DAILY Photo by John Godbey
From left, Jeff Dyar of JW Steakhouse in Priceville, Kathy Babbitt of Market Street Cafe and Deli, Scott Mintzer of Giovanni's Italian Grille in Hartselle and Fernando Salcido of Las Vias Mexican Grill in Hartselle are among first-time participants at Taste of the Valley.
New eateries, new flavors at 19th annual Taste of Valley
By Patrice Stewart
DAILY Staff Writer
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Have you tried Polla alla Capperi? What about Gamberi & Polenta?
These are a few of the new flavors in the area that you can sample at the 19th annual Taste of the Valley on Monday evening.
This fundraiser will feature many of the restaurants that opened in the area in the past year, along with old favorites, and the chefs and owners welcome the chance to compete for top taste awards while showing off their dishes.
The 22 restaurants participating will dress up their booths in this year's "TV Classics" theme and serve samples to benefit youth programs of the Volunteer Center of Morgan County. They also will compete for judges' prizes in various food categories.
Four newcomers to Taste of the Valley are featured today with some of their specialties: Market Street Cafe and Deli in Decatur, Giovanni's and Las Vias in Hartselle, and JW Steakhouse in Priceville.
Kathy Babbitt, owner of Market Street Cafe and Deli on the river since October, plans to serve Polla alla Capperi (that's Italian for Chicken with Capers) from her after-5 dining menu, along with a tiramisu dessert that she also made for the recent Chocolate and Dessert Festival sponsored by The Arc of Morgan County.
"I went to culinary school in Ontario, Canada, and I think you build your repertoire of dishes over the years," said Babbitt, who once took a bronze medal in the Taste of Canada food show. She started working on menu development since before she and her husband, Scott, bought the former Jemison's establishment.
"We make all our own sauces," said Babbitt, who has been sous chef and events head for Huntsville's Heritage Club and also worked at the former Hilton there. "Our spaghetti is popular, along with our Friday night prime rib, which we slow-cook starting at 7 a.m. to be ready by 5 p.m."
Pizzas are still on the menu, along with dishes such as a shrimp and fettucine combination with roasted red pepper sauce with olives, tomatoes and artichoke hearts.
Scott Mintzer, executive chef at Giovanni's Italian restaurant, will make Gamberi & Polenta, an Italian version of shrimp and grits, for Taste of the Valley, along with lasagna, spiced crabcakes with cilantro butter, and an Italian dessert.
Mintzer has worked as chef at CynShea's in Hampton Cove and learned the business over 20 years of "working with chefs all over the place — Hawaii, South Carolina, New York, South Florida." He works for Shelly and Rod Ross, owners of Lagniappe's in Decatur, who opened the Hartselle Italian restaurant in November.
At the Giovanni's booth, expect to find entrees from the regular menu. "My lasagna is a traditional New York-style Italian lasagna with two meats — ground sausage and ground beef — with mushrooms and onions sauteed into the meat," Mintzer said.
His Gamberi & Polenta also includes sausage, along with shrimp, "but it's a dish inspired by the South, with an etouffee-style sauce."
Mintzer said customers also seem to like his blackened tilapia sandwich with herb aioli on panini bread, and he is introducing a new lunch menu with sandwiches, salads and entrees.
Susana Salcido and her brother, Fernando Salcido, are part of a family that has been in the food industry for 15 years and opened Las Vias Mexican Grill in Hartselle in March 2005.
"We are constantly playing with ingredients to create and introduce new dishes in our restaurant," she said. They are creating a new dish, top-secret for now, to serve at Taste of the Valley and then introduce on their restaurant menu.
Meanwhile, they showed another favorite: Pollo Mango, prepared with a mango and jalapeno sauce and served with guacamole salad, rice and beans. Mango salsa has a fresh, fruity taste, and the bright colors make it an attractive addition to any dinner, they said; it's perfect with chicken or fish.
"At Las Vias, we are trying to showcase some traditional Mexican dishes that are authentic but not served around the area in other Mexican restaurants," she said. They mentioned Quesadilla Martin, which includes Mexican sausage; Chicken Cancun, a breaded chicken with a chipotle sauce; authentic chile rellenos; and Pollo Mi Hermano, a tropical chicken with pineapple and mango.
They are looking forward to competing in appetizer, entr�e and dessert categories. "This is the closest that we get to those international food competitions," she said. "All of our chefs have training in chef schools and home cooking back home in Mexico, and we got first place in best mole sauce in a contest in our hometown of Puebla City."
