Good Morning, SFA – Symposium 2015

 

It’s fall in Mississippi, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year. Football is in full swing, which tends to cause great havoc to my heart rate, and due to my loyalties to the hometown rival, can create a hostile work environment on the occasional Monday. It’s also the season for freaky weather. On a recent weekend I arrived in Oxford, Mississippi, one of my top three American cities, only to be greeted by a ninety-plus degree afternoon. The next evening I was wearing a heavy coat. (Huh?) Fall may also be the best season for Sunday drives. As I typed this, The Wife was at the wheel (she not only edits, she chauffeurs when I have a deadline). Fall colors are beginning to creep into the treeline, cotton fields are snowy white, and the ruddy orange of the sweet potato crop is beginning to emerge from the soil. For me, however, the pinnacle of autumn is the Symposium of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

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The Symposium has many layers. It is in part an academic conference. The SFA is housed within the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the Ole Alma Mater, and among other staff there is a professor devoted to the study of Southern foodways. Some of the lectures we hear are condensed versions of dissertations and scholarly articles presented by Ph.D.’s. Peel away another layer, and you find a family reunion. Chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, grocery store owners, and folks who are simply fascinated by all things culinary, all get together for this long weekend because – well, we just like being around each other.
It’s also very much about the meals. Even the most celebrated, James Beard Award-winning chefs are equally thrilled and filled with dread at the prospect of feeding this crowd. There are nine meals that fill the weekend, and each has its own story. We shall commence with breakfast.

Day One: Wildflour Pastries

Day One: WildFlour Pastries

Breakfasts at the Symposium are usually standup, casual and often served in brown bags, but that doesn’t mean any less work goes into them. On the first morning of the conference we arrived at the historic Lyric Theater to a bevy of brown breakfast boxes filled with the creative baking of Lauren Mitterer from WildFlour Pastry in Savannah, Georgia. The eye-catcher was a caramelized pecan sticky bun with cream cheese frosting. This was no wimpy little hint of glaze, like one might smear on a canned cinnamon roll. It was a thick swirl of white, crowning crunchy pecan halves, with the sticky bun serving as a solid foundation. Though I generally maintain a take-it-or-leave-it opinion when it comes to pecans, these were crunchy enough to provide a nice textural contrast between the copious icing and the sticky sweet roll. Slightly more savory was the fig, bacon, and goat cheese mini-quiche in another corner of the box. My relationship to goat cheese is off-again, on-again – it tends to be a stronger flavor than I can generally embrace. But in this pastry, the sweet fig and briny bacon worked well with the hint of sour-umami that the goat cheese delivered.

Day Two: Revival Kolaches!

Day Two: Revival Kolaches!

The second morning found us break-feasting outside on a campus lawn, with the early morning temps re-assuring us that fall might actually be coming. A table full of brown bags awaited the crowd, this time filled with kolaches. I occasionally see kolaches advertised in our area, but my first taste was in Central Texas, where Czech settlers likely introduced them many years ago. In my brief acquaintance with kolaches, I’ve seen them in basically two forms. They may look like a buns or rolls filled with breakfast meats of some sort, similar to a pig in a blanket. The other iteration has a bite similar to a cinnamon roll with a dollop of fruit or cheese filling on top. Our bags had one of each, brought to us by Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber of Revival Market in Houston, TX. The meat-filled kolache was laden with spicy boudin sausage (boudin in a blanket?) saving me the need for the saltine crackers I normally use as a vessel for breakfast boudin. They called the other one a Satsuma kolache, which had a cream-cheesy filling flecked with bits of Satsuma mandarin. The Wife went back for another one of those, and I did my part to help her make it disappear.
One of the speakers on Saturday talked about Cracker Barrel. The theme of the weekend was “Pop Culture: Who’s selling, who’s buying, and at what price?” and there is a lot of pop culture at Cracker Barrel. According to her research, the fine folks at the Barrel essentially invented the Hash Brown Casserole. For breakfast on the final morning, Chef Corbin Evans of the Oxford Canteen reinvented it. He called it Skillet Hashbrown Breakfast Taco Casserole with Salsa Verde and Crema (not in a brown bag or box, but on recyclable brown plates). I am not what you would call a frequent flier at Cracker Barrel. But if they had any part in the inspiration of this Latino version, then I am at least deeply thankful.

Day Three: Canteen Casserole

Day Three: Canteen Casserole

The food may change every morning, but there is one consistent factor: Royal Cup Coffee. In our home kitchen we have a collection of coffee tumblers that the Royal Cup folks provide for Symposium attendees each year. We pretty much wear them out. Over the years they have added the option of pour-overs, and an espresso-fueled truck. (Okay, that’s an embellishment – but you can get espresso drinks from the truck.) This year they also added a nitrogen-infused cold brew. I usually prefer my coffee sweet and creamy, but this cold brew didn’t need any add-ons. I was astounded and amazed. And after two of them, very much awake.

Royal Cup Brew-Mobile

Royal Cup Brew-Mobile

Stay tuned; lunch is coming.

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Taco Tuesday

Taco Tuesday. It just has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? According to Gustavo Arellano, author of the book Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America, a number of restaurants claim the original idea – one even copyrighted the term. No matter who thought of it first, I think it’s a great idea. And not long ago I had an inadvertent (but delicious) Taco Tuesday I won’t soon forget.

