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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.

 

 

 

Versailles Cuban Cuisine Stands Tall in Miami’s Little Havana

21 Apr

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A visit to Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood is like a trip outside the USA. The sights, the smells, the accents — you’ll feel like you’ve really journeyed to Cuba. For many of us, it will be the closest we ever get to the real deal. We only had a few brief hours to explore this go around, so it was something of a whirlwind tour, for certain.

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We rarely come to this part of the world without stopping for a meal at Versailles Cuban Cuisine. If not the best, it is surely the most popular and well known eatery in Little Havana. The food is consistently good and the prices always fair. It always seems to be a proper mix of tourists and locals. And if the locals are consistently eating here in large numbers, then you know they are doing something right.

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Lots of locals make Versailles a regular stop — even if it’s just to grab a jolt of strong Cuban coffee or a flaky pastry from Versailles always-busy bakery. This place is a bit of a compound. A cottage industry, one might even say. There is a walk up window to accomodate patrons on the go and it appears to be a never ending flow of humanity. Boston may run on Dunkin … but Miami runs on these tiny, shot glass-size shots of dark coffee loaded with more sugar than a box of Dunkin Donuts. Yes, you could say this is an acquired taste. I whoofed it down and immediately felt the combination caffeine/sugar buzz. Eileen didn’t care for it and I, not wanting to waste a drop, knocked hers back as well. My day was now in full tilt mode.

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Cafe Con Leche and Conversation — morning in Little Havana

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“The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant” — enough said.

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Check out the ornate mirrored walls in Versaille’s rear dining area

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The Versailles’ traditional Cuban sandwich is my go-to lunch order

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Save room for some Tres Leche Cake — it’s moist and sinfully good

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If you love coconut, give these sugar bombs (aka “Coquitos”) a try

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

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

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The Breakwater – one of South Beach’s fabulous art deco palaces

Do not miss Versailles Cuban Cuisine. But more importantly, don’t miss Miami’s Little Havana. It is a cultural gem that showcases Florida’s diversity and strong connection to Latin America. One day I will get to the real Havana. That day is coming soon. But until then, this will have to do. My son told me he felt like we were in a totally different country. “That’s the whole point, Travis,” I replied. “That is the whole point.”

Versailles Cuban Cuisine – 3555 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33135

www.versaillesrestaurant.com; (305) 444-0240

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

16 Apr mb menu board

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Meat Boss has only been open for a few short months. But they have already created quite a stir in a town that prides itself in knowing a thing or two about good BBQ. The Brick Pit has a very large following. The Shed can make a similar claim. And Moe’s Original BBQ has recently opened a location in downtown Mobile. Then there’s Dick Russell’s — and Big Al’s — and Tilmo’s — and Ossie’s — and … well, I think you get my drift. So is there room for another pitmaster to stake his claim? If you’ve already had the good fortune of dining with the Meat Boss (aka Benny Chinnis), you know the answer to this pressing question is a resounding SIR,YES, SIR!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now this is my kind of brown bagging!!!

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OK, let’s talk a little bit about the chow. The one thing that really separates Meat Boss from the local competition is their brisket. Beef brisket — especially the chopped or pulled variety (see above) — can be hard to find outside of the Lone Star State of Texas. Meat Boss does it right. I have lived in Texas and have eaten my share of brisket (good and bad). This is the good stuff. Smokey, lean and satisfying. And a lot more affordable than a plane ticket to Austin or Dallas. Several sauce options are available. I selected the sweet and spicy version for this first visit. It was an inspired choice — and certainly made more sense than the vinegar-based options. All the sauces are made right here and the TLC was clearly evident in every drop.

