Monday, June 30, 2008

South Carolina Barbecue at Bessinger's

Bessinger's Bar-B-Q Outside of Charleston, South Carolina

Driving into Charleston from Savannah took us past Bessinger's. We were hungry and interested to try South Carolina Barbecue, so we stopped in.

Bessinger's has a buffet and an order-at-the-counter sandwich shop. We opted for the sandwich shop:

Menu at Bessinger's

Southern Carolina barbecue is known for it's mustard-based sauce. Neither of us is a big fan of American yellow mustard, so we tried it with some trepidation.

Here is the chopped pork sandwich:

Chopped Pork Sandwich at Bessinger's

The pork was good, but nothing particularly special. The sauce was less mustardy than expected - more of a vinegar taste, and we had no problem with it at all.

Mustard-Based Barbecue Sauce at Bessinger's

We also tried a few sides. I think this was my first time trying collard greens, so I'm definitely no expert. I really didn't like these - they had an unpleasant, twangy, bitter taste.

Collard Greens at Bessinger's

The fried okra was better, but mostly just tasted like "fried".

Fried Okra at Bessinger's

Overall, Bessinger's was an ok lunch stop, but nothing like the revelation we had eating barbecue in Lockhart, Texas at Kruez Market and Smitty's Market.

Bessinger's Barbecue
1602 Savannah Hwy
Charleston, South Carolina
(843) 556-1354‎

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Searching for Good Eats in Savannah

Cheese Grits with Shrimp at Tapas By Anna in Savannah, Georgia

We had a tough time finding places to eat in Savannah. The high end places did not appeal to us, and there did not seem to be much in the way of local, southern food at other price points. We wanted to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House, but they weren't open on the weekend.

We ended up having dinner one night at a place called Tapas By Anna. Of several unattractively presented, but pretty tasty dishes, the Shrimp and Cheese Grits pictured above was probably the most unattractive and most tasty. I often don't like grits, but these were really good. The fact that they were mostly cheese probably didn't hurt...

Our only other meal of note in Savannah was lunch at B.Matthews Eatery - an attractive little place with comfortable inside and outside dining.

B.Matthews Eatery in Savannah, Georgia

Their Fried Green Tomato Sandwich was very good - light breading on the tomato so that the flavor could still come through. It was accompanied by a colorful, fresh salad, which was a much appreciated change of pace from our recent diet.

Fried Green Tomato Sandwich at B.Matthews Eatery in Savannah, Georgia

The Black-Eyed Pea Cake Sandwich was also good, if a bit gummy. It came with a really nice tomato and basil soup.

Black-Eyed Pea Cake Sandwich at B.Matthews Eatery in Savannah, Georgia

I'm sure there are much better places to dine in Savannah, but we were not able to find them - we enjoyed walking around the historic downtown district looking for them, though.

Tapas By Anna
314 W Saint Julian St.
Savannah, Georgia
(912) 236-2066‎

B.Matthews Eatery
325 E. Bay St.
Savannah, Georgia
(912) 233-1319‎

Friday, June 27, 2008

Moon River Brewing Company in Savannah, Georgia

Quality Assurance Team at Moon River Brewing

I'm thinking of moving from San Diego to Savannah for the beer...

Ok, not really, but read the "Quality Assurance Team" bit above, and you'll see why I really would not mind at all if Moon River Brewing was my local.

Moon River Brewing in Savannah, Georgia

There isn't much going on beer-wise in Georgia, so Moon River was a surprisingly good find - just down the street from our hotel. We arrived just in time for the Friday Toast, during which each person at the bar is presented with a complimentary 4-oz pour of the bar's choosing. On this particular Friday, the toast beer was their Swamp Fox IPA:

Friday Toast at Moon River Brewing

It was also my favorite beer of theirs, and probably my favorite of the trip so far - a fantastic beer in the San Diego Pale Ale style. $3 22-oz pours of this? Sign me up...

