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New Orleans: A 4-Day Weekend

12 Aug

We took a 4-day tour around the Crescent City with the family. Although we had been there many times before, there were still things we haven’t seen … so many great places we haven’t dined.

DAY ONE:

Our first stop was Magazine Street, a shopping district to the south of the French Quarter from Canal Street to the Zoo/Audubon Park. It’s accessible by street car with a short stroll from most any stop. The local transit bus runs along Magazine Street for easier access. We chose to drive and park since some of the street car line was under repair and the weather was threatening.  Parking was not a problem.

One of the many art pieces along the Magazine St Shopping District

One of the many art pieces along the Magazine St Shopping District

Roughly 6 miles long, this shopping experience includes thrift shops, furniture, jewelry, art galleries and shops of all kinds, restaurants/bars and clothing stores.  The variety of items available is a bit overwhelming, but there’s plenty fun to view or pick through. It takes a whole day to explore from end to end, but we broke it up and spent a little time there one day, and finished up the next.

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Inside Jim Russell’s record shop. What an amazing collection!

Because we are big music fans, one important stop was the Jim Russell’s Record Store located at 1837 Magazine Street.  The selection of LPs was impressive. They had just suffered damage from a roof collapsing from a rain storm earlier in the month, so many of these would eventually be replaced by what they kept in storage.  Clean up is underway but it was a blast to sift through what they had on hand. We even found some rare New Orleans 45s from artists like Johnny Adams and Robert Parker.  Jim’s daughter-in-law, Denise, was working the day we visited and we had a lot of fun talking with her. She told us some family stories and gave us a tour of the shop. We found out that she is an avid video game player.  As of our visit in June 2014, Denise ranks #15 in the world in the game Gears of War.  Her daughter ranks even higher.  Our time here was pretty enjoyable and we recommend music buffs stop here on your next NOLA visit.

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Induction certificate to the Louisiana Hall of Fame

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Travis and Gary with Jim Russell’s daughter-in-law, Denise aka “Neecy”

Keeping the music theme for our trip, we later shopped the Louisiana Music Factory and visited the former location of the  J&M Recording studios.  Artists like Little Richard, Fats Domino and Lloyd Price made this place famous. It’s now a laundry facility but the historical marker along with the memories is there.

Lunch was served at Joey K’s further down Magazine Street.  We dined on PoBoys and Gumbo.  It is recommended.

After our shopping spree, we stopped at District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew at 2209 Magazine Street.  Their famous sliders looked great but we stuck to the delicious donuts, sharing a couple of flavors for a light afternoon snack (pictured is their Pineapple Upside Down Cake donut).  We’ll have to return for a full lunch.008

Before dinner, we went to a music event at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, right around the corner from our hotel, The Modern. Part of the “Ogden After Hours” program,  Alvin Youngblood Hart was the entertainment and food & drink were available. We viewed the art exhibits and listened to a entertaining blues concert.  My favorite art exhibit was on the main floor and consisted of mini puzzle pieces by artist Juan Logan.  We enjoyed a lot of art this weekend and the Ogden was a great place to start this adventure.

 

The Modern is a nice boutique hotel, clean, classy and affordable.  It is within walking distance of both the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The WWII Museum, Louisiana’s Civil War Museum and many fine restaurants, including Cochon and Cochon Butcher, which we did visit on this trip and a previous one. Located on Lee Circle in the Central Business District near the Wearhouse District of New Orleans, The Modern is also convenient to the streetcar line.  Since the streetcar line was being repaired in sections around town, we ended up driving to most of what we wanted to do, but the direct line to the French Quarter was all clear.

For dinner, we enjoyed some old school Italian fare at Vincent’s Italian at 7839 St Charles Street.  We ordered the Lasagna and the Italian Sausage with Angel hair pasta.  The boys each dined on Calamari and loved it. The whole meal was delicious. Vincent’s has been voted Best Italian in many local polls and reviews including New Orleans Magazine and Zagat Survey. We think it’s pretty sweet too.

DAY TWO:

Our second day in the Big Easy started at The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant, located at 714 St Peter Street in the French Quarter. We had some chicory laced coffee, the Soulfood Omlet, Eggs and Grits, and traditional calas. A cala is basically a rice beignet; kind of like a fried rice fritter.  There is a long history in New Orleans of the cala.  It was almost extinct because of food rationing during WWII but is finding a resurgence in the city. Click here for more information; here for a recipe.

Following breakfast, we took off for Mardi Gras World located at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place.  Tickets are reasonably priced at $19.95 per person. We got the student rate for our boys, just $15.95.  The tour starts out with a viewing of several costumes worn in previous parades, followed by a brief movie, and a guided tour of the workshop area.  A huge warehouse facility includes artist space for designing, sculpting, and painting the massive float artwork. There is also a large area of previously used art sculptures and, in the back of the warehouse, there are actual floats from this past season being dismantled or reworked. After the guided tour, we were left to look around and could stay until closing if we wanted to.  Artists were available for questions.  On the way out, we passed through the gift shop filled with clothes, cups & mugs, posters, and other knick-knacks.  One thing I found lacking was a selection of floaty pens.  We have a collection and thought, of all places, we could find some here. Maybe next time.

