Sunday, February 4, 2018

Franklin is for Friends




This post has been in the works for too long. In November, before Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity to go back to Franklin with our friends, Merri, Walt, Dede and Larry, to the Made South Holiday Market, for a little Christmas shopping. But, before I could get the details of the trip posted, Thanksgiving, the Iron Bowl, Jingle Bell Square, Christmas, boys and their friends home for the holidays, the New Year, a child going back to college, a child moving to Ohio for an internship, getting snowed in in Gatlinburg, a scrapbooking weekend with my girls, and an ADA weekend in Birmingham all colluded to keep me from writing. It has truly been a whirlwind since we spent this relaxing weekend in Franklin. Now, while there is a lull in the storm, before we get going again with a trip to Savannah, an Eagle's concert, a child moving home from Ohio, another trip to Savannah, Easter, a bridesmaid's luncheon, and a wedding, I'm ready to reminisce about this fun weekend with friends. 

We started the weekend by meeting at The Factory in Franklin for the Made South Holiday Market. Since this was the second Made South show for Scott and me, we knew what to expect and how to navigate the show. 

For instance, I remembered the delicious Baked in Nashville macarons I had gotten at the show in June, so I made a beeline to Baked in Nashville's booth and scored a box of those delicious cookies. Oh, my gosh! They are so good!


We realized there would be lots of food to sample, from chef prepared seafood to butters, breads, sauces, desserts and drinks. We had to be careful, knowing that we had dinner reservations at Gray's on Main after the show. 


I scored some more delicious flavored butter from Wise Butter. That lemon rosemary is da bomb on roast chicken!


We couldn't resist this Moroccan marinade and rub from Mod Squad Martha.



Our gift theme this Christmas was music, so I was thrilled to find this ornament and some earrings and a bracelet made from guitar strings by Southern Strings. The company is the brainchild of Crystal Jahnig, the wife of bass guitarist, Morgan Jahnig, from Old Crow Medicine Show. She uses his old guitar strings and crafts beautiful jewelry and ornaments. I was so excited by this find!

We all loved the spiced nuts from Molly and Me, delicious rice from Delta Blues Rice, and jams and jellies from One Screw Loose.

Alabama was well represented, too. Piper and Leaf Teas. Alabama Sweet Tea Company, Redland Cotton, Sweet Auburn Studio, and John Emerald Distilling Company were among the vendors from the Yellowhammer State.

Dede, Merri and I couldn't pass up a chance to have our picture made with Fauxest Gump before we left The Factory.




After all the shopping, we left the market with our shopping bags and free jars of Duke's Mayonnaise in hand, not as hungry as we wanted to be, and headed to Gray's on Main. Gray's on Main is super cool because it is in an old pharmacy. The 1876, three-story Victorian building has been lovingly restored and is a great backdrop for not only the delicious food coming from the kitchen, but the cocktails being crafted at the bar. Gray's on Main is the only brandy bar in America. 


Merri and I decided to share a few appetizers, rather than order full entrees. Our choices included a grilled pear pizza,



fried pimento cheese balls with moonshine pepper jelly,


and bacon-wrapped figs.


They were all delicious, but those pimento cheese balls...YUM!

Dede and Larry shared a salad and the pear pizza. Scott had this thick cider-brined Duroc pork chop with braised red cabbage and apple chestnut conserve.



Walt chose a Caesar salad with pretty watermelon radish and


a brown sugar and bourbon salmon with cucumber yogurt, red quinoa and broccolini.



We couldn't resist sharing a couple of desserts. This banana pudding was a fan favorite!


And this dark chocolate Belgian brownie with chocolate peanut butter ice cream drew rave reviews, as well.


Walt and I ventured upstairs to check out the rest of Gray's on Main. On the second floor there was a stage for bands. We were stopped before we could mosey on up to the third floor. Apparently there was a private event going on up there and no amount of sweet talking was getting us up those stairs. 


We left Gray's on Main and made plans for the next day before leaving for our hotel rooms for the night. The plan was to do a little shopping downtown before meeting for lunch at Puckett's Grocery. When Dede, Merri and I finally made it to Puckett's, the guys were waiting on us. I have to say, of all my friends, Walt truly embraces this whole blogging thing the most. He is the best at staging a shot, is totally on board with ordering a variety of dishes and always reminds everyone to let me get a picture of their food. If only all my friends were as helpful!