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A book you should read

The scene was Jackson, the capital of our fine state. For the purposes of my day job, which is medical in nature, I found myself spending the day at the Medical Mall. Until 24 hours before my trip, I didn’t even know there was a Medical Mall. For others unfamiliar, it’s an old shopping mall, retrofitted with clinics, pharmacies, health education and the like. Not necessarily the sort of place you’d think would harbor a great lunch spot. But pharmacists gotta’ eat, right?
When lunchtime came, my colleague gave me a quick tour of what served as an extended food court: Subway of course, because the next closest Subway must have been at least a half mile away. (I’m convinced they have the same expansion plan as Dollar General.) Chick-Fil-A in miniature (not a full-size restaurant – more like a stall with sack lunches.) And Picadilly Cafeteria, an apparent holdover from mall days, I’m betting. There were a few other places scattered about, but the one that caught my attention was a little kiosk halfway between Subway and Picadilly.
The sign said, “Sameerah’s Healthy Kiosk.” A bigger sign listed five or six varieties of grits: grits with bacon, grits with ham, grits with sausage, etc. The idea of grits for lunch brought me back, but when I looked at the menu – abbreviated but intriguing – it was a taco that sealed the deal.
It’s always tough to make a decision when:
1)I’m at a new place,
2)so many things look good,
3)I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to go back.
The struggle is real. Thankfully, there was another customer waiting for his order that was happy to help. I didn’t get his name, but I did get that he worked in the building. I also got that he had eaten with Ms. Sameerah every day, Monday through Friday, since something like January. He also revealed that she made everything fresh daily – if she ran out, she ran out. She even cut her veggies right there in front of us. I watched her shave slices of carrot right into our wraps. In the end, though, he wasn’t as much help as I had hoped: he had tried everything on the menu, and it was all good. I was right back where I started.
I finally settled on the black bean taco – it was a healthy kiosk, after all. She cut the veggies fresh, after all. Plus it was after 2 o’clock and I knew I’d be eating dinner in a few hours, so something lighter seemed the right thing to do. She started with one of her homemade wraps. I didn’t get details on how she made it, but I could see that it was special – chances are it was a secret, anyway. The next layer was something she called Sameerah Sauce – no secrets divulged on that one, either. Next she added black beans heated on the electric griddle, then fresh-cut carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, and more. Another squirt of Sameerah Sauce and it was done. Simple and delicious. On the side were grilled veggies unlike any I’ve ever had. Thin-sliced cabbage, green pepper, tomato, onion, and zucchini – heated up on the griddle with a blend of herbs that I assumed she wouldn’t share. (And she wouldn’t share.) I’ll just have to experiment and figure it out, because those veggies were ten times better than any side of fries. And healthy to boot.

Sameerah's Black Bean Taco and Grilled Veggies

Sameerah’s Black Bean Taco and Grilled Veggies

Lunch was a lucky surprise, but dinner had already been decided. I left the Mall after work and went a few minutes down the road to Fondren for my first visit to the Pig & Pint. As I approached the entrance, I was enthusiastically welcomed by one of the P&P servers. I told him I’d never been there before and requested his recommendation. Ribs were his first thought – apparently they’d won an award for being the best in Jackson. Next on his list was the taco sampler. Now he had my attention.
I think it’s ironic that a dish most old-school pit masters would never have offered in a roadside barbecue joint is now de rigueur in the newer places. And despite the purist streak in me, I dig ‘em. But I did take the time to peruse the menu. I had already heard about the pork belly corn dog. I was intrigued by the pimento cheese served with house made pork rinds. Boudin burger? Ordinarily I would have gone for it (I’m odd like that) or at least persuaded someone with me to order something different. That allows me to pretend to be a real food critic and try as many dishes as possible. But alas, I was alone and not quite starving, so I went with my gut and got the tacos.

Taco Trio @ Pig &Pint

Taco Trio @ Pig &Pint

The trio included one each with pulled chicken, pulled pork, and brisket. All had pico de gallo and mango jicama slaw, the slaw another rendition you are unlikely to find at a typical joint – yet it fit right in at the Pig and Pint. I think the brisket was my fave, but I didn’t leave a crumb from any of them. And despite my state of satiation, I geared up for the ride home with a decadent chunk of Parker House Bread Pudding, infused with cranberry jelly and covered in white chocolate sauce.

Decadence in a paper tray

Decadence in a paper tray

A long workday transformed into an unforeseen Taco Tuesday. That’s the kind of day I like.

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Let’s Eat Sweets, Y’all

If you were to peruse my social media feeds, you’d see pretty quick that I follow a lot of chefs. Back in the summer I happened to see a re-tweet from one of those chefs: a contest to win 2 tickets to an event in Ridgeland, Mississippi called Sweetest Chefs of the South, put together by Let’s Eat Y’all. I had seen that it was coming, but as intriguing as it seemed, I couldn’t figure out how I would swing a trip like that in the middle of the week. But just for fun, I retweeted it, too – and won the tickets! So I started re-figuring.
Female pastry chefs from all over the South were the focus of the evening: Mississippi, Florida ,Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama were all represented. Among those were two who were already on my radar, Whitney Miller and Martie Duncan.
Whitney is a native Mississippian from Poplarville and was the first winner of Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef competition. The treat at her table was Mississippi Mud Pie, but I assure you: it wasn’t your grandma’s version. Her take began with a Mason jar lid filled with buttery graham cracker crumbs, topped with a brownie, garnished with a dollop of cream cheese mixed with whipped cream, and finished with pecans. The brownie was chocolaty and rich; in her demo she revealed that secret: real baking chocolate (not just cocoa powder) and a little shot of coffee. I’ve served desserts in Mason jars before, but never in the lid. Something new to try.

Whitney and fam makin' mud pies.

Whitney and fam makin’ mud pies.

Whitney and I had crossed paths before, but this would be my first time to meet Martie Duncan. As an addict of the Food Network show, The Next Food Network Star, I felt like I knew Martie pretty well just from watching season 8. Still, I was a wee bit star-struck. But not so star-struck that I couldn’t bust up there and introduce myself, and we discovered pretty quickly that she’s just a good ol’ girl from Alabama. In her demo she showed us how to make an extremely versatile pastry dough called Pate a Choux, which she used to make the bite-sized cream puffs that held her One Bite Banana Pudding. When I quizzed The Wife on the way home, she declared this her favorite of the evening.

Martie and Me

Martie and Me

One of my favorites (there were several) was the S’mores Macaron from Stephanie Little, a private chef from Baton Rouge. Actually, Stephanie is from Oxford but works in the shadow of LSU; as a Rebel in Bulldog country, myself, I could relate. The cookie part of the macaron served as the graham crackers, with a touch of fresh-ground cinnamon to give a deeper flavor. For the Hershey Bar element, half the cookie was dipped in chocolate. And somehow (chef magic) she gave the marshmallow filling a smoky campfire flavor by infusing a special tea into the mix.

I want s'more of these macarons.  (Sorry.)

I want s’more of these macarons. (Sorry.)