 

After Mardi Gras World, we stayed in the neighborhood and had lunch at Domilese’s. More PoBoy’s for our diet this weekend.  The oysters were fresh & awesome (best we’ve had in New Orleans to date). Located nearby,  Hansen’s Sno Bliz on Tchoupitoulas Street was our dessert stop. There’s always a line; the Sno Balls are always refreshing. We’ve been here before and looked forward to another visit.  Never disappointed, we always recommend Hansen’s.

Our next adventure took us to Mid-City Lanes/Rock n Bowl.  Bowling is one of our favorite family activities so we weren’t going to miss this place.  The bowling alley houses a bar, restaurant, and concert stage.  Music in New Orleans is played everywhere so it makes sense to have live music entertain bowlers every night.  This tradition started with Zydeco night and morphed into a regular event. It was too early for dinner and a concert so we hung out and bowled a couple games.

 

 

The lanes are modern, but there was, on display, an old-school bowling ball return hood and rack. Bubble gum-pink with chrome, it brought back memories of the lanes I used to bowl as a kid. The boys enjoyed it.  Rock n Bowl has quite an interesting history both pre- and post-Katrina.  It’s worth reading about and there is a “History” tab on their website. Enjoy reading, then make plans to visit.  We have heard the Po Boys are wonderful.

Dinner was served at Pascal’s Manale, who is famous for their “Original” Barbecue Shrimp. We couldn’t wait to try it.  The waitress came to us with bibs before serving us dinner.  Hmmm. How messy could barbecue shrimp be?  Well, they were not only messy but incredibly delectable, swimming in a buttery, peppery sauce. The dish came with plenty of Leidenheimer bread to soak up that wonderful sauce; it shouldn’t be wasted. The two of us split a plate which was a great decision since there was so much to eat.  The boys ate a plate each of Calamari and proclaimed that it tasted fantastic. Pascal’s Manale is located 1838 Napoleon Ave.  The street car line is under reconstruction in this neighborhood at the time of this writing (Summer 2014), so plan to drive.  We had no trouble finding parking.  Reservations are suggested.

DAY THREE:

Day Three started at an old favorite — the Camellia Grill on St Charles Street.  Coffee, OJ, waffles, hashbrowns, bacon, and eggs. The workers are a show in themselves — friendly and funny.

We often spend our Saturday mornings at the local farm market, so we found the Crescent City Farmer’s Market Saturday Market in the Warehouse District.  It was worth a stop. Located at Magazine and Girod Streets this market runs year-round from 8am to noon. The place was stocked with local, farm fresh foods, canned items made from some of the same farmer’s produce, and Gulf seafood.  And where there is a gathering of people in New Orleans, there is always music.  Having lived on the Gulf Coast in  previous years, we are really missing our local seafood and, had we had a way to keep some of this fresh until we got home the next day, we would have bought some.  The prices, closer to the coast, are a lot lower than even just a few hours north.  Passing on the seafood, we did purchase some peppers, homemade Blackberry Sage Syrup, and some Back Yard Creole Tomato Pepper Jelly.  It’s easier to travel with canned items than with fresh.  We recommend adding this Farmer’s Market to your next NOLA to-do list.

Lunchtime found us back on Magazine Street for a meal at Dat Dog.  A fun little place for a variety of sausage sandwiches, it offers large patio dining area and an indoor section for dining and drinking.  We caught the FIFA World Cup Soccer game on one of their many televisions while we waited for our order.  The menu is awesome: a selection of traditional German sausages, Vegan selections, a fish dog, Crawfish, Italian and Duck, to name a few.  Sticking with a Louisiana theme, we dined on the Hot Sausage and Gator Dog. Dat Dog has three locations: we chose 3336 Magazine Street but you can also find them at 5030 Rue Freret Street and 601 Frenchmen Street.

There are many walking tours available in New Orleans and there are plenty of brochures with maps in them, so you can take a self-guided walking tour.  We returned to the French Quarter, gathered up these maps and looked around.  Our stops included Jackson Square, the Voodoo Museum, a few shops and art galleries.  We enjoyed The Art of Dr. Seuss, the outdoor sculpture art of famous New Orleans Jazz musicians across from Cafe Beignet, a street corner band concert in front of Rouses Market (Royal and St Peter Streets), and other street performers (the metallic painted people who stand still as statues).

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the guy in full stride walking a stuffed animal.  He stood still as people walked up to him and posed for photos.  Other galleries we visited included Rodrigue Studio and Caliche & Pao.