Here is Walt doing his best Vanna White to showcase Puckett's daily menu.



Our entrees included this Nashville hot chicken sandwich for Scott. Luckily, I suggested he get the hot sauce on the side. He is super wimpy when it comes to spicy hot dishes. He was very glad the sauce was not all over his sandwich once he tasted it. 


I got a perfectly cooked catfish filet sandwich with yummy sweet potato fries. The filet was huge!


Walt got a pretty meat and three with brisket, lima beans, squash casserole and coleslaw. 


I think Merri had the fried green tomato BLT that Julie had on an earlier visit. And Larry and Dede shared a field greens salad with strawberries, feta, walnuts and a raspberry vinaigrette.

We all shared this amazing pecan cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream. It was divine!




It was a fun weekend. Franklin never disappoints and Franklin with friends is the best ever!
Three Friends and a Fork and this fun group of friends give Made South, Gray's on Main and 
Puckett's Grocery  
3 Happy Yums UP!















Sunday, October 29, 2017

Make Time for the Canyon Grill


Everybody's busy. Our crazy lives run in different directions and it is hard to make time for all the things you really want to do. Our friends, Merri and Walt, and Scott and I ran into this conundrum  head on recently when we decided we wanted to drive over to Rising Fawn, Georgia to have dinner at the Canyon Grill. We had heard such good things about the restaurant, but fitting our schedules together proved to be a problem. When we were in town, they were not and vice-versa. Finally, after what seemed like a year, we found a date that fit all of our schedules and made reservations. 

This restaurant is not on the beaten path. I think we all had cell service problems when we arrived. But the drive over was pleasant and we were all talking so much, it didn't seem like a long drive at all. 

                             

The restaurant had a southwestern look on the outside with bright neon turquoise and orange lights. On the inside, the tables were covered in real white tablecloths and the wooden ceiling was strung with bright white lights. It was really pretty.

We were seated quickly and our super friendly and helpful server brought us water, fresh, warm homemade bread and real butter and menus. We did not order drinks other than tea and coffee, because Rising Fawn is in a dry county. You are allowed to bring your own bottles of wine or beer, if you choose to do so. The bread was incredible!

                              

We asked our server about the appetizers on the menu, because we were all starving. After eliminating the mushrooms, which Scott and Merri don't love and deciding that the pizza and chicken appetizers were probably good, but not as interesting, we were trying to choose between the spicy feta dip and the rajas. Actually, we wanted to know what rajas were. Our server told us that rajas were sliced poblano peppers and onions in creamy, spicy cheeses served with roasted tomato salsa and tortillas. She strongly suggested we try the rajas, so we took her advice. We were very happy we did.

Walt got the inspired idea to ask about getting an appetizer of fried and grilled shrimp as well, even though they were not listed on the menu as appetizers. No problem! We were so glad Walt had that genius thought. Those shrimp were so good, I'm thinking I am getting them as an entree the next time I visit. Scott and I had just gotten back from a trip to the beach and the shrimp at Canyon Grill were every bit as good, if not better, than the shrimp we had at the coast. They had that fresh just out of the sea taste, the breading on the fried shrimp was just right and the grilled shrimp had a wonderful wood fire flavor. 


As for entrees, Merri and I chose twin filet mignons in a cognac peppercorn sauce, but we decided Merri got triplets instead. She ordered her filets medium with grilled broccoli. I wanted mine cooked medium rare and got crispy potatoes to go with them. The server explained that the potatoes were baked first and then cut into chunks and fried until crispy. She was right, they were crispy and delicious. I was so busy getting pictures of everyone else's entrees, I failed to get a picture of my potatoes. You will just have to take my word about how good they were. The filets were so tender they practically melted in your mouth and Merri also loved her broccoli. 


Walt decided to get a pork tenderloin with rosemary garlic sauce and a big wedge of grilled cabbage. We all agreed his pork was perfect and we loved the sauce.


Walt also ordered a side of fried okra. The okra was split in half and then fried. We agreed we would like it better if it was crispier. 


Scott's entree was an Alaskan halibut filet sautéed with lemon butter, white wine and capers. It was perfectly cooked and the sauce was wonderful. He selected lima beans as his side and really liked the way they were cooked with tomatoes. 


Since Merri and I had been thinking about dessert even before we ordered our entrees, we knew exactly what we wanted. Scott had looked at the online reviews before we left home and he had decided as well, so by the time we finished our meal, only Walt had to make a decision about dessert.

