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Versailles Cuban Cuisine Stands Tall in Miami’s Little Havana

21 Apr

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A visit to Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood is like a trip outside the USA. The sights, the smells, the accents — you’ll feel like you’ve really journeyed to Cuba. For many of us, it will be the closest we ever get to the real deal. We only had a few brief hours to explore this go around, so it was something of a whirlwind tour, for certain.

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We rarely come to this part of the world without stopping for a meal at Versailles Cuban Cuisine. If not the best, it is surely the most popular and well known eatery in Little Havana. The food is consistently good and the prices always fair. It always seems to be a proper mix of tourists and locals. And if the locals are consistently eating here in large numbers, then you know they are doing something right.

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Lots of locals make Versailles a regular stop — even if it’s just to grab a jolt of strong Cuban coffee or a flaky pastry from Versailles always-busy bakery. This place is a bit of a compound. A cottage industry, one might even say. There is a walk up window to accomodate patrons on the go and it appears to be a never ending flow of humanity. Boston may run on Dunkin … but Miami runs on these tiny, shot glass-size shots of dark coffee loaded with more sugar than a box of Dunkin Donuts. Yes, you could say this is an acquired taste. I whoofed it down and immediately felt the combination caffeine/sugar buzz. Eileen didn’t care for it and I, not wanting to waste a drop, knocked hers back as well. My day was now in full tilt mode.

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Cafe Con Leche and Conversation — morning in Little Havana

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“The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant” — enough said.

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Check out the ornate mirrored walls in Versaille’s rear dining area

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The Versailles’ traditional Cuban sandwich is my go-to lunch order

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Save room for some Tres Leche Cake — it’s moist and sinfully good

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If you love coconut, give these sugar bombs (aka “Coquitos”) a try

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Playing dominoes to pass the day is a Cuban (and Miami) passion

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The art of making a hand-rolled stogie is alive and kickin’ in Miami

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The Breakwater – one of South Beach’s fabulous art deco palaces

Do not miss Versailles Cuban Cuisine. But more importantly, don’t miss Miami’s Little Havana. It is a cultural gem that showcases Florida’s diversity and strong connection to Latin America. One day I will get to the real Havana. That day is coming soon. But until then, this will have to do. My son told me he felt like we were in a totally different country. “That’s the whole point, Travis,” I replied. “That is the whole point.”

Versailles Cuban Cuisine – 3555 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33135

www.versaillesrestaurant.com; (305) 444-0240

Fat Kahuna’s Beachside Grille Brings Hawaii’s Aloha Spirit to Cocoa Beach, Florida

21 Apr

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What do you think of when you think of Cocoa Beach? Most folks from my generation think of the classic TV show “I Dream of Jeannie,” which was set in this coastal Florida community. Major Anthony Nelson (played by Larry Hagman) was in the Air Force and I’m sure most of you know that Cape Canaveral is in the vicinity. I attended nearby Brevard Community College for one year, so I do have some working knowledge of the area. However, I must admit that my JuCo years were many moons ago. Areas can change a lot over 30 some odd years and the Melbourne-Cocoa Beach area is no different.  This region has long been popular with Spring Breakers and we happened to be returning during the annual Spring Break for many of our nation’s universities.

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We had planned on hitting The Pompano Grill, but it (as we found out) is only open for dinner. We encountered a very cool looking surfer joint called The Green Room. I was ready to eat there … until we eyeballed the menu. It featured a variety of health food smoothies, salads, and wraps — strictly vegan fare. That would have been fine for me and my wife, but we were also in the company of our two ravenous teenage boys. I asked a local for dining suggestions and she pointed us to a somewhat traditional seafood mecca overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I’m sure it would have been OK. Yet I was not seeking OK — I was seeking something fresh and out of the ordinary. It was then that we spotted Fat Kahuna’s.

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Fat Kahuna’s is actually sort of small — and brightly colored. The outside looked suitably beachy and the name was intruiging. A peek inside only made me more curious. It was a very hip little beach bar with ceiling fans spinning above and the sounds of Hawaiian music filling the room.

