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By John and Sandra Nowlan
Chain restaurants may be a threatened species in North Carolina. Many chefs in the Tar Heel state are drawing record crowds of diners by embracing the ‘farm to table’ or ‘slow food’ philosophy and serving their guests only fresh, local ingredients with a southern twist.
On a recent trip to the scenic and very hospitable western end of North Carolina we purposely avoided the chains and stuck with Carolina cuisine that reflected southern roots and imaginative flair.
Our introduction to this culinary creativity came in Charlotte, the state’s largest city, with its new emphasis on fresh and local. Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen on North College Street is a good example. Chef Joe Kindred told us he creates a “new, southern cuisine” by mixing Italian, French and Southern US influences and getting all his ingredients from local farms. Even the furniture is made locally. Meats and many of Chef Kindred’s vegetables are roasted over hickory wood imparting a succulent flavour. We especially enjoyed tender and juicy barbequed chicken. The only exception to Roosters’s local rule is the fresh mussels and we were delighted to learn that they’re flown in from Prince Edward Island!
Even more down-home southern cooking comes from Mert’s Heart and Soul, a lively African-American restaurant that specializes in mac and cheese, hot buttery sweet cornbread, shrimp and grits and huge glasses of sweet iced tea. After lots of jerk-seasoned BBQ pulled pork, black-eyed peas and collard greens we left very full and very aware that we were in the south.
Our final Charlotte stop was at the Harvest Moon Grill, located within the historic Dunhill Hotel, one of the few older downtown buildings to escape the wrecker’s ball. Chef Patty Green insists that all her supplies are organic with no hormones, pesticides or antibiotics. She buys free-range pork and grass-fed beef from local farmers to produce dishes that “appeal to all the senses”. She says she wants her food “to fill your mouth with flavour”. After sampling her trout three ways, fried okra, carrot salad with garlic, chicken confit and pork chops with smoked sweet potato puree we agree she has succeeded admirably. Her salted caramel pot de crème dessert was divine.
Heading west on the way to Asheville we stopped in Hickory, a city of 40,000 best know for its furniture manufacturing and huge furniture retail outlets. But its cuisine follows that ‘slow food’ philosophy with several talent chefs providing tasty local fare.
Chef Josh Phillips attended the Culinary Institute of America and his restaurant, Josh’s on Union Square, combines casual comfort food and fine dining. His lunchtime sandwiches, on sourdough or multigrain, are particularly good. Youssef 242 is considered the best restaurant in Hickory and we met Chef Youssef Amrani who told us about his Moroccan roots and commitment to local products. The Mediterranean influence was obvious in delicious dishes like deep fried green and purple okra with pimento cheese and lamb tenderloin with couscous. His desserts, however, were mixed. The pineapple upside down cake was spectacular but the bread pudding was somewhat dry.
When we hit Asheville after a picturesque drive from Hickory along the Blue Mountain Parkway, we headed for the 12 Bones Smokehouse, reputed to be President Obama’s favourite BBQ joint. Known for long lines and generous portions of pungent, aromatic cuts of smoked beef, chicken, turkey and pork,
we felt positively presidential as we enjoyed brisket, ribs and pulled pork along with made-from-scratch corn pudding, mashed sweet potato, collard greens and jalepeno cheese grits.
Dinner in downtown Asheville was a special treat at Posana, a totally gluten-free and organic restaurant that’s also the first in North Carolina to be certified as Green. The low carbon footprint did not affect Chef Peter Pollay’s cuisine however as we began our meal with an imaginative brussels sprout salad (with apples, sunflower seeds, stilton blue cheese and honey-buttermilk dressing) and a tasty kale salad (with toasted pumpkin seeds, currants, manchego style cheese, lemon and olive oil). Both were unusual and, apparently a big hit with kids as well. Our main courses were equally innovative and included giant scallops and local barrelfish (a type of bass). We didn’t need it but a dessert sampler included Opera Torte, caramel cheesecake and North Carolina Apple Cherry Pandowdy.
One of Asheville’s most popular restaurants, and deservedly so, is the Tupelo Honey Café where everything s made from scratch. With generous servings big enough to share, this North Carolina institution serves its food southern style with flair. The unique Appalachian Egg Rolls use pulled pork in BBQ sauce rolled with braised greens, pickled onions and shredded carrots while amazing main dishes include tangy shrimp and goat cheese grits and root beer molasses glazed pork tenderloin accompanied by hot biscuits and honey.
