About Susan McKee

Susan McKee

Susan McKee is an independent scholar and freelance journalist specializing in history, culture and travel. She honed her craft as a general assignment reporter for more than a decade at a major metropolitan daily newspaper before fleeing corporate journalism for the peripatetic life of a freelancer.

Susan writes for a wide variety of publications, both print and online. Bylines have appeared in Global Traveler USA, JaxFax, HGTV's Front Door, Global Foodie and Road Trips for Foodies.

Latest Posts by Susan McKee

Foodie Places to Eat in Cologne Germany

January 21, 2015 by  



sion-lunch The tastiest part of travel is sampling new dishes in unfamiliar restaurants. When your Road Trips Foodie was in Germany last fall, she tried to stick to the “local specialties” part of the menu at each stop.

Here are the standouts in Cologne, starting with the Rheinischer Wurstsalat mit Bratkartoffeln (Rhineland-style sausage salad with bacon/onion home fries) at Brauhaus Sion (pictured). I don’t think I’ve ever had sausage presented in narrow slivers like this before. Of course the only logical beverage in Cologne is the local brew, Kölsch.

Kölsch isn’t a brand of beer, but the particular style of beer brewed only by members of the Cologne Brewery Association. Every restaurant in town serves its favorite (and often eponymous) version of Kölsch in a tall, thin cylindrical 0.2 liter glass. Characterized by its clear straw-yellow hue, the brew is a bit hoppy and less bitter than the standard German pale lager.

Kölsch also is the name for the traditional dialect of the region, and is the adjective for local specialties.

Peters Brauhaus, Mühlengasse 1, in the Altmarkt just to the south of the Cathedral square, is a popular gathering spot. You’ll probably end up sharing a table with strangers (but that’s the norm in Germany).

rote-grutzeTheir Kölsch specialties include black pudding, broad beans with smoked bacon, and boiled pork with sauerkraut.

I had the marinated beef with potato dumplings — and rote grütze (pictured) for dessert. This is a northern German sweet made with all sorts of red fruit (currants, raspberries, cherries) and topped off with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream. And a glass of Peters Kölsch, of course.

Im Roten Ochsen, Thurnmarkt 7 in the Heumarkt neighborhood since 1798, is a bit more pub than restaurant. Have a sandwich with your Reissdorf Kölsch.

Wine rather than beer is the beverage of choice at the Wienhaus Brungs, Marsplatz 3 — tucked away on a sidestreet near the Rathaus between the Altmarkt and the Heumarkt.

And, instead of a regional dish typical of Cologne, try one of their Alsatian “pizzas” — a thin layer of pastry topped with crème fraîche and then a choice of toppings (I had arugula — called rocket in Europe — and sliced tomatoes). Plus a nice glass of chablis.

lasagnaWhen you’re wandering about near the cathedral, a great place for lunch is Café Ludwig im Museum in (no surprise) the Ludwig Museum — which is on Heinrich-Boll-Platz, between the Roman-Germanic Museum and the Rhine River. They have a rotating limited menu of specials — I had Thursday’s choice: lasagna (pictured) — that include (of course) a glass of Kölsch.

(Photos by Susan McKee)

Top 10 Restaurants in America Are…Drum Roll Please

January 19, 2015 by  



wine-glassesOpenTable, a provider of online restaurant reservations, has announced the 2014 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Best Restaurants in America.

These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Of that list, the top 10 Best Restaurants in America, in rank order, are:

SeaBlue Restaurant & Wine Bar – North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Sushi Nakazawa-Sushi Bar – New York, New York
Fearrington House Restaurant – Pittsboro, North Carolina
n/naka – Los Angeles, California
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards – Santa Rosa, California
Ski Tip Lodge – Keystone, Colorado
Twenty Eight Atlantic at Wequassett Resort – East Harwich, Massachusetts
Kai – Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort – Chandler, Arizona
The French Room – Dallas, Texas
Highlands Bar and Grill – Birmingham, Alabama

(Photo courtesy of OpenTable)

Travel the World Through Chocolate

January 10, 2015 by  




Sometimes journalists get sneak peeks into concepts still in development. The Platinum LEED-certified green manufacturing and chocolate lifestyle house under construction in Chicago, Illinois, is just such a place.

Part of the industrial complex that produces Vosges Haut-Chocolat, 2950 North Oakley Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, it will include all sorts of visitor magnets including a café, factory tours, garden and event space. While the shop and factory face Oakley Avenue, the “lifestyle” area will front the North Branch of the Chicago River.

It was introduced to a group of travel writers who were covering IPW, a trade show sponsored by Brand USA to showcase America destinations to travel agents and tour operators from around the globe. I’d held off on writing about it, hoping it would be finished — but it isn’t yet. You can only dream about getting the inside story on Vosges Haut-Chocolat.

Definitely not candy for kids, this company produces high-end chocolates flavored with everything from the expected (bacon? beer?) to the never-heard-of-before (lucuma? maca?). (Some of the flavorings are in the photo, above.)

Katrina Markoff (Vosge’s founder and CEO) puts it this way, the “fusion of indigenous spices, flowers, roots, herbs and liqueurs with premium chocolate creates a sensory experience that nurtures awareness of and appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures”.

roadtrips1During our tour, we sampled all sorts of flavors combined with chocolate, including paprika, chilies, cardamon and curry blends as well as peanut butter, marshmallow and caramel.

