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New Orleans: A 4-Day Weekend

12 Aug

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

DAY ONE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Induction certificate to the Louisiana Hall of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

DAY TWO:

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

DAY THREE:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

DAY FOUR:

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

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

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

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

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

Things To Do:

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

Places To Eat:

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

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

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

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

16 Apr mb menu board

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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!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now this is my kind of brown bagging!!!

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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.

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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

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

Bozo’s Seafood Market & Deli in Pascagoula, MS Doesn’t Clown Around

9 Mar

Bozo front

Bozo’s Seafood Market and Deli has been around since 1956 — that’s longer than I have been around. But as my Granny Justice often said, “Old school is GOOD school.”  That is most definitely the case at Bozo’s — they don’t clown here. Every coastal community should have such a go-to seafood dive. Sadly, few compare to the almighty Bozo!

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When you’re ready to order, step right up to the little card table near the back of the dining room. A gentleman seated there will take your order and jot it down (along with your first name) on a basic white paper lunch bag. The sack is then flipped back to a red headed woman toiling away in the kitchen. The line to order was pretty short when we arrived mid-afternoon. But we’re told that lines at lunchtime can sometimes stretch all the way back to the front entry. After more than a half century of business, Bozo’s is anything but a secret in these parts.

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Okay, folks — now THAT’S a Muffaletta!!!

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Pork Cracklins are a popular side item at Bozo’s

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Zapp’s Chips are terrific — and Bozo’s has you covered

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Take a gander at this mouth-watering Shrimp Salad – amazing!

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Eileen and I split a Fried Shrimp Po Boy and, as expected, it was awesome. The shrimp were plump, fresh and right out of the fryer. We ordered ours “fully dressed” and added just a splash of Tabasco before rolling up our sleeves and digging in. This decent sized, overstuffed sandwich was just $6.99. That’s a very fair price when you consider the price of fresh seafood these days. If you’re really hungry, I’d like to suggest the Shrimp Overload — a footlong po-boy stuffed with 1 1/2 pounds of fried shrimp for just $13.99. Now that’s a MEAL! If you’re more of an oyster person, try the Oyster Box with a dozen fried bi-valves, French fries, onion rings, and hush puppies for only $8.99.  

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This custom table is perfect for shelling shrimp or crawfish

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A painting of a local fisherman (above) tells the story at Bozo’s — it’s fresh off the boat here. And it is a working man’s joint. The portions are generous and the prices more than fair. What more could you ask for? Well, besides Bozo’s opening a location in your neighborhood. They really don’t clown around here, but you will leave with a big, messy smile on your face.

Bozo’s Seafood Market & Deli -

2012 Ingalls Avenue, Pascagoula, MS 39567

(228) 762-3322; Mon-Sat 8-8; Sunday 8-6

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

9 Mar

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

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

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

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

le bakery mural

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

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

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

Roman Chewing Candy – A Longstanding New Orleans Tradition Rolls On

2 Mar

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The Roman Chewing Candy cart has made its rounds in New Orleans since 1915. Yes, I said 1915! NOLA is an old city (at least in US terms) and this is one of the city’s oldest culinary traditions. The cart, as you can see above, has seen its share of wear and tear. But like most things New Orleans, the cart’s worn and weathered look makes one more than a bit nostalgic for the “good old days.” And yes, this is the original cart fashioned by New Orleans wheelwright Tom Brinker in 1915. Amazing. Many cities bulldoze or bury their past. New Orleans celebrates theirs. God bless ‘em for that.

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We recently encountered the cart at the Crescent City’s wonderful Audubon Zoo. Eileen and the boys promptly called me with the good news. I urged them to take a few pics and bring back an assortment of the gourmet taffy. The price of the taffy has gone up a bit since it was first offered for 5 cents per stick by the Cortese family back in the day.

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 You can now purchase three basic taffy flavors (Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry) for $1 per wax paper wrapped stick, 6 sticks for $5, or $10 for a full dozen sticks. The candies are handmade on the cart each day and they are not, like many of today’s confections, overly sweet. Personally, I prefer the vanilla.

You can now track the Roman Candy cart’s day to day location via Facebook.

You can also purchase by mail by ordering at http://www.romancandy.gourmetfoodmall.com

In the immortal words of Jackie Gleason, “How sweet it is!”

Roman Candy Company – 5510 Constance St., New Orleans, LA 70115 

(504) 897-3937; romancdy@bellsouth.net

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Roman-Chewing-Candy-Co/124215977625950

A Visit to Berkeley and San Francisco (December 2012)

27 Dec

claremont1

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

gilroy

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

napa smith

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

grocery

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

star bakery

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

sandwich

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

nom nom

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

viet sand

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

tadich ext

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

tadich nap

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

chowder

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

china ext

My next stop on the trolley line was Chinatown.

china

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

trolley

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

depot

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

swan2

Their display of fresh local seafood lured me inside.

swan cala

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

colin

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

atonga2

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

boudin

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

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

27 Dec

TOP TEN MEMORABLE BITES

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

bbscone

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

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

TOP FIVE SIPS

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

The Pumpkin Milkshake is Smashing at Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream

6 Nov

Cammie’s is a pretty cool spot (pun totally intended). Every town should have a little scoop shop like this one. Looks a bit like an old filling station from the outside. They make their own ice cream too. Cammie’s doesn’t offer a gazillion flavors — this place is more about quality, not quantity. That being said, the flavors they do offer change on a semi-regular basis and do provide local ice cream junkies like yours truly with plenty of choices – both traditional and daring.

Seasonal flavors  are always popular here. And their Pumpkin milkshake, sold only during the Fall months, is a personal favorite of mine. Now, Chick Fil A has carved out a nice little niche with their specialty shakes. Their Peppermint, Banana Pudding, and Peach shakes are always welcome in my belly. But most fast food shakes tend to leave me cold. And I do mean that in a bad way. They are often far too sweet, artificially colored, and they taste, well, very unnatural. Cammie’s Pumpkin shake is exactly the opposite — and I would expect nothing less from them. Let’s just be thankful they don’t offer a Candy Corn shake (gross!).

The Pumpkin shake (above) I sucked down today was not too sweet. It wasn’t a hideous bright orange color either. You might say it had something of a light tan/peachy hue. The obviously natural pumpkin flavor was enhanced with the addition of nutmeg and perhaps a few other seasonal spices.  It was a special mid-afternoon treat that I attempted to savor. The problem was it was simply too good. And it was gone in a flash.

The atmosphere at Cammie’s is quaint — sort of a Pennsylvania Dutch theme. Makes sense given the name. They were obviously going for a bit of a retro vibe inside. That meshes perfectly with the whole “making our own ice cream in small batches” theme.

Tips??? Try the Creole Praline and the Rum Raisin

The weather here in Mobile is just starting to turn a little more Winter-like and I’ll be returning to Cammie’s before too long. Not necessarily for a holiday-themed (egg nog?) shake — but more likely for a crunchy cone topped off with a heaping scoop of Cammie’s fine Coconut ice cream. Come to think of it, I guess that is holiday-themed — Caribbean holiday, that is. My kind of vacation … even if it only lasts a few brief yet glorious moments.

And I’ll get 50 cents off next time too — smashing, baby!

Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream – 2511 Old Shell Road, Mobile, AL 36607

(251) 471-1710; http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cammies-Old-Dutch-Ice-Cream-Shoppe/109587249076821

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