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Another sure sign of a quality BBQ joint are sides made with pride and joy. That is the case at Meat Boss. Case in point being their baked beans, their “sweet” bread, and the hand-crafted Jalapeno jelly. The beans are not just dumped out of a can. They are made with care and contain meaty strands of charred pork. The jelly is divine — a just right blend of sweet and heat. And don’t be afraid of my sweet bread description. I am not referring to the dreaded organ meat. I am talking bread here. Kind of a cross of Texas toast and King’s Hawaiian bread. Really good — more so if smeared with the aforementioned jelly.

All in all, Meat Boss is a welcome addition to the Mobile BBQ scene. Everyone has their niche and it appears that there is plenty of room for a new kid in town. But this is no kid. This dude is large and in charge. He is the Meat Boss and he is currently your best bet for Texas quality beef brisket this side of the Big Muddy.

Meat Boss – 5401 Cottage Hill Road, Suite D, Mobile, AL 36609

(251) 591-4842; www.meatboss.com

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

9 Mar

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

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

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

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Pork Cracklins are a popular side item at Bozo’s

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

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

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

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This custom table is perfect for shelling shrimp or crawfish

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

Bozo’s Seafood Market & Deli -

2012 Ingalls Avenue, Pascagoula, MS 39567

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

A Weekday Lunch at Sprayberry’s BBQ in Newnan, Georgia

2 Feb

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Sprayberry’s is a longtime stalwart of Southern BBQ. They have been around since 1926, so staying power is one of their strong suits. Country music star Alan Jackson once waited tables at Sprayberry’s. There are 2 locations now (both in Newnan, GA). We hit the Jackson Street location several years back and enjoyed it. This time we were traveling from Atlanta back to Mobile, Alabama and our timing was just right. We arrived just before noon — beating the lunch rush.  

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We were promptly seated in the spacious dining room and handed large tan menus (see the 2 images above). I immediately noticed the Lewis Grizzard Special (details shown on photo above). The late Grizzard was a popular Southern humorist who is still something of a folk hero in these parts. I owned a couple of his comedy tapes and sometimes read his column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was a funny man with a hearty appetite for Dixie-style chow, so this BBQ combo is a fitting tribute.

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I wasn’t feeling up to onion rings, so I ordered the Chopped Pork Sandwich with a side of Brunswick Stew and a Sweet Tea with Lemon. My sandwich came with fresh chopped slaw (lacking the usual heavy mayo), a few pickle slices, and a small cup of Sprayberry’s singular BBQ sauce. It’s kind of a thin, vinegar-based condiment — not too different than sauces you find in Eastern North Carolina. The sandwich was quite tasty — lean, smokey swine paired with crunchy grated cabbage and the peppery tang of the sauce.

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I consider myself a bit of a Brunswick Stew aficionado, so I braced myself to be disappointed when I first viewed Sprayberry’s mushy concoction (see above). Virginians and Georgians have long debated about which state bubbled up the very first Brunswick Stew. I am not here to argue that point at this time. I will say that I am more accustomed to a stew with more texture. Kernals of sweet yellow corn, visible strands of meat (most often chicken), tiny green butter beans, etc. Sprayberry’s Stew looks more like baby food, but I am pleased to report that it is suitably flavorful. I added just a sprinkle of salt and a tiny splash of Tabasco. You could drink this stuff through a straw. I elected to utilize the more traditional spoon.

Sprayberry’s has stood the test of time for a reason. The food is good. The pricing fair. The service swift. Convenient access from the interstate. All in all a positive Dixie Dining experience. So if you find yourself motoring between Auburn, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia, please do give ‘em a try. It’s right on the beaten path, but worthy of your time and palate even if it was not. Skip the fast food options and treat yourself to a taste of Georgia culinary history.

