Tag Archives: grits

RT6: to Providence, RI

This morning is our last morning in Boston. We are moving on to Providence, RI.  Before we go we are going to have breakfast at Mike’s City Diner, a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives-featured joint. We once again luck into parking out front but have to hunt down American change for the meter. Boston still resides in the dark ages regarding meter technology.

Mike’s is clean and homey. A classic no frills or kitsch diner. Black and white and checks. Comfy, padded, armless chairs and tables. No banquettes. Banquette seating takes away some of the versatility a place has to seat parties of different sizes. The busy kitchen is visible from the seating area. The restaurant’s various and many accolades are posted everywhere. President Clinton has been by.

Rob goes out to feed the meter and I peruse the menu. A very good breakfast menu. Good variety. Our server delivers excellent coffee and a humongous glass of grapefruit juice. Rob gets back to the table and we place our orders. I’m getting the Mike’s Special – ham carved off the bone, two eggs over medium, grits, toast – coffee included. Rob wants Mike’s Famous Pilgrim Sandwhich – turkey, stuffing and cranberries only to be told they don’t serve it until eleven. “I know – we suck!” says our waitress…lol. He settles for a Southender omelette stuffed with corned beef hash and cheese with home fries and rye toast.

Breakfast arrives quickly and piping hot. My eggs are perfect but the grits while creamy, are unseasoned. I add butter and salt but they really need to be cooked with LOTS of salt. So I would pass on them. My ham is plentiful and very tasty, sliced thin and grilled on the flat top for a little carmelization. It’s not over-salty. Perfect. The toast is decent, white and buttered. I ask for jam and she delivers really good homemade strawberry. “It’s all we have, except for packets of grape jelly” she says. It is wonderful.

Rob’s omelette is huge. The eggs are perfect and buttery good and hash inside is amazing, with large chunks of meat mixed with potato, while the cheddar flavour ties it all together. A very well made omelette. Mike’s home fries are very good as well. Some of the best we’ve had. They seem to be simply spiced with seasoned salt. Delicious.

Well fed, we hit the road for Rhode Island. Providence is a quick, forested, one-hour drive from Boston. We are there in a blink pretty much. We settle into the hotel and set out to explore the Brown’s University area which is kinda dead. We grab a beer, watch some Olympics, argue about whether the women’s beach volleyball uniforms are discriminatory as the men are not in skimpy suits and then head back to the Downcity Arts area where we are staying and explore a bit more. Providence seems a bit dead today. It’s 90 degree out. Is everybody at the beach? Inside? Not returned for school yet? The Hotel Providence where we are staying is old and beautiful, but the surrounding area is a bit sketchy. There is a mission two doors away and the only other people in the street appear to be homeless. Nobody is begging though. Weird vibe. Something just seems a little off.

For dinner tonight we choose the Providence Oyster House. Tomorrow we head inland so we want to have a last go at fresh seafood. The Oyster bar is half full with people celebrating the end of their work day. This area of town, Federal Hill is busier but not bustling on a Friday night. There’s live music somewhere and the night is pleasant.

After handing the car off to the valet, we are quickly seated. The restaurant is dim, with lots of wood accents, paper covers the white table cloths, and the kitchen is open. Nice atmosphere for a slow meal and good wine.

Good rustic bread is brought to the table accompanied by a very nice dipping oil with a hint of chili. We decide to try some local oysters along with some of our favorites, Umami from Rhode Island, Pepperell Cove, Maine, and Malagash from PEI. Since we are having oysters we go with beer instead of wine for the evening. The oysters arrive on ice with cocktail sauce and a very nice migniotte. We slurp them down. Fresh and briny. I did get shells in three of the twelve. This should NEVER happen. Especially when you have the words Oyster Bar in your name. One again we’re reminded how absolutely spoiled we are by the Whalesbone in Ottawa.

For mains we both order the lobster mac and cheese at $30 a pop. Fabulous! (say with jazz hands). Perfectly cooked penne sauteed in a decadent white cheddar cheese cream sauce, very lightly truffled, with thin, tender-crisp asparagus pieces, the meat of a whole lobster covered in buttery ritz cracker crumbs, and finished under a salamander. Scrumptious. Tomorrow we leave lobster land. It has been a treat.

This pic does NOT do their lobster mac justice. It was very dark and this has been heavily corrected.

The South Rises!

I love the Southern USA. In the west, the desert is gorgeous and the food has a spicy, Mexican inspired kick. But when people talk about Southern food, they’re talking about the South East — Louisiana, Mississipi, the Carolinas, Georgia, and on and on. Fried chicken, BBQ, gumbo, biscuits and gravy, catfish — all not that good for you, but all completely, utterly delicious.