We didn’t expect North Carolina’s most popular tourist attraction to include an outstanding restaurant. But the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, featuring the largest private home in the United States (built by George Vanderbilt, it includes some 250 rooms), includes several great places to eat. We tried the popular Stable Café that used to house horses 100 years ago but now feeds thousands of tourists authentic southern cuisine at reasonable prices. Chef Brian Hough makes everything in-house including fried local cheese curds, bangers and hash (with hand-made grilled sausage) and a Stable sampler of spice-rubbed baby back ribs, pulled pork and rotisserie chicken with white beans, collard greens, cole slaw and
We marveled at the extraordinary landscapes, unique attractions and friendly folks of Western North Carolina but we especially enjoyed the southern hospitality of the many restaurants that promote the fresh and local concept. It’s a philosophy that makes this state extremely attractive to any visitors who want the best of southern food while avoiding the bland sameness of chain restaurants.
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
By John and Sandra Nowlan
The low price was startling. A sign outside the smart looking motel on South Padre Island, Texas, advertised rooms for just $34.99. Other nearby motels were almost as cheap – $36.99. We haven’t seen US prices like that for decades.
But this is a key reason why Canadian visitors told us that the Gulf coast of south Texas is “the best kept secret for sun-seekers.”
This area gives Florida a serious challenge. Summer, when Canadians usually stay near home, is high season in south Texas (big city folks from Dallas, San Antonio and Houston flock to the seashore to beat the heat). So the rest of year – except for a week or two in early March when the spring break college crowd gathers – is off-season with a sub-tropical climate and amazing prices for food, accommodation and attractions. Plus the beaches on the outer islands of the Texas coast are extraordinary.
Our first stop was Corpus Christi, a thriving port city of 300,000, protected by a long, sandy barrier island. Like many cities, the downtown has suffered decay but is being revitalized with more hotels and good restaurants.
Before hitting the beach on nearby North Padre Island it’s worth a day or two exploring some unique attractions in the city. Foremost, in our view, is a giant piece of World War Two history. The USS Lexington, the oldest remaining aircraft carrier in the world, is now tied up in Corpus Christi Bay as a National Historic Landmark. The huge ship, three football fields long, was known as the Blue Ghost for its apparent invincibility in the Pacific war against the Japanese. It was built in 1942 and served in active duty until 1991 when it was decommissioned and donated to the city of Corpus Christi. Guests can now visit the massive indoor hanger, see dozens of vintage and modern planes spread out on the long deck and climb narrow staircases as the sailors did, to living quarters and the operational areas. There’s even a flight simulator and IMAX type theatre.
Nearby the Lexington are the Texas State Aquarium (remarkable for a small city, with many hands-on exhibits), the gleaming white Art Museum of South Texas and the Museum of Science and History which specializes in marine archaeology. That museum includes the remains of both the oldest recovered French and oldest recovered Spanish ships in the western hemisphere and well as full-size replicas of the Christopher Columbus ships, Pinta and Santa Maria. The Nina replica is berthed at the Corpus Christi marina.
Most people come to south Texas for the beaches so we crossed a long causeway to reach Padre Island, the longest barrier island in the world. Parallel to the coast, the narrow strip of sand stretches almost 200 kilometres from Corpus Christi south to the border of Mexico. The smooth sand is firm enough to handle vehicles so many cars and trucks drive along the beach (15 mph limit) or park by the surf for fishing or a picnic. We drove along the beach and the quiet highway to the small resort community of Port Aransas that prides itself on having no big box stores and no McDonalds. Instead, the town of 3,500 offers relaxation, good seafood restaurants and excellent fishing and birding.
One cannot drive the length of Padre Island (much of it is designated as “National Seashore”) so visitors travel inland on Route 77 to reach the southernmost part of Texas, its “tropical tip”, and the pleasures of South Padre Island.
