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Meet Suzy Menard

Tabarrini Day

“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am a bit startled.  And then I think for a minute – thank you is an easy expression – I use it a dozen times a day.  Giampaolo doesn’t want to be thanked – he is simply enjoying spending time together – to him this is nothing extraordinary and no reason to be thanked. “Don’t mention it – this is what we do.”

dinnerWith_Ombretta

And what they do is spectacular.  Over the last couple of years Giampaolo has expanded his cantina into a show stopping beauty.  With high ceilings and miles of space to store his wine, a tour of the cantina is endless.  And his wines are fantastic.  

We arrive for lunch on a beautiful spring day straight out of central casting.  The sun is shining high in the sky, a gentle breeze is blowing across the terrace and there is a beautiful, clear view. dinnerWith_Ombretta2 I arrive a few minutes behind the group and everyone is animatedly talking on the terrace – drinking one of Giampaolo’s collection of sparkling wines.

Today’s lunch is not about showcasing Tabarrini wines – he knows we are all big fans already.  Today we are dipping into his private cellar and drinking wines that he has been given or collected over the years.  We start with a beautiful Sicilian wine – only 10,000 bottles are produced each year.  This one has been aging in the cellar and is extraordinary…  Daniele and Teddy pop into the cellar and return with a big Primitivo from Puglia.  A friend of Giampaolo’s makes this wine and it holds up perfectly with the beautiful guinea fowl we are eating.

Tabarrini_3Our visit to the winery today is also a reunion. Giampaolo’s mother Franca had made her first trip to the US in December and spent two days with us at Via Umbria cooking amazing dinners to serve with the Tabarrini wine.  Franca comes out of the kitchen to say hello and to kindly let us know that whenever we are ready – her bags are packed.

So we enjoy a beautiful lunch and as we are leaving we pause on the steps to sit for just a minute to enjoy the day and of course more wine is poured and Giampaolo decides that his work in the field is done for the day.  Tabarrini_4We don’t need a facebook memory for this day – the fresh air, the laughter and wine all bring back memories of people and place – of a day enjoyed two years ago that perfectly mirrors today.  Two hours later we say our good byes and leave.

But it’s not really good-bye because we are meeting up on Saturday in Verona to taste wine and enjoy another meal together.   Don’t mention it – this is what we do.

With great wine, great meal and great people Read more

“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am ...

Hang It High!

Looking over the week’s itinerary I realize there is a glaring gap – no time to spend in Deruta.  How can this be?  It takes a little creative juggling and we add in a morning at Geribi Studio without taking away from anything else. 

Bill has recently taken up yoga.  He really enjoys the peace and calm and the opportunity to escape and unwind. IMG_6072 He asks me to join him and I remind him that peace and calm aren’t really my thing.  Escaping and unwinding is difficult for me.  I’ve done yoga in the past but found myself constantly checking my watch, using the meditative time to freak out about things undone and worst of all falling asleep on the mat.  When it comes to escaping and unwinding – yoga for Bill and Gerardo’s studio for me.

This is where I can relax.  My hand is not steady, my eye is not creative – but I am not here for perfection I’m here to work with my hands.  To spend a couple of hours unwinding, escaping, living in the moment and watching a blank plate turn into my own creation.

IMG_6087Guests often panic when they sit down to paint.  The Ribigini family is so talented it is hard to imagine recreating anything close to what they do.  But of course this is a talent that comes from hours and hours, years and years of practice.

I’ve made the mistake before of looking at designs and thinking that they would be easy – but all the detail, the small thin lines – not as easy as they look.  Today I sit down confidently.  I have finally figured out the perfect balance of powdered color to water.  And that is a pretty major key to painting in Deruta.

I look at the graphite dotting the page and look at the hundreds of plates surrounding me and decide where I want to make my adjustments.  Of course I want to paint the peacock feather – but now I get to decide where I make straight lines and where I add scallops – where I add the pomegranate seeds or the round circles.  Sticking with the familiar but wanting to try something a little bit new.

When we first met Gerardo and Asunta 20 years ago we immediately fell in love with their designs.  IMG_6097The blues and yellows in their geometric designs and the beautiful green peacock feathers.  Over the years the designs have expanded – adding a beautiful lemon design with a dark blue background evolving into an array of fruits with backgrounds of  black and red and eventually lavender, burgundy and light blue.  When their daughter Claudia starting working in the studio she introduced a more modern twist – bold oranges and blues and soft pastels of pink and green and lavendar.  When I first saw the new colors – I was of a mind that these were not for me.  But my children fell in love with them immediately.  So a new color palate for a new generation.  Over the years the colors have grown on me.  And today I choose a pink for the first time.  Who says an old dog can’t learn a new trick?

IMG_6031And we spend the morning painting, laughing, scraping away mistakes easily with a small knife.  And we talk about what we are doing and how and where we are going to show case our pieces.  Most importantly we discuss what we will do if they aren’t perfect (a likely event).  And we leave Gerardo’s studio with our new life motto, “Hang it high or cover it with cheese.”

