Archive | December, 2011

Mr. Gyros Greek & Mediterranean Grill in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

31 Dec

Mr. Gyros was recommended to us by some online food critics. The reports were overwhelmingly positive. That was enough for us to seek them out. I have long been a fan of Greek & Mediterranean food — especially the fast, comfort food variety. Gyros, Souvlaki, Fried Zucchini, Spanakopita, Falafel, Moussaka, Calamari, Baklava, etc. This love affair can be traced back to my youth. And no, I do not have any Greek ancestry. Far from it. I’m just about as Anglo as you can get. But I do know good ethnic cuisine when I taste it.

As a teenager, I dined frequently at Knossos in Vienna, VA. Great place, but sadly not around any longer. Mr. Khan treated us like family … always obliging when we pestered him for the largest portions possible or for extra Tzatziki dipping sauce (made with Greek yogurt, cucumbers and other seasonings). Former Knossos owner George Bilidas (the longtime Greek God of Northern Virginia’s culinary scene) still operates The Amphora, a killer 24-hour diner in Vienna.  

Mr. Gyros is housed in a strip center in Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Greek sweets (like Kadaifi seen above) are a must @ Mr. Gyros

The Gyro Platter at Mr. Gyros is very nicely done. Tons of freshly sliced meat (the usual beef & lamb combo), a cup of thick white tzatziki sauce, really good pita bread, lots of fresh sliced onion, lettuce, and tomatoes. It comes with a Greek salad, rice pilaf, or fries. We strongly recommend the Greek salad. It is excellent and fortified with crumbled feta cheese, kalamata olives, and the ubiquitous green pepperoncini.

Just look at the spicy sliced meat, folks. And those super fresh veggies. This is really fine stuff. In fact, Mr. Gyros was recently voted a “Best Casual Dining” winner by the Palm Beach Post. Beer and wine are also offered if you choose to turn your meal into a regular celebration. We are just plain happy to have found this gem of an eatery. Owners John and Yianna are doing it right at Mr. Gyros. We don’t live in the PBG area, but my parents spends about 6 months each year on nearby Singer Island. That means we shall return … and you can bet that Mr. Gyros will be on our dining agenda.

MR. GYROS – 10901 N. MILITARY TRAIL, PALM BEACH GARDENS

(561) 627-3979; www.mrgyrosflorida.com

Lunch and Dinner 7 days a week; major credit cards accepted

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“Bay Appetit” Cookbook – The Best of 40 Years of Lower Alabama Dishes

18 Dec

Mobile Bay Monthly is a great local magazine we enjoy here on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The publication has been around 40 years now. Each month, they include a handful of recipes — many of them cherished kitchen secrets from the pantries of some of the area’s  most prominent families. As you might guess, local seafood and produce get more than their fair share of attention.

Just look at the names of some of the recipes: Beth Majure’s Spectacular Shrimp Dip, Tillye Semple’s South Alabama Caviar, Miss Marietta’s Cheese Wafers, Miss Ippy’s Divine Crab Salad, Maw Maw’s Honey Nut Zucchini Bread, Mama Nolen’s Cornbread Dressing. Southern? You better believe it, y’all!

This sturdy, spiral bound volume also includes lots of appetizing, full-color photography. It is priced at $24.95 and is available while supplies last via PMT Publishing out of Mobile. The cookbook is a tasteful last minute Christmas gift idea, but we suggest you move quickly. Culinary treasures like this deserve a place on the bookshelf of any serious Southern home cook.

From front porch rockers, we look out onto the water. From back porch swings, we see lush woodlands and farmland. So it’s really no secret where the fresh bounty of food on our plates comes from. Combine that local cuisine and picturesque scenery with people who love good food and good times, and welcome to life on Mobile Bay. 

When you have fresh seafood and wild game from your sportsman and Mama’s silver and Grandmama’s china at your fingertips, why wouldn’t you become a down-right fabulous cook and entertainer? You’ve probably even come from a long line of great cooks, so maybe it’s in your genes. We may be blessed with the finest ingredients and rich culinary heritage, but credit still goes to the one who sweats over the stove.

And now, in these pages, you have the legendary local recipes to even impress kitchen queen Aunt CeCe.

If you are already an established cooking guru, then you’ll find this book to be longtime favorites in an organized fashion. If you’re still working your way there, then this book might be your new culinary bible. For the latter, let’s be honest, cooking for a Lower Alabama crowd might seem intimidating. After all, either we have set high standards ourselves, or they’ve been set for us. So while living up to them may seem daunting, take heart, you now have the ultimate local reference book.

