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Miami On and Off the Beach

Just about now watching the snow fall steadily all day and awaiting another deep freeze on Thursday, we look at each other and say, “At least we had Miami.” If you live anywhere in this week’s polar vortex, you know what we mean!

With Chef Norman Van Aken, who the late Charlie Trotter called “The Walt Whitman of American Cuisine.”

We celebrated New Year’s in Miami Beach. Actually, we were off the beach more than on it, catching up with friends and trying local restaurants. If you go, make sure to visit the Wynwood Arts District and take in the colorful street art and local cafes. That’s where we caught up with Chef Norman Van Aken at Three at Wynwood Arcade. We were glad to see him back in South Florida after closing Norman’s in Coral Gables. If you go, sit at the chef’s counter. Van Aken also has a cooking school and rooftop bar that is an Arts District hot spot.

Scallop Ceviche at Three at Wynwood

We continued checking out locally owned spots like Stiltsville Fish Bar on Sunset Harbor, owned by Chefs Jeffrey McInnis and Janine Booth. We enjoyed the well-prepared fish dishes and casual, no-attitude atmosphere. Our one Cuban restaurant was Bella Cuba, a small family-run spot opened in 2005 that serves authentic dishes and a popular blueberry mojito.

Mojitos at Bella Cuba

Lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab is always fun. Of course, we partook in the restaurant’s namesake menu item, along with the signature creamed spinach and key lime pie. We never would have considered ordering fried chicken at Joe’s, but one of our lunch mates did. The excellent one-half free-range fried chicken is one of the best bargains on the menu at $6.95!

Conch Fritters at Joes Stone Crab

Miami is filled with great restaurants. Just about every well-known chef has an outpost in one of the hotels that line the beach or downtown. As much as we’d love to try them all, there something about smaller locally-owned places that draw us in.

We left Miami in sunny spirits and ready to book another trip.

One of the many outdoor art displays at the Wynwood Arts District


Drink Explore The Connected Table SIPS

The Story Behind the Name: Four Roses Bourbon

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for roses.

My maternal grandmother’s name was Rose. My maternal grandfather created a rose garden in his back yard in tribute to my grandmother. I used to love to wander the garden and smell the different roses.

My late father would bring my mother a single rose every Friday during their 52-year marriage. The day of his funeral, a Friday, David Ransom presented my mother a single rose at the memorial service to continue the tradition. 

My mother always has a vase of fresh roses in my bedroom when I visit her in Tennessee. Roses are a symbol of love and, for me personally, for family and for heritage.

A bouquet of red roses welcomed me to Kentucky at the 21C Museum Hotel in Lexington. Details make the difference!

So, naturally I was intrigued by the story behind Four Roses Bourbon, which recently celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2018 by sending us a baby rose-bush to plant. Coincidentally, our garden had just three blooming rose bushes. Now, it has four rose bushes.  I welcomed an invitation to visit last December. It was my first visit to a Kentucky Bourbon distillery. 

The legend of Four Roses Bourbon (est. 1888) started when its Founder, Paul Jones, a Louisville businessman, became smitten with a Southern belle  named Mary, whom he courted for a number of years.  Jones asked Mary to respond to his “final” marriage proposal (after a few asks) by wearing a corsage of four red roses to a cotillion dance.  This time she accepted and entered the ballroom wearing the corsage.

There are a few versions to this story depending on who tells it. But, if you visit Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, you may be lucky enough to meet Al Young, the brand’s official historian (a.k.a. Senior Brand Ambassador), who will share a few anecdotes and who has a sharp memory.  Young  has worked with the distillery for 51 years and wrote a book called “Four Roses- The Return of a Whiskey Legend.”

A medicinal bottle of Four Roses Whiskey on display in the distillery’s mini museum.

The word “return” is important because for a long time, Four Roses did not produce its Bourbon. One reason was Prohibition which lasted from 1920 to 1933. During that time whiskey was only approved and made for medicinal use. After Prohibition (Repeal) distilleries had to invest heavily to start over. Making Bourbon, is time intensive. In 1943, the company was acquired by Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., which reorganized it and decided to focus on making whiskies only for the export market. Then, the brand was acquired for a time by a consortium established between Pernod Ricard and Diageo. In 2002, Japan’s Kirin Holdings acquired Four Roses and reintroduced its flagship Kentucky Bourbons starting with its single barrel in 2004 and a small batch in 2006. 

Our tasting led by Master Distiller Brent Elliott

During a distillery visit last December Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott guided us through a tasting and explained the process to which utilizes two mash bills and five propriety yeast strains to make ten distinct recipes used in the blending. It was a lesson in chemistry as he showed how the different proprietary yeasts are coded and then blended (V-delicate fruit, K=light spice, O=rich fruit, Q=floral essence, F=herbal).