A Colorful Day at Geribi Studio Read more

Looking over the week’s itinerary I realize there is a glaring gap – no time to spend in Deruta.  How can this ...

Ernesto is the Besto

 

I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at restaurants (aside from sharing plates that come in all shapes and sizes) is ordering my food to have it come out of the kitchen as it is ready. Ernesto Simona No rhyme or reason, no order of preparation, just a random delivery of food. So depending on what is happening in the kitchen – if the pasta line is backed up and the fish station is slow you may get your main course before your pasta.  Roasted olives intended to be a starter show up right before dessert.  Who knows what will be served with my cocktail. With this convoluted method it’s not possible to pair a wine with each course.  As we know, one of the biggest challenges in any kitchen is timing; timing is everything, it takes a talented chef to prepare a variety of plates for each table that are ready to be served together. There is a constant distraction from what is being served when the food comes on a whim and the plates are meant to be shared. It is natural to focus more on the passing and making sure things are divided equally, but that interrupts the experience the dish is meant to give.  Randomly putting plates of food on a table is not a sign of creativity –  this should not continue as a trend and we should not be rewarding disorganization and laziness.

Cooking with Ernesto is a unique experience, like no other. chitarreAnd while for some a day spent cooking with him can be overwhelming and daunting – for me, it is an exciting and endearing adventure. Not one recipe at a time start to finish, rather many pots on the fire: pasta being rolled out, sauces simmering on the stove, meat roasting in the oven and cookies and cakes baking. Now this is the way I love to cook!

In this experience, Ernesto teaches us that multitasking is how to accomplish the full menu. To start you have to create a plan, nothing happens in his kitchen without a lot of thought going into it.  To execute your plan, you have to pace yourself and not over complicate what you are doing.  Think ahead and save time – dice the celery, carrots and onion (sofrito) at once and use it over and over again for different recipes.  Make the bread dough at the beginning so it has time to rise before being baked or fried.  Make one pasta dough but create different pasta shapes for different dishes.

Ernesto also teaches us that making pasta by hand is fun and easy. My advice is start out small – make pasta for one or two making chitarre– 100g of flour to 1 egg per person.  Mix it together and then stretch it out. You can’t overwork pasta dough – it’s not precious like a pastry dough – this is where you can really dig in and work the dough. Once it’s sliced, toss it with semolina and then make into two little nests.

For me the best part of spending a day cooking with Ernesto is the obvious joy of everyone cooking together.  With Ernesto, it’s all hands on deck, there’s so much to be done everyone always has something to do. And don’t worry there’s no mistake that can’t be recovered.  In this kitchen, there’s no screaming or yelling, pizza_nightno reason to be frantic; we have the whole day together to relax and try new techniques.  

At the end of this exhausting day we get to enjoy the foods of our labors. And no matter the order the components were created, because of our plan the dishes are finished in order – and served with a plan: Antipasti, Primo, Secondo with Dolce at the end.  Ernesto brings us no randomness, just organized chaos with a goal: enjoying an unbelievable meal together.

And here is why! Read more

  I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at ...

Pizza Pizza

For our family, food has always been at the heart of our celebrations. From creating the perfect menu, to shopping for the right ingredients, to cooking the meal everyone joins in, and everyone has inspiration for what we should be preparing. Oddly enough, most of our big ideas and inspirations seem to revolve around fire. Whether we’re roasting a whole lamb over the pit in the backyard, a suckling pig in the magic pig box, or flames shooting out of the grill creating the perfect charr for our steaks, we just can’t seem to get enough of cooking over an open flame.

IMG_1219And pizza is no exception. When we renovated our house twenty years ago, we thought long and hard about what to do about the fireplace in the room that we were converting into our dream kitchen. After many rejected thoughts and ideas, a light hearted suggestion from our architect turned into his nightmare as we all quickly agreed that converting the fireplace into a wood burning pizza oven was the perfect solution.

And thus, a whole new flavor of family activities was born. Without any practice at being a pizzaolo, Bill quickly learned the trade and lead the family to pizza perfection. The perfect blend of feast and fun, pizza night at the Menard house soon became a regular event for friends and family alike. The world is your pizza- with an array of choices in front of you- trays of cured meats, fresh vegetables, caramelized onions,  sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, and of course olive oil, fresh pesto and tomato sauce as a base – everyone rolls up their sleeves and tosses a pie or two.

Our American tradition of Pizza night has become a fan favorite at la Fattoria del Gelso where fire also reigns supreme. In Umbria – Marco is the pizzaolo.  He has perfected the dough recipe and is a master of the perfect bake- creating light IMG_1212and airy pizzas that cook up nice and crisp on the bottom. The tomato sauce is rich without being overwhelming.  And of course here we have an amazing selection of toppings –prosciutto, guanciale, salami picante, capocollo,  porchetta – and that’s just the meats!