Boasting the best beaches in Texas, along with world-class birding, fishing and dolphin watching, the community of South Padre Island has fewer than 3,000 residents much of the year but happily handles 60,000 to 100,000 visitors on hot summer weekends. The attractions are many. We visited a sea turtle conservation building on Padre Boulevard where guests learn about the five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico and where injured turtles are kept until well enough to return to the wild. Close by is the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Centre with a five story observation tower overlooking the bay and boardwalks that extend over four acres of wetlands frequented by a large variety of wildlife, including hundreds of species of migratory and local birds. In the afternoon we boarded a boat for dolphin viewing. Seven pods of the mammals, numbering about 250 individual dolphins, frequent the bay and immediate Gulf area. They love to get up close to tour boats and show off.
Food on South Padre Island is inexpensive and delicious. You can bring your own fresh-caught fish to many of the seafood restaurants and they’ll gladly cook and serve it to you, along with salad and dessert, for about 15 to 20 dollars. For breakfast we tried Yummies Bistro (rated a well-deserved number 1 on Trip Advisor) and found a new favourite dish – fresh grapefruit pie. Unique and amazing! Evenings are so pleasant in south Texas, everyone will enjoy the sunset dinner cruise on the Southern Wave Catamaran. The boat glides up the bay side of the island, past beautiful homes, while a talented singer rolls out clever ballads and the chef serves a feast of fresh grilled shrimp and Mexican fajitas.
Our vacation sunset came all too quickly as we headed to the mainland city of Harlingen (along with Brownsville, it has the closest airport to South Padre Island) for a quick visit and a flight home. This city of 75,000, with a small home-town feel, boasts the original Iwo Jima Memorial (based on the famous photograph, it’s 10 metres tall with an 18 metre flagpole) that has a better known brass copy in Washington, DC. The downtown is enlivened with large, colourful murals, including one honouring Bill Haley (of “Rock Around the Clock” fame) who died in Harlingen after spending much of his life here. An old-fashioned soda shop downtown has a showcase filled with Bill Haley and the Comets memorabilia. Near the city are flourishing citrus groves and aloe plantations.
In Harlingen we met John and Lucy Morey of Port Dover, Ontario. Retired for a decade, they’re now known as “Winter Texans” (the term, “Snowbirds”, seems to be reserved for Florida) and spend several months of each year in this part of the Lone Star state. “We tried Florida,” John Morey told us, “ but here in Texas people are just much more friendly and the cost of living is much less.” He and his wife noted that they could play a round of golf for $12 and buy wine or beer in a store or restaurant for less than half the price they pay in Canada. They also love it that Mexico is close by. “I can drive 30 minutes to Progreso, Mexico, and get a thorough cleaning from a good dentist for $20.”
Lucy Morey noted that more and more Canadians seem to be discovering south Texas. “Actually, we’re taking over,” she laughed. “We have friends here from all ten provinces.” John Morey agrees. “We come here because it’s warm and I think it extends my life. I don’t have to deal with cold weather.”
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
Beach, beaches, birding, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, dolphin watching, dolphins, fishing, Gulf coast of south Texas, Gulf of Mexico, Harlingen, North America, North Padre Island, Padre Island, Port Aransas, Route 77, South Padre Island, South Texas, Texas, Texas State Aquarium, United States, USA, USS Lexington
by John and Sandra Nowlan
Toronto chef and Food Network star Mark McEwan uses a lot of Prince Edward Island ingredients in his restaurants. He often flies to Charlottetown and says the pastoral landscape is just like a fine painting. “I have a love affair with PEI”, he told us. “It’s perfect for a chef because the province is dedicated to agriculture, surrounded by ocean and has a unique microclimate. You have some fantastic chefs here and a culture that supports them”
Those attributes have combined to make Canada’s smallest province a significant player on the North America culinary scene. A tourist season that used to finish at the end of August now stretches well past late summer with the month-long Fall Flavours Festival involving communities across the Island as well as the International Shellfish Festival that has been attracting sold-out crowds and world-class chefs for 17 years.
Michael Smith, Canada’s best known celebrity chef and host of several shows on the Food Network, has lived and worked on Prince Edward Island for last 20 years. He and Chef McEwen were the hosts of the 2012 Shellfish Festival and prepared the opening dinner for 500 guests in a huge tent at the new Charlottetown Event Grounds.
