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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

Regina’s Kitchen Adds Some Class to Mobile’s Government Street

4 May

It was a dark and stormy Tuesday in Mobile, but things were bright and cheery inside Regina’s Kitchen. I had entered the eatery once before. That was a few weeks back. I had been there to meet the owner in hopes of discussing an advertising opportunity I was pitching. She seemed like a lot of fun and the place looked great. The building had previously housed the French Market Cafe. That restaurant offered authentic New Orleans soups and sandwiches, but ultimately succumbed to financial difficulties and the owner’s health challenges. I was sad to see them go. They made a fine Roast Beef Po-Boy.

The interior at Regina’s is not altogether different than the French Market Cafe. It’s a very comfortable, welcoming space. Plenty of dining room inside and it appears they need it all. The crowds over the restaurant’s first year in operation have been strong and consistent. The lunch rush is a equal mix of attorneys, housewives, accountants, and little old ladies dolled up for a day out. I even spotted a couple “men of the cloth” dining in black & white at a nearby table.  Regina’s actually does a steady drive-thru business too.

Regina’s Kitchen features red & white checkered table cloths and a healthy menu of soups, signature salads, and sandwiches. Finding something appealing on the oversized, double-sided cardboard menu was easily done. Final decisions were tougher. I eventually opted for the day’s lunch special: Sliced Turkey on Croissant with Brie Cheese, Granny Smith Apples and Chutney Mayo. The tipping point for my decision was the wedge of iceberg lettuce doused with a housemade blue cheese dressing. The salad came along with the sandwich at no additional charge. $7.95 for the entire package — what a deal!   

My sandwich was quite satisfying. My lettuce was really good too, although I wish I had asked for a little more blue cheese dressing. The dressing was excellent — not too goopy with large chunks of pungent cheese. Guess they were watching my waistline … Lord knows I don’t often do the same. Iceberg is often thought of as a “poor man’s lettuce,” yet it’s a nice treat once in a while. Especially if the wedge is big, cool and crunchy. A nice milky dressing is always an ideal foil.    

Not sure who John (above) is — but I gotta try his special sandwich. A “BPT” ??? A “PBT” ??? Not sure which name (if either) fits. I just love pimento cheese (I prefer homemade, not the mass produced stuff) and adding bacon to the party seems like a stroke of Dixie genius. ***Note: The only store bought pimento I can heartily recommend is Palmetto Pimento Cheese out of Pawleys Island, SC. It is nothing short of phenomenal (www.palmettocheese.com).  

My dessert (I don’t often treat myself at lunch) was Regina’s Mississippi Mud Cake. I saw it lurking in a metal serving pan behind the front register and I just could not resist it’s many delights. Glad I didn’t. It was a heavenly marriage of a dense chocolate brownie/cake topped with melted marshmallows and a rich fudge icing. It left me with a broad smile and a massive sugar buzz that lasted well into the afternoon.

Regina’s Kitchen is now on my regular weekday lunch rotation. That honor is not easily accomplished. But you just can’t beat a place that offers a clean and cheerful dining environment, a variety of fresh and healthy menu options, fair pricing, and “treat you like family” service. Well done, Regina. You are carrying on your family’s restaurant traditions with true grace and style!

Regina’s Kitchen – 2056 Government St., Mobile – (251) 476-2777

www.facebook.com/pages/Reginas-Kitchen/130215213681624

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

La Cocina Delivers Tasty Mexican Fare in West Mobile

28 Jan

La Cocina Mexican Restaurant is located just off busy Airport Boulevard in West Mobile. People who live in Mobile often talk about avoiding Airport Boulevard at all costs, but why do that if it means missing out on this terrific little gem? I first heard about La Cocina from a local food service professional. He also happened to be Mexican, so I felt like his advice was worth taking. I asked “Where can I find good Mexican food in Mobile?” He answered “La Cocina” without any hesitation.

With food this good, they can celebrate Christmas year-round if they so choose.

Some traditional Mexican art is etched into the wooden dining booths.

The chips are fat and crunchy and the salsa tastes fresh (and not too darn hot).

The Poblano Relleno platter (featuring sides of Mexican rice and refried beans) is a personal favorite at La Cocina. How do I love it? Let me count the ways. First, they begin with a fresh Poblano pepper. They are a dark, rich green in color and are mild with only a slight afterburn. The pepper is stuffed with marinated, grilled (almost smoky) chicken breast meat and queso fresco (a mellow Mexican-style white cheese). It is then dipped in a batter, deep fried to crispyness, and then doused in a tangy red sauce.  Sound good? You better believe it, amigo!

A closer look at the Poblano pepper stuffed full of chicken & queso fresco.

La Cocina is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week.

Arriba!!!

www.lacocinamobile.com

Is The Biscuit King’s Reign in Peril?

3 Jul

It’s the Fourth of July weekend. I woke up on Saturday morning and wanted to do something beyond cereal for breakfast. It had been a long while since we had paid homage to Fairhope’s Biscuit King, so I shook my youngest son Travis out of bed and we promptly motored south on AL State Highway 98. This sign (above) is seen at the intersection of Highway 98 and Highway 24. I never really bought into the “Best Lunch” claim, but did recall that “The King” made a mighty fine biscuit. They are located in the boondocks among the cornfields of South Baldwin County. Its clientele is a mix of simple country folk and tourists passing through on their way to the coast.

This portable sign announces The King’s daily “LUNCH PECIAL” pricing.

This sad looking pooch is the unofficial mascot — greeting folks out front.

T-Shirts sell for just $10. Never knew the kingdom extended to Virginia!