Felicia Suzanne Willet (Felicia Suzanne’s of Memphis) made Butter Rolls with Brandy Peaches and Whiskey Anglaise. At one of the pharmacies I’ve worked in, we had a regular customer who rarely visited without mentioning his desire for butter rolls. I continually encouraged him to bring some to me, and I’m still waiting. It’s unlikely his had Anglaise sauce drizzled on them, but I was thrilled to finally get one.

Buttah rolls

Buttah rolls

Jen Adelsheimer (Broad Street Bakery, Jackson) had a table full of sweet stuff. Salted Peanut Butter Cheesecake, King Cake, Blackberry Peach Fruit Trifle, and a couple of other things I couldn’t pronounce. Corey Ellison (The Fairview Inn, Jackson) had tiny little peanut butter tortes with raspberries and lemon curd. Jacqueline Ladnier (French Kiss Pastries, Ocean Springs) brought Strawberry Cream Cheese Bavarian Cake. Head spinning yet from the sugar? Mine was.

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Nealy Frentz (LOLA in Covington, LA) featured Hummingbird Cake. As I walked to her table, the host of the event walked by and told me (with a mischievous look) I wouldn’t like it. Personally, I think he was probably trying to trick me into leaving him the leftovers. As it turned out, Chef Nealy had made a pretty little hummingbird nest out of coconut on top. Nice digs for the hummingbird, but coconut and me, we don’t agree. But I’m pretty sure The Wife and The Host happily enjoyed my share.
A couple of lemon-related desserts really caught my attention. The Lemon Ice Box Pie from Erin Swanson (Restaurant R’evolution, New Orleans) was unlike any lemon ice box pie Granny ever made, topped with meringue sticks, blueberries, and cubes of limoncello gelee. Blueberries were also the garnish of choice for Jamie Foster (The Manship, Jackson), on her Lemon Panna Cotta with Blueberry Coulis, another favorite.

Yes, this is lemon ice box pie.

Yes, this is lemon ice box pie.

Peaches were the fruit du jour. Mary Jennifer Russell (Sugaree’s Bakery, New Albany) diverted from her famous cakes and brought us a Peach Pie Parfait. Danielle Smathers (Restaurant 356, Atlanta) made peach cakes: layers of peach pound cake filled with peach jam, topped with cream cheese frosting and dusted with fennel pollen. Just knowing I had eaten something dusted with fennel pollen (and liked it) made for an especially memorable dish.

Peaches and Pollen

Peaches and Pollen

Finally, we made it to Von Larson’s station (Von’s Restaurant and Grill, Bayou La Batre, AL). Her dessert was simple: bread pudding with vanilla cream. I’ve had a fair amount of bread pudding in my life, and it can be hit and miss. Hers was definitely a hit, the kind that leaves you a bit dizzy from the richness but still ravenous for another bite or three.
To wash everything down, I picked up an iced “Ray au Lait” coffee drink from the Mississippi Cold Drip Coffee and Tea Company. (Not surprisingly, recommended by Ray.) It didn’t exactly cut the sweet, but it did help keep me awake for the trip back to Starkville.

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Due to our work schedule that day, the Sweetest Chefs of the South had another name that night: dinner. Perhaps not the best plan for everyday dining, but when among pastry chefs, a baker’s dozen of deliciousness suited us just fine.

Martie Duncan's Banana Pudding in One Bite

Martie Duncan’s Banana Pudding in One Bite

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Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2014, the Final Chapter: Comfort Food

If there’s one thing I like about attending the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium every year, it’s the nine meals we get to eat between meetings. Oh – and the snacks. Don’t get me wrong; the between-meal lectures are off the charts. The combo factor is what keeps me coming back. But if it were just these nine meals (and the snacks) I’d probably keep coming.
We began our first full day of the 2014 Symposium with Royal Cup coffee and a brown bag breakfast prepared by Cheryl and Griffith Day of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia. The bag was heavy with apple spice crumb cake and a sweet potato and sausage hand pie, a nice complement of sweet and savory. The hand pie made me sorry I don’t get to Savannah more often, but glad that we live near Vardaman – the sweet potato capital of the world. The apple cake was the kind of good that makes you want just one more bite, then just one more bite, and so on till you’re miserable or it’s gone or both. I ate all mine and a little bit of The Wife’s, since she listens when her tummy tells her it’s full, and I … well, I listen less.

Brown Bag Breakfast from Back in the Day Bakery

Brown Bag Breakfast from Back in the Day Bakery

The noon meal that day was called the Nashville Steam Table Lunch in Black and White. For reasons I’m not sure can be fully explained, Nashville has become famous for meat-and-three style lunch spots, or as those of use who indulge in that sort of thing like to call it: comfort food. Kahlil Arnold of Arnold’s Country Kitchen and Sophia Vaughn of Silver Sands Soul Food were our guest comforters that day. Kahlil brought squash casserole, corn-crowned green beans, collard greens and banana pudding. The squash had a little bit of sweetness in it that I could really appreciate. The banana pudding had a lotta bit of sweetness that I also really appreciated. Sophia started us off as we waited in line with little discs of hot-water cornbread, then we got helpings of bitty baby lima beans, macaroni and cheese, and black-eyed peas. So it wasn’t really meat-and-three I guess, but I was plenty delighted with my pudding-and-six, with a side of cornbread, thank you very much.

Comfort food can be a little messy - but don't worry, I cleaned the plate.

Comfort food can be a little messy – but don’t worry, I cleaned the plate.

The Friday night dinner at the symposium is the traditional catfish feed at Taylor Grocery, featuring Simmons Farm-Raised Catfish. The meal itself changes very little from year to year, and for that we are thankful. What varies are the small plates served in front of the restaurant that whet our appetites. In previous years we have had all manner of things at these outposts, but this year it was all about Delecata. The Delecata cut is what Simmons calls a “prime cut” of catfish: skinless, boneless, hand-filleted and deep-skinned. Others have called it “the filet mignon of the pond.” Charles Phan of The Slanted Door (and more) in San Francisco gave us a riff on a catfish spring roll – Mississippi catfish with a California spin. Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner (and more) in Raleigh, NC, took that prime cut, brined it, seared it, glazed it somehow with smoked ham hock, put it over creamed turnip greens, topped it with roasted tomato relish, and garnished it with cornbread crumbs. This is not your Aunt Ruth’s filet mignon.

Somewhere under that other goodness is some catfish.

Somewhere under that other goodness is some catfish.

