Monday, January 16, 2017

Bountiful Buffet at the Blue Willow Inn


About 45 minutes east of Atlanta is the tiny community of Social Circle, Georgia. Social Circle, home to approximately 4500 residents, got its welcoming name, according to legend, when a weary traveler looking for food and a place to rest stumbled into what was just a crossroads at the time. He was so impressed with the hospitality of the residents, he exclaimed, "This sure is a Social Circle!" Whether the story is true, or not, the diminutive town is proud of the unusual name.

Social Circle evolved from a parcel of land purchased by John Blackmon in 1824. It didn't take long for businesses to come to town and for a church and post office to be built. By 1832, the town of Social Circle was incorporated. 


By the early 1900's John and Bertha Upshaw had moved to Social Circle and, in 1917, they began construction of a Greek Revival style home on an old Indian trail, now known as Cherokee Road. A frequent visitor to the home was a little known Atlanta Journal reporter by the name of Margaret Mitchell. The writer stayed in a small Victorian cottage on the property. During this time, she met John Upshaw's cousin, Berrien "Red" Upshaw, who became her first husband. According to Mitchell scholars, Red Upshaw was the inspiration for the character of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. He was a dashing scoundrel who made money bootlegging alcohol out of the Georgia mountains. Upshaw abandoned Mitchell after only a couple of months of marriage. 

                          

Today, the old home is known as the Blue Willow Inn and houses a restaurant that serves up a daily, except for Monday, buffet of traditional southern cooking. This past summer our family decided to check out the Blue Willow for ourselves. 


The buffet at Blue Willow is bountiful, to say the least. Beginning with entrees like fried chicken, chicken livers, roast beef, meatloaf, shrimp and rice, seafood au gratin, and ham and moving on to vegetables and sides like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fried green tomatoes, green beans, creamed corn, candied yams, black-eyed peas, collard greens, lima beans, broccoli and stewed apples, it is safe to say, if you go home hungry, it is your own fault. If you like old-fashioned, southern cooking and lots of it, Blue Willow is the place for you. 





But that's not all. There is an expansive fruit and salad bar,


and homemade desserts galore!



 When you finish your meal, assuming you are still able to move, take time to stroll around the beautifully landscaped grounds and visit the gift shop.








If you have time, take a side trip into nearby Covington. It may look familiar if you were ever a fan of The Dukes of Hazard because scenes from Covington were used as the backdrop for the show. As a matter of fact, more than 60 films have been made in and around Covington. You will find boutiques, antiques, restaurants and much more in the historic downtown area. Our favorite shop was called Town Square Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar and it is just what the name implies. With an array of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, you can easily spend all your time (and money) in this little shop. The owners (helpfully) let you try any combination of oil and vinegar you want and, trust me when I tell you, it is addictive.


 Three Friends and a Fork and these three fine fellows give the Blue Willow Inn and Restaurant 
3 Very Flavorful Southern Yums UP!






Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Zip on Over to Zazu Gastropub in Downtown Opelika



We often find ourselves in Downtown Opelika when we make trips to see our children at Auburn. For a while, I was paying particular attention to work being done on an old building on 8th St. in the heart of the city. I was impressed by the attention to detail as the building began to take on character that could easily place it in the French Quarter of New Orleans.


I was seeing lots of old brick and gleaming wide wood boards, arches and lanterns and an upper level balcony overlooking the street. I saw some workers in the place one day and, being nosy, I stopped by to chat with them and find out more about plans for the building. The gentleman I spoke with invited me in and talked to me as he polished wood and brass. I asked him what kind of business was going in the old place and he said owners of the restaurant, Zazu Gastropub, formerly located in downtown Auburn, had purchased the building and planned to move the restaurant to the Opelika location. I left, thanking my host for letting me glimpse inside the building and for the information and I made a mental note to come back to visit when the restaurant finally opened.


I looked up the word Zazu, because I was interested in why Chef Graham Hage chose that particular name. I found a couple of different meanings, both of which I found apropos. First, Zazu is a Jewish name meaning movement. Pretty applicable considering Zazu has been in three locations. The Urban Dictionary defines Zazu as spirit and passion with flair and pizzazz. When I finally found myself enjoying the delicious food at Zazu, I thought that definition matched Zazu perfectly.


My visit coincided with a trip to Auburn to watch a basketball game with our lifelong friends, Greg and Malinda. Of course, we always take the opportunity to see our boys. So, with the two of us, that was our group of 6 the day we visited Zazu.


