Archive | July, 2009

Lake Trout Tradition in Baltimore

28 Jul

lake trout

Tony Bourdain visited The Roost in Baltimore, MD during last night’s episode of “NO RESERVATIONS.” Looks like a pretty unique joint. Will try to check it out the next time we visit my wife’s hometown. In the meantime, I have included a story about the city’s Lake Trout tradition and the best places to find fried whiting in the Charm City.

Some time ago a fellow by the name of Steve Jones, who works on the city’s west side, requested an article on lake trout, the ubiquitous Baltimore phenomenon. Thus began for me a delightful odyssey and the pleasure of some damn fine fish.

The fish we know by that name is not a lake trout. There is such a thing: Salvelinus namaycush, one of the largest fresh-water fish (generally 15 to 20 inches long), is caught in the cold-water lakes of the northern United States and Canada. But the fish we call lake trout is really whiting, or Atlantic whiting; it’s found in the waters between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Virginia.

Rob Kasper, writing in this paper some time back, suggested that the name lake trout caught on because it was a more appealing moniker than whiting. But I prefer the story told by John Shields in his book Chesapeake Bay Cooking. Shields conjures the image of the last fishing boat of the day making for shore. As the crew nears the dock, a worker sings out, “Late trout! Late trout.” The buyers, unfamiliar with the Chesapeake Bay accent, hear, “Lake trout! Lake trout!” Pick a story or make up your own.

Whatever its origins, there are a few cardinal rules to identifying great lake trout. It must be fried on the spot — it can’t sit wilting under warming lights. You must get a lot for a little. You must be served two slices of white bread, to soak up the grease and construct a sandwich. The fish should be big and meaty — but it shouldn’t be too moist. The coating must enhance, not overwhelm. Bones should be minimal. The fish should be fresh and tasty, although what it should taste of, or like, is a somewhat personal matter. Lake-trout enthusiasts are a picky lot.

If a lake-trout excursion can be said to begin anywhere, that place is the Roost . Talk about a booming business — consider the hours this carry-out keeps: 7 A.M.-3 A.M. most days. When you come to the Roost, you’re coming for fish, not ambiance. And don’t expect fast service — the line for lake trout is routinely long. On my visit, on a Monday mid-afternoon, I waited 20 minutes — and as Roost waits go, that’s pretty good. Here, people stand in line patiently, almost reverently, as if they’re waiting to view a loved leader lying in state. My sandwich ($4.95), when it comes, consists of five smallish fish piled atop two slices of white bread, all wrapped tightly in a foil cornucopia. The coating is golden, if a bit greasy, and the center bone lifts right out, exposing moist (“too moist; it’s wet,” my friend Michele says) white flesh. The flavor is fresh and mild. This is great fish, to my way of thinking. It doesn’t taste like fish — not fishy, that is — and I want to tear off hunks that are still too hot to handle. I understand that in its heyday, the Roost sent folks away with foil-wrapped sandwiches the size of baseball bats. The package is smaller these days, but the price of fish is way up, and the price of this sandwich is still way down. Some consider this carry-out the king of lake-trout joints; I’m not sure I’m in the presence of a king, but this fish is definitely royalty.

The Roost’s nearest competitor — speaking geographically — is Micah’s Cafeteria . Here, the single fish dinner with two half sides, bread, and a beverage goes for $5.99. Single, it turns out, means three small trout. Unfortunately, we are out of the cafeteria line, seated, eating, and well on our way to finishing said sides, bread, and beverage before someone emerges from the kitchen with our fish. There’s no crispy coating — no detectable coating at all, in fact, but the fish is tasty, if too bony.

We have another unsatisfying lake-trout encounter at Friendly. We are able to snag one of four picnic tables in the place, but there our luck runs out. For $4.99, we get two small trout with a choice of two sides. Again, the fish is filled with bones, and the taste is bland. Each table sports a shaker of salt-and-pepper mix, a bottle of ketchup, and another of hot sauce, so perhaps we are meant to enliven the trout to our taste. It doesn’t work for me, though I do like Friendly’s slightly charred, smoky sweet potatoes.

