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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.

New Orleans Trip #1

25 Jul

New Orleans has always been one of our favorite cities to visit.  Not only is there a lot to do, there is a lot to eat.

This particular trip with our boys was going to be a combined Dixiedining.com eating tour of New Orleans and an educational History Class field trip.  Our home base was the New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street.  It was an affordable, comfy place to moor ourselves with some downtime.  Highly recommended for a family stay.

Our educational trip was a visit to the WWII museum located at 945 Magazine Street. Since New Orleans is just a short drive from Mobile, AL, we left home early and got to the museum just as it opened.  The exhibits were amazing and what an experience to see photos and film footage in such a wonderful venue.  The museum boasts, not only an amazing regular exhibit, but also special exhibits, events, concerts, a lunchbox lecture and a summer camp.  The website contains a wonderful resource for teachers, which I used prior to our visit. Be sure to visit the gift shop. Very highly recommended. DSCN0844

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The other attractions we targeted were in the French Quarter, which is always a fun place to walk around during the day.  Most of the art and street performers were enjoyable. We shopped in some of the stores, viewed the outdoor art markets, and listened to live music both at both Jackson Square and along the street corners where musicians set up with their basket for tips.  We later visited the French Market. We also took a street car ride.

 

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Our guys enjoying the street car

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French Quarter gardening

The food highlights of this weekend:

Central Grocery- The classic po-boy — massive and delectable.

Cafe DuMonde: You can’t go to New Orleans without trying their beignets and cafe au lait.  The line is long, you have to scope out your own tables, but the service is quick and the food is consistent.  Street entertainment ….

Cochon Butcher: The Pancetta Mac n Cheese at Cochon Butcher is other worldly. Oh yeah, I also had the best muffuletta of my life there. Their house made meats will totally blow your mind. This place is a must do when in New Orleans.photo (66)

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Mac n cheese

Mother’s PoBoys: Ferdi’s Po-Boy and Mae’s Gumbo were our favorites for this meal.  Mother’s is open everyday but Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and, of course, Mother’s Day.photo (37)

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Stella (which is now closed): We loved their Bananas Foster dessert

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz: Long lines before the shop opens is an indication the sno balls are great.  And they were. We tried spearmint, strawberry,  nectar cream with condensed milk for extra richness.  Located at 4801 Tchoupitoulas Street, they are open daily 1-7 pm.photo (42)

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Angelo Brocato’s: Our first stop for ice cream on this trip, we returned to a favorite spot.  We recommend it all: their famous spumoni, cannolis and gelato. Angelo Brocato’s is located in Mid-City at 214 N. Carrollton Avenue.

Creole Creamery: With two locations, there’s no excuse for not trying this place. Creole Cream Cheese ice cream was terrific. They have a “Tchoupitoulas Challenge”, which we were not up for on this trip.  It is a HUGE sundae, which, if you can finish it, will land your name on the Hall of Fame plaque.photo (56)

 

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Napoleon House: This was a pit stop for some refreshing drinks after a long walk through the French Quarter.  While the boys sipped fine soda, I enjoyed their famous Pimm’s cup.  Oh, it was so good. A glass of chilled white wine was also on our order.

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Pimm’s Cup

Now it’s time to go home, savor the memories and work off the calories.  We’ll be back soon.

 

 

 

The Bluegill’s “Flaming Oysters” – Easily One of Mobile’s Best Bites

10 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Having Fun At The Bluegill!”

“Bay Appetit” Cookbook – The Best of 40 Years of Lower Alabama Dishes

18 Dec

Mobile Bay Monthly is a great local magazine we enjoy here on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The publication has been around 40 years now. Each month, they include a handful of recipes — many of them cherished kitchen secrets from the pantries of some of the area’s  most prominent families. As you might guess, local seafood and produce get more than their fair share of attention.

Just look at the names of some of the recipes: Beth Majure’s Spectacular Shrimp Dip, Tillye Semple’s South Alabama Caviar, Miss Marietta’s Cheese Wafers, Miss Ippy’s Divine Crab Salad, Maw Maw’s Honey Nut Zucchini Bread, Mama Nolen’s Cornbread Dressing. Southern? You better believe it, y’all!

