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June 28, 2012

Café Savoy -- Wine Bar Café, Vitenza 124/5 Praha 5 Mala Strana, Prague

By Patricia Margaret Honeyfield

A city rapidly growing in prosperity, Prague presents an innovative face to the world, with its old architecture interspersed with funky ‘street style.’ Beautiful buildings, the monuments to its past, sit side by side with seriously good modern art and architecture and cafés that would hold their own anywhere in the 2012 world.

This is a city (often described as the Paris of the east) best enjoyed on foot.

For a morning constitutional take a walk (or run -- the locals are very fitness conscious) over the Vltava River to the Mala Strana side. This side represents the residential face of Prague’s elegant past. Enjoy the lovely old apartment buildings, stately homes, Baroque Palaces, and, in contrast, the cosy neighborhood cafés that, during the long, cold winter months, with temperatures well below freezing, take on the role of social hubs. These are the same cafés that served as meeting places for the dissidents in the lead up to the turning point of the Velvet Revolution on November 17, 1989.

For a truly wonderful experience that will take you back a couple of centuries, head to the Café Savoy on Vitenza, just across the Most Leggi bridge. The Savoy oozes old world charm, sophistication, and atmosphere, with impeccable waiter service to match. Take special note of the beautifully embossed and painted ceilings with their statuesque chandeliers. A strong black morning coffee and a delicate pastry made in house are served on a silver tray, accompanied by a glass of sparkling mineral water (a nice touch). Lunch at Café Savoy can be as simple as three frankfurters floating sedately in an elegantly lidded silver bowl. They come served with three different types of mustard, a choice of yummy textured local breads, and a small bowl of finely grated hard cheese. The excellent local wines, a feature of the café, complement this simple yet sophisticated food. After lunch a demi tasse cup of strong black coffee is a must -- and they do it well.

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Sampling Southern Oregon's Marvelous Wines

By Roy Stevenson
ITWPA Member

Southern Oregon is fast becoming recognized as a viticultural powerhouse, as its wines keep gaining national and international recognition. Two appellations in particular, the Umpqua Valley and the Rogue Valley, are the primary engines behind this wine renaissance, with a remarkable array of reds, whites, and varietals that presents wine lovers with a diverse selection indeed.

The Umpqua Valley’s wine legacy can be traced from Richard Summers, who first planted vines in Roseburg in 1961, making the Umpqua Valley the oldest continually producing wine region in the Pacific Northwest and the cradle of the Oregon wine industry.

Summers, founder of Hillcrest Winery, planted his vines against the advice of California vintners who believed the climate and soil were not right for grapes. It turned out that the valley’s different geologic terranes produced a rich diversity of landscapes and microclimates along its 45-mile length, which in turn have yielded a phenomenal array of grape varieties. This is Oregon’s (and probably the U.S.A.’s) most complex and interesting wine-growing region.

The cool north valley region, with its good sun exposure and coastal maritime influence, produces outstanding Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. The warm temperatures of the valley’s central sub zone are responsible for great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and many varietals. The southern valley region, with broad, steep, oak-forested hillsides and southern exposure, receives plenty of sunshine leading to some superb Baco Noir, Viognier, Cabernet, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Syrah.

Despite its impressive history, this appellation is often referred to as “America’s Last Undiscovered Wine Region.” It boasts 19 wineries, each with its own distinct history and ambiance.

Girardet Wine Cellars, with its beautiful 35-acre, southwest-facing estate (est. 1983) in the middle of a range of green, rolling, Douglas fir-covered hills, is one such winery with great ambiance.

Swiss-born vintner Philippe Girardet reflects his European influence with his excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and wines made from French-American hybrids and baco noir grapes. Philippe and his son Marc, who has taken over the family winemaking, use old-world dry farming techniques on the vineyard’s damp red soil, including hand harvesting and pruning. The Girardets are considered the foremost experts on Baco Noir in the U.S.A. This rich, lush, dry red has a signature baco noir scent and taste of blueberry and plum.