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Just take a gander at the interior (shown above). Pretty inviting, huh? My wife and I had just returned from a Hawaiian vacation a few short months earlier, so the surroundings felt familiar — and appealing. The upbeat hostess/waitress welcomed us with a big smile and led us to our table, which happened to be adorned with a cheerful orchid. The aloha vibe was clearly alive and well here. But I was now a bit baffled. How did this place even exist with little or no presense on the internet? Well, it turns out that Fat Kahuna’s had been open less than a year. The hostess explained that early reviews had been quite positive, although the place was still something of a well-kept secret. My goal is to make sure that this secret doesn’t continue on much longer. Their chef attended Johnson and Wales and the owners have spent a considerable amount of time in Hawaii. How’s that for a winning combo?

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A “Surfer Crossing” sign seems perfectly at home here

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A basket of tortilla chips with bean dip and a Big Wave Golden Ale

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The restaurant’s island-inspired decor was breezy and tasteful

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OK — so the atmosphere was nice and the people were friendly and the beer was cold. What about the food, you ask? Well, I am happy to report that it was fine as well. I ordered the fish taco plate with black beans, salsa, and coconut rice. The tacos were of the soft corn tortilla variety. The fish was mahi mahi — flaky, blackened mahi mahi, to be more precise. Everything was fresh and tasty. I became so relaxed and caught up in the Hawaiian vibe that I even ordered a second beer (they serve my current favorite, Kona’s BIG WAVE GOLDEN ALE). This is something I rarely do at lunchtime,  but, hey, I was on vacation, doggone it. Give me a break, will ya?

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Lesson to be learned here? Beach communities offer lots of dining choices. Many are good, many not so good. Most cater to tourists and the widest possible audience. Wait. Did I mean widest or widest? Yes … my answer will be YES. Too often fried seafood rules the day. Don’t get me wrong — I dig fried fish, oysters, and shrimp as much as the next guy. It’s easy to fall into that rut and never climb back out. Eating fresh does not mean having to sacrifice on flavor. Fat Kahuna’s is a perfect example of that. Beach views, fresh flavorful food with a Hawaiian Island flair — what exactly is not to like? Eat here now. You can say “MAHALO” later.

Trust me, friends.

At Fat Kahuna’s, you’ll ride a wave of deliciousness … with no fears of a wipeout.

Fat Kahuna’s – 8 Minutemen Causeway, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

http://www.facebook.com/FatKahunasGrillBar; (321) 783-6858

The Floridian Brings Fresh New Ideas to Old Town St. Augustine, Florida

16 Apr

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On our return trip from Palm Beach, we decided to take an alternate eastern route and spend the night in the historic city of St. Augustine. It had been decades since my last visit, so it all seemed new again to me. St. Augustine remains a striking town with equal parts Savannah, Mobile, and Charleston. Southern, check. Close to the water, check. Chock full of history and stunning architecture, check. What perhaps sets it apart a bit is the distinctive Floridian vibe. Palm trees and Spanish tile everywhere. And that, my friends, is where The Floridian comes in.

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The Floridian’s delivery bike — spic and span and ready for action

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The hours are kind of complicated — the concept is not

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Classic Old Florida kitsch can be viewed & enjoyed throughout

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They do tasty sweets here too — this one nutty and delicious

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This Gator painting was lurking over my shoulder all evening long

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Great, fresh menu — I opted for the unique Florida Sunshine Salad

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Drinks are served up in an old-fashioned yet timeless Ball Mason jar

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The Dining Room is a combo of soft pastels and fish camp ambiance

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The bar is cool – and diners must visit if you choose to imbibe

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The Floridian’s thrift store sensibility is charming, for sure

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Few details are overlooked here. Even the floor looks terrific!

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 I started my meal by ordering the Grit Cakes. This take was especially unique thanks to the inclusion of a spicy chili-cumin aioli and a seasonal salsa highlighted by small cubes of roasted sweet potato. A Wainwright Cheddar is also employed, giving the appetizer a true diversity of flavors and textures. There was a lot going on here, but it all managed to work just fine.