The Pepper Palace on Decatur Street is a good tourist spot.  We are always up for trying new canned delecacies from BBQ to pepper sauces, jellies and jams. We have a lot of opportunity to try new sauces and welcome companies to send us a sampling in the mail.  We have many reviews of sauces on our blog and website.  There were some good ones in the Pepper Palace and some that were definite novelties.  One that struck our interest was the crawfish jelly. It was chunky and sweet.

We had been planning on an early dinner then standing in line for the early show at the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s theatre.  Instead, it rained and we decided standing in line was not a good option.  So we headed over to one of our Dixiedining all-time favorites: Cochon Butcher. Since our visit the previous year, the restaurant has expanded its indoor dining space and added a full service bar.  We ordered some of our favorites and tried some new menu items too. These included some muffalettas, the bbq sandwich, mac n cheese and gumbo.

DAY FOUR:

Our last day started in the French Quarter at Cafe Beignet on Royal Street.  We split a plate of the wonderful fried New Orleans delicacy, accompanied by some strong coffee.  A street performer entertained all of the outside diners, including us, with some Spirituals sung acapella. We walked around afterward … taking in some more morning sites in the French Quarter including the Monteleone Hotel in hopes of seeing the inside of the Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge. It was closed but we could still see the famous bar through the door.  A beautiful place, we’ll have to put this on our list of “later-in-the-day-things-to-do”.   We heard that Louis Prima’s daughter sings there in the evenings.  It’s also said that the hotel is haunted and a paranormal investigation confirmed this. We didn’t find anything unusual but we were only there for 10 minutes.

Before heading back to the hotel by streetcar, we spotted the “Birthplace of Dixie.”  Currently the location of a national drug store chain.CAM01414

New Orleans is filled with cemeteries that give tours.  The uniqueness of New Orleans is that since it is a city below sea level, it is impossible to bury the dead underground.  So, above ground memorials are everywhere.  Lafayette Cemetery is the one we chose to visit.  A tour was in progress but we decided to just look around.  We do want to caution not to venture into many of the cemeteries alone, meaning “without a crowd present”.  The mosoleums tend to make a great place for people to hide, sadly making cemeteries a high crime area.

Our last dining spot was Elizabeth’s for Sunday brunch. There was a short wait which gave us a chance to go upstairs and look around.  We ended up, eating downstairs. You could tell it was a neighborhood place where people know each other.  The service was quick and pleasant. We missed the praline bacon, but did try the Sweet Potato and Duck Hash with Red Pepper Jelly.  It was served over a savory cornmeal waffle. Elizabeth’s is located at 601 Gallier Street in the Bywater Neighborhood.

You can do a lot on a 4-day weekend in New Orleans and still leave plenty to do on your return trip.

Things To Do:

  • Magazine Street
  • Jim Russell’s Record Store
  • Louisiana Music Factory
  • J&M Records Historical Building
  • Ogden Museum of Southern Art
  • Streetcar
  • Mardi Gras World
  • Mid-City Lanes/Rock-n-Bowl
  • Crescent City Farm Market
  • French Quarter
  • Monteleon Hotel
  • Lafayette Cemetery

Places To Eat:

  • Joey K’s
  • District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew
  • Vincent’s Italian
  • Old Coffee Pot Restaurant
  • Domilese’s
  • Hansen’s Sno Bliz
  • Pascal’s Manale
  • Camellia Grill
  • Cochon Butcher
  • Cafe Beignet
  • Elizabeth’s

Already we are planning our next trip back to the Big Easy, but there is so much to eat and so much to do around our current home state, Mississippi, that we’ll be focusing our next stories there.

Exotic Treats Await at Biloxi’s Vietnamese-Inspired Le Bakery & Cafe

9 Mar

le bakery sign

A Facebook friend of mine tipped me to this place recently. I was in Biloxi for the afternoon and we had already enjoyed lunch, but we dropped in at Le Bakery & Cafe just before their daily closing time (5 pm). It was clear right away that this was not your typical Parisian-style bakery.  This is a French bakery and cafe with a decidedly Vietnamese twist. The seafood industry (primarily shrimping) brought many Vietnamese families to this area. A brief  tour around Biloxi makes that quite evident.   

le bakery yuca

Just look at the picture above. How often do you find that in Paris?

le bakery treats

The image above is just a sampling of the exotic treats you’ll find here at Le Bakery. The item to the far right was particularly interesting to me. It looked something like a homemade Hostess Twinkie with an accompanying white, milky dipping sauce. I was curious and had to try it. The young Vietnamese man working  behind the counter explained that the soft, spongy pastry encased a slab of moist banana. The sauce was even more complicated. A closer look revealed something very mysterious — scary even.