Every year we do a monster road trip. We’ve done the South West, the US West coast, the South East and last year, along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago. Maureen doesn’t know this, but I picked the last route just to cover some of the same Southern ground we ‘ve done on previous trips because I pine for Southern food.

When we heard that Chris Lord, formerly of the Whalesbone Oyster House and, most recently, of Wellington Gastropub opened his new restaurant, UNION 613, on Somerset St. and it specialized in Southern-inspired dishes, we had to check for ourselves. Its location on Somerset Street has suffered from high turnover in recent years having been at least four different eateries in recent memory. We certainly hope that the latest tenant breaks the pattern. We loved tonight’s visit. The menu made good on the promise of a refined  (but only slightly) take on southern classics, most of which were represented in some form or another. Fried greed tomatoes, pimento cheese, muffuletas, fried chicken, mac salad, grits, biscuits and gravy, fried catfish, ribs and cornbread all made appearances.

After sipping on sazeracs and splitting an appetizer of fried green tomatoes, that came with a bibb salad with a peppery ranch dressing and pimento cheese, Maureen had the fried chicken (what they called “yard bird”) with a side of chile-lemon green beans and cheddar-roasted garlic grits. I had a pork chop with a peach BBQ  sauce, with a shrimp-boil macaroni salad, and we split a small cast-iron pan of hot cornbread with bourbon brown butter.

The appetizer was delicious enough to make me forget my documenting duties, so no pics here. Maureen’s chicken was crisp and well-seasoned and juicy on the inside. It was served with a vinegary hot sauce that complimented it well. Her green beans were bright from the lemon with a little spice. They were very good, but we both found the lemon a little over-assertive.

As for the grits — we LOVE grits, and we’ve written many times here that Canadians don’t “get” grits, mostly because they don’t have the opportunity to eat really-well-prepared grits. Union 613’s grits were tasty, cheesy and comforting, but they weren’t really grits, which come from coarsely ground and boiled hominy, blended with other delicious complementary flavours. The restaurant decided to eschew this course and served whole hominy, cooked with cheese and roasted garlic. It was comforting, and cheesy, but folks looking to find out what is so special about grits won’t find out here either.

My pork chop was juicy, perfectly cooked and the chunky, peach BBQ sauce was an excellent addition. My macaroni salad, cooked and spiced with shrimp boil seasoning was absolutely killer. It was the hit of the table. The cornbread was soft, fresh, rich and luscious.

Our table sampled all three of the desserts offered on the menu (there were four of us) and all were inventive and unique.

Now I have to determine how long a waiting period I need to suffer through before I don’t seem too desperate to go back. Maybe a day? Two? Union 613 absolutely satisfied my jones for good Southern food. Having it here in Ottawa makes it even more special. There’s something to be said for eating fried catfish purchased from a roadside shack right on the bayou, but there’s also something to be said for a taste of the South a 5-minute drive from home.

Dinner Party: Southern Classics

Rob and I wanted to share some of the great southern food we have experienced on our road trips and so we sent out an open invite to fans of Happy Mouth via our Facebook page. We have done this once before and it was a great success and this time was no different. Seems people who enjoy good food and travel just naturally fit together.

Tonight’s menu did not come together until the very last minute. Here’s the menu we arrived at:

Southern Classics menu:
Sazerac
Lee Brother’s Pimento Cheese Dip with Stoned Wheat Crackers
Bonefish Grill’s Bang Bang Shrimp
Dr. Pepper-Braised Rib Tips in on Cheesy Grits
Green Beans sauteed with Onion, Bacon and Pecans
Homesick Texan’s Hatch Chili Pepper and Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

We wanted to share our new-found love of grits and what better to serve on grits than rib tips. Oh, but try and find these little scrumptious morsels in Ottawa. A call out to several area butchers was fruitless. They simply do not cut pork that way here. Then Rob got the brilliant idea to try T&T, an Asian grocer, and we lucked out. So, rib tips in hand we decided to serve rib tips braised in a Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce over cheesy grits. Southern sides present a bit of a problem because they tend to serve two or three starches and meat. Rob managed to find some inspiration on the web and come up with something greener and crunchier to serve but still with an eye to the south, green beans sauteed with bacon and pecans.