This sturdy, spiral bound volume also includes lots of appetizing, full-color photography. It is priced at $24.95 and is available while supplies last via PMT Publishing out of Mobile. The cookbook is a tasteful last minute Christmas gift idea, but we suggest you move quickly. Culinary treasures like this deserve a place on the bookshelf of any serious Southern home cook.

From front porch rockers, we look out onto the water. From back porch swings, we see lush woodlands and farmland. So it’s really no secret where the fresh bounty of food on our plates comes from. Combine that local cuisine and picturesque scenery with people who love good food and good times, and welcome to life on Mobile Bay. 

When you have fresh seafood and wild game from your sportsman and Mama’s silver and Grandmama’s china at your fingertips, why wouldn’t you become a down-right fabulous cook and entertainer? You’ve probably even come from a long line of great cooks, so maybe it’s in your genes. We may be blessed with the finest ingredients and rich culinary heritage, but credit still goes to the one who sweats over the stove.

And now, in these pages, you have the legendary local recipes to even impress kitchen queen Aunt CeCe.

If you are already an established cooking guru, then you’ll find this book to be longtime favorites in an organized fashion. If you’re still working your way there, then this book might be your new culinary bible. For the latter, let’s be honest, cooking for a Lower Alabama crowd might seem intimidating. After all, either we have set high standards ourselves, or they’ve been set for us. So while living up to them may seem daunting, take heart, you now have the ultimate local reference book.

With it, you’ll always be equipped for the unexpected: drop-in guests, the death of friends or family and the supper club sign-up sheet. All require you to show up with a dish in hand. (Note: The Divine Casserole has been on the supper club circuit since the 1960s, so it’s a sure bet.) Between Miss Marietta’s Cheese Wafers and Martelle Scott’s Famous Cheese Straws, you’re bound to get off on the right foot. And although there have been many variations, the one and only Tillie Delchamps’ Pickled Shrimp is fabled.

Favorite Mobile restaurants, like The Pillars, Weichman’s All Seasons and Gus’ may have closed their doors, but their recipes and locals’ memories of them live on. The chefs and restaurateurs shared some of their most popular dishes during their hey-days, and we love to reminisce – even if it’s through our taste buds.

While we consider all of these recipes winners, some have actually taken home ribbons. Chili cook-offs, grilling championships and shrimp cook-offs have long brought out competitive sides — and delicious food.

Speaking of competition, we Southerners love a good football game, and the tailgate grub almost as much. Fall football leads right into hunting season, and you’ll know just what to do with that bird thanks to our wild game recipes. People around here love to bring sophistication to “hunting camps” and “farms.”

Regardless of where you’re dining or what season it is, seafood is on the menu, even more so as the warm breezes of spring and summer start to blow in. And, our meals always have a sweet finish. We never skip dessert. Have you seen this section? Why would you want to miss out on all of those sugary cakes and
decadent confections?

These tried-and-true hand-me-downs are sure to please! But if, for some unforeseen reason, something goes wrong, don’t fret. The worst they will say is, “Well, bless her heart.” Besides, there’s always more eatin’ and entertainin’ to be done tomorrow. Above all, have a good time, even if that requires referring to the beverage section to get started.    

Order Yours Today – https://www.mobilebaymag.com/Mobile-Bay/Books

Chef John Besh Visits Fairhope, Alabama to Promote New Cookbook, “My Family Table”

10 Dec

Chef John Besh has made quite a name for himself here along the Gulf Coast. His culinary empire is based out of New Orleans, yet he is truly all over the globe these days. One day you see him as a judge on Top Chef, the next you might spot him on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, then you see him whipping up something tasty on NBC’s Today Show. When not appearing on TV or running his nine (yes, NINE!) acclaimed restaurants, Besh somehow finds time to re-connect with his family and knock out a few cookbooks. They may have successfully cloned this guy — I can’t be sure.  

