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Real Deal Mexican Tacos at Foley (AL) Indoor Flea Market

7 Apr

Real deal Mexican food is often hard to find in Alabama. And you certainly don’t expect to find it at a flea market. But that is exactly what happened during a recent visit to the Foley Indoor Flea Market in Foley, Alabama. Foley is a familiar stopping point for travelers en route to Gulf Coast tourist towns like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. It is also home to the Tanger Outlet Mall. Some folks get really excited about shopping. I get fired up about food. And I was especially pumped when I saw the skewer (pictured above) jam packed with pork, fresh pineapple and sliced onion.

The condiments at our table were another sign we were in for a treat. The lime, cilantro and onion were garden fresh. The salsas homemade and delicious. The tablecloth and the general surroundings of the place gave it a nice, homey feel. For a moment, I felt transported to some border town in Texas. The help speaks very little English and there was a Mexican soccer match playing out on TV.

Pork Tacos – Carnitas @ top & Pineapple & Onion version at bottom

Mandarin Orange Jarritos soda with chipotle salsa & pico de gallo.

This fiery salsa rojo made for a nice addition to the pork tacos.

The homemade pico de gallo was riddled with chopped jalapeno.

The sheep stew seen above was a special treat. It was not on the menu and we did not order it. The restaurant’s owner offered it up free of charge as an added bonus to our lunch. It was good — and hot — both in a temperature and spice way. The gent smiled broadly as he presented the stew in 2 large styrofoam cups. He at first seemed hesitant to reveal what kind of meat was used … and appeared relieved when we let him know that we liked it. Another couple of gringos converted. Mission accomplished.

The dark & dangerous roasted chipotle salsa was mui authentico.

The pork under the heat lamp (above) was chopped fresh to order. Both pork tacos I devoured were bueno. I especially loved the one sliced fresh off the metal skewer. It was lean and sweet — you could really taste the pineapple.

These colorful Mexican style pastries were fresh out of the oven.

These babies (above) were not nearly as colorful, but equally tasty I’m sure. We were just tickled pink that we had found this place. The owners were very nice, the joint was clean, and the food & atmosphere was authentic. We will return soon and trust you will give them a try sometime this summer. It’s worth the trip.  And who knows — maybe you’ll find a bargain at the flea market. I usually do — and it’s normally of the vinyl variety. Yes, that gets me fired up too!

Taqueria Las Camelinas – 14809 Highway 59, Foley, AL

251 970-1234 or 251 943-6068

The Dragonfly Food Bar Soars Proudly into Downtown Fairhope

5 May

I first heard about Dragonfly at the Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival this Spring. They were offering some pretty unique street treats that particular day. I was tickled to later learn that they had opened a “food bar” in the heart of Fairhope’s historic downtown. It certainly seemed to be a good fit.

The advance buzz (Get it? Dragonfly?) on the street was quite positive. In fact, some of my local contacts were raving about Dragonfly’s innovative world view on tacos. A braised beef cheek taco was being offered the day I finally decided to show up. What took me so doggone long to get here???  

This retro bike stands ready to deliver your Dragonfly lunch

Dragonfly offers 12 (yes, you heard right) taco choices on their daily menu. After some intense internal debate, I called out for one Kung Pao chicken taco and one braised pork taco. I plan on eventually getting to them all (with the possible exception of chicken liver taco), but that may take numerous visits to achieve. No problemo … I can surely make that happen.  

It’s all about Dragonflys – even the outside lantern plays along

Yes, they do look seriously yummy don’t they? They were. Let’s just put that right out there. Really, really good. The flavors were somewhat familiar. It’s just the whole “rolling them up in a taco thing” that was throwing me off a bit. Pork roast as tender as Granny’s love — enhanced with apple, habanero, lime, and avocado. Spicy Kung Pao chicken accompanied by chopped carrot, daikon, and a zesty peanut sauce. I love Asian satay and I love my Granny, so I was totally on board with the whole nine yards. But where exactly does one find daikon in Fairhope, Alabama? I’ll have to ask Dragonfly’s chef/owner Doug Kerr about that someday soon. More power to him, I reckon.

I often refer to Fairhope as an “artsy Mayberry by the Bay.” We even have our own little barber shop — and a vintage barber’s pole — just like good old Floyd. (Insert your own joke here).

The barber shop is actually the Dragonfly’s next door neighbor. Seems like a minor detail, sure. Yet I was able to dine outside at the sidewalk picnic table and, at the same time, overhear all the latest gossip spilling out the barber’s wide-open front door. Talk about taking in the local atmosphere!  

