Monday, September 12, 2011

Weekend in New Orleans

After 2 1/2 years, I decided to take some vacation time.  The wife and I discussed going to Atlanta, Austin, Smokey Mountains, or Charleston.  We settled on New Orleans.  The boys are there and so are Aven and Harley our grand daughters.  We choose a weekend that the New Orleans Seafood Festival was scheduled.  No other town or state throws a festival better than New Orleans.

We left Friday morning and headed to our first stop, Bruce Cafe.  Bruce Cafe is located at the intersection of State Hwy 20 and 81.  The Cafe is a small house known by locals as a place for good home cooking.  In the kitchen is an old lady cooking from scratch on a standard home range in cast iron cook ware.  Nothing better.  I always get the sweet potato pancakes.  These pancakes are light, fluffy and sweetened with the taste of sweet potatoes.  My bubble was burst when I asked for the recipe and the waitress told me I could get them on line.  They are Bruce's sweet potato pancake mix from Louisiana.  The Bruce family packages sweet potato products and are know for their quality.  That being said, I will still stop at Bruce Cafe for its homey atmosphere and delicious food.  The drive to New Orleans was easy having done that drive hundreds of times.  Next stop Adams Catfish.  I have traveled all over the south, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas (not the south) and Mississippi, and eaten fried catfish in all those states.  I have even eaten catfish in Indianola, Mississippi the home of Delta Pride Catfish.  No one, I mean, no one fries catfish to perfection like Adams  Adams is located in Belle Chasse, Louisiana on the westbank across the bridge from New Orleans.  My father in law had a Western Auto store there and I remember when Adams first opened.  It is a small restaurant that does one thing and one thing well.  It is the best catfish I have ever had.  I went for the six piece fillet plate with fries and coleslaw.  I left nothing on my plate.  I really do miss this place as it was one of my families regular stops with the in laws.  We met my sons, daughter in law, the grand babies, and some dear old friends.  We had a great time seeing Woody and Karen.  I was full of love and catfish.  The next day off to the seafood fest.

The festival, located downtown at Lafayette Square, provides plenty of grassy area to throw a party, and party we did.  The food represented by local restaurants, was plentiful and delicious.  We shared, crawfish and spinach served in a bread boat, crab cake remolaude salad, Cajun egg rolls, meat pie, seafood pie, and a New Orleans snowball to cool us down.  Also available was Drago's grilled oysters, softshell crab poboys, shrimp poboys, oyster poboys, seafood Penna pasta, and fried Alligator on a stick.  You know, Alligator taste exactly like, Alligator.  Music was provided by Amanda Shaw who is now about 18, but started when she was about 13 playing Cajun style fiddle.  She really got the crowd dancing.  Next was hometown artist Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers.  Kermit is a trumpet player in the New Orleans style and vibe.  He played several N.O. standards, as well as, adding his own N.O. style to other songs.  It was a long day, but well worth the trip.

Last night we visited an old favorite Cafe DiBlasi in Gretna where we once lived.  We have known Mario DiBlasi since we first got married 32 years ago.  We stumbled one night into his restaurant and have been going back ever since.  Simple Italian fare done well.  It's the first place I ever tasted Braciolle and I get it every time I go.  He also has the best fried eggplant ever.  It was heart warming to see the restaurant busy.  It's one of those neighborhood restaurants New Orleans is famous for.  Lori got the seafood pasta, Josh had the veal DiBlasi, veal topped with a lemon cream sauce, and Andrew had the steak Marsala, a beautiful beef fillet topped with Marsala sauce.  To me when you want comfort food, Italian works for me and Cafe DiBlasi is my go to place.

