Archive | May, 2011

Espy’s Fabulous Tomato Chutney from Tybee Island, Georgia

29 May

Savannah Food Writer Damon Lee Fowler tipped us to this wonderful product. We receive sample products all the time and rarely do they leave such a lasting impression on us. A chef (Espy Geissler) in Tybee Island, GA created this magical pairing of sweet and spicy (jalapenos!).

I have long been a chutney lover. And I am not easily impressed. But this product will totally knock your socks off. Yes, it is that good. Trust me. However, you may find it difficult to acquire if you (like most of us) live outside the greater Savannah area. Thankfully, Espy’s has a Facebook page — I have provided a link to that page at the bottom of this review. So go get you some. I have never been so confident that you will love a product.

*It makes a sublime compliment to fried green tomatoes & meat loaf.

Espy’s Tomato Chutney – Tybee Island, GA

chefespy@bellsouth.net – For direct orders

 http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Espys-Tybee-Island-Tomato-Chutney/220445967971293 

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Tallahassee’s Seminole Wind Buffet is a Breath of Fresh Air for Lovers of Scratch Cooking

28 May

We typically pass through Florida’s state capital of Tallahassee at least a couple times each year. Our standby meal stop along this route was normally a little further down the road in Live Oak, FL. Sheryl’s Buffet in Live Oak is really good, but it was time for us to step out of our comfort zone and try something new.

Seminole Wind Country Buffet was suggested to me by a friend who works at Florida State University. He stops by Seminole Wind once or twice a month and raved about the fried chicken and the fresh veggie dishes. He stated he would like to visit more frequently, but his diet simply wouldn’t allow him to do so. The guy has obviously got to get his priorities straight!   

The Florida Seminole Indian theme is apparent both inside and out of the restaurant. So are the Christian messages, religious art, and fish symbols. These folks obviously love the Lord and that is more than just OK with us. The people who work and dine at Seminole Wind are quite friendly. They will stop and chat and not think twice about lingering more than a minute or two. Some may find this uncomfortable. I love it. Reminds me of the good old days when people knew how to make idle chatter. An elderly gent in a straw hat told us it made him feel good to see my teenage boys eat so well. A little old lady pinched 14 year old Travis on the cheek (face, not rump) and exclaimed, “You sure are cute!” It took several minutes for his beet red face to return to its normal shade.

As a lifelong Virginia Tech Hokies football fan, I have been brought up to cheer against the rival Florida State Seminoles. But I never let that loyalty get in the way of a good home cooked meal. And, in this case, I’m pretty glad I didn’t.

The crunchy fried chicken at Seminole Wind is one of their buffet stalwarts.

The made-from-scratch biscuits should also earn a spot on your plate.

Vegetables at Seminole Wind. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Let’s kick it off with the rutabagas. Flat out the best I have ever tasted. Sorry, Granny … it’s true. Great collards here too. As good as you’ll find anywhere.

I have always loved carrot & raisin salad — when it’s made correctly. It certainly is at Seminole Wind. We even made some room for the fresh cucumber & tomato salad and it was (no surprise here) first rate too.

Here (above) are the rutabagas in all their glory — stellar!

My platter (above) following my first trip to the buffet. Yes, several more trips followed in short order. Butter beans, biscuit, collards, cuke & mater salad, carrot raisin salad, fried green tomatoes. Oh yes, almost forgot to tell you about the fried green tomatoes. So doggone good! Pretty much went all veggie the first pass thru — who needs meat with fresh veg like this???

Dessert choices are pretty amazing as well. I would strongly suggest a big fat slab of the strawberry cake. I went back twice and am not ashamed to admit it. It consists of a moist strawberry cake, topped with real strawberries and a light whipped cream frosting. The juice from the berries works its way throughout the cake. This adds to the moisture and the fruity flavor. So simple, so deadly.

Jesus is Lord at Seminole Wind — as this large wall mural will attest.

Former FSU Football Coach Bobby Bowden is also worshipped in these parts.

