Thursday, May 28, 2009

grits and gravy

After spending a week eating my way across Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC I'm left with a blurry memory of grits, sausage gravy and fried everything. In these tourist heavy towns it can be a bit difficult to sort the real deal gems from the tourist traps. There were lots of good things to eat (some of which I missed getting photos of) so I'm just going to post a bunch of my favorites from the trip.

Savannah & South Carolina are great places to eat because you get the Southern cooking traditions -fried chicken, grits, greens, cornbread, bacon in everything, 75 different varieties of "barbecue" along with the coastal "Low Country" cooking that's heavy on seafood and has a little bit of a cajun feel to it. This is where the she-crab soup, shrimp & grits, and po-boys come in, on practically every menu from the corner greasy spoon to the 4 star hotel restraurants. Oh and I can't fail to mention, especially in Savannah, southern hospitality is not a myth.

Clary's Cafe
First place we ate in Savannah. Been there since 1903 and has been in a few movies. Awesome diner vibe and lots of locals.
Great biscuits. Good Coffee. Chicken fried steak & grits hit the spot.

404 Abercorn / Savannah, GA

Randy's BBQ
Exactly what I was looking for. 6 giant outdoor smokers on the outskirts of town. Closed every time we drove past it.. apparently only open for lunch. Probably would have blown my mind.

750 Wheaton / Savannah, GA

Gryphon Tea Room
Turn of the century apothecary converted into a southern tea room. 40 zillion varieties of tea brewed in your own pot. Take your mom here.

337 Bull Street / Savannah GA

Corleone's Trattoria
Italian in the south? Fried calamari and Sweet Tea? I thought it was going to be disgusting. Pastas were OK but the baked manicotti and meatballs were awesome. Great sauce. Don't be scared.

44 MLK Blvd / Savannah, GA

Red Velvet Cake at Mom & Nikki's
Red velvet cake is not as easy to find here as the food network would have you believe. Mom & Nikki's was closed when we got there but they let us in to take out a giant slice of red velvet cake. Which was great. Super moist with a hint of chocolate and cream cheese frosting with shaved pecans. Apparently this is the place to go for smothered pork chops and mac & cheese.. next time I guess. Warning- everything in Savannah has crazy hours.

714 MLK Blvd / Savannah, GA

Mrs Wilkes Dining Room
Among the top 10 meals of my life. Full review coming soon.

107 W Jones / Savannah, GA

Sweetwater Cafe
Randomly walked in here for lunch. Awesome fried pickles and fried green tomato BLT.

137 Market / Charleston, SC

Italian food in the south again? In a Best Western? Tables full of sad looking tourists and traveling businessmen? Surprise! The owner is a super excited guy born in Naples who grew up in New York City and walks around talking to everyone. The pizza was AWESOME, total shocker. Great crust, great sauce, real toppings. The next day we were having cocktails at the hotel bar and the owner popped up again with complimentary home made limoncello?? Maybe he knew we were from Philly? Probably the least touristy place we found in Charleston, in a freaking motel.

250 Spring Street (in the Best Western) / Charleston, SC

Hyman's Seafood CO
Total tourist trap, seats about 400 people, buy a T-shirt on the way out. Complimentary boiled peanuts.
Shrimp & Grits were delicious. Here they do it with brown gravy & cheese almost like gravy fries. Sounds sketchy but it's great.
Ate it so fast forgot to take a picture. Fried shrimp/cajun trout/giant crab cakes/hush puppies/slaw. Not bad!

215 Meeting St / Charleston, SC‎

Fiery Ron's BBQ
Sort of expecting more from this gas station-turned BBQ a few miles outside of downtown Charleston. The ribs were awesome. Pulled pork and sides were so-so. I wanted to be blown away by "real southern BBQ" but I guess this wasn't the place to do it.

1205 Ashley River Rd / Charleston, SC

Calhoun Mansion (not food)
So as I've mentioned a few times, Charleston is a bit of a martha stewart middle aged crate & barrel tourist trap. Lots of faux-authentic crafts, tour buses, gift shops, fanny packs. So I wasn't that excited to go on a guided tour of this old southern mansion. Again, total shocker. This place has changed hands about 6 times since 1876 and is covered with hand painted art-deco action as well as the current eccentric owner's enormous collection of paintings, buddhist shrines, giant taxidermied bear heads, busts of african warriors, Tiffany chandeliers, a giant ballroom covered in crystal and gold with every inch of wallspace covered in massive oil paintings..

