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Bama Brisket??? Thanks to Meat Boss, These Words Can Now Actually Co-Exist

16 Apr mb menu board

MB sign

Meat Boss has only been open for a few short months. But they have already created quite a stir in a town that prides itself in knowing a thing or two about good BBQ. The Brick Pit has a very large following. The Shed can make a similar claim. And Moe’s Original BBQ has recently opened a location in downtown Mobile. Then there’s Dick Russell’s — and Big Al’s — and Tilmo’s — and Ossie’s — and … well, I think you get my drift. So is there room for another pitmaster to stake his claim? If you’ve already had the good fortune of dining with the Meat Boss (aka Benny Chinnis), you know the answer to this pressing question is a resounding SIR,YES, SIR!!!

mb smoker

This is where the small batch BBQ magic happens at Meat Boss

mb wood

Yes, they use real wood! That alone sets them apart from many

mb ext

The quarters can be cramped, but the wait is certainly worth it

mb open sign

This sign at Meat Boss is only lighted three smokey days a week

mb verse

These are good, God-fearing folks. Witness the chalkboard above

mb testimonials

Testimonials are pouring in from Leroy, Alabama – and beyond!

mb menu board

Order lunch for one or carry out a feast and make some friends

mb bag

Now this is my kind of brown bagging!!!

mb q plate

OK, let’s talk a little bit about the chow. The one thing that really separates Meat Boss from the local competition is their brisket. Beef brisket — especially the chopped or pulled variety (see above) — can be hard to find outside of the Lone Star State of Texas. Meat Boss does it right. I have lived in Texas and have eaten my share of brisket (good and bad). This is the good stuff. Smokey, lean and satisfying. And a lot more affordable than a plane ticket to Austin or Dallas. Several sauce options are available. I selected the sweet and spicy version for this first visit. It was an inspired choice — and certainly made more sense than the vinegar-based options. All the sauces are made right here and the TLC was clearly evident in every drop.

mb jelly

Another sure sign of a quality BBQ joint are sides made with pride and joy. That is the case at Meat Boss. Case in point being their baked beans, their “sweet” bread, and the hand-crafted Jalapeno jelly. The beans are not just dumped out of a can. They are made with care and contain meaty strands of charred pork. The jelly is divine — a just right blend of sweet and heat. And don’t be afraid of my sweet bread description. I am not referring to the dreaded organ meat. I am talking bread here. Kind of a cross of Texas toast and King’s Hawaiian bread. Really good — more so if smeared with the aforementioned jelly.

All in all, Meat Boss is a welcome addition to the Mobile BBQ scene. Everyone has their niche and it appears that there is plenty of room for a new kid in town. But this is no kid. This dude is large and in charge. He is the Meat Boss and he is currently your best bet for Texas quality beef brisket this side of the Big Muddy.

Meat Boss – 5401 Cottage Hill Road, Suite D, Mobile, AL 36609

(251) 591-4842; www.meatboss.com

A Weekday Lunch at Sprayberry’s BBQ in Newnan, Georgia

2 Feb

sb menu cover

Sprayberry’s is a longtime stalwart of Southern BBQ. They have been around since 1926, so staying power is one of their strong suits. Country music star Alan Jackson once waited tables at Sprayberry’s. There are 2 locations now (both in Newnan, GA). We hit the Jackson Street location several years back and enjoyed it. This time we were traveling from Atlanta back to Mobile, Alabama and our timing was just right. We arrived just before noon — beating the lunch rush.  

sb lg

We were promptly seated in the spacious dining room and handed large tan menus (see the 2 images above). I immediately noticed the Lewis Grizzard Special (details shown on photo above). The late Grizzard was a popular Southern humorist who is still something of a folk hero in these parts. I owned a couple of his comedy tapes and sometimes read his column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was a funny man with a hearty appetite for Dixie-style chow, so this BBQ combo is a fitting tribute.

sb plate

I wasn’t feeling up to onion rings, so I ordered the Chopped Pork Sandwich with a side of Brunswick Stew and a Sweet Tea with Lemon. My sandwich came with fresh chopped slaw (lacking the usual heavy mayo), a few pickle slices, and a small cup of Sprayberry’s singular BBQ sauce. It’s kind of a thin, vinegar-based condiment — not too different than sauces you find in Eastern North Carolina. The sandwich was quite tasty — lean, smokey swine paired with crunchy grated cabbage and the peppery tang of the sauce.

sb stew

I consider myself a bit of a Brunswick Stew aficionado, so I braced myself to be disappointed when I first viewed Sprayberry’s mushy concoction (see above). Virginians and Georgians have long debated about which state bubbled up the very first Brunswick Stew. I am not here to argue that point at this time. I will say that I am more accustomed to a stew with more texture. Kernals of sweet yellow corn, visible strands of meat (most often chicken), tiny green butter beans, etc. Sprayberry’s Stew looks more like baby food, but I am pleased to report that it is suitably flavorful. I added just a sprinkle of salt and a tiny splash of Tabasco. You could drink this stuff through a straw. I elected to utilize the more traditional spoon.

