by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
Anne and I love good food and wine and it is often a key highlight of our European travel adventures. According to Booking.com, 75% of global travelers “would likely travel somewhere known for its great food and drink.” I also read recently that only 6% remember a statistic yet 62% remember a story, so this blog is about good food and wine in Europe, seen through our eyes and stories. I’m not sure how accurate these statistics are, but they make sense to me—a lot of people like to eat well on their trips! So here goes some memorable stories about our food experiences in Europe. I also must add, we have had so many good food and wine experiences, it was hard to choose just these few, so look for more stories in the future.
A French Delight in Strasbourg
In 1989, Anne and I were in Strasbourg on Bastille Day, the 14th of July (French Independence Day). We were eating a fabulous meal of chateaubriand for 2 in a small bistro, La Cruche D’or. Suddenly our waitress came running up and said we had to leave to go see the special light and music show at the cathedral—she would keep our meal for our return. We rushed out into the streets but quickly saw they were so crowded, we could not make it to an open street to see the show. Anne had her camera ready and suddenly folks in the crowd helped get her to an opening to see—they passed her upfront! She got to see for a few moments a great show, all due to the kindness of complete strangers. And don’t forget an owner who trusted us to return and pay for the rest of our meal. I promise you, it was the best steak feast we have had in France. We ended with profiteroles au chocolat (puff pastry filled with whipped cream or custard and cover with hot chocolate) and cognac—what a night!
Lobster and Mussels in Brugge
The story here is to not be afraid to ask others for recommendations. Since oysters and mussels with champagne are probably Anne’s favorite meal, she ask our hotel guest services clerk for a few recommendations. Thanks to her, we found a fabulous restaurant in Brugge, the Breydel DeConinc that serves what we consider to be the best seafood in Europe. Fresh from the North Sea, mussels are usually served with fries (moules avec frites) and are traditional fare in Belgium. At Breydel, the quality of the mussels is exceptional. For me, the lobster is a special treat. Complete this meal with one of the over 1000 beers—a Belgium specialty! See if these pictures make you agree with our assessment:
Danton’s Café in Paris
We love small bistros and cafes. Sitting at a table and watching the world go by is a true art form and so European. We have had some good food here—the specials are always very good and Anne loves the Croque Mademoiselle (baked ham and cheese sandwich topped with an egg). However, our most memorable meal was a late breakfast/brunch. Café tables are small and close together here, as they are in most cafes in Europe. I had ordered an omelet and there was already juice and coffee on the table. Somehow, I manage to spill it everywhere. Rightfully so, Anne gave me an earful about being so clumsy! Then all of a sudden, a voice from behind said “How bad can it be, you’re in Paris!” We both burst out laughing and meet a delightful woman from New York. She was an author and had written a lot of her novels, set in Paris, from tables in Danton’s. A good value, Danton’s is always the same—quality food, a professional staff and wonderful people—a super combination. Oh, by the way, they cheerfully cleaned up my mess and we had a great time and meal.
Angela Gray’s Cooking School, Wales
I wrote about this school in Wales in an earlier blog about Anne’s 60th birthday. We learned to cook Coq au Vin Blanc (Chicken in White Wine Sauce), Bordelaise potatoes and crepes. We both got our own cooking areas and there was a little friendly competition to add more spice to the lesson—we really did have fun, while learning to be better cooks. The whole experience was fantastic, but the best part for me was eating the meal. Angela’s school is designed for the folks to take the food home after the class with their own food containers, but, as travelers, we did not have any take home containers. Angela and her staff handled this, so we could take the food away. The cooking school is next door to Llanerch Vineyards, where we staying in a wonderful room. Llanerch did not serve evening meals at that time in the restaurant, so there was not a place to eat the food we had just made. However, this problem was solved by the staff at Llanerch. They did an awesome job fixing up a romantic place for us to dine in a small sitting area, called the snug. They even gave us a free bottle of wine—what a cool experience—a true night to remember!
Carbonara in Campo de Fiori, Rome, Italy
The story here is the transformation of a daytime market to an unforgettable al fresco dining venue. The square of Campo de Fiori (Field of Flowers) in Rome is magical at night. It is lined with good, small bistros. Al fresco dining is an art here. The tables are full of locals and tourists. Great food and wine served in an atmosphere unmatched in a big city of Europe. This is the La Dolce Vida—the good life. For me, the best of many great pasta dishes is carbonara. As most of you know, carbonara is made with eggs, hard cheese, bacon, and black pepper and spaghetti, but sometimes other pastas are used. Carbonara is served throughout Europe, but it is special Rome and even better when you eat it in Campo de Fiori. If you look closely at this picture, you can see a wonderful small ristorante in the background.
Picnics on the Train
If you want to travel like a local in Europe, a picnic on a train is always a great event. For Anne the best part is getting to shop at the outdoor markets. We always have something special—usually we have good cheeses, fresh baked bread, sausages or cold cuts, fresh tomatoes and either wine or beer. Our motto is –“Don’t leave without the food and wine for your train trip!”