With it, you’ll always be equipped for the unexpected: drop-in guests, the death of friends or family and the supper club sign-up sheet. All require you to show up with a dish in hand. (Note: The Divine Casserole has been on the supper club circuit since the 1960s, so it’s a sure bet.) Between Miss Marietta’s Cheese Wafers and Martelle Scott’s Famous Cheese Straws, you’re bound to get off on the right foot. And although there have been many variations, the one and only Tillie Delchamps’ Pickled Shrimp is fabled.

Favorite Mobile restaurants, like The Pillars, Weichman’s All Seasons and Gus’ may have closed their doors, but their recipes and locals’ memories of them live on. The chefs and restaurateurs shared some of their most popular dishes during their hey-days, and we love to reminisce – even if it’s through our taste buds.

While we consider all of these recipes winners, some have actually taken home ribbons. Chili cook-offs, grilling championships and shrimp cook-offs have long brought out competitive sides — and delicious food.

Speaking of competition, we Southerners love a good football game, and the tailgate grub almost as much. Fall football leads right into hunting season, and you’ll know just what to do with that bird thanks to our wild game recipes. People around here love to bring sophistication to “hunting camps” and “farms.”

Regardless of where you’re dining or what season it is, seafood is on the menu, even more so as the warm breezes of spring and summer start to blow in. And, our meals always have a sweet finish. We never skip dessert. Have you seen this section? Why would you want to miss out on all of those sugary cakes and
decadent confections?

These tried-and-true hand-me-downs are sure to please! But if, for some unforeseen reason, something goes wrong, don’t fret. The worst they will say is, “Well, bless her heart.” Besides, there’s always more eatin’ and entertainin’ to be done tomorrow. Above all, have a good time, even if that requires referring to the beverage section to get started.    

Order Yours Today – https://www.mobilebaymag.com/Mobile-Bay/Books

Two New Southern Books Worthy of Your Attention This Holiday Season

18 Dec

THE STORY OF THE NU WAY

by Ed Grisamore (Mercer University Press)

We dined at the Nu-Way a few years back. This is truly one of the South’s most iconic eateries. I have always loved the look of their historic neon sign, yet I knew very little about this hot dog stand’s history. Pick up a copy of this new book and expand your knowledge — we think you’ll dig their dog. They may have spelling issues, but they have the whole hot dog thing down to a science.

For almost seventy-five years, one of Macon’s most famous eating establishments, Nu-Way, has intentionally misspelled the word W-E-I-N-E-R on its marquee. Thanks to a sign-maker misplacing those vowels in 1937, the restaurant has had a conversation piece on the plate along with its legendary hot dogs. James Mallis immigrated to Macon from Greece and opened the city’s first fast-food restaurant on historic Cotton Avenue in 1916. Nu-Way is now the second-oldest hot dog stand in America, just a month shy of Nathan’s on Coney Island in New York.

In his eighth book, There Is More than One Way to Spell Wiener, Macon newspaper columnist Ed Grisamore tells the amazing story of how Nu-Way has become a cultural and culinary icon. Nu-Way is part of the fabric of Macon, Georgia. Nearly everyone in town has a Nu-Way story. When people move away, Nu-Way is one of the first places they visit when they come back home. One woman drove almost 500 miles and ordered 150 to go. But it’s not just about the food. It’s nostalgic. It’s a melting pot of Macon. To go downtown for a hot dog at noon is to see the common denominator of businessmen in three-piece suits sharing the same lunch counter with blue-collar workers and street people.

The book covers the generations of Macon families that have worked at Nu-Way, captures the passion of its loyal customers and tells the story of how the Norman Rockwell-like logo was painted by a former Macon fire chief. Even Oprah Winfrey dropped by for a chili dog and a Diet Coke on a visit to Macon in 2007 . Grisamore has been known to satisfy his cravings for slaw dogs (voted No. 1 in the nation by The New York Times) several times each week.

www.mupress.org

THE GORILLA MAN & THE EMPRESS OF STEAK

by Randy Fertel (University Press of Mississippi) 

The name Ruth’s Chris Steak House was always something of an oddity to me. Who was this Ruth? Who was Chris? Exactly how did this unusual name come about? Sure, their steaks were really good. And yes, the brand is well known throughout the world. But who knew there was such an interesting and colorful back story? Their saga is fascinating and provides a rare glimpse into the culture and restaurant industry of old New Orleans. You’re familiar with their steaks, so now take some time and learn more about the characters who created the sizzle.  

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is the story of two larger-than-life characters and the son whom their lives helped to shape. Ruth Fertel was a petite, smart, tough-as-nails blonde with a weakness for rogues, who founded the Ruth’s Chris Steak House empire almost by accident. Rodney Fertel was a gold-plated, one-of-a-kind personality, a railbird-heir to wealth from a pawnshop of dubious repute just around the corner from where the teenage Louis Armstrong and his trumpet were discovered. When Fertel ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single campaign promise–buying a pair of gorillas for the zoo– he garnered a paltry 308 votes. Then he purchased the gorillas anyway!

