Tag Archives: crawfish

Chicken, Biscuits & A Plantation

Another scorcher. Our day is planned around the Magnolia Plantation, about which I am very excited. Award winning gardens, open since 1870.

Breakfast is at a Triple D joint, Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe. When we arrive, the lineup is out the door and remains that way through our stay. There is minimal seating inside so I grab the only available table outside. Rob lines up to order. It is about 30 minutes until we get food from this point.

When he comes back he brings two icy Diet Cheerwines, two plates with biscuit sandwiches of fried chicken an a fried egg, smothered in country gravy.

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He also brings a slice of heirloom tomato pie to share. The fried chicken sandwich is excellent, nice biscuit, crunchy chicken, perfect fried egg with a slightly runny yolk and delicious, peppery country gravy.

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The tomato pie is tomato heaven. Made with ripe tomato slices, cheddar cheese piled into a buttery, sourcream  crust and baked to perfection. The pie is accompanied by a gingerbread “crouton”. Curious but delicious. A fine breakfast indeed.

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Bellies full, we make our way out of town to Magnolia Plantation, land that has been in the Drayton family for 12 generations. The plantation is noted for its gardens, camellia collection, plantation home and restored slave quarters. After the civil war and the freeing of the Drayton labour force, the plantation continued to thrive by offering and charging for tours of the extensive gardens. There is also a petting zoo of rescued animals on site.

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I had very much looked forward to this tour. I have never seen a plantation before and this is one of the better ones apparently. However, this is labour day weekend and everyone and his dog decided to check out this historical treasure. This came as a huge surprise to the operators of the plantation. Like, “never before have they been busy on a holiday weekend” surprised.

After a lengthly walk from the auxiliary car parking, we encountered a lineup of Disneyesque proportions. In the scorching sun. We line up expecting to be moved through relatively quickly. Three of six ticket kiosks are open. A couple at one is there for 10 minutes. The line does not move. They averaged 3 minutes or more to accommodate each guest. After an hour in line, under a hot sun in 100 percent humidity, I am basically done by the time we reach the kiosk. We plan to just buy the all-inclusive tickets (or you pay general admission and add each and every tour you want to do) but are told this will take 5-6 hours, not doable on a day like this. We opt for the general admission and 4 of the available tours. “Lets get you signed up.”, the ticket master says! “We can’t get you started on any of the tours until 2:00.” It is currently 12:15. So we go over options. This is what is taking the line so long. They are doing this with each group. Two by two. Most disordered public attraction I have ever encountered. She kept apologizing for the long line. They did not expect this, despite having given out discount coupons for this busy holiday weekend. You’ve been doing this on some level since 1870.

Anyways, we severely curtail what we wanted to see. The heat and humidity are at unbearable levels, even for me who likes the heat. We manage to do a self guided walking tour for a little over an hour. We walked through the gardens which were actually well kept but not very interesting as little to nothing was in flower. We toured the beautiful, leafy conservatory, green with palms, ferns and an occasional potted orchid, with one or two statues. We headed over to the “Big House” where we viewed the grounds, back and front and checked out the crap…I mean, gift shop. We did not go inside the house because we could not get a tour at a reasonable time. It’s online however and quite interesting.

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We paid 2 bucks a pop for off brand bottled water, which they should have been distributing for free due to the line up we were forced to endure due to their incompetence and sat on the porch for some shade with 19-year-old Big House Cat, “Sylvester”.

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Soon after we headed back to our vehicle, which took us past the restored slave quarters. We again did not do the tour of the quarters as the schedule was ridiculous. The interiors are online and again are quite interesting.

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The Magnolia Plantation is a historical treasure and we are sure that had we visited at another time of year when they were more prepared, it was cooler and more of the gardens were in bloom, this would have been the highlight of our trip. As it was, it was a massive disappointment.

Afternoon siesta: required. I love Charleston but this was absolutely the wrong weekend to land here. The city is stinking hot, humid and crowded with tourists for the holiday weekend. I’d like to come back in April.

Tonight we will have our final meal in Charleston at The Fleet Landing. We have 7 pm reservations. When we leave there are people doing an hour and a half wait. This does not speak necessarily to the quality of the food but the fact that the city is so crowded.

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The Fleet Landing is a five minute walk from our hotel. We get there early and have a drink at the bar.

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It’s a good spot to watch food being purveyed around. A live menu. When we are seated we order another round and apps. I order the crab cake. I know, I said I was done with them but this one looked to be good. I was right. It was all lump crab meat, with a bit of mayo, fried with an ultra thin crust,  served on a salad of fresh corn and topped with fried onions that on this evening were a little limp (as is everything in this city at the moment). Good idea, though.