le bakery pearls

It looked like little tiny eggs — bubbly, clear pellets. The Vietnamese can eat some weird stuff and my mind was taking me in some strange directions. It turned out I was looking at Vietnamese Pearls of Tapioca. Yup, you can look it up — that’s what I did. The soupy white sauce was coconut flavored and quite delicious. The “pearls” were somewhat sweet and the rubbery texture was simply bizarre. That was the most difficult part for me — the “mouth feel.” Otherwise I found this dessert to be really sublime and satisfying. This wasn’t just an afternoon snack — this was a culinary adventure.

le bakery mural

As we departed, the employee urged us to view this colorful mural (pictured above) on the side of their cinderblock building. Glad we did — it’s a cool, colorful piece of work. So is Le Bakery & Cafe. I already want to return for lunch so I can sample their locally famous French Vietnamese-Style Po Boys (aka Banh Mi). Little places like this are community treasures for the folks who live nearby. For visitors to the casinoland of Biloxi, Le Bakery & Cafe is a gamble worth taking. Roll the dice and prepare to be surprised.

Le Bakery & Cafe – 280 Oak Street, Biloxi, MS 39530

(228) 436-0850; www.facebook.com/LeBakeryBiloxi

A Visit to Berkeley and San Francisco (December 2012)

27 Dec

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My home base for this brief 3-day visit was the historic Claremont Hotel in the hills of Berkeley. What a beautiful property. The views off the back of the property were simply amazing. You could watch the sunset over the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF city skyline in the background. Stunning.

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I arrived late and quite tired on the first night. I decided to stay close and dine at the hotel restaurant. The food turned out to be pretty good. I especially enjoyed the Gilroy Garlic Fries, but boy did my breath stink afterwards. Had to brush and rinse several times that evening. It was all well worth it.

napa smith

Napa Smith Lost Dog Ale was my beverage of choice that first night in town. It was mighty fine — and mighty powerful. The brew’s 7.2% alcohol content (I had 2) knocked me for a loop, especially after traveling all day. I decided to call it a day and head for the rack.

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I was in Northern California for a conference, but was able to bust loose during a long lunch break one day for some exploring beyond the walls of the Claremont. I walked about a mile (pretty much all downhill) to the first signs of commercial and culinary civilization. The first spot of interest I encountered was the Star Grocery. A classic corner grocery updated for the modern age. It had something of a hippie, granola vibe to the place — totally what you would expect for Berkeley.

star bakery

Star’s bakery goods looked impressive. So much bread, so little time!

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I ended up grabbing lunch at a place called Southie — a very hip little California bistro. The atmosphere was contemporary with a menu full of fresh and healthy local fare. My Roast Turkey with Applewood Bacon sandwich really hit the spot. The focaccia bread was obviously fresh and the sandwich was completed with locally grown romaine, sliced avocado, and a totally on-point rosemary aioli. It all was quickly polished off. It came with a bag of chips, but I chose not to consume them. I was saving room for the far more interesting treats that lay ahead.

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The next day was even better. The conference concluded before noon, so I bounded down the hill once again and grabbed the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) for San Francisco’s Financial District. Shortly after I got off the subway, I spotted the famous Nom Nom truck (best known from its time on Food Network’s THE GREAT FOOD TRUCK RACE). The line was rather lengthy, but I took a deep breath and plunged into the cue.

viet sand

Service was actually pretty swift and my Vietnamese sandwich (aka “Banh Mi”) was a tart, tangy joy. The price wasn’t bad either.  The pickled vegetables and green leaves of cilantro were a perfect match for the chunks of grilled chicken and the crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside bread loaf. I added a little bit of Sriracha for some added zip. It was a chilly day in the City By The Bay and the bright red condiment warmed me to the bone.

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Determined to eat my way across town, my next stop was the Tadich Grill. It is also known as “The Original Cold Day Restaurant.” And now I know why. It is a warm, welcoming spot — a favorite in this town since 1849. All the restaurant seating was occupied, so I bellied up to the bar.

tadich nap

I ordered a bowl of chowder, a pint of Sierra Nevada, and took time to check the old place out. The servers look they they have all worked here for quite a while. Most were well north of 5o years old and all were decked out in classic white smocks. My bespeckled bar attendant was super friendly and very attentive. He even gave me some strong touring tips — the best one being to avoid walking the city’s steep hills and to purchase a day pass for the cable car system.  Thank you, sir!

chowder

My Clam Chowder (New England style) was rich and creamy, the brew just the right flavor note and temperature. Yet it was the bread served alongside my soup bowl that was the real revelation at this stop. My server told me the rustic looking loaf was baked daily by the legendary Boudin Bakery of San Francisco. He added that it was a proprietary recipe only sold to area restaurants and not the same as the Boudin Sourdough bread found all over town and in the local airport gift shops. My day was humming along nicely.

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My next stop on the trolley line was Chinatown.

