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Tastemakers: Soul Hole Shrimp & Crawfish Etouffee/ Knob Creek Kentucky Bourbon

Rick Coates - January 10th, 2011
Soul Hole Shrimp & Crawfish Étouffée
Since opening last spring, The Soul Hole located on Union Street in the Old Town District of Traverse City has been a welcome addition to the region’s ever-growing culinary scene. If there has been one criticism to Northern Michigan’s dining community, it has been the lack of ethnic and regional cuisine offerings; basically little diversity and too much of the same thing. But in recent years that has been changing for the better.
The Soul Hole has also been helping to shine a light on what at times has been an overlooked part of downtown TC. With the State Theater and City Opera House renovations along with several new eateries, Front Street has been the focus of downtown Traverse City. Toss in the InsideOut Gallery and Right Brain Brewery in the Warehouse District and it seems that Old Town has taken somewhat of a backseat.
No more; with Old Town Coffee, Blue Tractor, a new parking garage, a few trendy shops and the Soul Hole, this part of town is rising up again. Now even bigger news comes for Old Town. The Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival will take place the weekend of February 12 in Old Town with that section of Union Street closed and several breweries, wineries and eateries setting up shop as well as several great bands.
I have enjoyed several great meals at the Soul Hole. Often, I stop for an afternoon order of homemade beignets (a French style doughnut pastry popular in New Orleans) served with whatever sauces have been prepared for the day and a cup of coffee.
While eclectic, southern-inspired cuisine offers many tempting choices, any time one is able to find an “étouffée” on the menu it should go to the top of the list of considerations. Étouffée is a Cajun dish often confused with gumbo, that translated into English means “smothered.” The typical étouffée is served with shellfish (though chicken is sometimes used) and the secret to its success is the roux.
Roux is the essential element in great Louisiana dishes (also in many classic French and Italian dishes) and is a cooked mixture of wheat flour and fat (clarified butter) reduced down with the “holy trinity” of ingredients: onions, green peppers and celery. Roux is typically seasoned with cayenne pepper, salt, white pepper and garlic to taste and the secret it creating consistency thicker than a typical gumbo dish.
The Soul Hole Shrimp & Crawfish Étouffée succeeds on fronts in recreating this classic Cajun dish. Toss in the homemade cornbread and you will be back ordering this again. While Fat Tuesday is two months away word, in the streets is that a Mardi Gras celebration with be taking place on Union Street March 8 out in front of the Sole Hole. For more info call them at 231-929-7238. -- Rick Coates

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon
It has often been said that one of the surest signs of alcoholism is drinking alone. But there is an art to drinking alone; rocker George Thorogood sings about it and Winston Churchill lived it.
Though Churchill was a notorious drinker in public during his years as Britain’s Prime Minister, he was very much into the art of drinking alone. He would often enjoy a scotch or brandy by himself at the end of the day. Several American Presidents were known for their late night cocktails and contemplation of worldly issues as they worked alone from the Oval Office or reflected on the day in their private living quarters.
Drinking alcohol is often thought of as a social activity but there are many benefits to drinking alone. Try going to a party and reading a good book versus reading it alone, the attention to detail is totally different. One could look at drinking alone in that same light, quality spirits, wines and craftbrews often (not always) taste better when there are no distractions. Just you, your thoughts and the ability to focus on aromas and flavors.
Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon is one of those great “drink alone” spirits. Knob Creek is named after Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Kentucky. Hs father was a bourbon distiller who eventually sold his land and moved his family. While Lincoln only drank on rare occasions and often spoke about the virtues of sobriety, one of his most famous lines came when his aides reported to him that General Ulysses S. Grant was drinking bourbon on the front lines during the Civil War. Lincoln’s response: “Find out the brand of bourbon and send bottles to all the other generals.”
Knob Creek is bottled at 100 proof and aged for nine years. During that aging process about 30% of the bourbon is lost to evaporation, this is known as the “angels’ share.” Sitting in American White Oak barrels for nine years, Knob Creek draws out a perfect balance of sugar and oak from the barrels resulting in just a hint of sweetness and allowing for the full rich woody flavors to penetrate one’s palate.
Enjoy Knob Creek either neat or with a couple of ice cubes. I have found giving myself a two finger pour with two ice cubes and only the distraction of a roaring fire brings out the best not only in this bourbon but often a reflection of the best the day had to offer. Knob Creek is part of the Jim Beam family of small batch bourbons. find more details at www.knobcreek.com or fine it anywhere find liquors are sold and offered. For a great Knob Creek Manhattan check out Stella at The Village at the Grand Traverse Commons. --Rick Coates
 
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