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Rob had the calamari “steak” which was finger sized strips of squid battered and perfectly, crisply fried. Served with two sauces, a sweet Thai and an aioli. Quite delish.

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Beautiful, hot angel biscuits and butter appear. Mmmmm…

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Mains arrive. Seafood fettuccine for me, with three plump scallops, good shrimp, mussels, and crawfish tails in a nice cream sauce. The generous coins of andouille sausage were really good and super spicy with a heat that kept on coming. They do not offer shaved parm but there are a few thin slivers melted on top. Unnecessary really.

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Rob’s main was a fried seafood plate with shrimp, scallops with some Charleston red rice and some creamy coleslaw. First off, the sides were killer. The red rice was smoky and seasoned with just a little zing. The cole slaw was creamy with a bite. The fried shrimp and scallops were a little greasy, which is a first in our experience of the South. Usually, items are fried perfectly. Not so, here. The shrimp were better, but the scallops were not winners. Even so, there was a lot of food, so a lot got left on the plate anyway, but there was not a single grain of that red rice left.

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Goodbye Charleston. Tomorrow we head to Wilmington North Carolina on our way to Washington, DC.

 

Road Trip – Savannah!

We have two full days in Savannah. First things first. Get the lay of the land. Best way to accomplish this is a “hop on-hop off” bus tour. We sign up with Old Savannah Tours. 16 stops and it leaves from the front of our hotel. The tour is informative with actors hopping on occasionally to bring the Old City alive.

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Our only complaint was that it was hard to take pictures. The trolley driver never slowed for photo ops. Even the train on last summer’s “road trip” slowed for pics. It was also hot and not the best light. We will go back early morning or evening for more pictures. On the plus side several of our touring companions were of the canine persuasion. This is Bailey.

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Our “hop on-hop off” pass enabled us to debus at The City Market. Very little in the way of breakfast places were open at 10:30. We found just one place, Pie Society, open. A happy accident indeed.

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They serve tea and savory pasties as well as sweet pies. We both ordered egg and sausage pasties hot out of the oven. Wrapped in a buttery, flaky pastry were two hard boiled eggs and a sausage.

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We split a smaller sausage and apple roll that seemed intriguing. This roll was also nice and flaky with a sausage interior spiced with sage and large pieces of apple. Inexpensive, excellent fare.

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After completing the 90 minute tour and experiencing some of Old Savannah, a city designed around 24 town squares/parks, we climb aboard Moby and head to Tybee Island for lunch and a view of the Atlantic ocean. A short drive through the porous coastline brings us into the island and to the famous lighthouse.

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We explore a little more, through kitschy seaside neighbourhoods reminiscent of the Florida Keys and then head to the ocean beach for a look-see.

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…and then head over to The Crab Shack for lunch.

The Crab Shack on Tybee Island, is a string of “hurricane-chic” huts strung together. Completely homemade. Completely fun.

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When we first arrive we are attracted to The Cat Shack, a home made cat house for the semi-feral cat population. The staff ask that you not feed any wild or domestic animals. Signs assure patrons that the kitties are well fed and spayed and neutered. Meet Oreo and Smokey.

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On the patio overlooking an inlet, the sun is hot, there is a gentle breeze and the beer is cold. Misters and fans keep us cool.

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We order Blue Moons and Yeungling and wait for our massive House Specialty Sampler Platter of local crab, shrimp, mussels, crawfish, sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and Alaskan king crab, done in the Crab Shack’s own spicy boil.

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I do not want Alaskan king crab in an area that has its own fresh seafood, but I must admit it was good. The corn on the other hand was mushy. This is a common complaint of ours at “boils” or BBQ joints. They cook it ahead of time and leave it in a pot of hot water all day. Corn cooks fast so make it fresh or don’t bother. The meal was good, messy fun and perfect with the sunshine, the view and the company. On the whole, the local seafood is delicious and the beer goes down well.

Time for a little siesta back at the hotel before rooftop cocktails, a stroll along the Savannah River front and dinner at Rocks on the River. Rocks, located in our hotel, The Bohemian, is right on the Savannah River where the river is fairly narrow affording amazing views of huge ocean freighters loaded with colourful cargo containers drifting by so close you think you could touch them.