Hillcrest Winery vintner Dyson DeMara is proud of operating the oldest winery in Oregon (est. 1957), and has pioneered many firsts in Oregon winemaking, including Pinot Noir. He’s enthusiastic and passionate about his winemaking and always experimenting with ideas he brings back from his frequent visits to Europe. Using stainless steel tanks and small European barrels, Dyson makes hearty Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Viognier.

Hillcrest’s barn-style tasting room is a cozy, low-ceiling room with wooden beams across the roof. Dyson will walk you through his winemaking room out the back at the drop of a hat, and entertain you with some marvelous and hilarious stories. He delights in telling that he belongs to a Mormon family, who of course do not drink alcohol!

Picturesque Abacela Vineyard and Winery is on the same latitude as northern Spain, and physicians-turned-winemakers Earl Jones and Andrew Wenzi specialize in Spanish varietals on this immaculately maintained vineyard. Located on a steep, dry, south-facing series of hills, Abacela makes a spectacular vista, and can almost be mistaken for an aged Italian or Spanish vineyard.

The undulating hillside has so many terroir micro-pockets that Earl has an impressive variety of grapes growing in tidily marked lots including tempranillo, syrah, malbec, grenache, albarino, dolcetto, and garnacha. He specializes in big, deeply-colored reds that are aged for several years to yield intense varietal character, a hint of fruit and oak with a solid body. Earl’s Abacela Tempranillo has won international awards, making it the first American vineyard to do so for this varietal.

A wine tour of the Umpqua Valley will provide the taster with an excellent and diverse selection of Southern Oregon’s wines, and just as important, provide some marvelous memories and experiences as you visit these distinctly different wineries and meet their winemakers.

Located south of the Umpqua Valley, the Rogue and Applegate Valleys have their fair share of excellent wineries -- a total of 29. It was near Jacksonville that Peter Britt, a Swiss photographer, founded the first winery in Oregon, Valley View Winery, in 1854. Unfortunately, after his death in 1906, the winery closed.

Taking the name of Peter Britt’s original winery, the family-run Valley View Winery, dating back to 1976, makes some excellent old world wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah that have received wide acclaim. Valley View Winery owners, the Wisnovsky family, have also pioneered Viognier and Tempranillo, with exciting results. They’re nationally renowned as professionals in the winemaking industry, setting high standards for their winemaking.

Valley View Winery farms 27 acres of grapes, plus some sourced local grapes, to make 9,000 cases annually. Try their Viognier; loaded with tropical fruit flavors, this dry wine features an apricot aroma, citrus, and a long crisp finish. The Tempranillo is their signature red, with flavors of cherry, red plums, and a hint of vanilla. A visit to this scenic vineyard is a must for wine lovers exploring the Applegate Valley.

The bright, open, modern Anna Maria’s Tasting Room offers a gorgeous sweeping view over the vineyard and Applegate Valley, with large tree-clad mountains looming in the distant background.

Founded in 2002, at the historic Hillcrest Orchard in east Medford, 75-acre RoxyAnn Winery is located on the southwest slopes of Roxy Ann Peak. Its soil base of shallow limestone and clay and southwest exposure make it ideally suited to produce big red varietals and blends like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Tempranillo.

RoxyAnn Winery is one of the largest operations in Southern Oregon, producing 24 different wines and 15,000 cases annually, and its owners, the Parsons family, are committed to producing bold, exciting wines with good balance and depth of flavor. The winery uses sustainable land management practices and time-tested agricultural techniques to support the soil, prevent soil erosion, and limit water use.

Despite its great size, the lively tasting room (located in a historic barn) maintains a warm, welcoming ambiance -- largely due to the friendly staff -- setting the stage for the winery’s old farm charm. The tasting room offers a large variety of gifts, deli items, and fresh local produce for sale. Outside, picnic tables with shade umbrellas and adjoining gardens make a great place to sit and visit with friends (and strangers).