                                     

Nobody will be surprised to learn that I ordered the bread pudding. This one was an apple pecan bread pudding with bourbon sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. It was also garnished with fresh strawberries and mint and a big plop of whipped cream. Canyon Grill may be in a dry county, but they put the bourbon to that sauce. It was so good!


Merri's dessert was also infused with liquor. She had the amaretto brownie with vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate sauce. I have never thought about adding amaretto to my brownies, but I may start now! Her brownie was a chocolate lover's dream.


Scott and Walt both chose the coconut cake. Scott asked our server if it was like grandma used to make and she quickly told him, no, it was nothing like grandma used to make. She was right. The moist cake was topped with toasted coconut, Heath Bar crumbles, whipped cream and fresh strawberries. It was like no coconut cake any of us had tasted and it was delicious.


This was one of the best meals we have had anywhere. Trust me when I tell you it is worth making time to drive over the state line to Rising Fawn to sample the tasty things coming out of the kitchen of Canyon Grill. 

                            

Three Friends and a Fork give 3 Timely Yums UP to Canyon Grill. It was a wonderful experience, from the friends to the service and the food. 






Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reeling in a Big Fish in Orange Beach



I've learned a few lessons from my chef friends. Number one, it pays to ask questions. Case in point, recently on a trip to Alabama's beautiful coastline, we were debating where to eat dinner. Some of our old standbys have lost their luster. For instance, there are so many Shrimp Basket Restaurants scattered throughout the state, it is hardly a novelty to eat there on our vacation. Not that it isn't good, just that we can eat there in Auburn or Montgomery or Birmingham. It is the same with my favorite Skinny Dip Smoked Tuna Dip. We used to stop by one of the seafood shops on our way to our beach condo to pick up a container to snack on for the week. Now, however, my local grocery store at home sells it and it just isn't as important to buy some at the beach. Remember how exciting it was when we were kids to watch the annual Christmas shows on television? You could only see Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman at Christmas time. It was so thrilling to count down the days until they came on television. By the time my kids came along, the shows were on dvd, so they lost some of the excitement of WAITING for the shows to come on. Yes, delayed gratification can be a very good thing! It was the same thing with vacations when we were kids. When you traveled, you brought home souvenirs to remind you of your trip and those things made the traveling more exciting. Now, we have internet. You can buy anything online that you could get by traveling, so the souvenirs have kind of lost their pizzazz. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for capitalism and competition and successful entrepreneurship, so I understand why Shrimp Basket is all over the state now and why Skinny Dip is in all the grocery stores. Good for them! I get that, but it doesn't make me look forward to them on my trip to the shore. When I travel, I want local flavor. I love accents, regional cuisines and local customs. I want different, not more of the same. One of the things I worry the most about when I hear the term, globalization, is that we lose the things that make us unique and different. I am afraid the internet and Walmart and fear of diversity are doing that to us. How boring will this world be if everywhere we go we see just more of the same? I love variety, especially when I travel, so I am always on the look out for new and interesting things to see, do and eat. 

Another conundrum for us has been that some of our old favorites just aren't what they used to be. In the past, one of the first things we did when we arrived in Gulf Shores, was grab lunch at King Neptune's. I don't know what is going on with this iconic place right now, but we have been disappointed the last few times we have visited. Friends of ours told us they used to go by and pick up a gallon of King Neptune's famous corn and crab bisque to take to their condo for their family to snack on for the week, but not any longer. They, too, have noticed that things just aren't the same. Sadly, the bisque isn't the only thing that isn't what it used to be. We really hope King Neptune's can get back to what worked so well in the past, because it hurts to let this one go. 