We were seated at a table in the sunken dining area just below the bar. Since there are only a couple of tables in that area, it is a quite private and intimate place for a small group, especially if your group is the only one in that space, as ours was.

                         

We quickly ordered our drinks and appetizers and we were very happy with all of them. Greg asked if the bartender could make a jalapeño margarita. He certainly could and he did! It was beautiful and delicious! It was so good, I can't even remember the other drink we ordered! I remember it was good, but that jalapeño margarita was unique and amazing.

                                        


Our appetizers were also extraordinary and delicious. To begin with, we had seared scallops, shaved jalapeños and red onions, roasted corn and corn hollandaise. They were incredible and quickly gone!


These homegrown heirloom tomatoes, sprinkled with sea salt and cracked black pepper, were drizzled with basil infused olive oil. They were fresh, simple and perfect.


Flash fried eggplants splattered with chipotle infused honey and a sprinkling of sea salt and crispy basil must have been wonderful, because they never made it to me. 


Fried pickles and jalapeños were also quickly devoured. They were crispy and not greasy at all and the homemade buttermilk dressing was the perfect dipping pool. 
       
                            

Finally, we rounded our our appetizers with some crispy duck fat fries with house made gravy and white cheddar cheese curds. These were very popular! There is just something about a fry cooked in duck fat.


                             

Greg got a corn bisque that looked creamy and delicious. I regretted that I had not ordered it as well. 


After all those appetizers, you would think we did not need entrees, but remember we had two college boys with us. They can put away some appetizers, so most of us settled for a tiny taste of each one. As far as the entrees went, I surprised no one by ordering Mississippi catfish tacos with shredded cabbage, pico, salsa and fresh corn.  I loved them!

 


Several members of our party ordered cheeseburgers and more fries. The burgers were met with enthusiasm all around. The beefy burger at the bottom was made with beef short rib and topped with Swiss cheese, Wickles and crispy onions.




Scott is as predictable as I am when it comes to ordering. If there is a shrimp po'boy on the menu, you can pretty much expect him to choose it. It looked like everything you would want in a po'boy...crispy and lightly battered Gulf shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes, homemade tartar sauce on a fat French baguette. 

                            

If I had not ordered the catfish tacos, I would probably have chosen the Bahn mi. It looked so good. With shaved pork, pickled vegetables, sambal mayo and shredded cabbage on a hearty baguette, it is just the kind of sandwich I love. 


Our visit to Zazu was lots of fun combined with delicious, cheffy food in a casual setting. We will definitely be back! Zazu absolutely lives up to its name of spirited passion with flair and pizzazz. I haven't gotten to meet Chef Graham, but I hope to be back soon, and maybe I will get to tell him how much we love Zazu. 


Three Friends and a Fork give 3 Zippy Yums UP to Zazu Gastropub!














Saturday, December 31, 2016

Need a Little Comfort? Try My Best Ever Potato Soup




2016 is winding down and, unfortunately, so am I. Fever, headache, body aches, sniffles. I feel like the south end of a north bound mule (don't you just love southern expressions?). I'm blaming this one on my brother-in-law. Yes, Jimmy, you know who you are! Typhoid Jimmy breezed around Christmas infecting everyone in his path. Sadly, we didn't know he was contagious until the day after our family Christmas get together. I have nothing else to do now, but lie here plotting my revenge.

In between my mental payback images, I realized I needed some comforting soup to make me feel better. Campbell's just wasn't going to cut it this time. I wanted homemade and easy. Creamy, hot potato soup was just what the doctor ordered.

If you are feeling a bit under the weather or if the weather is getting you down, I suggest you make a pot of this soup. It is soothing and, oh, so delicious. And best of all? It is easy!


  1. Gather your ingredients.




8 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
2 large carrots, scraped and diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
1-1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 stick butter, divided
1-2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Ignore that onion in the picture. I don't know why it is there! I guess you could add a small onion if you like, but you already have the leeks, shallot and garlic, so you probably don't need any more relatives from the Amaryllis family. (How's that for working in a little bit of informative trivia?)

