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A Visit to Berkeley and San Francisco (December 2012)

27 Dec

claremont1

My home base for this brief 3-day visit was the historic Claremont Hotel in the hills of Berkeley. What a beautiful property. The views off the back of the property were simply amazing. You could watch the sunset over the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF city skyline in the background. Stunning.

gilroy

I arrived late and quite tired on the first night. I decided to stay close and dine at the hotel restaurant. The food turned out to be pretty good. I especially enjoyed the Gilroy Garlic Fries, but boy did my breath stink afterwards. Had to brush and rinse several times that evening. It was all well worth it.

napa smith

Napa Smith Lost Dog Ale was my beverage of choice that first night in town. It was mighty fine — and mighty powerful. The brew’s 7.2% alcohol content (I had 2) knocked me for a loop, especially after traveling all day. I decided to call it a day and head for the rack.

grocery

I was in Northern California for a conference, but was able to bust loose during a long lunch break one day for some exploring beyond the walls of the Claremont. I walked about a mile (pretty much all downhill) to the first signs of commercial and culinary civilization. The first spot of interest I encountered was the Star Grocery. A classic corner grocery updated for the modern age. It had something of a hippie, granola vibe to the place — totally what you would expect for Berkeley.

star bakery

Star’s bakery goods looked impressive. So much bread, so little time!

sandwich

I ended up grabbing lunch at a place called Southie — a very hip little California bistro. The atmosphere was contemporary with a menu full of fresh and healthy local fare. My Roast Turkey with Applewood Bacon sandwich really hit the spot. The focaccia bread was obviously fresh and the sandwich was completed with locally grown romaine, sliced avocado, and a totally on-point rosemary aioli. It all was quickly polished off. It came with a bag of chips, but I chose not to consume them. I was saving room for the far more interesting treats that lay ahead.

nom nom

The next day was even better. The conference concluded before noon, so I bounded down the hill once again and grabbed the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) for San Francisco’s Financial District. Shortly after I got off the subway, I spotted the famous Nom Nom truck (best known from its time on Food Network’s THE GREAT FOOD TRUCK RACE). The line was rather lengthy, but I took a deep breath and plunged into the cue.

viet sand

Service was actually pretty swift and my Vietnamese sandwich (aka “Banh Mi”) was a tart, tangy joy. The price wasn’t bad either.  The pickled vegetables and green leaves of cilantro were a perfect match for the chunks of grilled chicken and the crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside bread loaf. I added a little bit of Sriracha for some added zip. It was a chilly day in the City By The Bay and the bright red condiment warmed me to the bone.

tadich ext

Determined to eat my way across town, my next stop was the Tadich Grill. It is also known as “The Original Cold Day Restaurant.” And now I know why. It is a warm, welcoming spot — a favorite in this town since 1849. All the restaurant seating was occupied, so I bellied up to the bar.

tadich nap

I ordered a bowl of chowder, a pint of Sierra Nevada, and took time to check the old place out. The servers look they they have all worked here for quite a while. Most were well north of 5o years old and all were decked out in classic white smocks. My bespeckled bar attendant was super friendly and very attentive. He even gave me some strong touring tips — the best one being to avoid walking the city’s steep hills and to purchase a day pass for the cable car system.  Thank you, sir!

chowder

My Clam Chowder (New England style) was rich and creamy, the brew just the right flavor note and temperature. Yet it was the bread served alongside my soup bowl that was the real revelation at this stop. My server told me the rustic looking loaf was baked daily by the legendary Boudin Bakery of San Francisco. He added that it was a proprietary recipe only sold to area restaurants and not the same as the Boudin Sourdough bread found all over town and in the local airport gift shops. My day was humming along nicely.

china ext

My next stop on the trolley line was Chinatown.

china

Chinatown is nice for sightseeing. I was tempted, but not ready to eat again.

trolley

After wandering about Chinatown for a half hour or so, I jumped on board a cable car headed for the intersection of California & Polk. The trolleys are a great way to get around town — even on a brisk day. I chose to sit in the car’s open air seating to get the full ambiance of city sights, sounds, and smells. A bum approached me for some money and I was in such a good mood that I flipped him a couple bucks and wished him a Merry Christmas.

depot

The Swan Oyster Depot was featured in Tony Bourdain’s The Layover TV series.

swan2

Their display of fresh local seafood lured me inside.