Sherry's favorite, which I also really enjoyed, was a special peach sour brown they had on tap. Subtle Belgian yeast flavor, and just a bit of sourness - very interesting and pleasant to drink. And they get bonus points for the Chouffe glass.

Peach Sour Brown at Moon River Brewing

Great place - highly recommended if you are in downtown Savannah and are looking for a quality beverage.

Bar at Moon River Brewing

Don't forget that you can get one to go (in an eco-friendly, compostable cup, no less), as downtown Savannah is one of the few places that allows open containers on the street.

Moon River Brewing Company
21 W Bay St.
Savannah, Georgia
(912) 447-0943‎

Monday, June 23, 2008

Posey's Up The Creek and T-Rays Burger Station

RT - Florida To Carolinas

Driving along the Gulf Coast in a rainstorm had us stopping in at Posey's in Panacea, Florida - it passed the parking lot check (lots of vehicles pulled in) and we were hungry. It turned out to be a great impromptu stop. I had the oyster sandwich pictured above. It boasted easily over a dozen oysters - we ate several before we got around to taking a picture. Best fried oysters I've had yet - light, crispy coating on the outside, hot, plump and juicy on the inside. Really, really good.

Sherry ordered the grouper sandwich, which was also very tasty - perfectly cooked, nicely seasoned fish.

RT - Florida To Carolinas

After we had ordered, we noticed that others were ordering plates of oysters on the half shell. For some reason it hadn't occurred to us to order raw oysters. They looked great, and we were in shock when we saw the price - $6 a dozen (about half the going rate in New Orleans). We knew we had plenty of food coming, so we reluctantly decided to resist the urge to order some.

Taking pictures outside, we noticed the sign you can see to the far right in the picture below:

RT - Florida To Carolinas

That's right - order one dozen oysters for $6, get the second for a dollar. Non-oyster-ordering regret was really starting to sink in now. An hour down the road, I thought seriously about turning back. Now, typing this up, I really wish I had. Lesson learned...

Our next stop was in Fernandina Beach, on the Atlantic Coast. Located on Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach has a cozy little downtown area on the inside coast of the island and a long beautiful beach on the outside. The problem was the vibe - full of gentlemen in white shorts and white tennis shoes and ladies in dresses. Very country club.

Decidedly less country club was our "brunch" stop on the way out of town:

RT - Florida To Carolinas

Not even sporting a sign on the outside to help you find it, T-Rays Burger Station lives inside an Exxon. We were hoping for breakfast, but arrived as they were switching over to lunch (we're not early risers, ok?). As we waited for lunch to begin, people started streaming in. Soon, the line was all the way back out the door.

RT - Florida To Carolinas

We had a couple of pretty competent burgers and enjoyed the local flavor, with Ray himself bustling around the place keeping everything moving. Smiles on our faces, we got in the car and headed north up the coast.

Posey's Up The Creek Steam Room & Oyster Bar
506 Coastal Hwy
Panacea, Florida
(850) 984-5243

T-Rays Burger Station
202 S 8th St
Fernandina Beach, Florida
(904) 261-6310

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Time Out on the Redneck Riviera

Waffle House on the Florida Gulf Coast

Finding a place to eat along the Gulf Coast can be difficult. Unless you have an unnatural fondness for Waffle House, that is. Apparently, lots of people do since they are *everywhere*. Seriously, what is up with all the Waffle Houses? On one stretch through Mississippi and Alabama, they were packed in so tightly that often while passing one you could already see the next one coming up.

The beaches were very nice, though. We stopped in for a few days in Panama City Beach. Crystal clear water at just the right temperature.

Beach at the Driftwood Lodge in Panama City Beach, Florida

Anticipating that good eats were going to be a problem, we booked a place with a kitchen. We went up the road to Buddy's Seafood Market to get something to cook up.

Buddy's Seafood Market in Panama City Beach, Florida

They had a small, but nice selection of local fish and shrimp. Shrimp seemed like a good call.

