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!












Wednesday, October 11, 2017

George's at Alys Beach


Have you visited Florida's 30 A? If not, what are you waiting for? The tiny beach towns that are clustered together along this stretch of highway in Florida's panhandle are as charming as they sound. With names like Seaside, Seacrest, Watercolor, Sea Grove, Rosemary Beach, Grayton Beach, Water Sound, Santa Rosa Beach and Alys Beach, each town begs you to stop and stay awhile. Luckily, there isn't a bad choice in the bunch, so you can pick one with confidence. Just as the towns have plenty of beautiful houses and condos to rent, they also offer a variety of restaurants.  But here's a little tip for you. Save one of your dinner nights for George's at Alys Beach. The defining characteristic of Alys Beach is its elegant simplicity. The stark white butteries and architecture of Alys give this town a look of cool gracefulness. In this regard, George's is a perfect fit. The restaurant is housed in a tidy cottage that fits perfectly with the town's blindingly white theme and gives no hint of the colorful dishes being served up inside. 

Three Friends and a Fork recently had an opportunity to enjoy the cuisine at George's and it was quite a treat. The friends joining me this night were my buddies, Deborah, Dede and Nikki. We were visiting 30 A for our annual Girls' Beach Trip. Normally our trips consist of lolling about in our beach chairs, reading, talking and lots of general laziness. We don't interrupt this inertia with eating out every night, but we do try to rouse our slothful selves at least once or twice over the course of several days, just to make sure our legs still work. That, and we get hungry for something other than chicken salad and pimento cheese, our beach staples.

                             

We chose George's for one reason. The menu was divided into two choices, Behavin' and Misbehavin'. Who can resist a menu that straight up offers you a chance to misbehave with no apologies! Heads up! Even though misbehavin' is encouraged at George's, there are no mixed drinks. Libations include beer and wine only.

With that temptation out of the way, we decided to begin with a devilish appetizer of crispy calamari fries served with a horseradish remoulade sauce. They were a perfect way to start misbehavin'!


Then it was on to the entrees. I chose a dish of spicy salt and pepper shrimp tossed with melon, sugarsnap peas and fried brussel sprouts in a tangy Thai vinaigrette. Served with basmati rice, the dish had a definite Asian flavor. 


Nikki had, what she described as, THE BEST oysters she had ever eaten. After listening to her rave about those delectable oysters, I regretted I had not gotten them as well. Not that my shrimp weren't delicious, just that Nikki and I share a profound love of oysters and these were apparently in a class by themselves.


Deborah selected one of the night's specials, which was cobia topped with fresh micro greens sitting on a bed of cheese grits. She enjoyed her dish, too. It was so pretty!


Dede, after much debate, decided on grilled red snapper. Ever the landlocked Kansas girl, she wanted to make sure she didn't order fish that came with the eyes staring back at her. Her headless filet of snapper was perched on a bed of fruity salsa with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. It looked absolutely delicious. 


We decided if we were going to be bad, dessert was a must. Instead of sharing one dessert, we decided to be completely reprehensible and order two, plus one to go! 


Our first bad choice was something called Warm Chocolate Toffee Goo. Seriously, who in their right mind could resist that?  A gooey toffee brownie was topped with wonderful homemade vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate goo and chocolate candy straws. If you are going to be bad, you might as well be real bad. Right? This one was the favorite of everyone but me, I think. Not that I didn't love it!

                                        

On our server's recommendation, we also got a goat cheese panne cotta with fresh berries, tres leches pound cake croutons and apricot ginger curd. This cool dessert was almost angelic compared to the chocolate goo and I absolutely loved it! This is my kind of dessert, creamy, not too sweet and topped with fresh fruit. 

                                        

Our least favorite of the three desserts was the Hummingbird cake we took back to our room. I think maybe it would have been better if we had eaten it at the restaurant, but after being refrigerated, it became very dense, more like a heavy banana bread than a cake. If you order the hummingbird cake, eat it right away instead of carrying it home to eat later.


George's at Alys Beach is the perfect place to go when you feel like misbehavin', or even if you decide to behave. We don't know any of the behavin' kind of people, but you might. As for us, we can't wait to go back and misbehave some more! Three Friends and a Fork and Dede, Deborah and Nikki are happy to give George's 3 Very Misbehavin' Yums UP!