On Saturday night it was the Lodge Cast Iron Beans, Greens and Cornbread feed. We like our cornbread at the SFA, can you tell? “Make Cornbread, Not War” – that’s what the hat says. Beans and greens may sound simple, but I’ll let you decide. Our cardboard trays were loaded with four variations on the theme, all from Georgians. From Eddie Hernandez of Taqueria del Sol (Atlanta): Charros, Turnip Greens and Green Chile Cornbread. Duane Nutter of One Flew South (also Atlanta) gave us Gulf Drum and White Bean Stew with Shrimp Acaraje’ (a black-eyed pea fritter.) Whitney Otawka (the one Athens representative) of Cinco y Diez, featured the Brazilian side of things with Carne Seca (a dried beef), Linguica (a sausage) and Lengua (yep – it’s tongue) with Feijoada (Brazilian stew) Sauce. Kevin Gillespie, chef at Atlanta’s Gunshow (the restaurant, not the firearms sale), had Heirloom Bean and Fatback Soup with Puffy Cornbread, probably my favorite cornbread of the night. We puffy people like puffy food, I guess.

Four beans, four breads, four goodness' sake.

Four beans, four breads, four goodness’ sake.

Dessert that night and a surprise afternoon snack came to us all the way from New York City. The Big Gay Ice Cream truck took a tour through a handful of Southern cities on it’s way to Oxford, where they passed out their special soft-serve, dipped in unique things like Nilla wafer crumbs and Wasabi pea dust. Our collective sweet teeth were satisfied in the evening with a choice of Coconut Ice Cream with Amarena Cherry Swirl or Dirty Banana with Crushed Nilla Wafers and Dulce de Leche. You know which one I got firsts and seconds of. “Just say no” to coconut. But yes, I dig homemade banana ice cream.

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Our final brunch was preceded by the usually unusual blend of the arts. While we ate Corbin Evan’s Bacon-Egg-Cheese Bread Pudding, we listened to Repast, an oratorio commissioned just for the symposium, focusing on Booker Wright, a waiter at Lusco’s in Greenwood back in the 60’s. Following that, logically, we ate the Greenwood Steak and Shrimp Brunch, led by Stevens Flagg, David Crews and Taylor Bowen Ricketts, all of whom do food right in their own way in the Delta. If you’ve ever been to Lusco’s or Giardina’s, you might recognize the flavors: Gulf Shrimp in Butter Sauce, Drenched Salad, Fried Onion Rings, Spinach and Oyster Madeleine, Baked Potatoes, Roasted Black Pepper-Crusted Rib Eyes, and Lemon Pie. Both the oratorio and the meal were a fitting tribute to Mr. Wright and the menu he used to sing.
It’s over. Sigh. Time to start saving dollars and calories for next year.

Delta Dinner

Delta Dinner

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Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2014, Part Two: Arepas and Underbellies

About a year ago I went to Houston, Texas for a seminar. Not long after that I went to Oxford for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. Ironically (or not?) the same chef showed up in both places. This is the story of that. And a little more.
My first night on the first trip to Houston I went with friends to Underbelly restaurant, the creation of Chef Chris Shepherd. I was slightly confused later as I read in the SFA’s weekly digest that a series of audio food documentaries (aka oral histories) had recently been done, also called the Underbelly of Houston. Lots of bellies here. I wondered if there was a link, and in a way, there was.
When I was in the midst of figuring out where I wanted to eat out in Houston, two different local residents (who have no ties to each other save the fact that they know me) recommended Underbelly – the restaurant. I was intrigued by what I discovered. Chef Chris describes his cuisine as Creole, defined as “the merging of diverse cultures with local ingredients.” Naturally, this kind of thing happens often in port cities, and Houston is the largest port city in the South. But he didn’t just say, “I want to do something Sichuan tonight” and pull out a Chinese cookbook – he found Cori Xiong and Heng Chen, the couple that owns Mala Sichuan Bistro, and learned from them. I’m told he also did the same thing in a number of other ethnic restaurants, and even encourages his restaurant patrons to check out some of these places before they come back to Underbelly.

Chef Chris plating at the Powerhouse

Chef Chris plating at the Powerhouse

At the Symposium each year, there is a big lunch on Saturday with a guest chef. This year’s lunch was given the moniker “Tabasco Dim Sum Luncheon” and Chef Chris led the way. I’ve never been to a dim sum restaurant (one more for the bucket list), but I’ve seen one on TV. Often the small portions of food are brought around on a cart, and the diner can pick and choose from several different options. This is basically how it was done at the luncheon, all the way down to the extravagantly decorated grocery carts. (Yes, there was a cart parade.)

Shopping cart bling

Shopping cart bling

At Underbelly (the restaurant – try to keep up) there is a full-on butcher shop where they make their own charcuterie, but this is not your Uncle Sal from Sicily’s salami. Some of the things we tried in Oxford were pho-spiced bresaola, paneer summer sausage, Sichuan saucisson sec, Vietnamese pickled pork sausage, whipped Gochujang lardo – and that all came with lard biscuits. Sadly, the biscuits were about the only things I could readily identify.

Charcuterie and pickles...and a biscuit!

Charcuterie and pickles…and a biscuit!

The charcuterie plate was waiting for us when we sat at the table. There were also pickles: daikon, red beans, soy green beans, mustard greens and carrots. The rest came in a controlled flurry in the wildly colorful carts. Salt Snapper Fried Rice. Sweet and Spicy Tabasco-glazed Ham Ribs. Korean Goat and Dumplings. The goat dish is on the menu at Underbelly, also, and by popular demand is one of a rare few that have not rotated off. This was not my first time to eat goat, but it was certainly the version with the most flavor.

Got goat?

Got goat?

But wait. There’s more.
Fried chicken with Tabasco-spiked Gulf Coast XO sauce, the chef’s version of a Chinese seafood sauce. Also from that genre, broccoli with caramelized fish sauce. Garlic cucumbers appeared about now, then fried bologna steam buns with Tabasco-infused Mayo. This was certainly not your Uncle Bob from Big Creek’s bologna sandwich. But it was good. Along the way were cold Sichuan noodles and eggplant with fig miso.

Bologna has come a long way, baby.

Bologna has come a long way, baby.

