Monday, August 31, 2015

The Seafood Bistro...Big Surprise in Montgomery!





I was going to tell you about the great week I just had at the beach. I was going to tell you about how relaxing it was, how much fun Luanne and I had, the new restaurants we discovered, and the old favorites we visited again. I was going to tell you how we had not seen one another in forever and how much catching up we had to do. I was also going to tell the stories of how everywhere we went, we thought of Sherri and wondered what she would have thought, said, done, ordered or eaten. We would try to predict what her reactions would have been and, even though we think we are outrageously funny, we know that nothing we could say or do would ever rise to Sherri's level of wittiness and dry humor. The girl was, simply, hysterical! I was going to tell you all that and more, and I will, but not right now. Why? Because on the way home from the beach, something happened that I simply cannot wait to talk about it. Delayed gratification has never been my long suit and, quite frankly, I see no reason to try to develop it now. So, for that reason, and without further adieu, I'm going to start where the story ends.

Luanne had already headed north to Tuscaloosa when I took I-65 toward Montgomery to meet JD for lunch. We met in a drizzly rain in the parking lot at a McDonald's off the Fairview exit to transfer some supplies from my car to his truck and to decide where we wanted to have lunch. When I asked JD to tell me what kind of food he wanted, he quickly said, "seafood". Since I had just left the beach and a week of eating almost nothing but seafood, I was a little skeptical to say the least. But, if my child wanted seafood, you can bet I was going to do my best to find him some seafood, so I consulted my Around Me app. Around Me indicated a cajun seafood restaurant fairly close by and from what I could tell the reviews looked good, so we set off to find the The Seafood Bistro.

By this time, it was raining harder. Neither one of us is familiar with Montgomery. I had the directions, so I was in the lead, JD was following and we were both completely clueless. After about ten minutes of driving we pulled up to 5780 Woodmere Boulevard. We got out of our vehicles, I looked at JD and his first words were, "I wish I had a picture of your expression!" You see, The Seafood Bistro was in, I am not making this up, a gas station.

Recently, I had read an article on Al.com about a Hoover Food Mart gas station that served authentic Thai food. As I read the article, my "yeah, right" meter went off in about a million directions. It crossed my mind while it might be a great place to get gas, the car might not be the only one! So, you can imagine that the thought of eating seafood in a gas station might cause me a bit of concern. I literally started to get right back into my car, but JD stopped me. He was hungry and the idea of traipsing all over Montgomery in the now pouring rain was just too much for him. He said, "Mom, let's just give it a shot." While I was thinking we might need a shot of something (like penicillin) before it was over, I reluctantly dragged my doubting self through the door. The first thing I did was look for the health rating, thinking if it was anything less than 80, I was outta here! But no, The Seafood Bistro had a glowing 96! I really could not believe it.


We grabbed a couple of menus and stood at the register as we studied them. I really do not know what kind of madness took over at that point, but I figured I might as well go all in, so I ordered an oyster po'boy. Yes, I ordered oysters in a gas station! I know, pure insanity. 

JD chose blackened grouper and, since mom was buying, decided to also order a gator po'boy to go for dinner later that night. Yes, yes I did say gator. At this point, we were either going to be pleasantly surprised or we were both going to die. There didn't seem to be any middle ground with our choices. Since it might be our last meal, I decided to order a dessert. The bread pudding beignets on the menu seemed like a sweet way to end our days on earth. 


We found a table and waited for our fate, I mean food. In just a short while, it arrived at our table and we were totally blown away. Everything looked really, really good and since you eat with your eyes first, we were off to a promising start. I slipped an oyster off the po'boy and tentatively took a bite. The cornmeal crusted bivalve was sweet, fresh, perfectly cooked. To say that I was surprised could not be more of an understatement.


JD was equally blown away by his blackened grouper and the bacon cheese fries he got as a side. He said, "Mom, I think he must use applewood smoked bacon. These are the best bacon cheese fries I have ever had!"