The third floor is closed because the owner still lives there while tours go on 8 hours a day. He spent something like 5 million dollars restoring it maybe 10 years ago. The only way to explain this place is like a cross between the Louvre and the house from The Royal Tenenbaums.

16 Meeting St / Charleston, SC

Cracker Barrel
Every restaurant seats about 7000 people. Awesome chicken fried chicken, biscuits, neverending refills of mello yello. And they still have those damn peg games that I can never beat.

Every exit off of I-95 below Delaware

Waffle House
Hell yeah. Like eating in a Bubba Sparxxx video. Neck tattoos and nascar shirts everywhere. Triple order of golden brown home fries "all the way" with jalepenos, onions, cheese, tomatoes, chili, for $4. Great biscuits & gravy too.

Every 500 feet

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fox Bros BBQ

I have been to a few of the bbq places in the Atlanta/Decatur area. For me the newly opened Fox Bros is ranking highly up there.

For starters I cannot deny any place that has fried pickles. Truly one of my culinary addictions. Serve that up with fried jalapeno's and tater tots.

The baby back ribs and chicken had a sweet smokey taste from hours of quality hickory smoking and a dry rub. The baked beans were good along with the green beans cooked with stewed tomatoes and a porky broth.

Let the pictures speak.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lady & Sons

Like most self respecting current or former line cooks I cringe at the sound of TV celebrity chef catchphrases like fingernails on a chalkboard. It should be pretty obvious to anyone that's ever worked in a restaurant that what goes on with those shows has absolutely nothing to do with anything that happens in a working kitchen.

So I pretty much always expect to be disappointed when eating anywhere associated with food celebrities. Waking up at 9am to stand in line at Lady and Sons with truckloads of 60 year old Paula Deen devotees and fanny pack / golf shirt sporting tourists I figured my suspicions were right on.

But guess what, the food was great. And really affordable for a celebrity restaurant. And huge, with three floors and seating for at least 250 people. The menu was smaller than I expected, but makes sense for cranking out probably at least 1000 meals a day with consistency.

Started off with complimentary cheddar biscuits (needed salt) and hoe cakes (awesome). Fried green tomatoes with sweet onion relish, she-crab soup- delicious. Then time to line up for the buffet with the silver-haired masses. I would have liked to try the shrimp & grits or one of the other entrees but there was no way I was passing up that golden brown pile of fried chicken. Which was fantastic. Everything at Lady & Sons is fried in peanut oil and a really light batter and doesn't make you feel like you are going to die. The ribs were a bit of a letdown, sort of fatty and bland, but the sides were awesome. Greens, Black Eyed Peas and Butter Beans chock full of pork, perfectly cooked without being brown or slimy, awesome Mac & Cheese too.

Dessert (again, very small menu) was good too. Pecan Pie was killer. I'm not saying I'm going to go out and buy a set of Paula Deen cookware or anything but the food was great. Of course 16 hours later everything I just ate would be blown out of the water by the magic that is Mrs Wilkes Dining Room, but we'll get to that later.

Lady & Sons
102 West Congess St
Savannah Georgia

Memorial Day Weekend Grilling.

Memorial Day Grilling.

I went down to Atlanta this past weekend with my girlfriend to visit my sister and her boyfriend. You cannot spend a Memorial Day weekend without a BBQ. After two days of Mexican and Fox Bros BBQ (highly recommended) I needed ANY vegetables. Probably the healthiest meal eaten whilst there.

Grilled Bone-In Ribeye Steaks rubbed with Salt, Pepper and Cumin
Grilled Asparagus with Garlic Oil
Grilled Corn and Red Pepper Tomato Succotash
Grilled Vidalia Onions
Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Jalapeno Lime Ginger Soy Cilantro Vinaigrette.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Night Carnitas

Chipotle Cinnamon Carnitas Tostada
Saffron Parsnip Puree
Yellow Rice and Pigeon Peas with Fresh Avocado

I had been craving some really stellar slowly braised pork carnitas. So why not make it myself?