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My son’s po-boy with fresh Pork Sausage and Fried Green Tomatoes

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Behold (above) the Florida Sunshine Salad. It is a feast for the eyes and the belly. Look at those vibrant colors! Look at those plump Florida shrimp! Look at those BEETS!!! Hey, how often do diners actually get fired up about beets? Not very often, I can tell ya that. But you know what? They are the star of the show in this daring dish. If your only experience with beets involved a glass jar, I strongly suggest you reintroduce yourself to fresh beets. There is a BIG difference. Great texture with natural flavor that is often diminished during the normal pickling process. Fresh Plant City (FL) strawberries are also invited to the party, as are large chunks of blue cheese from Thomasville, Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy.

The inventive cuisine served at The Floridian is Southern-inspired … to a degree. More importantly, they are using farm fresh ingredients that spotlight the best natural bounty that the Sunshine State has to offer. The atmosphere is winning and the staff hip and helpful. If you’re looking for touristy, this ain’t your place.  

It’s not exactly vegan, but it’s close.

And it’s a smart choice for those ready to take a step beyond fried seafood.

So come tour The Floridian — where fresh flavors coming shining through.

Consider it a vacation for your palate.

The Floridian – 39 Cordova Street, St. Augustine, FL

(904) 829-0655; www.thefloridianstaug.com

The Hyppo Gourmet Popsicles Keeps Things Cool in Historic St. Augustine, FL

14 Apr

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Look for this sign (above) when touring historic St. Augustine, Florida. It should prove to be especially welcoming on a hot summer’s day. But don’t let the season of the year or weather dictate your decision to stop in at The Hyppo Gourmet Pops. Anytime is right for these delicious and surprisingly heathful frozen treats. The name Hyppo is obviously a play on the name of the street (Hypolito Street) on which the flagship shop (opened in 2010) is located.  

We dropped in this last March — following a tasty dinner at a nearby restaurant called The Floridian (more on that in a later post). It had been a particularly busy Saturday at The Hyppo. The young man working the counter proudly informed me that more than 500 pops had been sold that day. It helped that it was Easter weekend — and Spring Break — and in the midst of St. Augustine’s 500th anniversary celebration. But don’t be fooled … this joint is always pretty, well, POPular. (INSERT GROAN HERE)

I ordered a coconut popsicle dipped in dark chocolate and I did not regret my decision. My only regret was that we did not have more time to stick around and experiment just a bit more. Eccentric flavor marriages such as Watermelon Elvis, Honeydew Avocado, and Cream Cucumber Lemon sound tempting, to say the least. They may sound like shotgun weddings to you, but I assure you these tastes do somehow live happily ever after.

So many pops, so little time. But don’t worry … we’ll be back.

Drop by The Hyppo sometime and let us know what you think.

We think the folks at Hyppo are very cool, indeed! 

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Pop Art? A very cool wall hanging (above) at Hyppo Gourmet Pops.

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Only the freshest fruit is used — like Plant City (FL) Strawberries!

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This dreamy mural (seen above) adds to the shop’s whimsical feel.

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This simple process (shown above) produces delicious results.

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Ingredients like Mamey & Jackfruit can make choices tough.

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An intriguing flavor combination … and very appealing to me.

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What is DATIL, you ask? Well, the Datil is a pepper that produces a good deal of heat to the palate. It is especially popular in and around St. Augustine. In fact, the city hosts the annual Datil Pepper Festival each October. It is billed as “The Hottest Festival in Florida.”

The Hyppo Gourmet Pops – 15 Hypolito Street, St Augustine, FL 32084

(904) 217-7853; www.thehyppo.com

“The Gulf” Adds Some Needed Juice to the Orange Beach, Alabama Dining Scene

12 Jan

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The structural design is striking, for sure. It is a beautiful space and it flows nicely with its surroundings. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the creation of The Gulf, an exciting new restaurant concept in sun-drenched Orange Beach, AL. The colors blend nicely. The logo (featuring Neptune’s trident) is hip and attractive. GM Johnny Fisher, a former baseball pitcher at the University of South Alabama, tells me the logo was designed by Big Communications in Birmingham, AL. They are the same folks who created the successful Alabama Gulf Seafood campaign. Sounds like they have a nice little niche going.  