The homemade sauce that came on our po'boys also deserves a special shout out. I asked the chef/owner Paul Do if it was a remoulade, and he told me it was similar, but his own creation. Whatever! It was delicious! By this point I was convinced enough to sample a piece of the gator in JD's to go order. My personal experience with gator has always left me underwhelmed. It always seems chewy and not particularly tasty. This gator, though, was none of that. It was juicy, tasty and tender, in a word, amazing! Oh, and it tasted nothing like chicken!

The only thing left at this point was the dessert. The bread pudding beignets were presented with a healthy dusting of confectioner's sugar...messy just like the ones at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Unlike the New Orleans beignets, these little nuggets were accompanied by a cup of vanilla brown sugar bourbon sauce. I dunked one into the sauce and bit into it, sugar flying everywhere. I thought this just might be one of the best things I had ever tasted. It had all the flavor of the best bread pudding and even had raisins. I love bread pudding with raisins!  The beignets were perfectly fried, not greasy at all, tender on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The sauce was so good, I wanted to drink it. These beignets were legit!


JD and I thanked Chef Do and told him just how very skeptical we had been. He grinned broadly. He had heard this before. He likes the fact that people come into his restaurant with all kinds of doubts and he really likes knowing that once they taste his food, they will be coming back.

If you are traveling to or through Montgomery, take exit 6 off I 85 and make tracks for Woodmere Boulevard. You can fill up your car and grab dinner all in one convenient stop. I promise you will not have any regrets!

Three Friends and a Fork give The Seafood Bistro 3 Shocked Yums UP!




Sunday, August 30, 2015

Beachin' in Alabama: 10 Stops to Make on Your Way to the Sand



If you are headed to one of Alabama's beautiful beaches, chances are you will, at some point, find yourself south of Birmingham on I-65. To make your trip more interesting, you should travel like the locals. That means knowing the interesting stops you can make as you wend your way south. Don't worry! We are here to help. Here are 10 stops to make your trip to Alabama's coastline more fun. Choose one or a few!

1.Clanton


Just south of Birmingham, as I-65 crosses from Shelby County into Chilton County, start looking for the giant peach water tower in Clanton. That means you are entering peach territory and you need to get ready to make your first stop. There are several possibilities for picking up delicious goodies here and are all are worth a look.


Your first chance to score some peaches is at Headley's Big Peach, located at exit 208 in the shadow of the big peach water tower. Other local fruits and vegetables are available in season.

On down the highway at exit 205, you can double dip at two big peach markets. If you go west, you can visit Durbin Farms. In addition to the local peaches and other home grown goodies, Durbin has a great little cafe where you can grab a sandwich, a salad or some homemade ice cream made with fresh cream and Durbin's own fruits. The salads and sandwiches are delicious, too. The Asian Poppyseed and Almond Chicken Salad and Greek Vegetarian sandwiches are my favorite, but they also have turkey, roast beef and ham options as well. Additionally, you can shop for souvenirs to take home with you.

                            
Turning east will bring you to Peach Park. Undoubtedly the largest of the three peach stands. Peach Park has pit barbecue, homemade ice cream, and home baked pies, cakes and other sweets. There is a walking trail through Peach Park's gardens and a playground for the kiddos, as well as a gift shop. Peach Park is a great place to let the kids run off some steam. 



2. Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World

The big Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World at exit 179 in Prattville, is like Disney World for the outdoor enthusiast. Pick up some fishing gear or camping equipment to take with you to the beach. Be careful, though. You could easily spend hours in this huge store.

3. Montgomery

Montgomery is a trip in and of itself, but if you have time to kill or just want to add a stop to your trip, Montgomery is full of possibilities. As the capital of the state, the cradle of the Confederacy and the birthplace of civil rights, there is a lot of history in this city. You can see the capitol building, the governor's mansion, and other historic buildings, as well as Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor. Take a stroll through Old Alabama Town to see the first White House of the Confederacy and get a taste of life in early Alabama. There are six Montgomery exits. Take exit 172 for these historic sites. 