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Sprayberry’s BBQ –

Hwy. 34 @ I-85, Newnan, GA (770) 253-5080

229 Jackson Street, Newnan, GA (770) 253-4421

www.sprayberrysbbq.com

For more reviews of Southern food, please visit our web site at www.DixieDining.com

“The Gulf” Adds Some Needed Juice to the Orange Beach, Alabama Dining Scene

12 Jan

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The structural design is striking, for sure. It is a beautiful space and it flows nicely with its surroundings. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the creation of The Gulf, an exciting new restaurant concept in sun-drenched Orange Beach, AL. The colors blend nicely. The logo (featuring Neptune’s trident) is hip and attractive. GM Johnny Fisher, a former baseball pitcher at the University of South Alabama, tells me the logo was designed by Big Communications in Birmingham, AL. They are the same folks who created the successful Alabama Gulf Seafood campaign. Sounds like they have a nice little niche going.  

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Fisher, who is obviously passionate about this exciting new venture, explained that this original concept was something of a Food Truck 2.0. Clever … and true. The enclosed kitchen structure is not large and the menu is short but sweet. All of the seating is outside — including the bar and the upstairs “balconies.” You can sit upstairs for the best panoramic views. Or you can sit on the wooden deck. Or on the grass — yes, real grass. It’s almost like a putting green. Or you can sit in a chair or comfy couch on the white sands of Perdido Pass. Talk about options! I really like the tiered approach for the outdoor “dining room.”

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OK, time to talk more about the menu board. Here it is (above). It gets tweaked from time to time, but the burger and grouper sandwich have become staples — and why not? Music by the 70′s R&B band WAR was spinning on the house turntable when I stepped up to place my order. Vinyl??? You bet. I heard Dave Mason, War,and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass during my first visit. This feature scores major points with this longtime vinyl junkie and thrift shop denizen. Getting back to the food, the Gulf Burger is just $6 and made with Meyer Ranch (based in Colorado) Natural Angus Beef. None of the cheap stuff here. The Grouper sandwich is $12 and always fresh. Grab an order of fresh cut french fries ($4) as a side or take my lead and skip right ahead to dessert. More on that later.

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These cool T-shirts at The Gulf are moving fast

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My beach view as the food was being prepared

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Even the seats & indoor/outdoor carpeting are cool

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I’m pretty sure the open air bar will prove to be a smashing success

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The space heaters are here — if they are needed

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The Gulf Burger arrived looking all hot and tasty. It was. I was impressed with the attention to the little details. The brioche bun was soft and delicious. The tomato slices fresh and juicy. The lettuce is chopped fresh daily. The house aioli delivers a nice lemon, garlic tang. Even the kosher dill pickle was impressive. This was no sliver, people — this was one half of a big, fat dill. I take notice of this stuff, don’t you? All the food is served on brown paper trays, which only further reinforces The Gulf’s casual vibe and food truck mentality. Place your order at the window, grab a seat overlooking the water, dig the tunes, and prepare thyself for a solid meal. It is on the way, baby.

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The grilled brioche bun made the burger even more memorable

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As for the previously mentioned dessert, the Meyer Lemon Pound Cake (above) was sublime. It’s basically a lemon cupcake topped with a stunningly sweet, tart Meyer Lemon icing. Plenty of it too. You can even see the lemon zest in the generous blob of icing on each piece of citrusy cake. It was a sunny January day when I visited and the heat of the sun’s rays slowly melted my icing into a soft, warm consistency. My entire meal including the juicy, flavorful burger and tangy pound cake came in at under $10. Pretty hard to beat that. And the views were worth a million bucks — especially in the heart of the winter here along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

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Talk about your table with a view? Incredible!

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Cool day on the beach. Grab yourself a Hot Buttered Rum and chill.

Let me put a bow on this thing by saying that I am thrilled that The Gulf has arrived in our little nook of the world. This place is very hip, the people really care about the food, and the beach views and casual, sandy vibe are second to none. And did I tell you they spin vinyl??? Oh yeah, guess I did. Got any old, neglected vinyl laying around? Take it to Johnny — he’ll give it a good home. And speaking of home, I have found a new one at The Gulf. I’ll be a regular in the Summer months. And I’ll visit when I can in the chillier months too.  Can’t think of a better way to wash away the Winter blues — short of another trip to Hawaii.

