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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.

roman candy 3

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.

roman candy wraps

 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

Two New Southern Books Worthy of Your Attention This Holiday Season

18 Dec

THE STORY OF THE NU WAY

by Ed Grisamore (Mercer University Press)

We dined at the Nu-Way a few years back. This is truly one of the South’s most iconic eateries. I have always loved the look of their historic neon sign, yet I knew very little about this hot dog stand’s history. Pick up a copy of this new book and expand your knowledge — we think you’ll dig their dog. They may have spelling issues, but they have the whole hot dog thing down to a science.

For almost seventy-five years, one of Macon’s most famous eating establishments, Nu-Way, has intentionally misspelled the word W-E-I-N-E-R on its marquee. Thanks to a sign-maker misplacing those vowels in 1937, the restaurant has had a conversation piece on the plate along with its legendary hot dogs. James Mallis immigrated to Macon from Greece and opened the city’s first fast-food restaurant on historic Cotton Avenue in 1916. Nu-Way is now the second-oldest hot dog stand in America, just a month shy of Nathan’s on Coney Island in New York.

In his eighth book, There Is More than One Way to Spell Wiener, Macon newspaper columnist Ed Grisamore tells the amazing story of how Nu-Way has become a cultural and culinary icon. Nu-Way is part of the fabric of Macon, Georgia. Nearly everyone in town has a Nu-Way story. When people move away, Nu-Way is one of the first places they visit when they come back home. One woman drove almost 500 miles and ordered 150 to go. But it’s not just about the food. It’s nostalgic. It’s a melting pot of Macon. To go downtown for a hot dog at noon is to see the common denominator of businessmen in three-piece suits sharing the same lunch counter with blue-collar workers and street people.

The book covers the generations of Macon families that have worked at Nu-Way, captures the passion of its loyal customers and tells the story of how the Norman Rockwell-like logo was painted by a former Macon fire chief. Even Oprah Winfrey dropped by for a chili dog and a Diet Coke on a visit to Macon in 2007 . Grisamore has been known to satisfy his cravings for slaw dogs (voted No. 1 in the nation by The New York Times) several times each week.

www.mupress.org

THE GORILLA MAN & THE EMPRESS OF STEAK

by Randy Fertel (University Press of Mississippi) 

The name Ruth’s Chris Steak House was always something of an oddity to me. Who was this Ruth? Who was Chris? Exactly how did this unusual name come about? Sure, their steaks were really good. And yes, the brand is well known throughout the world. But who knew there was such an interesting and colorful back story? Their saga is fascinating and provides a rare glimpse into the culture and restaurant industry of old New Orleans. You’re familiar with their steaks, so now take some time and learn more about the characters who created the sizzle.  

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is the story of two larger-than-life characters and the son whom their lives helped to shape. Ruth Fertel was a petite, smart, tough-as-nails blonde with a weakness for rogues, who founded the Ruth’s Chris Steak House empire almost by accident. Rodney Fertel was a gold-plated, one-of-a-kind personality, a railbird-heir to wealth from a pawnshop of dubious repute just around the corner from where the teenage Louis Armstrong and his trumpet were discovered. When Fertel ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single campaign promise–buying a pair of gorillas for the zoo– he garnered a paltry 308 votes. Then he purchased the gorillas anyway!

These colorful figures yoked together two worlds not often connected–lazy rice farms in the bayous and swinging urban streets where ethnicities jazzily collided. A trip downriver to the hamlet of Happy Jack focuses on its French-Alsatian roots, bountiful tables, and self-reliant lifestyle that inspired a restaurant legend. The story also offers a close-up of life in the Old Jewish Quarter on Rampart Street–and how it intersected with the denizens of “Back a’ Town,” just a few blocks away, who brought jazz from New Orleans to the world.

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is a New Orleans story, featuring the distinctive characters, color, food, and history of that city–before Hurricane Katrina and after. But it also is the universal story of family and the full magnitude of outsize follies leavened with equal measures of humor, rage, and rue.

Randy Fertel, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, is a writer and president of both the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. He has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College, the University of New Orleans, and the New School for Social Research.

www.upress.state.ms.us 

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

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

Lauterbach’s Chitlin’ Circuit History Deserves Great Praise & a Wider Audience

28 Aug

Preston Lauterbach is a friend of mine — going back to my days in Memphis. Great guy, he is. And he knows a thing or two about music — and good eats. I was pretty impressed when he first mentioned that he was undertaking this project. It’s a big topic. But also a topic that has not been well documented in the recent past.

All that being said, I am even more impressed by the finished project. This is a well-researched and entertaining story. Preston has a way with words. His method is hip and engaging. He educates without sounding like a professor. I buzzed through this book in no time flat. I had long thought that I was well versed when it came to this shadowy corner of rock n’ roll history. Boy, was I wrong. So many wonderful nuggets of knowledge to be found — and savored.

This is a tasty pot of musical stew – and one I would suggest you dig into.