After sampling fresh oysters from a dozen Island suppliers spread around the perimeter of the tent (each region has its own distinctive salinity and taste) guests were treated to Chef Smith and Chef McEwan at their creative best. For the first course, Michael Smith prepared Sweet Potato Mussel Chowder with smoked salmon, chive essence and a sculpted potato anchor while Mark McEwen brought out a unique butter braised lobster poutine with crisp frites and classic béarnaise sauce. With students of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, they created the main course, tender Island beef striploin medallions with a lobster tail and local vegetables. It was fantastic!
Over the next few days, guests at the festival (75% were from out-of-province) enjoyed cooking demonstrations (“Anybody can cook mussels,” Chef Smith claimed), an oyster shucking contest and the PEI Seafood Chowder Championship (with lots of samples, of course).
The Fall Flavours event, which overlapped the Shellfish Festival, attracted even more top culinary talent including celebrity chefs Susur Lee, Anna Olsen and Corbin Tomaszeski. They hosted events like Beef n’ Blues in Summerside, a Lobster Party on the Beach and Chef on Board (Chef Tomaszeski prepared a gourmet feast on one of the Northumberland Strait ferries). We chose “Dining on the River Clyde,” a leisurly six-course meal at the Olde Glasgow Mill restaurant in New Glasgow, PEI, overlooking pastoral farmland and the tranquil river where eagles, heron and other birds soared and entertained at dusk. The highlights were probably the roasted butternut squash and pear soup with a poached prawn and the oyster trio, prepared three ways, each with a distinctive and delicious savoury topping.
With events like Fall Flavours and a culture of fine cuisine throughout the year, it’s little wonder that talented chefs are coming to PEI and staying throughout the year. Chef Michael Smith said that producing good food is woven into Island culture. “It’s a tight knit community,” he said. “All of us who live here are close to the land. Everyone knows somebody who prepares food. That makes this province very special.”
Chef Mark McEwan says the Island is very special for visitors like him as well. “When I come to PEI, I feel like I’m going back a little bit in time.
It’s a great place to come to relax and help lower your blood pressure. It’s a remarkable province.”
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
by Yvette Cardozo
Once upon a time, ski food, even at major resorts, meant greasy $3 hamburgers and chili. Well, the hamburgers and chili are still there, but these days they’re made of Kobe beef and cost upwards of $15.
And it’s not only gourmet, $20 a plate restaurants that are dishing out decent food. Just about every eatery has it’s own hook … and some pretty yummy fare.
I was recently at The Mill Cafe, one of the on-slope restaurants at California’s Mammoth Mountain when a guy, maybe 22, well over six feet and hardly 180 pounds pointed excitedly to a dish in the cafeteria line.
“That,” he said, his eyes gleaming. “And that, and that, and that.”
You could practically hear the drool drip.
Though he had added grilled chicken breasts and salad and potatoes to the mix, the star on his plate was the smoked tri tip beef.
Yeah, I ordered it too and it turned out to be the best single meal I’ve ever had on a ski hill without having to pay big bucks at a waiter served place. The juicy, tender slices of beef had just enough smoke to give them flavor; they melted in my mouth and came with a killer dipping sauce.
Be still my growling stomach.
But there was more. On busy days and weekends, Mammoth hauls out its burrito cat.
It’s a food truck on snow treads, painted bright orange, and serving up four flavors of burrito for a quick on-slope snack. The thing has been so popular, Mammoth is planning to add a second cat, this one devoted to calzones.
For the more gourmet minded, there’s the snowcat dinner. Picture a bus on snow treads and you’ve got a passenger snowcat. It takes folks up to Mammoth’s ultra gourmet Parallax restaurant, which is usually reserved for Black Pass owners.
Black Pass? A paltry $10,000 for membership gets you favored parking, permission to cut lift lines, concierge service and lunch at Parallax. But for the rest of us, a typical $89 snowcat dinner will serve up wild arugula salad with goat cheese, maple and peppercorn crested duck breast or rack of lamb followed by chocolate soup … yes soup.
Why is all this good food available?
Perhaps you can credit Deer Valley in Utah.
This is the place that invented ski luxe. There were telephones on lift poles here in the early 1980s so skiers could stay connected, well before folks could pull a cell phone out of their pockets. There were ski packages that included butlers. And of course, there were gourmet buffets with half a dozen kinds of mushrooms.
