Tag Archives: Mobile Alabama

Mobile’s Yen Restaurant — “It’s Food Pho The Soul”

10 Jan

Yen sign

OK, folks — this one is a bit of a sleeper. Off the beaten path. Run down neighborhood. But, hey, don’t judge a book by the cover. That has long been our M.O. here at Dixie Dining. And it pays off more often than it doesn’t. I have lived in the Mobile area for 4 years now and I spend a good bit of time in my car. I mean, a lot! However, I had never driven this long forgotten stretch of blacktop, found just a few blocks off heavily traveled Government Boulevard. This part of town is certainly not featured in the Mobile Chamber of Commerce print material. Let’s just leave it at that.

Yen front

Just look at the restaurant’s front (above). Pretty sad, huh? Plain old cinderblock construction. A hand-painted sign. Landscaping needs a little work. Maybe more than a little. It’s the kind of place that most folks would drive right past. Yen doesn’t do any local advertising, yet they’ve been around for quite some time now. Over 15 years, in fact. So how does one explain this? Simple. Good food, fair prices, and a loyal local following.

Yen interior

The Dining Room inside Yen

Yen menu

The menu is bare bones too

Yen noodles

Some fried egg noodles to munch on

Yen summer

One of the high points of my first visit to Yen was the Summer Rolls (above). Call ‘em what you want — I’m eating these babies any time of year. Super fresh and delicious. The accompanying peanut sauce was quite tasty too. None of the food I sampled at Yen was over the top spicy. The flavors are subtle, yet satisfying. Those who prefer it hot can ask for their food to be served spicy. Or you can just reach for the bottle of Sriracha Hot Sauce that is provided at each table.

Yen Spring

I also tried the crispy fried Spring Rolls (above) — you could tell they were homemade and not stuffed and wrapped weeks/months in advance. The rolls’ wrapping was suitably crunchy and not too thick. That is always a pet peeve of mine — too much wrapper and not enough stuff inside. I was pleased with what I tried here at Yen.

Yen fish

Spring rolls are served with a small dish of housemade fish sauce (seen above).

Yen pho

My main course was the Beef Pho, a delicious soup-like concoction made with beef broth, lean sliced roast beef, green onion, bean sprouts, fresh mint, and more. They offer a choice of a small or large bowl — I opted for small after woofing down the two appetizers by myself. Glad I did order small — the bowl was pretty substantial and I surely could not have eaten much more than that. I later saw the large bowl and it is massive. A couple with light appetites could easily share one of the large bowls of pho. Several varieties are available, so it may take me some time to try them all. Not to worry, I plan on returning with some frequency.

Yen cookie

My post-meal fortune cookie (above) reminded me that “Great thoughts come from the heart.” So does great food. Yen Restaurant has virtually none of the amenities needed to insure success. The location is not great. The structure is spartan at best. But they are cooking with lots and lots of heart. You can taste the love and attention in each bite. And that kind of passion for flavor and authenticity is harder and harder to find in these days of fast food and chain eateries. Make plans to visit Yen in the near future. It’s food PHO the heart — and the soul.

Yen Restaurant – 763 Holcombe Avenue, Mobile, AL 36606

(251) 478-5814; www.yenrestaurant.com

The Pumpkin Milkshake is Smashing at Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream

6 Nov

Cammie’s is a pretty cool spot (pun totally intended). Every town should have a little scoop shop like this one. Looks a bit like an old filling station from the outside. They make their own ice cream too. Cammie’s doesn’t offer a gazillion flavors — this place is more about quality, not quantity. That being said, the flavors they do offer change on a semi-regular basis and do provide local ice cream junkies like yours truly with plenty of choices – both traditional and daring.

Seasonal flavors  are always popular here. And their Pumpkin milkshake, sold only during the Fall months, is a personal favorite of mine. Now, Chick Fil A has carved out a nice little niche with their specialty shakes. Their Peppermint, Banana Pudding, and Peach shakes are always welcome in my belly. But most fast food shakes tend to leave me cold. And I do mean that in a bad way. They are often far too sweet, artificially colored, and they taste, well, very unnatural. Cammie’s Pumpkin shake is exactly the opposite — and I would expect nothing less from them. Let’s just be thankful they don’t offer a Candy Corn shake (gross!).