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Chinatown is nice for sightseeing. I was tempted, but not ready to eat again.

trolley

After wandering about Chinatown for a half hour or so, I jumped on board a cable car headed for the intersection of California & Polk. The trolleys are a great way to get around town — even on a brisk day. I chose to sit in the car’s open air seating to get the full ambiance of city sights, sounds, and smells. A bum approached me for some money and I was in such a good mood that I flipped him a couple bucks and wished him a Merry Christmas.

depot

The Swan Oyster Depot was featured in Tony Bourdain’s The Layover TV series.

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Their display of fresh local seafood lured me inside.

swan cala

The marinated squid salad looked like something out of a Japanese horror flick. But it tasted like the gastronomical equivalent of a Shiatsu massage. That alone should have been enough. The accompanying Anchor Steam beer and more fresh-baked Boudin bread had my taste buds singing like another famous Tony — Tony Bennett.

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Later that same evening, I met up with my childhood friend, Colin Jewell (pictured above). Colin and I had not seen one another in over 40 years (yes, we’re old). I believe I was about 10 years old or so the last time we crossed paths. We grabbed a beer or two and started catching up at the Tadich Grill. The reunion continued over a great Greek meal at Kokkari, an Italian biscotti in the North Shore neighborhood, and a nightcap (“Surfer’s Punch”) at the world famous Tiki bar known as the Tonga Room.

atonga2

The “room” (shown in picture above) is actually cavernous and includes a full-size swimming pool as a focal point. Precisely timed thunder and lightning cracks are occasionally heard over the Tonga Room’s sound system. That is immediately followed by a faux tropical rainfall that is thankfully confined to just the pool and not the bar tables and hightops along the periphery. Pretty cool, huh?  

boudin

And yes, I did end up buying some Boudin sourdough bread to take back to Alabama. Sure, it’s a very touristy thing to do. It is also a very wise thing to do. The bread in the SF Bay Area  is truly amazing. Foodies who live around here are extremely fortunate. As for me, I’ll soon be inquiring about any Bread of the Month Clubs that might exist for poor suckers like me who can only visit once in a blue moon. What a wonderful town San Francisco is. I may not have left my heart there, but I surely left my bread  there.

My Top 10 Bites & Top 5 Sips from our 2012 Trip to the Island of Oahu, Hawaii

27 Dec

TOP TEN MEMORABLE BITES

Please keep in mind that this is in no way a complete list. Many delectable treats were devoured. And many refreshing beverages were consumed. Narrowing down the list to 10 food items and 5 drinks was decidedly difficult. Enjoying Hawaii’s delicious bounty was not. Special mention should go out to the Diamond Head Deli and Bakery.

bbscone

Everything we ate there was top shelf. That included their memorable ginger spiked grilled tuna steaks and the gargantuan (almost as big as Diamond Head) blueberry scones (seen above) they serve up each morning for breakfast. If I could move any restaurant we visited on Oahu back to the mainland with me, the Diamond Head would probably be the one.

1) FRIED BANANAS @ KAHUKU LAND FARMS, KAHUKU (NORTH SHORE)
fried banana
2) SPAM MUSUBI (“SPAM SUSHI”) @ CHING’S GROCERY, KULA
spamwich
3) GARLIC SHRIMP @ BIG WAVE SHRIMP, HALEIWA
garlic shrimp
4) MALASADAS @ LEONARD’S BAKERY (NEAR DIAMOND HEAD)
malasada
5) MACADAMIA PINK SNAPPER @ BLUE WATER SHRIMP
bluewater
6) PORK DUMPLINGS @ LEGEND SEAFOOD, HONOLULU
dumplings
7) SWEET PINEAPPLE BREAD, YUMMY LAND BAKERY, KALIHI
sweet roll
8) BOWL AT CRISPY GRINDZ FOOD TRUCK (NORTH SHORE)
acai bowl
9) HAUPIA (COCONUT PUDDING) ICE CREAM @ HU LA LA’S
hu la
10) HAWAIIAN PIZZA (KALUA PORK & PINEAPPLE) @ DUKE’S WAIKIKI
hawaii pizza

TOP FIVE SIPS

1) MAI TAI @ ROYAL HAWAIIAN RESORT
mai
2) KONA COFFEE @ HONOLULU COFFEE COMPANY
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3) BIG WAVE GOLDEN ALE FROM KONA BREWERY
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4) PASSION FRUIT LILIKOI PUNCH @ LA MARIANA TIKI BAR
fruit
5) HAWAIIAN SUN PASS-O-GUAVA NECTAR DRINK
pass o

Real Deal Mexican Tacos at Foley (AL) Indoor Flea Market

7 Apr

Real deal Mexican food is often hard to find in Alabama. And you certainly don’t expect to find it at a flea market. But that is exactly what happened during a recent visit to the Foley Indoor Flea Market in Foley, Alabama. Foley is a familiar stopping point for travelers en route to Gulf Coast tourist towns like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. It is also home to the Tanger Outlet Mall. Some folks get really excited about shopping. I get fired up about food. And I was especially pumped when I saw the skewer (pictured above) jam packed with pork, fresh pineapple and sliced onion.