A 20-minute drive from the scenic mountain and river town of Grant’s Pass, the Schmidt Family Vineyards is a class act. I’ve seen some spectacular wineries in my time, but SFV takes the cake. With its enormous, lofty, Northwest lodge-style tasting room, huge outdoor patio furnished with metal tables and Adirondack chairs, several acres of lush, beautifully landscaped wine garden with multicolored blooming flowers and herbs, a greenhouse, intimate wooden cabanas, a gazebo, a small lake, private little nooks and crannies, and a picturesque vineyard, the 28-acre Schmidt Family Vineyards is like Disneyland. When you visit this place, you go for the whole day! To spend less time here would be churlish.

It’s an ideal place to take a group of friends if you want to impress them -- this place is so large there’s guaranteed to be a deck or private cabana where you can host your own private party, drinking some fine wines while you’re at it, all in relaxed sophistication. Cal and Judy Schmidt make five main wines and specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Other wines made here -- many World of Wine award-winning -- include Viognier and some excellent Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Merlot, all with distinctive botanical and floral illustrations on the labels.

The Plaisance Ranch, located in the rural valley area of Williams, makes for an interesting and pleasant visit. Its roots in the Southern Oregon wine industry date back to 1898 -- and before that, France -- when Joseph Ginet of Savoie, France, came to Oregon after his discharge from the French Army. He established a homestead at Sterling Creek near Jacksonville.

Grandson Joe Ginet and his wife Suzi established the new Plaisance Ranch (named after his grandfather’s homestead) vineyard in 1998 with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. He opened the winery in 2009 with a 2006 Rouge Prestige, a Mondeuse blend. It’s a winery with a difference: handcrafted wine in a real ranch-style setting.  

The Ginets keep themselves busy growing organic hay, raising certified organic beef cattle, selling grafted grapevines and wine grapes, and of course crafting their fine wines. The front tasting room is small, but the real place to sip the Ginets’ wines is out the back, sitting at rustic picnic tables on the concrete floor of the former milking shed, for that ranch-style experience.

These, then, are a sampling of some of the Umpqua Valley and Applegate Valley wineries -- not a complete listing by any means. One of the most enjoyable things about wine tasting in this area is the tremendous diversity in the ambiance and atmosphere of each of the wineries. All are unique in their size, shape, and service, but all have one thing in common -- their outstanding wines.

If you plan on visiting the area to do some wine tasting, allow several days to fully appreciate each winery, rather than rushing from place to place. These graceful winery valleys are relaxing if you ease back and let them slow you down to country time.

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Interlude in New York City’s West Village

By Lynne Williams

Some New York City neighborhoods are “sitting” neighborhoods, with abundant small parks and benches placed outside of stores. I never worry that I will have to buy something to eat or drink at a café just because my ramblings have tired me out. The West Village, bordered by the Hudson River, 14th Street, Houston Street, and Sixth Avenue, is one such neighborhood of abundant free seating. As I wandered along Hudson Street recently, I ran across a block-long garden in full springtime bloom. The profusion of colors intrigued me and I wandered in, only to find out that the property was part of The Church of Saint Luke in the Fields Episcopal Church.  There are three separate gardens, with paths, benches (seating!), and interesting 19th century buildings in excellent condition. One building is currently the parish house and was a boyhood home of author Bret Hart.


After this respite, I wandered Hudson Street to the corner of West 11th Street to one of my favorite watering holes, White Horse Tavern, always a good place for an afternoon libation. Built in 1880, and a long-time literary and bohemian haven, the White Horse was the location of the drinking escapades of the two great Dylans, Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan. The bartenders here are friendly and there is a generally relaxed atmosphere and casual pub menu.

Leaving the White Horse, I headed down West 11th Street to where it intersects West 4th Street, just to see the befuddled visitors trying to figure that one out, and overheard one of them mutter “must be a New York thing.”  That is the simple charm of this neighborhood, a fantasy land where streets that are parallel can inexplicably transform themselves into geometric impossibilities.

The Church of Saint Luke in the Fields is at 487 Hudson Street, between Christopher and Barrow Streets, (212) 924-0562, http://www.stlukeinthefields.org.