A quick word to the wise- the perfect pizza requires a balance of tastes and textures.  Too much sauce makes it impossible to cook and too many toppings often leads to an accidental calzone.

This past Sunday after a beautiful morning hunting successfully for truffles and wild asparagus – it was a great treat to sit back and enjoy a bite of dozens of Marco’s creations.  Pizza with sea salt and rosemary, with roasteIMG_1221d vegetables, with crispy guanciale, with Cannara onions and sausage,  and of course pizzas with wild asparagus and with fresh truffles. The grand finale?  Nutella pizza.

But why should we have all the fun? Take a pizza our family traditions and start your own! Come enjoy a slice with us at Via Umbria, bring your friends and family for a make your own pizza party, or visit us in Umbria and let Marco take care of you. No matter which way you slice it, you can’t go wrong when you’re eating good food with good friends.

From Truffles to Nutella Read more

For our family, food has always been at the heart of our celebrations. From creating the perfect menu, to shopping for the ...

Christmas is for Family

In Italy there is a saying, “Christmas is for family and Easter is for friends.” For the Menards it is not always easy to distinguish between the two. Everyday is Christmas and everyone is family.

Arriving to Perugia airport after a very uncomfortable (but friendly) RyanAir flight we were instantly on home ground. The sights, the sounds the smells – all very familiar and very comfortable. The beautiful, lush, green farmland, the birds singing overhead, the scent of spring mingling with freshly mowed grass.

It’s a short drive to the house and we are exhausted after a 4:30am wake up call. Peace and quiet and a comfortable bed are calling to us.

We pull up to the house and immediately Chiara pops out to welcome us home.IMG_1937

IMG_1177We unpack quickly and drive to Bevagna for our traditional welcome to Umbria lunch with Simone and Desiderio at le Delizie del Borgo. Spring has arrived – in the form of a bowl of tagliatelle with fresh artichokes.

After a long – much needed nap – we walk into town to have a glass of wine with Federico Bibi and his children Olivia and Gabrielle. We promise them that their mother is just days away from returning home after running our kitchen at Via Umbria in DC.

And finally we walk the Bibi family home and stop in Per Bacco for a quick dinner with Ernesto and Simona – a quick dinner is soon forgotten as the evening turns into sharing story after story and grappa after grappa.

And day one is complete.

Everyone here shares our love and passion for Umbria. They have grown up here and choose to raise their families here. There is a magic in the air and they want everyone to know it. They have all joined us in Washington to share their love of Umbria. Coming to cook dinners for our guests, to teach us about wines, to explore the history of jacquard linens in Umbria and of cashmere. This is a community who works with their hands – at the end of the day it’s not about a stack of papers or an empty mailbox – it’s about plants growing in the garden, freshly baked bread, wine opened and served at just the right moment, scarves (did I say scarves?), tablecloths, sweaters and hats from the highest quality linen and cashmere. It’s the blending of the old and the new. We all have the same dream and work together to make sure that Umbria is preserved and shared. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of our friends (now family) in Umbria.

When our children were young their school talked a lot about teachable moments. “An unplanned event during the day that adults can use as a learning opportunity for kids….parents and providers should capitalize on the moment, and provide the opportunity to extend or expand the child’s learning.”

For us, every moment is a teachable moment; an opportunity to learn about what we are seeing and doing; to meet new people and discover new ideas; a moment to stop and reflect on what is happening.

This week we will live every moment to the fullest.

Here in Cannara we will be introducing our group to our family in Italy. We will be drinking local wines, cooking traditional food, discovering the area and most of all learning together and laughing together. Enjoying every moment.

And in Washington at Via Umbria we will be introducing guests to our family in the states. We will be drinking Umbrian wines, cooking Umbrian food, discovering imported products from Umbria and most of all learning together and laughing together. Enjoying every moment.

Thank you to everyone who believes in our dream and works so hard to ensure that everyday is Christmas and everyone is family.

And Easter is for friends Read more

In Italy there is a saying, “Christmas is for family and Easter is for friends.” For the Menards it is not always ...

Cicchetti Carnevale Cuisine

Venice is a city of wonder, from the extensive canal system to its unique culture Venice is one-of-a-kind. Around this time of year, thousands from all over Italy and the world head to Venice for Carnevale. Even our owners, Bill and Suzy were lucky enough to experience Carnevale di Venezia a few years ago. This party, which lasts for an entire month, is an attempt to relive the culture and traditions  of 18th century Venice. From head to toe people all over this magnificent city dress in traditional garb. You’ll see men in tights and wigs, women’s hair intricately piled miles high atop their heads, and masks, lots and lots of masks. Yet, the most important aspect of any Italian celebration is the cuisine.romantic-restaurants-venice

For young travelers, like myself, frivolous spending on food and drink can kill your budget and eventually ruin your trip. Venice is one of those cities where you’ll easily break the bank on food, unless you know what to look for. Similar to the French canapés or Spanish tapas concepts, Cicchetti is the Venetian version of small plates. Generally served with a glass of wine, these small bites vary depending on the restaurant you are dining in. Pricing however, is ideal for lunch and evening eats and rarely ventures outside a range of 1€ to 3€ a plate. The best place to find cicchetti is in a bàcari, small local (and often hidden) bar. Some bàcari lean toward the fried foods while others specialize in fresh fish, meats, and cheeses. Cicchetti is the perfect cuisine for Carnevale: quick and easy food that can only enhance the celebration.

