Monday, December 8, 2008

Know Justus, Know Eats

Sunday was her birthday. After she got back from a brunch-type event, we went hippie and hurriedly planted the trees that the Arbor Day Foundation decided should be sent and planted the first week of December. My runny nose thanks you immensely.

As is our custom, it was time for one of our special occasion dinners. These occur on our birthdays, our anniversary, and Valentine’s Day. We try to do something really nice and/or interesting, as we are budding foodies who enjoy the adventure of experiencing new tastes.

This led me to select Justus Drugstore (a restaurant) as the site for our dinner. I had heard great things here and here and here, but this place was in downtown Smithville! I was hopeful that a 70-minute round trip would be worth it.

Oh my, was it ever.

My expectations were pretty high, and they were thoroughly exceeded, surpassed, and altogether annihilated.

We started with some wonderful libations from the skilled bartender. She had the “Elixir of the Day” (yes, they have such a thing) and I had a “Go Figure”. They infuse their own spirits, which leads to things like fig-infused applejack and raspberry-infused vodka. Trust me – they were fantastic.

We were then seated. The décor is nice and modern, with a wide-open view into the kitchen. It was interesting to note that I faced calm, placid downtown Smithville while she faced the organized chaos that is a restaurant’s kitchen.

We had brandade, a mixture of smoked walleye, oil, and potatoes to spread over crostini. Fabulous. Our salads almost induced tears; hers was maytag blue cheese with roasted beets and a black walnut praline and mine had sage goat cheese wrapped in bacon on the side.

Our mains were fabulous – hers was an American Kobe flat iron steak, cooked a perfect medium rare. I had the Pork 2 Ways, which was a pork ribeye and a small cut of shoulder that was smoked, crusted, then fried. It was stunning, and it really should have been called pork 10 ways. Each time you got a little bite of the braised spinach, cabbage, apple sticks, crème with bacon powder (seriously), or sweet corn flan, it lent another dimension to the pork. This was the best pork I’ve ever had, bar none. I refer to both the preparation and the quality of meat that was used.

After we ordered dessert, the very friendly Chef Justus came out of the kitchen and spoke to us. His passion for this place is evident, and he has a lot invested: he and his wife designed and did most of the construction for the restaurant (a slide show plays near the bar showing the construction process). He believes in his food, most of which is supplied by a network of local farmers and grown organically. Everything is prepared from scratch. The quality is top-notch.

His story of how he and his wife entered the food business and how the restaurant came to be is fascinating and worth a trip by itself. Seriously, go up there and ask him or his wife! I won’t spoil it; I’ll just say it involves bike messenger-ing, art school, a flood, and the south of France among other things.

Dessert was wonderful as well – flourless chocolate torte with hazelnut mousse inside. We also did a flight of ice cream. Yeah, you heard me. They had about 12 homemade ice cream flavors that included raspberry ginger, butterscotch tarragon, and cherry balsamic. We tried four; all rocked.

If you have the chance, I implore you to go off the beaten path and visit this gem. I promise it’s worth the drive.

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