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After a stroll by the shops along the river front and a cocktail at Rocks on the roof, we head down for dinner. Staff is friendly and efficient as it has been throughout our stay. We are seated and order. Chicken and waffle app to share and she-crab bisque for me. The bisque is reputed to be the best in the city. It tastes delicately of crab with a mild alcohol bite. I have to say my shrimp cognac bisque kicks this bisque’s ass. More booze for a larger sting and a good reduced seafood stock are the key for a deeper flavour.

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The chicken and waffles is decent but no where near the gold standard that is Roscoe’s in LA. This is an app and it has been tarted up with boursin and arugula (Snoop Dog dies a little). A sweet strawberry-black pepper coulis adds a nice foil to the fried chicken. All in all a fine app.

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Mains arrive, seared scallops and succotash for me and a hopefully righteous burger for Rob. The scallops are perfect and the succotash is excellent. Lima beans, corn, peas and smoky, salty bacon.

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Rob’s burger was indeed righteous – Great bun, great toppings and most importantly, good beefy flavour.

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Washed down with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet, a fine evening indeed.

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RT2: NOLA – Local flavours

It’s over ninety degrees today in New Orleans. That’s about 40 in Canadian. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I am sitting rooftop and poolside at the Monteleone. Bliss. Perfect end to a perfect day that found us breakfasting and strolling in the French Quarter and and exploring the Treme district with a lunch stop at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.

Breakfast was at Cafe Beignet, a few blocks down Royal Street from our hotel. The Cafe is a quaint little place that is so very French Quarter, from the iron scroll tables and chairs, to the stripped awning, to the gold lettering on the door.

Cafe Beignet on UrbanspoonInside there is a virtual trompe l’oeil garden painted on the plaster walls and curved ceiling. The floor is large shards of marble and cement cobbled together like a flagstone patio. The tables inside are awkward tiny affairs with a railing around the edges making it difficult to find space for everything. We opt to eat on the patio where the tables are larger and shaded by palms. Rob lines up and orders for me as well. He knows I want some famous New Orleans coffee and chicory. He brings me back grits and a crawfish omelette, creole hash browns and eggs for himself. We get an order of beignets to finish.

Breakfast was somewhat disappointing. The coffee is served in paper cups not ceramic and I definitely think this diminishes the experience of coffee. It is not how I remember coffee here. It is not Cafe Du Monde‘s coffee. The omelette was the star of this breakfast. It was perfectly cooked and the crawfish were delicate and nicely spiced. There could have been more though. The chunks of fresh green pepper and tomato were also satisfying. Swiss cheese added another layer of flavour. The accompanying white corn grits were bland and unseasoned. I didn’t eat them and if it was my first experience with this culinary delicacy, I would never eat them again. These grits are the reason northerners don’t eat grits. Rob’s Cajun hash browns and andouille sausage was good overall, with the sausage providing the abundance of flavour. The potatoes were run-of-the-mill cubed potatoes but were elevated by the peppers, onions and sausage.

Crawfish omelette.
Creole hash browns with andouille sausage.

The beignets were good but dense and did not possess the delicate airyness of the beignets at Cafe Du Monde. They also do not have a half pound of icing sugar dumped on them and this is quite fine with us.

The cafe boasts a number of friendly sparrows hoping to share your doughnut, but watch out overhead. We both got crapped on. We were also surprised by a visit from a sweet little tabby cat and judging by the size of the bowl of kibble nearby, she is not alone in frequenting the cafe.

After breakfast, we went hat shopping and explored the Treme district (which should be well-known to watchers of HBO’s excellent series of the same name) and the 9th ward. There was still a lot of flood damage and places in terrible shape, although I am sure we didn’t see the worst of it. There was also a large number of new housing areas under development, although we’re sure that they are not affordable to those who had lost their homes to Katrina’s destruction. Five years on, this seems to be more of a man-made humanitarian disaster than anything caused by Katrina’s wake.

One of the good-news stories of the region was about Willie Mae’s Scotch House, named after Willie Mae, a 90-plus year old woman whose restaurant was destroyed by Katrina and with her daughter’s and the community’s help re-opened her doors 4 years later. It is seen as one of the emblematic symbols of hope for many in the neighbourhood and has since been awarded a James Beard Award for southern cuisine and has been featured on Food Network’s Feasting on Asphalt.