Carnevale is a celebration that takes place around the world, just because you can’t make it to Venice doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. This week and next: get out, put a wig and a mask on and enjoy the party!

For information on our Carnevale Celebrations please visit our website: viaumbria.com/events

Wednesday February 22 – Carnevale Masquerade

Tuesday February 28 – Cocktail Class: Fat Tuesday

Enjoy carnevale classics without breaking the bank Read more

Venice is a city of wonder, from the extensive canal system to its unique culture Venice is one-of-a-kind. Around this time of ...

108 Hours in Cannara

108 Hours in Cannara 006Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, enjoying Umbria jazz, and, of course, relaxing by the pool. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out as planned- a lesson we learned last week during a whirlwind visit to to Cannara. I warn you now, the details of this trip are not for the faint of heart, the easily tired, or the weak of liver- read along at your own risk

Thursday, July 14, 2016

After many days of postponing and rescheduling our trip, we finally made it to the airport, bags in hand, happily seated at our gate, ready for a short but amazing trip to our favorite place only to find out that the flight was delayed. Not just delayed, extremely delayed. By the time we finally (rather crankily) boarded the plane six more hours were gone from our already truncated vacation but we were determined to make the most of it.

Friday, July 15, 2016

108 Hours in Cannara 0056:30pm With our original scheduled arrival time in Rome of 7:24 am we had planned to have lunch with Simone in Bevagna. With the flight delay, however, lunchtime was long gone by the time we left Rome but we beelined for Simone’s anyway (after making a quick stop at Lufra to pick up fresh mozzarella di bufala of course).  We arrived at  le Delizie del Borgo just in time for Spritz O’Clock and spent an hour catching up with our fourth (and favorite) ‘son’ Simone over a platter of salamis and cheese.  

7:30pm When we finally made our way to the Farmhouse, Jennifer McIlvaine and Federico Bibi pulled up behind us with their adorable children, and after a few minutes of excited greetings in the driveway we opted for drinks in the living room.  For those of you suffering through the current east coast heatwave you will find it impossible to believe, but despite being the dead of summer, it was way too cold to sit outside!  

108 Hours in Cannara 002Inside we found Marco and Orusia firing up the pizza oven, and friends of ours from Washington who were staying with us at the Farmhouse soon returned from a day of touring. Not far behind them were our son and his girlfriend whom we picked up at the Foligno train station- the last piece of our group.

Marco outdid himself, as always, and our raucous group enjoyed pie after pie with a bit of spicy bomba and Birra Perugia.  A small taste of Nutella pizza to end the meal.

12:00am No idea what time it was when bedtime finally rolled around but it was definitely  a long day.

 

 

108 Hours in Cannara 007

Saturday, July 16

1:00pm After catching up on our zzzzzs our intrepid group headed to Bevagna for a “light” lunch with Simone.  It was another beautiful day and we happily enjoyed our meal outside in the park.

5:00pm I finally had to give in and take a quick nap while Bill took a group to Foligno on a hunt for a Sicilian pastry shop to satiate a craving for cassata, and a visit to the Granarium (our nearby zero kilometer granary, mill and bakery) for a tour and to buy flour, bread and cookies.

 

7:30pm – It’s a birthday celebration and we have invited several (see below) of our Italian friends to join us.  We were hoping to eat outside, but again it is too cold and the Italians want nothing to do with the chilly, fresh air.  We have Spritz by the pool and then head indoors where Marco has rearranged the dining room to accommodate our small party of 25.  In addition to the group staying with us we are happy to have Gerardo and Assunta Ribigini, Jennifer and Federico (tonight they are senza children), Albertino and Jessica Pardi, Zia Augusta, Alberto, Linda and GianLuca Pardi and Linda’s mother, Federico and Claudia Ribigini and Daniele Sassi.

108 Hours in Cannara 003

108 Hours in Cannara 0018:15pm Everyone has brought wine so we have a selection from Terre Margaritelli, Pardi and Tabarrini to pair with a favorite summer meal – fried sage leaves, onions, zucchini and zucchini blossoms followed by pasta with arugula and walnuts, mixed grill and vegetables from the garden.

10:00pm We have sparklers in the Birthday cake but the real fireworks are outside.  Marco has picked up a fabulous pyrotechnic display and Bill has it matched perfectly to Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner.

Sunday, July 17

6:00am – early departure to Cantina Dionigi for a Hot Air Balloon Ride.  You can read about it here.