Sunday was a day of rest and time to spend with the girls.  We went swimming in the pool and relaxed in the room, anxiously awaiting or reservations at Restaurant August, John Besh's flagship property.  When we arrived my son Andrew knew the bartender.  Once seated we were presented a bottle of Champagne.  It's good to know Andrew in New Orleans.  Our waiter was Richard and as he described to nights offerings you feel like he could make a Michelin sound delicious.  We started with hot and cold appetizers.  Of course we had the gnocchi with blue crab and truffles, we also had an heirloom beet salad with quail eggs, mizuna, and black eye pea croutons.  We had the foie gras done three ways served on brioche toast points.  One version was topped with a muscadine jelly, one wrapped in a sponge cake topped with a champagne gellee, and the last done terrine style with oxtail mouse.  We also had the organic greens served with a pumpkin seed vinaigrette, with point Reyes blue cheese and pumpkin seed brittle.  Last but not least we had the crispy pork belly, with kimche cucumbers and grilled plums.  I could have walked out right then, but of course I didn't.  Main courses included, Red fish Courtbullion with the sauce was poured from a tea kettle at the table, Duck with smokes bone marrow, Softshell crab meniere a brown butter and lemon sauce, Snapper crusted an olive bread crumbs in with a peprine sauce topped with an roasted eggplant marmalade, and I got the crispy pork tenderloin and pork shoulder, the latter served with a ravioli on topped filled with a pork sauce, so when you cut the ravioli the sauce showered down over the pork.  Phenomenal.  I told Lori that we should go to Cafe D'Monde for bengnets and coffee, when our waiter told us the Chef had a special treat for us.  5 plates of sorbet with shortbread.   And if that wasn't enough gifts from the kitchen, Richard our waiter said the chef was sending out another treat.  We all ordered coffee and shared a plate of chocolate genache cakes, blackberry pasties, a raspberry square in the style of a firm jello, and pralines.  I guess I'll get the beignets some other time.  What a meal.  If you go to New Orleans, make August one of your stops.  Oh yea, ask for Richard, he was awesome.

On my way out of town tomorrow I'm going to the Gourmet Butcher Block, he is the guy who made John Madden those six legged Turduckens, for some specialties.  Also for lunch my beloved hot sausage po boy.  This has been a great vacation.  If you have never been to New Orleans, please go and enjoy what america's culinary city has to offer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


So last Sunday I drove to Atlanta for some training and the launch of the 21st. century Beetle.  I'm telling you this because Sunday is my day to cook.  I also lost my day off because I drove back Monday, so I am in withdrawal from the kitchen in a bad way.  Today I will make up for that.


I did a New Orleans take on the classic Eggs Benedict.  Last night I made Andouille, cheddar cheese grits that I let cool over night in a lined round cake pan.  First, I diced the Audouille and sauteed it in olive oil.  Next I added the water and stone ground, organic, white corn grits, and let them thicken.  Next I added the sharp cheddar cheese.  This morning I cut it into rounds, dredged in flour, egg wash, and Panko bread crumbs, and fried them golden brown.  Now how can that not taste good?  I topped the fried grit cakes with two poached eggs and covered that with a Tasso/lemon, Hollandaise.  The richness of the Hollandaise, the silky texture of the eggs, and the salty, smokey, crispy texture of the grit cakes, was incredible.  This will definitely be in the Sunday brunch rotation.  I also got to thinking about my shrimp and grits.  How about serving the shrimp and Andouille over fried, smoked Gouda, grit cakes?  That would be different.  OK, so now I have to prep for lunch.


For lunch I'm grilling chicken wings and glazing them with an apricot, chipotle, sauce and serving with homemade ranch blue cheese dipping sauce.  First after washing the chicken wings I dried them, placed them in a bowl, and drizzled oil over them.  Next I seasoned them with my Bubbaque rub seasoning.  After about an hour in the frig, I grilled them over a low charcoal fire until crispy on the outside.  The glaze is made by melting a jar of Apricot preserves in a sauce pan and adding three chipotles in adobo sauce.  I removed them from the grill in a bowl and drizzled the glaze over them, tossing as I go.  Returning them to the grill I let the glaze set and served with the dipping sauce.  Maybe I can get the wife to serve me in some orange shorts and a tank top.  Na!!!!