I de-boned a small pork shoulder and roughly cut up the pieces. In a heavy cast iron pot I braised it with bay leaf, onion, garlic, cinnamon sticks, fresh chipotle in adobo, and the bone from the shoulder. After about 2 hours I was left with tender delicious meet and a thick sauce. I separated the meat and reduced the porky chipotle sauce while skimming away the fat layer. I added more onion and a heaping amount of chopped scallions.

I fried up the meat to make it crispy and the poured the reduced sauce over it.

For my sides I boiled parsnips with vegetable stock and saffron, then pureed them.
The rice was a box mix of spanish rice and pigeon peas. I added more fresh green peas into the mix.

To plate, I took a small tortilla and toasted it in a pan with some oil and added jalapeno queso on top. I layered the carnitas and sprinkled freshly chopped cilantro.

You can see the final result. The carnitas were amazing, spicy and sweet from the cinnamon. The fresh avocado was actually a really nice combination with the saffron parsnip puree.

Monday, May 11, 2009

pantry raid bowl noodle

So Caroline gave me an assignment for her Cook and Tell article on Serious Eats. The idea was to make something spectacular using only the ingredients in your house, no cheating, no shopping allowed.

You might think a food blogging ex line cook would have an amazing kitchen stocked to the gills with food, but really it's just a totally random mess of strange things I bought at the asian market 6 months ago , a few sketchy vegetables and whatever is left over from saturday morning breakfast.

I threw on an "asian-y" broth with a hunk of salt pork and some chicken innards I found in the back of my freezer, along with a few of the sketchy carrots & onions, soy sauce and coriander, and some green onion & cilantro remnants.

Cooked the broth for an hour, strained out the stuff, dropped in a few dumplings I found in the freezer along with a block of rice noodles for 5 minutes. Cooked off some sausage (italian turkey sausage to be exact- this is where the fusion comes in folks) with onions & red peppers. poached an egg, battered it with flour / egg wash / panko and fried it up. threw everything in a bowl with some chili sauce and cilantro and some pickled leeks that I bought a year ago because the can looked cool.

It was actually pretty damn good.. panko crusting the egg was sort of unnecessary and a little bit weird texturally with the noodles and broth.. if I wasn't taking pictures i would have just fried it normally.

I was also contemplating dusting banana slices in vanilla pudding mix and almonds and deep-frying them, mixing some ancient frosting with molasses or something and plating it up real obnoxious-like.. but I just ate the banana instead.

If you want to join in the fun you can follow Caroline's articles over at

Saturday, May 9, 2009

tacos at savoy flower shop

I've been noticing for at least 6 months the Savoy Deli & Produce Market on 18th st. below Rittenhouse square has had a board out advertising "mexican tacos, tortas, burritos, hoagies".

Now I stopped there once and uh.. it was sort of scary. The produce was in pretty bad shape and the place is always sort of dark and empty. Their main business seems to be selling flowers which look better than the brown rotting lettuce. And there's really no reason to go there as Sue's produce (one of the best in the city, love it) is 5 minutes away.

But I just couldn't ignore that sign. And good thing I didn't. My fear was at first reaffirmed as I walked in around lunchtime and it was empty again. The meats in the deli case looked kind of sketchy. I was presented with a crumpled menu and ordered 1 carnitas and 1 chorizo taco. The mexican gentleman who had been trimming flowers and unpacking carrots smiled and hurried to the back to whip up my tacos.

And wow, the food was much better than I expected.. all of the ingredients were fresh, the tacos were packed with meat, nice fresh tomatillo salsa- why aren't people lined up around the corner? I mean they weren't mind blowing, but as good as your average south philly taqueria, and it seems to be just the one guy that makes the food so it's probably consistent.

Don't be scared. Take out is the way to go.. rittenhouse square is right there so there's your dining room.

262 S 18th st

Friday, May 8, 2009

Alert: Southern California Style Tacos Found in Brooklyn!