Sprayberry’s has stood the test of time for a reason. The food is good. The pricing fair. The service swift. Convenient access from the interstate. All in all a positive Dixie Dining experience. So if you find yourself motoring between Auburn, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia, please do give ‘em a try. It’s right on the beaten path, but worthy of your time and palate even if it was not. Skip the fast food options and treat yourself to a taste of Georgia culinary history.

sb postcard

Sprayberry’s BBQ –

Hwy. 34 @ I-85, Newnan, GA (770) 253-5080

229 Jackson Street, Newnan, GA (770) 253-4421

www.sprayberrysbbq.com

For more reviews of Southern food, please visit our web site at www.DixieDining.com

Annie Mae Turnes Justice, the primary inspiration behind DixieDining.com, dies at age 101

26 Aug

“Living a century on Earth is pretty remarkable — even in this modern age of medical miracles. But Annie Mae was a truly remarkable lady in many ways. I may be more than a little biased, but I believe this with all my heart. Many people today measure a successful life in terms of fame and fortune. Sad, but true. I can honestly say that Annie Mae never got caught up in any of that. She lived a simple, graceful life — and always seemed more than content with life’s simpler pleasures. In her long lifetime, she rarely left her home state of Virginia. Here favorite place to be was at home — surrounded by her friends and family. She first worked at Tubize Artificial Silk Company and, later, along with her husband Phillip, ran Justice Grocery in Hopewell, VA. She preferred home cooked meals to ritzy restaurants. She loved farm markets and yard sales. She could cook up a mess of greens with the best of ‘em. Her crispy fried okra was an inspiration. Her red velvet cake and chess pie were other worldly. When I recently asked her to name her favorite food, she surprised me by saying: “Potatoes.” Think about it: “Potatoes!” Not steak. Not lobster. I think that says a lot. The woman lacked pretension of any kind.”

“Annie Mae was indeed a woman of simple needs and tastes. And she possessed the unique God-given gift of turning simple, everyday things into something rather exceptional. I always admired that trait in her. As she aged, the world around her became increasingly busy, materialistic, and complex. But Annie Mae chose to keep it simple. She never seemed to long for material things. Never appeared to worry about what she didn’t have. She was too busy being thankful for what she did have — and placing other people’s needs ahead of her own. Annie Mae was always a giver — not a taker. She was ever positive — rarely complaining. She gave enormous hugs — and had an unforgettable, infectious laugh. And she was always perfectly comfortable in her own skin. What a rare quality that is these days. I can only hope a little bit of that has rubbed off on me.”

“I recall visiting Annie Mae & Phillip during my college years. As soon as I pulled in their Petersburg driveway, Annie Mae was quickly out the door to the grocery store. She wanted to whip up something extra special. I told her that wouldn’t be necessary, but she wouldn’t hear it. So she was off in a flash. She backed her sedan out of the carport — and slammed right into the front of my car.  I was so mad at myself for not reminding her that my vehicle was parked there. Just hadn’t thought about it. Didn’t have time. And, of course, I was concerned that she might have hurt herself. But all she could talk about was how sorry SHE was — and how she still needed to get groceries. That story speaks volumes about Annie Mae’s outlook on life. It was NEVER about her — ALWAYS about someone else. But in living out her life in that fashion, she forged a lasting legacy of love that few can match.”

A picture of me & Granny – taken at her 100th birthday party 

“We were all so blessed to have had Annie Mae Turnes Justice in our lives. Her quiet, selfless, Christian way of moving through this world made a massive impression on me. We were separated my many miles in recent years, yet I always felt a special bond with that wonderful Southern lady I called “Granny Justice.” Or, sometimes, “Granny Mae.” She would often tell me: “You were always my boy.” It never failed to put a smile on my face. During our last family trip to visit Granny, we arrived at Imperial Plaza cradling white cardboard box lunches from Sally Bell’s Kitchen in Richmond, VA. And by Granny’s reaction, you would have thought we were toting jewel boxes. She made such a big fuss about how tasty everything was – and how nice it was to see us all. Her smile lit up the room. Meanwhile, our youngest son Travis was growing more anxious by the minute — stomping back and forth — constantly asking when we would be leaving. Eileen and I were so embarrassed. But Granny, true to form, was simply “tickled” and that uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment soon disappeared. She had worked her special magic once again.” 

