Archive | February, 2009

Roadside Rib Shack Offers Some Redemption

24 Feb

We continued our Florida BBQ quest today with a trip to the Roadside Rib Shack, which is located just off Highway 41 on Bahia Vista Road in Sarasota. They bill it as “Southern Style Barbecue,” and that is exactly what I have been seeking — with not too much luck I must add.


It is a nice-enough looking establishment from the outside.  The ribs are tender and tasty … the pulled pork was flavorful but a little too fatty for my taste. I know, fat = flavor, but I’m still trying to be somewhat healthy, even when eating smoked pork BBQ. The cole slaw was OK — not great — but far better than the slop I was served at The Oaks just about 24 hours previously. The meat was served on a Kaiser-style yeast roll.   


Small but comfortable on the inside, the Roadside Rib Shack gets an A for effort when it comes to their BBQ sauce variety. They offer you the choice of sweet, spicy, or mustard-based. All are good, but I preferred the spicy variety. Owner Derek Luther makes it himself and the extra care shows. The sweet sauce had a Memphis vibe to it, while the mustard sauce took me back to the 5 years I spent in the beautiful South Carolina Lowcountry. This, I believe, is the first time we’ve seen this unique sauce served at a FL eatery.  Nice going, Derek!


Mr. Luther was quite personable — I always appreciate that courtesy. They also have a sense of humor at the Roadside Rib Shack. I could tell by looking at the T-shirts (see below) they sell in the front of the restaurant.


This wasn’t the best BBQ we’ve had in Florida, but after our recent trials and tribulations this was definitely a step in the right direction.

The Oaks Bar-B-Q is the Pits

23 Feb


I consider myself a big fan of BBQ and The Oaks Bar B Q is located only a few short miles from my Sarasota home. I have passed by this place countless times but never felt compelled to stop in for a bite. Why? Well, maybe it was my gut speaking to me. Or perhaps it was the fact that I rarely — check that — never heard anyone talking about it.


Well, today was the day when I made the commitment to stop in and give The Oaks a try. Sorry I did. To say I was simply disappointed would be an understatement. Frankly, it was pretty bad — bordering on really bad.  


I ordered the large chopped pork sandwich plate, which runs $6.80 before tax, tip and beverage. A fair price, one might think. But given the food quality, I think not. The pork was bland (not smokey) and speckled with several inedible chunks of gristle. The meat itself was not hot … I’ll be kind and pretend it was luke warm. Wink, wink. The accompanying sauce was nothing to write home about either. The slaw was made with far too much mayo, which gave the side dish a really heavy taste. Imagine grated cabbage, a truckload of mayo, and a splash of pickle relish and that’s pretty much it. And the Brunswick Stew, well, let’s just say right here that I’m sure you can get better stew at your local homeless shelter or state prison. Nasty — tasted like ketchup mixed with a little water and some frozen veggies.  The portion was incredibly small which, in hindsight, was a good thing.  I didn’t even consider finishing it.


Needless to say, we suggest you “steer” clear of The Oaks and venture just a short ride north on Tamiami Trail to Sonny’s BBQ. You’ll be glad you did!

Chifles Plantain, Cassava & Tortilla Chips

22 Feb


We love these products — they are made by Plantain Products of Tampa, FL. You can find them at Publix stores throughout Florida. If you live outside the Sunshine State, visit Chifles store locator feature at: 

Here’s a little history on the company …

Segundo Argudo’s home country of Ecuador is famous for Plantain Chips. Segundo’s wife, Peggy, is from North Carolina and they both met in Washington D.C. while Segundo was studying geophysics on a scholarship program from Ecuador. After working as a geophysicist for several oil companies, the family; including the two children, Stefanie and Ricardo, settled in Tampa, Florida. Mr. & Mrs. Argudo immediately began experimenting with making Plantain Chips from their memories of the same delicious snack which was sold by the many street vendors in Cuba. The Argudo’s began selling Chifles products in 1965, initially in Tampa, Miami and then New York. The company operated from two plants before moving to the present location in 1972. Mr. Argudo passed away in January of 2000 from a sudden illness.

The plantains and cassavas are imported from Ecuador and Costa Rica where they are processed in the company’s 20,000-sq. ft. facility with 30 employees located in Tampa, Florida. The products are sold to approximately 20 Snack Food distributors primarily concentrated in the New York area and Florida.

Our success has been attributable to quality. This not only describes our fine products but the employees who are responsible for all the details required to manufacture the Plantain and Cassava Chips. We are also proud of our ethical business philosophy in dealing with customers and employees.

Plantain Products Company is a manufacturer and distributor of Plantain Chips, Cassava Chips, Pork Rinds, Tortilla Chips and Plantain Soup Mix. Plantain Products Company began operations in 1963 by Mr. & Mrs. S.G. Argudo in the kitchen of their home. Mrs. Argudo is currently President and CEO.

Saveur’s Top Catfish Houses

22 Feb


Family-style fried-fish restaurants, often known as catfish houses, are fixtures across a broad swath of the American South. Call ahead before you make a pilgrimage: many rural catfish houses are open only on weekends. Here are six of our favorites. 

