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JBF Announces 2011 America's Classics Award Honorees

The James Beard Foundation has announced the restaurants being given the America's Classics Award this year, which honors "our nation's beloved regional restaurants." This year's award will go to Chef Vola's in Atlantic City, NJ; Watts Tea Shop in Milwaukee, WI; Le Veau d’Or in New York; Noriega Restaurant and Hotel in Bakersfield, CA; and Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Congratulations to all five restaurants.


Five America’s Classics Restaurants To Be Honored at the Annual James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday, May 9, 2011 in New York City

New York, NY (March 10, 2011) – Today, the James Beard Foundation announced the five honorees for the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards America’s Classics category, presented by The Coca-Cola Company. The America’s Classics award is given to restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community. This year’s five America’s Classics honorees will be celebrated at the annual James Beard Foundation Awards, the nation’s most prestigious recognition program honoring professionals in the food and beverage industries, in an awards ceremony taking place on Monday, May 9, 2011 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

“The America’s Classics category is very special to us,” says Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation. “They represent, in the best possible way, America’s great melting pot. These special dining establishments bring their communities together around the table, something James Beard would have loved.”

The 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards America’s Classics award honorees are:

Chef Vola’s (111 South Albion Place, Atlantic City, NJ, 609-345-2022 – Owners: Michael and Louise Esposito and family)
Some believe that Chef Vola’s, operating in the basement of a former boarding house since 1921, is hard to get into, that you need to know someone, that Louise Esposito, the woman who answers the once-unlisted telephone number, screens applicants for a table.

Urban legend. Fact is, all are welcome. Once here, you're family. A single serving of the peerless veal chop, done parm-style, feeds, maybe, six. The red gravy is revered, as is the veal swathed in Prosciutto. Ditto the cannellini-green bean salad crowned by cubes of provolone and salami. Frank Sinatra once said he wanted to be buried with one of Chef Vola’s banana cream pies.

In 1982, the Esposito family bought the restaurant from the Vola clan. Today, Louise, along with her husband Mike, son Lou, and nephew Dom work the kitchen and the dining room, an always-humming space in which a Naples-born grandma would feel at home.

Customers make pilgrimages to eat at Chef Vola's. They come for the people. They come for the food, for dishes that serve as standard-bearers of an Italian-American culinary tradition that may be more loved in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic than anywhere else.
-- Andy Clurfeld (Asbury Park Press)

Watts Tea Shop (761 N. Jefferson Street, Milwaukee, WI, 414-290-5700, President and CEO: Sam Watts)
George Watts & Son is a fifth-generation downtown Milwaukee business that celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2010. The store’s first floor is devoted to an astounding inventory of china, glassware, flatware, linens and tchotchkes. Most of the building’s second floor is home to its well-mannered restaurant, Watts Tea Shop.

The restaurant’s roots date back to the mid-1920s, when then-owner Howard Watts built a beautiful new building to house his family business. His great-grandson, 31-year-old Sam Watts, is now the store’s president. The tea shop became a beloved destination among generations of Milwaukee devotees and it remains a quiet mainstay of the downtown lunch scene.

Many of the dishes follow recipes that have been used since the 1930s, including the soft whole-wheat bread, the English muffins, and the olive-nut and chicken salad finger sandwiches. The star of the show, legacy recipe-wise, is Sunshine Cake, a spectacular three-layer lemon chiffon extravagance that’s filled with lemon curd, slathered in a thick seven-minute icing, and garnished with an edible flower.

“These kinds of retail-restaurant operations are often a break-even proposition at best,” Watts said recently. “But the tea shop has been our saving grace during this economic downturn. We not might have been able to weathered the storm were it not for the 100 or so people coming into our store every day to have lunch. It has been our godsend.”
-- Rick Nelson (Star Tribune)

Le Veau d’Or (129 East 60th Street, New York, NY, 212-838-8133, Owner: Robert Tréboux)
The diminutive French bistro Le Veau d’Or in Midtown is a time capsule. There’s the classic French fare, straight out of Escoffier; the formal but clubby décor, all beveled glass and polished mahogany; and the amiable owner, Monsieur Tréboux, who chats up the regulars, pours drinks behind the bar, and ferries dishes from the kitchen.

Le Veau d’Or (The Golden Calf) opened in 1937; Tréboux—who is now in his 80s and runs the restaurant with his daughter, Cathy—bought it in 1985, after a career working in many of the neighborhood’s now bygone French restaurants.

In its heyday, Le Veau d’Or was a celebrity haunt. Grace Kelly met Oleg Cassini there, and food critic Craig Claiborne called it the one restaurant he couldn’t live without. Although Tréboux’s clientele has changed over the years, the food is as traditional and delicious as ever.

The affordable table d’hôte menu, which includes an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, offers such classics as coq au vin, cassoulet, boeuf à la bourguignonne, and céleri rémoulade. On any day of the week, you can get an excellent trout meunière and a steller terrine du chef. All that said, this isn’t the kind of place where the chef takes center stage. If anyone’s a star here, it’s Tréboux.
-- James Oseland (Saveur)

Noriega Restaurant and Hotel (525 Sumner St., Bakersfield, CA, 661-322-8419, Owner: Linda Elizalde McCoy and Rochelle Ladd)
The Noriega Restaurant and Hotel has been the hub of Kern County Basque culture since Faustino Noriega opened its doors in 1893. In 1931 the Elizalde family took over, and has run the restaurant ever since. Originally founded as a home away from home for shepherds, today the institution showcases the Basque culture of California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Located in a warehouse district just east of downtown, the Noriega has a façade that could be mistaken for a neighborhood bar. A jai-alai court (a form of Basque handball) is built into the structure. Parties are individually called into the dining room, where they take their places at long tables covered in checkered oilcloth.

The dinner that ensues is always multi-coursed and abundant, but it is a generosity marked by great care. The tongue is pickled in-house and thin-sliced. The roast leg of lamb, served on Fridays, is herb-flecked and tender. Big wedges of creamy blue cheese close the meal.

With very fair pricing (children are only charged a dollar per year up to age 12) a meal at the Noriega is accessible to all. What you get is a dinner that is invariably marked by the simmered note of home cooking, a glimpse into a community that has played an important role in this agricultural region for over a century, and a sense, through seasoning and ingredients, of how a people adapted to a new culture while being true to its own.
-- Patric Kuh (Los Angeles Magazine)

Crook's Corner (610 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC, 919-929-7643, Owner: Gene Hamer)
Hubcaps decorate the flanks of the corner building on the fringe of this college town. A pink fiberglass pig stands atop the roof. The dining room does double duty as an art gallery. From the bar, you may order a cracker plate, piled with house-made pimento cheese, and a block of cream cheese smeared with pepper jelly.

Since 1982, when restaurateur Gene Hamer and chef Bill Neal opened the doors, Crook’s Corner has carried the torch of regional foodways, employing and inspiring a generation of young culinary talent– including two James Beard Award-winning chefs.

Bill Neal was one of the first American chefs to explore the cultural import of the regional food he worked to revive. He brought academic rigor and provincial pride to the professional restaurant kitchens of the region.

Since Neal’s untimely death in 1991, Gene Hamer has served as the restaurant’s steward, while Bill Smith has overseen the kitchen, cooking iconic Crook’s dishes like shrimp and grits, hoppin’ John, jalapeno hushpuppies, and persimmon pudding. In more recent years, Smith has added his own flourishes, including house-corned ham and honeysuckle sorbet.
- Christiane Lauterbach (Atlanta Magazine)

· All James Beard Awards Coverage on Eater [-E-]