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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

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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

Alabama’s “Pecans Project” Is Worthy Of Your Support

5 Feb

This unique non-profit program is based in little Greensboro, AL.

Here is a brief history:

Pecans!: born in 2009 from a HEROyouth* marketing assignment, is revered not only for its quality of taste, but for its business model. Pecans! is not only a sustainable small business, but co-serves as a job training opportunity for at-risk HEROyouth to gain valuable food service skills. Utilizing home grown ingredients to forge its pecan butter, sugared pecans and pecan brittle, it is a must taste in the South. To make it even sweeter, all Pecans! profits go to the HEROyouth Scholarship Fund that rewards three (3) scholarships annually to HEROyouth students who are pursuing a post-secondary degree.

*HEROyouth serves 18 at-risk, out-of-school youth annually through  GED courses, job training and career readiness

Great cause, no doubt about it. But are the products any good? We posed this question to the project’s management and they responded by sending us a sampling of their goodies. Pecan Butter, Pecan Brittle, Sugared Pecans. What’s not to like? I had never tried Pecan Butter before … and boy, was  I in for a treat! It’s not exactly creamy like peanut butter. It is drier and more crystalized. The ingredients are simple and natural: Alabama Pecans, honey, cinnamon, and a touch of salt. It comes in an attractive glass jar made by the famed German company Rundrand Glas Weck. It is a keeper, for certain. The pecan butter inside these beauties is very tasty. We enjoyed it immensely. It’s not exactly spreadable, so a quick spin in the microwave helps.  ***The only oils in this product are the natural oils from the pecans.

The project’s pecan brittle is also totally natural: Pecans, sugar, light corn syrup, salt, water, butter and baking soda. And it is just what you would expect it to be — crunchy, crackly and good. My wife loved it and greatly assisted me in quickly emptying the brown paper bag. The sugared pecans, in my opinion, were even better. I’ve had lots of candied pecans before, yet there was something unique about this taste. A gander at the bags ingredients gave me the answer: NUTMEG! What a stroke of genius. Never thought about doing this before. It may seem like a subtle little thing, but the results are life changing. Make sure you order more than one bag. If you don’t, you are truly a NUT! 

http://pecansproject.com

A Trio of Delicious Sweet Treats from “The Old Dominion”

14 Jan

Red Rocker Candy’s Cashew Brittle with White Chocolate. Where do I begin to sing your praises? To say it is simply good would be a gross understatement. It is really, really, really good. OK, now we’re getting closer to reality. Now I am not the world’s most passionate brittle fan. I like peanut brittle all right, I guess. I am a native Virginian, after all. But most of it is average at best. Too sweet. Not enough peanuts. Far too hard and dangerous for my somewhat fragile dental work.

Sue Charney, owner of Red Rocker Candy, is pictured above. I’m not sure what her secret is, but she has obviously found a winner in this particular brittle recipe. The soft layer of white chocolate on top is a perfect foil for the crunch that lies below. It is indeed a crunch. However, it is decidedly not a bridge breaker. The incredible, buttery candy brittle is generously spiked with cashews — one of my favorite nuts on the planet. Well, it’s actually a seed, not a nut. But that’s another story for another day.  

Sue’s confections have recently been discovered by famous folks like TV’s Rachel Ray. This attention is certainly well deserved. I just mentioned on Facebook that Red Rocker’s Cashew Brittle with White Chocolate may be one of the best things I eat all year in 2012. Yup, I know it’s only January, but these crunchy, crackly beauties are a world class treat and without a doubt worthy of your immediate time and attention. Get some quickly before the entire world finds out — and order some for a friend. Order some for an enemy too. That person will not remain an enemy long.

Pistachio Brittle is just one of many irresistable varieties offered

Spice Rack Chocolates are made in Fredericksburg, VA. They’ve been making artisan chocolates since 2006. It’s a family oriented business founded on a “quality over quantity” philosophy. Their products are handcrafted in small batches and you can clearly taste the difference. The Belgian chocolate they use is excellent — pure and lacking in the waxy texture that plagues most mass-produced chocolates. But let’s not stop there — the chocolates are frequently goosed up with uniquely exotic spices/flavors like chipotle peppers, crystallized ginger, Jamaican curry, and Celtic smoked sea salt.

Spice Rack kindly sent us a variety of products to sample and enjoy — and enjoy we did! The dark chocolate chipotle peanuts (billed as “Fire Antz”) were spicy and superb. It didn’t hurt that they feature first class gourmet Virginia goobers grown just down the road by Belmont Peanuts. They’re not overly spicy, but they do deliver a pleasant afterburn. The Ginger Cubes offer a highly unique marriage of dark chocolate and crystallized ginger. I love ginger, so these little nuggets were a special treat.

Even better was the Spice Rack Collection. This attractive & informative (it suggests wine pairings) 15-piece gift box featured 3 each of the following flavor combos: Fresh Lemon with Sweet Basil, Celtic Smoked Sea Salt and White Ground Pepper, Key Lime and Jamaican Curry, Rosemary with Mint Leaves, and Spicy Cayenne and Chili Powder. The coupling of curry and chocolate (a first for this guy) was surprisingly noteworthy.  My personal fave was the sea salt variety — I’ve long been a softy for that now trendy salty/sweet combo. Spice Rack offers 5 other, equally interesting 15-piece collections. Next on my list will be their On The Rocks mix, which boasts matches such as Rum and Cola, Pina Colada, Amaretto, Orange Cognac, and Butterscotch Brandy. Cheers, y’all!

Pretty much everyone loves banana pudding. Southerners certainly crave it. But how often do you actually prepare it at home? Probably not all that often. The slicing of the bananas part is pretty easy. So is the pulling the Nilla Wafers from the box part. So what’s the big deal? Most folks will tell you it’s the preparation of the pudding part. Well, Reggie Rodgers of Chesapeake, Virginia has solved that problem for you.

Rodgers Banana Pudding Sauce is smooth and delicious — and comes in refrigerated jars. How cool is that??? Just layer your Nillas and sliced nanners, poor the sauce over top, and you’re done. It’s good too — creamy and tasting of pure vanilla extract. No baking required. The ingredients are all natural and you make as little or as much as you’d like — then put the rest of the sauce back in the fridge for later. How convenient! Reggie Rodgers — you are THE MAN. We love their logo too. The cartoony wafer and banana both appear to be thrilled about their pending collision course with the pudding bowl. Their ultimate demise will be your gain, that’s for sure!

We hear Rodgers’ Banana Pudding Sauce makes a great shake too!

——————————————————–

Red Rocker Candy – PO Box 1135, Troy, VA

www.redrockercandy.com ; (434) 589-2011

Spice Rack Chocolates – 10908 Courthouse Road, Fredericksburg, VA

www.spicerackchocolates.com ; (540) 847-2063

Rodgers’ Banana Pudding Sauce – (757) 558-4964

www.rodgersbananapudding.com ; reggie@rodgersbananapudding.com

“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

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.