These colorful figures yoked together two worlds not often connected–lazy rice farms in the bayous and swinging urban streets where ethnicities jazzily collided. A trip downriver to the hamlet of Happy Jack focuses on its French-Alsatian roots, bountiful tables, and self-reliant lifestyle that inspired a restaurant legend. The story also offers a close-up of life in the Old Jewish Quarter on Rampart Street–and how it intersected with the denizens of “Back a’ Town,” just a few blocks away, who brought jazz from New Orleans to the world.

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is a New Orleans story, featuring the distinctive characters, color, food, and history of that city–before Hurricane Katrina and after. But it also is the universal story of family and the full magnitude of outsize follies leavened with equal measures of humor, rage, and rue.

Randy Fertel, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, is a writer and president of both the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. He has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College, the University of New Orleans, and the New School for Social Research.

www.upress.state.ms.us 

Chef John Besh Visits Fairhope, Alabama to Promote New Cookbook, “My Family Table”

10 Dec

Chef John Besh has made quite a name for himself here along the Gulf Coast. His culinary empire is based out of New Orleans, yet he is truly all over the globe these days. One day you see him as a judge on Top Chef, the next you might spot him on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, then you see him whipping up something tasty on NBC’s Today Show. When not appearing on TV or running his nine (yes, NINE!) acclaimed restaurants, Besh somehow finds time to re-connect with his family and knock out a few cookbooks. They may have successfully cloned this guy — I can’t be sure.  

Besh’s latest cookbook project is a marriage of his love for food and family. It’s titled “My Family Table … A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.” We can totally relate to this sentiment around our household. Sure, we still love to dine out. But it is increasingly difficult to find a quality meal at a fair price. A meal out for a family of 4 can put a pretty sizeable dent in the old family grocery budget.

This “coffee table” book is well-over 250 pages and features some truly beautiful photography. The publisher (Andrews McMeel) should be quite pleased with the end result. It is a terrific collection of recipes and a fine Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy-for foodie on your shopping list. The book retails for $35.

We recently met Chef Besh and his wife at Page & Palette in our current hometown of Fairhope, AL. He was kind enough to sign our copy, which will surely become a staple in our already massive home collection of Southern-themed cookbooks. Besh, a former US Marine, reveals some of his favorite Louisiana products/ingredients. No secrets here, friends. He loves Steen’s 100% Cane Syrup, but who doesn’t? Some more surprising items found in his home pantry include Virgin Pecan Oil, Hoisin Sauce, Coconut Milk, and Sambal Paste. Yup, his kitchen mastery and tastes certainly extend beyond the bayous of his beloved home state of Louisiana.

The 140 recipes included here, much like Besh himself, bounce all over the map. Risotto, Fruit Crumble,  Couscous, Pork Shoulder, Ratatouille, Coq Au Vin, Corn Pudding, Chili, and Beef Noodle Bowls. Dishes sampled at the book signing were a Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Jambalaya, and a Seafood Dressing. The Bird’s Nest Potatoes look simple, but delicious. Let’s call the overall theme of this volume Cajun/Asian with the common denominators being big flavor with a little bit of heat. The Creamy Lentil Soup (laced with diced bacon) would surely hit the spot on a cold winter’s day.

There are desserts too. Don’t miss the Lemon-Blackberry Cheesecake. The full page, full color image of this creation will have you drooling, for sure. The Bananas Flambe, an obvious nod to his love of New Orleans, is fueled with dark rum and accented with orange zest, cinnamon, and a sprinkle of fresh ground nutmeg. The execution of this dish is not for amateurs, but it will surely draw oooo’s and ahhhh’s at your next dinner party.

John Besh and his wife Jenifer love Fairhope. They made that clear during our brief but enjoyable chat. We, in turn, appreciate them making time to slow down and enjoy our little piece of heaven. Talk radio host Glenn Beck recently said visiting Fairhope was a little like being on the set of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is indeed a life full of wonder. And John Besh wants you to make it even more wonderful by focusing on family and hearty home cooked meals. And, as Paul McCartney once sang, “What’s wrong with that?”

www.chefjohnbesh.com

www.andrewsmcmeel.com

“Give a Hoot” — Eat at West Mobile’s The Hungry Owl

10 Dec

The Hungry Owl is a relatively new addition to the West Mobile dining scene. Although I work in the immediate vicinity, it actually took a somewhat recent episode of TV’s Man vs Food to alert me to the Owl’s delicious culinary offerings. The object of host Adam Richman’s carniverous desire was Chef Tony Nicholas’ Ultimate Tony Burger.  