“I know the final few months were very hard on her. A loss of independence and energy, no more cooking, bland hospital meals, a bad fall, and a broken hip. She slowly lost her healthy appetite for good food — and for life. She was ready to go. She said that more than once during our last phone conversation. The Lord knew this, sensed her pain, and promptly carried her to Glory. God, as she often reminded us, is SO good! In our time of sorrow, I take comfort in knowing that Granny is no longer suffering, she is in a far better place, she sees clearly, she walks without pain, and she is at last (after 26 long years) reunited with her beloved Phillip Hendry Justice. They have an awful lot of catching up to do. And lots fish to catch too. That was always their thing. Rest in Peace, my sweet Granny. I love you so much and feel blessed to have had you in my life for so many wonderful years. I will see you again on the other side — and I will be fully expecting one of your famous bear hugs.”

Two Cookbook Discoveries for the Southern Chef or Home Cook

12 Feb

The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook

“A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious American Dishes”

“Cast iron cookery IS American cuisine, and Lodge IS cast iron. Therefore, Lodge IS American cuisine.”  These are the wise words indeed from Food Network’s culinary brainiac, Alton Brown. Esquire magazine listed Lodge Cast Iron Cookware in their 2009 list of “Things a Man Should Own.” And, honestly, who are we to argue with that kind of sage advice? I would like to add that if Lodge knows how to create world-class cookware, then surely they must know a great deal about cooking in the dark, heavy vessels they have created for many, many decades. Right??? Of course!

Some of the recipes unveiled here are contributed by the likes of Southern writer and humorist Julia Reed and noted Oxford, MS chef John Currence, but most come from home cooks and Lodge family members/employees. All in all, you will find over 200 recipes in this must-have volume. Joseph Lodge, who founded the company in South Pittsburg, TN way back in 1896, would truly be proud.

I especially appreciated the Cast Iron 101 chapter — this addresses the intimidation factor for newcomers to this style of rustic cooking. There’s also a chapter devoted just to cornbread (South Pittsburg hosts a Cornbread Fest each year) and another focusing entirely on outdoor cooking. Notable recipes included here are Hannah’s Apple Pancake, Southern Greens Soup, McNew’s Okra Stew, Brunswick Stew, and Savannah Red Rice. Lands outside of Dixie are also represented with Lyonnaise Potatoes, Shepherd’s Pie, Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa, and many more.

My favorite recipe name in the book?

That’s easy.

It is the “This Ain’t No Yankee Cornbread.”  

***Inside the book you will find***

  • Over 200 delicious, classic recipes all made in cast-iron
  • Over 200 big, beautiful four-color photos
  • Cast Iron Memories—historical and allegorical sidebars highlighting cast-iron recipe memories from cooks around the country
  • Crazy for Cast Iron—covers all things cast-iron from the history of Lodge Manufacturing to types of pots and pans, care of cast-iron, basics of outdoor cookery, what NOT to cook in cast-iron, and how to renew neglected hand-me-down pan
  • Stand-alone sidebars such as How to Make a Roux and Basics of Campfire Cooking

GLASS ONION CLASSICS – “RECIPES FROM A SOUTHERN RESTAURANT”

The Glass Onion is a popular eatery in Charleston, SC. Their simple, yet delicious Lowcountry cuisine has generated a good deal of buzz and a faithful following in that amazing part of the world. The restaurant opened in 2008, but it took them until 2011 to publish a compilation of some of their most popular recipes. The theme here is “delicious Southern food inspired by local, all-natural ingredients.” A great concept, for certain. Yet it is a concept that is rarely executed with the consistency or the care delivered by the hard-working staff of the Glass Onion.

The Beatles’ song “Glass Onion” was said to be about the handle on a coffin. And you’ll be dying to dine at the Glass Onion after getting a load of these tasty, yet simple to prepare recipes. Jennie Ruth’s Deviled Eggs, Papa’s Oyster Stew, Anne’s Grillades and Grits, Sea Island Red Peas, Sarah’s Red Velvet Pound Cake. It all sounds terrific — and terrifically Southern. But just when you think you can pidgeonhole these guys, they toss a recipe like Chuck’s Italian Sausage Ragout at ya. Most of the recipes have only a handful of fresh, easily sourced ingredients. That simply means that you will not pull your hair out while shopping for or executing these winning, cook friendly recipes.