Since I've moved from back from San Diego to New York I have been trying to find a place that serves the kind of Mexican food that I have become accustomed to on the West Coast.  After a little over a year  of searching I was ready to throw in the towel and call it a day.    

I live in a neighborhood that is brimming with Mexican restaurants.  Tortas, cemitas, and huaraches are everywhere but somehow they just aren't the same.  I really wanted the perfect, simple tacos that I had gotten so used to living ten minutes from the Tijuana border.  These tacos are nothing more than fantastically grilled meat on tiny (4-5-inch) tortillas, chopped cilantro and onions accompanied by some really great salsas.  

I'm overjoyed to say that today I found the tacos of my dreams.  
Tacos Ricos at 51st Street and 5th Avenue in Sunset Park serves the best tacos that I've eaten outside of Southern California. I had a feeling that it was going to be good and I ordered six tacos - al pastor, bisctec, pollo, enchilada, arabes and orientales.

All of the tacos were amazing. The al pastor, pollo and bistec are pretty standard, enchilada is just another term for spicy meat but the arabes and orientales are not that common. They are the Mexican version of shawarma, spit-roasted and spectacular, just the right ratio of meat to fat with the best smokey-sweet-spicy chile sauce. Everything was served with big wedges of lime, sliced radishes and the best Mexican Cokes.

Tacos Ricos
505 51st St.
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hot Dog!

On Sunday I went to a pretty amazing food event, the Hot Dog Hootenanny at Astor Center in New York.  There were four types of hot dogs available for tasting, all you can drink beer and prosecco and a hot dog lecture given by Bruce Kraig, author of Hot Dog: A Global History.

The hot dogs were all delicious examples of regional and haute hot dog styles.  The classic New York style dog from Papaya King was topped off with sauerkraut, mustard and a sweet, ketchupy onion sauce.  The Chicago dog was had all of the traditional accompaniments - mustard, onion, tomato, celery salt, neon green relish,  a pickle spear and sport peppers all on top of a Vienna frank in a poppy seed bun.  

The two nouveau dogs were really fantastic. The Korean Bulgogi dog from New York Hot Dogs and Coffee was topped with spicy, sesame accented bulgogi, some lettuce and pickles and served on a bun that was a little chewier and more substantial than a regular hot dog bun.  The last dog was from the hot dog joint / secret cocktail bar Crif Dogs- the Chihuahua Dog is a deep fried, bacon wrapped dog served with slices of avocado and sour cream, insanely delicious.

The beer was from Kelso Brewery in Brooklyn, they provided a nutty brown ale that complimented the hot dogs perfectly.

The Hot Dog Hootenanny was  a great tribute to the humble hot dog and there are rumors of a similar hamburger event taking place in the near future!

Eggs and R. Kelly

I recently moved into a new apartment with my lady and we decided to throw a little brunch get together. Little became big and Big Man made an appearance in the form of R Kelly's Trapped In The Closet - Chapters 1-22.

Eggs and R. Kelly was born.


Fried Chicken and Jalapeno Scallion Cornbread

Raspberry or Pumpkin Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast crusted in Pecans and Coconut

Eggs Benedict Florentine with Chipotle Hollandaise

Swine Tray (minus the flu) Sausage, Bacon, Canadian Bacon

Strawberries, Mimosa's, and Bloodies.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fette Sau

Auto - body shop turned BBQ joint and bar with outdoor picnic table seating. You can smell the smoke from a block away. We got 1/2 pound of everything on the menu - which changes almost daily. Their meats come from local-ish small farms, smoked on the premises. Pork Belly, Sausage, Short Ribs, Spare Ribs, Pulled Pork, Brisket. Big squeeze bottles of house-made sauces. Awesome pickles and sauerkraut.. best baked beans I've ever had, chock full of bacon and bay leaves.

House brewed beer by the gallon jug and the biggest selection of american whiskey you've ever seen. We tried to go saturday night and it was insanely packed, had to go back sunday afternoon, so be warned.

If the Jamaican Jerk Hut ever goes up for sale somebody make this happen in Philadelphia. Seriously.

Fette Sau
354 Metropolitan Ave
Williamsburg, Brooklyn