The Pumpkin shake (above) I sucked down today was not too sweet. It wasn’t a hideous bright orange color either. You might say it had something of a light tan/peachy hue. The obviously natural pumpkin flavor was enhanced with the addition of nutmeg and perhaps a few other seasonal spices.  It was a special mid-afternoon treat that I attempted to savor. The problem was it was simply too good. And it was gone in a flash.

The atmosphere at Cammie’s is quaint — sort of a Pennsylvania Dutch theme. Makes sense given the name. They were obviously going for a bit of a retro vibe inside. That meshes perfectly with the whole “making our own ice cream in small batches” theme.

Tips??? Try the Creole Praline and the Rum Raisin

The weather here in Mobile is just starting to turn a little more Winter-like and I’ll be returning to Cammie’s before too long. Not necessarily for a holiday-themed (egg nog?) shake — but more likely for a crunchy cone topped off with a heaping scoop of Cammie’s fine Coconut ice cream. Come to think of it, I guess that is holiday-themed — Caribbean holiday, that is. My kind of vacation … even if it only lasts a few brief yet glorious moments.

And I’ll get 50 cents off next time too — smashing, baby!

Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream – 2511 Old Shell Road, Mobile, AL 36607

(251) 471-1710; http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cammies-Old-Dutch-Ice-Cream-Shoppe/109587249076821

“Little House, Big Taste!”

16 Apr

Little House Bistro is really located in a little old house. They can found along Moffett Road in West Mobile. Historically, there has not been a lot of white table cloth dining in this part of town. You might even say that the Little House Bistro is a bit out of place here. I, however, welcome its existence here in the land of used car lots, auto body shops, fast food joints, and convenience stores.

It (as you can see above) is a cute little place. Locals tell me that it has housed a variety of businesses in days gone by. Yet I am hopeful that Chef Marc Walden’s Little House Bistro will enjoy a long and happy life here.  

White table cloth dining without the snobby attitude or outrageous prices — what a concept! Chef Walden and his staff are working hard to make a name for themselves. That effort can be seen in the little things — like fresh flowers on every table and the sunny, clean dining room. The large table in the next room was occupied by a group of older ladies from the local Red Hat Society. Those gals seem to know what’s good to eat, so I felt like I was in for a nice mid-day meal.

Marc Walden’s approach is simple yet powerful. Gourmet food prepared with fresh local ingredients and a decidedly Southern twist. It’s a great fit for this area and the early reviews have been quite positive. I was happy to hear that, but I had to get over there and try a few things out for myself. After all, I have been misled a few times in the past.

I pulled in on a sunny weekday afternoon and ordered up a “Deep South Burger” with a side of Deviled Egg Potato Salad. The burger turned out to be EPIC. The bread was fresh and sturdy enough to not buckle under the pressure of the burger’s rather weighty ingredients. Those ingredients included a large slab of grass fed beef (cooked to medium well), fresh mixed greens, tomato slices, house made pickles, a splash of “Comeback” aioli, and a generous blob (nice culinary term, huh?) of Walden’s pimento cheese. The best burger I’ve had in quite some time.  

The Deep South Burger @ LHB does Dixie proud

But let’s not forget the Deviled Egg Potato Salad. I love deviled eggs and Southern-style potato salad, so the dish was definitely speaking my language. It may have needed just a little sprinkling of salt and freshly cracked black pepper, but I was quick to notice that no salt and pepper shakers could be found on any of the dining room tables. No need to ask and no need to complain. The potato salad was the ideal texture and it wasn’t too wet (many restaurant potato salads are far too moist for my palate).

I walked away from the Little House Bistro feeling full and very impressed. Did I have any regrets? Well, yes. I really wish I had picked up a pint of pimento cheese and a jar or two of those incredible sweet/spicy pickle slices to take home with me. Believe me, I won’t make that mistake again.    