                                











Friday, August 4, 2017

Back to Franklin



Franklin, Tennessee is one of our favorite towns. If you remember, Three Friends and a Fork took a little family girls' tour of Franklin a few years ago. We had so much fun, I'm always up for a return visit. Recently, a really good reason to head back to Franklin presented itself. Made South announced they were their planning to hold their wildly popular market at The Factory in Franklin. The Made South Market is an opportunity for Southern vendors of high quality goods to showcase their wares. It sounded like a lot of fun, so I talked our friends, Malinda and Greg into joining us and I quickly purchased VIP tickets for the event. I also made dinner reservations for the Red Pony on Friday and Puckett's Grocery in Leiper's Fork on Saturday.

Scott and I arrived in Franklin early enough on Friday that we had time to walk around town before Made South opened its doors at 5:00. I noticed Gary Puckett and the Union Gap was going to be performing at the Franklin Theater that night. If I had known, I would have gotten tickets to that, too! Unfortunately, the show was already sold out.



I love the store signs around Franklin and took a pictures of signs belonging to a couple of places I want to check out on future visits. I have been trying to cut my carbs, so, of course, Merridee's Breadbasket was sounding pretty good!


This old pharmacy is now home to a chic, rustic restaurant, called Gray's on Main, serving southern fare. It has good reviews, so I added it to my future to-do list. I love the fact that they kept the old drug store sign.



Cork and Cow is another restaurant I am adding to my list, mostly because I like the name, but also because I like their sign. It is billed as a French steakhouse and has good online reviews. 


Another thing I like about Franklin? They have the cutest mannequins! This was the wiggliest bunch of mannequins I have ever seen.


We strolled around town until it was time to head over to our hotel to catch up with Greg and Malinda and get ready for the Made South VIP event. I was anxious to see what I had signed us up for. I am sure everyone else was thinking the same thing. 

When we arrived at The Factory and made our way in, we were very pleasantly surprised. More than 100 vendors of everything from guns to jams and jellies were hawking their well-made wares. They were also handing out samples as we shopped to the beat of the live music coming from the Made South stage. 





We sampled some delicious parmesan rice from Delta Blues Rice. I am not a huge rice fan, but this was not your average rice. It was really, really good.


We may or may not have bought several jars of divine jellies from One Screw Loose. With names like Jacked-Up Peach Pecan with Tennessee Whiskey, Brew Ha Habanero with IPA Beer and Blue Chip Bourbon with blueberries and chipotle peppers, how could we resist?


We also picked up some flavored butters from a vendor called Wise Butter, some peach simple syrup from Eli Mason, a cookbook from Whitney Miller, who won the Masterchef competition in 2010, and several t-shirts and caps for the boys. And we tasted a lot of wonderful dishes and drinks. We were really pleased to see that several of these fine craftsmen and vendors hailed from our own Yellowhammer State. The Alabama Sweet Tea Company from Montgomery, Piper and Leaf Teas from Huntsville, John Emerald Distilling Company from Opelika and Sweet Auburn Studio from Auburn were just a few of the Alabama artists selling their creations. 

We shopped until it was time for dinner. We ended up cancelling our reservations at Red Pony and chose instead to eat at Saffire since it was right there in the Factory. We had eaten at Saffire before and enjoyed it a lot. This time, it was just okay. Greg had oysters. Malinda had fried chicken which she wasn't too wild about. Scott ordered the special of stuffed trout and he said it was pretty good. I had gazpacho, which I didn't really care for. The Devil of an Egg I had so enjoyed my last visit had transformed into a Devil in a Green Dress and was stuffed with avocado. It wasn't as impressive as I remembered from my first visit. I'm not sure if they were just having an off night or if they had changed chefs, but we were a little disappointed.

We left Saffire and headed back to the hotel to rest up for day two. 

Saturday morning, we ate a quick breakfast at the hotel and then headed out. We stopped back by Made South, picked up a few more must have items, drove over to Nashville for a little more shopping and realized it was time for lunch.  On a whim, we decided to drive to Loveless Cafe and this time we were not disappointed in our meal.



                           

Loveless' famous biscuit maker, Carol Fay, is no longer there making the biscuits for which the restaurant is so famous, but I spied this lady who seemed to have the technique mastered. 

                           

And here are her creations. Of course, those Loveless jams are not too shabby either. We had strawberry, blackberry and peach. The peach was our favorite.


