We’ve had a grand time, these past few months, eating our way around the Magnolia State of Mississippi. Travel, eat, travel, eat. Tough life, huh? We haven’t had much time to write about everything, but we’re putting together a great series of articles chronicling our trips with recommendations of some serious grub and cool things to do and see.
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.
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.
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.
Cafe Con Leche and Conversation — morning in Little Havana
“The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant” — enough said.
Check out the ornate mirrored walls in Versaille’s rear dining area
The Versailles’ traditional Cuban sandwich is my go-to lunch order
Save room for some Tres Leche Cake — it’s moist and sinfully good
If you love coconut, give these sugar bombs (aka “Coquitos”) a try
Playing dominoes to pass the day is a Cuban (and Miami) passion
The art of making a hand-rolled stogie is alive and kickin’ in Miami
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sprayberry’s BBQ –
Hwy. 34 @ I-85, Newnan, GA (770) 253-5080
229 Jackson Street, Newnan, GA (770) 253-4421
For more reviews of Southern food, please visit our web site at www.DixieDining.com
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
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
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***
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
Tilmo’s Bar B Que is located just west of the Mobile Airport on Airport Boulevard. It is fairly easy to find — but way out on the western outskirts of town. Dreamland BBQ, The Shed, and Brick Pit continue to battle it out inside the city limits of Mobile. Tilmo’s has created it’s own little niche with this one and only location. Motor much further west and you’ll be hitting the Mississippi state line.
Tilmo’s is housed in a rather spartan concrete block building with a most understated sign. It’s not that they’re not proud of their establishment. It’s just that big signs are pricey and this joint was apparently started on a shoestring and a dream. Can’t blame ‘em for that, can we?
After you place your order, your server will bring you a black plastic basket toting a couple slices of fresh white bread and a cup of Tilmo’s signature BBQ sauce. It’s pretty special stuff and you’ll have to fight the temptation to fill up on it. Dip a single bread end into the sauce and take a little taste. It’ll surely get your taste buds revved up.
There’s not a lot of decor or atmosphere inside Tilmo’s. They are obviously going with a “keep it simple” philosophy. I did find the above painting somewhat amusing. They’re not doing whole hog BBQ at Tilmo’s … they specialize is pork shoulders smoked on the premises and then thinly sliced “deli style.” The owner (who was also my server this particular day) explained that his father had fond memories of an Old Mobile restaurant serving their BBQ sandwiches in this manner.
The sliced pork BBQ sandwich at Tilmo’s was very good indeed — smoky and surprisingly lean. Sure, there were a few streaks of pork fat throughout, but that only added to the distinctive flavor. Fat = Flavor, right? I sampled a couple slices sans sauce and found the pork to be quite tasty. I love the little crispy burnt edges. The meat tasted of country ham and/or good hickory smoked bacon. The sauce is great — one of the best in the Mobile area. It’s got a nice bite to it and I dig that.
I had been told the cole slaw at Tilmo’s was special, so I made sure to make that my side order. In hindsight, I wish I had tried the fried okra or sweet potato fries. I’m sure the slaw has its loyal followers, but I was not that impressed. It was a tad dry and bitter for my liking. I had pre-ordered some banana pudding for dessert, so I only polished off about 1/2 of my cup of slaw. You might say I was pacing myself.
The banana pudding, as advertised, was excellent. You will find it especially rewarding if you like lots of whipped cream on top. They certainly do not skimp here at Tilmo’s. The pudding was rich and creamy. There were also plenty of vanilla wafers at the bottom to provide the appropriate amount of counter-texture. A mighty fine way to conclude my lunch.
Tilmo’s probably won’t alter your universe, but they do make a very good pork BBQ sandwich. Their homemade sauce is first rate and the staff is working extremely hard to make this place the best it can be. We invite you to give them a try. We’ve heard the ribs are excellent and BBQ beef brisket is something you don’t normally find this far removed from the Texas border. Stop in and give ‘em a shot. Tell ‘em Dixie Dining sent you over. And don’t forget to save room for some of that nanner puddin’!
Tilmo’s Bar B Que – 10130 Airport Boulevard; 251 633-8109
We sometimes joke about places being “out in the boondocks.” Sometimes it’s just a loosely used expression. But there are other times when the description fits perfectly. The latter is the case with Aunt B’s Country Kitchen. They are technically in Theodore, Alabama (a Mobile suburb – and I use the term suburb very loosely here).
The exterior of Aunt B’s place looks like someone’s home. And I guess that is the point. The owners want you to feel comfortable. The estate is a restored 1901 farmhouse. It’s pretty hard not to feel relaxed in settings such as this. Only the small, circular Coca Cola sign above the front screen doors tip you off that this might actually be a real place of business.
The period dinner bell at Aunt B’s is a nice feature — not sure how much use it actually gets. I would imagine youngsters would give the rope a strong tug whenever they visit with their families. There are a few wooden picnic tables in the front yard. Not a bad place to eat out if the weather is conducive.
Aunt B’s front porch is a peaceful place, for sure. I was almost expecting Sheriff Andy Taylor to grab a seat and begin strumming his six-string. The stacks of soft drink bottles almost gives the joint a general store feel.
Once inside the dining room, you’ll discover that Aunt B’s is slightly more uptown than you originally thought. The shelves a plum full of gourmet food products — sauces, jams, jellies, pickles and mixes. It’s all top quality stuff and the variety offered is impressive. But don’t look for any bargains here. Prices are comparable to most kitchen specialty/gourmet stores across the USA.
I found a seat at a quiet 2-top near the back of the restaurant. An old cast iron stove beckoned beneath a massive flat screen TV. Quite the juxtaposition, wouldn’t you say? I was happy to find that the tube was tuned to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel. Tony was in Chicago and it looked like fun. But I was quite content to be dining with Aunt B’s near the Alabama coastline. I gazed out the back window at the sprawling green pastures and tall pecan trees that had obviously been here for a very long time.