The chow at the Hungry Owl is Nappie Award Winning (as the above banner obviously implies). And the Ultimate Tony rules the roost. This bulging burger is absolutely massive with toppings like a fried egg, two kinds of cheese, crispy bacon, and jalapenos.

This retro van sits outside the Hungry Owl — too cool!

There’s even a Doggie Park outside – how’s that for added value?

The Owl accents are evident at every turn — inside and out.

The Owl wing door handles are a very creative designer touch.

This (above) is the Original Tony Burger. Big? You’re dern tootin! This baby was priced at $11.99 (c0mes with one side). My side this day was the mashed sweet potatoes — pretty tasty. The taters were served in a tin cup, which briefly reminded me of an old Warner Brothers prison flick. Ha! I must try the smoked gouda grits next time. Now that sounds just dandy. The burger may look well done in the picture, but it was actually cooked just right. Nice and charred on the outside, a little pink on the inside. It’s blending of quality ground beef and Alabama-made Conecuh sausage is pure genius. Mad scientist genius, even — and I mean that in a good way, Tony.   

 So, you may inquire, just what makes the Ultimate Tony so, well, ultimate? They basically take the the Original Tony and further accessorize it with a slippery fried egg, a big ole slab smoked gouda cheese, and a mess of chopped jalapeno peppers. The Ultimate Tony will set you back about $14 buckeroos and also comes equipped with one side item.

Now don’t get me wrong. I may have led you to believe that this is nothing more than a glorified burger palace. If I have, then I should apologize. It’s quite a bit more than that, folks. The menu, which I’m quite anxious to further explore, is surprisingly adventurous. Some of the Cajun and Creole dishes look especially interesting. You might say the non-burger portion of the menu is Southern with a gourmet flair.

So here’s wishing Chef Tony continued success.

We give a hoot about The Hungry Owl — you should too! 

I hope to catch you nesting here soon.

The Hungry Owl – 7899 Cottage Hill Road, Mobile, AL 36695

(251) 633-4479; www.thehungryowl.com

Open for Lunch and Dinner; closed Sunday and Monday

Our Dixie Dining Book Close to Being a Reality — You Can Help Here!

6 Dec

Our book is just about ready for publishing, but we need your assistance to complete the project.

Please click on this link and learn more … and THANKS A MILLION!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/401662102/dixie-dining-touring-the-souths-best-homestyle-res

Why We Like Satsumas

4 Dec

Satsuma Oranges are a holiday tradition here along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Frankly, I was not that familiar with them prior to moving to Fairhope almost 3 years ago. During our first holiday season here, we started seeing Satsumas popping up everywhere. In recipes, in cocktails, in stores and farmer’s markets, in local advertising and newspaper features. “What’s so darn special about Satsumas?”, we asked ourselves.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them:

Its fruit is sweet and usually seedless, about the size of other mandarin oranges (Citrus reticulata), smaller than an orange. One of the distinguishing features of the satsuma is the distinctive thin, leathery skin dotted with large and prominent oil glands, which is lightly attached around the fruit, enabling it to be peeled very easily in comparison to other citrus fruits. The satsuma also has particularly delicate flesh, which cannot withstand the effects of careless handling. The uniquely loose skin of the satsuma, however, means that any such bruising and damage to the fruit may not be immediately apparent upon the typical cursory visual inspection associated with assessing the quality of other fruits. In this regard, the satsuma is often categorised by citrus growers as a hit-and-miss citrus fruit, the loose skin particular to the fruit precluding the definitive measurement of its quality by sight and feel alone.

The Chinese and Japanese names reference Wenzhou, a city in the Zhejiang Province of China known for its citrus production. However, it has also been grown in Japan since ancient times, and the majority of cultivars grown in China today were cultivated in Japan and reverse-introduced into China in modern times.

Now, three years later, we are fully aware of the Satsuma & its special qualities:

1) They are seedless

2) They are very easy to peel

3) They are really sweet

4) They are a locally grown product and priced quite reasonably

5) They bring a much needed taste of summer during the chilly winter months

Better yet, you might just get lucky and find someone who has Satsuma trees (they look more like bushes) on their property. A family friend has such a tree and practically begged us to stop by and pick whatever we wanted. They had far more than they could eat and were worried about the fruit going bad. Happy to oblige, we soon returned home with a bulging white plastic shopping bag jammed full with bright orange Satsumas. I tried one — and it was great. I had another, then another … and another.

Go ahead, eat all you want.

Unlike most holiday treats, Satsumas are good for you!

“Guilt free and packed with Vitamin C.”

Now there’s a slogan for you.