Since you can’t take that tour yet, the next best thing is a candy sampling. Vosges Haut-Chocolat has shops in Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

What to order? Now there’s a First World problem. The super dark truffle collection includes baobab (yes, from baobab fruit), blackstrap (as in molasses), turmeric, rosemary, E3 (blue green algae + chia seeds + pink Himalayan salt) and almond.

This is “heart healthy” dark chocolate plus bee pollen, pineapple, muira puama bark, manuka honey and other superfoods. Or, as Vosges says it, “Everything you’d expect from a decadent chocolate truffle, with health benefits you wouldn’t.”

What about a “Library of Exotic Chocolate Bars”? These 12-bar boxes that look like books are tasting collections. Or the Milk & Dark Chocolate Truffle Collection. Or the Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee. Or….

Here’s a video about Vosges Chocolate Ganache Recipe:

(Photos ©2014 by Susan McKee; video courtesy of Vosges)

San Francisco Beer Week Touts Over 100 Events

January 8, 2015 by  



california_sanfrancisco_beer-weekThe seventh annual San Francisco Beer Week is set for February 6 through 15, 2015, in San Francisco, California, and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

It’s massive — there are something like 100 different events ranging from mega-tastings to gourmet pairings.

The opening gala is already sold out, but you can still get in to the Hair of the Dog Beer Brunch, Japantown Beer Walk.

Dates run through February 15, 2015.

Czech Beer Fest in Tabor Czech Republic

January 6, 2015 by  


czech-rep_tabor_beerHeading to Middle Europe in mid-February? Consider a stop at Beer Fest 2015 in Tábor, Czech Republic.

The 25th annual professional taste competition for the Golden Beer Seal, the fest is set for February 16 through 21, 2015, in the Hotel Palcát and the Congress Hall of the Hotel Dvorák Tábor.

Visitors can try dozens of beers and gourmet specialties, including those from the multiple award winner, the microbrewery Novosad of Harrachov, the beers of all Heineken breweries in the Czech Republic, the Lobkowicz, Staropramen, Bernard, Litovel and many other breweries with famous labels.

The festival includes a range of foreign beers, beers from microbreweries, and the gourmet cuisine of the Hotel Palcát in Tábor. Several bands of different genres and discos will take care of the cultural program.

It is held under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of the Czech Republic, South Bohemia, Czech University of Agriculture Prague, Institute of Chemical Technology Prague, Silesian University in Opava, University of South Bohemia in Czech Budejovice and Czech Tourism Agency.

(Photo courtesy of Czech Tourism)

Portland’s ChocolateFest in Late January

January 6, 2015 by  



oregon_portland_chocolate-festChocolateFest is set for January 23 through 25, 2015, in the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NorthEast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Portland, Oregon.

More than 80 chocolate vendors from the Pacific Northwest are expected. Centerpiece is a replica of the cacao tree – which only grows in tropical rainforests within 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Don’t miss the lecture on how chocolate is made, from bean to bar.

If you’re over 21, consider attending the evening of January 23: there will be wine and chocolate pairings, drink specials and visitors will receive a free ChocolateFest wine glass.

ChocolateFest is a fundraiser for the World Forestry Center.

(Photo courtesy of ChocolateFest)

The National Maple Syrup Festival in Indiana in Mid-March

January 6, 2015 by  



indiana_natl-maple-syrup-fest_logoHead to Indiana’s Brown County the first weekend in March for the new location for the National Maple Syrup Festival.

From March 5 through 8, 2015, there’ll be tree tapping, sap boiling and lots of foods and drinks using maple syrup as an ingredient in and around Brown County State Park.

The Dutch Oven Diva will cook, bake and have samples of her sweet and savory foods around a huge stone fireplace in Brown County State Park. The rangers there will lead interpretive hikes, teaching how to identify maple trees in winter and spring. Descendents of the Delaware and Shawnee native tribes will reenact how their ancestors made maple syrup on this land centuries ago, and, nearby, French Colonial reenactors will demonstrate how early white settlers made it differently.

The Story Inn will be home to the Sweet Victory Challenge, a culmination of national recipe contests for youth and adults, involving chefs, food writers and bloggers.

Downtown Nashville’s Pioneer Village will come alive with demonstrations of early pioneer sugaring methods. Nashville restaurants and retailers will focus on maple-related foods and wares, food and art artisans with candies, breads, chocolates and other foods and art from maple sap and maple trees will line the streets.

Authors who have written on the maple syrup craft will be featured guests at dinners with foods and beers from maple syrup.

Ever had a pancake flipped onto your plate from 20 yards? Chris Cakes travels the country making pancakes coupled with a show like none other, and the Brown County High School is hosting that show on the mornings of March 7 and 8.

Cáceres Will Be Spanish Capital of Gastronomy in 2015

January 2, 2015 by  



tourism-logoCáceres will be the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy in 2015. This city in the Extremadura area in western Spain prevailed over the candidacies of Valencia, Lugo, Huesca and Cartagena.

Cáceres now becomes the fourth city to be named as the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy. The first was Logroño, followed by Burgos, then Vitoria-Gasteiz that carries the distinction in 2014. The Extremaduran city will assume this honor starting January 1, 2015.

This prize, awarded by the Spanish Federation of Hotels and Restaurants (FEHR) and the Spanish Federation of Tourism Journalists and Writers (FEPET), is an effort to recognize Spanish gastronomy and cuisine as a key asset in the tourism sector that will strengthen economic activity, for its cultural value and as a way to unify people.

This award looks to promote the culinary offerings of the city selected at both a national and international level and contribute to the distribution and promotion of the agricultural products that originate from this territory.

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