Little House Bistro – 6651 Moffett Rd, Mobile, AL

251 447 2623; www.littlehousebistro.com

Be Sweet. Visit Mrs. Wheat’s Treats Today!

9 Apr

Mrs. Wheat’s Treats has been around since the late 1980s. This is no overnight success story. It’s never been easy. But it’s a family recipe and a family business. Always has been. They have survived through good times and bad and now they need your support. A combination of road construction, theft, and the sluggish, post BP spill economy has caused Julie Wheat to tighten the proverbial belt. She makes a mighty fine New Orleans-style praline and deserves our loyal support.   

The window sign at Mrs. Wheat’s Treats in Mobile, Alabama

Pralines on the cooling trays at Mrs. Wheat’s Treats

The company was founded by Marguerite Busch Wheat. She was a whiz in the kitchen who made hundreds of pralines each year for her closest friends and beloved family members. Her praline recipe was a treasured heirloom passed down through 4 generations of the Wheat family. She was said to be quite particular about the pecans used in her recipe. Marguerite gathered pecans from her own family trees and was known to crack and shell each nut by hand. Talk about your TLC!

Chocolate Fudge from Mrs. Wheat’s kitchens

The original Mrs. Wheat passed away in 1987, but her family was determined to keep this most Southern of cooking traditions alive. Mrs. Wheat’s Treats retail location on South Florida Street first opened its doors two years later in 1989. Fast forward more than two decades later and the Wheat family is still at it. They continue to incorporate top of the line sugar, fresh butter and cream, pure vanilla, and meaty hand picked pecan halves. Each batch of pralines is hand dropped and hand wrapped. No mechanized, mass production here, folks.  

Mrs. Wheat’s also offers delicious Cheese Straws & homemade candies

Chocolate Pralines — ready to be devoured

Mrs. Wheats Treats has a great history here in Mobile. It is our hope and prayer that they have a bright future too. That is ultimately up to the public. They may be a little out of your way, but we urge you to go the extra mile to purchase these legendary Dixie delights. Mrs. Wheat’s has always gone that extra mile for you.

Mrs. Wheat’s Treats – 154 S. Florida St., Mobile, AL – 251 478-0709

www.mrswheatstreats.net

www.facebook.com/pages/Mrs-Wheats-Treats

Queen G’s Fries ‘Em Up Fresh

9 Apr

State-of-the-art fried oysters can be hard to find — even here on the Gulf Coast. We found them this week at Queen G’s Cafe on Mobile’s Old Shell Road. They open at 11 am. I arrived about 11:40 am. Just in time to beat the lunch rush. It’s a tiny little place with a limited indoor seating capacity. There are some additional seats outside, but that can be hit or miss depending on our rather fickle coastal weather patterns. I grabbed a small indoor table and shared the dining room with a single middle-aged couple. Their conversation was spirited and their food looked appealing.

Queen G’s is housed in an old circa 1950s drive-in. It used to be called “The Rebel Queen” back in the day and they have the photos inside to prove it. The bright teal paint job would have looked right at home on a 1957 Chevy. The black and white exterior awning preserved some of the retro vibe.  

I was tempted when I read about the Chicken & Dumplings special, but ultimately stayed strong and ordered a small plate of fried local oysters. I say small only because they call it that at Queen G’s. It’s actually pretty substantial with about 10 meaty cornmeal-coated oysters on each platter. The market price for this dish (with 2 sides) was $12. Order the large oyster plate and you may be ready for a mid-day siesta. Be forewarned.

The menu at Queen G’s is very cool looking. I’m a sucker for that old meets new look. Each meal (as you can see above) comes with a poofy square of cornbread and more than a couple of pats of real creamy butter. None of that greasy margarine or Country Crock crap. I notice these little things, so restaurateurs take note. The cornbread was just fine. Not really noteworthy in any way, but OK.

The fresh oysters are fried up to order at Queen G’s. Nice. A cornmeal coating really makes a difference. So much better than flour (if you ask me). They are prettied up on the plate with a few flecks of chopped green onion. I had my cocktail sauce and Tabasco at the ready and the oysters magically disappeared in just a matter of seconds. What a treat — especially on a weekday afternoon. For just a brief moment, I felt like royalty. I asked my server about the oysters point of origin. She informed me that they are farm raised in nearby Coden, AL. That explained their amazing sweetness. The local waters have been chilly due to some cool nights. That, from what I’ve been told, helps to deliver those sweet flavor notes.