swan cala

The marinated squid salad looked like something out of a Japanese horror flick. But it tasted like the gastronomical equivalent of a Shiatsu massage. That alone should have been enough. The accompanying Anchor Steam beer and more fresh-baked Boudin bread had my taste buds singing like another famous Tony — Tony Bennett.

colin

Later that same evening, I met up with my childhood friend, Colin Jewell (pictured above). Colin and I had not seen one another in over 40 years (yes, we’re old). I believe I was about 10 years old or so the last time we crossed paths. We grabbed a beer or two and started catching up at the Tadich Grill. The reunion continued over a great Greek meal at Kokkari, an Italian biscotti in the North Shore neighborhood, and a nightcap (“Surfer’s Punch”) at the world famous Tiki bar known as the Tonga Room.

atonga2

The “room” (shown in picture above) is actually cavernous and includes a full-size swimming pool as a focal point. Precisely timed thunder and lightning cracks are occasionally heard over the Tonga Room’s sound system. That is immediately followed by a faux tropical rainfall that is thankfully confined to just the pool and not the bar tables and hightops along the periphery. Pretty cool, huh?  

boudin

And yes, I did end up buying some Boudin sourdough bread to take back to Alabama. Sure, it’s a very touristy thing to do. It is also a very wise thing to do. The bread in the SF Bay Area  is truly amazing. Foodies who live around here are extremely fortunate. As for me, I’ll soon be inquiring about any Bread of the Month Clubs that might exist for poor suckers like me who can only visit once in a blue moon. What a wonderful town San Francisco is. I may not have left my heart there, but I surely left my bread  there.

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My Top 10 Bites & Top 5 Sips from our 2012 Trip to the Island of Oahu, Hawaii

27 Dec

TOP TEN MEMORABLE BITES

Please keep in mind that this is in no way a complete list. Many delectable treats were devoured. And many refreshing beverages were consumed. Narrowing down the list to 10 food items and 5 drinks was decidedly difficult. Enjoying Hawaii’s delicious bounty was not. Special mention should go out to the Diamond Head Deli and Bakery.

bbscone

Everything we ate there was top shelf. That included their memorable ginger spiked grilled tuna steaks and the gargantuan (almost as big as Diamond Head) blueberry scones (seen above) they serve up each morning for breakfast. If I could move any restaurant we visited on Oahu back to the mainland with me, the Diamond Head would probably be the one.

1) FRIED BANANAS @ KAHUKU LAND FARMS, KAHUKU (NORTH SHORE)
fried banana
2) SPAM MUSUBI (“SPAM SUSHI”) @ CHING’S GROCERY, KULA
spamwich
3) GARLIC SHRIMP @ BIG WAVE SHRIMP, HALEIWA
garlic shrimp
4) MALASADAS @ LEONARD’S BAKERY (NEAR DIAMOND HEAD)
malasada
5) MACADAMIA PINK SNAPPER @ BLUE WATER SHRIMP
bluewater
6) PORK DUMPLINGS @ LEGEND SEAFOOD, HONOLULU
dumplings
7) SWEET PINEAPPLE BREAD, YUMMY LAND BAKERY, KALIHI
sweet roll
8) BOWL AT CRISPY GRINDZ FOOD TRUCK (NORTH SHORE)
acai bowl
9) HAUPIA (COCONUT PUDDING) ICE CREAM @ HU LA LA’S
hu la
10) HAWAIIAN PIZZA (KALUA PORK & PINEAPPLE) @ DUKE’S WAIKIKI
hawaii pizza

TOP FIVE SIPS

1) MAI TAI @ ROYAL HAWAIIAN RESORT
mai
2) KONA COFFEE @ HONOLULU COFFEE COMPANY
newlogo
3) BIG WAVE GOLDEN ALE FROM KONA BREWERY
big wave close
4) PASSION FRUIT LILIKOI PUNCH @ LA MARIANA TIKI BAR
fruit
5) HAWAIIAN SUN PASS-O-GUAVA NECTAR DRINK
pass o

The Bluegill’s “Flaming Oysters” – Easily One of Mobile’s Best Bites

10 Nov

The causeway over the Mobile Bay has many dining options. All of them focusing on seafood. One of our favorites is the Bluegill Restaurant. They have been around since 1958, although they have had a few different owners over that long period of time. The Bluegill is now operated by the Cooper Restaurant Group … the same folks who run the wildly successful Felix’s Fish Camp (also on the causeway) and Mobile’s own version of Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

The Coopers have done a fine job in retaining much of the Bluegill’s original rustic charm. The whimsical exterior is adorned with antique advertising and humorous declarations such as “No Curb Service Since 1958!” Yes, they have long been known for their fried, locally sourced oysters, but there is a relatively new menu item that has totally captured our fancy.