The condiments at our table were another sign we were in for a treat. The lime, cilantro and onion were garden fresh. The salsas homemade and delicious. The tablecloth and the general surroundings of the place gave it a nice, homey feel. For a moment, I felt transported to some border town in Texas. The help speaks very little English and there was a Mexican soccer match playing out on TV.

Pork Tacos – Carnitas @ top & Pineapple & Onion version at bottom

Mandarin Orange Jarritos soda with chipotle salsa & pico de gallo.

This fiery salsa rojo made for a nice addition to the pork tacos.

The homemade pico de gallo was riddled with chopped jalapeno.

The sheep stew seen above was a special treat. It was not on the menu and we did not order it. The restaurant’s owner offered it up free of charge as an added bonus to our lunch. It was good — and hot — both in a temperature and spice way. The gent smiled broadly as he presented the stew in 2 large styrofoam cups. He at first seemed hesitant to reveal what kind of meat was used … and appeared relieved when we let him know that we liked it. Another couple of gringos converted. Mission accomplished.

The dark & dangerous roasted chipotle salsa was mui authentico.

The pork under the heat lamp (above) was chopped fresh to order. Both pork tacos I devoured were bueno. I especially loved the one sliced fresh off the metal skewer. It was lean and sweet — you could really taste the pineapple.

These colorful Mexican style pastries were fresh out of the oven.

These babies (above) were not nearly as colorful, but equally tasty I’m sure. We were just tickled pink that we had found this place. The owners were very nice, the joint was clean, and the food & atmosphere was authentic. We will return soon and trust you will give them a try sometime this summer. It’s worth the trip.  And who knows — maybe you’ll find a bargain at the flea market. I usually do — and it’s normally of the vinyl variety. Yes, that gets me fired up too!

Taqueria Las Camelinas – 14809 Highway 59, Foley, AL

251 970-1234 or 251 943-6068

Mr. Gyros Greek & Mediterranean Grill in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

31 Dec

Mr. Gyros was recommended to us by some online food critics. The reports were overwhelmingly positive. That was enough for us to seek them out. I have long been a fan of Greek & Mediterranean food — especially the fast, comfort food variety. Gyros, Souvlaki, Fried Zucchini, Spanakopita, Falafel, Moussaka, Calamari, Baklava, etc. This love affair can be traced back to my youth. And no, I do not have any Greek ancestry. Far from it. I’m just about as Anglo as you can get. But I do know good ethnic cuisine when I taste it.

As a teenager, I dined frequently at Knossos in Vienna, VA. Great place, but sadly not around any longer. Mr. Khan treated us like family … always obliging when we pestered him for the largest portions possible or for extra Tzatziki dipping sauce (made with Greek yogurt, cucumbers and other seasonings). Former Knossos owner George Bilidas (the longtime Greek God of Northern Virginia’s culinary scene) still operates The Amphora, a killer 24-hour diner in Vienna.  

Mr. Gyros is housed in a strip center in Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Greek sweets (like Kadaifi seen above) are a must @ Mr. Gyros

The Gyro Platter at Mr. Gyros is very nicely done. Tons of freshly sliced meat (the usual beef & lamb combo), a cup of thick white tzatziki sauce, really good pita bread, lots of fresh sliced onion, lettuce, and tomatoes. It comes with a Greek salad, rice pilaf, or fries. We strongly recommend the Greek salad. It is excellent and fortified with crumbled feta cheese, kalamata olives, and the ubiquitous green pepperoncini.

Just look at the spicy sliced meat, folks. And those super fresh veggies. This is really fine stuff. In fact, Mr. Gyros was recently voted a “Best Casual Dining” winner by the Palm Beach Post. Beer and wine are also offered if you choose to turn your meal into a regular celebration. We are just plain happy to have found this gem of an eatery. Owners John and Yianna are doing it right at Mr. Gyros. We don’t live in the PBG area, but my parents spends about 6 months each year on nearby Singer Island. That means we shall return … and you can bet that Mr. Gyros will be on our dining agenda.

MR. GYROS – 10901 N. MILITARY TRAIL, PALM BEACH GARDENS

(561) 627-3979; www.mrgyrosflorida.com

Lunch and Dinner 7 days a week; major credit cards accepted

Mom’s Apple Pie Company of Leesburg, Virginia will Warm Your Heart & Soul

2 Nov

Mom’s Apple Pie Company is a cool little place. They have been here quite some time and have garnered a good bit of national attention. Deservedly so. Southern Living called Mom’s Sour Cherry Crumb Pie the “best we have ever tasted.” Tall praise, indeed. The pies are certainly well made and a lot of the fruit/produce is locally grown (from rhubarb to raspberries). Avis Renshaw is Mom. She has been at this for more than 30 years now (they started back in 1981).