Gulf Shrimp

With New Orleans still on our minds, we came up with a dish we called Trinity Spaghetti with Shrimp and Tomatoes. Sherry used the heads and shells to make a quick stock that she used as the basis for the sauce.

Making Stock from Shrimp Heads and Shells

The final dish came out quite well. It didn't hurt that the shrimp were fantastic - great texture and flavor.

Trinity Spaghetti with Shrimp and Tomatoes

We thought it would be amusing to post a recipe from the road, so here it is:

Trinity Spaghetti with Shrimp and Tomatoes

The shrimp and sauce cook while the spaghetti is cooking, so be sure everything is ready before you drop the pasta. (Serves 2)

1 pound large shrimp, head-on
2 stalks celery, diced small
1/2 onion, diced small
1/2 green bell pepper, diced small
2 medium tomatoes, diced
4-6 ounces uncooked spaghetti
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
Kosher salt

Heat a large pot of water for the pasta. Rinse and drain shrimp. Remove the heads and peel the tails, retaining all the heads and shells. Remove the vein from the back of each shrimp, then rinse, drain well and set aside.

Heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons olive oil, then the shrimp-heads and shells. Let sizzle, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of water to the shells and stir. Repeat 2 or 3 times to create a few tablespoons of rich seafood broth.

Add salt to the boiling water then drop the pasta.

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, then add the shrimp in a single layer. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, turning once, until pink on the outside and just opaque in the centers. Sprinkle lightly with salt, remove from pan and set aside.

If necessary, add more olive oil to the saute pan. Place about 2/3 of the celery, onion and bell pepper into the hot pan, sprinkle with kosher salt and saute about 2 minutes, then reduce heat. Drain the seafood broth from heads and shells into the vegetable mixture and stir through. Add the remaining celery, onion and bell pepper just before pulling the pasta.

When the spaghetti is al dente (9-11 minutes), drain and mix with the sauce. Top with the cooked shrimp and chopped tomato, stir gently and serve.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Muffaletta from Central Grocery, Hold the Muffaletta...

Central Grocery in New Orleans

We figured it would be wrong to leave New Orleans without a muffaletta from the famed Central Grocery. The muffaletta sandwich features an olive salad base and green olives aren't really my thing, but I figured I'd take one for the team...

Unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately?) we noticed as we passed by on our last night in town that they were closed the next day (Sunday). Pretty cool place to peer into at night, though.

Central Grocery in New Orleans

Our hopes of a muffaletta-to-go dashed, we wandered back to our hotel down ever-busy Bourbon Street. Our encounter with the olive salad will have to wait until our next visit.

Bourbon Street

Monday, June 16, 2008

Beignets, Busted Cameras and Best Buy

Beniets and Cafe Au Lait at Cafe Du Monde

Rising late one morning in New Orleans with plans to have beignets at Cafe Du Monde in the French Market, we discovered that our camera was dead - the LCD was completely fried. Undeterred (ok, somewhat deterred and very pissed off, but still resilient) we marched down with our broken camera to have breakfast.

Nice beignets, good coffee, perfunctory (but efficient) service, and sub-optimal photos (you try switching your camera to macro when you can't see the menus...)

Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans

That was our morning (ok, early afternoon). The rest of the afternoon was spent locating, driving to, and patronizing a camera selling establishment. I'm an almost 100% online shopper these days when it comes to electronics, so this was new territory for me (and not how I planned on spending one of my afternoons in New Orleans).

A few blue shirts and a few hours (that I'll never get back) later, we had a new camera and were back in business.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pandora's Snowballs

Pandora's Snowballs in New Orleans

While taking a ride on the Canal Streetcar toward City Park, we saw a bunch of people standing around a snowball stand. We hopped off at the next stop and walked back.

Snowballs are a big thing here - the shaved ice machine was invented in New Orleans at Hansen's Sno-Bliz. We didn't make it to the original, but Pandora's didn't disappoint.