Jeff Dyar, manager of JW Steakhouse, which opened in Priceville in October, plans to serve beef kebobs with chunks of steak, bell pepper, onion, mushroom and tomato at Taste of the Valley.
He brought along a sample of their JW-branded, hand-cut, 18-ounce bone-in ribeye, which is rubbed with their house seasoning and grilled over an open flame.
Dyar, who trained at other area steakhouses, works for owner Jody Witt. Dyar said the house seasoning includes Lawry's sauce with a few teaspoons of garlic for extra flavor. "We end up with a good steak because we begin with a good steak," Dyar said.
"We have some appetizers that are popular, too, such as our crab fritters, onion loaf and spinach dip," said Dyar.
Here are the recipes they provided for some of their dishes (home cooks may have to make adaptations to follow the chef's ideas).
Pollo alla Capperi
(Chicken with Capers)
4 chicken breasts, grilled or baked
4 chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped capers
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
Olive oil for saut�ing
8 ounces white wine
8 ounces heavy cream
1/8 cup chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
Chopped parsley for garnish
Penne pasta, cooked
While the chicken breasts are cooking, saut� the green onions, capers and tarragon in the olive oil, with only enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add the heavy cream and simmer to thicken.
Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, after thickening. Add 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese at the end to tighten the sauce.
Pour sauce over hot penne pasta. Place the chicken breast on top and garnish with parsley.
Gamberi & Pollenta
2 cups polenta
2 cups water
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 pound cream cheese
10 ounces mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon parsley
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring cream and water to a simmer and add polenta. It cooks like grits. Slowly add cream cheese, Mozzarella and the remaining ingredients. Allow to cook until smooth and hot all the way through.
Shrimp and Sausage:
In a 10-inch skillet, add garlic, parsley and a little olive oil. Allow garlic to simmer. Add 4 shrimp and 5 or 6 slices of Italian sausage. Halfway through, add onions and bell peppers and allow to saute for 3 minutes. Set aside.
Melt 1/2 pound of butter in a saute pan and add 1/2 cup celery and 1/2 cup onions. Cook until onions are soft and add 1/2 cup flour. Cook slowly on low until roux becomes the color of peanut butter.
To make the sauce, add 1 tablespoon of roux to a hot pan with 4 ounces of marinara sauce. Allow roux to break up and dissolve. Add chicken stock as needed for desired consistency.
In a large bowl, place polenta on the bottom. Add shrimp and sausage slices to the top and put sauce over the entire dish. Garnish with parsley and Parmesan cheese.
1 log ground beef
1 bag bulk ground sausage
1 tablespoon garlic
2 tablespoons basil
2 tablespoons oregano
20 mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced Brown above ingredients in stock pot and drain.
Egg and ricotta cheese mixture:
Blend 15 eggs to one tub of ricotta cheese. Add garlic, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons each basil and oregano.
In a lasagna pan, spray with nonstick spray and layer as follows: noodles, ricotta, shredded Mozzarella cheese, sauce. Repeat layers. Add more noodles, sauce and a slight amount of shredded Mozzarella to top; the three layers should fill the pan to the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours.
Shredded cheese (Mozzarella or American)
Salt and pepper
5 jalapeno peppers in vinegar
2 ripe mangoes
1/2 white onion
Small bunch cilantro
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
To make mango salsa, cut the jalapeno peppers into small cubes.
Put one of the mangoes on a board and cut off a thick slice close to the flat side of the pit. Turn the mango around and repeat on the other side. Score the flesh on each thick slice with criss-cross lines at 1/2-inch intervals, taking care not to cut through the skin.
Repeat with the second mango. Fold the mango halves inside out so that the mango flesh stands away from the skin; slice these off the skin and into a bowl. Cut off the flesh adhering to each pit, dice it and put it in the bowl.
Chop the white onion and cilantro finely and add them to the diced mango. Add the chopped peppers, lime zest and juice to the mixture. Stir well to mix; cover and chill for at least one hour before serving.
Make sure the chicken breast is clean and free of skin. Let it marinate in fresh orange juice before grilling. Season with pepper and salt and set on the grill until ready. Add shredded cheese and put in the oven until melted. Add the mango salsa. Serves one.
How to go
What:19th annual Taste of the Valley,
presented by Volunteer Center of Morgan
When:Monday, 6 to 8 p.m.
Cost:$20 in advance from the Volunteer Center (355-8628), Holiday Inn, Cafe 113, DECATURDAILY, Jimmy Smith Jewelers, Colonial Mall and Hartselle Chamber of Commerce. Tickets at the door are $25. Children under 3 admitted free.