Michele and I, on the recommendation of our mutual friend Charles, try the Corner Carry-out. Like the Roost, this joint is strictly pay and go. $4.49 nets me a medium order of the finned ones, three big, thick specimens, beautifully brown and crisp. Alas, the oil used to fry the fish is not fresh, and this kills the dish completely, giving the trout a spoiled taste. Charles says this happens from time to time and he urges us to give the Corner another try.

My odyssey ends in West Baltimore,at the Lake Trout , the Edmondson Village carry-out that Steve Jones touted in his letter. By now, I am so used to waiting for my lake trout that I’m shocked when my regular-size order ($4.60) emerges within three or four minutes. I’m even more pleased to find four fish — two medium ones and two small fellows — wrapped in foil, with the obligatory twin slices of white bread encased in their own plastic wrapper. The batter is light and crunchy, the fish very hot and fresh. The trout could be meatier, but the single long bone is easily removed, which makes the eating carefree. The accompanying macaroni salad (80 cents) is too heavy on the mayo, but a medium lemonade (90 cents) hits the spot. In fact, I’d recommend lemonade as the beverage of choice for any lake-trout encounter. Its tartness makes a good contrast to the deep fry. Kudos to you, Steve.

One final note about lake-trout aficionados. They are a loyal bunch, always ready to sing the virtues of their personal fave. If the mood strikes you, make a few calls to your fish-loving friends, get a few tips, then take to the open road. The world may not be your oyster, but Baltimore can definitely be your lake trout.

Panini Pete’s Impresses on 1st Visit

26 Jul


I was extremely impressed on my first visit to the highly-rated Panini Pete’s in Fairhope, AL. Everything we had was excellent and obviously made with great attention to detail. Case in point, the fries you see above were certianly not your run of the mill deep fried potatoes. Pete keeps the whole potatoes in a water bath until it’s time to serve them. The taters are then removed from the pool and sliced nice and thin. They are then immersed in a hot oil until they emerge golden brown and super crispy. Almost like those Durkee’s potato sticks, but much fresher and better.


Panini Pete’s is tucked away in a courtyard inside Fairhope’s French Quarter retail district. Just look for the above sign out front and Pete’s legions of loyal diners streaming towards his popular eatery.  


Reach for this door — you won’t be sorry you did!


My iced tea resting next to Pete’s laminated “folded napkin” menu.


My amazing entree consisted of medium rare roast beef, field greens, onion confit, tomatoes, Dijon, and gorganzola cheese on a perfectly baked panini bread. I told my kids it may have been the best meal I’ve had since we arrived on the Eastern Shore some 3 months ago.

If I could buy a franchise from this place I would — in a heartbeat. Panini Pete is going places and I want to be along for the ride.

Zapp’s and Dale’s – Two Southern Essentials

26 Jul


Just wanted to update everyone on some Southern food products we are currently excited about. I was cruising my neighborhood Publix yesterday and saw that Zapp’s is now making a Sweet Potato Chip. If it’s half as good as the Sweet Taters made by Virginia’s Route 11, they are in business! Looking forward to trying them soon.


We had lunch at Panini Pete’s in Fairhope, AL yesterday. My son had the most delicious hamburger. I took a taste and honestly couldn’t explain why it tasted so good — and different. I asked our waitress and she revealed the secret … they marinate the burgers in Dale’s Seasoning. I immediately rushed out and picked up a bottle. It will surely be the star of my next home cookout.


Another new product we spied recently is a gourmet pimento cheese made in Pawley’s Island, SC. And I thought they only made hammocks there! It really looks chunky and homemade, but be forewarned that it costs about double the price of other brands like Mrs Stratton’s. Hope it’s worth it — we’ll see! (EDITOR’S NOTE: Tried it — and it’s totally worth the extra money. Special ingredients include cream cheese, sharp cheddar, onions, and a nice black pepper after bite.)  