108 Hours in Cannara 008

1:00 pm – Lunch in Bevagna with Simone, Marco, Francesco Rustici and his wife Elisa, plus the group at the house.

An opportunity to introduce our guests to our favorite Italian Tradition – Sunday Lunch.  Our children have bravely endured lunches lasting anywhere from 3-7 hours and despite their protests as children they have come to love and expect them.  This is a meal where the food is slowly paced, no electronics are on hand and everyone is engaged in conversation.  

6:00 pm – Not a Menard record – but still an excellent leisurely lunch.

Back to the house with Ombretta’s children Silvia and Tomaso for a quick swim before the sun sets.

108 Hours in Cannara 010

7:00pm – Albertino and Jessica stop by to visit and we make plans for dinner on Tuesday night.

8:00pm – All plans of attending a local wine festival get scratched in favor of setting up the big screen outside and picking up pizza.  Another chilly night so we bundle up and hunker down to watch a movie.

Monday, July 18

108 Hours in Cannara 0099:00am – Up by 9:00 to play cards with Tomaso and Silvia (who have opted to spend the night) and say goodbye to our guests.  

11:00am – The sun is shining and we take a break to sit by the pool and swim with Tomaso and Silvia.

1:00pm – Off to Cantina Tabarrini to see the new renovation – it’s breathtaking.  Giampaolo’s plans and ideas are exhausting but the result is going to be amazing.  We are treated to an excellent meal prepared by Franca and Federica – food fresh from their garden and an introduction to a new label and the latest release of Montefalco Rosso.

6:00pm – Back to the house for a couple of quick business calls and emails – it’s a work day after all.

108 Hours in Cannara 0117:30pm – Dinner at Cantina DiFilippo

Roberto is just back from his winery in Romania but he has the horses all set up for a sunset carriage ride through the vineyard. Elena and Bianca Maria are fantastic hosts and we enjoy a flight of Asiago cheeses and plenty of wines.

Enjoying a beautiful night with friends with Assisi lit up and sparkling in the distance.

Tuesday, July 19

8:00am – Up early to pack and return emails.

1:00pm – Off to lunch at the home of Marco’s parents, Anna and Lodovico Palermi where we are joined by Chiara, Carlo Alberto and Viola and Chiara’s mother Mariella.

3:30pm – Back to the house to Visit with Augusta.

6:00pm – Time to pack up.

108 Hours in Cannara 0127:00pm – Off to Cantina Pardi for a farewell dinner of Jessica’s Korean specialities.  It’s not easy to find all the staples for a Korean feast in the heart of Italy but Jessica makes it all seem simple and delicious.

10:30pm – Quick stop in Bevagna to say goodbye to Simone.  The circle is complete.  We have seen everyone and enjoyed our brief visit.  It’s time to go home and share our experiences, stories and hopefully a few new tastes at Via Umbria.

108 Hours in Cannara 013

Wednesday, July 20

6:00am – Early morning and departure for Rome FCO and back to DC.  Bill gets the honor of captaining the early morning drive.  I sleep.

Not the most relaxing summer vacation – but it’s easy to trade in relaxation for good friends, good wine, and good fun. Italy is such a magical place, but the most special thing about it for me has always been the people and it’s trips like these that remind me how lucky I am to have found such a great community in Umbria. For those of you who were not able to come with us on this trip, we encourage you to keep apprised of the goings on in the store.  Rumor has it a few of these friendly faces may be popping up in Georgetown in the next few months. And for those of you looking to book your own vacations in Italy, give us a call! We are happy to share our experience, and our farmhouse with you.

Traveling with Bill and Suzy Menard Read more

Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, ...

Caffeine Fiend

For me there is more to coffee than just the caffeine or the aroma – it’s the idea of coffee that I love.

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of coffee around the house; my father likely had a cup at the office on occasion but my mother never drank it. The only time there was ever coffee in my house was when they threw a party. Unbeknownst (at least I thought) to their guests, I would sneak around finishing cup after cup as people set them down. It didn’t matter what was in them – black coffee, coffee with sugar, coffee with cream, coffee with cream and sugar – every cup went down smoothly. To this day, the smell of coffee brewing is the promise of a party and an adventure and I can’t seem to get enough.

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My family knows that I can’t get up in the morning without a cup of coffee – not for the caffeine – but the hot cup in my hand and the aroma filling my nostrils. We have a coffee maker with a timer and a thermos – coffee set at night and ready to go first thing in the morning. If my kids wanted a ride to school – they needed to bring me that first cup. Ride to a soccer game – cup of coffee, SAT exam – cup of coffee. Breakfast – cup of coffee.

With that being said, I will be the first to admit that I have a track record of being an irresponsible coffee drinker. While I love the feeling of having a hot cup of coffee in my hand and I appreciate a good coffee, I will happily finish a cup that’s gone cold and have been known to buy coffee at a gas station during a road trip. For better or for worse I always have a cup of coffee.