4. Stuckey's


                          


Stuckey's shops used to be all over the place, but after being bought out by Pet, Inc. in the 1970's, they dwindled down to just a handful. Now there is a Stuckey back at the helm and their numbers are again on the rise.  If you fondly remember Stuckeys, you're nostalgic for a little Americana or you just need gas, this might be the stop for you. Take the Hayneville exit 158. It's a glorified truck stop with a BP station and a Dairy Queen attached, so you can get gas, grab a snack and walk around a bit. It is the only Dairy Queen we've seen with a giant (we're talking Phantom of the Opera huge) chandelier to illuminate the dining room.

5. Priester's


                           

Priester's is the place for pecans! Take exit 142 to sample and buy pecans from raw and roasted to key lime and peach flavored and just about everything in between. You can also grab a bite to eat or shop for souvenirs. The little kids will love the horse swings and it is a great place to get out and stretch. 

6. Bates House of Turkey

Ready for a bite to eat? In Greenville, take exit 130 to Bates House of Turkey. At Bates, it is all about the gobbler. You can get turkey sandwiches, turkey plates, smoked turkey, barbecued turkey, roasted turkey, turkey salad, turkey wraps, turkey chili...you get the idea! The restaurant has lots of homestyle southern sides like sweet potato casserole, green beans and cornbread dressing, too. 

7. Boyhood Home of Hank Williams Sr. 


                           

If you are a country music fan, this might just be the stop for you. Take exit 114 in Georgiana and the Boyhood Home of Hank Williams, Sr. is just a couple of blocks from the interstate. You can sit on the wide porch and sing Kaw-liga before hitting the road again.

8. Burris Market




                          

                          

Once you get off I 65 and onto Hwy. 59 at exit 37, you are really on the home stretch to the beaches. You will travel through the towns of Bay Minette, Stapleton, Loxley, Robertsdale, Summerdale, and Foley before you can dip your toes in the ocean. In Loxley, Burris Market is worth a mention. It is the last of the big farmer's markets and here you can get the produce you may have missed in Clanton. Once again, you can pick up sandwiches, ice cream, homemade breads and baked goods.

9. Foley

Historic Foley has lots of cute shops and restaurants as well as a big outlet center. If you have a wait before you can check into your condominium or hotel at the beach, Foley is a great little place to kill some time.

Gift Horse Restaurant

                            

Located in a building constructed in 1912, The Gift Horse Restaurant also houses an antique mall. The food is southern and the cheese and apple casserole are listed as one Alabama's 100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die.

Hotel Magnolia

                           
                           

                          

                          

Check out the cornstalk fence and the sleeping lions at this historic hotel as you pass through Foley. Built in 1908, by the town's namesake, John Foley, the Hotel Magnolia boasts wide front porches and oozes southern charm. The fence, reminiscent of a similar one in New Orleans, has the initials of later owners, John Shook, the owner of Gulf Telephone, and his wife, Marjorie. 

Tanger Outlets

Foley's Tanger Outlet Shopping Center is a bargain lover's paradise. With 114 stores and 6 restaurants, you can easily spend a whole day shopping.  It is close enough to the beaches to revisit, so you may want to plan to come back on a cloudy day.

10. Almost There!


As you head toward your final destination, there are several stops you can make on Highway 59 before you hit Beach Boulevard, the main beach road through Alabama's coastal communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Here are a few notable places to grab a bite before you hit the sand.  

Lulu's at Homeport Marina


This is a great place for the kids and kids at heart. Lots of volleyball nets and sand play areas as well as souvenir shopping make Lulu's much more than just a restaurant. As the sister of Jimmy Buffet, Lucy Buffet knows how to put on a show. Wait times can be long, so try to visit in the middle of the afternoon when the crowds are thinner. 

King Neptune's


King Neptune's is a Gulf Shores original and a wonderful place to get some authentic Alabama seafood. Once a gas station, the building has been converted into one of the most iconic restaurants in the area. Nothing fancy, just plain good, fresh and award-winning food. The crab and corn bisque is a definite must and you can get some to take to your condo for later, too. Here again, the wait can be long, especially during the summer months, so plan accordingly. 