Carmack Fish House 24973 Highway 35, Vaiden, Mississippi (662/289-5082). This humble establishment, little known to outsiders, is a rural Southern treasure; it serves catfish that were raised in limestone ponds in eastern Mississippi and fries them up both as filets and as thick, meaty steaks. Make sure to try the tangy house-made coleslaw.

Catfish Hole 4127 West Wedington Drive, Fayetteville, Arkansas (479/521-7008). This popular eatery in western Arkansas sells more catfish than any other restaurant in the state. The crisp breaded catfish filets come with excellent homemade hush puppies (a traditional Southern catfish side).

Cowtown Cafe 20248 State Highway E, Bloomfield, Missouri (573/568-2250). This 300-seat catfish oasis in the southeastern corner of Missouri has been around only since 1995, but it’s already a regional institution. Try the tender fried catfish with the house’s signature fried potatoes cooked with onions and bacon grease.

Huck’s 2811 South Trail Drive, Denison, Texas (903/337-0033). The cornmeal-crusted catfish filets at this restaurant in North Texas are as good as any you’ll get in the Mississippi Delta, and the Cajun shrimp and country fried steak are local favorites.

Middendorf’s 30160 Highway 51 South, Akers, Louisiana (985/386-6666). This 75-year-old Louisiana institution, damaged by Hurricane Ike last year but now back in business, is lauded across the South for its ultrathin, melt-in-your-mouth fried filets. Fresh local blue crab is added to the menu in the summer.

Taylor Grocery 4 County Road 338 #A, Taylor, Mississippi (662/236-1716). A former general store located eight miles south of Oxford, this catfish haven (above)—long a favorite of Ole Miss students—serves up luscious, crisp-tender cornmeal-crusted filets flecked with plenty of black pepper.

Dad’s Bourbon Balls – A Sweet Taste of Kentucky

21 Feb


We have tried a lot of delicious bourbon-laced candies in our day, but none can compare to Dad’s Bourbon Balls. Frankly, I had never even heard of this product until I recently saw their display ad in a Bourbon trade publication. I reached out to Mike Aldy (aka the “Son of Dad”) and Mike kindly sent us a container of 16 bourbon balls to sample. The box hit our FL mailbox today and I wasted no time in tearing open the box, which encased an attractive circular gold tin.


When I bit into the first pecan-topped candy, my mouth literally exploded in pure bourbon bliss. My main gripe with most bourbon candies and/or cakes is that the bourbon flavor is either too faint or too artificial. This is not a problem whatsoever with Dad’s fine product. They use only 90 proof premium KY bourbon (our order was made with Makers Mark) and the quality shines through loud and clear in each bite. Now listen, this is the best — I repeat — the best bourbon ball you will likely ever taste. I really can’t imagine anything topping this. Equaling this? Maybe, but doubtful. Topping this? I just can’t see that happening. But be careful, these babies are seriously potent and you may be buzzing after popping 2 or 3 of these delectable candies. So why fight it? Treat yourself to a little bit of the Bluegrass State and you’ll soon be floating around in Blue Heaven.


Here’s a picture of “Dad” at work on a Habitat for Humanity project

Get crackin’ and order some now at

Kermit’s Key Lime Empire

21 Feb


We enjoyed meeting this friendly gentleman when we visited the Fruitville Farmers Market in East Sarasota earlier today. He is set up there 3-4 days a week this time of year — you can also find him at the Siesta Key Farmers Market on Sundays. He claims to be 75 years-old, so the key lime juice must be something of a fountain of youth. I was so impressed that we purchased a 16 oz. bottle of pure Key Lime juice and a jar of their very zesty Key Lime Citrus Salsa. I will be making a couple pies with the lime juice and dipping my tortilla chips in the latter. The salsa is a perfect blend of sweet & spicy … thanks to ingredients like oranges, pineapple, key lime juice and, of course, chopped jalapeno peppers.  


If you don’t have time to make your own pies, Kermit’s sells it by the slice at the farmers markets or you can take home a whole frozen pie for $15. One rather unique specialty they offer is a slab of Key Lime pie dipped in fine Belgian Chocolate (photo below). Now that’s about as decadent as a deep fried Twinkie, but I’m guessing it tastes even better. Did I just say that???


“For pie that dances on your tongue,” visit

Fruitville Farmers Market

21 Feb


We drove over to the Fruitville Farmers Market this morning. It is a beautiful day here in SW FL and the market was fully stocked with farm fresh fruits & veggies. It was also quite crowded thanks to all the snowbirds in town this time of year. I couldn’t resist buying a big, beautiful FL sweet onion. We picked up some green squash too, so I guess we’ll be having some squash casserole for dinner tonight.



Plant City Strawberries, grown just about an hour or so up the road from us,  are pretty much the best that FL has to offer. They are huge, brilliantly red, and very juicy. I had a few of them for lunch today and, boy, were they good!


Honeybelle oranges are often referred to as the “Queen of Citrus.” They are bright orange and simply bursting with tangy flavor. The market was sampling slices today and I must confess that I slipped back into the line a couple extra times. So sue me already!