The line of products you see above are made by the Gourmet Warehouse in Hilton Head, SC. Guess the folks in the SC Lowcountry have been busy lately.

I am most anxious to try their Key Lime and Lowcountry marinades. Think I will jot them a quick note to see if they can ship some samples our way. Stay tuned for more information – coming soon! Learn more at

The Jamaican Cafe in Mobile, AL

18 Jul




First of all, let me apologize for the poor picture quality. These shots were snapped with my smart phone — not the normal camera I tote around on my culinary adventures.  

This was my first trip to the Jamaican Cafe on Azalea Road in Mobile. Now Mobile is not exactly Kingston, yet this port city once was the major point of entry for many tropical fruits being shipped to the US.

The help was friendly, the place pretty clean, and the food tasty (if not over the top spicy). The Curried Chicken plate came with rice and peas, a warm cabbage slaw,  and a slab of sweet, kernal laden cornbread. The chicken was super tender and fell right away from the bone.

Next time I am going to be looking for heat — that means JERK!!!

Mary B’s Tea Biscuits

18 Jul

Mary b's

These frozen biscuits are really good — about the closest you’ll find to homemade. In fact, they are made by a company called Homade Foods (located in Pensacola, FL). The also make cheddar and blueberry varieties. We’ve had them both and like them very much. Just add a little butter to the cheddar biscuits. As for the blueberry biscuits, I like them with a dab of butter and some blueberry sorghum. Wow!

You can find them at WalMart, Winn Dixie, or online via the company’s web site at These biscuits are highly recommended, so shop with extreme confidence. Just be sure to cook them all the way through. We’ve noticed the prescribed cooking time is sometimes not enough to get the job done. Or maybe we just have oven issues, who knows???

Photos from The Hebert Seafood Boil

12 Jul


The calm before the storm. Cooking dogs & sipping Red Stripe.


The perged mudbugs are dumped into the boiling pot.


Once ready, the crawfish are transferred to a temporary vessel.


The vessel is promptly dumped on the long, brown papered tables.


My lovely bride Eileen steps up to the chow line.


My platter — not a bad start, huh?


Lloyd Hebert shifts gears and begins cooking the fresh Gulf shrimp.


These babies are ready to eat, folks!


Time for round two — hope you all are still hungry!

New Food Discoveries along Gulf Coast

12 Jul


The delicious pickle mix you see above was purchased at Hazel’s Farm Market in Daphne, AL. The pickles are made with TLC in Gautier (pronounced Go-Shay), MS. I haven’t seen them in the local grocery stores, but several roadside produce stands and restaurants carry them. I have even seen them for sale at The Shed BBQ in Ocean Springs, MS. Seek them out — they are really tasty. Spicy but not too hot, very fresh! Contact them directly at or 228 369-9642.


Another specialty item we really dig is the Coconut Cake from Dean’s Cake House in Andalusia, AL. It is moist and loaded with flaky coconut. One bite will transport you back to the days when Granny crafted cakes like this. I’m told they also make a mean Red Velvet Cake and the traditional Southern Hummingbird Cake. Can’t wait to try those out. Dean’s has a web site so please take a look at