The lunch buffet is, well, one of the best we’ve ever encountered. And it’s only $4.99 six days a week. Yup, $4.99! It’s about double that price on Sundays and it’s still an incredible value. We hit Seminole Wind twice (once each way) on our most recent drive to South Florida. What does that tell you?  

Seminole Wind – 2226 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL

(850) 385-8718; www.seminolewindrestaurant.com

Chef Rick McDaniel Authors “An Irresistible History of Southern Food”

28 May

Chef Rick McDaniel is a good friend and quite the authority on Southern eats. Check this book out if you love all things related to Dixie-style grub and folklore. You might learn something and pick up some classic, tried-and-true recipes to boot. Now I don’t see any harm in that, do you??? Buy it today at Amazon.com (see the convenient link found below).

The South has always been celebrated for its food—a delectable blend of ingredients and cooking techniques connected to the region’s rich soil and bountiful waters. And oftentimes what makes a recipe Southern is as much a state of mind as it is a matter of geography—Southerners simply decide a particular food is Southern, and that’s that.

From the earliest days of settlement, when colonists struggled to survive on a diet of dogs, cats, rats and poisonous snakes, to an era defined by sumptuous dining that blended European, Native American and African cuisines, Southern food truly stems from a unique tradition.

Respected Southern food historian and chef Rick McDaniel explores the history of over 150 recipes, from Maryland stuffed ham to South Carolina chicken bog to New Orleans shrimp Creole, without forgetting the meal’s crowning glory: dessert.

www.chefrick.com

www.historypress.net

http://www.amazon.com/Irresistible-History-Southern-Food-Black-Eyed/dp/1609491939/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1306601848&sr=1-1

Nancy’s Brings Real Deal BBQ to the Sarasota/Bradenton Area

28 May

Nancy’s Bar-B-Q arrived on the Sarasota dining scene not long after we moved out of the area. Too bad for us because Nancy’s is pretty darn good. Sure, it has a few minor flaws. Yet it has clearly set the gold standard for real BBQ in the Sarasota/Bradenton marketplace.  

The eatery’s design is modern and appealing. Part of this operation is financed by the Caragiulo family (some might call them the first family of Italian cuisine in Sarasota). It’s a beautiful place — and well thought-out. A nice blend of retro and modern.  

This tractor (parked permanently outside) provides some rustic charm.

The replica Sinclair Gasoline billboard further adds to the old school vibe.

Cooking BBQ with real wood??? What an amazing concept!

“This little piggy went to market …” and apparently didn’t come home.

The pulled BBQ pork (cooked for 12 hours) and the locally-made link sausage were outstanding. Owner and founder Nancy Krohngold obviously devotes a lot of time to her sauces too. There are several to choose from and all of them were right on point. Or should I say right on Q??? Be sure to take some home with you.

The side dishes (above) we sampled were just OK, but not great.

The link sausage had a nice kick to it. This was a highlight in my mind.

Follow this “Q” (above) on the sidewalk to Nancy’s Bar-B-Q. Stick to the meats and house-made BBQ sauces and you will surely not be disappointed. This is  real deal BBQ, friends — and Sarasota is quite lucky to have them in town.

Nancy’s Bar-B-Q – 301 South Pineapple Street, Sarasota, FL

www.facebook.com/pages/Nancys-Bar-B

(941) 955-3400

BGR – “The Burger Joint” Finally Arrives in Mobile

28 May

BGR “The Burger Joint” just opened a few weeks back here in the Mobile area. I was out of town for their Grand Opening, but wanted to check them out at my earliest opportunity. I love burgers. However, I am not a fast food guy.

The interior at BGR is clean, colorful and modern.

They even sell Cheerwine here! That is a big plus in my book.

I ordered the Greek Burger. I’d heard that it was fabulous — and it was. In fact, this burger was featured of Food Network’s Throwdown and defeated one of Bobby Flay’s burger creations.