People shook their heads when the lodge opened with its brass bathroom fixtures, original oil paintings and gourmet ski food. But it didn’t take long for other resorts to copy the idea.
And now we get to the much sought-after, three-times-weekly Fireside Dining meals at Deer Valley’s Empire Lodge.
This takes ski dining to unheard of levels.
Begin with the architecture … a 35,000 square foot lodge filled with what has become the prerequisite ski luxe decor of cedar planking, heavy beams, peeled logs and, of course, massive fieldstone fireplaces. These fireplaces are the focus of the dining experience.
First, the cheese. Huge rounds of raclette sit on the hearth, slowly melting and dribbling onto plates. The fragrance is so sharp, you catch your breath while dropping boiled potatoes, pickles, tiny onions, bread and Swiss meats onto your plate. Take a plate of cheese, some homemade mustard and dig in. But not too much. Because this is just the appetizer.
Then it’s on to the next fireplace … steaming bowls of stews, thick with tender chunks of lamb, chicken or veal that swim alongside mushrooms, leeks and roasted tomatoes.
And finally, sheesh, can there be room for more? Dessert. This is at the third fireplace, where pots of bubbling chocolate and caramel sit alongside strawberries nearly the size of a plum, slices of apple, banana and assorted dried fruit. Whew.
Daytime food at Deer Valley isn’t bare-bones either. At mid-mountain, Royal Street Cafe’s signature dungeness crab tower is something to behold. Six inches of crab layered with avocado, tomato, sprouts, wontons, ginger, soy. And there’s a maple bacon barbeque bison burger.
Park City’s Snow Hut at the base of Silverlode Lift serves Thanksgiving dinner for lunch daily … turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and, as one ski host put it, “The best smashed ‘taters you’ve ever had.”
And there’s High West Distillery … certainly the world’s only ski in/ski out saloon that makes vodka and whiskey on the side. Yes, you can ski or ride to the place. Both Quit ‘N Time and Creole trails at Park City Mountain Resort funnel you into town where you come over a bridge (still on skis or board), then click out and cross a narrow street which dumps you at the distillery’s front door.
There’s food. There’s booze. There are tours at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm daily. You go back stage, so to speak, and get to see the copper pot still and learn just how whiskey and vodka are made If you’re hungry, there are, among other tasties, bourbon and black coffee glazed cod or whiskey cider braised short ribs. And for $20, there’s a whiskey tasting which gets you a sampling of High West’s unique blends. Some spicy. Some smooth. All intriguing.
Okay, we know this is a story about food you can ski to. But we have to include one in-town restaurant because the experience was so special.
Talisker on Main in Park City is beyond gourmet. Food here is an art.
“You really have to try the fried egg and bacon appetizer,” our server said.
Well, this was no truckstop dish. First a single egg is pressure cooked, then encrusted with a bread crumb/cheese mix and flash fried for a second. It is served with a square of local pork belly bacon that has been braised for 24 hours and topped with pepper and gremolata spices, served over a chick pea and arugula puree. It is a ballet of tastes … some sharp, some spicy, some mild, all managing to play on your tongue just right.
And this was just the start. The brussel sprout salad was actually brussel sprout leaves pan seared in sherry vinaigrette. There was a bone dripping with fragrant marrow and then the lamb rack served with a spicy house made sausage.
What made all this even more special was the setting. Out front is a large room for groups. But you leave that and enter an alcove with two overstuffed chairs on one side, two more on the other. It practically begs you to meet the couple on the other side. A private, intimate nook shared with new friends.
There was, of course, so much more to be tasted on our ski trip … the Kobe beef burger at Park City, the lamb stew at The Canyons, the full page of flowering teas at, of all places, Ghiddoti’s, an Italian restaurant.
And best, it was all guilt free. We had skied all day.
We deserved to eat all night.
Parallax Snowcat Dinners – Mammoth Mountain Resort, www.mammothmountain.com. Look under the dining & nightlife/fine dining tab. The dinners run Friday, Saturday and holidays at $89 pp ($49 for children) plus tax.