      2. Get started.

  • Cook potatoes and carrots in boiling, salted water, until very tender and potatoes are kind of falling apart. Drain.
  • Sauté leeks, celery and shallot in 2 T. of the butter, until the vegetables are tender, but not brown. Add garlic and sauté a couple of minutes more. When the garlic becomes fragrant, you have cooked it enough. Do not let it brown. 
  • Add potatoes and carrots to sautéed vegetables. 
  • Add remaining butter, cream and chicken broth, adding more broth or cream to soup as needed to increase liquid. You want the soup to be creamy and chunky. 
  • Salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Heat through and top with grated cheddar cheese, chopped green onion and/or bacon bits if you like. 
  • Feel better immediately!





My family all said it was the best potato soup they ever had and we didn't even add any toppings! 

Enjoy! Happy New Year, y'all!




Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cozy Up to The Cozy Cow


Looking for delicious deli sandwiches and ice cream in downtown Huntsville? Lucky you, because tucked into the side of the PNC Bank building on Church Street, The Cozy Cow has just what you need. The tiny restaurant has both indoor seating as well as outdoor patio seating. 

                             

Additionally, The Cozy Cow sits right on the banks of Big Spring Park, so you could fill up a picnic basket with an array of Cozy Cow sandwiches, wraps, potato salad, coffee, tea and desserts and enjoy your lunch sitting at the water's edge. 


You might want to save the crusts of your bread to share with the park's feathered inhabitants.



The Cozy Cow has a large selection of hand dipped ice cream, shakes and smoothies. Place your order at the counter before filling your cups at the beverage station and deciding where to sit.




I chose a sandwich with smoked turkey piled high on jalapeño cheese bread with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce and tomato. Other sandwich options include pimento cheese, ham, Reubens, BLTs, roast beef and chicken salad. The Cozy Cow also offers a variety of burgers and wraps. My sandwich came with a dill pickle spear and a side of homemade potato salad. It was all delicious.

The Cozy Cow is small and can be a little difficult to find if you don't know where to look, but it is certainly worth a visit. 



Sunday, November 6, 2016

Five States in Seven Days: Day Six--Vermont



                               

It was late afternoon when left Bar Harbor worn out from lobstering, but we are nothing if not determined, so we hopped in the car and pointed it toward Vermont. We had no idea how far we would get, but since our goal for day six was to visit Ben and Jerry's, we wanted get as close Waterbury, VT, as we could before we stopped for the night. We surprised even ourselves, because by the time we pulled into the brand new Fairfield Inn and Suites in Stowe, VT, it was 2:00 in the morning and we were punch drunk from laughing and driving for 8 hours! FYI, do not let the moose crossing signs in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine confuse you. We spent 8 hours looking for just one scrawny moose with no luck. We did have luck of another sort, though. Because we were checking in so late, we received a half-price rate at the motel! Our room was large, clean and as I mentioned, brand-new! We were so happy when we finally fell into our beds, completely exhausted, with visions of ice cream dancing in our heads.


But Day 6 was not to be squandered, so we were back up and ready to go again by 9:00 the next morning. We had a date with Ben and Jerry! We piled in the car and drove about 15 minutes to Waterbury wondering which ice cream flavor we would choose.


As we pulled into the parking lot and began to stroll toward the factory, the first thing we noticed was the cemetery where all the dead flavors are buried. With names like Aloha Macadamia and Fresh Georgia Peach, we were sad that some of them had met such an untimely death. The rhyming epitaphs on each tombstone were clever and I couldn't help but think that writing the monument poems would be a fun job! For instance, this rhyme for the late great Tennessee Mud reads: The bottle is empty, the cup and the glass. Mud with Jack Daniels was not meant to last. Tennessee Mud went back to the dirt after only one year, in 1989.







As we got closer to the building, we saw giant silos housing the ingredients for making ice cream.



We enjoyed our tour of the facility and even got to sample the flavor of the day, which was cookies and cream.


                                          


After the tour, we wandered around outside, enjoying the pretty day, before finally ordering ice cream cones of our own choosing. 



Dede couldn't resist the punnily named Tonight Dough which was made up of chocolate and caramel ice cream with chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough and peanut butter cookie dough. Dede loved it, but my friends know I do not like cookie dough unless the dough is fully baked into a cookie, so I passed on the Tonight Dough. 


Instead, I settled on Maple Walnut and it was really good. I would definitely get it again, but it can only be gotten at the Ben and Jerry's factory, as it is not packaged for your local grocery.


If you feel very industrious, Ben and Jerry have published the recipe for their delicious Maple Walnut ice cream. Here is the recipe. If you happen to make it, please give me a call!