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Fisher, who is obviously passionate about this exciting new venture, explained that this original concept was something of a Food Truck 2.0. Clever … and true. The enclosed kitchen structure is not large and the menu is short but sweet. All of the seating is outside — including the bar and the upstairs “balconies.” You can sit upstairs for the best panoramic views. Or you can sit on the wooden deck. Or on the grass — yes, real grass. It’s almost like a putting green. Or you can sit in a chair or comfy couch on the white sands of Perdido Pass. Talk about options! I really like the tiered approach for the outdoor “dining room.”

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OK, time to talk more about the menu board. Here it is (above). It gets tweaked from time to time, but the burger and grouper sandwich have become staples — and why not? Music by the 70′s R&B band WAR was spinning on the house turntable when I stepped up to place my order. Vinyl??? You bet. I heard Dave Mason, War,and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass during my first visit. This feature scores major points with this longtime vinyl junkie and thrift shop denizen. Getting back to the food, the Gulf Burger is just $6 and made with Meyer Ranch (based in Colorado) Natural Angus Beef. None of the cheap stuff here. The Grouper sandwich is $12 and always fresh. Grab an order of fresh cut french fries ($4) as a side or take my lead and skip right ahead to dessert. More on that later.

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These cool T-shirts at The Gulf are moving fast

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My beach view as the food was being prepared

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Even the seats & indoor/outdoor carpeting are cool

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I’m pretty sure the open air bar will prove to be a smashing success

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The space heaters are here — if they are needed

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The Gulf Burger arrived looking all hot and tasty. It was. I was impressed with the attention to the little details. The brioche bun was soft and delicious. The tomato slices fresh and juicy. The lettuce is chopped fresh daily. The house aioli delivers a nice lemon, garlic tang. Even the kosher dill pickle was impressive. This was no sliver, people — this was one half of a big, fat dill. I take notice of this stuff, don’t you? All the food is served on brown paper trays, which only further reinforces The Gulf’s casual vibe and food truck mentality. Place your order at the window, grab a seat overlooking the water, dig the tunes, and prepare thyself for a solid meal. It is on the way, baby.

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The grilled brioche bun made the burger even more memorable

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As for the previously mentioned dessert, the Meyer Lemon Pound Cake (above) was sublime. It’s basically a lemon cupcake topped with a stunningly sweet, tart Meyer Lemon icing. Plenty of it too. You can even see the lemon zest in the generous blob of icing on each piece of citrusy cake. It was a sunny January day when I visited and the heat of the sun’s rays slowly melted my icing into a soft, warm consistency. My entire meal including the juicy, flavorful burger and tangy pound cake came in at under $10. Pretty hard to beat that. And the views were worth a million bucks — especially in the heart of the winter here along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

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Talk about your table with a view? Incredible!

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Cool day on the beach. Grab yourself a Hot Buttered Rum and chill.

Let me put a bow on this thing by saying that I am thrilled that The Gulf has arrived in our little nook of the world. This place is very hip, the people really care about the food, and the beach views and casual, sandy vibe are second to none. And did I tell you they spin vinyl??? Oh yeah, guess I did. Got any old, neglected vinyl laying around? Take it to Johnny — he’ll give it a good home. And speaking of home, I have found a new one at The Gulf. I’ll be a regular in the Summer months. And I’ll visit when I can in the chillier months too.  Can’t think of a better way to wash away the Winter blues — short of another trip to Hawaii.

Great job, Johnny Fisher and crew. We love your new place. Thank you for giving us this little piece of paradise. Like Neptune’s trident, The Gulf is quite sharp — and “on point” too! 

The Gulf  – 27500 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach, AL

(251) 424-1800; http://www.facebook.com/#!/thegulfal?fref=ts 

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.