White Horse Tavern is at 567 Hudson Street, at the corner of West 11th Street. Nice outdoor seating is available.

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The Royal Treatment

Southern Cuisine, Ocean Breezes, and History -- All at The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort on St. Simons Island
By Diane Leone

It’s almost impossible not to feel a bit like royalty while staying at The King and Prince. It’s not just the sparkling water in the sprawling pool area or the ocean breeze from the blue Atlantic just outside your room -- it’s also the history of the resort, having started in 1935 as a private dance club only to become The King and Prince Hotel in 1941. And the royal feel continues as you learn the history of St. Simons and enjoy the Southern hospitality of the local residents and business owners. They are on “island time” and it won’t be long before you are, too. Soon you’ll never want to leave this paradise.

Attending the four-day “Southern Culinary Cuisine” event at The King and Prince is an amazing treat.

With the recent addition of Executive Chef Jeff Kaplan, The King and Prince has succeeded in creating an exceptional Southern Cuisine experience for its guests. Chef Kaplan embraces the “Food to Table Movement.” This was apparent from the first evening, when the menu included inventive drinks from Georgia’s 13th Colony Distillery, an amazing spread of artisan cheeses from Sweet Grass Dairy (Thomasville, GA) paired with local honeys and jams, delicious White Georgia Shrimp & Grits, melt-in-your-mouth crème brûlée with fresh Georgia peaches, and buttery Chardonnay made from the Muscadine grape (compliments of Georgia’s Still Pond Winery).

You will awake to the sound of the ocean waves hitting the beach. Don’t miss a chance to watch the sunrise over the ocean before you make your way to the culinary delight that awaits you for breakfast. One such dish is Chef Kaplan’s take on traditional eggs benedict, a delightful meal with perfectly poached eggs resting on fried green tomatoes, bacon, and goat cheese on top of English muffins.

Although you could simply spend the day at the edge of the ocean or at the pool, basking in the sun and sampling the Southern fare, there are activities to explore on St. Simons that will help you burn some calories so you can enjoy more Southern Cuisine delights. One such option is The King and Prince Golf Course, designed by architect Joe Lee; the course is famous for a group of four spectacular signature holes delicately situated in the marsh. Watch for the eagle nest and alligators if the grand 300-year-old oaks with moss hanging lazily off their limbs are not enough to capture your attention while experiencing this beautiful golf course. If you want to see the island and hear stories of its history, take a trolley tour with Cap Fendig, whose family has resided on St. Simons since the 1800s.


To really feel the local vibe of the fresh food you are tasting, take the Let’s Go Shrimpin’ tour on the Lady Jane shrimp boat, where you’ll have the chance to touch the bounty hauled up from the water. Experience the thrill of seeing all of the different fish, sharks, shrimp, and stingrays. During our excursion, a sea turtle was caught in the nets (it’s rare for this to happen), great to see but always put back in the water. Everything caught is put back after guests get to touch, hold, and photograph the catch, except for the shrimp, because the trademark white shrimp are boiled up for guests to dine on before departing the Lady Jane.

For a truly local feel, consider Southern Soul Barbeque, a casual place with benches outside where you can smell the ribs, chicken, pulled pork and killer ‘sides’ cooking. The restaurant has nationwide appeal (featured on shows such as Diners, Drive-ins and Dives).

Don’t miss a visit to Palmer’s Village Café where you’ll find delightful locally-sourced dishes with a beautiful backdrop of local artists’ paintings. The art makes the café feel light and airy and it’s for sale if you find a piece you just have to have. Palmer’s offers up creative breakfast dishes such as a mini biscuit with café sausage and pimento cheese -- a Southern tradition -- or challah French toast and blueberry orange compote with warm, fresh maple syrup.


While on the island, you simply cannot afford to miss a meal at the award-winning Halyards restaurant, where Chef Dave Snyder features a “seafood demo” with 10-15 varieties of local fish. Our menu included grilled whole shrimp with salsa, sautéed flounder with caramelized vidalia crab scampi butter, oysters grilled with garlic oil and chimichurri, and much more. It’s a must-experience local eatery.