Pumpkins and Gourds out front scream Fall — and Halloween

Pie racks display pies and baked goods while they cool down

These juicy apples come from orchards in Winchester, Virginia

Apples at Mom’s are fresh, delicious …. and affordable!

Pie by the slice – this way you can taste more than one variety!

Sour Cherry Crumb Pie is one of Mom’s most popular varieties

I decided on a Bourbon Walnut Pie (above). Bought the whole thing and brought it home for the entire family to enjoy. It was quite a hit and only survived a couple days. It was especially sublime when briefly heated up in the microwave and topped with vanilla ice cream. The pie’s center was nice and moist, not gummy at all. It really dislike pies when the texture reminds you of that white, goopy kindergarten paste. Something about that is just plain nasty.

My Bourbon Walnut Pie (seen above) — ready for its close-up. The walnuts were fresh tasting and you could detect just a hint of booze. Not overpowering at all. Shoot, they could probably booze it up a little more. But, hey, they’re the experts. The crust was just fine, although I am quite sure they are no longer made by hand. Mom’s massive output of pies and baked goods (especially this time of year) has likely forced them to make this minor concession. But never fear, folks! This, as my always-hungry brothers might say, is “One Fine Pie!”  

Macaroons (pictured above). Its even fun to say. Far better to put in your mouth. Mom’s makes an excellent one. They will even dip ‘em in chocolate (see below) if you prefer them dressed up a bit. I’m a total sucker for coconut. Sweetened. Unsweetened. In pies. In ice cream. In candy bars. On cakes. I think you follow me by now. Put me on a deserted island and I’m good. Just make sure there are plenty of coconuts around. You can leave the face-painted volleyball at home (random Tom Hanks reference).  

Chocolate and Coconut. Together. Like a Mounds bar – only better

Mom’s Apple Pie Company is good any time of year. If you can’t make it to my home state of Virginia, they can send a taste of the Old Dominion to you. Pie prices range from about $13 to $17 each plus shipping. A small price to pay for such a wholesome, sweet treat. It’s just like Mother’s Love – only in pie form. When it comes to this pie, I cannot tell a lie.

MOM’S APPLE PIE – 220 Loudoun Street SE, Leesburg, VA

(703) 771-8590; www.momsapplepieco.com

***Open 7 days a week***

Return Visit to Joe T. Garcia’s Falls Just Short of My Rather Lofty Expectations

3 May

I briefly lived in the historic cowtown of Fort Worth, Texas back in the 1990’s and Joe T. Garcia’s (founded in 1935) was our “go-to” place for Tex-Mex cuisine. I’m sure there were (and still are) other places that are more “authentico.” But Joe T’s was always clean, safe, fun, brimming with South of the Border atmosphere, and consistently tasty! 

This statue is part of the Old Mexico atmosphere I was referring to.

Joe T’s is beginning to show its age a little bit. But it remains a lovely spot to dine with family and friends. The food is good (if not great), their staff (primarily Hispanic) is ever-smiling, and the outdoor landscaping is well-conceived and pleasing to the eye. Fort Worth is pretty much a concrete jungle, so Joe T’s lush courtyard is something of an oasis in a world of asphalt and smog.

All meals start with a basket of tortilla chips and Joe T’s freshly made salsa. The salsa rojo delivers some heat, but it is certainly not “knock your socks off” hot. The trick here is to not fill up before your meal arrives. Mr. Garcia’s entrees are quite generous, so you’ll want to save room.

The red salsa at Joe T. Garcia’s is fairly light and not too chunky. I consider myself a bit of a salsa snob and this version passed my strict test. It served double duty as I also splashed some on my rice, refried beans (I believe lard is used in the preparation), and inside my rolled up fajitas.

The steak and chicken combo fajita lunch platter (above) at Joe T’s runs about $12. Take a look at the upper left hand corner of the photo. You can see the steam rising from the sizzling cast iron plate. It not only looks great, it SOUNDS great! I must confess my slices of steak and chunks of chicken were slightly overcooked. That resulted in more toughness than usual. And meat that is less moist tends to be less flavorful. That was the case here. The dish’s smokiness actually overpowered the meat’s natural flavor. Not exactly what I was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong. I was not unhappy, but it could have been better. Ain’t I a picky so and so???

Chunky guacamole is part of the show at Joe T’s — as is a delicious Pico de Gallo. The guac was OK, the pico better. I think the guacamole needed a pinch of salt and maybe another splash or two of lime juice and hot sauce. But that didn’t stop me from polishing off my portion. I was dining along, so I double dipped my chips to my corazon’s content.