I loved my spicy grilled catfish with marinated cucumbers and onions and turnip greens. Scott had a pork chop which was excellent. It was thick and marinated in a delicious sauce. Malinda and Greg liked their lunches, too. 


From Loveless, we headed back to Franklin for more shopping, resting and getting ready to drive over to Leiper's Fork. I had made reservations at the original Puckett's Grocery and that is really all I knew about it. When I called for the reservations, they charged me a cover charge because, I was informed, there would be a band playing. Ok, that sounded fun. 

When we pulled up at Puckett's Grocery, we weren't sure what to think. It really did look like what it was, an old country grocery store. 




                              

We made our way in and were seated at one of about 15 tables. Our server presented the menus, which were not extensive at all, so it really didn't take us long to make our selections. We ordered some fried pickles and pork skins to get started. I decided to run with an oyster poboy and Scott decided to try the barbecue. Malinda got the hamburger and Greg had brisket which Malinda tasted and said was very good.


                            



While we were eating, we noticed a bunch of kids coming into the restaurant. They were dressed in sequins and shiny fabrics and I wondered what on earth they could be up to. Malinda said she thought some school group must be going to entertain us. I was pretty sure I was going to hear about my great choice when the night was over. But then an amazing thing happened. Those kids jumped up on stage and this happened.



The band was called Pelican 212 and they were nothing short of amazing. Under the leadership of 33 year old Katie Rees, the oldest sister out of ten in the Rees family from Louisiana, Pelican 212 is about as entertaining as it gets. The 7 siblings (3 other siblings are not regular members of the band) sing and play trumpets, drums, guitar, trombone and accordion. In fact, every single member of the band seemed to be able to vocalize and play multiple instruments. In addition to Katie, the rest of the band included 14 year old, Angelle, 12 year old twins Max and Kolbe, adopted siblings Giovanni and Marie and 10 year old Mollie. I'm not sure how the family managed to pull off adopting two children with so much musical talent. The Rees family could adopt me and perhaps teach me to play an instrument, but they could never get me to sing like an angel. Each member of Pelican 212 brought their own incredible musical talent to the group. This family has some kind of magic musical fairy dust! Amazing!


At one point, the mom of this entire troop, Linda Rees, also got into the act. Seriously, she looked like she could have been one of the siblings. 


Other family members took turns joining in. Their older brother, Johnny, jumped in to play drums for a couple of numbers. The kids Aunt Kit, their mom's sister, was also encouraged to join the band on stage. Was there no one in this family without musical talent? 

During the intermission, Linda and Katie stopped by our table to chat. We told them how impressed we were and how much we were enjoying our evening. We also took the opportunity to offer a bit of encouragement. Greg and I both told them we fully expected to see them on television some day. 

The band played for 2 hours and those 2 hours flew by. After we left Puckett's Grocery, I decided to google Pelican 212. Imagine my surprise when I read this little band had already made television appearances on Little Big Shots, The Tonight Show, America's Got Talent and the Presidential Inauguration. So much for our encouragement. Laughing at our helpfulness, we headed back to the hotel to get rested up for the following day. If you ever get a chance to see Pelican 212, go! You will not be sorry!

                       

For our last morning, we decided to have brunch at a place Malinda and Greg knew about. It was called Mere Bulles and was located in an old house on a former horse farm. 



Mere Bulles was a wonderful choice for brunch. The setting was lovely, the selection of food was large and absolutely delicious. There was a table for salads, a room for desserts and all kinds of entrees and sides.  From made to order omelets and eggs to crepes, pancakes and waffles, fish, meats, vegetables, fresh fruits, hash browns and biscuits and gravy, there was something for every taste. Some of our favorites included the crab bisque and crème brulée French toast. I especially loved the chocolate fountain!





Stuffed and happy, we made one last stop at The Factory to check out the Franklin Farmer's Market and make one last visit to some of the shops at The Factory. We left with more bags of treasures and goodies and said good-bye to our friends. It was a fun weekend and I am so happy we made time to visit Franklin and Made South. 

                             

After we left Greg and Malinda, Scott and I went back downtown and stopped in a few shops that happened to be open on Sunday. As the weekend wound down, the clouds started to gather, so we figured it was time to bid Franklin adieu. Until next time, Franklin!

Three Friends and a Fork give 3 Fun Filled Franklin Yums UP to 
Made South
Loveless Cafe
Puckett's Grocery at Leiper's Fork
Pelican 212
Mere Bulles