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Versailles Cuban Cuisine Stands Tall in Miami’s Little Havana

21 Apr

miami little hav sign

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

dominoes

Playing dominoes to pass the day is a Cuban (and Miami) passion

miami cigars

The art of making a hand-rolled stogie is alive and kickin’ in Miami

miami south beach

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

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

9 Mar

le bakery sign

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.   

le bakery yuca

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

le bakery treats

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.

le bakery pearls

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

Momma’s Mojo Brings Miami Spice to West Mobile, Alabama

25 Oct

West Mobile (and I do mean WEST) is not the place you’d expect to find a Cuban cafe. Especially one offering a great Pressed Cuban Sandwich or a shot of authentic Cubano coffee. Yet that is exactly what you will find when you make the drive out Cottage Hill Road to Momma’s Mojo Cafe & Deli.

As you can see by the above banner, Momma’s Mojo is not exactly a secret any more. It is slowly gaining a reputation for its Cuban-style Roast Pork, Mojo Grilled Chicken, Sweet Plantains, Flan, Tres Leches cake, and more. But there are many Mobile area foodies who have yet to sample the fine exotic foods offered here. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of interest. The location is not exactly on the beaten path. Heck, for folks like me who reside on the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay, it’s almost in Mississippi, for crying out loud. But the positive buzz kept on coming my way, so I felt compelled to checking it out.

It’s a small, cozy joint — and very clean. That is alway’s a plus. I was greeted with a smile and a complimentary shot of strong, sweet Cubano java. Nice! Imagine a slug of dark coffee liqueur (without the alcohol, of course) and that will give you the general idea. The interior decor here is bright and cheery. That’s pretty much what you expect, right? There is even a domino table out front, so the Little Havana vibe can’t help but grab hold of you.

Cuban Coffee is strong and sweet — it’ll give you a serious JOLT!

I was told that the traditional Cuban Sandwich was the house specialty, so that’s where I started. The lunch platter comes with sweet fried plantains, a unique dipping sauce, a dill pickle, and a handful of pork rinds. The sandwich, which just so happened to be amazing, was made with good bread, Boar’s Head brand ham, Swiss cheese, smokey house roasted pork, and a tangy mustard. The combination of flavors and textures immediately delivered me back to South Florida. Momma’s Mojo owner (America “Maggie” Lamorell) moved here from Miami and was determined to bring along the flavors of the city. She learned to cook with her Mom, hence the eatery’s name.

I love sweet plantains — and these babies were cooked just right

Fried pork rinds (or chicharrons) are a staple in South Florida and Cuba. Their addition here was a nice little touch. And little touches really do make a big difference. The folks at Momma’s Mojo are proud of their food and their native traditions. That comes shining thru like the bright Caribbean sun.

There’s really nothing else quite like this place in the Greater Mobile area. Business is chugging along OK, but Maggie tells me it could always be better. They are trying really hard and deserve our loyal patronage. There is even a Momma’s Mojo food truck making the rounds now. You can follow them on Facebook. Maybe this is a more convenient alternative for some people.

We love Cubano food and culture. And we really dig Momma’s Mojo. It’s the next best thing to a trip to Miami’s Little Havana.

Momma’s Mojo – 9211 Cottage Hill Road, Mobile, AL 36695

(251) 607-0442; www.mommasmojoal.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mommas-Mojo/235515533126713 

The Compleat Angler in Daphne, Alabama Has Snagged Us – Hook, Line and Sinker!

25 Oct

This relatively new restaurant has been a hit. And owner Bob Baumhower knows a few things about hits. As a former college and pro football player, Bob starred at the University of Alabama and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. His coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Don Shula were both legendary characters. They taught Bob a lot about the game — and the game of life. Baumhower has taken that wisdom and work ethic and parlayed it into something of a restaurant empire here along the Central Gulf Coast.