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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)
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2) SPAM MUSUBI (“SPAM SUSHI”) @ CHING’S GROCERY, KULA
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3) GARLIC SHRIMP @ BIG WAVE SHRIMP, HALEIWA
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4) MALASADAS @ LEONARD’S BAKERY (NEAR DIAMOND HEAD)
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5) MACADAMIA PINK SNAPPER @ BLUE WATER SHRIMP
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6) PORK DUMPLINGS @ LEGEND SEAFOOD, HONOLULU
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7) SWEET PINEAPPLE BREAD, YUMMY LAND BAKERY, KALIHI
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8) BOWL AT CRISPY GRINDZ FOOD TRUCK (NORTH SHORE)
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9) HAUPIA (COCONUT PUDDING) ICE CREAM @ HU LA LA’S
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10) HAWAIIAN PIZZA (KALUA PORK & PINEAPPLE) @ DUKE’S WAIKIKI
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TOP FIVE SIPS

1) MAI TAI @ ROYAL HAWAIIAN RESORT
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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
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5) HAWAIIAN SUN PASS-O-GUAVA NECTAR DRINK
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The Bluegill’s “Flaming Oysters” – Easily One of Mobile’s Best Bites

10 Nov

The causeway over the Mobile Bay has many dining options. All of them focusing on seafood. One of our favorites is the Bluegill Restaurant. They have been around since 1958, although they have had a few different owners over that long period of time. The Bluegill is now operated by the Cooper Restaurant Group … the same folks who run the wildly successful Felix’s Fish Camp (also on the causeway) and Mobile’s own version of Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

The Coopers have done a fine job in retaining much of the Bluegill’s original rustic charm. The whimsical exterior is adorned with antique advertising and humorous declarations such as “No Curb Service Since 1958!” Yes, they have long been known for their fried, locally sourced oysters, but there is a relatively new menu item that has totally captured our fancy.

The Fish Tacos are good, but our mind was on something else

You can dine inside or out at the Bluegill. I would encourage you to sit outside whenever the weather allows. Such a relaxing atmosphere overlooking the bay and watching the occasional boat (or gator) chug by. The open air deck is pretty much fully covered and clear plastic flaps can be lowered if rains or windy conditions should arise. They frequently feature live local entertainment on the deck here. That only adds to the whole “Margaritaville” vibe. A Kenny Chesney tune played over the sound system as I was being seated this late Friday morning. My server (a young man named Buck) did a great job of taking care of me. Fast, friendly service has long been a trademark of all the Cooper-owned restaurants here in the Mobile Bay area.

Please DO NOT make the mistake of not ordering the Flaming Oysters at the Bluegill. They have only been offered for a short time, but they have quickly earned (and rightfully so) a large and loyal following. I crave them — and apparenty I’m not the only one. I’ve heard that someone on the inside at Cooper Restaurants was a longtime fan of Drago’s in New Orleans. That famed eatery has long been known as THE place to get your flame grilled oyster fix in NOLA. I have dined there and can attest to its glory. Magnificent. The Cooper’s recipe is equally sublime — matching Drago’s slurp for slurp.

An order of a full dozen is just about right for me. Each half shell comes complete with fresh local oyster, butter, garlic, and lots of Parmesan cheese. They are placed over an open flame, which can viewed from the inside dining room. A bit of show biz never hurts and the Bluegill gets that. And just when you think this recipe can’t be topped, they go and throw in a couple of large pieces of flame kissed, authentic New Orleans-style Po-Boy bread. It’s legit bread, for sure — straight from some Big Easy bakery. You’ll need it to sop up all the remaining butter and garlic mixture once your oysters are history. Trust me, leftovers don’t happen here.

This makes sense, because the Flaming Oysters are truly UNREAL!

Bluegill Restaurant – 3775 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort, AL 36527

(251) 625-1998; www.bluegillrestaurant.com

“Having Fun At The Bluegill!”

The Compleat Angler in Daphne, Alabama Has Snagged Us – Hook, Line and Sinker!

