Lunch at Cass Winery
Welcome to our special Paderewski Festival version of entrée! We were thrilled to sit with Steve Cass and Joel Peterson, two of the Paderewski Festival and Paso Pops Board Members who reignited local interest in the annual event in 2006.
Cass Executive Chef Mike Learned joined us and gave a bit of insight about the dishes he prepares and serves to winery guests and catering clients. Mike has cooked all over the United States, and is the former Executive Chef and Pastry Chef of Estrella Restaurant in downtown Paso. He works alongside his kitchen staff – Sarah, Cheryl, Kodi, and Jeremy – to produce the amazing food at Cass Café and special catering events.
Steve prepared a lovely table for us on the patio and we could not wait to get started!
Mike brought us a basket of house-made Garlic Parmesan Chips with garden basil aioli dip, and a Demi Loaf with two spreads.
Meagan’s Favorite: Demi Loaf – a warm, French baguette loaf served with local organic olive oil for dipping. Ours was served with the Creamy Smoked Salmon Spread – house-cured and smoked Pacific Salmon blended with rich cream cheese, capers, and fresh herbs – and the Fresh Burrata topped with Alta Cresta olive oil and balsamic reduction. “This is the perfect way to start a meal. The bread is warm and fresh, and the olive oil is light. I love the salmon spread with its rich combination of flavors. And the burrata cheese is creamy and delicate, not overwhelmingly filling like some cheese spreads tend to be. Perfect with a glass of Cass wine!”
I asked Steve and Mike about their vendors. Steve said, “We use almost all local vendors – the cows right here on our property, and Edna’s Bakery for the breads. We use J&R Meats to process our meats.” Mike added, “As much as we can get locally, we do – Spearhead Coffee, Spice of Life tea, Leo Leo Gelato. We smoke our salmon in-house, we cure and smoke our bacon in-house; we try to do as much on property as possible. Our ingredients can change with the seasons according to what we grow in our garden, with help from Vanessa of Heart of Paso.”
Next up, the Crab Cake Salad, Smoked Chicken Salad, Caprese Salad, Benny Burger, and Southwest Portobello Burger.
Joel’s Favorite: Southwest Portobello Burger – Chipotle-chimichurri marinated Portabella mushroom, fire-roasted Ortega chili, tomato, spicy aioli, and arugula, served on an Edna’s Bakery seeded brioche bun. “It’s nice to have a vegetarian option that is hearty and that’s what I look for; this is unique, elegant, and filling. I love the fact that Mike adds a little heat on the burger with the pepper and tops it with the arugula and the house-made aioli sauce – delicious.”
Melissa’s Favorite: Benny Burger – 1/3 pound of estate-raised, grass fed beef topped with house-cured bacon, Hook’s Paradise bleu cheese, horseradish aioli, pickled onions, and arugula, served on an Edna’s Bakery seeded brioche bun. “This is a two-napkin burger! Among the wondrous qualities is not only the juicy estate beef, but the house-smoked bacon. In the barbecue pit, slabs of bacon linger low and slow over coals of red oak. This burger is a top seller, and for good reason. The combination of ingredients is something you’re not going to find anywhere else.”
Steve’s Favorite: Smoked Chicken Salad – Mary’s organic free-range chickens smoked over Cass Syrah vines, then hand-pulled and mixed with dried fruit and crispy celery. “I try to eat healthy, and this salad is very light yet filling. The ingredients are a good mix and complement one another to bring out great flavors. The dressing is unique – Pomegranate Blood Orange – and our customers can buy the makings for it in our gift shop and take it home.”
Nic asked Mike about the method for curing the bacon for burgers and other dishes. “We wanted to take every component, every little dish, even something as simple as bacon, and take the time to do it right and do it in-house,” Mike said.
The first Cass wines were made in 2004, and Winemaker Sterling Kragten has been onboard since 2013. When asked about his favorite, Steve said, “I like to think all of our wines are great in different ways. Viognier has been one of our more popular white wines. We are 100% Estate root on our 145-acre vineyard, and we use about one third of it for ourselves.”
Joel asked Mike about pairing Cass wines with the various dishes. Mike said, “I love pairing the wines because nothing Sterling does is cookie cutter. There is more complexity, they are more delicate and have more nuance; his wines allow me to be more open and are a pleasure to pair with food.”
To top of our delectable lunch, we shared a gluten-free flourless Chocolate Torte, and Cream Puffs with Peach Compote.
Nic’s Favorite: Cream Puffs with Peach Compote – the fruit is picked from Steve’s peach tree and cooked in Cass Late Harvest Rousanne; served for a limited of time, fruit varies depending on season. “I started with the Chocolate Torte and it’s absolutely amazing. Then, digging into the Cream Puffs and Peaches really topped off the meal. The peaches are so fresh and the vanilla bean cream on top is tasty. It’s just a really delicious mixture – light, flaky, with enough substance to handle the peaches and Rousanne. The flavor has a definite wow factor to it.”
Our special thanks to the entire team at Cass Winery and Café. Visit, taste the wines, and share a special meal.