My favorite of the dozen plus courses was the char siu buckboard bacon with shrimp chow mein. I didn’t really recognize this as bacon, to be quite honest, and there is a reason. Typical bacon is made from pork belly. Buckboard bacon is from the butt or loin. And char siu is a Cantonese method of making barbecue pork. Every bite I ate seemed to get better and better.
Are we seeing the merging of diverse cultures yet, the real underbelly? Asian cheese in the summer sausage – you won’t find that at the Hickory Farms kiosk. Mustard greens I know, but pickled? Fried bologna bao? This was the kind of meal not to be entered with any preconceived notions, other than “Whatever that is in the takeout container is bound to be good.” And who doesn’t love a parade?

Bucket o' buckboard bacon

Bucket o’ buckboard bacon

Backtrack to breakfast, same day: another international meal to prepare us for the fusion to come. An arepa is a Venezuelan sandwich – a grilled cornmeal patty, sliced in half and stuffed with goodies. I had heard of them, but not served this way, and certainly not for breakfast. Lis Hernandez is the one who brought them to us, all the way from her shop in Atlanta: Arepa Mia.
The main arepa was the one she calls the Pernil – slow-roasted pork with caramelized onions. There were squeeze bottles on the table that looked as if they contained extreme green guacamole – cilantro sauce and guasacaca sauce. The two were similar, both with lots of cilantro, but the guasacaca had oil, vinegar and garlic while the other had mayo and jalapeno. For the vegetarians and the curiously hungry (that would be me) she offered another version with roasted butternut squash, eggplant, black beans, and caramelized onion. It didn’t make me want to be a vegetarian – the other one was roasted pork, for goodness’ sake – but it certainly left the garden gate open.

Condiment Coozies?

Condiment Coozies?

As I reflect (mouth watering) on these two meals, I have a couple of questions. It’s been a year and I haven’t eaten anything from Chris Shepherd – what did I do wrong? And would it be unfair to dream of a bowl game in Atlanta just for an arepa?

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Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2014, Part One: Deep Thoughts and Red Hots

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Each autumn for the past five years I have spent a glorious weekend in Oxford, and it had nothing to do with football.  Attending the annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium has become one of my favorite weekends of the year.  I save both vacation time and funds to make sure The Wife and I can go.  Lots of others do, too, which is why the tickets sold out in three minutes last year.  (Shake that off, Taylor Swift.)
I am always amazed by the chefs that cook and the speakers that illumine, and every year it seems I get a better picture of how food permeates everything we do.  Each symposium has a theme such as The Global South, Women at Work, The Cultivated South, and of course: Barbecue.  Last year, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we were asked the question, “Who is welcome at the Welcome Table?”  Once again I came away not just full of the best efforts of some of the South’s star chefs, but also with an appreciation of food’s interplay with history.
When I think of civil rights, the names that come to my mind right away are Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, James Meredith, and Rosa Parks; all justifiably so.  But what about Anne Moody and Joan Trumpauer?  The Royal Seven or the Greensboro Four?  These and many more played a major role in bringing the Civil Rights Act to fruition, and all worked through the avenue of food.  Do a little digging on these names and you will find that each of them were involved in sit-ins at segregated restaurants, including the Woolworth’s lunch counter in our own Jackson.  Food mattered.
The complete story of how and why restaurants and food played into the civil rights timeline is a fascinating and important one, perhaps better told by others who have done more research than attendance at a weekend symposium.   But before I get to the meals, I will share one thing I learned: the plate of civil rights is filled with more than just two dishes, more than just two colors of food, so to speak.  In some areas we (in American society) have moved away from the divided plate where foods don’t touch each other, but in others there is still room to learn and to grow.  And food still matters.
Our first meal of the weekend was one I was greatly looking forward to.  Crook’s Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is somewhat unique. Since opening in 1982, it has only had two chefs.  Bill Neal was the first, and among other accomplishments was the one responsible for establishing it as the birthplace of shrimp and grits.  I, for one, am very thankful for shrimp and grits.  When that Bill passed away in 1991, he was succeeded by another, Chef Bill Smith, who continues to carry on the legacy of elevating traditional Southern dishes and local ingredients.
I first met Bill Smith at the SFA symposium in 2010.  At every meal there are large tables set, and no place cards that tell you where to sit.  I didn’t know a soul when I got there, so I met new people every time we ate, and Bill happened to be at one of those tables.  At the time, I didn’t know what Crook’s Corner was, and certainly didn’t know that he was a chef.  All I knew was that he was on the SFA board of directors, that he could often be spotted wearing a baseball cap, and that he was a genuinely likable guy.
Since then I have seen him at four subsequent meetings, gotten to know him just a little bit better, and have put Crook’s Corner in the upper echelons of my bucket list.  But since I rarely get to Chapel Hill, I was pretty excited that Bill and his crew would be feeding us that first night.
The cooks that share the kitchen at Crook’s Corner are from Mexico, and have become an important part of Bill’s life as well as the cuisine that emerges from his kitchen.  We were privileged to share in what was called a Nuevo North Carolina Supper, a family meal served family style.
The first dish was Coctel de Camaron, which translates to Shrimp Cocktail, but was really more like shrimp salsa.  Imagine a thick tomato-based salsa, plenty with peeled shrimp and chunks of avocado, sprinkled with cilantro, and (I’m pretty sure) spiked with something citrusy.  I wouldn’t let the nice lady take it away until I’d eaten seconds.  Maybe thirds.

Next on the table were country ham and chile tamales.  When I read this on the menu, I expected chunks of ham in the masa, but alas, they were not there.  Upon further study of the menu I learned that it was broth from drippings of country ham baked in Coca-Cola that had moistened the masa.  Lots of cultures mingling here, and the result was a tasty tamale.
The main course was Pork Shanks Braised with Hominy and Corn.  There was all sorts of good stuff floating around in this bowl, after the shanks had been braised with tomatillos for several hours.  Following that was a simple mango salad – chunks of mango, lime juice and lots of cayenne pepper.  To cool the tongue we got a tub of orange juice sorbet studded with Red Hots.  Yes, that’s Red Hots, the candy.  In sorbet.  I dipped my share and more out of that tub, and I could use a bowlful right now if you don’t mind.