My side of deviled eggs seemed like a good idea, but they could have been a little more devilish in my opinion. The presentation was nice – gussied up with paprika and parsley. The lime green serving bowl gave it a true elementary school cafeteria feel. I could tell the eggs had been sitting in the fridge for a while and the flavor was, well, just  a tad on the bland side. Nice effort, but they fell a little short this time. Not a big deal though.

My second side was rough chopped rutabagas. People love ‘em or hate ‘em. I dig ‘em. Really! They look unadorned in the above image, yet I am happy to report that they tasted fresh and well-seasoned. I only wish the portion size was larger. You don’t find rutabaga on many menues these days — even in the Heart of Dixie. They can be tedious to prepare and the canned variety just aren’t near as delicious.

Clean your plate at Queen G’s and you’ll be rewarded with a free scoop of ice cream. Pretty good incentive, for sure. But you probably won’t require any additional motivation here. The food is good and fresh and the surroundings cozy, yet comfy. I’ll be back and I hope to rub elbows with you at Queen G’s one day soon.

QUEEN G’S CAFE – 2518 Old Shell Road, Mobile, AL – 251 471 3361

La Cocina Delivers Tasty Mexican Fare in West Mobile

28 Jan

La Cocina Mexican Restaurant is located just off busy Airport Boulevard in West Mobile. People who live in Mobile often talk about avoiding Airport Boulevard at all costs, but why do that if it means missing out on this terrific little gem? I first heard about La Cocina from a local food service professional. He also happened to be Mexican, so I felt like his advice was worth taking. I asked “Where can I find good Mexican food in Mobile?” He answered “La Cocina” without any hesitation.

With food this good, they can celebrate Christmas year-round if they so choose.

Some traditional Mexican art is etched into the wooden dining booths.

The chips are fat and crunchy and the salsa tastes fresh (and not too darn hot).

The Poblano Relleno platter (featuring sides of Mexican rice and refried beans) is a personal favorite at La Cocina. How do I love it? Let me count the ways. First, they begin with a fresh Poblano pepper. They are a dark, rich green in color and are mild with only a slight afterburn. The pepper is stuffed with marinated, grilled (almost smoky) chicken breast meat and queso fresco (a mellow Mexican-style white cheese). It is then dipped in a batter, deep fried to crispyness, and then doused in a tangy red sauce.  Sound good? You better believe it, amigo!

A closer look at the Poblano pepper stuffed full of chicken & queso fresco.

La Cocina is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week.

Arriba!!!

www.lacocinamobile.com

Callaghan’s Irish Social Club in Mobile, Alabama

2 Jan

Callaghan’s is without doubt one of my favorite hangouts in Mobile. I have lived in the area for almost 2 years now and it took me a while to find my way here. That is not unusual. In fact, I have met Mobile natives who don’t know where it is. Shame. Because once you find it, you certainly won’t forget it.

It doesn’t look gangbusters from the outside. It is, after all, a rather boxy, 1920’s era building (once a butcher shop). But there is a certain charm to be found in it’s somewhat plain Jane exterior. It may have something to do with the surrounding neighborhood, which consists of a cluster of historic homes and cottages dating back to the early and mid 20th century. Callaghan’s is the centerpiece of the community — and has been for many decades.

Here is an example of a neighborhood cottage across street from the pub.

Here’s another one. They are so cool — and really not that pricey either.

Daily specials at Callaghan’s — always worth a look. Creativity still lives here.

Outdoor patio seating is a good call at lunch — if the day’s weather permits.

Our dining table – filled with old Mobile memorabilia from days long past.

They make one of the best burgers in Mobile – and they have awards to prove it.

Funny — and true!

Irish Curse on wall at Callaghan’s. The walls are filled with eye candy like this.