The delightful Sugar Marsh Cottage, located just 13 miles from Brunswick, offered an amazing chocolate tasting, complete with information on how to rate chocolate. This was wonderful -- and yet there was more! A honey sampling from Savannah Bee Company was truly an inspiring experience. Who knew there were so many delectable types of honey?

To round out your gourmet sampling of the incredible Southern Culinary Cuisine event, find Food and Beverage Director Mr. Vinny D’Agostino to get his recipe for homemade limoncello. Not only does this Italian after-dinner liqueur aid in digestion, it’s smooth and sublime.

At the end of the day, The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, along with St. Simons Island, are worth experiencing. You’ll find yourself on island time in no time at all.

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Landmark Eatery in Historic Downtown Alton Serves Up Homemade Americana

By Deanna Lawrence
ITWPA Member

Although it has been a popular local lunch spot for over 20 years, yesterday was my first visit to My Just Desserts in Alton, IL, known especially for their half-pound chicken salad sandwich and ever-changing selection of more than 150 homemade desserts. I knew I was in for a treat.

The menu, which changes daily, listed several sandwiches, salads, and soups including roasted turkey on a croissant ($7.99), black-eyed pea and rice soup ($2.25/cup, $2.75/bowl), a chef salad ($4.95/$7.95) and one special -- beef brisket with pasta ($8.95). On my server’s advice, I opted for half a chicken salad sandwich and a cup of broccoli soup served with chips ($7.99).

As I glanced around the room in anticipation, I was taken back in time by the antique quilts and other Americana adorning the walls. Looking closer, I noticed that many of the items were made by local crafts people, and all were for sale. I was impressed by the demonstration of small town interdependence that you often see in local places like this.

The restaurant, originally a flower shop owned by a prominent Altonian, has managed to retain much of its original mid-1800s lighting and other architectural features. To help solidify its place in history, there is a small collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia commemorating his 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas that took place just yards from the building’s door.

At 1 p.m. on a weekday, I was a little surprised to see only three other diners. But I was soon to realize that the lack of patrons was no barometer for measuring the food’s tastiness.

As if taking a cue from its surroundings, my soup and sandwich echoed the simplicity and quality of days past. The sandwich consisted of large chunks of white meat chicken mixed with some mayonnaise and pickle and served on wheat bread. No extra embellishments or fancy treatment. It was delicious. The same can be said for the broccoli soup. Perfectly seasoned, it was fresh, hot, and just the right consistency. The chips were the everyday rippled variety, not homemade, but still contributed a nice crunch to the meal.

Looking back to the menu board after my meal, I read through the list of available desserts (all $4.75). The day’s offerings included Carmel Candy and Sweet Georgia Peach pies, Red Velvet cheesecake, and Tollhouse™ cookie bars.

Of the dozen or so other choices, one dessert immediately piqued my curiosity -- Mrs. Ledbetter pie. “That’s the one we’re known for,” my server announced. “It is a German chocolate pie topped with pecans and coconut.” Of course I had to try it.
Within minutes I was sinking my teeth into the rich, chocolaty pie. Served warm with a dollop of whipped cream, it had the consistency of not-quite-done brownies. I wasn’t sure at first if I liked it or not, but when I finished it later -- after it had been refrigerated -- I was a fan.

As I finished my meal, I wondered why I had waited so long to give My Just Desserts a try. It has all the components I look for in a lunch spot: homemade food, reasonable prices, friendly service, and exquisite desserts. Mix in the period furnishings and décor and this is definitely a place that deserves to be on your list of places to visit in Alton, IL.


Hours are daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Located at 31 E. Broadway, Alton, IL 62002. (618) 462-5881. http://myjustdesserts.org. They have an extensive catering menu and accommodations for groups up to 57 people.

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About June 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Travel Post Monthly in June 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2012 is the previous archive.

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Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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