Great job, Johnny Fisher and crew. We love your new place. Thank you for giving us this little piece of paradise. Like Neptune’s trident, The Gulf is quite sharp — and “on point” too! 

The Gulf  – 27500 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach, AL

(251) 424-1800; http://www.facebook.com/#!/thegulfal?fref=ts 

A Visit to Berkeley and San Francisco (December 2012)

27 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My next stop on the trolley line was Chinatown.

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

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

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

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Their display of fresh local seafood lured me inside.

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

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

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

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

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 

Saw’s BBQ In Homewood, Alabama Makes The Cut

11 Mar

Saw’s BBQ is found in the Edgewood District of Homewood, AL

Saw’s BBQ is a cool looking joint — if a good bit smaller than expected. We were curious about the restaurant’s unusual name, so I did a quick Google search. It turns out Chef and Owner Mike Wilson, who opened Saw’s in 2009, is a native North Carolinian. And his eatery’s moniker is based on the Johnson & Wales trained chef’s high school nickname, “Sorry Ass” Wilson. S-A-W. Funny — and true!

BBQ and Pabst Blue Ribbon — a match made in heaven

Saw’s decor is about what you would expect from a BBQ joint

Antique signs are nice – even if they don’t have much local flavor

I opted for the Pulled Pork plate with two sides (beans & slaw)

They are obviously Crimson Tide fans at Saw’s – no big surprise!

The beverages of choice here are Coca Cola or ice cold Budweiser

The Pulled Pork was excellent — well above average. The meat was moist, lean and tender. The smoked BBQ ribs were mighty fine too. My son Austin did a good job of methodically gnawing his half slab down to the bone(s). I just happened to snag a single rib before he rolled up his sleeves and really went to town. Best of all was the sweet vinegar-based sauce that adorned my platter of piggy meat. You should buy your own bottle to carry home for $5. Let me point out at this juncture that you will regret it if you don’t obey my suggestion. The sauce at Saw’s is world class and not readily available outside the Birmingham area.  

Saw’s Sauce – you had better get you some!

The beans were OK — nothing truly unique about them. I wasn’t really crazy about the slaw, which is a mega-tangy, finely chopped, vinegar-based affair. We found the slaw overly tart & acidic … making it hard to stomach more than forkful or two. Some may love it, but it’s not exactly our cup of tea. Personally, I prefer a rough chopped, mayonnaise-based slaw with big crunch and a little sweetness. Temperature is important too. I like it chilled.

I want to conclude this review on a high note — as I should. Maybe the slaw and beans were nothing to write home about. But the slow smoked pork and Saw’s delicious NC-style BBQ sauce are some of the best you will find anywhere in the great state of Alabama. Alabama is indeed the “Heart of Dixie” and serious BBQ country to boot, so that kind of praise is not easily come by.

Service at Saw’s is prompt and the surroundings suitably homey. We really like this little joint a lot and plan on returning one day soon. One trip certainly doesn’t tell the entire story — that’s for sure. In particular, we want to sample Saw’s Smoked Chicken with White BBQ sauce. When that happens, I hope to see you there. I’m pretty sure you will find this smoke-filled neighborhood dive anything but “sorry ass.”    

The fluffy Banana Pudding looked good too – maybe next time!

Saw’s BBQ – 1008 Oxmoor Road, Birmingham, AL 35209

(205) 879-1937; www.sawsbbq.com

Finding BBQ’s Holy Grail At Austin’s Franklin Barbecue

10 Mar

I had heard the steady rumble about Franklin BBQ. But they were located a long way from my home base in coastal Alabama. Stories appeared with some frequency in regional and national food publications. Many with accompanying images that made my mouth water. Brisket, ribs, sausage, chopped beef … I just had to get there. And soon!