Hope's Cheesecake

                                       

                          

While you are thinking of things to take to the condo for a snack, stop by Hope's Cheesecake and pick up a slice or two or even a whole cheesecake. Choose from any of any of Hope's delicious flavors. Key lime pies are also available.


That's it, now go relax! It's been quite a trip!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Birmingham's Greek Heritage Shines at The Fish Market Downtown



Between 1901 and 1910, 160,000 Greeks immigrated into the United States. Thankfully, many of them ended up in Birmingham, giving rise to one of the most treasured contributions to the city's culinary history. As difficult as it is to imagine a population unfamiliar with bananas, that is exactly what Birmingham was at the turn of the 20th century. The Greeks were the first to import bananas into the Magic City and introduce the sweet tropical treat to the citizens of Birmingham. But they didn't stop there. Greek immigrants were the brains and chefs behind some of Birmingham's most beloved restaurants. From hot dog stands like Gus's Hot Dogs and Pete's Famous Hot Dogs to white tablecloth fine dining establishments like The Bright Star and John's, the Greeks have writ large when it comes to serving fine food in Alabama. 

                               
One of the most beloved of Birmingham's Greek restaurants is The Fish Market in Downtown Birmingham. The Fish Market is way more than a restaurant. It is also a specialty market for some of chef/owner George Sarris' own products, such as his personal brand of extra virgin olive oil he imports from his native Greece. It is also a true fish market, selling fresh fish and shellfish for customers to take home.

                          

                               
       
The Fish Market moved to their current location after many years in an older, smaller building on the other side of the block. Now the restaurant has full-service seating, but many people still line up at the bar to place their orders. There are two main dining rooms as well as outdoor seating.



                           

                             
On a recent trip to Birmingham, we stopped by The Fish Market for an early dinner. We started with a salmon spread, smoked in house and served with torn lettuce, olives, tomatoes, pepperoncini peppers and pita chips. It was delicious! 

                                      

My brother-in-law, Tim, couldn't resist the dark, rich gumbo. He let me have a taste. It was delicious and hearty, without being overpowering. 

                     


One of our favorite dishes at The Fish Market is Athenian Snapper, which is a red snapper filet, seasoned with Greek herbs and cooked with tomatoes, onions and olives. On this last visit, I was sorely tempted to order this dish, but my wish to try something different prevailed, sort of! I really wanted oysters. Then I noticed a combo plate where I could choose two different seafood options, so I chose the oysters with a piece of grilled red snapper. It wasn't Athenian snapper, but it was a good compromise. As always, the fish was expertly cooked and perfectly seasoned. The fried oysters were amazing, lightly battered in cornmeal and not greasy at all! I got coleslaw and black eyed peas for sides, both delicious. Hush puppies came along for the ride, but I had too many other things on my plate to bother with those. 




 My mom, who, sadly, is allergic to shellfish, chose fried trout amandine. Her sides were collard greens and coleslaw. She said it was all wonderful, but the serving was huge! She had plenty left for another meal.


Daddy chose his favorite, fried catfish. It looked delicious and he said it was. His sides were slaw and black eyed peas. 





Tim and my sister, Kerri, had The Fish Market's version of bang bang shrimp and grilled mahi mahi with baked beans and coleslaw. Unlike the bang bang shrimp at other restaurants, The Fish Market does not coat the shrimp in the sauce. Instead, the sauce is served on the side for dipping. I tried one. It was very good. While mahi mahi is not my favorite fish, I have to say it did look very good and Kerri and Tim said it is their favorite.




The Fish Market is a Birmingham institution for one very good reason. The food is delicious. The seafood is fresh, expertly seasoned and properly cooked. If you haven't been, you should definitely make plans to visit George Sarris and try some of his delicious seafood. Three Friends and a Fork give The Fish Market Downtown 3 Big Fat Greek Yums UP! Opa!