This cookbook is a self-published effort and it has a nice, church cookbook kind of DIY charm to it. We also enjoyed the short vignettes about the Glass Onion’s vendors including old compadres like Anson Mills’ grains and Benton’s Country Hams & Bacon. So when in Charleston, join them for a memorable meal. Until then, enjoy this thoughtful cookbook.

Lodge Manufacturing Co. – South Pittsburg, TN;  www.lodgemfg.com

Glass Onion – 1219 Savannah Hwy., Charleston, SC; www.ilovetheglassonion.com

Moonshine Jelly — The Breakfast of Champions!

11 Feb

Yes, folks — there really is such a thing. And, for this, we owe a hearty thanks to the people at Southern Cider Company of Oxford, FL. Now this Oxford is not home to any institutions of higher learning, yet they surely could teach you a thing or two about crafting fine ciders and jellies.

I first spotted this product at a roadside tourist trap in Florida and it immediately struck me as a novelty gift item. But how good could it be? And how much moonshine do they really incorporate? Yup, I had my doubts about this product and chose not to purchase any that day. Days and weeks passed and the concept somehow lingered on my mind. OK, I admit it — I’m a bit of an odd bird. Stuff like this keeps me awake at night. I eventually broke down and sent an email to Southern Cider’s Jan Montanaro expressing my curiousity. She didn’t seem the least bit surprised and was very gracious in offering to send us a sample 18 oz. jar via US Mail. The package arrived at our Alabama home just a few days later.

Upon further inspection of the product’s ingredients, we were pleased to see that this is pretty much an all-natural jelly. Sugar, white wine, water, pectin, lemon juice and moonshine (corn whiskey). I popped a piece of wheat bread in the toaster, cracked open the jelly jar, and gave it a shot. And you know what? I liked it. It is very good. And you can really taste the moonshine. The good stuff too — no funky aftertaste. Jan, I am extremely impressed!

Sure, this product is obviously a conversation starter. But that doesn’t mean it can’t taste good. We enjoyed it and think you will too. So if you’re bored with your usual grape or strawberry jam, let Southern Cider Company’s Moonshine Jelly give your breakfast a kick in the pants. And as the old hillbilly song goes, “Them that refuse it will be few.”

www.southernciderco.com

Day Trip to Bayou La Batre – “Alabama’s Seafood Capital”

20 Nov

The sign says it all — and there is a lot of truth to this. I was expecting a little town dominated by the seafood industry. That is pretty much what I found. But there were plenty of surprises during my brief weekday visit. I was only in town for a couple hours. And part of this time was spent on business. However, I did find enough time to scout around, snap a few images, grab some lunch, and just generally get the vibe of this sleepy, little fishing community.

Even BBQ joints take on nautical themes in Bayou La Batre. Case in point: Capt. Frank’s Smoke Shack. I didn’t try the good Captain’s Q on this trip — I was holding out for some local seafood. I did take a moment to peek in the window. Cozy little joint. Wonder if the food’s any good? Drop me a note if you’ve tried them out.

They may want to work on that slogan – not the best we have seen.

I’m partial to this salty swine in the window at Captain Frank’s.

Seafood Gumbo — certainly a local favorite in these parts.

There is a pretty significant Vietnamese population in BLB. Many of these folks are employed in the seafood industry. Working on the shrimp boats, picking crabs, etc. Their presense becomes obvious as I motor thru town. I came across this Vietnamese grocery (above), which is located next door to a Vietnamese bar/pool hall. I popped in just to check out the ambience. To say it was authentic would be something of an understatement. Exotic fruits and veggies could be seen at every twist & turn. They had a fine selection of Asian DVDs. The owner barked at employees in a manner that oddly reminded of that scene in “The Deer Hunter.” Thankfully, no Russian Roulette was involved.  

Shrimp chips seemed right at home at Vien Dong. Especially in BLB.