The Fish Tacos are good, but our mind was on something else

You can dine inside or out at the Bluegill. I would encourage you to sit outside whenever the weather allows. Such a relaxing atmosphere overlooking the bay and watching the occasional boat (or gator) chug by. The open air deck is pretty much fully covered and clear plastic flaps can be lowered if rains or windy conditions should arise. They frequently feature live local entertainment on the deck here. That only adds to the whole “Margaritaville” vibe. A Kenny Chesney tune played over the sound system as I was being seated this late Friday morning. My server (a young man named Buck) did a great job of taking care of me. Fast, friendly service has long been a trademark of all the Cooper-owned restaurants here in the Mobile Bay area.

Please DO NOT make the mistake of not ordering the Flaming Oysters at the Bluegill. They have only been offered for a short time, but they have quickly earned (and rightfully so) a large and loyal following. I crave them — and apparenty I’m not the only one. I’ve heard that someone on the inside at Cooper Restaurants was a longtime fan of Drago’s in New Orleans. That famed eatery has long been known as THE place to get your flame grilled oyster fix in NOLA. I have dined there and can attest to its glory. Magnificent. The Cooper’s recipe is equally sublime — matching Drago’s slurp for slurp.

An order of a full dozen is just about right for me. Each half shell comes complete with fresh local oyster, butter, garlic, and lots of Parmesan cheese. They are placed over an open flame, which can viewed from the inside dining room. A bit of show biz never hurts and the Bluegill gets that. And just when you think this recipe can’t be topped, they go and throw in a couple of large pieces of flame kissed, authentic New Orleans-style Po-Boy bread. It’s legit bread, for sure — straight from some Big Easy bakery. You’ll need it to sop up all the remaining butter and garlic mixture once your oysters are history. Trust me, leftovers don’t happen here.

This makes sense, because the Flaming Oysters are truly UNREAL!

Bluegill Restaurant – 3775 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort, AL 36527

(251) 625-1998; www.bluegillrestaurant.com

“Having Fun At The Bluegill!”

Momma’s Mojo Brings Miami Spice to West Mobile, Alabama

25 Oct

West Mobile (and I do mean WEST) is not the place you’d expect to find a Cuban cafe. Especially one offering a great Pressed Cuban Sandwich or a shot of authentic Cubano coffee. Yet that is exactly what you will find when you make the drive out Cottage Hill Road to Momma’s Mojo Cafe & Deli.

As you can see by the above banner, Momma’s Mojo is not exactly a secret any more. It is slowly gaining a reputation for its Cuban-style Roast Pork, Mojo Grilled Chicken, Sweet Plantains, Flan, Tres Leches cake, and more. But there are many Mobile area foodies who have yet to sample the fine exotic foods offered here. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of interest. The location is not exactly on the beaten path. Heck, for folks like me who reside on the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay, it’s almost in Mississippi, for crying out loud. But the positive buzz kept on coming my way, so I felt compelled to checking it out.

It’s a small, cozy joint — and very clean. That is alway’s a plus. I was greeted with a smile and a complimentary shot of strong, sweet Cubano java. Nice! Imagine a slug of dark coffee liqueur (without the alcohol, of course) and that will give you the general idea. The interior decor here is bright and cheery. That’s pretty much what you expect, right? There is even a domino table out front, so the Little Havana vibe can’t help but grab hold of you.

Cuban Coffee is strong and sweet — it’ll give you a serious JOLT!

I was told that the traditional Cuban Sandwich was the house specialty, so that’s where I started. The lunch platter comes with sweet fried plantains, a unique dipping sauce, a dill pickle, and a handful of pork rinds. The sandwich, which just so happened to be amazing, was made with good bread, Boar’s Head brand ham, Swiss cheese, smokey house roasted pork, and a tangy mustard. The combination of flavors and textures immediately delivered me back to South Florida. Momma’s Mojo owner (America “Maggie” Lamorell) moved here from Miami and was determined to bring along the flavors of the city. She learned to cook with her Mom, hence the eatery’s name.