Hungry now? The Greek Burger is made with fresh ground leg of lamb and artfully seasoned with a mix of cumin, garlic and mint. It is then topped with traditional Greek tzatziki sauce, feta cheese, cucumber slices, and red onion. The fact that this baby is served on a buttery brioche sesame seed bun only makes something truly great even better.

Burgers here are not done on the cheap — and you won’t be out the door in 2 minutes either. It’s all cooked up fresh to order and you CAN taste the difference. Burgers at BGR range between $6.99 and $10.99 and do not include chips or fries. I will surely return to sample burgers like “The Cuban” (topped with pork, ham, pickles, Dijon, and Swiss cheese), “The Wellington” (made with real black truffles), and “The Southwestern.”

Gourmet fries (thin cut sweet potatoes or thick cut Yukon Gold) and Vidalia onion rings at BGR run from $2.89 to $4.49 and can be upgraded to include parmesan, rosemary and roasted garlic (yes!). Shakes (made with Gifford’s and Breyer’s ice cream) are also quite popular. Ask them about the shake flavor of the day.

Burger fans rejoice! BGR is here at last. OMG! 

BGR “The Burger Joint” – 3972 Airport Blvd., Mobile, AL

www.bgrtheburgerjoint.com

Exciting New Stax Re-Issues from Concord Music Group

28 May

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — From the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, the Stax label dominated soul, R&B, gospel, and related genres with a stable of artists who have since become iconic figures in the history of American popular music. Now a part of the Concord Music Group, the Stax catalog is a treasure trove of some of the most visceral and influential recordings of the 20th century. On May 10, 2011, Concord reaches back into that deep catalog to launch Stax Remasters, a series of reissues that cast a new light on classic Stax recordings with the help of 24-bit remastering, rare bonus tracks, and new liner notes to frame the recordings in a historical context.

The first three reissues in the series are:

Booker T. & the MGs: McLemore Avenue (1970)
The Staple Singers: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972)
Johnnie Taylor: Taylored in Silk (1973)

“Stax is a very important label, not only in the history of soul music, but in the history of music in general,” says Nick Phillips, Concord’s Vice President of Catalog A&R and co-producer of the series with Chris Clough, Concord’s Manager of Catalog Development. “We have a number of amazing recordings by Stax in the catalog. This is an opportunity to revisit some of the best of these classic recordings, upgrade the sound quality, and put them in the proper historical perspective that they deserve.”

Booker T. & the MGs: McLemore Avenue
Released in January 1970, McLemore Avenue is a tribute to Abbey Road, the landmark recording released by the Beatles the prior summer. McLemore Avenue sets up an interesting cause-and-effect loop by putting an R&B spin on songs by a profoundly innovative British pop-rock band that, ironically, emerged years earlier from the most basic elements of American R&B.

McLemore Avenue was inspired by “my pure fascination and admiration of the work that [the Beatles] had done,” says keyboardist Booker T. Jones in the reissue liner notes by music historian Ashley Kahn. “I didn’t know their inner workings. I found out later. I had a picture of those guys as a perfect unit. I didn’t know that they fought, had arguments, or that they needed referees. When you listen to that music, you think it comes from a perfect union, you know?”

The tribute album “represents a fascinating and musically compelling intersection,” says Phillips. “On one hand, you can look at the strength of the Beatles’ songs, and how they’re such strong songs that they can be successfully adapted — in the right hands — to soulful instrumental versions. At the same time, it is of course a testament to Booker T. & the MGs’ creativity and soulfulness and groove. It’s not only a very interesting musical intersection, but it’s also a very deep and at the same time a very fun listen.”

Clearly, Booker T. & the MGs had had plenty of their own opportunities to flex their creative muscles in the studio, having recorded with artists like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. “But on a record like this,” says Clough, “where all the songs were already written and it was just a matter of interpretation, it wasn’t work for them. It was an opportunity to put their spin on the songs and just have some fun.”