The evening began around 4 pm when our guest began to arrive. Rob prepared sazeracs as a starter cocktail while guests nibbled on pimento cheese dip and crackers and I prepared bang bang shrimp. The sazerac is a New Orleans institution and bars, establishments, restaurants and foodies argue over who makes the best one, same as they do over the po’boy sandwich,or almost any famous New Orleans dish. The first time we visited NOLA we were informed that Clancy’s had the best sazerac. Clancy’s closes (smartly) during the heat of a New Orleans summer, so we didn’t have one. This past trip I was determined and so I ordered one at the Rib Room.

Making a sazerac is a ritual. The glass is chilled with ice. The ice is dumped out and the glass is seasoned with a swirl of absinthe which then too is dumped out. In another glass, a sugar cube is muddled with Peychaud bitters. Whiskey is added and then that is strained into the seasoned glass and a twist of lemon is tossed in. Peychaud bitters are apparently essential but are utterly unavailable in Canada. We substituted angostura bitters which are a bit more spicy. The drink is a softened slightly sweet whiskey with a hint of lemon, cinnamon and clove. Our sazeracs didn’t taste as I remembered them in the Big Easy, but part of that may have been the missing French Quarter view.

With our drinks we served a couple of appetizers, pimento cheese and bang band shrimp. Pimento cheese is a simple and thrifty dip that can also be used as a spread for sandwiches. It’s essentially a mixture of roasted red peppers, mayonnaise, cream cheese and sharp cheddar, along with some chile flakes and salt and pepper to taste. It’s very good with come simple crackers.

Our other app, bang bang shrimp is an intriguing Southern take on an Asian dish. It’s a cornstarch battered, deep-fried shrimp in a spicy, sweet chili sauce with the mandatory Southern addition of mayonnaise. It’s all tossed together and served as toothpick food. We’ve had this as the centerpiece of an main meal at Myrtle Beach’s excellent Mr. Fish.

For the Rib tips, we didn’t really follow a recipe, but here’s the basic blow-by-blow description:

  • Dredge the tips (we used about 4 pounds of these) in seasoned flour (add your favourite BBQ rub and black pepper, the rub is salty enough) and brown tips all sides in a hot braising pot with a couple tablespoons of oil. Do this in batches until complete. Set aside in a bowl.
  • In the pot with the leftover oil, sauté a chopped onion. When translucent, add about a litre of Dr. Pepper (not DIET Dr. Pepper), about 1/2  a bottle of your favourite non-smoky BBQ sauce and a teaspoon each of dried thyme, oregano, pepper, chili powder and about 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper. Stir, bring to a boil, add the rib tips (they should be almost covered by the liquid), reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. The cartilage in the rib tips will dissolve into the liquid and thicken it, and you’ll be left with tangy, sweet, saucy morsels that are perfect to sit upon rice, potatoes or in this case, beautiful, creamy, cheesy grits.

And then we come to the raison d’être of the evening’s meal – to introduce frost-bitten Canadians to a true treasured staple of the South, grits. Most Canadian’s who have tried grits, have tried bad grits, usually lukewarm, unseasoned, clumpy grits at a breakfast buffet when they were vacationing in Florida. Those grits are to real grits like a McRib is real BBQ.

Dessert on this crisp fall evening was the Homesick Texan’s Hatch Chile Pepper and Apple cobbler, with vanilla ice cream. I’ve made this before and it is  sweet and spicy and different. Once again, an essential ingredient was unavailable to us. Hatch chillies are grown in New Mexico and are the most famous chili in the Southern US. We substituted poblano peppers, which are nice and provide a little green zing. The only problem using poblanos is that the heat level is unreliable. They can be mild to medium in heat.

All in all the recreations worked and we had a great evening entertaining our friends, reminiscing about our travels, and despite several major and minor kitchen disasters, including a pitcher of boiling water for iced tea exploding and the resultant flow shutting down our electric starters on the gas stove (blow dryer to the rescue!) and a broken wine glass, and forgetting the awesome, flaky, cheesy biscuits in the microwave, the night was a great success. Thanks to Barry, Terry, Brad and Carole!

 

RT3: NOLA – Muffaletta & Rib Room

Today, Sunday is our last full day in the Big Easy. We are determined to try a N’awlins classic, the muffaletta sandwich. Research tells us that Central Grocery is the originator of this sandwich. This is highly disputed by Frank’s, an Italian eatery a couple doors down. Since Central Grocery does not feel it is necessary to open on a Sunday, we choose Franks. Who has the best Muff? This is as highly contested an issue as who has the best po’boy, but alas we have time to try just one.