Pick-Up Window at Pandora's Snowballs

They have a ton of flavors, and people were ordering all sorts of things, from straightforward flavors to more exotic combos like "banana and bubblegum" and "wedding cake with an ice cream top". You could also get your snowball stuffed - with the addition of soft serve ice cream in the middle.

We went conservative and got tangerine:

Tangerine Snowball at Pandora's

Good stuff. These aren't the "sno cones" I remember as a kid at the fair - those had grainy, chunky ice and quickly lost their flavor. This was a fine, soft ice with flavor that went all the way through.

I just wish we'd gotten it stuffed - then it would have been creamsicle flavor...

Happy, we hopped back on the Canal Streetcar and rolled back to our hotel.

Canal Streetcar in New Orleans

Pandora's Snowballs
901 N Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans, LA

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Late Night Eats in New Orleans - The Clover Grill, Coop's and Yo Mama's

The Clover Grill

Late mornings lead to late lunches which lead to late dinners. Which lead to late mornings...

Fortunately, the French Quarter has some good late dining options. We passed the Clover Grill and after a glance in the window had to stop in. Relaxed, campy atmosphere, and pretty decent late-night fare. We had a burger (cooked from frozen, but expertly - which is a skill unto itself) and a perfect grilled cheese.

Inside the Clover Grill

We spent a couple of evenings at Coop's Place - a great bar with good food just off of the beaten path in the French Market.

Coop's Place

Coop's is a difficult place to describe. Hip meets hippie meets geeky. I've read complaints about the service, but we had no issues. I recommend sitting at the bar since they only have two people handling the whole front of the house and might not see you pouting in the corner.

Bartender at Coop's

No food photos (dark and late), but we really enjoyed their rabbit and sausage jambalaya and had a great cup of red beans and rice. The fried chicken was less successful, but others have enjoyed it so it might be a night-by-night thing. We enjoyed drinking the locally brewed Abita IPA - not outstanding, but pretty good, and better than almost anything else you are likely to find beerwise in a NOLA bar.

We had another very successful late-night meal at Yo Mamma's. It's hard to believe that a place can be hidden a block off of Bourbon St., but this place is. Having Pat O'Briens across the street to draw the crowds away probably doesn't hurt...

Yo Mama's

Another burger meal in NOLA, I know, but you can only eat so much gumbo and jambalaya... They do burgers and baked potatoes, and both of them very well. We shared a bacon burger. More of a thin, wide burger than I'm used to, but they still managed the requested medium rare in the middle with great charred flavor on the outside. Very good.

Bacon Burger at Yo Mama's

Friday, June 13, 2008

New Orleans School of Cooking - Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding and Pralines

The New Orleans School of Cooking

One day while in New Orleans, we took a great cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. The two and a half hour long classes (ours ran over three) are not hands-on preparing, but they are definitely hands-on eating. Our instructor reminded us a bit of Alton Brown, giving us equal parts cooking demonstration and fun local history lesson.

Class at the New Orleans School of Cooking

The first dish was gumbo. I forgot to take a picture of the gumbo itself because I was too busy getting it down my neck. I did get a picture of the roux at different stages, though. Our version used the very dark, highly flavored, chocolate colored roux.

Roux at different stages for the Gumbo at the New Orleans School of Cooking

The gumbo itself was really, really good. The protein was andouille sausage with a bit of chicken. The andouille was out of this world - it had an incredible smoky taste that flavored the whole pot of soup. Our instructor explained that it's made by taking smoked ham, turning it into a chunky sausage and then smoking it again. Hopefully we can find a good approximation of real andouille once we're back home.

Next up was the jambalaya, which was also fantastic. It used a smoked sausage that wasn't as flavorful as the andouille, but was still very good. Most jambalayas we've had have used tomato in the base. This one didn't, and we really liked it this way.

Jambalaya at the New Orleans School of Cooking

Dessert was two courses. We started with a "Piña Colada" bread pudding with "Hard Sauce". The pudding had pineapple and coconut in it, and the sauce was made using rum. What's not to like?