Callaghan’s Chicken Philly — my go-to sandwich for lunch. It is served on delicious, fresh baked bread and filled to overflowing with chunks of chicken breast, onions, green peppers, and tons of good cheese. I typically order this with a side of housemade chips or Callaghan’s tart cucumber salad. They brew really good iced tea too. It’s always a good call (sweet or unsweet) if you’re working or if it’s not yet 5 pm. I must admit that this line of thought isn’t always in vogue at Callaghan’s. Mobile is a fun loving city and, for many, work can always wait until tomorrow.

John “JT” Thompson is a terrific host and you will feel like a regular upon your first visit. The atmosphere is so warm and cozy, they’ve got HD TVs all over the place, and you’d be surprised at all the first rate musical acts they are able to consistently book here. Robert Plant even stopped by for a pint or two after playing a recent show in Mobile with his Band of Joy. That should give you an idea about Callaghan’s worldwide reputation. ESQUIRE magazine ranked them one of the best bars in the USA. Doesn’t surprise me a bit. I just hope the rest of Mobile doesn’t find out about them. I feel like I’m on the right side of a well kept secret and, selfishly, I’d like to keep it that way. At least for another decade or two.

www.callaghansirishsocialclub.com

Sublime Catfish Tacos at Cortlandt’s

7 Aug

I’d heard the buzz about Cortlandt’s for several weeks, I guess. Cortlandt’s just sounds Southern, doesn’t it? I mean bow tie and seersucker Southern. Truman Capote and Harper Lee Southern. Cortlandt Inge is actually an Alabama native and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Now some folks are terribly impressed by the latter. But frankly, I am even more impressed by the former. A massive live oak (seen above) shades the 300 block of George Street in Historic Old Mobile. It’s been there a long, long time. I trust Cortlandt’s will stick around a while too.

Cortlandt’s is actually at the corner of Savannah & George Streets in “The Little Easy.” This is one of Mobile’s most scenic neighborhoods. The stately Oakleigh mansion is just around the corner. Think the Garden District of New Orleans — it has that kind of vibe.

The main entry to Cortlandt’s dining room is pictured above. This is obviously a former home that has been deftly converted into a fine dining establishment. Fine dining, yes. But outrageous pricing and snobby atmosphere, no! I was not serenaded by chamber music as I awaited my server. Nope, it was more like The Clash, Crowded House, and The Beatles. I really liked that.

Elegant white tablecloth dining doesn’t always come with high prices. Cortlandt’s is comfortable and cheery on the inside. The decor is certainly not overdone. Tasteful food and tasteful surroundings … what a concept!

The white paper lunch menu featured several tempting selections including Gulf Coast favorites such as Shrimp and Grits or Grits and Grillades. Both were priced at about $12, which I thought was quite fair. The Mississippi Catfish Tacos (above) are offered for lunch for less than $10. The tacos come with a small house salad (this day topped with a refreshing housemade tomato vinaigrette). My decision had been made.

The sweet pickled red onions are a very nice touch atop the Catfish Tacos. The tang of the onions offered a nice counterpoint to the lightly battered mudcat filets. I normally prefer my fish tacos to be grilled, yet Cortlandt’s impressed me with these not-greasy, perfectly cooked pieces of white,  flaky farm-raised fish.

Cream and Sugar (above) is another part of Cortlandt’s growing culinary empire. Located right next door to Cortlandt’s, Cream and Sugar specializes in sweets, fine coffees, teas, etc. I was thinking how lucky residents of this neighborhood truly are. To have both these places within strolling distance (people here in Mobile don’t walk, they stroll; too darn hot to walk!) was a blessing indeed.

I’d suggest you stroll on over to Cortlandt’s at your earliest possible opportunity. It is destined to become one of Old Mobile’s more civilized respites from the fast food world outside.   

www.cortlandts.com

Lunch at Delish’s Desserts – Mobile, AL

23 Jul

I happened to be motoring around Midtown Mobile between appointments earlier this week. I was just starting to think about lunch when I spotted Delish’s Dessert’s on Upham Street.  I’d never really heard anything about the place, but an inner voice beckoned me to pull in anyway for a quick “look-see.”