Frank’s has just opened when we arrive. We are eating in and everyone else appears to be taking out. So… we are seated alone upstairs and bathed in sunlight from the 12 foot windows over looking the French Market. The walls are painted with Italianate columns and Venice canal scenes, the ceiling is a peeling, watermarked faux sky. A seventies soundtrack emanates from speakers, the clash of cutlery tinkles from the wait station where a server prepares for the day. The ambiance: think 1960’s hotel ballroom. Our sever is loud and friendly. We ask a few questions about serving sizes. We have been burned before. Southern portions tend toward the large size. In the end we decide to split a half muff…a quarter each and Rob ordered a cup of seafood gumbo and I chose a cup of crab and corn bisque.

Our cups of soup come on little plates  papered with old fashioned lace doilies. Rob’s seafood gumbo was rich in flavour and spice, but was overly salty. My crab bisque on the other hand was fabulous, packed with crab, creamy to the perfect consistency, with a nice intense corn flavour. My only issue is semantic. This heavy, thick soup is a chowder, not a bisque. Seafood bisque is a flavourful broth concocted from roasting or boiling shells and harvesting the essence held within, but results in a much thinner preparation, in my experience.

Our sandwiches arrive unadorned on plates. Muffaletta is prepared on a large round sesame bun created just for this reason. The sandwich consists of thin layers of deli salami, capicolla ham and emmenthal cheese and is then finished with an olive salad. You need to be an olive lover to enjoy a muffaletta. The flavour is intense green olive. Carrots, pimentos, garlic, olive oil and wine vinegar round out the relish. This muffaletta is a wonderful savoury combination, marred only slightly by the slightly dry bun that was at least a day old — perhaps the reason why Central Grocery is not open on Sundays? I will definitely recreate this classic at home. I adore olives.

Frank’s bustling takeout business.
Olive Salad for DYI Muffs.

Frank's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Full and satisfied, we spend an hour perusing the French Market aka Touriste Trappe Dat. If you need voodoo dolls, mardi gras beads and masks, cheap purses adorned with fleur de lis, or hot sauce, come on down. We were looking for and found Zatarains Crab boil. We intend to recreate a few memories for friends when we get home.

We decide to hop across the street to Margaritaville (warning chain restaurant alert!) for a marg before heading back to the Monteleone’s rooftop pool and bar. We seat ourselves at the bar and order margaritas. “House?” the barkeep asks and, yes, we agree. One sip and I know I have made a grievous error. I already knew by the colour that it was a sody pop marg. I pushed it aside and asked him for a Landshark. “Don’t like the marg?” he asked. “Too Sweet?” He knew. He tells me I want a Perfect Margarita – it’s not on the menu and it’s strong. I watched as he mixed tequila, fresh lime, triple sec and lime cordial, shook it and poured it over ice in a glass with a salted rim. The Perfect Margarita. It was…especially in a bar where a transplant and a true southerner were willing to talk about the only two subjects that matter: the weather…and hockey.

Met this guy walking back to the car. We hope he’s in retirement from his career as “dog put through the wringer”.  He seemed content to hang outside a bar and enjoy the breeze.

Dinner tonight is at the upscale The Rib Room at the Omni Hotel. I don heels at risk of life and limb. If you have ever visited New Orleans you will understand this risk. Foot cramps in hockey skates are the very least of my concerns at this point. Not breaking an ankle on a sidewalk in New Orleans will be an accomplishment.

The Rib Room is a block and a half  from our hotel. We have 7 pm reservations, but on a Sunday the city is emptying out and reservations don’t seem necessary. The restaurant is old school, upscale, white linens and silver. We ask for a window seat and are seated side by side at an oversized widow over looking Royal Street in the French Quarter. Our server is awesome. A New Orleans native familiar with the food and tradition that is N’awlins. He popped in and out of our evening in colourful fashion.

This traveling minstrel show set up across Royal St. from our window view at dinner. Rob would have put money in the hat to PLAY the guitar, not listen to him play.

I am determined to have a sazerac on this the last evening I am to spend in the city.  I have no idea whether or not I will like it. Our server warns us that it’s strong, beware. Forewarned we sip on. Sazerac is a a slightly sweet summer sipping whiskey drink. On this our first encounter, I can understand the allure. It is powerful, but the edge is taken off and you are lulled nicely.

For an app I order crab cakes. Our server announces that they are 95% crab. Rob orders the turtle soup. The crab cakes are among the best I’ve ever had. They are mostly crab held together by possibly a little egg and a bit of parsley, lightly fried and served on a bed of pickled onion, pepper, and fennel salad…sublime. Crab needs to be the unadorned star of a dish. Crab cannot be just a flavouring or it is lost. The turtle soup, a first for Rob, was tomato-based and meaty, enriched by a table-side glug of sherry.