I love sweet plantains — and these babies were cooked just right

Fried pork rinds (or chicharrons) are a staple in South Florida and Cuba. Their addition here was a nice little touch. And little touches really do make a big difference. The folks at Momma’s Mojo are proud of their food and their native traditions. That comes shining thru like the bright Caribbean sun.

There’s really nothing else quite like this place in the Greater Mobile area. Business is chugging along OK, but Maggie tells me it could always be better. They are trying really hard and deserve our loyal patronage. There is even a Momma’s Mojo food truck making the rounds now. You can follow them on Facebook. Maybe this is a more convenient alternative for some people.

We love Cubano food and culture. And we really dig Momma’s Mojo. It’s the next best thing to a trip to Miami’s Little Havana.

Momma’s Mojo – 9211 Cottage Hill Road, Mobile, AL 36695

(251) 607-0442; www.mommasmojoal.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mommas-Mojo/235515533126713 

The Compleat Angler in Daphne, Alabama Has Snagged Us – Hook, Line and Sinker!

25 Oct

This relatively new restaurant has been a hit. And owner Bob Baumhower knows a few things about hits. As a former college and pro football player, Bob starred at the University of Alabama and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. His coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Don Shula were both legendary characters. They taught Bob a lot about the game — and the game of life. Baumhower has taken that wisdom and work ethic and parlayed it into something of a restaurant empire here along the Central Gulf Coast.

Bob’s latest brand is called the Compleat Angler and it takes on something of an Ernest Hemingway vibe. Travelers motoring along Interstate 10 between Pensacola and New Orleans will want to make a pit stop here. Consider it a mini vacation. That’s how I feel each time I have dined here. The food is good — as is the service. The island atmosphere is relaxing and the views of the Mobile Bay are pretty hard to beat.  

Most of the seafood served here is fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. I ordered the Grilled Mahi Mahi with Black Beans, Coconut Rice and Stewed Okra & Tomatoes. The fish was doused with the “Stevie Nicks” sauce, which had a nice tangy, citrusy flavor.  The fish was expertly grilled and delivered a slightly smokey aftertaste. Really good — and yes, I would order it again without hesitation.  

Mahi Mahi, baby — so tasty they had to name it twice!

Black Beans topped with a generous dollop of Cilantro Lime cream

Okra is most often served fried. And I must admit I typically prefer it prepared in that fashion. But the Compleat Angler’s stewed okra and tomato combo was a welcome change of pace on this sunny Fall afternoon. The flavors do compliment each other quite nicely and the okra pods were not nearly as slimy as you might expect. Many people, especially Yankees, whine about okra’s slimyness factor. Not much we can do to change that. Coach Bryant would have likely told you to put your big boy britches on and give it a try. I did — and I really enjoyed it.

And don’t miss dessert at the Compleat Angler. The Key Lime Pie (shown above) is as good as any you’ll find in South Florida. The Ginger Snap crust makes it extra special. Can’t tell you how much I loved this pie. I don’t often eat dessert in the middle of the day, but I just couldn’t resist. And I’m pretty darn happy I didn’t.

If the pie doesn’t get your motor running, we suggest you order a big ole chunk of Rum Cay Cake. It won’t make you tipsy, but there is a good amount of rum in each portion served. It is a nutty treat that is further upgraded with the addition of a fruity (raspberry?) dipping sauce. It’s a thing of beauty to gaze at as well — just take a gander at the image above. Man, it was delicious — and a generous portion too. Ex-football stars tend to be big believers in generous portions. Makes sense, huh?

So if you’re traveling on vacation — or if you simply need a break from the every day routine — you’re invited to come aboard at the Compleat Angler.  We are hooked … and we think you will be too!

The Compleat Angler – 29249 US Highway 98, Daphne, AL 36526

(251) 621-1086; www.compleatanglergrille.com

Real Deal Mexican Tacos at Foley (AL) Indoor Flea Market

7 Apr

Real deal Mexican food is often hard to find in Alabama. And you certainly don’t expect to find it at a flea market. But that is exactly what happened during a recent visit to the Foley Indoor Flea Market in Foley, Alabama. Foley is a familiar stopping point for travelers en route to Gulf Coast tourist towns like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. It is also home to the Tanger Outlet Mall. Some folks get really excited about shopping. I get fired up about food. And I was especially pumped when I saw the skewer (pictured above) jam packed with pork, fresh pineapple and sliced onion.