Four Corners of Yum

Four Corners of Yum

I saw Bill the next day and told him the meal was not just fabulous food – it was also fun.  He replied that he was glad to hear it and added: “I’m tired of serious dinners.”  If non-serious dinners mean eating food like that again, I’m with him.

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Tupelo Time

 

Tupelo was not on my radar when I woke up that Monday morning. Nor was it in my weekend plans. But by the end of the day an opportunity had come our way to spend the better part of the weekend there in the All-America City. Just The Wife and I. Sans the kids. So we loaded up the truck and took off.  (Not this one.)

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The first meal of our whirlwind journey was the Feast for the Farmers put on by the Tupelo Main Street Association, a kick-off dinner for the Farmer’s Depot, featuring ingredients from the local farms. Waiting for us on the table were baskets of yeast rolls made by Simply Sweet by Margarete. We ended up meeting Margarete at the Farmer’s Depot the next day, and she told us they had rolled up each one by hand. Lots of work and lots of love went into those rolls, and I lost count of how many I ate.
The salad was a thick slice of St. Bethany Fresh tomato, with Ralph and Evie greens, Neon Pig house-cured bacon, and preserved grapefruit vinaigrette from Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen; slices of tiny turnips were also hanging about. The Wife is not normally someone who craves a big slice of tomato, but this one received rave reviews. I’m quite sure I’ve never had a vinaigrette with preserved grapefruit, but wow. And the bacon. Oh the bacon.
Our entree was a chicken quarter from Zion Farm, wonderfully seasoned, served on a bed of Grit Girl Black-Eyed Pea Grits flavored by Beaverdam Farm sausage. It’s still a bit tough to wrap my mind around a black-eyed pea grit, but I managed to wrap my mouth around them just fine. Native Son Farms bok choy was served alongside, under a drizzle of Neon Pig White Gold sauce.

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And don’t forget dessert: Memory Orchard fresh mint pound cake with Mayhew Tomato Farm strawberries and Estes Honey. The cake had just the right amount of mint to let you know it was there, without overpowering the sweetness of the cake. But just to make sure, I may or may not have sent The Wife back for another piece. And I may or may not have eaten some of hers, too.
After dinner, the nice ladies across the table helped us pick our meals for the next day. I asked for their favorites as locals, and we got around to talking about a burger at Blue Canoe and a bread pudding made with blueberry donuts from Connie’s Fried Chicken. They had my attention.
I thought it would be a good scientific study to have the blueberry donuts in both forms, so breakfast at Connie’s was an easy decision. To get a balanced meal, we also ordered a tenderloin biscuit with gravy, and an open-faced chicken biscuit with lots more gravy. Biscuits: great. Donuts: highlight. They were a little lighter on the inside compared to cake donuts, a little crispier on the outside. The Wife called it a deep-fried blueberry muffin.

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

Between meals we cruised Main Street and did a little snacking with our friends at About the South, a gift shop with a great selection of gourmet food items. Those kept me busy while The Wife looks at candles and jewelry. I tried the Caramelized Onion Dip and White Bean Hummus from The Debutante Farmer, and we both got a couple of bite-sized Dinstuhl’s chocolates for the walk. That was just enough nourishment to tide us over through our visit to the King’s birthplace.
Lunch – or whatever you call a meal at 4 pm that follows breakfast – was at the Blue Canoe. I knew I would be getting a burger – the tough part was choosing. The BC burger was a traditional burger dressed (or “pimped out” as the menu said) to your heart’s desire. For a little extra, you could get it slathered with Crack Dip ( spicy sausage cheese dip). Another option was the Smash Burger, a mix of ground chuck, filet, and Benton’s Bacon which they get from the Neon Pig – I already knew that was good. I chose the Surf and Turf Burger, which mixed in a little crawfish and “love” (which the waitress said was actually cheese – and I get that). When it came, in it’s double-pattied glory, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it all, even that late – but what I could manage was well worth the wait.
I convinced The Wife to get the daily special, the meatloaf mac-and-cheese pot pie, but we found out it wouldn’t be ready until dinner time, so in a rush, she ordered the first thing she saw on the sandwich/entree section: the Hot Brown. And we learned something: sometimes the oh-shoot-it’s-time-to-order-and-I’m-not-ready panic selection is the right thing to do. I’m pretty sure it was the gravy that cinched it.
It was interesting that we began and ended the weekend with black-eyed peas gone wild. At Blue Canoe we got an appetizer, also recommended by the nice ladies at Feast for the Famers, called Fried Black-Eyed Peas. Served in a Mason jar with a side of sweet, chunky chow-chow, these were just crispy enough on the outside to confirm their swim in hot oil, yet didn’t come off as a seriously heavy dish. Loved it.

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The South in a jar?

We topped off our time in Tupelo town with the Connie’s Blueberry Donut Bread Pudding I’d been looking forward to all day long. This concoction was served in a tall mug with a dollop of whipped cream, accented by some extra blueberries. I shared it, of course, and just to prove I can eat in moderation, I left two bites. Then I figured, my head probably won’t spin any faster if I eat another – so I left one bite for the Blue Canoe busboy.
Thanks to my Tupelo friends, old and new – we will be back, and we will come hungry.