25 Oct

This relatively new restaurant has been a hit. And owner Bob Baumhower knows a few things about hits. As a former college and pro football player, Bob starred at the University of Alabama and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. His coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Don Shula were both legendary characters. They taught Bob a lot about the game — and the game of life. Baumhower has taken that wisdom and work ethic and parlayed it into something of a restaurant empire here along the Central Gulf Coast.

Bob’s latest brand is called the Compleat Angler and it takes on something of an Ernest Hemingway vibe. Travelers motoring along Interstate 10 between Pensacola and New Orleans will want to make a pit stop here. Consider it a mini vacation. That’s how I feel each time I have dined here. The food is good — as is the service. The island atmosphere is relaxing and the views of the Mobile Bay are pretty hard to beat.  

Most of the seafood served here is fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. I ordered the Grilled Mahi Mahi with Black Beans, Coconut Rice and Stewed Okra & Tomatoes. The fish was doused with the “Stevie Nicks” sauce, which had a nice tangy, citrusy flavor.  The fish was expertly grilled and delivered a slightly smokey aftertaste. Really good — and yes, I would order it again without hesitation.  

Mahi Mahi, baby — so tasty they had to name it twice!

Black Beans topped with a generous dollop of Cilantro Lime cream

Okra is most often served fried. And I must admit I typically prefer it prepared in that fashion. But the Compleat Angler’s stewed okra and tomato combo was a welcome change of pace on this sunny Fall afternoon. The flavors do compliment each other quite nicely and the okra pods were not nearly as slimy as you might expect. Many people, especially Yankees, whine about okra’s slimyness factor. Not much we can do to change that. Coach Bryant would have likely told you to put your big boy britches on and give it a try. I did — and I really enjoyed it.

And don’t miss dessert at the Compleat Angler. The Key Lime Pie (shown above) is as good as any you’ll find in South Florida. The Ginger Snap crust makes it extra special. Can’t tell you how much I loved this pie. I don’t often eat dessert in the middle of the day, but I just couldn’t resist. And I’m pretty darn happy I didn’t.

If the pie doesn’t get your motor running, we suggest you order a big ole chunk of Rum Cay Cake. It won’t make you tipsy, but there is a good amount of rum in each portion served. It is a nutty treat that is further upgraded with the addition of a fruity (raspberry?) dipping sauce. It’s a thing of beauty to gaze at as well — just take a gander at the image above. Man, it was delicious — and a generous portion too. Ex-football stars tend to be big believers in generous portions. Makes sense, huh?

So if you’re traveling on vacation — or if you simply need a break from the every day routine — you’re invited to come aboard at the Compleat Angler.  We are hooked … and we think you will be too!

The Compleat Angler – 29249 US Highway 98, Daphne, AL 36526

(251) 621-1086; www.compleatanglergrille.com

The Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar – Bon Secour, Alabama

18 Jun

The Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar is something of an Alabama tradition (they also have a location in Tuscaloosa). It takes a while for tourists to find it. Even locals are often late in discovering its many delicious charms. This is due in part to the eatery’s remote location off Alabama State Highway 10 in the historic fishing village of Bon Secour, Alabama. The Tin Top does indeed have a tin roof — but it is not rusted (that’s a B-52′s reference, friends).

A wrecked shrimp boat along the shores of the Bon Secour Bay

It was a very hot, steamy Saturday, but the outdoor patio seemed like a comfortable place to drop anchor for a few minutes. Fans circled rapidly overhead. That helped prevent things from getting too stifling. We settled at a well ventilated table with a good view of the TV and the massive daily menu chalk board. So many choices — so little room in my belly. 

The “Coco Loco Shrimp” appetizer looked tempting and it did not disappoint. In fact, it disappeared so quickly that I couldn’t get a picture of the dish. You might call it the culinary equivalent to the Bigfoot monster. The “coco” is due to an obvious infusion of coconut milk/shredded coconut. The “loco’ is likely used to describe the subtle, but noticeable spicy kick the dish delivers. The shrimp are fat and mega-fresh. It was all bowl licking good — and I’m not exaggerating, folks.   