The condiments at our table were another sign we were in for a treat. The lime, cilantro and onion were garden fresh. The salsas homemade and delicious. The tablecloth and the general surroundings of the place gave it a nice, homey feel. For a moment, I felt transported to some border town in Texas. The help speaks very little English and there was a Mexican soccer match playing out on TV.

Pork Tacos – Carnitas @ top & Pineapple & Onion version at bottom

Mandarin Orange Jarritos soda with chipotle salsa & pico de gallo.

This fiery salsa rojo made for a nice addition to the pork tacos.

The homemade pico de gallo was riddled with chopped jalapeno.

The sheep stew seen above was a special treat. It was not on the menu and we did not order it. The restaurant’s owner offered it up free of charge as an added bonus to our lunch. It was good — and hot — both in a temperature and spice way. The gent smiled broadly as he presented the stew in 2 large styrofoam cups. He at first seemed hesitant to reveal what kind of meat was used … and appeared relieved when we let him know that we liked it. Another couple of gringos converted. Mission accomplished.

The dark & dangerous roasted chipotle salsa was mui authentico.

The pork under the heat lamp (above) was chopped fresh to order. Both pork tacos I devoured were bueno. I especially loved the one sliced fresh off the metal skewer. It was lean and sweet — you could really taste the pineapple.

These colorful Mexican style pastries were fresh out of the oven.

These babies (above) were not nearly as colorful, but equally tasty I’m sure. We were just tickled pink that we had found this place. The owners were very nice, the joint was clean, and the food & atmosphere was authentic. We will return soon and trust you will give them a try sometime this summer. It’s worth the trip.  And who knows — maybe you’ll find a bargain at the flea market. I usually do — and it’s normally of the vinyl variety. Yes, that gets me fired up too!

Taqueria Las Camelinas – 14809 Highway 59, Foley, AL

251 970-1234 or 251 943-6068

Saw’s BBQ In Homewood, Alabama Makes The Cut

11 Mar

Saw’s BBQ is found in the Edgewood District of Homewood, AL

Saw’s BBQ is a cool looking joint — if a good bit smaller than expected. We were curious about the restaurant’s unusual name, so I did a quick Google search. It turns out Chef and Owner Mike Wilson, who opened Saw’s in 2009, is a native North Carolinian. And his eatery’s moniker is based on the Johnson & Wales trained chef’s high school nickname, “Sorry Ass” Wilson. S-A-W. Funny — and true!

BBQ and Pabst Blue Ribbon — a match made in heaven

Saw’s decor is about what you would expect from a BBQ joint

Antique signs are nice – even if they don’t have much local flavor

I opted for the Pulled Pork plate with two sides (beans & slaw)

They are obviously Crimson Tide fans at Saw’s – no big surprise!

The beverages of choice here are Coca Cola or ice cold Budweiser

The Pulled Pork was excellent — well above average. The meat was moist, lean and tender. The smoked BBQ ribs were mighty fine too. My son Austin did a good job of methodically gnawing his half slab down to the bone(s). I just happened to snag a single rib before he rolled up his sleeves and really went to town. Best of all was the sweet vinegar-based sauce that adorned my platter of piggy meat. You should buy your own bottle to carry home for $5. Let me point out at this juncture that you will regret it if you don’t obey my suggestion. The sauce at Saw’s is world class and not readily available outside the Birmingham area.  

Saw’s Sauce – you had better get you some!

The beans were OK — nothing truly unique about them. I wasn’t really crazy about the slaw, which is a mega-tangy, finely chopped, vinegar-based affair. We found the slaw overly tart & acidic … making it hard to stomach more than forkful or two. Some may love it, but it’s not exactly our cup of tea. Personally, I prefer a rough chopped, mayonnaise-based slaw with big crunch and a little sweetness. Temperature is important too. I like it chilled.

I want to conclude this review on a high note — as I should. Maybe the slaw and beans were nothing to write home about. But the slow smoked pork and Saw’s delicious NC-style BBQ sauce are some of the best you will find anywhere in the great state of Alabama. Alabama is indeed the “Heart of Dixie” and serious BBQ country to boot, so that kind of praise is not easily come by.