The Eat Alabama Wild Shrimp campaign has recently morphed into Eat Wild Alabama Seafood. This latest, more inclusive strategy seems to be paying off. The organization’s marketing office is located in an older strip mall on the edge of Bayou La Batre. I spent about a half hour chatting with office administrator, Rosa Zirlott. Very nice lady. What a pleasant visit we had. Rosa really knows her stuff, that is for certain. And she is extremely passionate about her job. Rosa currently owns 2 shrimp boats and has been involved in the seafood industry for most of her life. She seemed fairly satisfied with the results her leadership is producing. Lots of work still remains and we are determined to do our part to assist Rosa and the countless area fishermen and shrimpers she represents. Learn more at http://www.eatalabamawildshrimp.com

As our brief meeting wrapped up, I asked Rosa Zirlott two quick parting questions:

1) “What is your favorite local seafood market?”

2) “Where can I get some good local shrimp for lunch?”

The answers followed, but not without some explanation. It turns out there are currently no retail seafood markets in Bayou La Batre. “How can that be?”,  I inquired. Well, Bayou La Batre apparently does not enjoy much traditional tourism — in part because of its rather remote location. Local residents either work in the seafood business or know someone who does. They tend to go straight to the source … cutting out the middle man. This also guarantees the exact origin of the product. Commercial fishing operations in BLB only tend to sell wholesale - and in large quantities.

As for my lunch plans, that answer was easier for Rosa to process. “We really only have 2 seafood restaurants in the vicinity. But one recently closed.” So process of elimination led me to The Lighthouse Restaurant, located a short drive away in nearby Irvington, AL. Rosa suggested I try the crab claws. She also urged me to stop by Jubilee Seafood on my way out of town … thinking they might sell me a couple pounds of fresh wild shrimp for the road. I decided to proceed directly to lunch at The Lighthouse. Maybe next time, Jubilee. I’ll be the dude with the flat top toting a giant ice chest.  

Jubilee Foods — “For All Your Seafood Needs”

The Lighthouse Restaurant is your typical Southern seafood dive … minus any water views. It is found a mile or so inland on Padgett Switch Road. The marquee out front (a scaled-down lighthouse that would be at home on a miniature golf course) was promoting the premiere of History Channel’s new BIG SHRIMPIN’ series. The show is sort of a DEADLIEST CATCH spin-off and it is being shot in and around Bayou La Batre.  

The hand-painted mural out front provides an old school touch.

The Lighthouse menu offers local seafood choices in abundance.

The lightly fried shrimp at The Lighthouse were just as scrumptious as I had anticipated. There just weren’t enough of them! The lunch platter, which costs $9.95 plus drink and tip, included 6 shrimp and 2 sides. The shrimp were the first to go. That took all of 2-3 minutes. After that, I was left with some frozen krinkle cut fries, a boring side salad with thick Thousand Island dressing, a few Captain’s Wafers, and 2 average hush puppies. And I swear the iced tea tasted like water. Next time I’ll order the large shrimp platter for $13.95 or maybe spring the additional two bucks for $15.95 Seafood Platter (see menu above). I’m sure that’s great. Sounds great. I’ll also skip the tea and order an ice cold beer — unless it’s a work day, of course.    

Lighthouse Restaurant – 12495 Padgett Switch Road, Irvington, AL

(251) 824-2500

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***

Continuing a Family Tradition at King’s Barbecue of Petersburg, Virginia

1 Nov

King’s Bar B Q #2 in Petersburg, VA has long been a family favorite. I first ate here decades ago with my Grandparents, Philip & Annie Mae Justice. Philip was a native North Carolinian. Annie Mae hailed from Appomattox, Virginia – site of the Civil War surrender. Both were raised on authentic Southern BBQ. In short, they knew a thing or two about good, downhome Dixie grub.

King’s exterior is classic 1950′s BBQ joint architecture. Giant pine trees loom large in the background. Hasn’t changed a bit since our first visits back in the 1970s. Has something of a colonial look — especially the maroon-painted faux front door. You see everything from shiny Mercedes to banged-up El Caminos in the parking lot. Everyone, rich or poor, knows that this is the place to score some tasty smoked pig. Nearby Ely’s BBQ once challenged the throne of King’s, but we learned on this trip that they had closed their doors for good. Oh well, never got to sample & compare. Survival of the fittest, I reckon.   

King’s Famous Bar B Q — “Even Our Sign is Cool”

Yes, there once was a King’s Number 1, but Number 2 outlasted it.

This retro placemat logo appeared on the original King’s menu

These vinyl menu covers have seen a lot of duty thru the years

Tiny buttered biscuits & iced sweet tea – a good start to our feast

Confederate Heroes looked down on us as we dined at King’s

Ah yes, King’s famous chopped pork shoulder. Some of the best you will find anywhere. Lean, just the right amount of smoke, lovingly chopped by hand. Whack, whack, whack. That’s the soundtrack at King’s. And it is pure music to my ears. Brother Mark and I each ordered the large pork plate. Comes with a mountain of pigmeat and two sides.