Piña Colada Bread Pudding with Hard Sauce at the New Orleans School of Cooking

And finally, pecan pralines. Even though I'm not much of a candy person I still really liked these.

Pralines at the New Orleans School of Cooking

Along with the meal they offered locally brewed Abita Amber Ale and Root beer. All and all, well worth the $27 they charge ($3 less if you have a coupon - look in the local tourist rags). It's easy to spend that just on lunch in New Orleans, and you probably wouldn't eat as well or have as much fun.

The New Orleans School of Cooking
524 St. Louis Street
New Orleans, LA

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Real Ale Festival at Pizza Port Carlsbad

The 11th annual Real Ale Festival is this Saturday at Pizza Port Carlsbad. Being out of town, we can't make it this year, but you should!

It is a fantastic fest - a huge selection of cask conditioned beers from some of the best breweries in the country.

Their Strong Ale Festival is great as well, so watch for it later in the year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Orleans - Acme Oyster House, Felix's, Mother's and the Camellia Grill

Oyster and Shrimp PoBoy at Acme Oyster House

Our first restaurant stop in New Orleans was the Acme Oyster House. Just off of Bourbon, Acme and their rival Felix's across the street have been serving up oysters for a long time. Acme seems to be winning the battle at the moment - despite having a larger capacity, they often have a line out front while Felix's is relatively quiet.

Acme Oyster House

At Acme, we opted for a po'boy as our oyster delivery vehicle, ordering a shrimp and oyster combo (segregated with one side shrimp, the other oyster).

Oyster and Shrimp PoBoy at Acme Oyster House

It hit the spot - especially the oysters, which were perfectly fried and had a rich, but not too overpowering oystery taste.

We also had a bowl of their seafood gumbo, which was good, but nothing like the bowl we had at Don's Seafood Hut in Lafayette. It was more of a standard gumbo with some seafood thrown in, whereas Don's had an amazing seafood flavor throughout the base.

Seafood Gumbo at Acme Oyster House

Not to leave Felix's out, we headed across the street for some oysters on the half shell. We stood at the bar as they shucked us a dozen. They were nice and small, well shucked, and had a very pleasant, delicate flavor. So, it's not because of oyster quality that they are losing out to Acme.

Back on the po' boy hunt a different day, we had lunch at Mother's, another long-standing establishment tucked away on a corner just outside of the french quarter.


Inside, the place had a great feel - friendly, but with a healthy dose of attitude.

Steam Table at Mother's

We had read that the debris po' boy (so named because it is made with roast beef trimmings) was the thing to get - big, messy and delicious.

Debris PoBoy at Mother's

It only delivered on two of those three adjectives - it certainly was big and messy. Not so delicious, though - pretty bland and uninteresting.

We also had a bowl of filé gumbo. Filé is a powder made from sassafras leaves that is used as a thickening agent. Unfortunately, the gumbo was also pretty tasteless, and tossing in some hot sauce couldn't make up for it. So, thumbs up for atmosphere, thumbs down for food.

File Gumbo at Mother's

Another day had us on the St. Charles Ave. Streetcar out through the garden district. The far end of the line (it doesn't yet go as far as it used to pre-Katrina) puts you smack dab in front of the Camellia Grill. So you might as well go in...

The Camellia Grill

Seating is all counter service, with the grill right there behind.

Inside the Camellia Grill

We ordered a pecan waffle, which was very good. A generous helping of pecans added a nice texture and the flavor went really well with the syrup.

Pecan Waffle at Camellia Grill

Although the food didn't always fire on all cylinders, we really enjoyed eating at these old-school eateries.

Acme Oyster House
724 Iberville Street
New Orleans, LA
(504) 522-5973

Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar
739 Iberville Street
New Orleans, LA
(504) 522.4440

Mother's Restaurant
401 Poydras at Tchoupitoulas
New Orleans, LA
(504) 523-9656

Camellia Grill
626 S Carrollton Ave
New Orleans, LA
(504) 309-2679