Maple Walnut Ice Cream
Ben and Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book

2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. milk
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/2 chopped walnuts

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. Gradually whisk in the sugar until well blended. Add milk and cream. Gradually add maple syrup and blend well.
Pour into ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.
Add walnuts just before the ice cream is fully frozen.
Makes about a quart or what I like to call...one serving. Just kidding!



I cannot remember which flavors Carter chose. I say flavors because I am pretty sure he made more than one trip to the window to order ice cream. I do think he ordered some more of the Cookies and Cream we sampled on the factory tour. 


We left Ben and Jerry's full and ready to see what other fun adventures Vermont had in store for us. The scenery was beautiful, lots of rolling fields, green mountains, bucolic farmland and quaint towns. 


We eventually found ourselves in the lovely little town of Woodstock, Vermont. It was a beautiful village full of cute shops and restaurants. We could not resist walking around the rustic downtown streets, even though gray clouds had gathered and were hanging low in the sky. Sure enough, as soon as we parked and got out of our car, the rain started coming down. It didn't discourage us, though.
We thought about eating in this yummy sounding restaurant, The Village Butcher, but we kept walking. Definitely a place you might want to consider if you visit Woodstock.



We enjoyed this little gift shop named, Clover.


The downtown streets are wide and encourage visitors to park and visit.



As customers of this store paid for their purchases, the store owner's cat collected behind the ear scratches.


We decided it was time for lunch and, after canvassing the downtown merchants, we chose to eat at the Woodstock Farmer's Market. It was a short drive from downtown, but it was a very good choice. Woodstock Farmer's Market is my favorite kind of place and oh, how I wish we had one of these in Scottsboro. It is part farmer's market, part restaurant, part bakery, part deli, part grocery, part nursery, and all amazing! 





We stared at the sandwich menu, wondering how we were ever going to choose.


The baked goods were all so tempting!


I would shop at the cheese counter every week, if we had one of these close by.


All kinds of wines were available and the grocery was full of interesting choices.


And did we mention this was a farmer's market? Just look at all the fresh produce!


                             

                             


Need plants for your yard or garden? Woodstock Farmer's Market can fix you right up!




So, what did we eat? We got grilled cheese sandwiches! But not just any grilled cheese sandwiches. These had smoked Vermont cheddar, provolone and parrano cheeses, along with tomato and Honeycup mustard grilled on roasted garlic parmesan bread. Dede said it was the best grilled cheese sandwich she ever had and, in fact, it was her favorite meal of the entire week. We also had chips and an ice-cold Bruce Cost ginger ale made with real ginger.

The rain had stopped, so we enjoyed our food outside on a picnic table.


Carter, of course, could not resist a cupcake. I can't remember what it was, but it looked really good!



I left with a bag of the best coconut caramels I have ever eaten. Made in New Hampshire, they were a little taste of New England to enjoy as we left beautiful Vermont.



We finished up day six by driving back to our home away from home in Jamestown, RI. We had to drive back through New Hampshire and we still had not taken one single photo in that state. We had thought we would get a picture of the New Hampshire coastline when we were driving to Maine, but we didn't see one photographic spot on that drive. Then, we traveled through the White Mountains of NH when we were headed to Vermont, but that was in the middle of the night. This time we were determined to get at least one photo in NH, but what? We ended up getting off the interstate in Manchester and almost despaired of finding anything we wanted to photograph. The one thing that seemed to dominate the skyline, was a Catholic church and we decided that would have to work, so here it is! Ste. Marie is a gothic revival style church on the west side of the city. The church was founded in 1880, with the current building constructed in 1891.



We did find one more object to photograph, which we found amusing. I'm pretty sure, if this sign was found in the south, it would be worded in a different way. It reminded me of the yield signs in Canada, which say Squeeze Left or Squeeze Right instead of Yield. Anyway, all you dogs are put on notice. No dog fouling in Manchester.



We said good-bye to Vermont and New Hampshire and spent our last night in beautiful little Rhode Island. Day 7 saw us eating breakfast in our favorite Jamestown joint, Slice of Heaven, making a quick stop in Newport to check out the jewelry at Alex and Ani's and, then, driving back to Boston to catch our flight. It was a wonderful trip!

Three Friends and a Fork give 3 Very Vermont Yums UP to 
Ben and Jerry's and Woodstock Farmer's Market.