The Tea Smith owner Tim Smith searches out loose-leaf teas from all over the world—and he says he has to consciously limit himself as he fills the shops' stock of about 150 teas. But it wasn't long ago that Tim didn't even like tea. "I thought tea was brown water and a bag," he confesses.
It took a gift for his wife to change that. "I was traveling for business, it was around Valentine's day, and I was married long enough to know that you don't come home empty-handed," he says. So he bought her some loose-leaf tea and the right accessories to brew it. "She made me try it, and it was surprising," he says. "It was not that stuff in a bag. It had some character and some taste to it."
He began researching, and realized that tea—already the world’s most widely consumed beverage after water—was experiencing a resurgence in the United States. While many tea spots have British or Japanese themes, Tim decided to open a tea shops with a "comfortable contemporary" vibe, where people could enjoy hot, iced, and bubble teas with friends. For at-home brewing, visitors can shop for classic teas such as Earl Grey, sample more unusual flavors such as the “Iron Goddess of Mercy” (an oolong), or browse seasonal blends such as pumpkin spice, cranberry cream, and fireside chat. The shops also stocks travel tea mugs, teapots equipped with infuser baskets, and unglazed Chinese YiXing clay pots that enhance the tea’s flavor.
Tim knows that many people who walk into the shop are unfamiliar with loose-leaf tea and may not be sure what they'll like—which is why he only hires tea enthusiasts. "Part of their training is to come in and drink each of the teas, and make notes on the flavor profiles," he says. That way, the staff can recommend blends suited to each customer's palate, rather than having to analyze a Rorschach tea-blot test. In addition to events including an annual blending contest, they also run periodic Tea 101 sessions that introduce attendees to the "history, the myths, the legends, and the lore of tea," says Tim.
Across four decades and three generations, the Hoenselaar family has prepared its signature bone-in hams the same way—marinating them in secret spices and smoking them at length over a special blend of hardwood chips. At each of HoneyBaked Ham Co.'s 400 locations, specialized machinery invented by founder Harry J. Hoenselaar himself carves each haunch into a perfect, thin-cut spiral. Slices then fill sandwiches such as the croissant-swaddled Ham Classic, or join other meats on the likes of the toasted Ham & Turkey Bella, which hoists swiss cheese, banana peppers, and balsamic vinaigrette between cibatta bread. The correlation between pork consumption and out-of-control parties has not slipped past the notice of the HoneyBaked chefs, who also offer catering platters and party trays for 10 or more people.
Sugar Clay owners, vintners, and winemakers Frank and Amy Faust shake up palates with handcrafted pours and other treats during tastings. Visitors can choose from nearly a dozen releases for their two full pours (up to a $10 value) and discounted bottle, such as a clean, pineapple-kissed German-style edelweiss with a light caramel finish, Sugar Clay's most popular white ($16/bottle). The Faust Haus Rosa, a catawba grape nostril-wowwer, starts with a bouquet of strawberries and roses and ends with hints of spices and future honeymoons ($13/bottle). Bandana Red, the winery’s dark star, soothes mouths with a velvety mélange of deChaunac and marechal foch grapes and notes of dried cherries and blackberries ($15/bottle). A tray of gastro-intelligent bites, with ham, salami, cheeses, veggies, and french bread, complements the day’s toasts (an $11 value).
In 2000, a group of farmers decided to diversify their crop production by planting twirling wine grapes into the rolling Midwestern hills. The initial smattering of vines quickly grew into a 4-acre vineyard and led to the launch of Silver Hills Vineyards & Winery, a small operation intent on crafting 100% Nebraska wines. The vintners’ Midwestern pride can be seen in their choice of ingredients—all wines are made with fruit grown at local vineyards and tattooed with the state motto—as well as their choice of decor: the outdoor tasting deck is shaped like Nebraska.
Silver Hills produces red, white, rosé, and berry wines, which visitors can sample during the vineyards’ limited hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Bottle labels display woodcuts by John Schirmer, a resident of neighboring Iowa who has carved wood professionally for more than 35 years.
Superior Estates Winery grows a myriad of delectable Midwestern varietals in its two Republican River Valley vineyards. Sample five of the estates' meticulously crafted wines, such as the Dry St. Vincent, which has soft, buttery flavors, or the Dry Vignoles, which delights taste buddies with honey and tropical-fruit aromas. With grapes including chardonel, chancellor, traminette, marechal foch, cayuga white, and catawba in its fermented arsenal, Superior Estates has a taste superb for both dinner with a loved one or breakfast deep in a coal mine. While you taste, a grape-savvy guide will explain each wine and recommend recipes to pair with the drink. Then, fully wine-wooed, you'll receive one bottle of your choice, plus two etched glasses.
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