Anyway, that was a long explanation as to why we were researching new places to dine at the coast. Since we hate to waste a meal at the beach, I picked up the phone to ask a few questions. Chef Jon Gibson has taught me to always ask where my seafood is coming from. He has stressed the importance of choosing regional, fresh and sustainable seafood and to ask the right questions when ordering.  If the menu says "gulf", ask which gulf. There is more than one gulf and in our neck of the woods, we are looking for Gulf of Mexico, not Gulf of Tonkin. Not all of the seafood we love comes from the Gulf of Mexico, but he has also taught me to be wary of farm raised fish and to avoid tilapia at all costs. Here is an excerpt from his Fish 101 series:

I would like to introduce you to fish #1
The Pangas-
This fish is also marketed and put on menus as Sutchi, Pangasius, River Cobbler, Basa, White Catfish, Tra, Gray Sole, and Swai.
This fish is industrially farmed in Vietnam along the Mekong River and thefish farmed there were tested and were found with traces of polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT, metal contaminants, arsenic, and various other chemicals and bacteria. The Mekong River is one of the most polluted rivers on the planet and this is where pangas are farmed and industries along the river dump chemicals and industrial waste directly into it.
In the first 6 months of 2013 the U.S. Imported 58 thousand tons of these fish and less than 1% were inspected before being released to sell to the general public.
The MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium do not recognize this fish as sustainable, even though it is farmed.
So I propose this...since it is a catfish why don't you just eat farmed raised U.S. catfish? The U.S. is the biggest producer of farm raised catfish in the world and they are also certified by Monterey Bay Aquarium. Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi being the biggest producers.
Remember when I said buy and support local in a previous post. Why don't we start regionally?
Oh and just to put this out there...7 out of 10 restaurants in Gulf Shores use this fish and have them on their menus labeled as above names or also labeled as "whitefish".
Simply put, just because a restaurant is on the Gulf Of Mexico or in Alabama doesn't mean they serve Alabama Gulf Seafood!

Once you have listened to chefs with a heart for serving fresh, regional, healthy food, your perspective really changes. Of course, Chef Gibson isn't the only Alabama chef preaching this sermon. Chef Frank Stitt has been teaching the whole state to search out fresh, local ingredients for years. So with this in mind, I picked up the phone. I called a couple of places and here is what I asked. What is your fresh catch tonight? What kind of fish is on your seafood platter? Where is the fish from? 

I called one restaurant and asked about the fish on the seafood platter and the answer I got was, "some kind of white fish, I don't know what kind". Yikes! On to the next restaurant. Most of the places I called had one, possibly two, fresh catch choices. Usually these included grouper. Grouper is a favorite for many people, but my husband does not happen to be one of those fans. He does, however, love red snapper, when we can find it. Sadly, it has been overfished to the point that it is heavily regulated, so finding it on a menu can be challenging. 

I called a place that was new to us, Big Fish, even though I later learned Big Fish has been around for 7 years, but not always called Big Fish. Based on the online comments and reviews, it looked hopeful. When I asked them about their fresh catch, this is what I heard:




Wow! That is a lot of choices! A few more questions and we decided to give Big Fish a try. Located in a strip mall across from the original Doc's Seafood Restaurant, Big Fish does not exactly shout, "fine dining". 


                                     

                                     

But, we went on in and were pleasantly surprised!

                                     

                                      

Big Fish has a sushi bar. The bar itself was colorful and the health rating was phenomenal!



                                      

                                      

While we didn't order sushi this night, I did see some of the sushi coming out of the kitchen and it looked delicious. After inspecting the menu, we decided to begin with an appetizer of "award winning" ginger glazed shrimp skewers with a refreshing red cabbage salad. While we nibbled on this tasty dish, we studied the menu, found out the Chilean Sea Bass was already gone for the night and both chose the red snapper. 


I got my red snapper "bronzed", mostly because I liked that word, but also because our server explained it was like blackened, but not as strong. That suited me perfectly, because I have gotten blackened fish before that was so powerful in taste I could not eat it. Bronzed sounded great! My fish came with a salad and two sides. The salad was fresh and crunchy and my sides of sweet potato fries and sautéed spinach were also delicious. 



Scott's snapper was prepared with an Asian flair. It was sautéed and swimming in a sherry soy broth and topped with ginger and scallions and came with sides of sautéed spinach and jasmine rice. He enjoyed his fish as much as I enjoyed mine. 



We were fully satisfied when we finished our entrees, but bread pudding was on the menu and it had a caramel sauce. Caramel! How could we not try that? We decided to share a piece of bread pudding bathed in caramel sauce. Heavenly days! It was crazy good. We didn't mean to eat the whole thing, but we did. 


The next time you visit Alabama's beautiful coast, remember to ask lots of questions and check out Big Fish. We are happy to give 3 fully informed Yums UP to Big Fish. From the perfect health rating, to the beautiful sushi to the extensive fresh catch list and finally, the divine bread pudding, Big Fish is a big winner!