Via Umbria's Reusable Cups

When we first decided to serve coffee at Via Umbria, my one requirement was that we do it right. We decided to use Illy coffee beans and serve traditional Italian drinks in proper portions – no more cold coffee for me. We pride ourselves on making excellent coffee in our Cafe. We are not in the business of making pumpkin coffees or even hazelnut coffees and we don’t want to be – there are plenty of places to grab a coffee shake. Via Umbria makes drip coffee and all of our other coffee drinks are ground and brewed to order – espresso, lattes, cappuccinos and Americanos – and we do diligent training with our barista’s and under Guido’s watchful eye because when it comes to bringing you an authentic Italian experience there is no room for error.

I love having my own coffee shop. Every morning I walk in and a fresh cup of coffee is handed to me. Gone are the days where I will happily drink cold, stale, or gas station coffee; I drink fresh coffee all day long. And now you can too! Join Via Umbria’s coffee club – For every 10 cups purchased, get one free. Or, buy one of our reusable coffee cups and get 10% off each refill when you come back.

A coffee a day to keep you going Read more

For me there is more to coffee than just the caffeine or the aroma – it’s the idea of coffee that I ...

About Fathers

When you’re young, a dad can do no wrong. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, many people outgrow this feeling, finally realizing that all of the rules and decisions their parents make are just that—decisions, rules, and beliefs—rather than absolute truths. Luckily for me, my dad, Lorne, was a genuinely awesome person, and I carried that feeling of awe and admiration for him through my teens, into my 20’s and even when I hit 30. He was always my biggest supporter. He taught me from an early age that I could (and should) do anything. Unfortunately, my father passed away 17 years ago. His life ended all too soon, but it was a life lived large and one that I am very thankful to have been a part of.

While I have many reasons to be thankful for my father, one of his greatest gifts was to treat me and my siblings with respect and teach us to hold our own among in a group of adults or peers. Unlike many of my friends and relatives, we definitely were not raised to be seen and not heard (which, to be honest, for a family with as many children as ours was quite a feat). This lesson was especially important because the year I was born, my father became the youngest representative ever elected to the Iowa State Legislature – and so began our life in the spotlight. My father carried his philosophy of raising children beyond his personal life and into his professional life. Even as young children, we weren’t simply trotted out or put on display for special occasions—every day was a special occasion and the whole family was part of the team.

Worthingtons and Their Children

We were involved in his political career. From Representative to State Auditor to Insurance Commissioner, we knew from a young age that what we did and how we behaved reflected not just on us but on our family. While that added a certain responsibility, it was matched with the opportunity to travel around the state with Dad and to join him at dinners and receptions. Note to others: While it may seem like a great idea to sit through a two hour dinner eating nothing but black olives off of your fingers, at a certain point it will make you a very sick girl.

Now, Father’s Day is a day to share with my husband and kids.

I was nervous back in early 1985 when Bill and I visited my father and his wife in New Hampshire, and Lorne invited Bill into the dreaded library. I didn’t have time to warn Bill that all conversations with my family should take place in the kitchen. No good conversations had ever happened in the library – until the day my father took it upon himself to let Bill know that he approved of him as a future son-in-law. Not that Bill was asking.

Raising kids is no easy task and definitely can take its toll, but having twins as baby number three (and surprise baby number four) really put us to the test. I think we both had different impressions of what life would be like with a five year old, a three year old and two new babies: I stocked up on bathrobes and face cream, and Bill started saving stale bread to make croutons and had a new set of golf clubs delivered. Fortunately, both of us were way off the mark. Having twins gave us the freedom and ability to relax, knowing that we couldn’t keep everyone happy at once. And once we relaxed all of the kids were happier. It was a win-win.

Menard Children

Watching Bill’s relationship with our kids has been a great joy. When the kids were little we would wake early every morning to have a quick family breakfast together before school–a guarantee that we would have at least one family meal every day given the hectic nature of our lives. Dinnertime was an opportunity to catch up on everyone’s day, and because of that, it could and often did stretch for hours. It was never a wise move for the kids to save homework because somehow, “I ran out of time because family dinner ran too long” wasn’t considered a valid excuse by any of their teachers.

One of the legacies that Bill’s dad passed on to him was a love for the Boston Red Sox and the Miami Dolphins. Two teams that struggle for victory—but when they win there is much celebration at the Menards. As a Florida native, Dolphins games were a rite of passage for Bill, and he made a point of passing along the tradition. With a season pass that allowed three tickets a game, he would alternate and take two of the kids to the home games at least once a year. A weekend without Mom’s watchful eye would include such forbidden treats as tailgating with Popeye’s fried chicken and throwing a football in the parking lot–with moving cars. It’s a miracle they all survived.