Tonight is steak night.  I'm going Tuscan style.  Large Porterhouse steaks marinated in garlic and rosemary and served with a lemon gremolata.  My side dish is fire roasted tomato Risotto.  First I cut some fresh rosemary from the garden and chop it with about four cloves of garlic.  Drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil on the steaks a rub the rosemary/garlic mixture in to the steaks.  Place in a zip bag and let them sit in the frig for an hour.  Grill medium rare.  To make the gremolata, I steep garlic and lemon zest in olive oil on low for about 30 minutes.  This allows the garlic and lemon zest to release they're flavors without burning the garlic.  Last I add the juice of one lemon and some fresh parsley.  For the Risotto I use canned fire roasted tomatoes.  I start with sauteed shallots and garlic then toast the Aborio rice.  Slowly add warm chicken stock a cup at a time until the rice absorbs the liquid and releases it's starch.  Slowly add more stock until the Risotto is aldente (to the tooth).  Take it off the heat and add fresh grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh parsley.  Well I think I satisfied my cooking habit for a while.

The food scene in Panama City

I have been back in Panama City for 6 years now and maybe I'm spoiled or maybe my standards are too high, but I have a problem with most restaurants here.  Lets face it.  The restaurants at the beach have a philosophy of feeding the masses, and feeding them at a reasonable price.  Quality is not part of the equation.  I have two hard and fast rules that have been true of every buffet I have ever eaten at, which includes a $60.00 a person Champagne brunch in New Orleans and Shoney's breakfast bar.  1.  You will never eat your moneys worth period.  You can't eat $4.99 worth of grits and eggs or $60.00 worth of Champagne and prime rib.  Buffets make money.  2.  When you cook in bulk as apposed to cooking per order the quality looses.  I remember Capt Anderson's when it was small and the food was good.  Now they are feeding hoards of people and as I said, when you cook for the masses, and not per order, the quality will always suffer.  I don't like the noise and I don't like the food.  Angelo's used to be a place where you got a good steak (not a Ruth's Chris) but a decent steak, cooked over real wood.  Now with the size of the restaurant and the size of the crowds, I prefer Outback if I have to have steak out.  Montego Bay's "fresh catch of the day" is Talapia.  Really?  Really?  I guess we haven't shaken that redneck riviera persona yet, despite those new high rise Miami style condos.  The food here has no personality, no style.  The French, Spanish, Native Americans, and the African Slaves have contributed to Cajun and Creole cuisine.  The Spanish inhabited Florida, but when you think of our food it is influenced more by the country cooks of Alabama and Georgia.  You have to travel up hwy 30A to find any inspired food.  In November I ate at Fish out of Water.  What a refreshing experience.  Incredible food prepared by hands who care and a chef with a vision.  Our back yard is the Gulf of Mexico for Gods sake.  We have access to fresh seafood and produce from local growers.  In the right hands this could be awesome.  I guess nobody cares.  Certainly not the tourist.  My mother has had a house on the beach since 1966.  I can't tell you how many times I have had to clean up the beach after a busy day.  I can't tell you how many times people have relieved themselves under her house, used her shower, sat on her deck at night thinking no one was home, or parked in her driveway.  Really?  Do they do that in your hometown?  If you go on the web site the number one fine dinning restaurant in Panama City is Pineapple Wiley's.  Really?  Really?????  Is that where we are.  We will never get our beach back thanks to the money hungry commissioners.  Unless we demand better, we will never get better.  If gambling is brought here we will see more high rise buildings and long buffets.  I shutter at the thought.  Come on people, wake up. 

