While many dishes lend themselves to incorporating mushrooms, there are those standout items that really showcase mushrooms. As one forages through local restaurant menus, there are several items not to be missed for mushroom lovers.
Mushrooms can be prepared in a number of ways: sauteed, fried, baked and grilled. Mushrooms themselves are a low-calorie food and an excellent source of B vitamins and several essential minerals.
Though neither meat nor vegetable, mushrooms have been known to be referred to as the “meat” of the vegetable world, particularly the portobello and other robust flavored varieties.
A bit of culinary 101: The portobello is simply a brown crimini mushroom in disguise. While spelling varies, several all are acceptable: “portobello,” “portabello” and “portabella.” These are basically mature crimini mushrooms. Once the juvenile little brown crimini grows to 4 inches to 6 inches in diameter, it takes on the new designation.
At Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar, one can indulge in one of those unforgettable appetizers showcasing portabellas.The dish is made to order. Fresh mushrooms are sliced then sauteed in a white wine, balsamic and garlic vinaigrette. A bit of fresh spinach is tossed in, and then the dish is topped with mozzarella cheese.
When the warm dish is represented at the table, inviting aromas simply waft up. Be sure to have some of Victoria’s signature hot rolls nearby, for most certainly you won’t want to leave any of the rich, flavorful sauce behind. Chef Jason Windsor stresses the use of fresh ingredients and “cooked-to-order” as being what brings this dish to its fullest heights (and perhaps a splash of some herbs, but that remains an undisclosed secret).
Beetle’s Bar and Grill offers one of the most imaginative and delicious stuffed mushrooms one may have ever tasted. They go beyond classic stuffed white mushrooms to flavor-packed portabellas instead. Then they take things one step further, first marinating the mushrooms in a mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil and fresh garlic, before stuffing them with their signature spinach-artichoke dip.
Indeed, the dip at Beetle’s is noteworthy as a standalone. It consists of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, garlic, artichoke hearts, cream cheese and spinach. The ingredients are mixed together cold then portioned out, chilled and heated to order. This approach is unique, according to kitchen manager Nancy Oddo, who notes in all the places that she has worked, the standard method is to combine all the ingredients, heat the mixture through, then portion out and chill, before reheating at the time orders are placed.
For those who don’t care for mushrooms, you can find the dip featured as an appetizer option, served with Beetle’s own homemade, fresh fried tortilla chips.
At Wildwood Sports Bar and Grill, you can enjoy that crunch of fried food against the contrasting texture of the mushroom within, along with fun “finger food” experience, and the opportunity to dip. Once sliced, the mushrooms are dipped in the restaurant’s made-from-scratch batter, and then rolled in breadcrumbs before frying. The “portobello fries” are then presented with a homemade ranch dressing, for dipping.
Astute palates may discern a seasoning in dish, which certainly contributes to the overall wonderful flavor. This is imparted by a signature seasoning salt which Chef Jim Nicholas has created and incorporates in various menu items, including in the batter for the portobellos. While you can purchase the seasoning at the restaurant, by the bottle, the challenge remains to even some close to Wildwood’s creative and satiating menu offerings.
Nicholas notes that the popularity of the portobello fries has led them to create and offer a flatbread sandwich which consists of these fries tossed in buffalo sauce along with blue cheese, lettuce and tomato. But if you are sticking to the appetizer item, and just want a bit more “kick,” do ask for buffalo sauce on the side rather than the ranch. Either way, these make a great accompaniment to a frosty glass of tap beer, especially on a hot summer day.
Speaking of warmer days, the changing seasons don’t stop Thirsty Belgian from offering a unique hot, rich soup year-round. Due to having a smaller kitchen, they are unable to make this completely from scratch. But when management tasted the base, which the restaurant now obtains through its distributor, they recognized great potential for enhancing the mild cheese, mushroom base.
Their Mushroom Brie Soup currently appears on the menu two days a week, though due to its popularity may go to three days weekly, once chilly temperatures return to the area.
Owner John Carisch notes that only the freshest crimini mushrooms are chopped and added along with brie cheese to enhance the base and give it a wonderful rich taste and mouth-feel. The kitchen then tops individual servings with crispy, fried onions — “a cult favorite,” notes Carisch.
Indeed, these standout dishes each have a distinctive character. Any one of them would make a great start to your meal.