The bonus tracks include seven additional Beatles covers, recorded in sessions separate from those for the McLemore Avenue album. “We figured it made good sense to expand this edition by adding other tracks that Booker T. & the MGs had recorded of Beatles songs over the years,” says Phillips. “So the Stax Remasters reissue is not only an expanded edition of McLemore Avenue, it’s also a de facto ‘Booker T. & the MGs Play the Beatles’ collection.”

The Staple Singers: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself
Originally released in 1972, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself captures the celebrated family vocal group in what was essentially the third act of their career, according to music historian Rob Bowman. The Staple Singers had initially established themselves as a gospel group in the 1950s, then merged with the folk music closely tied to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and ultimately veered away from protest songs and toward what Mavis Staples termed “message music” in the early and mid-1970s.

“Obviously, there was a lot going on in America — politically and socially — around that time, and the Staple Singers took up the cause,” says Clough. “Stax provided a huge platform for that cause, and it worked. It wasn’t insincere or disingenuous. It was the real deal. The Staples had taken up the banner at that point.”

Be Altitude found a comfortable middle ground between gospel music and secular music. “Some of the messages in their music have that gospel element running through it, but it’s a broader message than what you’d find in traditional gospel,” says Phillips. “The soul, the gospel, the grooves — all those things blended together — really make for a unique sound that is the Staple Singers.”

The two previously unreleased bonus tracks — “Walking in Water Over Our Head” and an alternate version of “Heavy Makes You Happy” — were both recorded at the Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama in 1970 and 1972, respectively. “We felt that it was appropriate to add these bonus tracks, not only because any undiscovered material by a group as great as the Staple Singers is worthy of a listen,” says Phillips, “but also because they’re such great performances that they fit right in.”

Simply put, says Bowman, “the recording you hold in your hands represents the Staple Singers at the very peak of their career.”

Johnnie Taylor: Taylored in Silk
Released in 1973, Taylored in Silk is an ideal example of Taylor’s newly expanded and embellished sound, crafted with the help of producer Don Davis, who had united with Taylor a few years earlier, according to the liner notes by Bill Dahl. “As far as Davis was concerned, a fundamental change of sound was in order for Johnnie,” says Dahl. “Gone were the savory slow blues in favor of a hard-edged, uptempo attack that energized [Taylor’s] sound like never before.”

The issue could well have been regional marketing as much as musicality. “The story goes that Davis was brought in to forge a sound that would be sort of a combination between Northern and Southern soul, and capture the best of both Stax and Motown,” says Phillips. “He certainly hit a home run in his work with Johnnie Taylor, especially on this album.”

Taylored in Silk underwent “a lot of overdubbing,” Dahl notes, “but the end result was a splendidly conceived soul album boasting three major R&B hits within its eight selections…Blues wailer or soul philosopher, silky or gritty, Johnnie Taylor will always be revered as one of the greatest southern soul singers of ’em all.”

The six bonus tracks were previously released as singles in the early ’70s, “and they’re all outstanding performances,” says Phillips. “They certainly fit the vibe and the performance quality of the rest of the album.”

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Legendary Tunesmith Jimmy Webb is back on the Scene with a new CD

28 May

Legendary writer of “MacArthur Park,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” teams up with father and sons

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Jimmy Webb, his father Bob Webb, and his sons, The Webb Brothers — Christiaan, Justin, James and Cornelius — debut for the first time as a three-generation family band in Cottonwood Farm, which gets its long-awaited release in the U.S. on April 24, 2011 on Proper American. The album combines the rock sensibility and youthful production of the younger Webbs with the timeless Americana grandeur of their father’s symphonic songs.

I was sitting in my kitchen looking out into the backyard at the 100-year-old oaks that tower over our home, thinking back 50 years of the farm where the Cottonwoods grew and the tribe of young Webbs and Killingsworths who grew up like a tribe from Lord of the Flies, flinging flaming spears and digging caves in the banks of the creek. I thought about my own sons, and the fact that we are all rapidly growing older, including my father who is 86. As clear as day a voice spoke out of the heavens: “You need to make an album with your boys.” I picked up the phone without hesitation and made the call to my son Justin. It was — without question — the best decision I ever let happen,” says Jimmy Webb.