Bob’s latest brand is called the Compleat Angler and it takes on something of an Ernest Hemingway vibe. Travelers motoring along Interstate 10 between Pensacola and New Orleans will want to make a pit stop here. Consider it a mini vacation. That’s how I feel each time I have dined here. The food is good — as is the service. The island atmosphere is relaxing and the views of the Mobile Bay are pretty hard to beat.  

Most of the seafood served here is fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. I ordered the Grilled Mahi Mahi with Black Beans, Coconut Rice and Stewed Okra & Tomatoes. The fish was doused with the “Stevie Nicks” sauce, which had a nice tangy, citrusy flavor.  The fish was expertly grilled and delivered a slightly smokey aftertaste. Really good — and yes, I would order it again without hesitation.  

Mahi Mahi, baby — so tasty they had to name it twice!

Black Beans topped with a generous dollop of Cilantro Lime cream

Okra is most often served fried. And I must admit I typically prefer it prepared in that fashion. But the Compleat Angler’s stewed okra and tomato combo was a welcome change of pace on this sunny Fall afternoon. The flavors do compliment each other quite nicely and the okra pods were not nearly as slimy as you might expect. Many people, especially Yankees, whine about okra’s slimyness factor. Not much we can do to change that. Coach Bryant would have likely told you to put your big boy britches on and give it a try. I did — and I really enjoyed it.

And don’t miss dessert at the Compleat Angler. The Key Lime Pie (shown above) is as good as any you’ll find in South Florida. The Ginger Snap crust makes it extra special. Can’t tell you how much I loved this pie. I don’t often eat dessert in the middle of the day, but I just couldn’t resist. And I’m pretty darn happy I didn’t.

If the pie doesn’t get your motor running, we suggest you order a big ole chunk of Rum Cay Cake. It won’t make you tipsy, but there is a good amount of rum in each portion served. It is a nutty treat that is further upgraded with the addition of a fruity (raspberry?) dipping sauce. It’s a thing of beauty to gaze at as well — just take a gander at the image above. Man, it was delicious — and a generous portion too. Ex-football stars tend to be big believers in generous portions. Makes sense, huh?

So if you’re traveling on vacation — or if you simply need a break from the every day routine — you’re invited to come aboard at the Compleat Angler.  We are hooked … and we think you will be too!

The Compleat Angler – 29249 US Highway 98, Daphne, AL 36526

(251) 621-1086; www.compleatanglergrille.com

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

26 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

Mom’s Apple Pie Company of Leesburg, Virginia will Warm Your Heart & Soul

2 Nov

Mom’s Apple Pie Company is a cool little place. They have been here quite some time and have garnered a good bit of national attention. Deservedly so. Southern Living called Mom’s Sour Cherry Crumb Pie the “best we have ever tasted.” Tall praise, indeed. The pies are certainly well made and a lot of the fruit/produce is locally grown (from rhubarb to raspberries). Avis Renshaw is Mom. She has been at this for more than 30 years now (they started back in 1981).

Pumpkins and Gourds out front scream Fall — and Halloween

Pie racks display pies and baked goods while they cool down

These juicy apples come from orchards in Winchester, Virginia

Apples at Mom’s are fresh, delicious …. and affordable!

Pie by the slice – this way you can taste more than one variety!

Sour Cherry Crumb Pie is one of Mom’s most popular varieties

I decided on a Bourbon Walnut Pie (above). Bought the whole thing and brought it home for the entire family to enjoy. It was quite a hit and only survived a couple days. It was especially sublime when briefly heated up in the microwave and topped with vanilla ice cream. The pie’s center was nice and moist, not gummy at all. It really dislike pies when the texture reminds you of that white, goopy kindergarten paste. Something about that is just plain nasty.

My Bourbon Walnut Pie (seen above) — ready for its close-up. The walnuts were fresh tasting and you could detect just a hint of booze. Not overpowering at all. Shoot, they could probably booze it up a little more. But, hey, they’re the experts. The crust was just fine, although I am quite sure they are no longer made by hand. Mom’s massive output of pies and baked goods (especially this time of year) has likely forced them to make this minor concession. But never fear, folks! This, as my always-hungry brothers might say, is “One Fine Pie!”  

