pastries, juices, and espresso drinks throughout the day and night. For a sit-down meal, hit the elegant yet laid-back Social Register, an adjoining eatery specializing in New American fare that’s heavy on the seafood. ALL THE REST It isn’t often that a hotel lobby is a local hangout, but this one draws them in droves. Aloft has made itself a destination by offering a variety of activities, from paint nights to classes like flower arranging. There's also live music each Thursday, so you can drop by for a taste of the local talent while you indulge in a cocktail from WXYZ. Aloft’s green initiative is no joke. They offer 250 Starwood points or a $5 voucher for WXYZ bar and Re:Fuel for each day you skip housekeeping. RATES & DEETS Starting at $199. Aloft Boston Seaport Distrtict401-403 D StreetBoston, MA 02210(617) 530-1600 / aloftbostonseaportdistrict.com