This (above) is the A-Frame that truly grabbed my attention. A bakery also offering traditional “meat and three” plate lunches??? Hmmmm, I thought … very intriguing! The price ($7.98 including iced tea) was right, so I quickly ducked into the cool, white lace-curtained dining room. Check that — let’s call it a tea room. It had that kind of homey, Grandma’s place vibe going on.

The aroma eminating from behind the front counter was quite appetizing. So was the glass dessert case filled with fresh baked cookies, lemon bars, and heaping cake squares of various colors and flavors. And the vision of two plump black ladies working hard in the kitchen proved to be yet another welcome beacon.  

Trust me, people. It tasted a lot better than it looks.

My lunch special, served in a sturdy styrofoam box, was a weighty thing of joy. Homemade meatloaf and “smashed potatoes” bathing in a good (not gummy) brown gravy, earthy field peas, a boxy chunk of yellow cornbread, and a generous portion of mayo-soaked Waldorf Salad. Leave it to us Southerners to take something healthy like chopped apples and grated carrots and then drown them all in some fatty white goop. Hey, don’t get me wrong! I can truly appreciate a well-made Waldorf Salad, but a little bit goes a long way — especially on a steamy summer’s afternoon. The meatloaf and chunky taters were the obvious stars of this shindig … or at least I thought so. That all changed when I took a closer gander at the dessert case.  

What you see above is, simply put, the cake that dreams are made of. This glistening beauty is a glorious slab of Delish’s Mandarin Orange Cake. The magical creation was the featured dessert this day and I promptly caved into temptation. My personal slice of heaven proved to be moist and as light as a poofy little cloud. I suspect Cool Whip was somehow involved in the making of the mini orange-flecked icing. The taste made me think of pineapple-riddled Hummingbird Cake — or perhaps a fluffy homemade Angel Food cake topped with a mountain of rich whipped cream. It was easily one of the best things I ate all week.

My first visit to Delish’s Desserts was a very pleasant surprise.

And, oh yes, I will return for seconds!

Delish’s Desserts

23 Upham Street, Mobile, AL 36607

251 473 6115

A Spotty Lunch at Downtown Mobile’s “A Spot of Tea”

30 Jun

“A Spot of Tea” can be found in the shadow of beautiful live oaks at 310 Dauphin Street in Downtown Mobile, AL. I had recently picked up their menu at the Mobile Chamber of Commerce offices and I must say it looked pretty promising. I was especially intrigued by featured items such as Pecan Waffles, Bananas Foster French Toast, Seafood Omelettes, a hard to find Monte Cristo sandwich, and, by many accounts, a world-class Chicken Salad platter.

This is a shot (above) from my inside dining table looking out at the shady open-air patio. It is a really nice setting for a quiet, intimate lunch. I decided to dine inside since it was a rather humid afternoon in Old Mobile. I sat back in anticipation of a stately Southern dining experience. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

The historic building was constructed in 1836. It was once a stable for carriages in the late 1800’s. The present restaurant first opened its doors in 1994 with seating for just 29 guests. It has since expanded to accomodate much larger crowds during the lunch rush.

The plate carrying my lunch was elegant — its contents were decidedly not. For starters, the croissant was obviously not freshly baked. The “Salad from the Garden” was a sorry assortment of end clippings … some of which had started to turn the corner towards “Browntown.” The salad was accompanied by a Parmesan Peppercorn dressing that had a higher viscosity rating than Quaker State. Just stunningly thick and goopy, which was not exactly what I was seeking on such a hot, sticky summer day.

Calvert’s “gourmet” Chicken salad was pretty awful. This totally surprised me since it was said to be one of the stars of the menu. The pecan-laced chicken was overly salty and, frankly, just dripping with mayo.

The iced tea was good, but that could hardly justify a $13 (including tip) lunch. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Let’s just say I was totally unprepared for how bad this meal turned out to be. I may give them another chance at some point, but I’ll need some time to clear my head (and palate) of this terrible first impression. My server was wonderful — so there, I’ve said something nice. Always try to end things on a positive note!

www.spotoftea.net

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