Workers on the Four Roses Bourbon bottling line applying labels by hand.

We had the chance to visit both the distillery in Lawrenceburg and the bottling facility on Cox’s Creek to experience production from start to finish.  We were intrigued by the bottling line with staffers applying labels and bottle tags by hand, each bottle carefully inspected. Talk about hand-crafted!

Four Roses has three signature Bourbons. All were smooth, mellow and delicate on the palate.

Four Roses Single Barrel has notes of vanilla, maple, pear and spice with a long finish (100 proof/50% ABV)

Four Roses Small Batch is creamier  and rich with more caramel and berry notes. (90 proof/45% ABV)

Four Roses Bourbon balances vibrant fruit and spice. (80 proof/40% ABV) 

We also tasted a special blend 130th Anniversary Four Roses. This limited edition Bourbon was lightly floral and a tad sweeter in a very satisfying – please, give me some more!- way. Then, Elliott took us into his laboratory where we had the rare chance to taste of few other proprietary blends. Swoon!

The distillery was decorated for Christmas when we visited in early December.

Four Roses conducts guided tours at the Lawrenceburg distillery, which is a beautiful Spanish mission-style building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On site are a small Four Roses museum and gift shop. Info:

Al Young in Four Roses Bourbon’s mini museum at the Lawrenceburg distillery.

Four Roses Bourbon Senior Ambassador Al Young discusses the history of Four Roses Bourbon on The Connected Table SIPS on iHeart. Click the photo below to listed or this link


A special thank you to Four Roses Bourbon for hosting this trip and to The Baddish Group for including Melanie, a dedicated Bourbon drinker and rose lover.

Tasting Master Distiller Brent Elliott’s special Bourbons in his lab.
Drink Explore

Tuscany Less Traveled: Hidden Wine Gems from Western Tuscany #RoadTrip

When thinking of Tuscany and its wines, a few regions immediately come to mind, like Chianti Classico, where the most sought-after wines of the eight classified Chianti regions are produced; Montepulciano, home to the famous Vino Nobile wines, and of course, Montalcino, where Brunello is produced.

Yet, aside from these three well-known regions, there are many smaller areas in the Tuscany  producing wonderful wines that are worth seeking out. The Connected Table recently went on a road trip, zig-zagging through the backroads of Tuscany’s west side and found a number of producers making wines the equal of their more famous neighbors.

Here are a few of our favorites and where they are located.

Gianni Moscardini, owner of Sator, in one of his vineyards

Sator Wines. Situated in the relatively small (20 producers total) Montescudaio DOC in the coastal hills just south of Pisa (west of Florence) and just north of Bolgheri, Sator is owned by Gianni Moscardini. The winery sits on rolling farmland owned by his family for over 150 years. While grapes have been grown on the property for many years, only recently did Moscardini, a consulting agronomist for a number of well-known Tuscan wine producers, start making his own wine from them. Unlike in Bolgheri, where much of the wines are made from international grape varieties, Moscardini focuses on indigenous grapes at Sator including Fiano and Vermentino for white wine production, along with Sangiovese and Cilegiolo for his red wines.

Selection of Sator Wines

Some favorites for us included Satur Bianco IGT, a delightfully crisp everyday white made from 85% Vermentino/15%  Fiano, and  Satur Artume, a wonderfully complex white blend of 67% Fiano/33% Vermentino aged in oak for 10 months before bottling.  For reds: Satur Rosso Montescudaio a Sangiovese /Teroldego blend that we could drink all day long (well, not really, but it sure was easy on the palate), and Sileno Sangiovese Montescudaio DOC, a ripe and structured wine that shows great balance and ageing potential.

Podere Marcampo vineyards and view

Podere Marcampo  Further south and a bit inland, near the ancient walled city of Volterra, lies the estate of Marcampo. Relatively new to the region’s wine scene, Marcampo was started in 2004 by one Volterra’s most prominent restaurant families, the Del Ducas. Claudia Del Duca runs the wine production while her mother,Ivana, runs the Entoeca Ristorante Del Duca in town. Father, Genuino, a retired carabinieri, makes wine and some amazing salumi.

There is also an agriturismo (Bed & Breakfast) on the property so one can also book a night there to stay and enjoy the incredible vistas from the ridge on the outskirts of town where the winery is located.

