In the Spanish region of Extremadura, the countryside is vast with expansive views of rolling green hills dotted with olive trees and random small villages of ancient castles. What you may not see at first are this area’s best kept secrets – the bodegas. To stop and enjoy a meal at these local restaurants is one of the most authentic ways to experience the local culture and people, especially since this part of the country is not as frequented by tourists. One of my favorite restaurants that I always return back to is Bar la Bodega in the enchanting small town of Jerez de los Caballeros.
Out of the handful of times I have eaten at Bar la Bodega, most of the them have been in the middle of winter. Yet every time it is so warm and beautiful that we enjoy sitting outside. I feel the place has good luck for me and likes me. Well I certainly like it back. It has the best of any view, with a church steeple and part of the castle wall in one direction and the verdant green pastures of the surrounding countryside spreading out below as far as we can see and sprinkled with a few outcroppings of neighboring villages in the distance. Finding it is easy as well. It’s on the edge of town, near what I think is one of the few gas stations for this town, and just up the hill from the small main highway that passes by.
Miguel Bermudez Cordobes is the owner and a good friend of my mother and her boyfriend who live in the nearby village of Higuera la Real. Every time I have been there, he does a fantastic job at cooking our food, recommending his latest specials and combining raciones (portions) so that we can try a little bit of everything. Fantastic wine from the local area compliments your meal and the tapas are delicious and generous. While out in front of the restaurant is our favorite place to eat, the inside also provides a great ambience with large wine barrels and the original grape press from its long-ago days as a bodega, or wine cellar. There is seating in an open upstairs floor that overlooks the downstairs. One of the large wine barrels even has one side cut out so that a wood-burning stove fits inside for those cold winter days. In the back is an open-aired patio framed by walls adorned with hanging ivy and baskets of flowers.
For this recent meal, we enjoyed what Miguel is very well-known for – the delicious mouth-watering presa cooked a la brasa (on the grill). It’s a cut of meat from the high-quality Iberian pigs that are raised in this area. Served with a fresh salad that comes with hard-boiled eggs, juicy tomatoes, fresh corn, pickled asparagus, and shredded carrots, it is an addictively tasty meal for any meat-lover. Yet there’s more and Miguel makes it easy and affordable to enjoy a variety of his latest fresh food. We savored a fresh fillet of swordfish that he had just received from the nearby Mediterranean town of Huelva. I’ve never been crazy about swordfish, but this was amazingly delicious! It had no fishy taste and was juicy and lightly seasoned. Other accompaniments included freshly hand-cut patatas (potato wedges) lightly salted, homemade croquetas de jamon (one of my favorite Spanish tapas), tasty olives of various kinds from the local countryside, and of course, fresh-baked bread and never-ending crafts of local red wine (I still can not recall exactly how many we went through).
To top it all off, we finished with hot coffee, bites of varying desserts, and Miguel brought out his guitar and played and sang some well-known Spanish songs with my mother. It was, once again, a true Spanish meal and experience of this beautiful area, both in food and culture. It reminds me of the joy of taking our time to relax in the middle of the day with good family and friends, spending hours over a sumptuous meal in the presence of an ancient village. Bar la Bodega always draws me back when I’m in this part of Spain. Eat there once and it will do the same for you.
Enjoy pictures of the village of Jerez de los Caballeros by visiting my online album: The Enchantment of Jerez de los Caballeros.