FL limes are always super tart and tasty. Anyone for mojitos??? 


Green tomatoes, ready for frying, alongside plump red “maters”


Cubano peppers are mild & beautifully colored – 3 for just $1

Here’s the Skinny on “Skinny’s Place”

19 Feb


I made my first trip to Skinny’s Place today for a quick bite at lunch time. It is a cool little blast from the past burger joint located on scenic Anna Maria Island. Skinny’s (named for founder Carl “Skinny” Freeman) has been in business since 1952 (originally named the Mid-Island Drive In) and they have developed quite a loyal following over the decades.


As you can see, it looks like someone might actually live above the rickety Old Florida restaurant. Skinny’s is beachy and breezy on the inside — and pretty darn cozy too. Space is at a premium but there is a boatload of good Margaritaville vibe & canned music. The laid back, rustic atmosphere, I must say, is obviously the best part about this coastal dive bar.


The burgers at Skinny’s (they are actually called “Skinny Burgers”) have been voted the best on Anna Maria Island for many years now, but I have to add that these accolades may simply be by default. Not that it’s a bad burger — it tasted just fine, thank you very much. However, there is really nothing terribly special about it either. A 1/4 pound slab of ground beef with a slice of rather flavorless American cheese on top … toss in a few pickle slices, some fresh tomato, and a leaf or two of iceburg lettuce. Sound familiar? Better than McDonalds? Why, of course. Better than Five Guys or Ruby Tuesdays? Probably not. The buns are grilled on the inside (top and bottom) and that shows some extra effort. But the cheeseburger is not exactly a flaming bargain at $5 a pop.


The open air bar/dining room is very small yet comfortable. I especially like the hardwood ceiling and the wire cage that encloses the wooden picnic tables from the outer parking lot and Gulf Drive (which runs along the front of the restaurant). You place your food order at the bar and I found the service this day to be fairly prompt and upbeat.   


This (see photo above) is what I meant by the caging that encloses the inside dining area. There was a nice shore breeze going today and I was quite comfortable even though I was wearing long pants and a button down, long-sleeved shirt.

All in all, Skinny’s is a fine place to grab a cold one and hang out with a few friends. I get a sense that there is probably nothing truly special about any of the grub served here. It’s all about slowing down, getting in that beachy state of mind, and filling your belly with something to soak up the alcohol. And as far as the aforementioned “Best Burger” award, all I will say is that I should seriously consider quitting my day job and open my own classic burger joint. Look out world … “Gary’s Beach Burger” may be in your future. I honestly think I could really show these dudes a thing or two!

Smithfield Foods Closing 6 Plants

18 Feb


This is a sad state of affairs, y’all. Even the mighty Paula Deen (a paid spokesperson for Smithfield) couldn’t prevent this from happening. What is the world coming to???

SMITHFIELD, Va. — Smithfield Foods Inc. said today that it plans to cut 1,800 jobs and close six plants, including a plant in Elon, N.C., affecting 160 employees, as part of a restructuring.

The company said it would save about $125 million a year by 2011.

The plants are expected to close by December, the company said. The packing plant in Elon, which handles country ham, is slated to close by late summer.

Other Smithfield plants in North Carolina are expected to gain production from the closing of a packing plant in Smithfield. The other plants being closed are in Plant City, Fla., Great Bend, Kan., New Riegel, Ohio, and Hastings, Neb. The company said it offer the opportunity to transfer to another plant to an “undetermined number of employees.”

The company also said it is combining seven of its independent operating companies into three main units: The Smithfield Packing Co., John Morrell & Co. and Farmland Foods Inc.., with John Morrell and Farmland combining sales forces.

Great book on the Legendary “Blind Tom”

17 Feb


I first heard the music of Blind Tom on one of the annual Oxford American Southern Music CD collections. I was blown away and quickly went about trying to learn more about this legendary but nearly forgotten performer of the 1800s. I am pleased that Dierdre O’Connell has taken the great time and effort to put the spotlight back on Tom and, at the same time, clear up some of the many rumors that have surrounded his legend. Musical genius is a term that gets tossed around far too much these days. But in the case of Wiggins, that may be an understatement.  

Born into slavery in Georgia, Tom Wiggins died an international celebrity in New York in 1908. His life was one of the most bizarre and moving episodes in American history. Born blind and autistic-and so unable to work with other slaves-Tom was left to his own devices. He was mesmerized by the music of the family’s young daughters, and by the time he was fourTom was playing tunes on the piano.

Eventually freed from slavery, Wiggins, or “Blind Tom” as he was called, toured the country and the world playing for celebrities like Mark Twain and the Queen of England and dazzling audiences everywhere. One part genius and one part novelty act, Blind Tom embodied contradictions-a star and a freak, freed from slavery but still the property of his white guardian. His life offers a window into the culture of celebrity and racism at the turn of the twentieth century.

In this rollicking and heartrending book, O’Connell takes us through the life (and three separate deaths) of Blind Tom Wiggins, restoring to the modern reader this unusual yet quintessentially American life.

Order yours today at