I placed my order for the Cajun shrimp stuffed pork tenderloin lunch special. It was in front of me in a flash. Now that is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a not so good thing. It appeared freshly sliced and the stuffing looked (and smelled) amazing.
It tasted just as good — although I must add that the large pork medallions were not exactly piping hot. That aside, the dish was a smashing success – thanks in great measure to the stuffing. I’m not sure exactly was in it. I asked but didn’t exactly get a detailed answer. Shrimp, Cajun spices, some chopped veggies – that’s about all the manager was willing to share with me. I could have sworn I tasted some tasso or andouille, but I was told I was off base on that guess.
My side of stewed squash was really fine too. There just wasn’t enopugh of it. I found myself wishing that Aunt B was a little more generous with her portions this particular afternoon. The squash had been bathed in sweet onion, butter, and herbs and tasted much like the squash I often prepare at home in the Spring and Summer months.
My entree also included a mound of cold macaroni salad. This is one of my favorite picnic foods, especially if it’s nice and cold and not totally drowned in fatty mayo. This side was nicely conceived and quickly scarfed down.
It was now time for dessert and I was ready for some sweet potato pie. The choice was not easy. Aunt B was also offering a Strawberry Shortcake and I was wavering a bit. But I stuck to my guns and I was repaid with a slab of pie that was, well, sticky. And gooey. And not exactly what I was hoping for. It was far too sweet and had a very unpleasant gummy texture. A cross between pie and chewing gum. Should have gone strawberry!
But let’s not finish on a downer. This is a cool place and a welcome addition to the Greater Mobile area dining scene. And it’s actually only about a 20 minute drive from Mobile’s I-65 and I-10 interchange. Aunt B’s is open for lunch only on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday thru Sunday hours are 11 am – 4 pm and 5 pm – 8:30 pm.
Dinner options listed on the take out menu include Baked Chicken and Dressing, Crooks Corner Shrimp n Grits, Pecan Crusted Chicken, Shrimp Creole and Chicken n Dumplings. Sides listed were highlighted by Roasted Butternut Squash, Tomatoes Rockefeller, and Asparagus with Deviled Eggs. Now how can a true Dixie Dining devotee resist all that?
So take a drive out to the country — the Country Kitchen, that is.
Aunt B’s Country Kitchen – 3750 Bay Rd, Theodore, AL
251 623 1868; www.shopauntbs.com
State-of-the-art fried oysters can be hard to find — even here on the Gulf Coast. We found them this week at Queen G’s Cafe on Mobile’s Old Shell Road. They open at 11 am. I arrived about 11:40 am. Just in time to beat the lunch rush. It’s a tiny little place with a limited indoor seating capacity. There are some additional seats outside, but that can be hit or miss depending on our rather fickle coastal weather patterns. I grabbed a small indoor table and shared the dining room with a single middle-aged couple. Their conversation was spirited and their food looked appealing.
Queen G’s is housed in an old circa 1950s drive-in. It used to be called “The Rebel Queen” back in the day and they have the photos inside to prove it. The bright teal paint job would have looked right at home on a 1957 Chevy. The black and white exterior awning preserved some of the retro vibe.
I was tempted when I read about the Chicken & Dumplings special, but ultimately stayed strong and ordered a small plate of fried local oysters. I say small only because they call it that at Queen G’s. It’s actually pretty substantial with about 10 meaty cornmeal-coated oysters on each platter. The market price for this dish (with 2 sides) was $12. Order the large oyster plate and you may be ready for a mid-day siesta. Be forewarned.
The menu at Queen G’s is very cool looking. I’m a sucker for that old meets new look. Each meal (as you can see above) comes with a poofy square of cornbread and more than a couple of pats of real creamy butter. None of that greasy margarine or Country Crock crap. I notice these little things, so restaurateurs take note. The cornbread was just fine. Not really noteworthy in any way, but OK.
The fresh oysters are fried up to order at Queen G’s. Nice. A cornmeal coating really makes a difference. So much better than flour (if you ask me). They are prettied up on the plate with a few flecks of chopped green onion. I had my cocktail sauce and Tabasco at the ready and the oysters magically disappeared in just a matter of seconds. What a treat — especially on a weekday afternoon. For just a brief moment, I felt like royalty. I asked my server about the oysters point of origin. She informed me that they are farm raised in nearby Coden, AL. That explained their amazing sweetness. The local waters have been chilly due to some cool nights. That, from what I’ve been told, helps to deliver those sweet flavor notes.
My side of deviled eggs seemed like a good idea, but they could have been a little more devilish in my opinion. The presentation was nice – gussied up with paprika and parsley. The lime green serving bowl gave it a true elementary school cafeteria feel. I could tell the eggs had been sitting in the fridge for a while and the flavor was, well, just a tad on the bland side. Nice effort, but they fell a little short this time. Not a big deal though.
My second side was rough chopped rutabagas. People love ‘em or hate ‘em. I dig ‘em. Really! They look unadorned in the above image, yet I am happy to report that they tasted fresh and well-seasoned. I only wish the portion size was larger. You don’t find rutabaga on many menues these days — even in the Heart of Dixie. They can be tedious to prepare and the canned variety just aren’t near as delicious.
Clean your plate at Queen G’s and you’ll be rewarded with a free scoop of ice cream. Pretty good incentive, for sure. But you probably won’t require any additional motivation here. The food is good and fresh and the surroundings cozy, yet comfy. I’ll be back and I hope to rub elbows with you at Queen G’s one day soon.
QUEEN G’S CAFE – 2518 Old Shell Road, Mobile, AL – 251 471 3361