Selection of Marcampo Wines

Marcampo’s wines are also made from mostly native grape varieties, including Sangiovese, Cilegiolo and Vermentino. We loved the Terrablu Vermentino, and Genuino Sangiovese (made from 80% Sangiovese/20% Merlot), both of which were very well-made everyday drinking wines. Also not to be missed were the Severus 100% Sangiovese (named for the Roman Emperor who built Volterra’s coliseum), and Giusto alle Balze, Marcampo’s signature red “Super Tuscan” made from 100% Merlot.

60- year- old vineyard, still in production, at Poggio Al Grillo in Bolgheri

Poggio Al Grillo Leaving Volterra and heading back towards the coast and Bolgheri, we next went to the village of Castagneto Carducci to taste the wines of Poggio Al Grillo. While tiny (they currently produce only 5000 bottles per year), This producer boasts one of Bolgheri’s oldest known vineyards, a sixty- year old 1.25 acre plot of Aleatico, Petit Manseng (one of TCT’s favorite white grapes), and Cabernet Franc – all co-planted as was the norm back then since most wine was made into blends, not bottled varietally.

Poggio Al Grillo makes mostly Rosé from Aleatico (aptly named Rosatico), and is tinkering with other wines as they plant new vineyards and increase production. One, Corvallo, is a delightful blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Petit Manseng.

Melanie & David on the tractor at Sator Winery

So, next time you have an urge to try something different, yet somewhat familiar, ask your favorite wine shop or restaurant if they carry any of these Tuscan gems. You’ll be glad you did.

Stay insatiably curious!

David and Melanie   – The Insatiably Curious Culinary Couple

Connect with us Twitter @connectedtable  and on Instagram@theconnectedtable

Next up: More wine gems from the opposite side of Tuscany.

Listen to our show with Claudia Del Duca, Podere Marcampo here:

With Claudia Del Duca, Podere Marcampo

Drink Eat Explore

Chattanooga Chews- The Connected Table #RoadTrip

Market Street Bridge over the Tennessee River with the Chattanooga Aquarium in the background Photo credit: Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Burea

Chattanooga, Tennessee used to be a backwater for restaurants, but now it’s hopping. Whitebird at The Edwin Hotel, part of The Autograph Collection, is near the Hunter Museum of American Art and scenic Riverwalk. The hotel’s Whiskey Thief bar has become an evening hotspot.

Grilled salmon, vegetables and kale at Whitebird, The Edwin Hotel (The Autograph Collection by Marriott), Chattanooga, TN

We celebrated David’s birthday lunch with fried chicken drizzled with honey, served with a giant Cruze Dairy buttermilk biscuit at Daily Ration.

A perfect Cruze buttermilk biscuit at Daily Ration, Chattanooga, TN

Puffy Pancakes at Daily Ration, Chattanooga, TN


Breakfast of Champions: Kale, Black Beans, Crispy Mushrooms, Avocado Mash and Fried Egg, Chattanooga, TN

We noshed on and spicy okra chips, burnt romaine salad and wood-grilled salmon at Lawton Haygood’s Sidetrack. Haygood, who has been a guest on The Connected Table Live, also owns Sugar’s Ribs and The Boathouse, one of our favorite places to enjoy generous portions of both freshwater fish and seafood overlooking the Tennessee River.

Burnt Romaine Salad at Sidetrack

We also enjoyed meaty lobster rolls at the Bar and Billiard Room in the newly renovated Read House Hotel (where Melanie’s mother was married over 50 years ago).

Lobster roll and fries at The Bar and Billiards Room, Read House Hotel, Chattanooga, TN

We also discovered 405 Bistro, which features Middle Eastern dishes and a nice wine list (rare for Chattanooga). The lobster bisque cous cous with seared scallops was the big hit as were the mezze.

Lobster Bisque Cous Cous and Seared Scallops at 405 Bistro, Chattanooga, TN

David gets carded at 405 Bistro. It’s the law no matter your age.


Other terrific restaurants on prior visits to see Melanie’s mother include: Easy BistroPublic House and Feed Table and Tavern. Melanie’s favorite smoothie and juice bar is Southern Squeeze. Every time we visit Chattanooga, more restaurants are opening.

Just like the story of the Little Engine, Chattanooga has become the little city that could…and has…become a fabulous destination for food lovers!

Wood-grilled fish, The Boathouse, Chattanooga, TN

Best Bloody Mary, The Boathouse, Chattanooga, TN


Sunset view from The Boathouse, Chattanooga, TN. Best riverside dining!

For more information on visiting Melanie’s hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee, visit the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau website


Listen to our show with Chattanooga restaurateurs Lawton  and Karen Haygood, owners of Sugar’s Ribs, The Boathouse and Sidetrack, on The Connected Table @iHeart