Tonights dinner 8/7/2001

Tonight's dinner with an Asian theme.  Thai chicken satays with pork pot stickers and lo mein noodles.  The chicken strips were marinated in coconut milk, fish sauce, honey, garlic, scallions, and lime juice, grilled on bamboo skewers.  The lo mein noodles were whole wheat linguine with carrot, scallions, garlic, celery, and soy sauce.  The Satays were wrapped in bib lettuce leafs and dressed with a Thai peanut sauce.  We washed it down with some Strawberry Daiquiris.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tonights dinner.

I had to work today.  Last Sunday of the month.  It was good. I sold two cars.  Tonights dinner is grilled shrimp and Grouper with grilled Asiago/Parmesan/garlic cheese grits.  This morning I made the cheese grits and when they were sufficiently cooled I poured them in a cake pan lined with plastic wrap, placed in the refrigerator and let them set up.  I seasoned the fish and shrimp with my Bubbaque seafood seasoning.  Grilled over hardwood charcoal and served with a lemon buerre blanc sauce.  You have to try the grilled grits.  They were awesome.  I brushed olive oil on the outside.  They did stick a little, but the outcome was delicious.  Creamy exterior, grilled exterior, warm and cheesy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grilled Pizza

If you haven't grilled pizza, you need to try it.  The smokey flavor adds a great edge to the crust and toppings.  Tonight I grilled two pizzas.  One a traditional pepperoni, meatball (homemade), black olive, and onion.  The other is my Cajun pizza.  Shrimp, Andouille, Artichokes, and onion.  The Andouille was sliced thin like pepperoni, and the shrimp were sauteed in my seafood seasoning before hitting the pizza.  The local grocery store has pizza dough in the bakery.  I use a pizza stone purchased on line at Red Sky Grilling. You must let the stone pre heat like the oven.  I have had some difficulty getting the pizza to slide off the peal.  I use corn meal, but it has been a struggle.  The outcome has been delicious.  You must try this pizza. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Simply Thai

Tonight I took my cousin Pam and her mom, my Aunt Betty to a new Thai restaurant on the beach.  I have been visiting My Thai in the Cove for some time and have reviewed it here.  I have come to enjoy the fresh flavors Thai food brings to the table.  I do enjoy Chinese cuisine, but sometimes I get stagnet with it. 

Simply Thai is located at 944 Thomas Drive across from the Navy Base gate.  It's in a strip shopping center there.  The location has been home of other restaurants to no avail, so I don't know how long it will be there.  The service was friendly although the food arrived too quickly for me to enjoy the appetiser of chicken Satay's or my bowl of Tom Yum soup.  The chicken Satay's were good.  The peanut dipping sauce was not too salty or too peanutty.  It was spot on.  The Tom Yum was delicious, full of flavor from the chili oil, fish sauce, and Kafir lime leaves.  I did find the occasional tough lemon grass shoot that I had to remove from my mouth.  For dinner I tried the Drunken noodles.  The description said it is made with wide noodles which were like Lasagna noodles rolled up.  It also had vegetables, chicken and shrimp.  This is the first time I have tried this dish and I would recommend it to you.  My wife stuck with the classic Pad Thai noodle dish.  I tried a small sample and it was what I expected of it.  As you know I normally like to test a restaurant three time before a review is written, but with this place being in a location that other have failed, I wanted to let you know so you could try it.  I will not rate Simply Thai until I tray it two more times, and I will.

