“Summertime, and the living is easy” is the first line of the song “Summertime” from the 1935 opera "Porgy and Bess." A jazz standard and sung by greats such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitgerald (a perfectly lovely version, by the way) and one of the greatest song lyrics in musical theatre. Janis Joplin did a great version, too. Sing your favorite version with me for a second before you read on. It is guaranteed to bring a smile.
I’d like to take the liberty and change it a bit to “Summer Thyme.” Eating at Thyme 2 in Medina with my family the other night, this song came to mind as we soaked in the heat and breezes of summer on the patio while checking out the new menu. Thyme 2 recently unveiled its new summer menu, so I met later with Chef John Kolar to discuss the inspiration behind it and learn more about the "Summer Thyme" themes and ingredients that give it that laid back vacation feel.
The first items that popped off the menu for me were two appetizers – “Stuffed Squash Blossom” and the “Figs and Cheese Plate.” This was right after writing last week’s column on The Fromage Board, so I had cheese on my mind.
“Fresh figs are only available in the summertime, so we wanted to highlight that amazing ingredient," Chef John said. "We paired it with Humboldt Fog Cheese, which is the flagship cheese of Cyprus Grove Farms, a classic. It is a bloomy rind goat cheese with creamy tangy Brie like feel with a layer of ash running through it.”
Great stuff to pair with grilled prosciutto-wrapped figs, with peach chutney and breadsticks to round it out.
The Stuffed Squash Blossom, though, really had me intrigued. This screams summertime. First question, of course, was “Where did you come up with this idea?” John dove into a story about a place called The Chef’s Garden that started up in Milan, Ohio, back in the 1970s.
Apparently, the farm was going through tough times and barely staying afloat when a guy named Charlie Trotter, famous Chicago restaurateur, called and wanted to know if the farm could grow large amounts of just squash blossoms for his restaurants. This led to their specialization in the art of growing just what chefs needed to “set them apart,” success, and making it possible for recipes like tempura-fried, crab-stuffed squash blossom to appear on menus.
Chef Kolar stuffs the squash blossoms (very carefully) with crab meat, ties them with a chive, then quickly fries them tempura style. They are amazing!
The whole conversation on The Chef’s Garden led to a trip to John's well organized walk in refrigerator where he brought out boxes of heirloom tomatoes, baby squash, micro-greens and a thing called pea tendrils. These are all products that he brings in from The Chef’s Garden in Milan.
Heirloom tomatoes are the most perfect summer ingredient possible. They are highlighted in an Heirloom Tomato salad. The baby squash are actually a very tiny squash that are roasted and added as the vegetable with his Grilled Filet Mignon for the summer or while available. The micro-greens and the pea tendrils, which actually taste just like a sweet pea, were beautiful. The thing that strikes me about all of these ingredients is the length a chef-driven restaurant will go to make your dining experience special, the details that separate them from most of us home chefs.
Sure, I made fantastic, award-winning scallops while vacationing recently in Cape Cod, but were they accompanied by corn-pablano risotto, pork belly croutons, pea tendril salad, tomato jam and beurre blanc sauce? No.
Thyme 2’s Lobster Rollatini, another must-try summer dish, combines lump lobster meat with lightly breaded squash and zucchini slices, giving you that ocean vibe. "Summer Shrimp Pasta," which Chef says, “is basically an edible margarita” with tequila lime and chili cheese sauce (and triple sec), spicy cilantro Ohio City linguine, squash, zucchini, bell peppers and chorizo.
Fresh melon salad, blackened redfish with mango salsa and orange mojo sauce, grilled Delmonico steak with fresh grilled asparagus and, of course, Korean barbecue short ribs (summer is ribs, ribs are summer) make me feel summery inside and out.
My favorite item on the summer menu, though, is the corn fritters that accompany his Cedar Plank Salmon. It is his mother’s recipe and reminds him of, and honors, his mom. Mom’s recipes are always the best!