The hot habanero peppers and lime juice were obviously fused into the fresh apple sauce-like topping (see above). Think of it as a kicked-up version of the old 60’s standby pork chops & apple sauce. The slow-braised pork was really moist and juicy, so I had to refrain from slurping up all the leftover liquid in the bottom of my cardboard “taco boat.” I’m still not sure where the avocado was hiding.  Anyone? Bueller??? 

The view from my picnic table – looking east on Fairhope Ave.  

OK, here’s a closer look at the Kung Pao Chicken (above) with carrot and daikon. Daikon (which is actually misspelled on the Dragonfly menu) is sometimes known as a white radish or Japanese radish. It doesn’t pack much flavor. It does impart some nice crunch.  The chicken was lean, the Chinese spice on point, and the flour tortilla fresh & warm.

We think you will soon be mysteriously drawn to the Dragonfly Food Bar. It’s hip, quirky, and creative. The decor is (like yours truly) a blend of retro and contemporary. Their tacos are mighty fine. Can’t wait to sink my teeth in the Lobster Corn Dog ($12) too. And the Crispy Blue Cheese Olives with Vodka Remoulade ($6). It ain’t cheap, folks. And it sure ain’t Taco Bell — or even Los Tacos. So check your cheap a$$, fast food mentality at the front door, please. You get what you pay for, people — and you’ll get a lot at the Dragonfly. But don’t just take my word for it. Swing on by sometime and take a swat for yourself.

Dragonfly Food Bar – 319 Fairhope Ave., Fairhope – 251 990-5722

www.dragonflyfoodbar.com

Return Visit to Joe T. Garcia’s Falls Just Short of My Rather Lofty Expectations

3 May

I briefly lived in the historic cowtown of Fort Worth, Texas back in the 1990’s and Joe T. Garcia’s (founded in 1935) was our “go-to” place for Tex-Mex cuisine. I’m sure there were (and still are) other places that are more “authentico.” But Joe T’s was always clean, safe, fun, brimming with South of the Border atmosphere, and consistently tasty! 

This statue is part of the Old Mexico atmosphere I was referring to.

Joe T’s is beginning to show its age a little bit. But it remains a lovely spot to dine with family and friends. The food is good (if not great), their staff (primarily Hispanic) is ever-smiling, and the outdoor landscaping is well-conceived and pleasing to the eye. Fort Worth is pretty much a concrete jungle, so Joe T’s lush courtyard is something of an oasis in a world of asphalt and smog.

All meals start with a basket of tortilla chips and Joe T’s freshly made salsa. The salsa rojo delivers some heat, but it is certainly not “knock your socks off” hot. The trick here is to not fill up before your meal arrives. Mr. Garcia’s entrees are quite generous, so you’ll want to save room.

The red salsa at Joe T. Garcia’s is fairly light and not too chunky. I consider myself a bit of a salsa snob and this version passed my strict test. It served double duty as I also splashed some on my rice, refried beans (I believe lard is used in the preparation), and inside my rolled up fajitas.

The steak and chicken combo fajita lunch platter (above) at Joe T’s runs about $12. Take a look at the upper left hand corner of the photo. You can see the steam rising from the sizzling cast iron plate. It not only looks great, it SOUNDS great! I must confess my slices of steak and chunks of chicken were slightly overcooked. That resulted in more toughness than usual. And meat that is less moist tends to be less flavorful. That was the case here. The dish’s smokiness actually overpowered the meat’s natural flavor. Not exactly what I was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong. I was not unhappy, but it could have been better. Ain’t I a picky so and so???

Chunky guacamole is part of the show at Joe T’s — as is a delicious Pico de Gallo. The guac was OK, the pico better. I think the guacamole needed a pinch of salt and maybe another splash or two of lime juice and hot sauce. But that didn’t stop me from polishing off my portion. I was dining along, so I double dipped my chips to my corazon’s content.

The still-warm housemade flour tortilla’s (above) are wrapped in swaddling clothes at Joe T’s. I’m actually more of a corn tortilla guy, but these babies were very good. Flour tortillas tend to be a little more sturdy than the corn variety. That is one reason why they often appear whenever fajitas are served.  

I have such fond memories of Joe T. Garcia’s. It would have been very difficult for them to live up to the glowing image that was seared into my mind like a brand on a Stockyard steer’s hind quarters. Yet it was really fun to return to our old munching grounds. My meal was just fine, the service was exceptionally brisk, and I easily made it back to my downtown hotel for the start of the conference. Mission accomplished. Gracias, Senor Joe!