Bill and Suzy Menard with their Children

It strikes me as I write this how many memories of my family, both the one I was born into and the one I have raised, have centered around the kitchen, the dining room table, and food in general. What we were eating—from Moms’ pot roast to pizza delivery—never mattered as much as where we were eating it, always seated around the dinner table surrounded by family. For me, that is the tradition that I thank my Father for instilling in me and I thank my husband for indulging me in recreating: making time to spend together, to reflect on the day, to learn about each other’s lives, and to create shared experiences at the table. This is the aspect of our lives that we most want to bring to Via Umbria. Beyond the actual food we serve, beyond the wine we drink, beyond the beautiful ceramics used to serve these things, Via Umbria is a place where people can come together to create their own experiences of family. The greatest compliment we have ever received came one night after dinner in the Laboratorio demonstration kitchen, when a new customer told me, “This place is so comfortable, it feels like being home.” My favorite place to be has always been in the kitchen at the table, and I want to share that place with all of you.

This Father’s day, I will be celebrating with my husband of 30 years, father to our four children, my business partner, and the love of my life, and I am sending a big thank you to my own father Lorne for being such a big part of our life and for setting a high bar for how to be a great dad.

Happy Father’s Day–Let’s Eat!

– Suzy

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When you’re young, a dad can do no wrong. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, many people outgrow this feeling, finally realizing ...

From Cocktail Zero to Cocktail Hero

I have always felt that there is something very smooth and sophisticated about having a drink and taking a moment to unwind and catch up on a days worth of activity. While Cocktail Hour was never part of my family’s routine growing up I have always been a fan of the three martini lunch and the idea of indulging in a cocktail before dinner, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or my children that one of my favorite parenting books has always been “The Three Martini Playdate.” Christie Mellor is a genius when she points out that “lemonade provides refreshment for those too young to appreciate distilled spirits, and the simple addition of a fine vodka creates an easily made and remarkably tasty beverage for an exhausted and grateful grown-up.”

Today, I drive waiters and waitresses (and occasionally those same children) crazy as I insist we sit and wait for our drinks before ordering our meals. ‘No–I’m definitely not ready to order yet. I want to have a drink well in hand before my dinner starts to arrive.’ By design, cocktails are meant to be lingered over, to be enjoyed and so what better time is there than Cocktail Hour to sit back, relax, and reflect on the day.

Newlyweds Bill and Suzy

I know what you’re thinking–how does one so easily transition from a quiet dreamer to a cocktail savant? It wasn’t easy. As newlyweds in the ‘80’s, cocktails weren’t as popular with our generation, and Bill and I were just learning to enjoy wines by the bottle instead of the box; most of the cocktails we had enjoyed had been purple and served from a large garbage can stirred with a paddle. Imagine my shock and delight when he came home from work one day with a brown bag. “What’s that?” I innocently asked. “Whiskey and Vermouth–tonight we start learning how to drink Manhattans.” And so the journey began. I hate to brag, but I think over the last 30 years we have perfected the art.

To those who are foolish enough to follow my personal Facebook page, I am notorious for my sunset cocktail photos on the beach. While it may be possible to enjoy a sunset without a drink in hand I’m not sure I ever want to experience it. When on vacation, it has become a daily game for Bill and me to find the perfect daily cocktail–something that is capable of capturing both the spirit of the day and the gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun.

Cocktails on the Beach

About 5 years ago travelling throughout Northern Italy–specifically Venice, Bossano di Grappa and Trieste–we started noticing everyone drinking a beautiful orange drink. Even as a self proclaimed Cocktail Aficionado, the olive in the bottom confused me–I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what orange liquor could be paired with an olive. I took one for the team, and so began our introduction to the Aperol Spritz: the 3-2-1 of drinks. 3 parts prosecco, 2 parts Aperol and 1 part sparking water, served over ice with a bitter green olive. Now seen throughout Italy–more typically with an orange slice than the olive–you will find Aperol Spritz served winter, summer, spring and fall. It’s the perfect drink for any season and every occasion–not too light and certainly not to intense. A very drinkable cocktail any time of day.

Bill and Suzy with Spritz

And cocktails are back. Small craft distilleries are springing up around the city, around the country and around the world. And this time the focus is on creating the perfect sip with fresh squeezed juices and herbs, tonics without high fructose corn syrup. Creating sprits with different approaches and different flavors. Now more than ever is the time to experiment with cocktails.

At Via Umbria our commitment is to: All things Italian. All things artisanal. All things local. Our cocktail program is a perfect reflection of the three. Come rediscover the art of cocktail hour with us. Join us daily for Spritz O’Clock (5-7pm in our Cafe) and spend Saturdays discovering your new favorite cocktail or glass of wine. Pair that with our new menu of Spritz O’Clock Snacks and street foods and it’s the perfect way to relax, unwind, and enjoy an hour or two.

For us, Via Umbria is not just a store, it’s our story and we want you to be a part of it. Come on in and Discover Spritz O’clock with us. Savor a drink or two with us. Share the news with friends and family.

Ciao!
Suzy

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I have always felt that there is something very smooth and sophisticated about having a drink and taking a moment to unwind ...