Friends of the Farmers

Friends of the Farmers

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Back to Florence

Sometimes choosing a restaurant can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve brought this on myself, I know, but that’s another column. As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel in Houston, Texas. Big city, hundreds of restaurants – overwhelming. In the end, I chose well, but again – that’s another column.
Even in smaller towns, when there is limited time, decision-making can be tough. Say you are going to Florence, Alabama for a work trip and only have time for one meal, but in the quad-cities area there are multiple places on the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die app. (I’ve upgraded from the brochure). How do you choose?
Well, when I first found myself in that situation, I let my friends, the BFFFF’s (Both Fine Fellows From Florence) choose for me, and I was rewarded with good barbecue and a hot dog that hadn’t even made the list. Another solution? Go back and eat some more.
About a year ago the Mighty Jackets of Starkville High took on Florence High School, and we took that opportunity to go back to The Shoals. There are five places on the 100 list in Florence. One is Dale’s Steakhouse (of Dale’s Steak Seasoning fame) which, I was sad to learn, is Dale’s no longer. Another place was known specifically for Sunday brunch – and it wasn’t Sunday. The orange-pineapple ice cream from Trowbridge’s? I got that last time. We weren’t dressed to go to the revolving restaurant. That left one choice – Ricatoni’s. Since that was my first choice, anyway, it worked out perfectly.
Of course I couldn’t go to Florence without checking in with my buddies, so we set a time to meet the elder BFFFF and his wife (which also makes her a BFFFF – Bride of Fine Fellow From Florence). As we walked up the sidewalk to the restaurant a man with a Ricatoni’s t-shirt was hanging around out front. When he turned and saw our SHS gear he said, “Are you Jerry?” (If you say my full name quickly it sounds a lot like Jerry. And I am Jerry on my birth certificate, so I answer to that, too.) “Yessir!” I said. “I’m Ric,” he said, “I’ll walk you back to your table – your friends are waiting for you.” If you’re doing the math at home, Ricatoni’s begins with Ric. Now I understood why it wasn’t called “Rigatoni’s”. See what he did there?
The BFFFF’s were waiting for us, and the table was already set with the fresh bread (kept warm in a paper bag) along with the herbs and olive oil for dipping – this was the dish on “the list”. We were especially happy because this is something we do a lot at home, except our bread is not nearly as good as Ric’s. Another friend from Florence (AFFF?) who had already publicly declared that this was one of her favorite restaurants told me to ask for a bowl of tomato cream sauce to dip in as well. We did. Also good. Now we just had to choose the perfect meal – yikes.
The BFFFF’s had their favorites already, one of which was Shrimp Spiedino – that’s Italian for skewered shrimp. This one was breaded with seasoned bread crumbs, grilled, and topped with lemon butter sauce. And because he is a good guy, he let me try one. I was impressed. For the newbies, Ric had recommended the veal, so I ordered Marsala and The Wife ordered Parmesan, because she’s a Parmesan kind of gal. Oh, and lest I forget, I also got a bowl of the soup of the day – a chowder with shrimp, with which I was also impressed.
On the side of many of the dishes (including ours) was Tagliarini Piace Pellerossa, a pasta topped with a sauce made from crushed tomatoes, basil, olive oil and garlic. It sounds simple, but it was a sight for the eyes as well as the taste buds: flaming bright red and whole cloves of garlic tossed in with abandon. I apologize to the people who sat in front of me at the ballgame, because I ate all the garlic. (It’s good for you, and I’m a pharmacist – I wouldn’t steer you wrong.)

Marsala and Tagliarini

Marsala and Tagliarini

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Prospecting Golden

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There are lots of important things to check out when choosing a university.  Academic reputation, cost of attendance, and that gut feeling that lets you know “this is the right place.”  Those are the kinds of things we’ve batted back and forth on a daily basis the last few months as Son prepares for that next phase of life.  But there are other, more personal, characteristics of the university experience that come into play as well.  If you’re an athlete, who is the coach and how are the facilities?  If you want to travel, do they offer study abroad?  And perhaps most importantly, when my dad comes to visit, where will I take him to eat?
When I took Son to Golden, Colorado to check out a school, we were very careful to do a thorough investigation into that last point.  By cracky, if I’m going to drive 20 hours to go see him, there’d better be a good meal or three waiting for me when I get there.  And ramen on the dorm kitchen stove does not meet the criteria.

Golden from the top

Golden from the top

We basically had a full day in Golden to test the waters – and by waters, I am not referring to the famous beverage made from pure, Rocky Mountain spring water.   Breakfast and lunch were decided more or less before we arrived, and dinner was a wild card.  My sights were set on three things: breakfast burritos, burgers, and buffalo.  We were in Colorado, after all.  Burritos: check.  Burgers: check.  Yak: check.  So much for the buffalo.
I’m a big advocate of food truck dining, when it is available and when it is creative. At Bonfire Burritos we scored on both counts.  When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was a contraption on the end of the old camper that looked like a raffle drum.  This one had a tray underneath full of ash and little white seeds.  This was where they roasted the chili peppers: a touch of authenticity already in sight.  I ordered the Chupacabra, which was essentially the “meat-lovers” option: eggs, hash browns, chorizo, sausage, bacon, fuego crema, cheddar cheese and green chile.  As far as I know, no actual chupacabras were harmed in the making of this burrito.  Son stuck with The Classic: eggs, hash browns, cheddar, chorizo and green chile.  We both got the small versions and still considered skipping lunch because we were stuffed.  Did we skip it?  Of course not.  We postponed it a little, but there would be no skipping.

The Golden sun shining down on a Bonfire Breakfast Burrito

The Golden sun shining down on a Bonfire Breakfast Burrito

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After the departmental meeting, the campus tour and the info session we went just a few blocks from campus to find Bob’s Atomic Burgers.  It was a perfect day weather wise, and we were able to sit outside, virtually in the shadow of the Coors beer factory, to enjoy our burgers.  At Bob’s, the menu is simple: beef burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and a quinoa burger.  You walk in, check the boxes of what you want on a wax paper sleeve that will ultimately hold your sandwich, and present your order to the nice lady.  We both got burgers with random toppings (they are legion), then split a milkshake and a “Boat o’ Southwest Tater Tots” (the special side of the day.)  Burger joints with milkshakes make me happy.  It’s just the right thing to do.  Here’s a tip, though: if you are like me and tend to be a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy food, never believe them when they say, “The tater tots have jalapeños chopped up in them, but they’re not that spicy.”  But they were crispy, hot and cheesy – more of a fritter than a tater tot, an interesting diversion from the norm.  The other fun thing about Bob’s was the ordering system.  You don’t tell them what your name is, they tell you who you’re going to be.  While we waited, orders were brought to Captain Caveman, Mick Jagger, Robert Downey, Jr, and Jerry Garcia (who would have fit in nicely there, I think).  We were Sigmund Freud, and after gastro-analyzing the burgers, they were diagnosed delicious.

That's Coors behind him... not in the cup.

That’s Coors behind him… not in the cup.