Joe T. Garcia’s – Ft. Worth, TX; 2201 North Commerce St.

(817) 626-4356; www.joets.com

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.

Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery Heats Things Up Along Old Shell Road

19 Mar

Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery has obviously found a casa on Old Shell Road in Mobile. The place has been open for over a year now, yet I am just getting around to checking them out. And now that I have, I’m kicking myself for not getting here sooner. It’s not very close to my West Mobile office and it’s not anywhere near my home on Mobile Bay’s Eastern Shore. But that is no excuse. No, sir. I’m in the car quite a bit and I buzz by Fuego at least a couple times a week. Maybe I was a tad irritated that they never responded to my phone calls and emails. But all that mess is forgiven after today.

The lunch specials at Fuego offer real value — quite comparable to a sub and a drink at Subway. $7.49 for lunch is a pretty good deal these days … especially when you consider the generous portions and food quality I enjoyed at Fuego today.

The homemade fire-roasted salsa (pictured above) is served up before each meal — tart, refreshing and not lip-scorching hot. To be honest, I was expecting a mega-spicy brew (they are named FUEGO!). But it really wasn’t hot at all and that was perfectly OK with me. The salsa was nicely crafted, so my expectation level for my pending lunch entree quickly shot up several degrees.

A heaping basket of Fuego’s crunchy house tortilla chips was served up alongside my 2 favorite Mexican hot sauces. I was careful to not eat too many chips, yet I couldn’t resist polishing off about half the basket by myself. My server was quite efficient and helpful (I can ask a lot of questions). I ruled over a corner high-table in Fuego’s bar area, offering yours truly an ideal vantage point to watch the outside world go by on this glorious sunny March day.

The sunsplashed dining room at Fuego (the pic viewed above was snapped from my table) — a bright, comfortable place to chill and munch. Cheerful colors and tasteful Mexican-inspired decor abound. I was dining early (it was about 11:30 am), so the lunch rush didn’t hit until I was finishing up my meal. Please don’t let the picture fool you. This is a very popular destination for local residents and Midtown business professionals. It is almost always jumping at lunch, while post-work happy hours are never boring. All told, it appears to be a pretty happening place.   

Reclaimed wood (above) adorns the rustic ceiling at Fuego. I really love that look. We had a hardwood ceiling in the house I grew up in and that was considered pretty radical back in the day. Ceiling fans keep the air circulating — that certainly comes in handy during Mobile’s steamy summer “dog days.” I’m guessing one of Fuego’s signature margaritas or margatinis would help cool the brow as well.

The menu at Fuego is extremely impressive. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say it is one of the best conceived, most appealing menues I have encountered in my two years in the Mobile area. My “choose two” combo lunch platter of a pork tamale (topped with verde sauce) and a chicken enchilada (red sauce) turned out to be an excellent choice indeed. The tamale was the perfect ratio of seasoned pig and masa.

The enchilada’s secret weapon was the dark, mysterious sauce that blanketed it. I was pretty sure it was some variation of a rich mole. My waitress informed me otherwise. Three different pepper varieties are incorporated in the red sauce at Fuego. The final result is stellar and highly recommended. Other loving touches were noticed at each turn of the fork. These touches ranged from the crumbled queso fresco (mui authentico!) to the side of pinto beans jazzed up with red onion, fresh tomato and nuggets of smoked pork. The sweet and soft corn cake (laced with bright yellow corn kernals and apparently dished out with an ice cream scoop) was a delicate addition to my lunchtime fiesta, while the chile verde sauce proved to be a tangy triumph.

Even the Mexican rice was warm and cooked to just the texture I prefer. If these guys were trying to impress me, they were doing a mighty fine job. While devouring my final few bites, I again reached for the menu and plotted my return visit. With choices like those offered here, it could take me some time to eat my way along the coast of Mexico. Tacos Al Carbon, Baja Fish Tacos (fashioned here with Tilapia), a spicy grilled Chile Relleno. I even spied the Los Cabos seared Ahi Tuna and a Shrimp & Crab Ceviche. It all sounded amazing and, perhaps better yet, extremely healthy.

So why not escape your all-too-predictable lunch routine with a mid-day getaway to Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery? It’s far cheaper than a Gulf cruise and you won’t have to worry the least bit about all those pesky drug lords and their blood thirsty minions. Fuego is pretty doggone HOT, so float on by one day soon and bask in their sizzle. Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner!

www.fuegocoastalmex.com  

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