Besh’s latest cookbook project is a marriage of his love for food and family. It’s titled “My Family Table … A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.” We can totally relate to this sentiment around our household. Sure, we still love to dine out. But it is increasingly difficult to find a quality meal at a fair price. A meal out for a family of 4 can put a pretty sizeable dent in the old family grocery budget.

This “coffee table” book is well-over 250 pages and features some truly beautiful photography. The publisher (Andrews McMeel) should be quite pleased with the end result. It is a terrific collection of recipes and a fine Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy-for foodie on your shopping list. The book retails for $35.

We recently met Chef Besh and his wife at Page & Palette in our current hometown of Fairhope, AL. He was kind enough to sign our copy, which will surely become a staple in our already massive home collection of Southern-themed cookbooks. Besh, a former US Marine, reveals some of his favorite Louisiana products/ingredients. No secrets here, friends. He loves Steen’s 100% Cane Syrup, but who doesn’t? Some more surprising items found in his home pantry include Virgin Pecan Oil, Hoisin Sauce, Coconut Milk, and Sambal Paste. Yup, his kitchen mastery and tastes certainly extend beyond the bayous of his beloved home state of Louisiana.

The 140 recipes included here, much like Besh himself, bounce all over the map. Risotto, Fruit Crumble,  Couscous, Pork Shoulder, Ratatouille, Coq Au Vin, Corn Pudding, Chili, and Beef Noodle Bowls. Dishes sampled at the book signing were a Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Jambalaya, and a Seafood Dressing. The Bird’s Nest Potatoes look simple, but delicious. Let’s call the overall theme of this volume Cajun/Asian with the common denominators being big flavor with a little bit of heat. The Creamy Lentil Soup (laced with diced bacon) would surely hit the spot on a cold winter’s day.

There are desserts too. Don’t miss the Lemon-Blackberry Cheesecake. The full page, full color image of this creation will have you drooling, for sure. The Bananas Flambe, an obvious nod to his love of New Orleans, is fueled with dark rum and accented with orange zest, cinnamon, and a sprinkle of fresh ground nutmeg. The execution of this dish is not for amateurs, but it will surely draw oooo’s and ahhhh’s at your next dinner party.

John Besh and his wife Jenifer love Fairhope. They made that clear during our brief but enjoyable chat. We, in turn, appreciate them making time to slow down and enjoy our little piece of heaven. Talk radio host Glenn Beck recently said visiting Fairhope was a little like being on the set of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is indeed a life full of wonder. And John Besh wants you to make it even more wonderful by focusing on family and hearty home cooked meals. And, as Paul McCartney once sang, “What’s wrong with that?”

www.chefjohnbesh.com

www.andrewsmcmeel.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

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

Gulf Coast Foodways Organziation is Officially Unveiled

24 Mar

 

Gulf Coast Foodways is a new community of foodies on a mission to preserve and promote the rich culinary culture along the US Gulf Coast through education, events, documentaries, seminars and more. Gulf Coast Foodways will be a member driven organization and we’re currently looking for charter members and sponsors.

How exactly are we going to do all of this, you ask?  Through the development of thematic maps and tours, we can drive food tourism to our region. Through video documentation, we can capture and show off the unique culinary culture of our coast.  Cookbooks and published compilations of local food writings and treasured family recipes will draw attention to the traditional foodways of our area. 

We plan to hold periodic meetings for members to make connections and network. These events will include guest speakers on local topics and you can always count on a good meal or two along the way. Our annual symposium weekend is now in the initial planning stage.  Hotel and restaurant industry members will always benefit from the trails, meetings, and symposiums.

We’d like for you to play a key role in the creation of this tasty “gumbo.” 

 Your annual membership or sponsorship will:

 *Help finance research projects

*Promote food-related businesses along the Gulf Coast

*Document local traditions & businesses preserving them

*Promote and grow food tourism along the Gulf Coast

*Underwrite any necessary administrative costs

 In return, your benefits will include:

 *Bi-annual e-newsletter

*Profile feature on the Gulf Coast Foodways blog: www.gulfcoastfoodways.wordpress.com 

*10% off all Gulf Coast Foodways event registration

*Priority registration for events

*Discounts at participating restaurants/shops

 We urge you to join this worthy cause today.