Service at Saw’s is prompt and the surroundings suitably homey. We really like this little joint a lot and plan on returning one day soon. One trip certainly doesn’t tell the entire story — that’s for sure. In particular, we want to sample Saw’s Smoked Chicken with White BBQ sauce. When that happens, I hope to see you there. I’m pretty sure you will find this smoke-filled neighborhood dive anything but “sorry ass.”    

The fluffy Banana Pudding looked good too – maybe next time!

Saw’s BBQ – 1008 Oxmoor Road, Birmingham, AL 35209

(205) 879-1937; www.sawsbbq.com

Finding BBQ’s Holy Grail At Austin’s Franklin Barbecue

10 Mar

I had heard the steady rumble about Franklin BBQ. But they were located a long way from my home base in coastal Alabama. Stories appeared with some frequency in regional and national food publications. Many with accompanying images that made my mouth water. Brisket, ribs, sausage, chopped beef … I just had to get there. And soon!

My opportunity finally presented itself when I was recently invited to attend a 3-day conference in Austin. I checked the city map and confirmed that Franklin BBQ would be within walking distance of the conference center. A rather long hike — but walkable none the less. I would not have a rental car on this trip, so my legs would have to get me there.

The conference wrapped just before noon on a Thursday and I made a bee line for Franklin BBQ. One of the hotel bellhops attempted to discourage me. He said the food was said to be great, but that they would likely be sold out of food by the time I hoofed it all the way over there. He even added that several of his friends had tried to eat there in the past and each of them had arrived too late. So, as I learned, this is not just a meal. It’s a meal and a race against the clock — all rolled into one. The sign out front (see above image) confirmed this. They were open from “11 a.m. til sold out.”

One of Franklin’s many awards hanging inside the dining room.

An employee met me as I joined the back of the line of folks waiting patiently to order. She asked how many were in my group and would I be placing any large orders today. I told her I was traveling and dining solo. She then inquired as to what I was planning to order. My heart was set on their famous sandwich known as the “Tipsy Texan.” Good, she said. Your wait is gonna be about 40 minutes. Forty minutes — plenty of time to take in all the smokey ambiance. I will say this … the place smelled AMAZING!

The interior at Franklin BBQ is funky and relaxed. No frills to speak of — unless you count the classic country tunes streaming out of their sound system. Loved that. I also dug the old advertising like the faded Coke sign you see above. Mike and Frankie from American Pickers would have been pumped. As the line continued to creep along, my stomach began to talk to me. Thankfully, the kind dude behind the counter appeared with a few samples to further whet our collective appetite. I wasn’t really thinking about ordering the smoked turkey. But the sample was sooo doggone moist and peppery that it almost had me wavering. Almost.

Pick up a souvenir t-shirt. Personalize it with sauce, grease, etc.

The furnishings are mix-match — do love the retro formica table.

The low overhead theme is also reflected in the menu boards.

Desserts sound great, but I had to wonder who ever gets that far.

It all started as a small food trailer. That only took them so far.

The main menu board. Yes, I was inching closer to my lunch.

SPEED SHOP doesn’t exactly apply to the service time at Franklin.

My wait was finally over — and this (above) was my reward. The soon to be legendary Tipsy Texan. Nope … the recipe does not involve any alcohol whatsoever. The “tipsy” part refers to the lofty sandwich’s architectural soundness. Or lack thereof. It does lean a good bit, but how could it not?  

Fresh baked Mrs. Baird’s bun (it’s a Texas thing), lean charred chopped beef, sliced locally made sausage topped with slaw and sauce. I was gonna wash it all down with a Topo Chico mineral water. There was no way I was going to get my mouth around the sandwich as is — not without somehow unhinging my jaw. Plan B was to give the leaning tower of deliciousness a good shove and then go at it with a fork and a smile.

It may look like a crime scene, but it would be a crime not to try it.

I have included this picture (above) for a reason. Sure, the image is not going to win any awards. But it does show you the little medallions of sausage used in the construction of the Tipsy Texan. The casing was smokey and posessed a nice snap. You can also see the pepper and other spices which gave the sausage a nice kick. The attention to detail and obvious passion that goes into all food preparation here is truly inspiring. To say that I was impressed would be doing a great disservice to the master craftsmen/craftswomen who toil here.

My meal at Franklin BBQ was nothing short of a transformative experience. I will never judge a BBQ joint the same way again. I was thrilled to have found the Holy Grail of BBQ, yet would it be all downhill from here? That sobering thought only lingered a moment. And ended with the thought of my next visit to this culinary mecca. In 2010, Bon Appetit hailed Franklin BBQ as the “Best in America.” And you know what? I can’t really argue with that.