Fresh Produce, From Farm to (Your) Table

When we opened our doors on a cold and rainy November morning, we made a promise to ourselves to use fresh, seasonal, local produce in our café, on our dinner menus and to sell in our market. And though I love a good root vegetable – beets, turnips, radishes, winter squashes and potatoes – no one was happier than me to see the weather turn from winter to spring, bringing with it a new produce season.

Black Tomatoes
Krim tomatoes look different, but did you know they always place high in tomato taste trials?

First came the mushrooms, and not just the usual cremini and portabello but beech mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms as well! Hot on their heels came the rest of the goodies. I have never been so excited to see rhubarb, spring garlic, and, at long last, tomatoes and strawberries. Hallelujah, now the fun begins! For starters, we will be eating everything straight up raw, or maybe with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. We will also be experimenting with the produce – cooking with them, adding them to pasta and soups, making desserts and pastries – seeing how to best capture their natural flavors to enhance our favorite dishes.

Stop by and enjoy the bounty at Via Umbria! Take our produce home to prepare in your kitchen, or if you’re not up to cooking, you can enjoy them in our café or at a dinner event. If you see something unfamiliar that you don’t know how to cook – ask! We are ready to help.

Via Umbria gets deliveries from Tuscarora Farms every Tuesday and Friday. Come early and come often because now every day is Farmer’s Market Day! Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy this week’s delicious haul:

Fresh Strawberries
These juicy red berries are a sure sign that a sunny summer is on its way.

STRAWBERRIES
My favorite way to eat them? Definitely just straight out of the carton (probably before I even make it home)! And of course, they’re fantastic on top of gelato, zabaglione or in a tiramisu with cream and prosecco. But strawberries aren’t just for dessert, try them tossed in a salad with wildfire lettuce, almonds and parmigiano. If you love trying new things, drizzle them lightly with aged balsamic. Sounds a bit weird, but tastes amazing!

ASPARAGUS
Asparagus tastes great on its own, but there are many ways to really ehance the flavor: roasted with hearty olive oil and sea salt, wrapped with guanciale and grilled, or roasted with rhubarb and toasted pistachios. You can combine it with pasta sauce, guanciale and fresh tomatoes served with homemade tagliatelle. And for a lighter dish, lightly steam the asparagus and serve in a baby lettuce salad with roasted chicken and sliced tomatoes.

Red and Green Tomatoes
The colors of Christmas, but the taste of spring! Who’s ready for fried green tomatoes?

TOMATOES
Sometimes simple is the best way to go! Tomatoes taste great sliced and served with a drizzle of Olio Verde and Sea Salt from Cervia. But if you want to experiment with flavors, try a traditional dish like Caprese salad with fresh Mozzarella from DiPalo’s (arrives fresh every Thursday!) and fresh basil from the farm. Tomatoes are also a primary ingredient in Bruschetta (everyone’s favorite!) – simply mix with olive oil, garlic, and a hint of pepperoncini. Another way to enjoy them is diced with red onions, Firefly Creamery’s Black and Blue Cheese and a drizzle of balsamic.

SPRING GARLIC
A culinary secret! Because spring garlic hasn’t yet fully developed, it has a milder flavor than regular garlic. Slice and use it in everything, either cooked or raw. Try it with aioli, stir fry, in a vinaigrette, tossed with handmade pasta and olive oil, and add it to salads.

RAMPS
Ramps, or wild leeks, have a sharp flavor that tastes like a combination of garlic and onion. You can use them any way that you would normally use leeks or onions. Try them grilled and served as a side drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, in scrambled eggs, a frittata, or simply toss them into a salad. If you aren’t ready for Ramp season to be over, pickle them and use them all year long!

Worried about garlic breath? The taste of spring garlic is a bit more mild!
Worried about garlic breath? The taste of spring garlic is a bit more mild!

RHUBARB
Everybody knows rhubarb! It’s quite tart, so the best way is to add a bit of sugar. It’s great in a crumble, crisp or buckle (whatever it’s know as to you) topped with a sweet dough or oatmeal and brown sugar and baked. And of course, rhubarb pie – with or without strawberries – is a classic! You can also cook it down with sugar to make a compote for a crostata, to serve over gelato or to spread on toast. Rhubarb is a great addition to savory dishes as well, it can be diced and cooked with wild greens served with freshly grilled Umbrian Sausages.

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When we opened our doors on a cold and rainy November morning, we made a promise to ourselves to use fresh, seasonal, ...

Construction Progress

Curious about our construction progress? We open our doors and bring the construction to you (minus the noise). Let your curiosity be satisfied.

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Via Umbria Construction   _DSC0038 _DSC0040 _DSC0044 _DSC0052 _DSC0058 _DSC0062 _DSC0068Ci Vediamo!

– Via Umbria

 

Mid-October Read more

Curious about our construction progress? We open our doors and bring the construction to you (minus the noise). Let your curiosity be ...