The pairing by Cottonwood Farm of the legendary American songwriter Jimmy Webb with indie-pop band the Webb Brothers — consisting of his sons Christiaan, Justin, James, and Cornelius — may have been inevitable, perhaps just a matter of time before it came to be. The Brothers first had to establish themselves in their own right, which they did over the course of three acclaimed albums and touring over the past decade. For his part, Jimmy had to square away some time after a busy stretch in which he recorded new material, oversaw a box-set retrospective of his early work, 2010’s Across the River, wrote a book about songwriting, and performed plenty of solo piano shows.

The moment for collaboration arrived in 2009, when interest in both a U.K. tour and album coincided with the availability of all family members to work together. The result, Cottonwood Farm, juxtaposes several new songs from the Brothers with a handful of treasures from Jimmy’s archives — two of them previously unreleased, including the epic, 12-minute title track. Jimmy wrote “Cottonwood Farm” in the early 1970s for his grandfather, and it proved an ideal focal point for the album, its various movements presenting character-roles for the family’s many singers (including Jimmy’s father Bob and his youngest daughter Camila). “Even though I didn’t know it at the time,” Jimmy says, “this album is the reason that I wrote this piece of music.”
 
Two other songs from Jimmy’s catalog proved to be similarly well suited for the family treatment. “Highwayman,” which gave a name and a No. 1 hit to the mid-’80s country supergroup featuring Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, neatly accommodated room for the family ensemble’s multiple lead vocalists. And “If These Walls Could Speak” (covered over the years by Amy Grant, Glen Campbell and Shawn Colvin) had a strongly personal pull because its story is set within a 200-year-old farmhouse where the Webbs once lived. The album’s other two Jimmy-penned tracks are “Snow Covered Christmas,” which he wrote in the ’80s but has never before released on an album; and “Where the Universes Are,” which appeared on 1977’s El Mirage but is sung this time around by Jimmy’s son James.


The Webb Brothers’ compositional contributions include “Hollow Victory,” an anti-war song that James and Christiaan wrote; “Bad Things Happen To Good People,” a bouncy pop number written and sung by Justin; the country-tinged “Old Tin Can,” written by the brothers and sung by Christiaan; and “Mercury’s in Retrograde,” written by Christiaan and Justin and sung by James. Cornelius, the youngest of the four (and the most recent addition to the lineup), plays bass throughout the record. On drums is Cornelius’ best friend Cal Campbell — son of Glen, whose late ’60s smash hits with “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” were integral in launching Jimmy’s songwriting career. Jimmy’s father, Bob Webb, not only sings on “Cottonwood Farm” but also takes lead vocals on the album-closing ’40s standard “Red Sails in the Sunset.”
 
The album was recorded primarily in Los Angeles, with Justin Webb serving as producer. Most of the tracks were cut on an old-school tape machine at Joey’s Place, the former site of Electro Vox, one of L.A.’s longest-running studios. Tim Walker joins the band on pedal steel and Cal Campbell on drums, continuing the longstanding Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb family tradition of collaboration.
 
Jimmy Webb’s songwriting oeuvre includes some of the most oft-played and universally recognized songs of the past century. In addition to penning several of Glen Campbell’s signature hits, Jimmy wrote such classics as the Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up And Away” and Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” (later taken to No 1 by Donna Summer). Over the decades, literally hundreds of his songs have been recorded by a seemingly endless range of artists, from Ray Charles and Isaac Hayes to Linda Ronstadt and Art Garfunkel to R.E.M. and Urge Overkill. His first five solo albums recently were reissued (along with rarities and a live recording) via the box set The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress: Jimmy Webb in the Seventies. As a performer, he blends his swift, biting sense of humor with elegant renditions of his timeless songs.