Simply Thai on Urbanspoon

Dee's Hang Out revisited

If you haven't visited Dee's in a while, he has moved several doors down from his original location.  The new digs are larger but not too large, and the decor is not overstated with the same throw back pictures of old Panama City Beach.  The menu remains the same, a good variety of seafood dishes with a New Orleans theme.  The daily specials on the chalk board are inventive and delicious.  Recently he offered fried Snapper topped with a fried soft shell crab, then topped with an etouffe sauce.  You know I love soft shell crab.  This was truly spectacular.  The wife had the shrimp etouffe.  It satisfied her Creole craving with gusto.  The gumbo remains satisfying and flavorful.  On a recent trip I called ahead to find out if they had any soft shell crabs.  He said he did and when I arrived the chalk board had a soft shell crab sandwich on special.  I was not in a sandwich mood so I asked Dee to fix me some soft shell crab meuniere.  Meuniere is a brown butter sauce with lemon and parsley.  I also had the blackened grouper as well.  As a side I tried the fried cheese grits and the collard greens.  The fried grits were creamy in the middle with a crunchy exterior.  You really have to try this.  I like them better than the hush puppies.  The greens are torn so they can be difficult to eat.  I prefer them to be smaller in size.  The pot liqour is great sopped up with the hush puppies.  My only disappointment with Dee's is the seafood platter.  For the money I expected more.  I guess I've been spoiled by Deanies Bucktown Seafood in New Orleans.  All in all Dee's remains at the top of my list of resaurants in Panama City. 

Dee's Hangout on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Old Florida Fish House and Bar

I normally don't review a restaurant until I've tried it at least three times.  This is more for consistency of food and service, which I believe is imperative in the restaurant business.  My personal view is great service will overcome mediocre food, but bad service will not overcome great food.  We eat out because we want to be served and we want something we probably wouldn't cook at home, i.e. a seafood platter.

Friday night I took my wife and some friends to "Old Florida Fish House and Bar" located at 5235 E County Hwy 30A in Santa Rosa Beach.  It sits back from 30A so the only landmark to notify you of it's location is a sign on the road.  The parking is a little hard to find as it sits behind a small business center.  It sits on one of the many lakes you will find on 30A and has a picturesque view of the lake from inside the restaurant.  The decor is upscale but not pretentious.  It is definitely not a shack as the name might imply.  We arrived at about 6:00 and were greeted promptly and seated next to a window that looked out over the lake.  Our  server promptly greeted us, took our drink choices and told us about the nights specials.  The menu is simple but ample with choices depending on what you are in the mood for.  The only thing that baffles me is at the "Old Florida Fish House" there were no oysters on the menu.  Not raw, baked, fried, or in the gumbo.  We do have oysters here in Florida.  Famous Apalachicola oysters.   Go figure.

As always I tried the seafood gumbo, shared a wedge blue cheese salad, and a fried seafood platter of shrimp, scallops, fish, and a soft shell crab.  I asked the waiter if the soft shell was fresh.  He asked what I meant by fresh.  I asked if it had ever been frozen.  He said yes.  I don't understand with all the seafood harvested here in Northwest Florida why blue crabs are not more prevalent in the markets.  In New Orleans you can go to a seafood market and order a hamper of crabs to take home a boil.  The most I have ever seen here is about six.  Soft shells are a seasonal thing so it's hard to find fresh ones anywhere here.  I do love me some soft shell crabs.  If you ever attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and you should at least once, try the soft shell crab po-boy.  The seafood was fried perfectly, not over battered, and had a good crust.  It was served with the obligatory french fries.  My wife ordered the crab cakes served over pasta with a lemon caper cream sauce.  The crab cakes were nicely sized with a crusty exterior and  full of crab meat on the inside, not too bready as some crab cakes can be.  The lemon caper cream sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the dish.  The chefs special was a blackened Snapper topped with crab meat.  This is a classically simple dish that can goo bad fast if the seasoning over powers the fish and the crab meat is not lump.  I have seen this dish done with claw meat.  No no.  My friends wife tries the Grouper Fish House. Sauteed grouper with topped with shrimp, crab meat, and a beurre blanc sauce.  Again a classic presentation of a simple dish, but full of texture and flavor.

To cap off the night we moved to the bar.  By this time the restaurant was filling up and the band "The Fish House Band" started to play at 8:00.  The band consisted of a keyboardist, sax player, and a conga drum player, all of which took turns at vocals.  The music was great and a fine way to end our outing.

At this point I will not assign "Old Florida Fish House" any stars until I go back two more times, but at first glance, I will return.  I hope you try this establishment.

Good eating.

Old Florida Fish House & Bar on Urbanspoon