Now THIS is a sobering thought. Don’t make me look! PLEASE!!!

Franklin Barbecue – 900 E. 11th Street, Austin, TX

(512) 653-1187; www.franklinbarbecue.com

Two Cookbook Discoveries for the Southern Chef or Home Cook

12 Feb

The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook

“A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious American Dishes”

“Cast iron cookery IS American cuisine, and Lodge IS cast iron. Therefore, Lodge IS American cuisine.”  These are the wise words indeed from Food Network’s culinary brainiac, Alton Brown. Esquire magazine listed Lodge Cast Iron Cookware in their 2009 list of “Things a Man Should Own.” And, honestly, who are we to argue with that kind of sage advice? I would like to add that if Lodge knows how to create world-class cookware, then surely they must know a great deal about cooking in the dark, heavy vessels they have created for many, many decades. Right??? Of course!

Some of the recipes unveiled here are contributed by the likes of Southern writer and humorist Julia Reed and noted Oxford, MS chef John Currence, but most come from home cooks and Lodge family members/employees. All in all, you will find over 200 recipes in this must-have volume. Joseph Lodge, who founded the company in South Pittsburg, TN way back in 1896, would truly be proud.

I especially appreciated the Cast Iron 101 chapter — this addresses the intimidation factor for newcomers to this style of rustic cooking. There’s also a chapter devoted just to cornbread (South Pittsburg hosts a Cornbread Fest each year) and another focusing entirely on outdoor cooking. Notable recipes included here are Hannah’s Apple Pancake, Southern Greens Soup, McNew’s Okra Stew, Brunswick Stew, and Savannah Red Rice. Lands outside of Dixie are also represented with Lyonnaise Potatoes, Shepherd’s Pie, Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa, and many more.

My favorite recipe name in the book?

That’s easy.

It is the “This Ain’t No Yankee Cornbread.”  

***Inside the book you will find***

  • Over 200 delicious, classic recipes all made in cast-iron
  • Over 200 big, beautiful four-color photos
  • Cast Iron Memories—historical and allegorical sidebars highlighting cast-iron recipe memories from cooks around the country
  • Crazy for Cast Iron—covers all things cast-iron from the history of Lodge Manufacturing to types of pots and pans, care of cast-iron, basics of outdoor cookery, what NOT to cook in cast-iron, and how to renew neglected hand-me-down pan
  • Stand-alone sidebars such as How to Make a Roux and Basics of Campfire Cooking

GLASS ONION CLASSICS – “RECIPES FROM A SOUTHERN RESTAURANT”

The Glass Onion is a popular eatery in Charleston, SC. Their simple, yet delicious Lowcountry cuisine has generated a good deal of buzz and a faithful following in that amazing part of the world. The restaurant opened in 2008, but it took them until 2011 to publish a compilation of some of their most popular recipes. The theme here is “delicious Southern food inspired by local, all-natural ingredients.” A great concept, for certain. Yet it is a concept that is rarely executed with the consistency or the care delivered by the hard-working staff of the Glass Onion.

The Beatles’ song “Glass Onion” was said to be about the handle on a coffin. And you’ll be dying to dine at the Glass Onion after getting a load of these tasty, yet simple to prepare recipes. Jennie Ruth’s Deviled Eggs, Papa’s Oyster Stew, Anne’s Grillades and Grits, Sea Island Red Peas, Sarah’s Red Velvet Pound Cake. It all sounds terrific — and terrifically Southern. But just when you think you can pidgeonhole these guys, they toss a recipe like Chuck’s Italian Sausage Ragout at ya. Most of the recipes have only a handful of fresh, easily sourced ingredients. That simply means that you will not pull your hair out while shopping for or executing these winning, cook friendly recipes.

This cookbook is a self-published effort and it has a nice, church cookbook kind of DIY charm to it. We also enjoyed the short vignettes about the Glass Onion’s vendors including old compadres like Anson Mills’ grains and Benton’s Country Hams & Bacon. So when in Charleston, join them for a memorable meal. Until then, enjoy this thoughtful cookbook.

Lodge Manufacturing Co. – South Pittsburg, TN;  www.lodgemfg.com

Glass Onion – 1219 Savannah Hwy., Charleston, SC; www.ilovetheglassonion.com

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