 
Christiaan and Justin began performing together as the Webb Brothers in the late ’90s, and released their first album, Beyond the Biosphere, on Warner U.K. in 1999. By the time their second album, Maroon, was released, they had brought their younger brother James aboard. All three brothers recorded the self-titled third Webb Brothers disc, which came out in 2003. Their albums received widespread critical acclaim (Magnet magazine recently cited Maroon as one of the “lost classics” of the decade). In addition, their songs were covered by the Magic Numbers and the Earlies, and remixed by Manitoba. They toured extensively throughout the world, sharing bills with bands such as Doves, Franz Ferdinand, the Eels, Guided By Voices and The Darkness.

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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

Regina’s Kitchen Adds Some Class to Mobile’s Government Street

4 May

It was a dark and stormy Tuesday in Mobile, but things were bright and cheery inside Regina’s Kitchen. I had entered the eatery once before. That was a few weeks back. I had been there to meet the owner in hopes of discussing an advertising opportunity I was pitching. She seemed like a lot of fun and the place looked great. The building had previously housed the French Market Cafe. That restaurant offered authentic New Orleans soups and sandwiches, but ultimately succumbed to financial difficulties and the owner’s health challenges. I was sad to see them go. They made a fine Roast Beef Po-Boy.

The interior at Regina’s is not altogether different than the French Market Cafe. It’s a very comfortable, welcoming space. Plenty of dining room inside and it appears they need it all. The crowds over the restaurant’s first year in operation have been strong and consistent. The lunch rush is a equal mix of attorneys, housewives, accountants, and little old ladies dolled up for a day out. I even spotted a couple “men of the cloth” dining in black & white at a nearby table.  Regina’s actually does a steady drive-thru business too.

Regina’s Kitchen features red & white checkered table cloths and a healthy menu of soups, signature salads, and sandwiches. Finding something appealing on the oversized, double-sided cardboard menu was easily done. Final decisions were tougher. I eventually opted for the day’s lunch special: Sliced Turkey on Croissant with Brie Cheese, Granny Smith Apples and Chutney Mayo. The tipping point for my decision was the wedge of iceberg lettuce doused with a housemade blue cheese dressing. The salad came along with the sandwich at no additional charge. $7.95 for the entire package — what a deal!   

My sandwich was quite satisfying. My lettuce was really good too, although I wish I had asked for a little more blue cheese dressing. The dressing was excellent — not too goopy with large chunks of pungent cheese. Guess they were watching my waistline … Lord knows I don’t often do the same. Iceberg is often thought of as a “poor man’s lettuce,” yet it’s a nice treat once in a while. Especially if the wedge is big, cool and crunchy. A nice milky dressing is always an ideal foil.    

Not sure who John (above) is — but I gotta try his special sandwich. A “BPT” ??? A “PBT” ??? Not sure which name (if either) fits. I just love pimento cheese (I prefer homemade, not the mass produced stuff) and adding bacon to the party seems like a stroke of Dixie genius. ***Note: The only store bought pimento I can heartily recommend is Palmetto Pimento Cheese out of Pawleys Island, SC. It is nothing short of phenomenal (www.palmettocheese.com).  

My dessert (I don’t often treat myself at lunch) was Regina’s Mississippi Mud Cake. I saw it lurking in a metal serving pan behind the front register and I just could not resist it’s many delights. Glad I didn’t. It was a heavenly marriage of a dense chocolate brownie/cake topped with melted marshmallows and a rich fudge icing. It left me with a broad smile and a massive sugar buzz that lasted well into the afternoon.

Regina’s Kitchen is now on my regular weekday lunch rotation. That honor is not easily accomplished. But you just can’t beat a place that offers a clean and cheerful dining environment, a variety of fresh and healthy menu options, fair pricing, and “treat you like family” service. Well done, Regina. You are carrying on your family’s restaurant traditions with true grace and style!

Regina’s Kitchen – 2056 Government St., Mobile – (251) 476-2777

www.facebook.com/pages/ReginasKitchen/130215213681624

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