Macaroons (pictured above). Its even fun to say. Far better to put in your mouth. Mom’s makes an excellent one. They will even dip ‘em in chocolate (see below) if you prefer them dressed up a bit. I’m a total sucker for coconut. Sweetened. Unsweetened. In pies. In ice cream. In candy bars. On cakes. I think you follow me by now. Put me on a deserted island and I’m good. Just make sure there are plenty of coconuts around. You can leave the face-painted volleyball at home (random Tom Hanks reference).  

Chocolate and Coconut. Together. Like a Mounds bar – only better

Mom’s Apple Pie Company is good any time of year. If you can’t make it to my home state of Virginia, they can send a taste of the Old Dominion to you. Pie prices range from about $13 to $17 each plus shipping. A small price to pay for such a wholesome, sweet treat. It’s just like Mother’s Love - only in pie form. When it comes to this pie, I cannot tell a lie.

MOM’S APPLE PIE – 220 Loudoun Street SE, Leesburg, VA

(703) 771-8590; www.momsapplepieco.com

***Open 7 days a week***

Tallahassee’s Seminole Wind Buffet is a Breath of Fresh Air for Lovers of Scratch Cooking

28 May

We typically pass through Florida’s state capital of Tallahassee at least a couple times each year. Our standby meal stop along this route was normally a little further down the road in Live Oak, FL. Sheryl’s Buffet in Live Oak is really good, but it was time for us to step out of our comfort zone and try something new.

Seminole Wind Country Buffet was suggested to me by a friend who works at Florida State University. He stops by Seminole Wind once or twice a month and raved about the fried chicken and the fresh veggie dishes. He stated he would like to visit more frequently, but his diet simply wouldn’t allow him to do so. The guy has obviously got to get his priorities straight!   

The Florida Seminole Indian theme is apparent both inside and out of the restaurant. So are the Christian messages, religious art, and fish symbols. These folks obviously love the Lord and that is more than just OK with us. The people who work and dine at Seminole Wind are quite friendly. They will stop and chat and not think twice about lingering more than a minute or two. Some may find this uncomfortable. I love it. Reminds me of the good old days when people knew how to make idle chatter. An elderly gent in a straw hat told us it made him feel good to see my teenage boys eat so well. A little old lady pinched 14 year old Travis on the cheek (face, not rump) and exclaimed, “You sure are cute!” It took several minutes for his beet red face to return to its normal shade.

As a lifelong Virginia Tech Hokies football fan, I have been brought up to cheer against the rival Florida State Seminoles. But I never let that loyalty get in the way of a good home cooked meal. And, in this case, I’m pretty glad I didn’t.

The crunchy fried chicken at Seminole Wind is one of their buffet stalwarts.

The made-from-scratch biscuits should also earn a spot on your plate.

Vegetables at Seminole Wind. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Let’s kick it off with the rutabagas. Flat out the best I have ever tasted. Sorry, Granny … it’s true. Great collards here too. As good as you’ll find anywhere.

I have always loved carrot & raisin salad — when it’s made correctly. It certainly is at Seminole Wind. We even made some room for the fresh cucumber & tomato salad and it was (no surprise here) first rate too.

Here (above) are the rutabagas in all their glory — stellar!

My platter (above) following my first trip to the buffet. Yes, several more trips followed in short order. Butter beans, biscuit, collards, cuke & mater salad, carrot raisin salad, fried green tomatoes. Oh yes, almost forgot to tell you about the fried green tomatoes. So doggone good! Pretty much went all veggie the first pass thru — who needs meat with fresh veg like this???

Dessert choices are pretty amazing as well. I would strongly suggest a big fat slab of the strawberry cake. I went back twice and am not ashamed to admit it. It consists of a moist strawberry cake, topped with real strawberries and a light whipped cream frosting. The juice from the berries works its way throughout the cake. This adds to the moisture and the fruity flavor. So simple, so deadly.

Jesus is Lord at Seminole Wind — as this large wall mural will attest.

Former FSU Football Coach Bobby Bowden is also worshipped in these parts.

