Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard chef Cathryn Tarasovic has taken the tapas concept to a delicious new level with her plate of Mediterranean-influenced appetizers called “mezze.”
Really, both “mezze” and”tapas” small plates, or little snacks, are similar. “Mezze” is a Middle Eastern or Arabic term; “tapas” is Spanish.
But it’s not about words when you go out for a pleasant Saturday afternoon at this working ranch near Elmendorf. It’s about the flavors, and we were treated to a palate-pleasing array of them.
Sandy Oaks is owned by Saundra Winokur, who is one of the state’s pioneering olive tree growers. The orchard, which comprises some 11,000 trees planted on a 40-acre tract, supplies oil and olives that go into products sold at the ranch.
Ranch artisans also make lotions, herbal salves and other skin care products based on the rich healthful oil. These, along with olive leaf tea, aroma oils, olive wood cookware, gift baskets, books and growing manuals and more are offered at the orchard gift shop. Some of Sandy Oaks’ products also are offered at the Pearl Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Those who are interested in seeing how this relatively new Texas agricultural product is grown also can take a Saturday tour regularly scheduled at 11 a.m., or make arrangements for private tours. The orchard is holistically managed, with an emphasis on organic fertilizers and natural pest control.
These days, the sounds of construction are commonplace as well, as a new, two-story building that will house the gift shop and office space nears completion. Separate kitchens for the cooking and catering operation, and the product-making activity, are housed in a spacious barn across the parking lot from the current gift shop and office.
The food program at Sandy Oaks also includes classes, as well as an upcoming new series of international dinners, the first being a Passport Adventure to Italy, June 24.
On Father’s Day, June 18, there will be tours as well as complimentary tapas. (Check these out at www.sandyoaks.com.)
Tarsovic holds the Diplome Superieur from L’Ecole de Cuisine Française Sabine de Mirbeck and is a member of the culinary professional organization Les Dames d’Escoffier International.
Mezze Day Delights, which is occasionally added to the schedule (check the Sandy Oaks’ website for these) features chef-made artisan breads accompanying an array of appealing snacks.
The dried Fruit and Pecan-crusted Goat Cheese combined the suppleness of the creamy cheese with tart dried cherries and crunchy nuts. Pine nuts gave the crunch to the silky Kalamata Olive Hummus, while red peppers formed the base for the Mediterannean spread called Muhammara.
Among our favorites on this colorful mezze plate was the chef’s Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette. The title doesn’t mention the dish’s cool, sweet surprise of green grapes — a perfect contrast to the tangy sherry sauce and spicy chorizo. The chorizo, too is an artisanal product from Boerne, produced by Leslie Horne under the brand name, Aurelia’s Chorizo.
Every bit of the mid-afternoon lunch, under umbrellas on the breezy patio, accompanied by George Gaytan playing Spanish guitar, was, as promised, a delight. A glass of icy sangria gave the meal a perfect Spanish accent.
Mezze Day Delights is also nicely priced, at $10 per person. The next Mezze event will be 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. July 9. Sandy Oaks is at 25195 Mathis Road, near Elmendorf. 210-621-0044.
Photographs by Bonnie Walker