My opportunity finally presented itself when I was recently invited to attend a 3-day conference in Austin. I checked the city map and confirmed that Franklin BBQ would be within walking distance of the conference center. A rather long hike — but walkable none the less. I would not have a rental car on this trip, so my legs would have to get me there.

The conference wrapped just before noon on a Thursday and I made a bee line for Franklin BBQ. One of the hotel bellhops attempted to discourage me. He said the food was said to be great, but that they would likely be sold out of food by the time I hoofed it all the way over there. He even added that several of his friends had tried to eat there in the past and each of them had arrived too late. So, as I learned, this is not just a meal. It’s a meal and a race against the clock — all rolled into one. The sign out front (see above image) confirmed this. They were open from “11 a.m. til sold out.”

One of Franklin’s many awards hanging inside the dining room.

An employee met me as I joined the back of the line of folks waiting patiently to order. She asked how many were in my group and would I be placing any large orders today. I told her I was traveling and dining solo. She then inquired as to what I was planning to order. My heart was set on their famous sandwich known as the “Tipsy Texan.” Good, she said. Your wait is gonna be about 40 minutes. Forty minutes — plenty of time to take in all the smokey ambiance. I will say this … the place smelled AMAZING!

The interior at Franklin BBQ is funky and relaxed. No frills to speak of — unless you count the classic country tunes streaming out of their sound system. Loved that. I also dug the old advertising like the faded Coke sign you see above. Mike and Frankie from American Pickers would have been pumped. As the line continued to creep along, my stomach began to talk to me. Thankfully, the kind dude behind the counter appeared with a few samples to further whet our collective appetite. I wasn’t really thinking about ordering the smoked turkey. But the sample was sooo doggone moist and peppery that it almost had me wavering. Almost.

Pick up a souvenir t-shirt. Personalize it with sauce, grease, etc.

The furnishings are mix-match — do love the retro formica table.

The low overhead theme is also reflected in the menu boards.

Desserts sound great, but I had to wonder who ever gets that far.

It all started as a small food trailer. That only took them so far.

The main menu board. Yes, I was inching closer to my lunch.

SPEED SHOP doesn’t exactly apply to the service time at Franklin.

My wait was finally over — and this (above) was my reward. The soon to be legendary Tipsy Texan. Nope … the recipe does not involve any alcohol whatsoever. The “tipsy” part refers to the lofty sandwich’s architectural soundness. Or lack thereof. It does lean a good bit, but how could it not?  

Fresh baked Mrs. Baird’s bun (it’s a Texas thing), lean charred chopped beef, sliced locally made sausage topped with slaw and sauce. I was gonna wash it all down with a Topo Chico mineral water. There was no way I was going to get my mouth around the sandwich as is — not without somehow unhinging my jaw. Plan B was to give the leaning tower of deliciousness a good shove and then go at it with a fork and a smile.

It may look like a crime scene, but it would be a crime not to try it.

I have included this picture (above) for a reason. Sure, the image is not going to win any awards. But it does show you the little medallions of sausage used in the construction of the Tipsy Texan. The casing was smokey and posessed a nice snap. You can also see the pepper and other spices which gave the sausage a nice kick. The attention to detail and obvious passion that goes into all food preparation here is truly inspiring. To say that I was impressed would be doing a great disservice to the master craftsmen/craftswomen who toil here.

My meal at Franklin BBQ was nothing short of a transformative experience. I will never judge a BBQ joint the same way again. I was thrilled to have found the Holy Grail of BBQ, yet would it be all downhill from here? That sobering thought only lingered a moment. And ended with the thought of my next visit to this culinary mecca. In 2010, Bon Appetit hailed Franklin BBQ as the “Best in America.” And you know what? I can’t really argue with that.

Now THIS is a sobering thought. Don’t make me look! PLEASE!!!

Franklin Barbecue – 900 E. 11th Street, Austin, TX

(512) 653-1187; www.franklinbarbecue.com

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