Contact Eileen or Gary Saunders at gulfcoastfoodways@yahoo.com.

***Pass this note along to your friends and LIKE us on FACEBOOK.

Our Return Visit to Apalachicola, Florida

2 Jan

The Coombs House Inn (above) was once again our home base on this brief visit to the FL panhandle. Apalachicola is Florida’s seafood capital and the Coombs House, along with the historic Gibson Inn, is a great choice for overnight accomodations. Lizette, our hostess this go around, was very helpful — from booking our stay to serving breakfast to offering up local dining tips.

Asian accents inside the Coombs House Inn. It is a tastefully decorated estate.

The Raney Room — our accomodations for the evening. Comfortable!

Our breakfast of Egg Souffle, fresh fruit, & hash browns. This picture doesn’t do it justice. It was delicious — especially on an unseasonably chilly, overcast morning along the Gulf Coast. We were also on the receiving end of some tasty snacks and good wines during their Saturday evening guest reception.

That Place Off 98 was suggested by Lizette as a favorite dining spot for locals. It once was on Highway 98, but is now relocated to downtown Apalachicola. The name stuck — that must mean people liked it. Right? It looked cozy enough, so we hit it for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. It was something of a late lunch for us and the crowd in the dining room was light. Guess that’s to be expected since they were missing the weekday business crowd.

The doors were decorated for the holidays. Beautiful colors, huh?

The dining room at That Place Off 98. A casual place – as is Apalach in general.

Panhandle Stew — the highlight of my meal. In fact, I might even say the dining highlight of the entire trip. Yes, it was that good. Think a really good clam chowder … minus the clams … plus loads of taters, carrots, and fresh Gulf fish. Huge chunks of fish rising out of the creamy stew like gigantic icebergs of moist, flaky deliciousness. The cup was not enough. I needed a bowl. Check that — I should have ordered a bucket full. Amazing stuff. If only I could score the recipe.

“Oysters Apalach” with garlic and parmesan cheese. Small but mighty in flavor.

The Hole in the Wall Raw Bar was our dinner destination. Cool little place — and I do mean little. It is very clean inside and the help made us feel right at home. We were seated at the tall boy tables in the center of the dining area. A young couple next to us were already hard at work peeling the shells off some freshly boiled shrimp.

Menu specials at Hole in the Wall. The price was right for raw oysters!

I started with a very meaty cup of gumbo. It was delicious … especially after adding a dash of salt and a splash of Tabasco sauce. They sure don’t skimp on the ingredients. Much like my Panhandle Stew earlier in the day, the gumbo at Hole in the Wall featured huge chunks of meat and vegetables. Really hit the spot on a bone chilling evening.

Eileen ordered this delicious boiled shrimp platter. Just $10.95 for all this!

Gator mural inside The Hole in the Wall. A fine example of coastal folk art.

Little Mom & Pop seafood markets like this can be found all over the region.

The Owl Cafe is another popular downtown eatery. Maybe next trip???

The main entry at the Owl Cafe. Nice looking place for dinner & drinks.

Don’t miss this wonderful antique store. It is chock full of nautical delights.

Vintage scuba helmet — glub, glub, glub. Would look great on my mantle piece.

Life preservers — not the candy kind — but still SWEET!

Other nautical finds to be discovered at The Tin Shed in Apalachicola.

This old graveyard is directly across from the Coombs House Inn.

Another old seafood market. My colorized version for added affect.

Sunset over the Apalachicola Bay — such a lovely part of Old Florida!

www.apalachicolabay.org

The Original Don’s Seafood & Steakhouse in Downtown Lafayette, LA

17 Nov

Don’s Seafood is a longtime fixture on the Lafayette dining scene.

You gotta love the vintage neon, right?

The Italian salad dressing at Don’s was not your typical Wishbone variety.

The gator bites were fried up to crispy, crunchy perfection. Chomp! 

My son Austin ordered the fried catfish bites. I couldn’t resist either!

Don’s famous crawfish bisque was chock full of briny surprises.

Sweet tater fries are always welcome — these especially so.

www.donsdowntown.com

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