Deer Valley Fireside Dining – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. $54 pp ($28 pp for children) plus tax. Another $30 (total, not pp) gets you a 15 minute sleigh ride for up to six people. www.deervalley.com
High West Distillery – www.highwest.com
Talisker On Main – www.taliskeronmain.com
Park City – www.parkcityinfo.com
THE SKI RESORTS
What Utah does best in the skiing world is variety. Less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, there are seven resorts, three of them in Park City alone. And each of the Park City areas has its own personality.
Deer Valley is, of course, still tops at ski deluxe. The cruising runs are groomed to perfection. And while it has the most beginner terrain, the days when it had only hero snow for CEOs who ski a week a year are long gone. There are now six mountains, 21 lifts, 100 runs and a couple of expert bowls that will curl the hair on your chest. Deer Valley still doesn’t allow snowboarders, however. www.deervalley.com
Park City Mountain Resort is the original, with the most wide open intermediate terrain but also a bit of everything for everybody in seven “mountain zones,” each with its own feel. Sixteen lifts and 114 trails serve 3,300 acres. But what makes this place stand out is the history. Old mining equipment, huge ore bins and mine shaft entries still dot the runs and you can take a history tour that explains it all. Then, at the end of the day, you can ski right into the heart of Park City’s old town. www.parkcitymountain.com/winter
Canyons has grown the most, from barely more than a local hill to Utah’s largest ski resort with 4,000 acres, 19 lifts, 182 trails and some of the widest variety of expert terrain in the area. When the rest of Park City teems with bodies, the new Iron Mountain area is practically deserted and has a variety from intermediate to bouncing bump runs through the trees. www.thecanyons.com
In California, there’s a reason Mammoth Mountain is called, well, mammoth. It’s got 3,500 skiable acres, 150 trails and 28 lifts and these days, you can fly into the local airport, avoiding the 250 mile drive from Los Angeles. There’s just about every kind of terrain here from super expert to first day novice. In the past, you really needed a car here but now that there is a real base village with condos, restaurants and shops plus a gondola to the snow, you can truly leave the car at home. www.mammothmountain.com
DEER VALLEY ROYAL STREET CAFE BLUEBERRY MOJITO
Handful mint leaves
1 tsp granulated sugar
Quarter wedge lime
1/2 to 3/4 C lemonade
1 oz premium light rum
2 Tbs fresh or frozen blueberries (one tbs smashed to create some juice)
Splash of soda
1/2 oz premium dark rum
Spring mint (for garnish)
Slice lime (for garnish)
In tall 16 oz glass, add mint leaves and sugar. Squeeze juice from lime wedge into glass. Mash the ingredients with the back of spoon or wooden muddler until mix is fragrant. Fill glass with ice. Add lemonade until glass is 2/3 full. Add splash of soda then add light rum & blueberries and stir. Sowly pour dark rum into drink so it floats on top. Garnish with mint and lime.
by Yvette Cardozo
They call the Florida Panhandle “The Forgotten Coast.” And yes, it truly is. It’s not the easiest place to reach and cell service is from another millennium. But wow, there’s so much more.
The oysters, for one. No, the central Florida Panhandle did not get washed in oil from the BP
oil spill disaster. ”Everyone thinks we did. We had booms out there. We’ve checked. There was and is no oil,” said Van Johnson, mayor of tiny Apalachicola.
So if you want oysters … and a rich assortment of fish … this is THE place. It’s also the kind of place where an antebellum mansion … really, honestly … built in the 1800s by the same guy who built a house that is now a state park, with 4,000 square feet, four bedrooms, and updated kitchen, is on the market for $275,000. That’s probably 1/10th of what it might have sold for five years ago.
It sits there in Apalachicola in all its Victorian splendor, and a couple of my friends were seriously thinking about buying it.
But back to the oysters.
My friends and I started our foray at a local restaurant called Boss Oyster – their motto is “Shut up and Shuck.” I’m still not quite sure about where that name, Boss, came from. But if you ask anyone in town for The Place for oysters, this is where you will be told to go. It’s one of those rustic Florida eateries with a large deck over the water, oilcloth on the tables and friendly waitresses who call you honey with a thick southern accent.