Dinner was actually the meal we almost skipped.  After the burgers we took a quick run up to Red Rocks Ampitheater and then to Buffalo Bill’s gravesite, where we split a Duffy’s Rowdy Root Beer Float.  (Remember: we split the milkshake earlier, so now we were just evening out our ice cream intake.)  Once we got to the bottom of the mountain, we decided to take a walk down the main drag of downtown Golden, thinking we’d walk to the Sherpa House and decide if we were hungry.  Yes, the Sherpa House, as in the people in Nepal who do all the hard work when people climb Mount Everest.  We only climbed a hill to get there, and naturally, by then we were hungry.  And they had yak.  Where else am I going to get yak?  There were several yak dishes on the menu, and our server recommended the Yak Sizzler, which was marinated in yogurt and herbs, then roasted in a traditional clay oven.  We shared that and a plate of pork momos, some steamed, some fried.  The yak tasted like beef (not chicken!) – a good dish, but more of a success from having tried something new than being particularly unique in flavor.  I had actually tried a steamed momo before, but the fried ones really hit the spot – my favorite dish of the night.  I asked the server where the yak came from – I couldn’t imagine it came all the way from Nepal – and he said it was from Wyoming.  Wy not?

Momos!

Momos!

So now we have a big decision to make, but we certainly can check off the eats box.  If you go to Golden, watch for chupacabras, say hello to Captain Caveman, and please – bring us mo momos.

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The Golden Ticket, Part One

We have been in intense decision mode at the Reed hacienda in recent days. Son is a high school senior, you see, and a fine university in Colorado was one of his options. We decided we needed to see it for ourselves and spring break turned out to be the best time to go. So off we went.
We were only thirty minutes out of Starkville when we faced our first food decision. Short of some travel supplies, I had already planned a quick stop in Columbus. While in the drugstore we ran across the ice cream section, full of intriguing flavors in handy pint size. Son looked at me with some anticipation, reminding me that it wouldn’t be the first road trip we had knocked back a pint of the cold and creamy. I couldn’t argue the point, and I rarely turn down ice cream, but given the lateness of the hour it didn’t seem like a good idea. We chose not to indulge. But lo and behold, as we pointed the truck back towards the highway, a bright red neon light beckoned us, pulling us in like a tractor beam on the Starship Enterprise. You know this light if you are of like mind. It is round, with hieroglyphics that cry out, “Hot Donuts Now”. This one was harder to pass up. (Did I mention the tractor beam? Pulling us unwillingly across the street and into the drive-through?) Our only saving grace was that we didn’t get a dozen hot glazed. Just four. Because when they are hot, they collapse into the mouth so readily that eating two is basically like eating a single that has reached room temperature.
This visit was entirely for Son, but I guess I’ve taught him well: he left the meal planning to me. We could have taken any number of flight combinations to get to Denver, but the best deal happened to give us a little over two hours in the ATL. Usually I’m not crazy about a layover that long, but it would fall at lunchtime and I had a plan. Airport food is not a culinary genre I often crave, but I think the options are improving now. In Birmingham there was a Jim ’N Nick’s and a Good People Brewing company – both have local roots. In Atlanta I spotted a Five Guys Burgers and a branch of The Varsity. I would have easily settled for a chili cheese dog and a Frosted Orange, were it not for another tractor beam that had locked in on us from Terminal E: a place called One Flew South.
Along the way in my association with the Southern Foodways Alliance, I kept hearing about this place in the Atlanta airport that actually induced tolerable layovers. I don’t fly that much anymore so this was my chance. After all, how many opportunities does one get to eat at a fine dining restaurant in the middle of the international terminal? And on top of that Chef Duane Nutter has competed on Iron Chef America and is a part-time comedian. Not to mention that I looked up the menu online – they call it “southernational” cuisine – and was sold even before I knew the chef was funny.
I was especially proud of Son when he ordered the OFS Dirty South: an open-faced meatloaf sandwich with pimento cheese, fried egg, sautéed spinach, Benton’s bacon, and barbecue sauce. Layers and layers of flavor happening on that plate. Son said that the slightly candied Benton’s bacon was the MVP of the dish – I picked the whole team. (Of course I tried his. That’s how it works when I’m buying.) I ordered the Pulled Duck Sandwich: duck confit, fig and peanut relish, and scallions. Pulled Duck Confit. In the airport. I was bordering on giddy.

Pulled Duck Confit.  This little piggy went oui, oui, oui all the way home.

Pulled Duck Confit. This little piggy went oui, oui, oui all the way home.

OFS Meatloaf Sandwich framed with Benton's Bacon.

OFS Meatloaf Sandwich framed with Benton’s Bacon.

We also tag-teamed on dessert. Banana pudding with vanilla bean flecks, house made whipped cream and a hazelnut crunch sprinkled on top. And Pineapple “Not” Upside Down Cake: grilled pumpkin bread, bourbon-braised pineapple chunks, and more whipped cream. Eventually we had to catch a plane to Denver, or we might have stayed and started over.

Nutter's Nanner Puddin' (or that's what he should call it)

Nutter’s Nanner Puddin’ (or that’s what he should call it)

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He called it “Not Upside Down” – we called it “Empty Plate”

Dinner in Denver was already settled before we left home. First Cousin Y is married to Chef Ed, who recently took over the kitchen at The Park House in the Bluebird District of Denver. In a previous life, the Park House was a fine French restaurant called The Normandy, serving the likes of Liz Taylor and Elvis. These days they serve a different kind of French food – we know it as Cajun. Chef Ed is not a Cajun himself, but Cousin Y has deep Louisiana roots; as the story goes, when he fell for her he also fell for her food.

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The signature item on the menu is The Peacemaker, an oyster po-boy. Neither Son nor I are big fans of that particular mollusk, but there were plenty of other Louisiana staples to pick from. The first plate sent out was Crawfish Cheese toast. I have had similar dishes – in other places – that were okay but not memorable. Chef Ed’s was great. Not overly crawfishy, plenty of cheese, and I’m pretty sure some rendition of the holy trinity of Cajun cooking was in the mix somewhere.

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Next out was a big basket of okra (fried as the good Lord intended) with remoulade sauce; Son got a fried shrimp po-boy. I chose beaucoup small plates because I didn’t want to decide. A bowl of gumbo. Red beans and rice (with andouille sausage and pepper jack cheese, a tasty new twist.) Good Cajun food in the Rockies. Who’d a’ thunk? I hated to leave even a bite, but as you might imagine, by this point we were stuffed. Plus Cousin Y had been talking up the buttermilk pie (her own recipe) drizzled with blackberry sauce.  We ate the pie – it was worth the ensuing waddle to the car – then drove on to Golden, where more good eats (oh, and a college) awaited.

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