My entree comes with a salad. The salad is a classic iceberg salad dressed with a mild, creamy blue cheese dressing, with lightly toasted croutons. Rob’s shrimp and tasso ham salad is very good. The gulf shrimp are flavourful and the tasso is succulent and perfectly salty. They are paired with young spinach, pickled onions, creole mustard and a light vinaigrette.

 

Our mains arrive, nicely paced. My shrimp and scallop risotto is well executed. The gulf shrimp are plump and tasty, the scallops are lightly sauteed and perfect. The toothsome risotto is the perfect lightly spiced starchy base for the delicate seafood. Rob ordered braised rabbit, prepared with a light cream, thyme and brandy sauce, paired with perfectly prepared southern grits which complemented the meaty, rich sauce.

We choose to share a Bananas Foster Cream Pie for dessert. The flaky crust and rum soaked bananas bedded on a light cream base is a fine finish to the evening. I ask for cappuccino but the machine is not working. I opt for just regular coffee. Our server conspiratorially nods to his favorite coffee: a blend of coffee, Frangelico, Baileys and B and B. The B and B is just for the hell of it he tells me. How can you turn that down?

Rib Room on Urbanspoon

Now I have to get home on heels on the brutal sidewalks of New Orleans with the pleasant burn of Rib Room off-menu coffee making me a little tipsy. Our sweet server refused to charge us for the coffee (which came in a carafe that contained three cups at least) and told us to enjoy his city. Gotta love the south.

A first: a picture that proves we were there. Just don’t get used to it.

Funky Breakfast Grits

We discovered the awesomeness of grits on our last road trip through the American South. Creamy, buttery cheesy goodness. This will be my second attempt to get my Canadian friends to try this amazing southern staple. Once you have good grits you will be forever sorry that I introduced you to them because they are not waistline friendly. There are no DIET grits.

My last attempt to convince you skeptical Canadians was with Cheesy Grits and Shrimp. I do not understand why, but there are still doubters among you. Maybe you didn’t want to risk the shrimp, I don’t know. So, this time, I’m going to start you off slow and easy. Breakfast grits. Quick, rib sticking, delicious. You can add a side of Canadian bacon or regular bacon, or pour maple syrup over them and pretend you’re not really eating GRITS!

Recently, I came across a recipe for Grits with Corn, Goat Cheese and Roasted Tomatoes on The Kitchn. It reminded me of the creamy wonderfulness we stumbled on at Tomato Jam on a sunny morning in Asheville, North Carolina. This was our first ever time having grits as they were meant to be. Grits that would make any southern momma proud.

I’m going to change The Kitchn recipe up a bit and roast the corn. Then I’m going to fry an egg and put it on top just like they do at Tomato Jam. Try grits, dammit! You are really gonna like them.

Uncle Funky’s Breakfast Grits with Goat Cheese, Fire-roasted Corn and Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from The Kitchn and Tomato Jam
Serves 4

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup grits (corn meal, polenta)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water
2 cobs of corn, salted, peppered and rubbed with olive oil
1/4 goat cheese (or cheddar if its your preference, but use more)
1/2 tsp of salt (more if you prefer)
3 tbsp of butter… or more.  This is one instance where more is better. You can’t use too much butter in grits 🙂
4 eggs
Olive oil to drizzle

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes in a little olive oil and salt. Spread out in a single layer in a baking pan and roast until a little charred about 40-45 minutes.

2. Turn on grill and roast corn on the cob until a little char appears and corn is slightly cooked, about 7 minutes. Turn to char all over. When cool enough to handle, remove kernels by placing the cob point down in a bowl and using a sharp knife to slice them off neatly.

3. About ten minutes before tomatoes are ready, heat water and milk in a pot until foaming, about to boil. Slowly whisk in grits. Don’t dump them or they will be lumpy. Turn down heat to low and whisk until the grits tighten up. It happens fairly quickly. Continue to whisk for two or three minutes. Add in salt and butter. Taste add more butter and salt if you wish. Then add in cheese, then corn. Mix until all is incorporated and remove from heat. Cover while you fry eggs to keep the grits hot.

4. Fry eggs and place grits in serving bowls. Serve with tomatoes and fried egg on top. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and serve immediately. Ahh, comfort food. You will give up oatmeal and cereal for breakfast.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.