I ordered collards and a potato pancake. The collards were just OK … nothing more. Likely out of a can. Sure looked & tasted like it. And the potato pancake was bland and, to be honest, a tad dry. But who really cares? We didn’t come here for sides. We came here to chow down on some world class smoked pork. That did not disappoint. Never does. Been here countless times and it’s always consistently excellent. As is the house BBQ sauce. Tastes a lot like Sauer’s BBQ Sauce (a popular Richmond-based brand) — could be for all I know. I just know it’s vinegar and spice embrace are an ideal match for King’s chopped pork.

We were in the Richmond/Petersburg area to celebrate Granny Justice’s 100th birthday. Our visit to King’s could have only been made better if Granny had been seated alongside. Just like the good old days. Her smile and infectious laugh making the dining room a better place. We (Mark and I) wouldn’t be here without her. Wouldn’t be eating at King’s. Wouldn’t be on this Earth, for that matter. So thanks and thanks again, Granny. You’re the greatest and we’re blessed to have you in our lives. Here’s to another 100 years — and another visit to King’s. The sooner, the better.  

King’s Barbecue – 2910 S. Crater Rd., Petersburg, Virginia

(804) 732-0975; www.kingsfamousbarbecue.com

***Closed on Mondays & Tuesday***

Leesburg, Virginia’s Cajun Experience a Very Positive One

1 Nov

I just spent a weekend in Northern Virginia and DC. Celebrated my Dad’s 84th birthday and my Granny Justice’s 100th birthday. I also found time to seek out some good eats. Perhaps the best bite of the trip came to me courtesy of The Cajun Experience — A Taste of South Louisiana. They are located in the heart of historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia.

Leesburg is a quaint little town. Well, not that little anymore. Loudoun County is booming and is now one of the wealthiest and fastest growing areas in the country. But it still has tons of charm. Leesburg is the hub of this scenic part of the Old Dominion. It boasts many fine restaurants — some quite elegant. Yet it’s not exactly a place where you would expect to find authentic Cajun cuisine. Peanut soup, yes. Virginia wine, yes. But boudin? And andouille? Really???

One look at the menu and my expectations were immediately elevated. They use Leidenheimer bread??? Wow, these folks are taking this authenticity thing pretty seriously! They offer a great selection of PoBoys too. I quickly zeroed in on the Hot Pot Roast variety. My brother Bill opted for the Fried Shrimp PoBoy. Neither one of us would regret our choices.  

Beer was the first order of business. It was a weekday, sure. And it was lunchtime. But it was also Friday. Cause enough for us to crack open a couple of cold ones. Louisiana brew is offered and we were accepting. Bill had the Abita Fall Fest. I called for a Jockamo IPA. I sucked mine right out of the chilled bottle. Bill, going for a slightly more sophisticated look,  asked for a glass and was pleasantly surprised when he was presented with a frosty cold mug — straight out of the nearby upright freezer.

The Hot Pot Roast PoBoy arrived hot — and tasted hot. Spicy hot as well as temperature hot. It came with a nice portion of crispy housemade potato chips. The bread was really great, the sauce (sort of a kicked up remoulade) creamy, and the pot roast lean and tender. No chunks of fat, no gristle. Really good. I mean really, really good.

Just take a gander at this sammich. How can you not love this???

Chopped jalapenos, huh? That explains my PoBoy’s spicy punch.

Dessert came in the form of freshly fried beignets showered with lots of powdered sugar. We couldn’t resist pairing the piping hot beignets with a steaming cup of chicory coffee. The beignets are made with the same mix used at New Orleans’ famed Cafe Du Monde. We learned this without asking. A delivery was made while we were dining. They were mighty fine (hard to screw up hot fried dough and powdered sugar). Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The coffee was the real deal too. Our younger brother Mark checked in by phone during our lunch and was more than a bit disappointed to learn what he was missing.

This Cajun Experience is an authentic one. I have eaten a lot of Cajun food in my time and this doesn’t take a back seat to many of them. That is particularly impressive given the distance between Leesburg & the murky Bayous of South Louisiana. So do march on in when you can … and let the good times roll.  

THE CAJUN EXPERIENCE – 14 Loudoun Street Southeast, Leesburg, VA

(703) 777-6580; www.cajunexperience.biz

Sunday 12-9 pm; Monday – Friday 11 am – 9 pm

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!

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