The still-warm housemade flour tortilla’s (above) are wrapped in swaddling clothes at Joe T’s. I’m actually more of a corn tortilla guy, but these babies were very good. Flour tortillas tend to be a little more sturdy than the corn variety. That is one reason why they often appear whenever fajitas are served.  

I have such fond memories of Joe T. Garcia’s. It would have been very difficult for them to live up to the glowing image that was seared into my mind like a brand on a Stockyard steer’s hind quarters. Yet it was really fun to return to our old munching grounds. My meal was just fine, the service was exceptionally brisk, and I easily made it back to my downtown hotel for the start of the conference. Mission accomplished. Gracias, Senor Joe!

Joe T. Garcia’s – Ft. Worth, TX; 2201 North Commerce St.

(817) 626-4356; www.joets.com

A Few Bytes about Willa’s Bites

16 Apr

I first learned about Willa’s Traditionally Southern Shortbread Bites while I was reading a recent issue of Taste of the South magazine. I was intrigued enough to reach out to Willa’s owner via Facebook. Gotta love modern technology, y’all. But, as those close to me know, I’ll take bites over bytes any day of the week.

As it turns out, Eric Rion (the top dog at Willa’s) is a really cool cat. We have much in common and I am looking forward to meeting him in person one day soon. Preferably over grilled oysters and cold brews at Wintzell’s.

Caution: The tasty objects appearing in the above picture are smaller than they appear. But not to worry, friends. Good things come in small packages. Good things like wheat flour, real butter, real sugar, vanilla extract. No additives, preservatives, or artificial ingredients. Most products making these claims today taste, well, tasteless. Not so with Willa’s Bites. These little babies pack a sensational 1-2 punch of flavor and texture. They are melt in your mouth good and gone far too fast.

Willa’s Bites come in a plethora of flavors. Eric was kind enough to send us 8 varieties to sample. Shortbread Bites, Lemon Pecan Bites, Gingersnaps, Key Lime Almond Bites, Chocolate Macadamia Bites, savory Spicy Cheese Bites, Praline Bites and Mocha Almond Bites.

But please don’t ask me which one is my favorite. That’s like asking me to name my favorite Beatles song. Try as I may, I just can’t arrive at a satisfying answer. Let’s just say they are all divine. Close your eyes, toss a dart, flip a coin, spin the bottle — you cannot, I repeat, cannot go wrong. My wife the purist loves the Shortbread Bites. My son Travis raves about the Gingersnaps and Spice Cheese Bites. Me? I told you NOT to ask! Please!!!

Get some Willa’s Bites now — and you can thank me later. I have a pretty good idea for a thoughtful and delicious “Thank You” gift! Wink, wink. (;

Willa’s Shortbread – Madison, Tennessee 37115

www.willas-shortbread.com ; 615.868.6130

Be Sweet. Visit Mrs. Wheat’s Treats Today!

9 Apr

Mrs. Wheat’s Treats has been around since the late 1980s. This is no overnight success story. It’s never been easy. But it’s a family recipe and a family business. Always has been. They have survived through good times and bad and now they need your support. A combination of road construction, theft, and the sluggish, post BP spill economy has caused Julie Wheat to tighten the proverbial belt. She makes a mighty fine New Orleans-style praline and deserves our loyal support.   

The window sign at Mrs. Wheat’s Treats in Mobile, Alabama

Pralines on the cooling trays at Mrs. Wheat’s Treats

The company was founded by Marguerite Busch Wheat. She was a whiz in the kitchen who made hundreds of pralines each year for her closest friends and beloved family members. Her praline recipe was a treasured heirloom passed down through 4 generations of the Wheat family. She was said to be quite particular about the pecans used in her recipe. Marguerite gathered pecans from her own family trees and was known to crack and shell each nut by hand. Talk about your TLC!

Chocolate Fudge from Mrs. Wheat’s kitchens

The original Mrs. Wheat passed away in 1987, but her family was determined to keep this most Southern of cooking traditions alive. Mrs. Wheat’s Treats retail location on South Florida Street first opened its doors two years later in 1989. Fast forward more than two decades later and the Wheat family is still at it. They continue to incorporate top of the line sugar, fresh butter and cream, pure vanilla, and meaty hand picked pecan halves. Each batch of pralines is hand dropped and hand wrapped. No mechanized, mass production here, folks.  

Mrs. Wheat’s also offers delicious Cheese Straws & homemade candies

Chocolate Pralines — ready to be devoured

Mrs. Wheats Treats has a great history here in Mobile. It is our hope and prayer that they have a bright future too. That is ultimately up to the public. They may be a little out of your way, but we urge you to go the extra mile to purchase these legendary Dixie delights. Mrs. Wheat’s has always gone that extra mile for you.

Mrs. Wheat’s Treats – 154 S. Florida St., Mobile, AL – 251 478-0709

www.mrswheatstreats.net

www.facebook.com/pages/Mrs-Wheats-Treats

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