The menu has other things. Meat for those who must. Sandwiches. But the star of the show is oysters, made 20 different ways. The restaurant has two kinds of oyster Rockefeller (they call it Rockefella), plus something called Captain Jack with bacon, peppers, hot sauce and cheese, The Cubano with black beans, smoked bacon and more. The Gooda Gooda (flame broiled and topped with caramelized onions, spicy Creole soy sauce and smoked cheese) is actually quite tasty. But to be honest, I think anything other than the least intrusive addition on an oyster is wrong. So my fav was, of course, raw on the half shell nestled in ice. And a close second, the Japanoise, chilled with chives, ponzu, wasabi and flying fish roe. Even with the wasabi, the delicate flavor of the oyster came through.
However, I wanted to see how these tidbits came to our plate, and the next morning, I went out at dawn with two oyster guys, Toby Dalton and Leroy Schaiver. Oyster fishing … is that the term? … is done here the old way. Locals would call it the honest way. Two men go out in a wooden skiff that they probably built themselves. One drives, the other stands on the side holding long, wooden tongs that look like giant chopsticks with a metal basket on the end. The guy with the tongs dips the basket into the water, wiggles it in the oyster bed to loosen the oysters, grabs a batch, swings it up
and across to a shelf at the bow of the boat. The other guy then sifts through
the catch, shoving the undersized ones back. And this is the last place in the US where oysters are still fished with tongs.
“Man, do you work out or something?,” one of our group asked Toby, who has a set of biceps a gymnast would envy.
“Nope, just this.”
One of my friends on a similar outing tried for herself and couldn’t even lift the tongs with the basket much less grab 10 pounds of shells and swing them across a boat. Of course, I wanted to taste one of those oysters. Leroy split the shell, scraped the debris off and handed it to me. It was
salty and sweet at the same time. It’s that sweet undernote that fades
quickly from oysters that are getting old.
But of course.
Men like Toby and Leroy supply the 15 fish restaurants in Apalachicola. Fifteen in a town of less than 2,000 people, so you can tell how popular fish is here. To preserve this bounty, they go out every day with strict rules about how many and how big the oysters can be and where they can get them. Then, people like me smack their lips over the results in restaurants across the
Panhandle. And there are certainly plenty of fish restaurants in the Panhandle’s
cities, towns and spots along the beach.
But there is also more to the Panhandle than Apalachicola. There’s Mexico Beach, which is actually a strip of hotels, some truly quirky. The Driftwood Inn (http://www.driftwoodinn.com/), just … grew. Peggy Wood started decades ago with a ratty motel. Today the place
looks like an antique shop, with innumerable doodads and frills and just neat … stuff. Plus the absolutely largest Great Dane dog I’ve ever seen.
Watch out for his tongue. He will lick you to death. Off Mexico Beach is Crooked Island, actually a broken peninsula, where you will be left totally alone to hunt for shells to your heart’s content.
And further west is Panama City Beach, a place so tacky kitsch, it’s
really neat. There’s an upside down museum … the BUILDING is upside
There’s mini golf and a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. And sunset cruises and more pirate themes than you really want to see. But somehow it all works. It’s very, well, 1950s, and truly sweet. When we weren’t swimming, watching sunsets and driving, we ate, mostly on
decks over the water, always something fishy, usually ending with Key Lime pie.
Beware — the folks here LOVE their fried food. Fish, oysters, whatever. It’s all battered and fried. Even if you order it grilled, make sure to tell them to go light on the butter sauce. Maybe a bit on the side, so you don’t miss a chance to taste it. The other biggie here is shrimp … fried, of course, but also grilled and best, steamed. They’re large and fresh and sweet. And then, there’s the Key lime pie.
Yes, Key lime pie is from the Florida Keys, nearly 1,000 miles to the south. I grew up with Key lime pie and its legend … supposedly concocted by Florida pioneers who had neither
real milk or real refrigeration. The pioneer recipe calls for simply mixing Key lime juice, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk till it thickens, then pouring the results into a graham cracker crust (graham cracker cookies mashed with a LOT of butter).
Things being what they are these days, you can’t serve raw eggs, so restaurants cook their pies. I remember an old pioneer variation that had you
put the pie in the oven for 10 minutes to set the curds. My mom said that
was okay. I just shoved mine in the ‘fridge. How exactly this pie (it is served EVERYwhere in the Panhandle) became a signature dessert 1,000 miles from the Keys is beyond me. But in all the
restaurants I tried, not a single one defiled the pie with that ghastly green food coloring that the ignorant use. And most left the meringue off, bless their honest hearts. (Okay, yeah, I know some insist meringue is correct but … well, that’s a debate for another day). And on that note, both in my trip and here, the story ends. I ate my last oyster back at Boss on my way to a friend’s house. We shared one last Key lime pie.