Tin Top serves a retro Iceberg salad with ranch or blue cheese

I wasted no time in ordering the Tuna Steak Po-Boy topped with freshly sliced cucumber and a Wasabi ranch dressing. I couldn’t believe how much fresh-caught tuna came with this sandwich. And they only charged me $8.99! Now Tin Top is not often heralded as an inexpensive restaurant, but this was truly an amazing value. Tasted great too. The tuna was not overcooked (still a little pink inside). The veggies were crisp and farm fresh. The bread (buttered and grilled before serving) was authentic as well — New Orleans-style!

A closer look at one incredible Tuna Steak Po-Boy sandwich – YUM! 

When ordering sides at Tin Top, please don’t overlook their famous lima beans and andouille sausage combo. It’s a match made in culinary heaven. Trust me  … it’s really tasty … even if you are not a fan of lima beans. This dish may just convert you.  Tin Top owners Bob and Patty Hallmark have spent a lot of time in New Orleans and those influences show up in many of the restaurant’s offerings (including this one).

The Tin Top does collard greens right too. First and foremost, they are fresh — not canned. Please don’t ever serve me canned greens at a restaurant. I can eat those at home — and I NEVER do. There’s a reason for that, people. Tin Top’s collards, on the other hand, were rough chopped & smoky with a tiny hint of sweetness. That is definitely more my style.

All told, a strong first visit to the Tin Top. 

They get the little things right — and don’t miss on the big things either.

www.tintoprestaurant.com

Along the way back home to Fairhope, we took a brief detour for some homemade ice cream @ Joe’s Fabulicious in Foley. They are in a new roadside location this summer. But thankfully the quality and value remain sky high. I’d tried their homemade peach ice cream the weekend before and found it to be, well, fabulicious. Today I had a hankering for some old fashioned chocolate ice cream (sans cone).

Not sure about the Amish Maid, but the product speaks for itself

Joe’s Ice Cream in a cup — just $1.39 for one crazy good scoop!

King Neptune’s Seafood Goes Deep in Gulf Shores, Alabama

7 Jun

King Neptune’s has been a part of the Gulf Shores dining scene for quite some time now. I’ve lived in the general vicinity for over 2 years and I finally made the scene this past weekend. Cool looking little joint. From the outside it looks more like a seafood market than a restaurant.

They sell a lot of fried seafood & a lot of cold beer here at the King’s place.

It was HOT the day we stopped in. We had spent the morning on the beach and the 100 degree plus heat had pretty much zapped us of all our mojo. But the prospects of a great lunch put a slight spring back in my step. I walked in wearing my still-damp swim trunks, a pair of flip flops, and a baseball cap. I fit right in with the rest of the diners. Nice, cozy dining space — air conditioned too! 

Fried Shrimp (12) Basket with krinkle cut fries & a hushpuppies ($7.99). Quite a bargain, for sure. The prices jump up a bit at dinner time, but value is certainly the name of the game at King Neptune’s. The shrimp were not exactly huge. Probably classified as medium to large if you were buying them uncooked at your local seafood market. They were extremely flavorful. Butterflied and obviously quite fresh.  Not overcooked. I devoured every last bit — crunchy little tails and all.  

The dozen shrimp were delicious & gone too fast. Must order 24 next time.

Cole Slaw is done right at King Neptune’s. First of all, it’s nice and cool — like it was meant to be. It’s also light with just a hint of sweetness. The tiny flecks of celery seed are another traditional (and welcome) touch. Little things like this are noticed by food geeks like yours truly. My wife Eileen commented that she preferred white cornmeal in her hushpuppies. You see, that’s the kind of stuff we worry about in my family.

My first visit to King Neptune’s left me pretty impressed. We travel Highway 59 to Gulf Shores quite a bit during the summer months. King Neptune’s has earned its place on our short list of beach lunch stops. It was a pleasure, your salty highness. Long may you reign in the briny deep!

King Neptune’s – 1137 Gulf Shores Parkway (Hwy. 59), Gulf Shores, AL

www.kingneptuneseafoodrestaurant.com

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