2 Stars in Vienne and a Courtyard Treat
We discovered Vienne, France while on an AmaWaterways River Cruise on the Rhone River. We liked the town so much, we returned for a pre cruise stay in 2016 before joining a cruise group we were leading. Anne found a wonderful place for us to stay with a 2 Star Michelin Restaurant, Patrick Henriroux’s. This gastronomic restaurant is located in La Pyramide, a 4-star Relais & Châteaux hotel. What a meal—all was superb. As good as that was, the better find may have been our lunch in the courtyard with appetizers and wine. Just look at this picture and you will understand how special this experience was! Sometimes Stars are right, and while the dinner had amazing food and fabulous service, for us a courtyard was a relaxing, perfect experience.
On our SilverSea luxury cruise, we stopped in Portofino. Portofino is a tender port (small boat to get you ashore from the ship) where our shore excursion was a wine tasting led by Guido Porrati. It was outstanding, memorable culinary and wine-tasting event, well worth the price! First we went on a special wine tasting, held at a cliff top castle, then we wandered the town and ended our visit eating some awesome prawns. Our story–wander with a purpose—look at what others are eating. Anne carefully scoped out a dozen or so places until she found just the right one. We still rave about this visit and will return. Here are a few photos of this adventure:
Wildfire, Edinburg, Scotland
The story here is to not accept no for an answer. We heard about this restaurant while staying at a great hotel in Edinburg. Anne overheard the concierge in the hotel’s private lounge tell another guest they were fully booked up. Later that day, when walking the Rose Street bar area, we saw Wildfire. Although closed, Anne peered through the glass door. The manager saw her, opened the door to see if he could help. Upon hearing her Texas accent, he quickly related that he attends a festival in Austin, Texas (South by Southwest) annually. He quickly arranged a reservation for us. Somehow, with her natural charm, she managed to get us a table for 2. This is a Scottish steak & seafood bistro–the food is so good here we ate there twice during our visit. It is located at 192 Rose Street. Great job, Anne—the food was fabulous and we got along so well with the staff they invited back for lunch the next day—all because my wife wasn’t letting a no keep her from a culinary experience!
If you want super food, always consider the regional specialties of a region or country. The story here is to learn about what food is special and try it. Here are two of our favorites:
Anne’s Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a regional cuisine (southwestern France) specialty dish of duck leg, sausage and white beans. It is awesome! Anne found this dish in Carcassonne, France. She now makes her version of this dish at home.
German Cuisine. My grandparents were from Germany, so it’s probably no secret I like German food, but I really did not have a lot growing up. I sure made up for that since 1971 on my first trip to Europe, and continue to this day, as Anne also enjoys this cuisine. Here are just some of our favorite meals:
Fruhstuck (breakfast) in Freiburg, Germany. The purple knitted item is an egg cover to keep Anne’s egg warm.
Anne’s favorite German meal is –Schweinhaxe–pork shank. She has eaten in several places, but here is a picture of her favorite one. We found this wonderful meal in Koblenz, Germany. Many Americans do not know how good this dish is, but Anne has helped introduce it to others. While I was still in the Army, she advised a group of four service members to take advantage of Schweinhaxe. Only one took her advice and the rest of his friends realized their mistake when he got his meal. The story here—when Anne recommends a food dish, 9 times out of 10 times she is right! She still hasn’t convinced me to eat sauerkraut, red cabbage or fried liver but no doubt she will continue to try and expand my taste buds!
I’ve eaten schnitzel all over Germany. There are many ways to prepare it for the table—but my favorite method is hunter style covered with mushroom gravy. This is picture of Schnitzel mit spätzle–pork schnitzel with noodles & gravy. This is Hank’s favorite German food! This picture was taken in Heidelberg.
My favorite German desert is–Apfelstrudel–apple strudel. This one in the picture was served in Koblenz, Germany. A close second is Black Forest Cake—chocolate cake, cherries and kirsch—Yum!
The last great treat for us are the wonderful sausages. Although we really like them all, our favorite has to be Nuremberg sausages. Nuremberger sausages are small brats (by law no longer than 9 cm nor can they weight more than 25 grams) that are served on a bun (usually 3) or on a platter of 6 with sauerkraut or onions. They can be grilled or boiled in vinegar. It is our favorite street food in Europe—upon entering the old city of Nuremberg, we make a beeline for a small grill stall to get at least one of these tasty grilled treats. We learned about these from our travels on an AmaWaterways river cruise and we would recommend their city tour of a brewery and a taste of these special sausages.
How do you find a great meal in Europe?
Here is what I wrote in our Paris guide, and I think it applies to most places in Europe:
“Bistros are small, moderately priced restaurants. Some bistros serve regional and traditional dishes while others provide more modern fare. If you want to eat in a large restaurant with lots of people, look for a Brasserie. They have large menus and most are open all day and late into the night. Do not expect quick meals—meals are cooked to order, often your visit will be more than an hour. By law menus are posted outside—figure out what you want and the price you want to pay. Food is an art here—trust your instincts—crowded with a lot of French speakers probably means very good”.
There is no perfect answer, but it really helps to know the names of some dishes, especially the ones you like. We also think small and carefully read the posted menus prior to making a selection. One publication we have found helpful is the Berlitz European Menu Reader. Here is a picture of our well-worn guide book.
Our Final Thoughts
Our 20+ years of experience counts–you can’t really know about these little food gems unless someone who’s been there shares the info–that’s how we add value to your trip! We can help you learn how to get a great experience like these on your European travels–We are your European Travel Experts! Please give us a call, at 713-397-0188 (Hank) or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to help you start planning your Europe Vacation, or cruise, or river cruise or any trip that will let you celebrate and enrich your life, so we can help you Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!