Rural clientele inside Biscuit King. Overalls and mesh hats abound.

The cheddar-encrusted Ultimate “Ugly Biscuit” – The King’s signature item.

Treasures lay inside the “Ugly Biscuit” – cheese, eggs, pepperoni, & sausage

The biscuits (priced at about $2.50 each) this go around were good – not great. Certainly not worthy of a throne and crown. Yes, I’ve had a better biscuit in my day. Come to think of it, I’ve had better biscuits right here at Biscuit King. The service was incredibly slow too (about a 30-minute wait for 4 biscuits). It appeared that the kitchen was being run by the same folks managing the BP oil spill cleanup. Chaotic? For sure. Sluggish? You know it. No urgency? Uh, yeah. If you’re gonna make the trip, I would strongly urge you to call ahead to place your order … especially on Saturdays!

So is the Biscuit King’s kingdom in peril? I would have to say it is. There is surely an opportunity for someone else to step up and do it all better. In doing so, that lucky person could seize the butter-coated scepter that has apparently gathered some dust over the past couple years.

Thanks for the memories, Biscuit King. It may be time for me to turn the page and move on to the next big thing. Your long reign, in this humble servant’s mind, may be history.

Exploring Old Pensacola

15 Jun

I had several work stops in the Pensacola area on Monday and I had some time in between to semi-explore the city’s downtown. I spent most of that time in Pensacola’s Historic District. Old Town Pensacola is loaded with charm and is peppered with many quaint Creole-style cottages like the one shown above. It reminds me just a little bit of New Orleans’ French Quarter – minus the bars and crazy nightlife.

Jimmy Buffett’s new Margaritaville Beach Hotel on Pensacola Beach will open later this month. Their target date is June 28th and the construction, from what I could see, is coming right along. I learned today that Jimmy’s sister Lucy (aka “Lulu”) is going to be opening a second eatery inside the hotel property. Her first venture in nearby Gulf Shores, AL has been a smashing success. The food is decent and the cheerful island vibe is always uplifting.  

I took a break at lunchtime at The Pensacola Fish House (above). This waterfront compound was recommended to me by a friend and it turned out to be a pretty sound tip. My mid-day meal consisted of a blackened Red Snapper filet paired with smoked corn tartar sauce, Gouda grits, collard greens, and two hush puppies chased by a Tazo citrus-infused iced tea. The fresh fish was excellent and the accompanying dipping sauce was an ideal match. The chopped collards were good, but the hush puppies were mealy and, to be honest, nothing special. The Fish House is known for their cheese grits (their web address is www.goodgrits.com ) and I must admit they were quite tasty, if just a tad dry. The tea was very refreshing and missing the spoonfuls of sugar that are frequently dumped into most Southern brews.    

The atmosphere at the Pensacola Fish House was surely pleasant enough. Folksy coastal art could be seen on the restuarant’s rear deck. My spacious views of the waterfront were only partially ruined by the presence of oil retention booms just a stones throw from the docks.  

TV crews (local and national) were all over the beachfront the day I visited. The media-types are obviously out in full force, bracing for the worst. I couldn’t help but notice that protective booms were pretty much everywhere I could see water. Very sad. We can only hope and pray that BP’s mess doesn’t soil the beautiful white sand beaches of Pensacola and Destin.

As you can see from the booms visible above, the local authorities and area volunteer groups are doing what they can to prepare for the oil’s likely arrival. BP has established an outpost in Pensacola’s Historic District and the building surprisingly lacked the mega-security presence that exists at similar office fronts in Mobile, AL. That may change once the greasy stuff makes its way onshore.  

I spied a BP sign post in Pensacola’s Old Town —- pretty ominous, huh? I ask that you say a little prayer tonight for the people of the Gulf Coast and the beautiful wildlife that inhabits the region. This is a gorgeous part of our country and it sickens me to see this eco-tragedy continue to spread along our coastline.

We will continue to monitor the situation on the Panhandle — specifically from the foodie’s point of view. I hope my dining on local seafood in plain view of all the satellite trucks and retention booms will send a message to the entire Dixie Dining community. Don’t turn your back on the Gulf and its many delights – edible or otherwise. We need you more than ever right now.

Sweet Home Dairy Farm – Elberta, AL

29 Mar

The dirt road to Sweet Home Dairy Farm

Knew we were gettin’ close when we saw this sign

When you see this mailbox you have arrived!

Lots of great cheesy choices @ Sweet Home Farms 

A tempting selection of local cheeses – we chose Gouda

I am a sucker for old trucks & rustic locales

“How much do you want for the truck?”

This cute little house is for the birds — literally!

They’re what’s for dinner — and they know it!

Picked up some massive fresh strawberries on the way home

Sweet Home Farm is a working family dairy established in Baldwin County, Alabama in 1985. Their herd of Guernsey cows has access to fresh pasture grasses nearly year-round, supplemented with regionally grown grain. Using a variety of sustainable agriculture practices permits them to control quality every step of the way as the cows transform grass into milk, and they convert that milk into cheese. They use no herbicides, pesticides or growth hormones on the farm. Sweet Home handcrafts a wide variety of cheeses, all made from fresh cows’ milk, enzymes and salt, and aged for a minimum of 60 days. Farmstead cheese reflects the particular soil, climate and herbage of each season. They celebrate these seasonal variations in the cheese and recognize them as the hallmark of unique regionally-produced food.

http://vimeo.com/5699851  – Video Feature from Oxford American

http://www.southerncheese.com/Pages/sweethome.html

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