The lunch buffet is, well, one of the best we’ve ever encountered. And it’s only $4.99 six days a week. Yup, $4.99! It’s about double that price on Sundays and it’s still an incredible value. We hit Seminole Wind twice (once each way) on our most recent drive to South Florida. What does that tell you?  

Seminole Wind – 2226 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL

(850) 385-8718; www.seminolewindrestaurant.com

Regina’s Kitchen Adds Some Class to Mobile’s Government Street

4 May

It was a dark and stormy Tuesday in Mobile, but things were bright and cheery inside Regina’s Kitchen. I had entered the eatery once before. That was a few weeks back. I had been there to meet the owner in hopes of discussing an advertising opportunity I was pitching. She seemed like a lot of fun and the place looked great. The building had previously housed the French Market Cafe. That restaurant offered authentic New Orleans soups and sandwiches, but ultimately succumbed to financial difficulties and the owner’s health challenges. I was sad to see them go. They made a fine Roast Beef Po-Boy.

The interior at Regina’s is not altogether different than the French Market Cafe. It’s a very comfortable, welcoming space. Plenty of dining room inside and it appears they need it all. The crowds over the restaurant’s first year in operation have been strong and consistent. The lunch rush is a equal mix of attorneys, housewives, accountants, and little old ladies dolled up for a day out. I even spotted a couple “men of the cloth” dining in black & white at a nearby table.  Regina’s actually does a steady drive-thru business too.

Regina’s Kitchen features red & white checkered table cloths and a healthy menu of soups, signature salads, and sandwiches. Finding something appealing on the oversized, double-sided cardboard menu was easily done. Final decisions were tougher. I eventually opted for the day’s lunch special: Sliced Turkey on Croissant with Brie Cheese, Granny Smith Apples and Chutney Mayo. The tipping point for my decision was the wedge of iceberg lettuce doused with a housemade blue cheese dressing. The salad came along with the sandwich at no additional charge. $7.95 for the entire package — what a deal!   

My sandwich was quite satisfying. My lettuce was really good too, although I wish I had asked for a little more blue cheese dressing. The dressing was excellent — not too goopy with large chunks of pungent cheese. Guess they were watching my waistline … Lord knows I don’t often do the same. Iceberg is often thought of as a “poor man’s lettuce,” yet it’s a nice treat once in a while. Especially if the wedge is big, cool and crunchy. A nice milky dressing is always an ideal foil.    

Not sure who John (above) is — but I gotta try his special sandwich. A “BPT” ??? A “PBT” ??? Not sure which name (if either) fits. I just love pimento cheese (I prefer homemade, not the mass produced stuff) and adding bacon to the party seems like a stroke of Dixie genius. ***Note: The only store bought pimento I can heartily recommend is Palmetto Pimento Cheese out of Pawleys Island, SC. It is nothing short of phenomenal (www.palmettocheese.com).  

My dessert (I don’t often treat myself at lunch) was Regina’s Mississippi Mud Cake. I saw it lurking in a metal serving pan behind the front register and I just could not resist it’s many delights. Glad I didn’t. It was a heavenly marriage of a dense chocolate brownie/cake topped with melted marshmallows and a rich fudge icing. It left me with a broad smile and a massive sugar buzz that lasted well into the afternoon.

Regina’s Kitchen is now on my regular weekday lunch rotation. That honor is not easily accomplished. But you just can’t beat a place that offers a clean and cheerful dining environment, a variety of fresh and healthy menu options, fair pricing, and “treat you like family” service. Well done, Regina. You are carrying on your family’s restaurant traditions with true grace and style!

Regina’s Kitchen – 2056 Government St., Mobile – (251) 476-2777

www.facebook.com/pages/Reginas-Kitchen/130215213681624

Lunch at Aunt B’s Country Kitchen

16 Apr

We sometimes joke about places being “out in the boondocks.” Sometimes it’s just a loosely used expression. But there are other times when the description fits perfectly. The latter is the case with Aunt B’s Country Kitchen. They are technically in Theodore, Alabama (a Mobile suburb – and I use the term suburb very loosely here).