New Marshall Crenshaw CD on the way

10 Jul


LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Marshall Crenshaw, recently signed to 429 Records, released his long-awaited album of new recordings, Jaggedland, on June 2. Crenshaw penned and played on all 12 tracks that shimmer with the inimitable musical warmth and sly humor that the musician’s musician is known for. Touching on a variety of subjects both intimate and wide-ranging, he sings of love, mortality and the state of the world.  
In reviewing Jaggedland, said, “Let’s hope this release continues to keep Crenshaw on a new, faster creative trajectory, because six years is too long a wait in between releases from one of the ‘80s’ few remaining, enduring and timeless artists.”
Crenshaw collaborated with a hand-picked circle of producers and musicians for Jaggedland.  Producer Stewart Lerman (Black 47, Willie Nile, The Roches, Jules Shear) began the process by recording two of the tracks in Crenshaw’s home studio in upstate New York during 2007. Then in summer 2008, Crenshaw sought out famed engineer and producer Jerry Boys (R.E.M., Richard Thompson, Buena Vista Social Club) after falling in love with the Ry Cooder/Manuel Galban album Mambo Sinuendo, which Boys engineered, and they recorded the rest of the project early this year at Los Angeles’ Sage and Sound studio, and at Livingston Studios in London; the whole process took about 15 days. Also in the mix were top-notch musicians drummer Jim Keltner (Crenshaw: “it’s his world, we just live in it”); bassist Sebastian Steinberg, guitarists Greg Leisz and fellow Motor City native Wayne Kramer (MC5), plus legendary vibraphonist/percussionist Emil Richards (known for his work with Frank Sinatra, Brian Wilson, Judee Sill, and zillions of others).
The album title is, Crenshaw says, “just a word that came to me one day; first it was the title of the instrumental tune on the album, then I decided to also use it for an album title.  It’s a good word to describe the world these days; it’s getting pretty jagged out there . . .”
 All of his talents are on vivid display on Jaggedland — his trademark melodicism, humor and emotional honesty shine through, as well as his prodigious guitar playing.  Pointed and incisive as ever, the album resonates with the energy and immediacy that only a fine-tuned ensemble can provide; tracks were often captured in a single take.  
Born in Detroit, Crenshaw began playing guitar at age ten and received his first break playing John Lennon in the touring company of Beatlemania. While living in New York in the ‘70s, he recorded the single “Something’s Gonna Happen” for Alan Betrock’s Shake label, which led to a deal with Warner Bros. His eponymous debut album was acclaimed as a timeless classic and included the hit “Someday, Someway” along with “Cynical Girl” and “There She Goes Again.” His second album, Field Day, was another critical smash and led to a successful slate of 20-plus years of studio recordings. All Music Guide wrote, “He writes songs that are melodic, hooky and emotionally true, and he sings and plays them with an honesty and force that finds room for humor without venom.” As Crenshaw was developing Jaggedland’s mix of poignant and incisive love songs and musings on mortality, he ventured once again into film, co-penning the title track to the hilarious John C. Reilly film Walk Hard, for which he was nominated for a Grammy and Golden Globe in 2008.

Jaggedland is a career-redefining record from “one of the finest pop songwriters of his age — or, for that matter, any age,” as the The New Yorker described him last month. Says Crenshaw: “I worked with some of my heroes on this record. The music works nicely and the songs are off the dial — the best ones I’ve done.”

Biscuit King Fun Barn – Fairhope, AL

5 Jul


This really is a fun place. Good eats too!


The “Ugly Biscuit” is pretty hard to beat as a breakfast belly bomb. I know it doesn’t look that good (hence the name), but it packs a ton of flavor. Egg, sausage, cheese, and other goodies are rolled in with the biscuit dough to create this one of a kind morning delight.


It’s not exactly on the beaten path, but it is worth the trip. A steady stream of loyal customers parade in each morning for their daily fix of flaky goodness. Stop by and join in on the fun!

Cal them at  251.928.2424 if you get lost along the way.

Cajun Power’s Sloppy Boudreaux Mix

5 Jul


I made some sandwiches for the kids with this store bought sauce.

Really good — nice n’ tangy and loaded with chopped onions.

I also love their Cajun Power Garlic Sauce. Awesome!

Just add some lean ground turkey to the Sloppy Boudreaux sauce and you are in “bidness.” It makes for an easy but satisfying family meal. I can also tell you that this brand contains very few artificial ingredients. Compares favorably to the more readily available MANWICH brand.

Learn more about the makers at