And I promised to not look at the scale at home for at least a week.
Apalachicola – http://www.apalachicolabay.org/
by Barbara Kingstone
There’s some pretty fine dining on Canada’s renown Via Rail. Here’s the diabolically delicious plum pudding recipe serviced on Canada’s transcontinental trains, usually during the winter holidays. But now, having wrenched the recipe from the Via Rail chefs, you can have this delectable goody all year round
Plum pudding recipe
|¾ cup (170 ml) Chopped beef suet
¾ cup (170 ml) Breadcrumbs
¾ cup (170 ml) Currants
½ cup + 2 tbsp.(145 ml) Seedless raisins
½ cup + 2 tbsp.(145 ml) Flour
½ cup + 2 tbsp.(145 ml) Sultanas
½ cup (115 ml) Mixed peel
½ cup (115 ml) Apples, finely chopped
½ cup (115 ml) Brown sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) Walnuts
¼ cup (60 ml) Almonds
¼ cup (60 ml) Rum
¼ cup (60 ml) Stout
1 tbsp. (15 ml) Lemon juice and zest (finely grated)
1 tbsp. (15 ml) Orange juice and zest (finely grated)
½ tsp. Vanilla extract
½ tsp. Baking soda
½ tsp. Cinnamon
¼ tsp. Almond extract
1 pinch each Ginger, Nutmeg, Allspice, Salt
|1. Wash raisins, sultanas and currants. Steam these ingredients for a few minutes to soften, then add the rum, orange and lemon juices (keep zest for step 2), and the vanilla and almond extracts. Let stand for 12 hours.
2. Whip eggs thoroughly. Mix in the chopped apples, zest and mixed peel. Add the raisin mixture from Step 1. Mix well.
3. Combine the remaining dry ingredients with the chopped nuts and chopped suet. Add the wet mixture from Step 2. Mix well.
4. Pour the mixture into a mould and cover with a well-floured cloth.
5. Tie the cloth securely around the mould with string. Plunge in boiling water and simmer for 4–5 hours.
Tips for making your plum pudding special:
- Include small coins in the pudding mixture! This once common tradition dictates that those lucky enough to find a coin in their share will have a prosperous year. Kids will especially love the treasure hunt. Wash the coins before adding to the mixture and remember to warn the family before they dig in.
- Flame it up! Pour hot rum or whiskey around the pudding and either ignite it in the kitchen and rapidly bring it forth, or flame it at the table. The flame will burn out once the alcohol is consumed. Keep out of reach of children
- Make it saucy! Plum pudding is best served with a sauce – a simple hard sauce or something sweeter flavoured with lemon, caramel or vanilla.
You have been invited to be part of a recipe exchange/ Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Few experiences compare to exploring Western Canada on a luxury railway. Named by National Geographic as one of the “World’s Greatest Trips”, Rocky
Mountaineer is the adventure of a lifetime. However, it is not only the railway journey that has earned Rocky Mountaineer their respected name: the immaculate service and outstanding dining that has also contributed to their reputation. Chef Frederic Couton crafts his award winning meals with only the finest and freshest regional ingredients. Try his BC Salmon recipe post-vacation to inspire memories of the Great West.
|1/4 cup shaved fennel
10 drops lemon juice
4, 8 oz portions sockeye salmon (boneless, skin on)
1/2 tsp smoked sea salt
1 cup assorted vegetables
8 baby potatoes (approx 2 cups)
Sprig of dill or sprouts for garnish
Mustard Olive Oil Dressing
2 tbsp grainy mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
|Shave fennel thinly on a mandolin and add lemon juice to avoid oxidation.
Pan-fry salmon skin-side down and finish in the oven at 350° F for eight
minutes. Sauté fresh trimmed vegetables and season. Roast baby red potatoes
in oven until cooked and season. Prepare Mustard Olive Oil dressing as a
vinaigrette and season.
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com