The exterior of Aunt B’s place looks like someone’s home. And I guess that is the point. The owners want you to feel comfortable. The estate is a restored 1901 farmhouse. It’s pretty hard not to feel relaxed in settings such as this. Only the small, circular Coca Cola sign above the front screen doors tip you off that this might actually be a real place of business.

The period dinner bell at Aunt B’s is a nice feature — not sure how much use it actually gets. I would imagine youngsters would give the rope a strong tug whenever they visit with their families. There are a few wooden picnic tables in the front yard. Not a bad place to eat out if the weather is conducive.

Aunt B’s front porch is a peaceful place, for sure. I was almost expecting Sheriff Andy Taylor to grab a seat and begin strumming his six-string. The stacks of soft drink bottles almost gives the joint a general store feel.

Once inside the dining room, you’ll discover that Aunt B’s is slightly more uptown than you originally thought. The shelves a plum full of gourmet food products — sauces, jams, jellies, pickles and mixes. It’s all top quality stuff and the variety offered is impressive. But don’t look for any bargains here. Prices are comparable to most kitchen specialty/gourmet stores across the USA.

I found a seat at a quiet 2-top near the back of the restaurant. An old cast iron stove beckoned beneath a massive flat screen TV. Quite the juxtaposition, wouldn’t you say? I was happy to find that the tube was tuned to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel. Tony was in Chicago and it looked like fun. But I was quite content to be dining with Aunt B’s near the Alabama coastline. I gazed out the back window at the sprawling green pastures and tall pecan trees that had obviously been here for a very long time.   

I placed my order for the Cajun shrimp stuffed pork tenderloin lunch special. It was in front of me in a flash. Now that is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a not so good thing. It appeared freshly sliced and the stuffing looked (and smelled) amazing.

It tasted just as good — although I must add that the large pork medallions were not exactly piping hot. That aside, the dish was a smashing success – thanks in great measure to the stuffing. I’m not sure exactly was in it. I asked but didn’t exactly get a detailed answer. Shrimp, Cajun spices, some chopped veggies – that’s about all the manager was willing to share with me. I could have sworn I tasted some tasso or andouille, but I was told I was off base on that guess.     

My side of stewed squash was really fine too. There just wasn’t enopugh of it. I found myself wishing that Aunt B was a little more generous with her portions this particular afternoon. The squash had been bathed in sweet onion, butter, and herbs and tasted much like the squash I often prepare at home in the Spring and Summer months.

My entree also included a mound of cold macaroni salad. This is one of my favorite picnic foods, especially if it’s nice and cold and not totally drowned in fatty mayo. This side was nicely conceived and quickly scarfed down.

It was now time for dessert and I was ready for some sweet potato pie. The choice was not easy. Aunt B was also offering a Strawberry Shortcake and I was wavering a bit. But I stuck to my guns and I was repaid with a slab of pie that was, well, sticky. And gooey. And not exactly what I was hoping for. It was far too sweet and had a very unpleasant gummy texture. A cross between pie and chewing gum. Should have gone strawberry!

But let’s not finish on a downer. This is a cool place and a welcome addition to the Greater Mobile area dining scene. And it’s actually only about a 20 minute drive from Mobile’s I-65 and I-10 interchange. Aunt B’s is open for lunch only on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday thru Sunday hours are 11 am – 4 pm and 5 pm – 8:30 pm.

Dinner options listed on the take out menu include Baked Chicken and Dressing, Crooks Corner Shrimp n Grits, Pecan Crusted Chicken, Shrimp Creole and Chicken n Dumplings. Sides listed were highlighted by Roasted Butternut Squash, Tomatoes Rockefeller, and Asparagus with Deviled Eggs. Now how can a true Dixie Dining devotee resist all that?

So take a drive out to the country — the Country Kitchen, that is.

Aunt B’s Country Kitchen – 3750 Bay Rd, Theodore, AL

251 623 1868; www.shopauntbs.com

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