A definitive account of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in black America, this book establishes the Chitlin’ Circuit as a major force in American musical history. Combining terrific firsthand reporting with deep historical research, Preston Lauterbach uncovers characters like Chicago Defender columnist Walter Barnes, who pioneered the circuit in the 1930s, and larger-than-life promoters such as Denver Ferguson, the Indianapolis gambling chieftain who consolidated it in the 1940s. Charging from Memphis to Houston and now-obscure points in between, The Chitlin’ Circuit brings us into the sweaty back rooms where such stars as James Brown, B. B. King, and Little Richard got their start.

With his unforgettable portraits of unsung heroes including King Kolax, Sax Kari, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lauterbach writes of a world of clubs and con men that has managed to avoid much examination despite its wealth of brash characters, intriguing plotlines, and vulgar glory, and gives us an excavation of an underground musical America. 34 black-and-white illustrations

http://www.amazon.com/Chitlin-Circuit-Road-Rock-Roll/dp/0393076520

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.

A Backup Muffaletta Plan in New Orleans’ French Quarter

15 Nov

In the past, I had always headed straight for Central Grocery when I was craving a muffaletta in New Orleans. Their overstuffed sandwich is mighty, meaty, and legendary. Frank’s Restaurant is located just a couple doors down — in the shadows of the old French Market and Cafe Du Monde. Central Grocery, our old standby, happened to be closed the day we stopped by. Bummer! Undeterred, we plowed ahead towards Frank’s place. I had seen them recently on a Food Network feature, so I knew the muffaletta would get the job done — and it did.  

A rainy morning had given way to a muggy afternoon in The Big Easy.

A close-up look at Frank’s Muffaletta (above) – it’s a thing of beauty that feeds a family of 4 or two hungry adults  for about $12. My son Travis (a true gourmet at the ripe old age of 14) commented that Frank’s meat/bread ratio was slightly bread heavy compared to Central Grocery. You know something? He was right on the money.  However, Frank’s makes a pretty darn good Italian sandwich and I was just happy to get my fix of deli meats, crusty bread and pickled olive salad that late Sunday afternoon.

The hometown Saints were on the tube above the bar and things were not exactly going well. The manager bellowed “Your Daddy’s Saints are back, y’all” as the Super Bowl champs went down in flames to the lowly Cleveland Browns. The full house of diners at Frank’s seemed distraught, yet how upset could I get with a belly full of muffaletta?

We even picked up a large (32 oz.) jar of Frank’s olive spread to take home with us. Our waitress gestured towards a small dining table near the door as we made our exit. I discretely glanced over and spotted none other than Joseph Gannoscoli, who played Vito Spatofore in the HBO series, “The Soprano’s.” Pretty cool, huh? 

Touring the Tabasco Hot Sauce Factory and Scenic Avery Island, Louisiana

15 Nov

Entry to the world famous Tabasco Plant on sleepy Avery Island, Louisiana.

Some of the stunning scenery we enjoyed on our recent visit to Avery Island.

The brick facade of the Tabasco plant — looks a bit like a military stockade.

We toured on a Saturday afternoon, so the bottling plant was not in operation.

Eileen and the boys enjoying the tour & learning more about Scoville Units.

The company store truly does offer all things Tabasco — bring lots of $$$!

These former oak bourbon barrels are used to age the spicy red pepper mash.

Interesting choice of bait, huh?

You can even try Tabasco ice cream — sweet & smooth with a fiery finish!

Avery Island is home to a massive salt dome — first discovered back in 1862.

www.tabasco.com

Another interesting tour nearby is the Konriko Rice Mill …

The Koriko (Conrad Rice Company) mill is technically in New Iberia, LA.

Konriko’s rice (stored in the above silo) has a fresh, nutty taste.

These rustic sacks of Konriko pecan rice make for great take-home gifts.

www.konriko.com

Majestic Oak Alley Plantation on Louisiana’s Historic River Road

15 Nov

Majestic oaks at the entry to magnificent Oak Alley Plantation (circa 1839). Many classic Hollywood films have been shot on the property. Those films include Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and the creepy Bette Davis vehicle HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE.

The front facade at Oak Alley is quite impressive — and ominous!

Looking back at the rows of giant oaks from the mansion’s veranda.

Me and my well-traveled boys, Austin (l) and Travis (r).

Looking back at the mansion from the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.

A full family shot — thanks to some friendly tourists from the UK.

The finely manicured grounds at Oak Alley were splendid.

Another view of the stunning landscaping work at Oak Alley Plantation.

Our tour guide was a young woman with a very strong New Orleans accent.

Sturdy white columns outline the mansion’s veranda at Oak Alley.

These antique metallic vessels were once used for boiling pure cane syrup.

www.oakalleyplantation.com

Another massive estate (Nottoway) along the fabled Louisiana River Road.

http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/louisiana/riverroad.htm

Two Versions of Johnny Horton’s Classic “The Battle of New Orleans”

28 Aug

This is the original version (above) of the 1959 hit song.

The British version (above) was recorded for sales in the UK.

***Why let a few little historical facts get in the way of commerce???

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