Willie Mae's Scotch House on Urbanspoon

Willie Mae’s is on an upswing and very busy this fine Saturday. It’s a sticky kind of joint. Tables are a little tacky to the touch and the floor, well… Anyways, we are here to eat some soul food and floors are not my concern for another two weeks. The staff is friendly and the crowd is mixed but mostly black. Posters adorn the walls featuring black cultural icons like Miles Davis appearing at the Apollo and Charlie Parker performing at Massey Hall, as well as movie posters advertising Spike Lee’s documentaries about post-Katrina life in this district.

Willie Mae’s is noted for its fried chicken and touted as the best in America by the Food Network. A blessing or a curse? The chicken comes in three pieces, a large breast, wing and leg. It is hot and moist, with a lightly crispy, delicate crust, well seasoned and with a mild bit of heat. It is truly excellent fried chicken. The best in America? Even with my limited experience in several Southern states I could not make this pronouncement. I’ve had some damn fine fried chicken in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Memphis. I expect to have more on this trip as well.

Rob ordered potato salad on the side and I ordered the butter beans. We both ordered a cornbread muffin. Potato salad was yellow and creamy with a slight kick of heat. The butter beans and rice were mildly smokey and excellent. I would go back for those alone. We ended up splitting one muffin. They were sweet and moist but not exceptional.

We opted to skip dessert and head over to Hansen’s Sno-bliz. We discovered Hansen’s on our last trip to the city. Hansen’s is a barely nailed together affair on Tchoupatoulis Street. The flimsy screen door is propped open by a brick and the interior is not air conditioned. It is a family affair and always has been. You choose whatever combination of flavours, made in house, that your little heart desires and they grind the ice and flavour them in front of you as you wait.

Rob ordered a peach cream and blueberry and I opted for a more exotic orange, anise and condensed milk concoction. I won. I was going for creamsicle and tiger tail and I got it. Rob’s was just cold and sweet. This trip unfortunately was not as memorable as the last. Sometimes you should just live with the memory.

Home made syrups!

Hansen's Sno-Bliz Shop on UrbanspoonToday, we think the guy shaving the ice was pushing it through too fast because the line was long. This produced a less than feathery soft result with little chunks of ice in the mix. Not bad by any means but not the velvety smooth, melt-on-your-tongue goodness we have experienced here before. I’d still go back for a lime coconut ginger though.

Dinner tonight is a casual affair. We feel like some seafood so we head to a local favorite, Deanie’s Seafood.

We are seated after a short wait. As we are leaving we hear the wait is an hour and twenty minutes. After being seated, our waitress plunks the oddest “freebie” ever down in front of us. Boiled red skinned potatoes. Hmm. We cut one open each revealing perfectly cooked taters with really creamy, soft interiors. But still they are just boiled potatoes. After taking a bite we realize that they have been boiled in a seafood spice blend. Our waitress tells us they use Zatarain’s Crab Boil. It is different from the peppery east coast seafood boil blends and has a red spicy heat element. At any rate they are completely addictive.

We order beers and choose from the menu. Fried crawfish tails for starters and bbq shrimp pasta for Rob,  flounder stuffed with crab dressing for me. My entree comes with a baked potato which I decline due to the fact that I have just eaten two and a half potatoes! It also comes with a salad. This is the anti-gourmet salad, simple, refreshing, crunchy and nicely dressed. It consists of the much maligned iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber rounds, some shredded cheddar and a really nice, sweet fig and balsamic dressing. The crawfish tails are perfectly fried in a corn batter with no greasy residue. They come with a classic horseradish ketchup based dipping sauce. Crawfish are crunchy with a snappier texture than shrimp but really are unidentifiable flavour-wise from deep fried shrimp.

Service is a tad slow for my liking but our server is pleasant and helpful. Our mains arrive and are placed steaming in front of us. Rob’s pasta was penne switched out for fettuccine, which was a nice choice for this dish. The star of the dish was the sauce. Deanie’s called it BBQ sauce, which it most certainly wasn’t == at least not any variety  we were familiar with. It was a buttery, spicy sauce with a hint of tomato and would have gone well with any fish or seafood, It was not too thick, but coated the pasta and shrimp well. My dish consisted of two nicely broiled flounder fillets stuffed with a well seasoned crab dressing that had a hint of heat. A generous squeeze of fresh lemon brightens the flavours in this dish. All in all, Deanie’s has a medium sized menu of simple but well prepared dishes.

Crab-stuffed flounder at Deanie’s
BBQ srimp penne at Deanie’s.

Deanie's Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tomorrow evening I will put on some heels and risk life and limb, ankles certainly, on the “sidewalks” of New Orleans and we will head to The Rib Room for a more upscale evening.

Bourbon Street – about to let loose!